Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife and I attended the second annual Indiana Comic Con! Part One covered our Friday experience, a smooth and engaging experience. Part Two was our bewildering Carrie Fisher encounter. Part Three collected every usable costume photo we took on Saturday.
We knew Saturday would be a busier, more hectic, potentially more disappointing day than Friday. Some cons’ Saturdays are more challenging than others. When things go wrong, blame isn’t always easy or comfortable to assign, and it’s not always the con’s fault. But when it is, the flaring tempers can light up the evening sky.
We had four primary Saturday objectives and one secondary objective left over from Friday. We tried to adjust expectations based on the con’s disastrous Saturday 2014 performance and its vastly improved Friday 2015. Ultimately we nailed three out of four, though it required strategy and persistence on our part to navigate the obstacles. If ICC’s showrunners had ever attended other cons — I mean really attended them, immersed themselves in the full experience, not just skipped through exhibit halls and glanced at activities from a distance — I wouldn’t have had to abandon the fourth objective.
1. Photo op for both of us Doctor Who fans with special guest Jenna Coleman.
2. Photo op with super-special guest Carrie Fisher, rarely at cons as one of the Star Wars Big Three. This was mandatory for my wife but optional for me.
3. My wife the Star Wars aficionado also wanted Fisher’s autograph. Just one.
4. I wanted to attend the Costume Contest at 4 p.m. Because costumes. My wife was fine with tagging along if circumstances allowed.
ICC refused to sell advance autograph or photo-op tickets, neither online nor on Friday onsite. Perhaps they weren’t confident that both ladies would show up. Perhaps they didn’t want the stigma of having all such opportunities selling out before Day One and therefore discouraging potential attendees up front. Perhaps advance ticket computering is hard. Perhaps the idea never occurred to them.
Neither guest was scheduled to be there Friday, and we weren’t attending Sunday. Saturday was our only hope. We knew achieving all four objectives would be hard and improbable. Considering the stakes (and we spent months considering them), we chose to try anyway. We paid for weekend passes and specifically set aside Friday to stroll the entire exhibit hall, meet the comics-related guests, do all the shopping and sightseeing, and catch a couple of panels. As I’ve said, Friday was 95% great.
The Saturday Morning Lineup
The main exhibit hall didn’t open till 10, but photo-op and autograph ticket sales were in a separate, cordoned area that would open at 8:30. Curiously, Coleman’s first photo op was at 9. When you sense that a particular con guest or activity will cause overcrowding issues, arriving early is Conventioning 101. When we arrived at 7, a small line had already formed to one side of the labeled entrance. No volunteers had shown up yet, but the sign made things easy to figure out. We became 16th and 17th in a cordial line that had no trouble organizing itself. We early birds tend to be experienced con-goers who know how things work best.
Around 8:20 a volunteer informed our ever-lengthening line that anyone attending Saturday-only needed to go pick up their admission wristband from Will Call (at booths a couple blocks east of us) before they could enter the autograph/photo-op pre-sales area. Several folks were unaware of this condition and panicked. We would’ve had no problem saving spots for the two guys we’d been chatting with, but Will Call opened at the same time and numerous others were quicker to head down there than they were. We knew by the time they had their wristbands, we’d already be inside.
A few minutes later, an elderly volunteer in a polo shirt came out and told us the doors would open at 9. He was incorrect.
A couple minutes after him, a younger, business-dressed volunteer authority came out and told us our entire line was for Jenna Coleman purchases only. She was incorrect.
We were ushered through the doors promptly at 8:30 and introduced to their pre-sale system. Instead of having ten cashiers selling all available items, they had one cashier selling just Carrie Fisher photo ops, one cashier selling Jenna Coleman photo ops, one selling Carrie Fisher autographs, and one for Jenna Coleman autographs. The voice actors and two Game of Thrones guests had dedicated cashiers as well.
This is not how other conventions go about conventioning. I’m sure the system seemed brilliant if you wanted just one of these items. If you wanted two or more, you were facing a bureaucracy of repetition reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or the marriage-license scene from Jupiter Ascending.
My wife and I divided and conquered. Our early arrival and teamwork gave us a tremendous boost. I feel badly for any ambitious sci-fi fan who arrived alone and tried shuffling through all four lines on their own. I also feel sorry for anyone who sauntered in after 10 a.m. and thought meeting either actor would be as fast and simple as meeting a local cookbook author down at the fairgrounds. My, those adorable rookies.
Carrie Fisher last visited Indianapolis at Star Wars Celebration II in 2002. For many attendees, waiting in her line was literally an all-day experience, as it stretched north-south from one end of the Convention Center to the other. At the eight-hour mark, they capped the line somewhere in the middle and turned away many, many outraged people. It’s been a long time since her last bestselling project, but she is by no means washed up or unpopular. With Star Wars: the Force Awakens on the way…well, the math wasn’t hard if you knew all the facts and figures. It’s all in the Game.
