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Prelude to Otakon

This past weekend was the 15th annual Otakon, the Japanese animation and culture convention in Baltimore, and as we've done for many years before, The Gryphon and I both served as staff.


He was second in command for the industry section, which serves as a liaison between major industry guests and the rest of the convention. I served on the press relations staff, which serves as a liaison between the press, the guests and the convention in general.


First, I want to say how impressed I was this weekend with how well the staff worked together. I saw so many instances of people who weren't even supposed to be stationed in a certain area, weren't even supposed to be working in a given department. Yet, if they passed by and saw a problem, they either pitched in or put out a call for help. I am really proud to be part of an organization that can work together so smoothly for the enjoyment and safety of everyone.



Alyce on the Skywalk (Click to enlarge)


Me on the skywalk


On Thursday I woke up early to drop our doggie, Una, at the dog sitter's, and The Gryphon made us a great brunch from leftovers, including shrimp, corn and egg whites. When we arrived in Baltimore at about 2:30, the first order of business was to register at our hotel. We stayed at the Day's Inn this year. The staff has now grown to such an extent we are split over several hotels, but The Gryphon and I chose to remain in the Day's Inn because it had the best price.


After we dropped our stuff upstairs, we headed out to get our staff badges at the Sheraton, where they were being distributed until 3 p.m. The badges would later move inside the BCC, which was more convenient for the chief of staff, who needed to be on-site to resolve any personnel issues.


We were stopped in the lobby by a staffer I didn't recognize, wearing a brand-new staff shirt. He told us there was no more staff registration until the operation moved to the BCC. We told him that we were both needed inside the convention center and needed our badges so we could have access. The press would be arriving to register that evening, and I had to help set up the press relations room, and industry guests would also be arriving soon. We asked if he'd at least let us talk to the chief of staff. Finally, he relented. When she saw us she told us that the head of industry, Doc the Stampede, had our badges. We thanked her, thanked the newbie staffer, and headed over for the guest suite in a nearby hotel, where the Guest Relations department could meet and where the guests could relax when they weren't in the convention center.


Meanwhile, I called my boss, the head of Press Relations, whom I nicknamed The Pottermaniac last year. She'll be beginning law school very soon. I told her that we were just getting our badges and then were going to grab a quick bite to eat. She told me to call her when we were done so she could tell me where to meet her.


In the guest suite, a few Guest Relations staffers were hanging out, including The Invisible Man, who drives one of the rented vans to ferry guests and Guest Relations staff around town. We were also greeted by a couple staffers I hadn't met, who were looking through information on a laptop. We also were greeted by The Godfather, who heads Guest Relations, and of course, Doc, who gave us our badges.


Since we wanted to go somewhere close, we walked across the Skywalk to the food court near the harbor, where we ate at a Turkish kebab place. I ordered the falafel, not realizing until later that it was about twice as many calories as I thought. Still, it was served with lots of vegetables, and it filled me up.


We paused on the way back to take some pics, which I joked would be the last time we'd look sane the entire weekend.


The Gryphon on the Skywalk


The Gryphon's assignment was to check in industry people at a special booth in Pratt Street Lobby, while I proceeded to the bottom of the stairs and the Press Relations room. This year, we actually had a large sign, so we didn't have to improvise one.


When I walked into the room, The Pottermaniac was trying to figure out how we could set things up. She told me that we were already facing a couple problems. One was that we didn't have nearly enough materials to make press packets for all the press we expected. Another was that the boxes we'd packed up last year and put in storage had been misplaced. We unpacked the boxes that we'd been given, one of which turned out to belong to Masquerade, which the head of that department collected later.


We chose a table for our main battle station, and since we had no power cord, we made that the back table near the Dealers' Room window, which had sufficient outlets to plug in both The Pottermaniac's laptop and the printer. Meanwhile, below, the vendors worked to set up their booths.


Setting Up Dealers' Room (Click to enlarge)


I volunteered to set up the printer, since I'd just set up a similar printer for myself at home. We quickly discovered there was no cable for connecting the printer to the computer. I suggested we make a list of the different things that we might need in terms of supplies, and I could go up to Con Ops and request them.


The second-in-command of Press Relations arrived at about this time. I've known him for years but had never given him a nickname before. I'll call him The News Producer because he currently is a producer for a Vietnamese news network. He stepped in to help The Pottermaniac set up while I ran up to Con Ops with our wish list.


