Ten Things you Need to Know about DragonCon
But Don’t Know to Ask
From all over the world fans come, pooling together like massive armies combining their strength and acting as one to invade the city of Atlanta and partake in not a common three day convention but rather a wondrous four day extravaganza known far and wide as the all mighty DragonCon! If you have never been to DragonCon you must go, now, this very year. Beg or borrow the necessary funds but please find yourself there Labor Day weekend for never before has such a celebrity line up been gathered together. This is the con where between 30 and 50 THOUSAND people will attend, it will have hundreds of guests, a dealer’s room the size of a regulation Little League base ball field, another hall dedicated to nothing but celebrities ready to sign autographs for their adoring fans and yet a third hall filled with row after row of art work hung upon walls arranged in a maze like pattern to ensure that you see every selection at least once. Short of your own personal demise there is no reason you should not go to the con this year.
If you do go, find Buzzy Multimedia’s tables in the dealer room and mention to them that you read this blog. Do so and you shall receive a “super secret ‘mystery surprise.'”
All that hype aside, let’s assume that you are going to DragonCon this year for the first time. This is not “just another con” that you can bumble your way through. The program book alone is about 250 pages and there are some 15 different tracks you can follow in part or whole. In fact, it is a 24/7 event for the entirety of the four days it runs. Ah yes, I remember my first DragonCon, many and many a moon ago. I was such a newbie and wished going into it that I had the advice of a sage and experienced DragonCon-goer to advise me. I did not, but my hard learned lessons can now be passed down to you. Presenting:
Ten Things you Need to Know about DragonCon but don’t Know to Ask:
1. Atlanta is a neat city, it’s a lot like New York but clean; rat and pigeon free and without all those annoying New Yorkers (no harm intended to any Yankees who are reading this). Atlanta is also a lot like the city of Rome in that it has hills. Rome however has only seven hills where as Atlanta has about 126,418. No matter where you stay in the city or the nearby bedroom districts, you will have to contend with hills. Now, when you are in a car and driving about its no big deal but when you have to walk anywhere you will have to go up hill. Everything in Atlanta is uphill from where you parked. There is no parking on top of the hill or near where you want to be. All parking is at the bottom of hill and not near where you want to go. You’ll have to pay for parking and the lot attendees are quick to boot a car that didn’t pay for its parking spot. Once you are in one of the three hotels that contain the con, you would think that you would be free from the hills, but ha ha, no you are not. There are lots of stairs that must be climbed. In fact there is one hotel that can only be entered in by ascending a flight of steps akin to an Aztec pyramid.
2. DragonCon is known for getting top notch boss bands to play at their event, such as Cruxshadows. A band of this caliber will draw in its own fans who will attend the con just to see them perform so they don’t mind getting in line early because they are not here to see the con, just the band. If you have any interest in getting to see Cruxshadows live you absolutely need to get into line a looooong time before the music starts to ensure that you get to get in because if there is one thing that the Fire Marshal of Atlanta is good at, it is counting the number of people in a room and forbidding anymore from entering. He is not a man to be messed with or underestimated either because he will also shut something down if things get out of hand. Getting in line early is good because it guarantees that you get to see the band but alternatively you will spend valuable con time standing in line not doing other things. The best you can hope for is that wandering hallway antics will come your way and entertain you. Never fear, as there is a high chance that this will happen anyway even if you are not standing in a line. For instance one of my favorite musicians, Voltaire, usually performs in the hall and attracts a big crowd; however, he typically does not do this anywhere near the line of folks waiting to see Cruxshadows. Win some, loose some.
3. Water, water everywhere and its all free to drink. At the con just about every room has a big cooler of water and little paper cups that are there for the using so that you can rehydrate to your heart’s content. Sadly, after day one the cups are seldom replaced and the water is just about always empty after 10 am. Not the fault of the hotels, they work all the time trying to keep those things full, but 50,000 people get thirsty quick. My advice is to carry your own drinking vessel so as to ensure that you have a way to imbibe should you happen across a filled water cooler. Also, since most of us folks already carry a knapsack or bag of some sort with us anyways, why not take some drinks as well?
4. The dealer’s room will be a marketplace of everything you ever wanted and a bunch of other stuff you didn’t even know you needed. Bearing that in mind, make sure that you budget for yourself enough money to eat every day. No one wants you to starve to death at the con and the friends you went with will not really want to loan you money for food because you spent yourself dry on object’s de fandom. Also, do not overspend and drive yourself broke. No book, no autograph, no collectable card or velvet cape is as important to own as paying your rent on time when you get back. As bad as the economy is these days don’t go running up the charge cards willie nilly. You can always wait for the Monday afternoon discounts that some dealers are willing to make on some of their remaining merchandise. There is a chance you take that come Monday afternoon the thing you wanted will have already been be sold. If it’s still there the dealer may have discounted it. If he didn’t, don’t take it personally, although you are there to have a good time and go back to work Tuesday, he was working all holiday weekend and will have off Tuesday. Being a dealer is a full time job for some folks and deep discounts are just not possible or profitable. For them, there is another con next weekend, and the weekend after that. They have no fear that they will not be able to sell their stuff.