We collected our tickets, reunited, and headed straight to the line for Jenna Coleman’s 9 a.m. photo op. A couple dozen fans were ahead of us. We began to move maybe around 9:05 or so. We were out by 9:20. Objective #1 achievement unlocked. Fun trivia: for some reason the photo-op hard-copy pickup area was not next door, but on the opposite end of the exhibit hall, two or three football fields away, far beyond the cordon. We had no way to pick up our cherished souvenir till after 10. We set that errand aside for later.
Game of Lines
We headed toward the line for Fisher’s first autograph session, scheduled at 10:40. This may sound early, but several dozen others who didn’t give a flying fig about Clara Oswald beat us there. The line was already capped. We were told to exit the area, wait outside in the main hallway, and come back around 10.
NOPE. Remember, we survived Indiana Comic Con 2014. Many people who’d attended Saturday and made the mistake of leaving the con mid-day later found themselves unable to reenter later because the place became packed to capacity and fire regulations had been invoked. Now, we also saw that the line of people entering for tickets was still going with no end in sight. Absolutely no way in the world were we exiting the autograph area without Fisher’s autograph and risking (a) several thousand more people lining up in front of us, or (b) never being allowed to return because of an incompetence encore. We refused to fall for any of their traps.
I took the opportunity for a bathroom break. More fun trivia: the nearest women’s restroom was twenty feet beyond the cordon. My wife asked if she could use it. She was informed no one was allowed past the cordon till 10 sharp, but she was welcome to use the restroom outside in the hall. See what they did there? NICE TRY, CON GUYS. We stayed put and she did without. She promised she was fine for the moment.
For ten minutes we loitered in the open space at the edge of the cordon. A volunteer announced to our growing crowd that anyone who wasn’t in line needed to exit the area and come back later. We obeyed the letter of the law and rejoined one of the photo-op ticket sales lines, cleverly disguising ourselves as people who still needed to buy tickets. We hung out there for several more minutes until the Point of No Return, bailed out and hid in the line for buying Carrie Fisher autograph tickets. Our disguises required zero adjustment.
After a few minutes we decided to defy The MAN and wantonly rejoined the loitering section, which wasn’t dissipating despite the one loud admonishment. We decided to stand tall and wait to see if any volunteers felt sassy enough to get confrontational. Never happened. In fact, a guy who’d joined us for the line-hopping ruse asked one of the mellower volunteers, who told us he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone we could just like hang out or whatever and be cool till 10. We sighed and resumed loitering.
Promptly at 10, the emboldened loiterers’ army approached the end of Fisher’s capped line from several different directions. The end of said line was nestled snugly between two of the autograph-ticket-cashier tables. By this time the voice-actor cashiers on our right had few customers and had plenty of free time to goof around. The Fisher and Coleman cashiers on our left still had long lines. In trying to reach the end of Fisher’s line between them, our army began mingling with those long lines, and chaos set in for a good while. Everyone thought they were in the right line, but those line identities were now blurring out of control. I forget how many minutes’ worth of confusion passed.
Someone in charge for the bright idea of ordering the the Fisher and Coleman cashiers to relocate to the right-side table and boot some of the other cashiers. Those in the mess who needed tickets drifted right; those who had tickets drifted left. Everyone bumped into each other during this impromptu restructuring and I’m grateful things didn’t turn ugly. Our slightly more distinguishable clique approached the now-easier-to-reach end of Fisher’s line, but we all did so as a confused mob, not as a single, organized line. Some thought wherever they stood was the line; most of us couldn’t tell right from wrong and stood still, waiting for some magic sorting hat to fall from above and do the con’s work for them.
A managerial volunteer type wandered around and frustrated herself trying to organize us. She had to keep contacting higher-ups on her headset for command advice or wording assistance or reasons not to quit or whatever. It took her a while to mash us all into a lumpy kind of quasi-order. Not everyone was happy, but at least we were technically in a line. We were even unhappier when we were told that, for the 10:40-12:40 autograph session, only those who’d been in line before it was capped were guaranteed autographs during that session. The rest of us could stick around and try our chances, but we might get denied and have to return for Fisher’s next autograph session at 4:20.
There were maybe nineteen people between us and the capped, guaranteed line. Hundreds of people were behind us. We stayed.
The trick about con lines is you need to know where they’ll be before they happen, and then have the people and procedures already in place for your clientele when they arrive. Once that easy part is done, all you have to do is maintain a consistent single-file structure so that people don’t stab each other over bad positioning. Between the multiple single-purpose cashiers and the actual stars’ lines, once again we saw ICC devoting too little misused space to too many functions at once.
Moments of frivolity were few and far between for a good while. The headset lady tried appealing to reason and sympathy. Her presence would’ve been more effective if the showrunners had bought her a megaphone. But at one point she said a very wrong thing.
We have friends who’ve been attending Dragon*Con for years. We’ve heard many of their anecdotes. We knew better.
