writing chapter 8.1
Dragoncon. Every year it’s bigger. Walking around downtown Atlanta on Thursday, everything looks normal. The streets are populated by homeless people loitering and office droids scurrying. Bewildered tourists beg to be swindled and robbed, white-helmeted courtesy cops give too-complex directions and try to look welcoming. Bicycle couriers avoid being roadkill and stop to look cool in their skintight uniforms. As yet nobody is in a costume per se.
But with every landed airplane and every incoming subway train and every gorge of traffic off the interstate, there’s a few people who don’t fit the usual description. They don’t look like tourists – they march like they know where they’re going and don’t even glance at the tourist attractions. They’re not here for a trade show – those are marketing people and buyers who dress like middle aged suburban types from up north somewhere – or businesspeople on a junket, or bored housewives out for some serious shopping. nor do they resemble the occasional organization that convenes in atlanta. they don’t look like a congress of religious people. they don’t look like widows and orphans against the war of northern aggression, they’re not here to walk the civil rights trail.
They look like Vietnam vets, old hippies, old punks, geeks, nerds, weirdos. They look like people who don’t give a fuck, who are tired of playing the game, who lead lots more organized fantasy lives than the ordinary run of conventioneer or trade show buyer.
Everybody – from the Missouri Synod member to the Americasmart holiday show buyer to the annual meeting of medical specialists person were in Atlanta for a few days to see their friends and party. The meetings were just the excuse, something to do with a hangover while they got their strength up for the parties and gatherings that could go on all night. Atlanta is a little like Philly – there’s nothing to do after business hours. But there are more bars per square foot in downtown Atlanta than there are in Dublin. And a couple of thousand conventioneers fill them all up.
Usually, on any given weekend in Atlanta there’s some group in town – sports, music, conventions. Sometimes there’s a football game and a basketball final and a Stones concert and a medical convention and a soft goods show, and all the hotels are full and the bars and restaurants have to shovel them in and hustle them out to get them all. But Atlanta is all about hospitality – the hospitality industry holds their convention here, after all (???) – and they can handle anything you throw at them.
But to tell the truth, they get a little stretched out during Dragoncon. 5 days, 60,000 people. All of them letting their freak flags fly. In costume. They want what all convention visitors come to Atlanta for – food, drink and a place to stay, but they don’t come there carrying only money and the willingness to spend it. They come with a whole alternative culture packed into their bags. They’re here to see their friends and party every night, like everybody else, but they take the programming seriously, and they’ve worked on their costumes for months. They’re really a great gift to Atlanta. Not only do they leave $(???) million here, but they throw a parade for the people. They bring a festive touch – they overwhelm the city with fabulousness and fun.
But this year was different for Josh and Anomia and the crew. They weren’t at Dragoncon just to party and have fun this year. They’d see all their friends, of course, but this time they had something to sell them. They had responsibilities now and couldn’t afford to have hangovers like they used to. They were anxious about the reception and were trying to put on an air of success and enthusiasm they hoped would be catching. But they feared the worst, and prepared to blame each other.
Josh had a QAntarctica table in the MMO hall, and 3 stations in the game room, arranged around a 6-top round table. After a lot of squabbling, they had a vertical banner printed to suspend over the monitors in the middle of the table. The monitors showed a demo Josh and Snake had done, where they interspliced the most violent parts of the games in Arkaydland with moody walks thru the caverns of the hub, spooky music suggesting they were in the dragon’s lair and heading to fight the monster.
Anomia would have been pissed. but she was busy doing workshops in (???) and never got to the gaming hall in (???)
Fairy and Snake were networking, each in their own way.
Kurt was hanging out on various balconies and decks, smoking and talking to various tech geeks.
Tho they were all within spitting distance of Nathan’s shop in the secret food court, he never laid eyes on them.
He came in as usual on Friday to find bedlam. His boss was frantic, there was a mob packed in around the counter, jostling and jabbing their way to the head of the line. They wouldn’t let Nathan past until his boss noticed him and started screaming at him. After that it was nonstop all day long, his boss running back and forth from the walkin cold box to the warmer, up to the front with full trays and back to the sink with empty ones.
Nathan dished it out and rang it up, handed over the change and turned to the next one in line, from 11 to 6, when the food ran completely out and his boss slumped to the floor in front of the drink cooler. Nathan took one of the many trash bags from the back room to the service elevator and realized it had been the same at every food place in the building. And over in Peachtree Center, and all up and down Peachtree Street. All day long.
And people were still arriving, Lots of them were in costume, lots of costumed superheroes dragging rolly bags, wearing sensible shoes and glasses and smart phones. The office workers had all cleared out, and the place continued to fill up with people freed from the bonds of being ordinary and trying to fit in. The air crackled with excitement and good humor. Nobody seemed to mind when the place ran out of food and dropped their shutters, they just moved on to the hotel lobby, where portable bars had been set up.
Nathan felt shocked. He’d never worked so hard, so steadily, in his life. His feet had stopped hurting hours ago – they were numb inside his sneakers. His arms ached, tho, his fingers were stiff and his lower back felt like he’d pulled a muscle. He had to pee but wasn’t sure it would come out.
And it wasn’t over. 40 bags of trash in the back. An entire delivery to put away that had come sometime during the day; he never knew. He had to stay until the front was clean and ready to go tomorrow. But it looked like the boss would be there all night. His wife and oldest daughter were there cooking up a storm, and the youngest daughter was assigned to help him put the delivery away. She stood a little closer than Nathan liked while they were stocking the walkin. But if it was a romantic overture, it was lost on him. He just wanted to get home and rest.
Saturday was his day at Dragongon. He and his mom were getting up early and he still needed to do a few last minute things to his costume.