Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The 5 Bonus Rules for Con Survival

If you've ever attended a science fiction, fantasy, or comic convention before, you're probably heard some variation of the 5 Rules for Con Survival:

  1. Shower/bathe at least once per day — using soap.
  2. Eat at least three times per day and get plenty to drink.
  3. Get at least four hours of sleep per day.
  4. Ask permission before taking someone's picture.
  5. Don't be a dick.
These make so much sense that none of them need to be explained. Just do what they tell you!

But they don't necessarily tell you everything you need to know to help you get through a con. Over the years, I've learned a few other things that make cons easier and more enjoyable, and with Loncon 3/the 72nd Worldcon kicking off tomorrow, I thought I'd pass these tips along.

The 5 BONUS Rules for Con Survival
  1. Scout the convention centre/hotel and its surrounding neighbourhood as soon as you arrive. While you can usually find things like the bar, dealers' room, art room, and movie room without too much trouble, it's also good to get to know the layout of the venue so you can find the best routes to get from one place to another. This is especially important at large cons, because you'll find that the hallways get crowded when the panels or major events let out, and if you know the floor plan well enough, you might be able to find some back hallways or outside routes that can get you to your next location quickly and easily, without getting bogged-down by the crowds. You can also use this opportunity to find the least-used washrooms — a real necessity when you're at a big con and the restrooms along the major corridors tend to experience traffic jams and can run into TP and paper towel shortages, and horrifying lapses in cleanliness. If you know where the washrooms are in the quieter areas of the venue, things will be a lot more pleasant for you. Quiet's important too if you're doing podcasting (or even a non-recorded review where you're just scribbling notes) or looking for a place to have a conversation. It's also good to know where to go if you just need some alone time away from the crowd. So get there early and find the spots where it isn't so loud, and where you can have some privacy. Lastly, you want to get a good sense of the neighbourhood around the venue because you'll want to find out where the good restaurants are. Granted, there are some people who are perfectly happy to stay within the embrace of the convention for its entire length and never leave, but for most people, I think the best idea is to get out once in a while. Take a breather. Stick your head up from the soupy morass of nerdity, get some exercise with a short (or even long) walk, and get a bite to eat at a restaurant that's guaranteed to have better food than what you can get in the hotel (and, just as importantly, food that isn't overpriced) among people who aren't desperate to share their personal Gilligan's Planet slashfic with you. Enjoy the con, yes, but also enjoy the other experiences the community has to offer.
  2. If hand sanitizer is available at the venue, use it. If not, bring your own and use it. Con Crud is real, folks. I'm not a germaphobe, but there's the simple fact that in every crowd, there's going to be someone who's sick. Maybe they aren't feeling well and they come anyway, maybe they're contagious but haven't become sick yet, or maybe they're a Typhoid Mary type who's just carrying the bug and remains healthy while happily passing it on to others, but there's always someone who's going to sneeze or cough or rub their pestilence all over the place. You don't want to pick it up and come down with a bug and have it cut into your fun at the con, or have it hit you afterward and leave you feeling like garbage and having to take time off of work or school. There's nothing you can do to avoid coming into contact with at least some germs during your con experience, but you don't have to make it easy for them. Use hand sanitizer, and wash your hands before you eat.
  3. Don't buy anything in the dealer's room at the first pass. I know, especially at big cons where a lot of vendors turn up with cool merchandise, this is easier said than done. You walk into that huge room for the first time and see that nifty set of Kid Video action figures that you saw years ago but missed-out on, or that pair of hand-knitted Super Harlem Globetrotters earmuffs that you've always wanted, and your eyes light up and it's hard to resist. But trust me, it's a better idea to exercise some self control. This is especially important if you're on a budget.  Sure, take a look on the first day at what the dealers are offering, but hold off for a while. If you wait a day, that impulse may fade, and you may realize that you just don't have room in your home for an 8-foot-tall stuffed Larry from the Robonic Three Stooges. And you may realize that your life would not, in fact, be better if you owned the complete show notes for every episode of Hero High. You can also take this time to see what's out there and then go back and prioritize so that you don't blow all of your money right away on a couple of things that turn out to be mediocre, and then find you don't have anything left to buy that last item hidden under a pile of stuff on a table at the end of the hall that has real emotional and financial value. There's also an outside chance that if you wait until the last day, the vendors might be offering discounts, or might be more amenable to haggling so they don't have to drag all of that merchandise back home. The caveat to all of this, of course, is that if you do see an item that is truly one-of-a-kind, that you know will be snapped-up by someone else if you don't buy it right away because it's so rare and in such high demand, then it's okay to buy on the first pass.
  4. Remember to check the handout table for freebies. Whether it's in the dealers' room or in an overlooked end of the hallway outside the registration area, the handouts table is usually just a wasteland of flyers for parties you're probably not going to, and products you could care less about. Once in a while, there might be an interesting bookmark or pin sitting there, but they're usually just shilling something too. That said, once in a while, especially at the end of a con, vendors and others may leave items of real interest and worth (and, admittedly, "worth" is a relative term). At the end of Anticipation (the Montreal Worldcon) a few years ago, there were a number of old anthologies left on the handouts table by publishers who didn't want to drag them home. A couple of them were actually worth reading, and I was glad I had glanced at the table so that I could snag them. I'm not saying this happens all the time, but it's worth looking.
  5. Don't soapbox when you're asking questions or making a comment at a panel session. There's nothing worse than having an interesting and entertaining panel discussion slam to a shrieking halt when some jackass puts up his/her hand to ask a question, then proceeds to drone on for 10 or 15 minutes about their own thoughts — sometimes on-topic, sometimes waaaaaaaay out in left field — without realizing (or caring) that no-one else in the audience gives a shit about what they're saying, or that many people in the audience, after the eighth minute or so of this hijacking, want to kill either themselves or the dufus in question. I know, I know, this is the point where the moderator should step in and put the kybosh on the recitation, but nearly every time I've seen this happen, the moderators have been too nice or too hands-off to intervene (maybe it's just a Canadian thing). And yes, I know, some people are wired a little differently, and the best practices of good social discourse and politeness are not understood. But really, everyone, for the love of your bootleg Starlost VHS tape collection, if you're in the audience, and you're going to ask a question or make a comment, please keep it short and sweet. Remember, folks: we're here to listen to the panel, not you. You'll get to meet and enjoy conversations with more fellow con-goers — and panelists too — who like the same things you do and are interested in what you have to say if you don't soapbox. 
So, if you're a veteran of the con scene, what tips do you have to share with newbies (or even other experienced con-goers) to make their experience better?

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