The Laughing Man was in charge of distributing supplies, along with his wife, The Scrapbooker, who was the one who actually made runs to local stores and who spent much of her time off-site with their youngest daughter, an infant. He was sitting next to our Corporate Lawyer, who gave me an impromptu lesson in etiquette, presenting me with The Laughing Man's business card and then correcting me when I just placed it on the table. "See how she's disrespecting me?" he asked the room.


I remembered then that the proper way to exchange business cards with a Japanese guest is to present yours to them, readable from their direction, clasped in both hands. They do the same, and you trade cards and then give a slight bow before placing it back in your business card holder or front pocket (never a back pocket!). I thanked him for the refresher, although I pretended that I thought the card he gave me was actually his, and I called him The Laughing Man's name. He actually believed I was confused until I told him I was only teasing.


I presented my wish list to The Laughing Man. He could help me with the office supplies, such as paper, pens, Sharpies and Post-Its. But he couldn't give me either a printer cable or a power cord. I happened to run into The Gryphon, and I asked him what we could do to get a cable for the printer. We checked in with a couple different departments that use printers, to see if they had a spare. No luck.


Finally, I ran into The Pirate, who said that he had one in his bag, back in his hotel room. So he was able to obtain us a cord. I returned to Press Relations and finished installing the printer. Soon afterwards, The Pottermaniac got a call from our fourth staffer, whom I'll call The Rock Chick, because she likes to pair rock T-shirts with colorful clothing for a rocker look. She was unable to get into the BCC through the security entrance by herself, since she was a brand-new staffer and didn't yet have a staff T-shirt or badge. The Pottermaniac asked me if I would meet her in the lobby of the Sheraton and escort her to Con Ops to get her badge. I told her that was no problem.


Along the way, I caught a glimpse of how other departments were setting up. I snagged a picture of our Con Chair, Hellbuny, who was talking to someone on his cell phone while riding around the scooter that would expedite his travels all weekend.


Hellbuny on the Scooter of Power (Click to enlarge)


When I arrived at the Sheraton lobby, I looked around for somebody who might be the person I needed. I first spotted a woman seated by a desk, who apparently mistook me for hotel staff and told me that somebody was helping her already but had gone to fetch printer paper. I nodded knowledgeably.


I didn't see any other people wandering around, and an actual hotel staffer saw that I looked lost and asked if he could help me. I told him I was meeting somebody. Just then, I heard somebody call my name, and I saw a petite woman in her early 20s, walking towards me, her long hair pulled back in a head band, clad in bright pastel clothing. I accompanied her to Con Ops, and we chatted as we walked. She told me that she had previously staffed for AnimeNEXT and knew a couple of our staffers already, including the head of the Loss Prevention Team in the Dealers' Room.


Soon after we returned, Hellbuny and the president held a staff meeting where they informed us of important information. We then all headed for the Pratt Street stairs for a group picture, the first in a couple years. People were in good spirits, joking around and being silly.


The Pottermaniac gave us all instructions on how to register press, and we worked as a team to put together press packets, with the help of a gofer. Just after the main doors opened for preregistration, we opened our doors to press registration. We saw a fairly large number that first night, but most would register early on Friday. Some I recognized from previous years, such as Ben Walker and his assistant, Justin. Last year he was covering the convention for Otaku Life Radio, and this year he was representing WILM and the Associated Press. Press Relations works well with him, since he's always willing to take any interview slot we make available. Sometimes, it's difficult to juggle the schedules of the press with those of the guests, but he and his team would drop anything to attend a press conference or a one-on-one interview. This is great for everyone involved.


She handled most of the registrations, and we helped wherever needed.


The Pottermaniac (Click to enlarge)


The Gryphon met me at about 6:30, and we headed back to our hotel room to get ready for the traditional Thursday night gathering held at the home of a Baltimore artist/librarian who is the sister of The Invisible Man's roommate. The gathering is held by the Guest Relations department to welcome convention guests. The Pottermaniac said she'd see me over there.


I snapped a picture of a staffer checking in someone at preregistration before I left.


