Here’s something new for this blog: my photos have found a new home on Flickr. Here’s the photo album for BayCon 2014. You can preview them in this gallery; if you pause your mouse over any image, you’ll see a brief descriptive title. Click on any photo to jump to the full-sized images on Flickr. Oh, and yes, they’re still copyrighted images, just nicer to look at in Flickr Land.
The final day of a convention can be a downer: games are ending, there are no parties pending, the con suite is running short on the good stuff, some people you just got to know are leaving early, and—not the least of it—you’re really, really tired.
I wasn’t due for “work” until afternoon, but I roused myself earlier, for the last DIY project—Make A Parasol (see Firefly). Alas, I’d missed a program schedule update & the project was over. Long over—it had happened the day before! Won’t happen this year—I’ve finally joined the Smartphone Universe & so have access to the online schedule for BayCon 2015.
I did have a backup plan—a panel discussion on new discoveries about extrasolar planets. But I’m kind of a Kepler fanatic, so the information being shared was, well, old hat. I found myself nodding off while people were talking about one of my favorite subjects.
So off to the Gofer Hole to check in and claim my spot as the Art Show Gofer. The day wasn’t boring any more.
I had my chance to be part of the Art Auction. That was cool—I’ve never been, because I can’t afford to bid anything near what auction items should go for. Instead, I got to set up bidder numbers for folks who did have the resources and were eager to support these wonderful artists.
Once the Auction wound down, I got to be on the giving end of the Art Show. That is, folks queued up to collect the pieces they’d won in the silent bidding and—later on—the auction. The staff took care of the official tasks of collecting payments and pacifying people who’d not won the pieces they wanted. As a Gofer, I fetched their purchases (from the stacks we’d so carefully arranged the night before) and saw those their faces light up with happiness.
Eventually, all but a few of the neat stacks were gone. A few winning bidders were late to collect their prizes. But we set those safely aside.
In the meantime, all afternoon, artists were coming by and packing up any pieces that hadn’t sold. We helped if needed—fetching supplies, finding paperwork they needed, taking down labels and hooks from the display boards—and it was cool to get to talk directly with the artists. Several artists had entrusted the convention staff to display the work on their behalf, having shipped the art with their registration forms. Most had a piece or two still unsold, and these needed to be repacked for shipping homeward. The original boxes were not necessarily available, so I made the rounds of the vendor room to scrounge empty boxes.
Gradually, one by one, the display boards were emptied, we collected all the hooks, labels, and trash, and the staff tracked down the last of the tardy winning bidders.
It was time to empty the room. Load-out time. Most of the stuff needing shifted was heavy—pegboards, frames, bins full of papers and supplies. So I called dibs on the job of getting all the art-to-be-shipped-home safely out to the Art Show director’s car. It took a few trips through a lobby full of exhausted attendees and staffers. Then I glommed onto an empty luggage cart. Plus, the Gofer King was one of the staffers in the lobby and he dispatched an idle Gofer to help on my last round. Whew.
So, most of these events end with what they call Dead Dog. That’s one of the things you hear staffers talking about near the end of a convention, but they don’t share with mere members what exactly that is. The deep dark secret is: it’s a party. It’s the staff party that happens when everything’s over, the attendees have gone, and all the clean-up work that can get done is done. Aha, it’s what theater types call a strike party.
Generally speaking, it’s a Staff event, but Gofers who stick it out all the way to the end are welcomed into the party. There’s food. All the leftovers from the weekend, that no-one wants to have to haul home. All the ice-cold sodas left in the Magic Charity Soda Machine. Meanwhile, the hard-core staffers take the opportunity to give thank-you speeches to each other and praise the folks who’ve stepped up to chair the event next year.
It felt a little like crashing the party at that point, but the Art Show leaders were saying nice things to me, so I felt better. And Alison asked if maybe I’d help her as staff in 2015. And finally, finally, I gathered up my own art purchases, and Went Home.
Gofer Lesson of the Day: If you stick it out to the end of everything, you can get into the fabulous Dead Dog party. There will probably not be any dogs there, just tired-out volunteers. Like you.
How to do this:
Method #1: Walk into the Gofer Hole and sign up. You do need to be 16, but there’s no upper limit. Yes, really, you, too, can be a middle-aged Gofer. For BayCon 2015, the secret lair is in Tasman. Go up the escalator, turn right and it’ll be on your right before you reach the convention center.
