Friday, May 23, 2014

Dallas Comic Con: Or How I Learned To Teleport In One Easy Lesson! (LONG entry!)

The past weekend was, quite frankly, one long blur of exhaustion and exhilaration all wrapped up in an orange volunteer shirt.  I will try to be coherent as I talk about it all, but I make no promises at this point! :)

Friday morning I got up, showered, and threw my stuff into the truck so that I could head toward the Dallas Convention Center.  I was running a smidge behind, so I had time to stop at the ATM and get cash for the weekend, but no time to stop and pick up granola bars or other snacks at the store as I had planned.  Ah well, I figured there would be food in the Volunteer HQ as usual, and I would be fine.  That was my first mistake.

A fellow Volunteer, Jennifer (hereafter known as JBD as there are several Jennifers, Jens and Jenns who volunteer) had gotten a hotel room at Aloft Downtown and needed another person willing to sleep on the pullout couch for a reasonable share of the cost of the room.  I've never actually stayed at a hotel during any of the Dallas area conventions, but I figured it might be fun, so I took her up on it. I had meant to drive to the hotel, get my parking pass, and then walk over to the convention center, but as I was running behind I just went straight to the center and paid to park there. I knew I had to be there early for the Guest Escort meeting, which was happening before the regular Orientation meeting. I knew I was going to be working with one of the Guests, but not which one.  We don't find that out until we check in and get our schedules.

Despite the annoyance of starting my day behind the 8-ball, I got there, found my way inside and to the Volunteer HQ, and got in line to check in.

O..M..G....that center is HUGE!  I couldn't help but think to myself that my pedometer was going to burn out from the amount of walking I was going to end up doing!  I was a little nervous about figuring out where everything was going to be, and how to get whichever Guest I ended up working with from one place to another without having to wade through crowds of fans, but I knew that the other Volunteers would have my back and things would be just fine no matter what.

So I got in line to check in, and got my badge and my schedule.  I glanced down, wondering if maybe I would get one of the Star Trek: The Next Generation folks.  That would be kind of cool, after all, right?  I was hoping I would get someone short, because with my luck I would get Jonathan Frakes, and end up having to run at a sprint to stay ahead of him when escorting him places.  I mean, I can't help it that I have short, stubby legs!  Then again, Summer Glau would be kind of fun.  I could tell her that our friend Guillermo said 'hi' and stuff.  Or Ron Glass seemed like he might be pretty cool to work with.  So I open the slip of paper and stare...and stare...and I think my jaw hit the floor as I stared some more.

Friday:  Float - See Tracy

Okay, I can do that.  No problem.  I like running errands and helping get things done.

Saturday and Sunday:  Guest Escort - Nathan Fillion

*blink*  *blink blink*

I'm sorry, what does that say?  Nathan FILLION???  One of the three headliners of the convention???

It probably would have been quite possible to knock me over by pushing me with one finger at that moment in time.  There was a moment of disbelief followed by several moments of sheer terror.  I nearly took Saul Rubinek's eye out last time and you give me a HEADLINER!??  *kerthud*

I gathered my wits and went in to get my shirts and as people asked what job I'd gotten I answered them in a bit of a daze with "Guest Escort for Nathan Fillion."  Lots of squees and excitement from others really drove it home that I was going to be working with Captain Tightpants for two days!  TWO...DAYS!!!!

Now, realistically speaking, stars on that tier...the top tier...don't often tend to have much interaction with the average Volunteer at these things.  Normally everything goes through the members of their staff who accompany them, and the management who handles their public appearances.  So I knew that I would really be interacting more with those folks than Mr. Fillion, but that was okay.  It didn't matter who I talked to on a regular basis, and who I interacted with, the important thing was that it just became MY JOB to make sure that everything he needed or wanted was anticipated to the best of my ability, and that any hiccups were smoothed to the best of my ability.  I was determined to make this the smoothest convention appearance he ever had.

And it would have worked, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids!  Er...Gina Torres, I mean!

