This is the second of two posts about our vacation in Nevada and the Sierras last month. The first part covered the beginning and end of the trip: Sacramento, Pyramid Lake, Sierra Hot Springs, and Auburn. This second part will discuss the middle section, including the main reason for the trip in the first place: the World Science Fiction Convention, in Reno. I’m writing a separate post for it because I want to talk about some specific issues with the event.
First, let’s get the good stuff out of the way; after all, I don’t want to be completely negative. We did actually have a good time with the conference itself. For example, we were greeted in the dealer room by a fairly exotic iteration of a Dalek.
And we also got to see a couple of authors we both really like. The first talk we attended was with Old Man’s War author John Scalzi, discussing his trip to the Creation Museum.
Almost four years and he’s still getting mileage out of that story. No wonder he’s so happy.
Shortly after that, we got to see another favorite, Cory Doctorow, read a passage from his new YA novel Pirate Cinema, coming next year. As I recall, he said it was a section nobody had heard before. Well, I’m not going to spoil it–but this book is going to be fantastic.
We also ran into Doctorow a little later on the escalator, as he was heading off to record a podcast. Had a short chat about food (of which more later). I’d met him previously, at the 2008 ALA Annual Conference, and it was good to see him again.
And, finally, we got to see a live performance by the legendary Dr. Demento. We’re both longtime fans but had never seen him in person before, so this was extra extra fantabulous.
Between all of those, plus some very fun browsing in the dealer room on the second day, Worldcon itself was great fun. Unfortunately, this was not enough to counterbalance the many, many organizational and infrastructural annoyances that we encountered–problems that fed on each other and eventually ruined our experience, to the point that we left in disgust and despair after only two days.
From this point on, there will be much bitching and moaning; be warned.
So. As I mentioned in Part 1, we arrived in Reno already frustrated by our unpleasant and truncated stay at Pyramid Lake. We had been unable to swim, due to an algae bloom, and unable to relax, due to loud neighbors, and we eventually decided to leave for Reno after one day instead of the intended two. But showers, a decent meal, and a night in a real bed had us feeling a whole lot better, and we were optimistic about salvaging the trip once we got to the con.
Sadly, this didn’t last.
On Wednesday (August 17th), we moved from our short-notice room at the Holiday Inn to our conference hotel, the Courtyard. We had chosen this because it was the only one of the three to be entirely non-smoking (my spouse has asthma, and she had trouble the last time we stayed in a Reno hotel).
Unfortunately, our hotel choice had a serious consequence. The con shuttle, while offering quick and convenient transport between the convention center and the other two conference hotels (the Atlantis and the Peppermill), did not come to the Courtyard. We had known this in advance, and did not believe it would be a problem.
However, when we arrived for the con, we discovered that the convention center charged seven dollars for parking–per visit.
There was not a single word about this in the conference guide, and only a very tiny mention on the website (and it inaccurately states that it was per day, not per entry). That page also says, “of course most members will probably be taking advantage of the free parking available at our hotels.” Well, yes, if you happen to be staying at the Atlantis or the Peppermill and can make use of the shuttle.
However, those of us at the Courtyard were out of luck. It was either drive, walk a mile and a half (in the noisy, dusty strip-mall wasteland of south Reno), or take the bus (time-consuming, especially with a route change at Meadowood Mall halfway between). So we drove.
Now, that particular pain in the butt, we might have been able to deal with. But it ended up synergizing with the second, greater, and more conference-wide problem: no food. At least, no decent or convenient food.
Now, you need to know here that I am mostly vegetarian, and both of us are highly picky about what we will eat. We can’t stand high-fat, high-cholesterol, high-sodium junk food and avoid it whenever possible.
This is scanned from page 9 of the Convention Guide. You see the part that I’ve highlighted, about “(p)lenty of carts/food booths”? Well, I hesitate to call it a lie, because that would require that they knew it wouldn’t be true when they wrote it. But, whether deliberately or not, it was not true. At all.
There were no food carts. No food booths. There was one snack bar in the hallway, and a smaller snack bar in the middle of the dealer room, both with the same menu–hot dogs, hamburgers, sodas, and the like.
