A few months back I discreetly noted online I needed help for a military support project. This was it.
The issue was that such events require a sponsor. Thinkgeek was the previous sponsor before they got bought out.┬á The convention needed a new sponsor.
The support agency in question prohibits soliciting sponsors. Now, I get not wanting your units begging for money for social events, but how can anyone support an event if they don't know about it?┬á Apparently, they're supposed to read minds, volunteer to pay for events, then the event rolls, and the facility makes some money from the concessions (which are used to sponsor other events...just not events in the big hall. Don't ask, I don't get it either.)
I'd asked Jarrod (the host) if it was on again--I last went two years ago--and he explained the bureaucrapcy.┬á I checked in every week, and nothing. He explained it all again. I nodded.
So right before DragonCon, I pinged him and asked how much he needed to run the event.
"It's not the money," he said. "It's the bureaucracy."
"Yes, yes, I get that, but how much?"
"At least $3000."
"That's all?┬á I was afraid it was going to be $10-$15,000.┬á But $3000?┬á Pfft. I can get you $3000."
He had literally been about to push the button on the post announcing there was no SF convention this year. I told him to wait.
A bunch of sci fi nerds stationed or living in Germany can't have an SF con because some bureaucrat has regulations?┬á Oh, hell no.
So I went online.┬á "Guys, I need some help but I need to be discreet."
In two days I'd confirmed about $2500 from Baen ┬áBooks, some indie authors (Mel Todd, Darryl Hadfield, Peter Grant https://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/ , and partially pro/partially indie Kacey Ezell), www.vault-of-valhalla.com┬á and some of my most awesome fans.┬á Toni at Baen agreed to send a hundred books for me to sign and give away, and print promotional cards for the other authors, even those who don't write for them (Because Baen is amazingly cool like that), and cover my airfare. ┬áI talked to my publicist at Baen, Corinda, who used to also sing backup for Bruce Springsteen, and she drafted a letter using the precise language they needed, and emailed it to the precise person.
Who smelled a huge womp rat, but couldn't do anything except thank everyone for their sponsorship and tell Jarrod it was a go.
There was some shortage, some mismatch, a few hundred, but screw it, I can help keep this thing going.
The convention was ON!
This event is cursed for me.┬á I've attended several times, and everything bad has gone wrong for me.┬á Food poisoning, a cracked tooth, flight errors, flight delays...oh, yes, flight delays.
This year, I got to the airport on Thursday, in plenty of time for my flight, which was delayed, delayed and cancelled, because JFK airport had snow and couldn't get its head out of its fourth point of contact.
Delta tried very hard, mostly, to fix this. They re-routed me through Atlanta, and even put me on standby for two earlier flights...both of which were swamped by other delayed passengers.┬á Basically, everyone on the earlier flights got boned.
Then my scheduled flight was delayed.┬á So I approached the desk to a woman named "Faty," who seemed to be a recent immigrant from Africa, with not great English skills. I explained my flight to Atlanta was going to make me miss my connection.┬á She glanced at the ticket and said, "You reach Atlanta at 1115 pm. Next passenger please."
Yes.┬á 1115...45 minutes AFTER my flight for Europe leaves.
I went to another desk.┬á I explained the problem, and that I had flexible workarounds.┬á I could fly into Amsterdam, or even Luxembourg, Brussels, or in emergency, Antwerp.┬á My driver could make those work.┬á From this end, I could even drive to Cincinnati ┬áor Louisville, if there was time.
He went looking, and called over the manager, Tia, who was busy putting out about 1000 other fires. She had me follow her to three different desks, very apologetically and working multiple issues, then determined she didn't have authority to change destination, and connected me to the toll free number.
The young man there was badly frazzled, and had trouble tracking all I said. But, said he couldn't get me anything Thursday, but for Friday he could get me to Luxembourg via Amsterdam by 11 am.
No, that's too late, but when does it reach Amsterdam?
Then let's just do that.
So, I was going to have to drive to South Bend, about 3 hours, park probably at a friend's house, fly to Detroit, then Amsterdam, then Luxembourg.
No, no, forget Luxembourg, once I get to Amsterdam I'm fine.┬á But why can't I fly out of Indy?
No flights. And oh, the Amsterdam flight just booked.
I hung up, called Jess, told her the entire thing was a cancellation.┬á I started walking out and realized I had luggage, so I headed for the quiet end of the terminal where the direct flight to Paris had just left...which would have let me get to Amsterdam on Friday.