But more on that later. :)

Friday was fun.  We did the GE meeting and got to see the various back ways to the Q&A Hall and Photo Op booths. We met the Photo Op people, and they seemed nice.  They also seemed really on top of things, and I have to admit that I was impressed by the fact that people would actually have their photos in hand about 2 minutes after they were taken.  A MUCH needed improvement over the 30 to 60 minutes of the previous company!  I do have a couple of nitpicks like the dark color of the backdrop, but overall they seemed nice and they seemed efficient.

Once people started getting there, the other Volunteers scattered to their posts, and I hung out in the Volunteer HQ with JBD and Tracy, running errands as she needed things taken here or there.  I hunted down Reds to give them paperwork, I chased down Volunteers to send them to other positions, and I held down the Fort when Tracy had to go elsewhere, letting people who came in looking for new assignments where we needed help. I spent a little while sitting at one of the booths in Artists' Alley, letting people know that the Artist had gone to do a panel and would be back in an hour (and chatting with the lovely wife of the Artist 'next door').

I ran here, I ran there, I ran everywhere!  There was a short break as Angel Marie and I broke away long enough to get some lunch (around 4 p.m.  A bit late *grin*).  The panini that I had wasn't too bad, really.  We both wanted something from the Chinese Food booth, but they weren't cooking yet. Neither of us understood that was nearly 4 p.m. and they hadn't started cooking yet?  Ummmm...kay.  So we decided to try the Chinese the next day.  Unfortunately, that never happened, so Angel Marie still owes me a Chinese Food Lunch Date. *grin*

I logged about 18,000 steps on my pedometer on Friday, and was soaked in sweat.  For some reason the A/C in the Convention Center was not turned up too much, and everyone was roasting.  Especially the short, fat Volunteer who was running everywhere! :)  I honestly don't even want to think about what I must have smelled like at the end of the day, and was amazingly grateful to the shower in the hotel room that evening!

I think I covered every inch of the Convention space on Friday, but it was good.  It helped me know my way around better.

The day ended and I made my way down to the parking garage, hopped in the truck, and drove the block and a half to the hotel.  I managed to bring everything in on one trip, hoping I wouldn't have to walk any more than I had to, but upon talking to the front desk person while getting my room key and parking pass, I found out that I had to get the pass onto the truck mirror or it might get towed in the morning.  *sigh*  My feet were screaming at me, telling me that it didn't matter, but I knew that I couldn't take the chance.  So up to the room I went, waiting for the slowest elevators  Getting to the room, I found that we had company.  Several other Volunteers were gathered, hanging out and debating about dinner while enjoying various kinds of alcohol.  I greeted everyone, got my stuff put down, and let them know I was going back down to put the parking tag in the truck.

I made it out there, back up to the room, and considered just collapsing but I couldn't be in company with the gross sweatiness that covered me, so I grabbed clothes and went to hop into the shower.  Clean at last!  I came back out and joined the others, we ordered food, chatted, ate, drank, and relaxed.  After a time they decided to go downstairs and play games, but for me it was best to stay in the room and go to bed.  It is amazing how comfortable a pull-out bed can be when you are exhausted.  I slept the sleep of the dead, not even dreaming, and woke ready for another day.

Saturday!  First day of Guest Escort duties!

I made another bad decision and didn't get breakfast.  I know better, but the hotel's offerings were...lacking.  I figured there would be food at Volunteer HQ, so I threw my pizza rolls into my bag and got everything I needed for the day.  I headed out with the others, and a bunch of us walked together to the Convention Center from the hotel.

The Volunteers gathered, and I got to see Leah and Patrick for a few minutes before Tracy was calling for Guest Escorts to head to the loading dock.  This was it...and I have to admit that I was pretty nervous.  I know that the Guests are just regular people who have had the luck to become famous (whether it is good luck or bad luck I leave it to you, Dear Readers, to decide *grin*), but it still matters to me that I do the best job possible in representing the Convention.  When you are a Guest Escort, you make a huge difference in the quality of experience that your Guest has, and I wanted Mr. Fillion to have a wonderful one.

