Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Welcome to Dragon Con, Newbie

As the days to Dragon Con tick down, more and more first timers have been flooding the various Facebook Groups with questions, seeking advice, tips, and tricks for surviving the weekend with just slightly less sanity than they started with but without going completely nutzoid over the four days.

The call went out for the best "First Timer Guides" and so I am taking up the challenge with a set of ideas, suggestions, and observations I wish I had had for my first couple of Dragon Cons.

So in no particular order here are my thoughts:

Bring Cash, and Small Bills

First there are a limited number of ATM's in the hotel area and the easiest to find and access are just that-- easy to find and access.  That means everyone else will be doing the same and that means that they will be out of money very early in the weekend.  Almost all autographs are best gotten with cash so there goes a large portion there.  The food courts will take cards but it can be challenging to get through the lunch time mob and pay with plastic, and sign, and get your food.  Cash is best, really but that means having it.

The importance of small bills is for flexibility.  When you arrive it's customary to tip the bell hop who helps unload your car.  And then tip the one who brings the bags up to your room.  And then tip anyone who brings up the costume bits you had shipped.  And then tip the... and tip.. being able to slip a few singles is a lot smoother than standing there contemplating if you should tip a 10 or a 20.

Cell Batteries

A lot of the convention will be in areas with poor cell reception.  That's not bad as far as communication goes because more than likely you'll be using texts to communicate with each other.  But what you do have to watch out for is what low reception will do to your phone's battery.  Every time your reception drops too far, the phone has to send another signal up to the cell towers to connect.  That drains your battery almost as much as actually talking does.  It's not hard to go down to the Marriot basement with a full battery and emerge an hour later with it half, and not made any calls during that time.

You will also be using your phone, likely, for the Dragon Con App and other resources which will eat that battery up just as fast.  Invest in some kind of pocket charger, battery extender or other gadgets to get your cell from sun up to sun down.

Not Everyone at the Con is From the Eastern Time Zone

This one probably could come later but it's fun to point out.  The con runs pretty late into the night and it can start pretty early in the day.  But that also means that if you have friends from California to hang out with, and you talk about "doing breakfast" your 9am meal to them is coming at 6am to their body's clocks.  Likewise, if they say "let's just hangout until we crash", when your body says "Oh god it's 1am" their's thinks it's only 10pm.

Cosplay is not Consent

Maybe this should have been at the top but it's something that if you're reading a list of tips of what to do and not to do, you probably have enough savy to realize that just because someone is in a costume does not mean.... well anything besides the fact that they are in a costume.

It does not mean they need to pose for a picture.  It does not mean they want to be touched.  It does not mean that they want to be talked down to, treated as a prop, or laughed at.

A Cosplay is a statement of fandom through costume.  It's a way to say "I'm into this character, this story, this show, this movie."

That said, the majority of cosplayers are happy to pose for pictures, to turn towards a camera, or to talk about their fandoms.  The key is to be respectful that everyone is there to have fun, to enjoy the weekend and to engage with other fans.  Show respect and you'll do fine.

Don't be afraid to talk

The fact that we're all here for a massive convention of people into geeky things should make conversations the easiest of things to have.  If you're the sort not used to talking to strangers, Dragon Con can be one of the best ways to get used to it.  An easy trick to start a conversation is to ask about a costume you don't recognize.  Pro tip:  Be sure it's a costume first and note that Kilts do not mean costumes.

Another good ice breaker is to just ask if they've been to the Walk of Fame yet.  That opens up the door to find out what actors they wanted to see and then what fandoms you might share.

Going up to go down

This appears to be controversial so let me explain a bit about how I understand the elevators work.

When an elevator reaches a certain weight limit it no longer stops on floors where it might add passengers and instead continues down until it reaches one to discharge them.  So this means that if you're in the lower part of a bank of elevators, it's possible that you will never get a "going down" elevator to open for you.

Say you're on floor 5.  The elevator going up opens on your floor to let people off.  It then goes up to 6, 7 and 8 and lets off more people.  Then it starts down picking up people on 8, 7, and then on 6.  But on 6 it fills to capacity, thus it it zips past your floor without stopping.

This is where "going up to go down" starts.  When that elevator going up opens on 5, you get on.  Now you're on an elevator that will eventually go down.

And this is where it pisses people off.  Once people start to fill up on the up trip, elevators tend to reach the top of their run at full capacity.  This means they don't stop for any floors on the way down, and people on floors where there is not a stop to let people out never get an elevator.

I don't have a solution.  As someone who has spent long stretches waiting for any elevator to stop, I confess I've fallen prey to the "just go up to go down" mentality.

Plan for walking

No matter how perfect shoes or boots may look for a costume you need to remember that you will likely be walking or standing for long stretches in them.  Honestly I usually plan three or four comfortable "generic" shoes to wear and accept that while they're not screen accurate I have to be able to walk again within a few days.

It also helps to think about where you plan to go in what costumes.  If you're just going down to the lobby then shoes that a more fashion over form should be fine.  If you're walking between three different hotels for photo shoots, then, yeah, not so much.  And while those might be the perfect boots for a look, if you can't walk back from said photo shoot, what's the point?