Method #2: Email the King of the Gofers. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You get double credit for helping at setup on the day before the convention starts. If you’re super-eager to help & don’t get a reply, email me (email@example.com) and I’ll help you make contact.
Sunday was the last full day of BayCon 2014, and it was full indeed. (BayCon 2015‘s will be even more crammed, with no Monday to work with.)
At this particular con, if you put in a certain number of Gofering hours, you’re awarded free membership for the following year. It hadn’t been my original goal, but when I checked in Sunday noonish after Quidditch,
I could see my stats were high enough that the free-membership category was within reach. But it would take some decent planning now, as there were a few Important Items for myself on the program for Sunday. And not so many demands for Gofers.
But then, late in the afternoon, there was a call for help on badge checking. This is the extremely arduous task of sitting in a folding chair at the entry to the Convention Center hall leading to the art show, vendors, and the big room for boffers & sword-fighting & large-audience programs, and making sure all the people going by have BayCon badges. No worries. These are not teensy “Hello” stickers. It’s not often you have to actually make someone stop so you can see their badge. They’re big enough, color-coded, with an easily-recognized logo-du-con. But wait—there’s more— most folks have badges that you would be hard-pressed to miss. Eh, what? Well, here’s my badge after Friday.
And there’s my badge at the end of Saturday.
And did I hear “Sunday”?
Yep, it’s the ribbon thing. Collecting badge ribbons is a project of pride for many convention denizens, so even if you have to stop someone to check their badge, you can sideline a prickly reaction with an appeal to check out their ribbons. Or an offer to share one of your own ribbons. You do have ribbons, don’t you? Find me at BayCon 2015 & you can have one of mine. They’re rainbow, and purple, and shiny.
Another bonus to the badge checking job, at least at the convention center hallway spot, is that it’s a super-fine spot to view cosplayers on the move. I had a partner on the job, so I was also able to talk to a few cosplayers and ask for photos. A few were even up for a ribbon swap as well. My own costuming skills go no further than fun & funky outfits for Halloween, so I’m a huge fan of the skilled costume artists who turn out for these conventions. Here are just a few of the folks I met while badge-checking. (Reminder, ask permission for photos!)
At the next shift change, I swapped with a Gofer who was working the Art Show. And that’s when I became a Dedicated Gofer. Sounds impressive, but it’s an unofficial label indicating that a department head wanted dibs on my time. Think of it as a mezzanine-level status just below Staff Member.
How does such a thing happen? Five easy steps:
A. Begin with a gap in programs & activities that the Gofer is interested in over a several-hour period. Check. (I arrived late afternoon with a snack in my bag and nothing on my wish-list but a determination to get to Regency Dancing around 9pm. I made it there at 9:20.)
B. Stir in an attraction within the venue that the Gofer is interested in. Check. (Bidding was due to close & I had a bid on one item and a friend with a wish for someone to “guard” her bid on another.)
C. Add a liberal quantity of responsibility for real stuff. Check. (A key job was organizing the sold works into neat collections, by bidder number, ready for pick-up on Monday. The staff gave us Gofers instructions, but pretty much let us take care of the job.)
D. Allow the gofer to see that dedication is actually helping out somebody. Check. (My fellow Gofer left for dinner shortly after the 7pm closing time and never returned; I bought a soda & enjoyed a granola bar in between jobs. But the staffers were so on task they were ignoring food they’d brought and having to nag each other to take restroom breaks. There was clearly too much work for the main staffers to do on their own & they were struggling with a computer issue as well. By the time my partner Gofer went off-shift, the staff members were trusting me to just take care of other ancillary jobs like running through checklists and sorting out unsold items and items going to the auction.)
E. Tell ’em. Check. (As I was leaving to get my fix of Regency Dancing, the Art Show director directly thanked me for helping and staying late and told me she’d request my help the next day.)
Gofer Lesson of the Day: Find yourself a good spot to collect ribbons–having some to trade makes it easier–and if you are nice to the folks who put in the effort to turn up in those excellent costumes you may get to take photos or even selfies with them!
Bonus Lesson, this one for Staffers Who Rely on Gofers: Give your Gofers real jobs, let them take ownership of tasks, and remember to tell them you appreciate their help. And that will keep them coming back for more.