We waited by the loading dock, trying to stay off to the side so that the Guests had room when they came in, chatting and laughing with nervous energy.  One by one our Guests arrived and we peeled off, showing them to their tables and the Green Room.  We applauded each Guest as they came in, but later were told not to do so.  That did confuse me, I'll admit.  We didn't cheer, we didn't make a huge scene, we just quietly applauded, but apparently it had made one Guest uncomfortable. The rest seemed to appreciate it, but we shrugged and tried to figure out a happy medium amongst ourselves because it just didn't seem right to ignore people as they walked by.  We settled on saying "good morning!" to the folks who acknowledged our presence, and letting anyone who didn't just quietly go by.

Finally they called out Mr. Fillion's name, and I grabbed my backpack, heading for the loading dock door.  I knew that my other Oranges and Reds would have the table ready and the photos set up, so I didn't worry about that.  I stepped out onto the dock and was introduced to Brandi, Mr. Fillion's public appearance agent.  She and I had a pleasant chat while we waited for his car to arrive.  The last relaxed chat we were going to have all weekend.  The rest were pleasant, but rushed...always rushed...because we had hundreds of people waiting to see him and no time to relax.

The car pulled up, he and Michelle (his personal assistant) got out and we got introduced.  I took a deep breath, smiled up at him (because, of course, I got a TALL person to escort!) and said, "I'm Lys.  I'll be your short, fat lady for the weekend!".  He kind of blinked then chuckled and shook my hand.  Then we were off to the races.

I kid you not, the rest of the weekend is a major blur with only certain high points standing out.  The rest is just one mass of sweating, aching, sore feet and body, crazy, panicked, keep a smile at all times chaos.

The autograph line flowed and our team pulled together like a well-oiled machine.  Everyone in that line got their face-time with him as he signed their items and shook their hands.  Water bottles retrieved from the Green Room (with napkins wrapped around the bottoms so they didn't drip).

There was a brief break for lunch.  I showed them to the Green Room and pulled up a chair outside of it to count tickets and bundle them in 100's for easier totaling at the end of the day.  You see, the system was that when people came to Brandi and myself, they would pay for the autograph and we would give them a ticket for each auto they paid for.  When they got down to Michelle they would give her the tickets so she would know how many they paid for.  By double-counting the tickets and the money at the end of the day we could verify that the totals matched and have the correct numbers.

Anyway, I was sitting there counting tickets after quickly eating the two pizza rolls I had stashed in my bag for myself before leaving the rest in HQ that morning when Michelle came out of the Green Room and said, "I want to bring you a plate."  I, of course, hastily declined with polite thanks.  We're not allowed to enter the Green Room, and the food in there is strictly for the Guests and their people.  She lifted a brow and looked at me, "If I were to bring you a plate, would it be turkey or beef."  Again, I declined with thanks.  She frowned and gave me The Look.  "If I were to bring you a plate ANYWAY, would it be turkey?  Or beef????"  With that I gave in to the inevitable and laughingly admitted that if I were FORCED to eat a plate of food, it would be beef.  The next thing I know, I have a plate of juicy, freshly carved roast beef in my hands.  I tried.  I really did.  I tried not to accept!  I had nothing to do but to eat the yummy, yummy roast beef. :)

With lunch over we went back out for more tickets, more autographs, then off to the photo ops.  I felt so bad for him.  He did an hour of group photo ops with the other Firefly cast members, then without any sort of break did another hour or so alone.  He was literally dripping sweat by the end because there was no air moving in those photo op booths and hundreds of people to push through.

I love fans.  I am one.  But I witnessed a lot of things that made me want to grab people, shake them, and say, "He's a HUMAN BEING!!!"  People who grabbed him, almost tackled him in their eagerness, people who even inadvertently hurt him (Apparently he occasionally has back problems.  Who knew?) by flinging their arms around him despite being told "No hugs, no kisses, no poses, no props!" in the line.  Through it all he smiled, gave people great photos and the memories to go with them, and behaved like a complete gentleman.  There were a couple of different older ladies in wheelchairs, and without exception they all wanted to be out of their chairs and stand for the photos.  Each time we would wheel the chairs to the other side of the photo op booth and they would move to get out and stand, and before we knew it Mr. Fillion was right there, hands at the ready, helping them rise and walk to the proper spot for the photo, then helping them back and into their chairs.  He didn't have to do that.  He could have let us and the photo op staff do it, but he didn't.  He did it himself.