Thursday Night Registration (Click to enlarge)


I had brought a couple possible outfits, and when The Gryphon told me it was a casual event, I chose a patterned skirt with a chocolate brown V-neck top with lace embellishments, along with my sleeveless one-button jacket and my champagne-colored ballet slippers. I deliberately brought comfortable shoes because I knew I'd be on my feet a lot over the course of the weekend.


The Gryphon and I caught a cab to the place. When we walked in, our hostess recognized The Gryphon from the previous year but didn't seem to recognize me. I'm not surprised: it's been about eight years since I've seen her, and I've lost a lot of weight. When I told her who I was, she told me I looked great and gave me a big hug. She was dressed in a silver skirt with a black strappy top that had pouffy silver embellishments on the straps. I told her that her look was "faerie chic." She said she just thought she looked like a crazy lady.


Her place used to be a warehouse which she and her husband converted into a wonderfully artistic space, with different colors of paint all over the walls, including original murals. The walls are decorated with original art, and the furnishings are eclectic, with fanciful touches, such as a stuffed giraffe or quirky collectibles. It's the kind of place my sister would love to have some day.


We walked upstairs, got drinks from the bartender, and chatted with the staffers who had arrived, such as Mistress Chimera (MC), who I first met several years ago when she was The Gryphon's assistant at the Info Desk. The Pottermaniac showed up shortly afterwards, and the three of us were socializing. Just then, we heard a loud crash noise from the steps. At first, I thought it was a vase falling, because there are a number of them on a shelf at the top of the steps. Turns out it was one of our guests, who was fortunately unharmed, despite the terrifyingly loud noise.


A number of the guests were delayed due to travel difficulties, but a few showed up later. Peter Hernandez, the original American voice of Speed Racer, was in attendance and seemed to be having a good time.


There was good catered food, including build-your-own fajitas, brownies and cannolis. I actually ate fairly light, since I was still full from the falafel. Plus, I nursed my drinks as long as possible, in order to cut down on the total amount I drank.


Near the end of the party, a number of us moved upstairs to the balcony, from where you could get a great view of the city. I spoke to a crew from Funimation who were producing a video about the convention. They wanted some suggestions of people on staff to interview, so I gave them a couple.


A few other voice actors had arrived, including Taliesin Jaffe, who is a voice on Hellsing, among many others. We were all standing near the railing, and The Godfather stepped back into a potted plant, then pitched forward. He joked that the plant was trying to kill him, perhaps not realizing that would mean it had to take his place (this is an old joke amongst Otakon staffers).


I jumped in and said, "That plant wasn't trying to kill you. It was trying to save you. It threw itself out and pushed you away from the railing."


Taliesin added, "Yes, that plant is a hero."


He was a lot of fun to talk to, entertaining us with voice impressions, such as Ed Wynn. We were all teasing The Pottermaniac when she didn't get the reference. The conversation revolved around pop culture, including vampire literature and some upcoming movies, such as Tropic Thunder and The Watchman. Taliesin knew a lot about the graphic novel and was excited about the details he'd heard about the movie.


Somebody came around and let us know they were beginning to make runs with the van to return people to their hotels. The Gryphon and I got in the first van, along with The Gryphon, The Pottermaniac, MC, and one of the voice actors. I wasn't introduced properly, but I believe it was Michael Sinterniklaas, who does voices for The Venture Brothers and many others.


We warned him about being careful when he moved the seat to climb into the back row, since the seat back moves suddenly and could hit you in the face. Then we joked that it wouldn't matter if he got hit in the face, because everybody knew him for his voice, not his face.


On our way home, we made small talk, and he said he was from New York. There are a number of New Yorkers on staff, and a couple people in the van were peppering him with questions about where he lived, so he admitted he'd only just moved there from Los Angeles.


"Oh, so you're just pretending to be all East Coast," I joked, and the entire van picked up on it, teasing him about being from L.A. This would be a recurring theme throughout the convention, it seems, since a lot of our guests were either from L.A. or, if they were Japanese, were more familiar with the West Coast.


The Invisible Man dropped everyone off individually, leaving me and The Gryphon last at The Days Inn. "Do I have to tip you?" I asked. He assured us it was on the house.


Moral:
Printers don't come with cables.



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Tags: doc the stampede, friends, godfather, gryphon, hellbuny, invisible man, mistress chimera, otakon, photos, pirate, pottermaniac, rock chick
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