Did I mention that I’m a vegetarian? Did I mention that we don’t eat garbage?
Oh, there was a food court, across the hall from the snack bar. There were even signs there for a Starbucks. Unfortunately, the whole thing was shuttered whenever we passed by. At one point, when we complained at the information desk about the lack of food options, they tried to send us there–while it was shuttered. We never once saw it when it was open.
Which means that whenever we needed to eat, we had to leave the con and go elsewhere. Now, the most obvious solution would probably be the Atlantis, which had 11 restaurants right at the other end of a walkway from the convention center. And we did this for lunch on both days, out of desperation.
However, I’ve already mentioned my spouse’s intolerance for cigarette smoke. Nevada law may forbid smoking in casino restaurants, but they’re still connected to the casino. So the stink of smoke was inescapable. And the noise and garish ugliness of the casino made it impossible to relax and enjoy our food.
And going elsewhere to eat was pretty much out of the question, given that every departure would mean losing a couple of hours of con time (because of leaving the convention center, finding the car, making our way there and back, etc.). Not to mention having to pay seven dollars every damn time we had to park.
So, it wasn’t long before we were exhausted, grumpy, hypoglycemic, and wishing we hadn’t even bothered.
Those were the biggest annoyances, but they weren’t the only ones. We also had a lot of trouble finding decent eating options at or around our hotel. For example, take breakfast. The Courtyard wanted to charge $8.95 for the same greasy continental breakfast that every other hotel provides for free. (And when we’d finally resigned ourselves to paying it, they’d run out of eggs.) Thank the gods we found Kimmie’s Coffee Cup within walking distance.
We were also quite overwhelmed with the problem of managing our con schedule. Of course, this is a perennial problem at conventions in general, and at SF cons in particular. But the scheduling really did seem a little half-baked. Most days had little of interest in the morning, and then two dozen things at 1pm, ten of which we wanted to see. It felt like a lot more attention could have been paid to the schedule in general, with events distributed more evenly during the day. (As an example: we brought two shopping bags full of books we wanted to get signed. We ended up not going to a single signing.)
Those are quibbles, though. We could have handled that. But the twin fails of food and transportation together made it impossible for us to have a good time. After much sniping and bad noise, we gave up on the second day and decided to leave. We had been planning and saving for this trip for over a year, but once we got there we just wanted to get out. So we booked ourselves two days at Sierra Hot Springs.
Ironically, once we’d made up our minds to cut the trip short, we had a much better time. We went back to the dealer room and spent the afternoon browsing and buying a few souvenirs. (We also got to see George R.R. Martin in person, though we didn’t get to talk to him or attend a signing.) And we went out for sushi that night, and had a walk downtown by the river the next morning. That was very nice–especially when I discovered that one of my favorite college hangouts, the Java Jungle, was alive and well.
And then we put Reno behind us and got the hell out of town.
So, you ask: final thoughts?
This trip has pretty much ruined the con experience for us, at least for anything happening out of town, or away from plentiful dining options. We’ve had a hard time before–notably at Baycon 2006, where we were pretty much trapped by the hotel’s remoteness. At least, it was non-smoking, so we could enjoy the coffee shop.
But this was far worse. I don’t expect that we’ll be going to any other cons, unless they’re local (or in downtown San Francisco). I’m afraid I have to set the blame for this at the feet of the organizers; they really should have thought more carefully about the food options and the transportation issue.
(Though the smoking isn’t quite their fault; it’s going to be an issue with any event in Reno. Maybe someday the city will figure out how much California business they’re losing because of smoking.)
And I also doubt that I’ll ever be able to convince my spouse to set foot in Reno again. Pyramid Lake, yes. And possibly Burning Man. But not Reno. Hell, I’m not sure I want to go back–and I lived there for eight years.
Thankfully, we were able to salvage the trip. Despite the double fiasco of Pyramid Lake and Worldcon, this turned out to be a decent trip overall. But it definitely wasn’t the massive, fun blowout we were planning on.
Honestly, we should’ve just spent the whole week at Sierra Hot Springs. We would have spent less money and had a much better time.
Anyway, that’s it, I believe. Live and learn, I guess.