When the photos were done for the day we were already 15 minutes late for the next round of signings but I insisted, against the wishes of Michelle, that he take five or ten minutes first and rest in the Green Room.  I dropped them there and went out to make sure that Brandi was doing all right, tickets were being pre-sold, and that water was in place for when they came out.  Round two began, and the routine picked up once more.  Unfortunately, someone in the Chain of Command decided that we weren't going quickly enough even though our line was one of the fastest moving lines there.  They started bringing over more "help".  Brandi was getting frustrated, Michelle was getting frustrated, and everything was going downhill because all that this extra "help" did was gum up a system that was already operating smoothly and at maximum capacity.  Eventually Brandi made it clear to the folks in charge that their help was not helpful and we got down almost to the original crew again.  There was one addition, but he only slowed us down a little so we powered through.

Finally we made it to the end of the line and it was time for Mr. Fillion's solo Q&A.  Again, I felt so bad for him.  It was scheduled to run until 7:30 p.m. and he was sweat-soaked and tired.  But one of the Reds led his team over there while I supervised evening clean-up and started counting tickets.  Then I waited.  And waited.  And did I mention that I waited?

Everyone cleared out of the room.  All of the other Guests left.  All of the other Volunteers left.  I was sitting there, watching the cleaning crew and waiting by Brandi's suitcase, half expecting the lights to be turned out on me when Erin walked by.  I grabbed her and asked her if she'd seen Brandi, and received the answer that Brandi was backstage at the Q&A counting money.  She called and let people know that I was still waiting with Brandi's stuff, and told me to text her when I finally got out of there so she wouldn't be worried that I was still sitting and waiting.  A few minutes later Brandi finally showed after getting Mr. Fillion to his car.  We did a final match on counts, got her on her way, and I trudged back to Volunteer HQ.  My feet really hated me, and I was dreading the walk back to the hotel, but it was the only way to get to a shower and my bed.

I checked in with Tracy, letting her know how things had gone and that I was leaving.  I texted Erin to let her know I was out of there.  I began the walk to the hotel.  It really was a short distance, but I was so very tired that my legs felt like lead and my feet were throbbing.  Finally I got to the hotel and up to the room.  JBD was there, just leaving me a note saying everyone was going to the pool to soak their feet.  They had already ordered dinner (they'd all been back for a while) but she had the menus to the various places for me.  I declined to join them, just wanting to take a shower and collapse, so she went on down after repeating the invitation should I feel better and change my mind.  I forced my legs to move enough to get to the shower and sluiced off the gross sweatiness then changed into my sleeping clothes.  After making sure everything I needed was in reach (cash for food, menus, phone, Nook so I could read), I called and ordered a small chicken alfredo pizza and a side salad.  I resolved not to move again until I had to answer the door, and then to only move that once until I went to bed.

The pizza arrived, I paid and settled in to eat and read.  Finally I pulled out the hideaway bed, collapsed into it after remembering to set my phone alarm, and slept.

Sunday (Almost done!)

I actually woke before my alarm!  Who knew it was even possible!  Up...dressed...make-up on...grabbed stuff and was out the door.  I decided to take everything down to my truck and drive it over to the Center so that when the day was done I could just hop in and drive home.  Got in, got a great parking space, and headed inside.

Sunday's pizza rolls were safely deposited in HQ.  I chatted with Leah and Patrick again while they got ready to be tourists for the day.  They saved my life with a large bottle of water (instead of the baby ones we had in HQ) so I could dump in some Emergen-C.  Then it was off to the loading dock and a rousing game of "We're the ocean, that's the lava!" to make sure we stayed out of the Guests' way as they came in.  Disappointingly, Ron Glass had a neon yellow shirt on instead of the Volunteer Orange shirt he'd had the day before.  Everyone was very gracious as they came in and said good morning.

Somehow Mr. Fillion got in without anyone notifying me that he was there.  Luckily, I saw Michelle and realized they were there, and jumped up to escort them to the Green Room.  I admit that I got a bit flustered by being caught off-guard, but they were both very gracious about it.

