Monday, March 03, 2008

MarsCon 2008: The British Invasion

(This is reposted from my own blog.)

So, first of all, it was a ton of fun being a Guest of Honor. One of the nicest perks at MarsCon is "Snarky's Cafe," which is like a spinoff consuite restricted to people who are working: vendors, ConCom members, GoHs, and heavy volunteers. This is the second year they've done it. There's a $20 charge for the people who want to eat there, although they comp'ed the GoHs. The woman who runs Snarky's spends the weekend cooking real food, in quantity, three times a day. It's simple stuff, the kind of thing you can cook in crock pots and hot plates in a hotel room, but it's real food, and you can actually have all your meals there. (There are people who manage this in the ConSuite but I am not one of them.) If you're a vendor in the dealer's room and can't come up for lunch, they deliver. I've been telling everyone how awesome it was in the hopes of inspiring imitators at other cons, but it is contingent on someone willing to spend the entire weekend cooking. Anyway, I ate lunch in the hotel restaurant on both Saturday and Sunday, because I wanted to eat with Haddayr, but the rest of my meals I had at Snarky's. And thank goodness I could, because the hotel restaurant is really slow, and there's not much else close by, and my windows for dinner were narrow.

And I got to be a performance judge at the Masquerade, which meant I got a front-row seat without having to start standing in line an hour ahead of time.

It was awesome.

But the really interesting part was Saturday night.

As I understand it, one of the ConCom members is an expat Brit, and on Saturday afternoon in the lobby she ran into a man in a kilt -- an actual Scotsman in a regimental kilt. She started chatting with him and found out that he was the Sergeant Major of a group (I'm sure there's a more technical term than "group," but I'm not even certain of his rank) of British soldiers who were on their way to desert training in Nevada. Their flight had been cancelled and they were stuck for the night in Minneapolis. She suggested he let them come to the con. He initially refused, but then thought it over and agreed to check it out. Apparently the con looked like fairly harmless fun, because he decided to let them come up. (Though apparently, normally they would also have been dressed in kilts; he had them change into their desert camo before they even arrived at the hotel.)

They all picked up badges, and headed for the party floor.

And....they had a blast. They drank a lot, not surprisingly, but generally behaved themselves. At first they roamed in packs, but as the evening went on and they found people to talk to they scattered around. Quite a few of them gravitated to the Tardis Tea Party, a British-themed party complete with British (well, Irish) beer, plus good cheese, and tea. (They were using American tea bags, but fortunately I think the soldiers were a lot more interested in the beer.)

The Sergeant Major also came to the party floor to keep an eye on things, in full dress kilt. (In addition to heading off kilt-flipping incidents, having the men change into their desert camo made the commanding officer instantly recognizable and visible. And no one was going to flip his kilt; he was both very likeable and slightly intimidating.) Over the course of the evening, he stopped off at every single party room to thank people for being so kind and welcoming to his men. He did the same at closing ceremonies.

He was unspecific about where they'd been (the rumor said Afghanistan) and where they were going (everyone figured desert training = Iraq), but he said they'd been through hell, and were going back to hell, and that the kindness of the people at the con meant a lot to all of them.

It was a fascinating dynamic to me on a number of levels.

First, this was fandom at its best. I think the invitation was issued pretty impulsively, and an onslaught of British soldiers was the last thing anyone had expected for the weekend. Nonetheless, people were genuinely excited about the unexpected guests, and everyone was welcoming and friendly, kind and respectful, and tolerant of misunderstandings.

Second, I think there's a secret belief among many fans that if the mundanes would just relax and quit thinking about what nerds we all are to do this sort of thing and how much cooler they are than we are, they would have a great time at a con, too. So it was neat to see that actually happen. I'm sure some of these men read or watch SF, but none, so far as I heard, had ever been to an SF con before. They didn't snicker at the costumes or the passionate love of comics / Star Trek / FireFly / Dr. Who; they looked around with wonder and fascination, and they really did have a great time.

Third, while there are always con virgins (that term clearly amused the hell out of the Sergeant Major) at any con, they're not usually so visible or so numerous.

Anyway, it made for a really different sort of Saturday night than you usually experience at a con. But in a way that was kind of magical as well as being really strange and unexpected.

(And yes, of course I was curious whether any of them had served with Harry, but I didn't ask, and I heard no rumors one way or the other.)


tate hallaway said...

Wow. That's AWESOME. I'm really, REALLY sad I missed it.

lydamorehouse said...

Me too!

Nicole Lorenz said...

That's amazing. I suddenly want to go to Marscon next year.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That has to be one of the coolest con stories I've ever heard. :D

Susan in St. Paul said...

The guys were great fun, at times I was smiling and laughing so much my face hurt. The SM was very nice and kind of cute too! I would have loved to see him in his kilt.

There was this lovely deer-caught-in-the-headlights look that some of them had at first, but then they got used to it and seemed quite relaxed.

Saturday night/Sunday morning was the best time I have had in quite a while.

Susan said...

Hey, Tillie the Tea Wench of TARDIS Tea Society fame here. I loved your piece but have a few additions/corrections. The soldiers paratroupers and infantry on their way to Arizona for desert training. Half had come from their base in Germany and half had trained in Britain. The one's I talked to said they hadn't yet seen combat but they had been training their arses off for several months.

I hadn't heard that the soldiers all had kilts with them, that's funny. For more stories about the British Invasion from the TTS's point of view, visit my blog:

TTS is on Myspace if you'd like to be a part of our clan.

sexy said...