Be Cool about What you Shoot

This is a major photo and video event.  There will be pictures in all directions and many people love to make videos at cons.  You may even be asked to lipsync some lines to go into a mash up later (I wish I had the talent to pull off the one below).

But here's the key:  Be sure everyone you film wants to be filmed in the way you're filming them.  Making a point of getting shots of breasts, butts, crotches, down top, up skirts, etc are not only likely to get you in trouble later, they're likely to get you in trouble the very moment you snap the shot.

And when in doubt:  Ask.

Breakfast - The Most Important Meal of the Day

Breakfast is probably the hardest meal to get at Dragon Con if you are staying in the main hotels and you're on a budget.  The Starbucks in the Marriott has a line that takes about an hour to get through and they will not have any food item when you get to the front.  Coffee?  Yes.  Bagel?  Aw, hell no.

The easy way around this is to pack something nonperishable as your breakfasts.  Granola bars are easy, dry cereal can work, and you can use the in room coffee makers to heat water for oatmeal.  There are places that serve breakfast but they tend to be pretty jammed up, tend to be a walk, or tend to be expensive.  If you're in the Marriot you can do the breakfast buffet but understand that at that price it'd be cheaper to hire someone to go to a different location, get you carry out and bring it back.

Which is also an option.

Don't try to do it all.  Prioritize.

If you've ever read a guide book for a major theme park you've heard this before.  When you arrive do the most important things first, and then work your way down so that if you get to the end of your visit you don't leave saying "How did we not get to Pirates of the Caribbean?"

For Dragon Con it comes down to picking a handful of panels you know you want to get to.  Around that schedule your trips to the Walk of Fame, the Dealer's Hall, gaming.  Eat when you can schedule it and if possible do it during off times.  If you can eat dinner at 4 and then snack heavily at 8 you'll save yourself a lot of greif over going into the food court at 6 full of dreams.  Those dreams will end up in a deep fryer somewhere screaming in terror.

Some things make good "Sponge" activities to soak up spare time.  The Walk of Fame can do this unless you want to see celebs who have limited appearance time and who will be very popular.  The bigger the actor, the longer the line.  So prioritize.

Do listen to hotel staff.  They're just doing their jobs.

The hotels will usually stake out areas where they want you to keep from stopping to talk or take pictures.  Please listen to them as there's usually a good reason that is not readily apparent.  It often comes down to keeping a flow of traffic through an area and avoiding jam ups on the escalators.  The hotel lobbies get a massive work out this weekend with the number of people milling around, going up and going down.  Give the staff a break while they do what they can to comply with their own rules and policies.

Being honest, I've never once felt like a hotel staffer was rude to me at Dragon Con.  I've seen annoyance, even impatience from time to time but that's where it stopped.  They want us to have as much fun as we do (so we come back and spend more money) so let them help you have that fun.

Take something to carry things in, preferably something for pictures

If you're going to be collecting autographs have something like a binder with rigid sides to put them in.  You don't want to be running around with a bunch of pictures you're trying to keep from getting bent.   Before you pack make sure you have room for these things on the return trip.  There is nothing worse than getting back from having met Sir Patrick Stewart and gotten his autograph only to open your suitcase and find a crease right down the middle of his face.

Getting Stuff there without getting arrested by the TSA

First, do not pack wands for your Harry Potter cosplay in your carry on bag.  While the TSA may have a good laugh it will only be after an exhaustive search of the bag.

Second, the hotels do have a receiving area and can and will take packages for guests.  There is a handling fee for coming in (plus tip to the hop who brings it up), and there will be a handling fee for sending it out again (plus a tip to the hop who picks it up) but it will let you get things like swords, prop guns and other hard to pack in a suitcase items to the con and back again.  You will want to ship it several days ahead and plan for it to be several days behind but it's a nice option if you have costumes that require items that you just can't take on the plane.

This is hardly an exhaustive list.  If you have more questions toss them in the comments and I'll do what I can to write up a part two to this list and try to address them.

Oh, and totally look for me while you're there.  I'll post more about where to find me when the final panel schedules are posted.

Rob Osterman is the author of the popular web novel Bastion: The Last Hope.  Its story follows those few who struggle to survive through the end of days and perserve what remains of humanity.  He also writes Mind the Thorns, a reader directed web novel chronicling the death and life of Regan Fairchild:  Accountant, Bachelorette and Vampire.

His first novel, Fantasti*Con follows Allison Cavanaugh on a weekend of geekery gone awry as she is stalked, followed, harassed and worse.  It is available on Amazon in print and eBook editions.


  1. Don't forget the ConSuite for free food and drinks, they even have Dr. Pepper.

    A suggestion for newbies: You will need a lanyard for your badge, the provided clips are notorious for failing to keep badges safe and secure. If you don't want to have to buy one there, bring your own.

  2. Good list. This is my 2nd year but will be there all 4 days. Last year I was only there Saturday. You answered some questions I had, thanks!