Went out, made sure Brandi was set up and ready to go and that the lines were prepped.  Water was in place, Brandi had a padded chair that I'd found for her the evening before while waiting.  She's expecting, and I didn't like that she had to sit on a hard chair like us, so I hunted around a bit and switched her chair out.  She seemed to appreciate the gesture.  Then he came out and we were off to the races once more.

Autographs, autographs, autographs.  My job was really to make sure Brandi had tickets ready for her to hand each person and to chat with the people who were waiting to try and keep everyone smiling and yet calm.  A lot of people were really, REALLY excited to see him, to the point of hyperventilating.

Finally the time for the Firefly Q&A rolled around, and the Guests all went into the Green Room to wait so they could walk over together, which, of course, led to all of us Oranges waiting outside the Green Room to escort them!  Once they were ready, we headed over en masse via our Secret Pathway (MWAHAHAHAAAA!!!) and got them into the backstage area.  The neat part was that we could watch everything they were previewing on the large projection screens from the back.  They chatted and asked us to watch bags and things, then we all watched the personal message from Joss Whedon, which was awesome.

The next few minutes aged me about 40 years, and taught several of us how to teleport through space and time.

No merde, there we were, standing and watching as each person got announced and went through the curtain.  Somehow Mr. Fillion had beaten us all to curtain duty, and was standing there pulling it aside for everyone as they went through.  Last before him was Gina Torres.  Apparently she came back down after her introduction in order to pull the curtain for Mr. Fillion.  Well, she got VERY enthusiastic, FLINGING the curtain wide for him to come out.

Did I mention that these curtains were only attached to a 20-ft high structure made up of poles that only had bases about a foot or so square?  The Oranges were hanging out in a group about 20 feet away, just watching everything, when it happened:  the entire structure was pulled off balance by that curtain flinging, and started to fall forward toward the Guests and the audience.

I kid you not when I say that we teleported, because before it even hit about a 45-degree angle there were Oranges grabbing every pole on that side and hauling to try and pull it back upright.  It amuses me that videos on YouTube show this and in their notes talk about how Mr. Fillion and Mr. Baldwin are "Big Damn Heroes" because they grabbed the poles to help push the curtains back up.  No disrespect to them, but quite frankly, the real Big Damn Heroes were behind the curtains, heaving for all they were worth.

We got it back upright, but it wouldn't stay, so we remained in place holding the poles and trying to breathe again since we had all been scared beyond any rational thought.  We just looked at each other, trying to keep hysterical laughter from getting too out of hand, straining to keep the curtains upright, and watching the chaos around us.  There were suddenly staff and riggers all over the place, running about trying to figure out how to fix it.  All that we could do was stand on the bases of the poles and keep holding them in place.  They got their guy onto the cherry picker that was back there and he started going from pole to pole, reassuring us that while he had to drive only inches from our feet, he wouldn't hit us...and he didn't.

Then the other side started to go.  Half of the people on our side then teleported again, grabbing the poles on the other side of the stage and desperately pulling them upright once more.  Luckily, no one on either side of the curtains was injured.  The Guests were obviously a bit shaken up, but gamely continued on with their panel.  I didn't really get to see any of it until people posted it on YouTube because I was sort of busy hanging onto a pole.

We spent the next 30-45 minutes working with the riggers to get things corrected.  The pole I was on had actually bent as a result of the whole thing, and they ended up dropping all of the poles down to about 10 feet high instead of the full height.  Just as they got everything stabilized and we could let go, the panel ended and the Guests were ushered along the front of the curtains to the very end and brought backstage there.  We walked them back around, some going to the Green Room for lunch, and others back to their tables.

Mr. Fillion took a short break, and I let my team know I was going to go grab a sandwich at the sandwich stand because I'd not had any food yet that day and between that and the adrenaline spike from The Great Curtain Incident, my hands were shaking so hard I wasn't of any use to anyone.  I went, waited in line for food, got a tuna sandwich, a soft pretzel, and a piece of turtle pecan fudge and by the time I got back with it he was already back out and signing. I would have just tucked it away and eaten it later, but Brandi basically forced me to take my chair back behind the curtain and eat.