As of BayCon 2014, Saturday’s big event is the Variety Show (the event formerly known as Masquerade), so the halls of the Hyatt are full of costumed characters. My husband’s coming tonight, just for the Show. In the meantime, I need to cram in some of my own Con activities, beginning with a kaffeeklatsch (small-group discussion) with the artist guest of honor, Ursula Vernon. Then there’s that one panel discussion (I’m not generally keen on panels, but Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff is on this one). And I have my eye on a session about cool Arduino projects, not to mention showing up for a presentation by some friends and acquaintances from the Bay Area Lego User Group.
Does this mean I’m not Gofering at all? Nope. Gofering is a flexible commitment. I can sign in just for the time block I expect to be free. And the Art Show happens to need an extra hand just then.
The Art Show is one of my favorite venues, always with something new to see. Plus this particular day began with that awesome-artist kaffeeklatsch. The only downside? No photography, for obvious reasons. It’s light work, helping things get organized. Sorting collections of paper, helping the Art Show leaders check that all the forms are there and all the pieces have their bid sheets and all the pieces on display are included in their records. There’s an old computer that needs someone to keep trying to get it to boot up. And finally, I’m entrusted with the queue of members needing to be assigned their bidder numbers and to be reminded of how the bid process works. My qualifications? Being an experienced art-show bidder, and relatively fussy with paperwork.
By the time the queue was down to the occasional new arrival and my services weren’t needed, it was time for the afternoon programs I wanted to attend.
And then I had the whole evening free to spend with my husband, who used his one-day pass for the variety show,
a tour, some pictures of paparazzi,
and an introduction to boffers, where a pair of energetic youngsters thoroughly trounced us both. He drew the line at staying for the midnight reading of Eye of Argon. Being a simply horrid spouse, I sent him home alone and dropped in on a few parties after that quiet, sedate, restful hour of reading, to whit:
Gofer Lesson of the Day: Let yourself enjoy the convention, too.
In 2014, BayCon had its traditional four days to work with, and Friday was an ease-into-the event day. This was a great time to turn up at the Gofer Hole and ask if they needed help. “Yes!” being the inevitable answer. Warning: if you try this, there ARE forms! If you are a kid, there are parental signatures required. So I signed away liability for the horrific injuries and possible death that might occur as a result of my participation in the duties of a fetch-and-carry helper in a nice hotel constructed to meet modern building codes. More likely: infection by a zombie virus, but ha on them, they didn’t mention zombie viruses in the release form.
The reward for filling out forms: my first badge ribbon of the Con. Yes, this means I am Gofer #18. Shades of Caddy Shack.
So what does a Gofer do? Take a deep breath, plunge in. Oh, it is soooooo difficult.
Job #1: Go to the Big Ballroom, to help set up for some event tonight. No idea what the event is. The person who called for help? He’s not there. No one knows what he wanted done. But the guy hanging lights at the Art Show needs an assistant.
Job #2: Help hang lights at the Art Show. Now, actually hanging the lights is a Skilled Job, not a Gofer job. My job is to hand cable ties to the exhausted electrical tech, whose ladder-climbs for the weekend have already gone into the triple digits. And to help spot weak links in the chain of power-strips and extension cords feeding electrons to the downlamps positioned to light the display boards for the art. Artists are already checking in, placing their work, jockeying for prime display spots in the venue. Still, we proceed up and down rows with a stepladder and a bundle of cable ties.
Job #3: The original person who wanted help is back. He needs a banner snapped onto a big framework thingy. It’s a multi-gofer job that takes some cooperation, especially amusing as none of us assisting with this thing have any idea what it’s for. My engineering brain helps with figuring out the layout itself, and we get the fabric stretched out nicely, but my partner gets to actually do most of the actual attachment, since there is a power element to the task.
Job #4: Hang around in the Gofer Hole, being On Call. Seriously, being available counts as working. Yes, indeed, this is even better than counting billable hours in my consulting practice. Dang, if only I could bill clients for time I’m home & my phone and email connections are working. There are snacks here—bagels, mmmm. And electrical outlets, so I can plug in my netbook & work on a Messy Monday project.