I was still on the phone and asked the gentleman there how to retrieve my luggage, since I was cancelling. He started digging, and overheard me explain the schedule incompatibility to Jess.
He said, "Oh, I can get you to Amsterdam. Hold on.┬á Yes...no....maybe...yes...yes...it's kinda like a dance here, some forward some back...yes...no...there we go.┬á You leave here tomorrow at noon for Detroit, leave Detroit at 4 pm and Amsterdam at 0545 Saturday."
That would JUST leave 4 hours to drive to Spang and arrive before 1000.┬á
And I wondered why the other guy couldn't find the IND departure. It seemed he'd managed to put a hold on an Amsterdam seat for me, then leave the screen and come back to find it blocked, then it aged off.
Either way, this last guy was a genius.
Friday, Jess had to drop me off before work at 0830.┬á Long, long before my flight.
By the way, IND has very polite, efficient security, and has since before TSA, and in fact as far back as 1990, the first time I flew out of there. They actually search things that need searched--boots, is that actually a watch, backpacks with weird items, and don't harass people over BS. I was through in under 10 minutes.
Then my flight was delayed...but not enough to be a problem.
Got to Detroit, and my departure gate was only 3 gates down. Flight was on time. So I got some sushi from a place I last ate at in October 2005.
Not unexpected good news: with a healthy tailwind, we were to get in at 0515.
Long overnight flights suck.┬á I'm tall, moderately broad in the shoulders, don't sleep well sitting up, and I'd already been up for the┬áentire day.┬á┬á
Delta did good again. My bag was 5th on the belt after all that rigamarole. Well done, guys. Thanks.
My friend Werner is used to parking to meet me. He couldn't find Arrivals. He told me he was at Departures. I couldn't find that because the signage sucks.┬á It's in English, but the arrows are not clear. We both had the same landmark, but couldn't get on the same level.
A local driver overheard me cussing into the phone, asked if he could help, took the phone, chattered to Werner in Dutch, and got me directed where I needed to go.
So the half hour slack got eaten up.
We tossed my luggage into his company car and started driving for Germany, which is no further from there than Chicago is from me--Europe is small.
Apparently he got a speeding ticket on the way. I'll help with that.┬á Though we did have slack time.┬á Netherlands roads are in excellent repair and the speed limit is 130 km in rural areas.┬á It was Saturday morning, so we didn't have much traffic to worry about. The $8/gallon gas was irritating, but covered on his work account.
I ate a sandwich on the way, tried to sleep but couldn't.┬á Listened to some of Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International audiobook.
Then we got into Germany, who, taking a lead from Illinois, closes dozens of mile of highway lane and leaves the whole thing closed while they slllllowwwlllly get around to fixing it. And drop the speed limit to 70 km.┬á So there went 6 minutes of our slack.
Spangdahlem AB is doing repairs to the main gate, so we had to drive 3 miles around to the rear gate, where they were supposed to have a list of off-post guests. They had me, and I have retired military ID anyway. They had to check Werner against the list, so they told us to pull to the side while they checked.
We called Jarrod (the event manager) and confirmed there was a list.
Two other cars joined us.
The SP kept waving other cars through.┬á Nothing from the guy inside the shack.
A break in traffic. Still waiting.
Another spate of cars and another break.
At this point, it was after 10, the event was starting, I was the guest, and we were still waiting at the gate.
I got out and politely approached.
And the SP tells me, "Yes, we can't find him on the list so you'll have to turn around, drive all the way back to the main gate to pass and ID, get him cleared there, then drive back here."
I am a retired NCO.┬á I became very polite. That may mean something to some of you.
First, they should have had a way to do Pass and ID at the gate, if the main one was closed for some duration.
First, if you knew this 10 minutes ago, why didn't you come over at the first break in traffic, or wave to us to come over, and explain it then?
First, since you know what the event is, and the list you DO have has a contact number, why didn't you call that?
I did state that I found it very unprofessional, and walked back to the car. We called Jarrod.┬á He had an NCO from Security Forces with him at the event, who said he'd have it fixed momentarily, just as the gate SP came over whining about just trying to do his job (there's always that one guy, and he was wearing a fleece jacket with no name or rank, so I have no idea who he was, and definitely needed a shave, and didn't look like the kind of troop who needs a shaving waiver for health issues). We had the phone on speaker, he was instructed, he waved us through.┬á We know the base and where the rec center is, we drove and parked.