While I was inhaling my food, things apparently came to a head with our not so helpful help, and they decided to pull him from his expediting spot next to Mr. Fillion.  Basically, what you do as an expediter is pull signed items off the table and hand them to the exit Volunteer, then usher the person who just met the Guest in the direction of the exit and the person holding their item.  If done right, and smoothly, it gets things out of the way in the case of people with more than one object to be signed AND it encourages people to move on and let the next person in without being rude about it.  There IS a bit of an art to it, though.  You have to be smooth with it, letting the Guest sign the item at their own speed, getting it out of the way unobtrusively, letting the Guest shake hands with the Attendee if they so choose, and then encouraging the Attendee to step on and let the next person in without being rude or cutting the Guest off.  It is usually only a position used for the biggest guests, the ones who will have the longest lines.

Unfortunately, our expediter was slow, and was causing delays with the line.  So they pulled him, and told me to jump into that spot when I came back out.  I finished eating my sandwich, went back out and tucked the remains of the pretzel and the fudge into my backpack, ate three Altoids to kill the tuna smell (because of COURSE I chose to eat a tuna sandwich right before they put me one foot away from my Guest) and hopped into the Expediter spot.  This was kind of cool because I was right by his side, literally, and quite often would find that I had inadvertently put my hands right where his were going when we were holding down something like a rolled poster so that he could sign it.  After about the fourth time I apologized and told him to smack me if I was in his way, and he reassured me that I was doing just fine.  So I guess I sort of got to hold hands with Nathan Fillion for a bit that day. *LOL*

Sadly, about 20 minutes before he had to head for photo ops, my back started spasming.  I think that when I grabbed the curtain pole and pulled I was in a slightly twisted position and I strained my back muscles a bit.  I made it until it was time for photo ops, but had to ask Jen L. to take him over there because I absolutely HAD to sit down.  She suffered through that duty *grin* and I hastily dug out the Box of Wonders and took some painkillers to ease my back.

When he got back I let one of the others take a turn at Expediting and I returned to Tickets.  There was some kerfuffle about our line, with too many people being allowed into it when he only had about half an hour to sign before having to leave to catch a plane, but our team was good.  Really, really good.  We got everyone in that line pushed through in time, and I believe that we managed to do so in a way that still let people get their moment with Mr. Fillion.

The time to leave rolled around, and I escorted Michelle and Mr. Fillion to the loading dock so that they could catch their car to the airport.  I shook both their hands again, thanked them and was thanked in turn, and sent them on their way.

Then I went backstage and had a minor breakdown.

I had been running for three days on adrenaline and it was done.  Between that and the scare with the curtains, my hands shook for about five hours, and I had two crying fits.  But we got everything cleaned up, the photos all packed up, and the area cleared.  One last photo with the four of us who had survived both days, and I grabbed my backpack and headed for Volunteer HQ.

I checked out, got my goodies for working the entire weekend, said goodbye to my fellow Volunteers, and began the slow trudge to my truck.

I was about halfway to the elevator that went down to the parking garage when I saw a familiar face turning away from a drinking fountain.  It was very nice to see Eric Zapata's face light up as he saw me and hurried over for a hug.  Eric Z. is one of the contestants from the TV show "Face Off".  He's a talented make-up and effects artist, and I am very honored to have gotten to know him over the past three or four conventions.  We chatted for a few minutes about the Con, and how things had gone for him as well as what I had been doing this time around.  I must have looked wiped out, though, because he gave me another hug and said that I should get going to my truck and go home to get some sleep.  I really did appreciate him being so glad to see me, though.  It is nice to be more than just an Orange Shirt to someone.

Almost to the elevators and I noticed the Starbucks booth was still doing business.  I got lucky there, as they closed the line two people after me.  I bought a Venti Iced Tea (half green, half black, unsweet, no water!) and got into the long line waiting for the elevators.  I had a lovely chat with one of the vendors as they waited to load their handcart, and then I was in the truck and on my way home.

I got home, took another shower, and collapsed into my recliner until bedtime.

It was a wonderful weekend, full of lots of smiles, laughter, and a few moments of panic.  Everyone I worked with did an amazing job, and I would work with any of them again without hesitation.  No power struggles, no egos, just everyone pitching in to do what needed to be done.

I really can't wait for the October Con. :)

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