Job #5: Schlep groceries for a party. Some longtime VIP staffers are having a private party. Their goodies for the party are stowed in the Gofer Hole. We On-Call Gofers have the hugely easy job of carrying the goodies a hundred feet down the hall. [Hint: helping with a party does entitle one to partake of the party. Generally speaking. I did not take part, having a prior engagement with a soda machine.]
Job #6: Load sodas into the Charity Soda Machine. This is a magical device in the Games Room that converts geeks’ need for carbonated sugar- or aspartame-water into monies for this year’s charity fundraising. I was briefly concerned that I would run into difficulties with my limited weight-lifting capabilities. But the job soon devolves into a three-stage process free of excessive lifting:
Stage A: Wander about looking for the Keeper of the Soda-Machine Keys.
Stage B: Wait for the Individual Authorized to Use the Humungous Hand Truck
Stage C: Leave when Keeper of the Machine appears and disavows any need for help
Job #7: Build a LARP set. Someone has created a live-action role-playing version of a card-based game called “Kill Dr. Lucky”. This is a game I have never heard of, but someone has gone to great lengths to build an accurate, room-sized playing field that live humans can walk about on as if they are playing pieces in the game. Our mission: assist this charismatic lunatic by moving chairs out of the way, laying out the sheets his friend has carefully marked out with lines and labels, getting each in proper orientation to the other and smoothing out the boundaries with tape. By the time we are done, I’m determined to show up and try out this LARPing thing.
And by this time, I’ve put in totally enough time as a Gofer for one day, while the activities I’m least interested in on the program are conveniently over.
I have time to dash up to the DIY room before dinnertime and make myself a cool ray gun by artistically decorating a plastic gun with gold and silver and red and purple and green Sharpies. It is my favorite toy already. So shiny.
And I wouldn’t want anyone to think one has to devote the entire day just Gofering about. I did skip an hour of possible On-Call credit for a panel on the relative merits of James Bond and Doctor Who. And regretted it. There is no contest. Doctor Who is way, way cooler than James Bond, but the panel was mostly a bunch of guys keen on car chases in movies.
Finally, yes, I did get to play Kill Dr. Lucky. It was super fun, and while I cannot claim to be the One Who Did the Deed, the evil Dr. L was indeed assassinated. Here is our team’s creative enactment of the impending demise of the successful assassin.
Gofer Lesson of the Day: Sign up early & there will be lots of easy jobs to do while the con is barely getting started. There’s never a dull moment, or if there is, you can get credit for working by napping while On Call. And don’t leave home without a suitable weapon.
BayCon 2015 looms on the horizon. The increasing pace of email updates from the registration staff is bringing on flashbacks of the olden days, at BayCon 2014, when I fell deep into a gopher hole and didn’t emerge until the sun was fading on Memorial Day.
That is, last year I was a Gopher/Gofer/Go-fer at my local science-fiction convention. (Spelling must remain inconsistent & unimportant in this instance.) This year, I’m On Staff. It’s remotely possible that the two conditions are related, what the docs call “comorbid conditions”. Perhaps it’s worth revisiting, to give folks a glimpse into the life of a convention Gofer. Or to enable recognition of incipient volunteerism.
It all started on check-in day, the Thursday evening before Opening Day.
Inauspiciously, my badge was not waiting at the check-in table; something had gone wrong with the printing, and it was queued up with several other reprint orders. That meant I had nothing to do for a half-hour or so. Rather than sit patiently, I roamed the halls. The week before, I’d emailed a randomly-named staff address to ask about working as a go-fer, and the reply was fuzzy, but boiled down to stop-in-at-the-gopher-hole. But where was this secret base?
Suffice to say, I failed to locate the base, but the search renewed my acquaintance with the layout of the Hyatt Regency & Santa Clara Convention Center. So I collected my program and newly reprinted badge
& went home to rest up for the long weekend.
Paradoxically, my unfulfilled search actually made me more determined to find the secret lair and get involved…once things were up and running on Friday. The secret? The Gofer Hole owns one of the smaller meeting rooms in a relatively quiet zone (across the hall from the Bayshore Room at the Hyatt) but during the Con, it’s clearly flagged with artistic signage and new Gofers are welcome to stop in and sign up.
Amazingly, Friday morning, they would even let this demented individual sign up:
Gofer Lesson of the Day: Don’t give up, take advantage of “wasted” time to learn something or, heck, catch some z’s.