5. Being the owner of a nine foot long pole arm is keul, and as soon as the guys back home see it your geek points will double. But if you came to the con by plane consider how you are getting said pole arm in a cab or on the MARTA (Atlanta speak for “subway”) let alone on the plane with it. You and a pole arm on an air bus could look a lot like the beginning of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Although it all worked out well for them (sans the death of Neil Patrick Harris who gets triple tapped in the back by a Madam who took offence to the fact that he branded one of her girls) the dice may fall differently for you. All I’m saying is that if you buy a nine foot long pole arm from one of the numerous weapon dealers at the con just be sure you have a way to get it back home.
6. There are so many celebrities running around the con that you would swear that you were at the Academy Awards. The celebs, just like all us mortals, will have to walk from point A (the bar) to point B (the autograph room) just like everyone else until they develop teleportation. The celebs, just like you and me have to walk up hill in the summer heat of down town Atlanta, the windless city, to get to any one of the three hotels that loosely contain the con. When celebs are on the move, they seldom take a moment to chat to fans because they are no doubt trying to get to their table where they will have the legal right to charge you at least $20 for their autograph. Consider yourself forewarned. Some celebs are OK to hang with, hit up for a smoke, get directions from and even score a free autographed head shot…others, not so much. Just remember if you have an unpleasant moment with a celeb that they are a person and not the character from the show or movie that you love. You shouldn’t really take it as an insult if your all time favorite character was to them nothing more than a role they played for a season. Learn it, own it and move on.
7. I use a lot of hyperbole when I write but the following statement is written with zero exaggeration: the program guide to the con really is some 250 pages long. I suggest you go through it and plot your day out ahead of time. There are so many things to see and do and experience that are lots and lots of fun, until of course you learn that you missed the coolest thing ever because you were doing something slightly less cool someplace else. No matter what your fandom interest is I promise you that DragonCon has it covered, and if you do not take advantage of the program guide you run serious risk of missing out on some truly awesome events, panels and gatherings. Also, DragonCon produces its own daily newspaper for each day of the con. It lists what events were canceled, added, what celebs are a no show and who is taking their place, interviews, items in the lost and found, as well as a place for personals, ya know, in case you need to find friends who were lost two days ago.
8. At every con there are those folks who get into the spirit of things and dress up in costume. DragonCon is no different, except they hold a parade downtown so folks in costume can walk about and be seen if they choose to join in the fun. The parade is pretty big, so big in fact that the city closes down several streets to accommodate it. For instance, about 500 Storm Troopers alone will walk the parade route. Some cons don’t even have 500 attendees. That’s not counting the Browncoats, pirates, ninja, super heroes, GI Joes, Cobra shock troopers, Goth dolls, steam punks gangs, anime types, and furries just to name but a few. The parade is covered by the media and broadcast on local cable channels, as well as being on the various hotels closed circuit TV for guest of the hotels to watch and enjoy from the comfort of their rooms. Now aside from the parade several thousand other people will dress up all weekend long and attend the con in costume. DragonCon allows for some pretty extreme costumes and so long as public decency laws are maintained, the costume is oh-key dokey with the con. One year I saw a girl wearing combat boots, a mini skirt and two large band-aids. Other than a smile and pig-tails that was it. If that sort of thing offends you, well, stay home. And, if you see someone wearing something that you in your humble opinion feel they do not have the body type to wear, keep that opinion to yourself. This is every bit as much their good time as it is yours.
9. The cost of living in Atlanta is about what you would expect for a city – high, but you don’t have to go broke while you’re there. Before you even leave your home town go to Wal-Mart and stock up on cheap eats that you can stockpile in your hotel room. If you have a hot plate you can take along, so much the better. It will not be the most health-conscious weekend of your life, but it’ll save you lots when compared to eating out three meals a day. Hotels will give you all the coffee and creamer you need, as well as shampoo and soap. There is a food court in the upper levels of one of the building connected to one of the con hotels by a glass encased skybridge, but I believe that the mall level of that building is closed for one of the days of the con. When you can, eat at a place that has a buffet so you can stock up enough fuel for the day. Also, this may not be the place to experiment with new foods just in case you know, it gives you a rumblie tummy. The con is big, but the bathrooms are not numerous enough if you “gotta go, right now!”
10. Between the hills and the three city blocks the con covers combined with the summer heat and breezeless streets of downtown Atlanta I cannot stress enough that this is the time to dress smart. Wear shoes you can comfortably walk in for 10 to 18 hours. Layer your clothes cause as hot and sticky as it will be outside most of the panel rooms are super air conditioned and rather cold. If you are prone to asthma attacks keep your inhaler in hand because the smog builds up fast downtown and the police who manage traffic all weekend long will hustle you across the street as quickly as they can. It may go without saying, but if you are even the slightest bit claustrophobic this may not be the con venue for you. All weekend long folks are going to be accidentally knocking into you, more so after dark.
Well, that’s it really. If you adhere to even half of my tips you’ll have at least twice as good a time as the person who doesn’t follow any of them. I’ll be there this year, most likely at the Buzzy tables. Swing by and say hi, and if you ask nice, I’ll take a picture of you with my sock monkey, Salty.
Theresa Bane, Vampirologist and DragonCon attendee 10 years running
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Ten Things you Need to Know about DragonCon. But Don't Know to Ask.
If you have never been to DragonCon you must go, now, this very year. Beg or borrow the necessary funds.