OKAY, WE ARE AT THE CONVENTION! Holy crap, what a nightmare getting there.
While I was setting up at my table, the Mission Support Group commander was standing there personally to thank me, and the others on behalf, for making it possible.
Jarrod announced the convention was starting, introduced the other activities, including the German 501st Legion contingent, and then introduced me, and noted that Baen and I had made the event possible.
There were some very happy people.
Attendance was low again due to deployments, but those there were very enthusiastic. There was a little girl costumed as a most excellent Madhatter, and a pair as Ladybug and Cat Noir. Stormtroopers (And when I hear them speaking in German, there are just some obvious jokes that you DARE NOT TELL in Germany), steampunkers, movie trivia, gadgets, cartoons.┬á Some local and retired military vendors with books, gadgets, hand-burned boxes, movie memorabilia. A pocket-sized, one day convention.
I did in fact sign and give away all 118 books to grateful readers.
The Force Support Squadron commander came over and thanked me personally.
The Wing Vice Commander came over and thanked me.
I get the impression everyone wanted this event to be a thing except some money-grubbing pencil pusher in a certain DoD support agency.
Jarrod advised us not to leave base until the end, because there could be more BS getting Werner back on, even though he was theoretically on the list, they had his passport on file, and he'd attended things like this a half dozen times before.┬á So we ate at the cafe in MWR. It was okay, I guess.┬á At this point I'd been awake 32 hours.
We had a 4 room apartment in Temp Lodging for the night, and I slept in two blocks of about 6 hours each. In between, no internet, which happens a lot, but in this case was because I had the modem turned off and was too loopy to notice.
Once up in the morning, we went to www.MomsPlace.de┬áin the village of Spangdahlem for brunch.┬á Yes, I had beer and pizza for breakfast. In Germany.┬á Good beer, good pizza. Everything I've ever eaten there is good.┬á The steak, the chicken, the pork, the venison, the dessert, the beer.
That little bundle of houses to the far right is Spangdahlem.
From there, back to the Netherlands. Rotterdam.
Werner was unfortunately widowed earlier this year.┬á Kathy beat brain cancer two falls out of three.┬á But cancer only has to win once.┬á He and the twins are recovering amazingly well.┬á
His father-in-law had the twins, who seemed to remember me.┬á Michael said hi and kept to himself. Gabriel told me all about his legos and Star Wars and figures.┬á In Dutch.┬á He speaks a bare handful of English at 5 years old, about as much as I speak of Dutch. But both are low Germanic languages, and with context, it's possible to figure out the discussion or a TV show.
Werner works at the port of Rotterdam, so he speaks his native Dutch, English for work, French, German, and bits of Italian and Spanish.┬á I also speak bits of all these. Small bits. Enough to ask "Wo ist de toilet?" " Dov'├¿ il cibo?" and, " Ik ben verdwaald," for example.
I didn't sleep well at his place. My clock was way off.
My plan had been to look at a couple of castles for research purposes. Unfortunately, they'd switched to weekend hours only on Nov 1, with no long term schedule on their site. (This is common in Europe. Old castles/cathedrals/structures are just old buildings. What's the big deal?)┬á So that was off.
I'd planned to meet one of my German fans, Kristin, whom had become a fan after my first trip over for this, and had taken my card, looked up my books, found me on Facebook and not been terrified of my presentation. Unfortunately, she was off, her husband was working, and she didn't want to drag two small kids four hours. Yeah, these things happen.
I did see the aquarium at the Strand in Den Haag.┬á It's a nice aquarium. I did learn a few things. I think E17 was a bit much to pay for what I saw.┬á They did have good cocoa, though. At 5 more Euros. The place is expensive.
Antique, disabled guns can be displayed.┬á Airsoft have to be kept out of sight and locked up, and can't be used where anyone could see them and get scared. It's rather sad.
Werner and I went across the street from his place for Argentine steak. It was a decent steak. I don't think it was a E55 steak, even with the mushrooms, dessert and water. (There's no free water at restaurants in most of Europe. It's all bottled and you pay for it.)
I slept reasonably well Monday night, then was nearly nauseous by the time I landed in Detroit, 4 pm my time, 10 pm Europe, and no way to sleep properly.
Then Indy then home, with no issues.
The important thing was that the German-stationed troops got their SF convention and had a good time. We'll start planning now for the next one, though I may give some other guest the honor of attending so I can rest.