Fisher’s first autograph session was 10:40 to 12:40. She arrived at 11:10. The “guaranteed” line didn’t take long for her to process. She took in a few more fans, and then went on break from 12:05 to 12:30. To us it was an unwelcome eternity.
The reason for her break, and the rest of our Fisher experience, was covered in Part Two. Suffice it to say some of the delays were not the con’s fault, though I’d question the wisdom of any showrunner who attempts collaborating with a guest who may not necessarily feel in a position to conform to the con’s printed schedules.
Ten final fans, including a few with whom we’d chatted in line and been worried for their sake, had been squeezed in behind us with the gatekeeper volunteer’s blessing as the very last fans for this session. Fisher’s first photo op was scheduled at 12:50. At 12:55 someone from the photography team came over and stood by, watching her work at her own pace and trying to mask his helplessness. No one puts Princess Leia in a corner.
We were done and free by 1:05. Objective #2 achievement unlocked. I have no idea when Fisher’s 12:50 photo op actually began. I scooped layers of glitter off my glasses and hair while my wife made a straight, pained beeline for the formerly forbidden women’s restroom.
At long last we could next pursue our postponed side quest: on our feet that were already aching from the 225-minute Carrie Fisher experience, we walked across the uncarpeted, concrete football-field lengths to the photo pickup area and retrieved our Jenna Coleman shot, as shown way above.
Let’s ALL Go to the Lobby
By this time it was 1:30 and I was ready to kill for lunch. Instead we exited the Convention Center and walked out to Noodles & Company a couple blocks east. Frankly, I didn’t care if we could reenter the con or not.
Surprise! We found we could, and did so ’round 2:15. The Convention Center was swarming with fans, but not illegally so. Entry and reentry were officially not an issue this year. Points for improvement.
We’d intentionally skipped Fisher’s first photo-op session because of hunger and pains. The second was scheduled for 3:10. We approached the area where the line would be, but were told to come back at 3:00. We departed for a brief stop to tie up one loose end from Friday: I wanted to meet legendary comics writer Denny O’Neil.
The walk to O’Neil’s line, his line itself, and the walk back took maybe twenty minutes. By then a Carrie Fisher photo-op line had magically formed from nowhere and begun filing into the photo-op serpentine with permission. Anne quickly joined in; I opted out. I highly doubted the 3:10 would start on time, and the Costume Contest was scheduled for 4:00. Anyone who’s attended a Costume Contest at a large con knows you have to arrive at least 60-90 minutes early (sometimes more) if you want a decent seat.
Same as Gen Con, the Costume Contest would be held in the 500 Ballroom. When I arrived ’round 2:50, people were sitting against all nearby walls, none of them in a line-shaped pattern. Observing Gen Con tradition, I headed due west and sat to the right of the last person along the Ballroom wall. Over the next forty minutes, the hallway grew dense with cosplayers and viewers alike, none of whom knew how the lines should work or which doors we’d be using.
At 3:30 a volunteer showed up long after one should’ve been posted there in the first place and ordered entrants into one door and viewers into another. As I approached from the Gen Con-traditional direction, I could see a few hundred people entering the Ballroom before me from the opposite, even though I’d been waiting longer in the hallway than many of them.
I’d had enough. I walked away. Objective #4 achievement incomplete.
I returned to the exhibit hall, where the 3:10 Fisher photo-op line hadn’t moved. Anne was trapped somewhere in the middle. Compare the Friday/Saturday before/after pics:
I waited off to the side, occasionally fielding questions and photo requests from passersby mesmerized by my glitter marks. After a time the line lurched forward and Anne would soon be free around 4:15. We performed the cross-stadium death march one last time to the photo pickup tables and found hers. Objective #3 achievement unlocked.
On our way out the door I stopped by one of the dealers who’d earned lots of my money the day before, and spent another twelve bucks on all twelve issues of Christopher Priest’s Xero as a sort-of consolation prize.
We rested in the main hallway for a while. We saw more cosplayers. We fled the premises early.
The Thin Line Between Epic and Fail
Overall, Indiana Comic Con implemented changes that made for a much better event than last year’s, but the growing pains are far from over. Years’ worth of defensive conventioning skills helped us through the gauntlet, but only so far. Regardless, thousands of other people had the time of their lives. Inside these four entries are errors committed on all sides and more than one lesson to learn, but we can’t deny the accomplishments, the acquisitions, the fun we had through most of the weekend, the married-couple quality time, or the $120.00 I earned from others who kept asking for favors and insisted on tipping me. That was a new thing for me. I hope the bills aren’t counterfeit.
It’s over and now we’re recuperating. The “con crud” I woke up with on Sunday is fading away. We knew the job was dangerous when we took it. After last year’s fiasco, we had every reason to walk away in bitterness.
So why didn’t we, you might ask? Why risk the suffering and the overspending and the geek-rage again?
See that smile?
That’s why I attended Indiana Comic Con 2015.
Thanks for reading. Six weeks till C2E2!