Dragon*Con 2003, part 2: black shirts, load-in

White is not a color for dragon*con. Black is a far better choice. A black shirt soaked through with sweat doesn't turn transparent, and the dirt, grime, and grease of equipment never shows up against it. There's an art to staying clean, dry, and daisy-fresh at 'con when you're a tech staffer.

I haven't mastered it yet, but part of it appears to hinge on changing shirts a lot.

We left out on Wednesday afternoon, blazing toward Atlanta in a silver Jetta with a small pocket of space-time conveniently folded in the back seat to hold all our Dragon*Con necessities. Some tech staffers participate in costuming, but most will tell you bluntly and honestly that they don't have the time to do costume play, couldn't work in the kind of costume they'd want to wear, and really don't have the room to fit it all in the car anyway.Few costumes look good with steel-toed boots.

This year, I packed a semblance of a costume for 'con for the first time: a short skirt, a pair of knee-high boots with high heel and platform...and six black shirts. We managed to shoehorn my luggage, Jeff's luggage, a sleeping bag, two computer cases, one monitor, someone else's drum, my backpack, and a bunch of food-making supplies in the car while leaving enough room for us. Four hours later on that Wednesday, we'd made the trek from Huntsville, Alabama to a farm on the outskirts of Atlanta, owned by two other core staffers, Brian and Suzan Richardson.

For us, 'con began that Wednesday night. Jeff prepared his computers, and I took the photos of connectors and equipment I'd printed up at Kinko's earlier that day and turned them into four very large posters we called "The Guide To Cords and Connectors." Brian took final copies of our design work from the past two months and turned them into the Dawn pregame show.

(I should mention that all his work would have to be thrown out several days later, thanks to Roddy Piper, but we'll get to that in a few more entries.)

I finished at somewhere around two a.m. As thanks for my design work over the past two months, Brian gave me a bottle of Blue Ice vodka, which I stowed in my backpack. I crawled into the rollaway bed in the living room and lay there, mentally reciting my mise en place for Thursday morning.

The Thursday morning prior to 'con is one of the two hardest parts of working techops. Thursday morning is load-in, a brutal, back-breaking process which must be completed before 'con-goers arrive. Load-in would begin at ten a.m., when trucks from MMI would arrive at the loading dock, full of equipment that needed distributing.

Techops has four main stations: Harris, Techops, Centennial, and Regency. 'Techops' means 'techops office,' the room on the second floor where an official "Technical Operations" sign is hung for convention-goers to see. 'Harris' is the name of the room on the bottom floor where most of our equipment is stored. Techops is the public face of our group, but Harris is the heart.

Load-in is contingent on having a group of people who know, almost instinctively, where equipment has to go. One of the MMI trucks will contain the boxes of radios and repeaters we need to be able to communicate with each other throughout the hotel; until that box is found and the radios distributed, we are working blind from the loading dock, distributing equipment and relaying information one person at a time.

When the radios arrive, the frenzy becomes a roar. Repeaters are set up so that our radios will reach throughout the hotel, and Bill and Thomas begin directing traffic. Every piece of equipment that has been requisitioned for one of the twenty-odd fan track rooms lands in Harris. Radios, badges, and other general equipment land in Techops. A/V equipment, screens, lights, soundboards, speakers, and other equipment are routed to the correct ballroom.

On Thursday morning, Centennial is a blank, empty cavern. With the help of a cherry picker, the Cen4 stage is built, the light rigging is assembled and raised, the pipe-and-drape sections assembled, cables are run. Giant screens are hung. Lights are tested. The soundboard and speakers are wrestled into place, hooked up, and tested. Smaller stages and sound equipment are set up in the other areas of Centennial, but Cen4 is the worst of the lot.

The same thing is done in the different parts of Regency. Stages are assembled, lights and sound prepared, chairs set out.

Downstairs, Suzan (yes, the Suzan whom my spouse and I stayed with the night before) is working from a checklist to issue equipment out to each fan track room as it comes in off the trucks. TVs must be taken out of their boxes, gently hoisted onto carts, strapped down, and wheeled to the appropriate rooms. Speaker systems are sent to each room and tested. Microphones are set up. Screens are sent out, and A/V equipment tested.

Runners take the equipment to each room, while Suzan, Kat, and I frantically arrange the room even as more equipment comes in. Boxes of connectors, cords, and extra equipment must be kept organized. Fan track directors don't like to be kept waiting, and we're accountable for every piece of equipment that comes in.

Besides, by now, it's well past noon, and according to our schedule, we've got to get moving. Brian's got to get DragonCon TV up and running, and this year all he's got is that troublesome and unreliable microwave link between the Hyatt and the Marriott. No one's had lunch yet, the ballrooms aren't fully set up, and our first concert is coming up at eight p.m. We're beginning to wonder where our badges are. At some point, we'll get a call saying that our badges have been brought to the main techops office, and we'll run up to the second floor to sign for our badges and then hustle back downstairs to get back to work. Convention attendees are starting to arrive, and with them comes a sense of urgency.

Failure is not an option. If we fail, the 'con fails.

Ready or not, it's time to get to work. My spouse has a soundboard to help set up in Regency 6/7, Suzan has equipment to distribute, Brian has a television link to set up, and I've got about fifty sandwiches to make. Shortly after I finish making them, Chris Lanphear - a longtime netfriend whom I have never met in person but have convinced to work tech staff - arrives in from Denver.

I make a note to change into another black shirt after lunch. I've already sweated through the first one.

Dragon*Con 2003 has begun.