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Tony

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12 Years in 2 Weeks
« on: May 08, 2015, 03:43:48 PM »

Hi Everybody!

You probably don't know who I am, but that's not important. I've been to 14 FanimeCons and staffed 12 of them, and now I'm moving on. But before I go, I wanted to share my experiences. Check back here each day for stories of 12 Years in 2 Weeks!
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2015, 03:47:29 PM »

What's this? A bonus chapter? The origin story!

Prelude

It all started with a gaming convention and old veteran. He doesn't know this story - no one does - but that's fine.

It was 1995. I was in junior high, hating every second of it, and looking for escape. I found it in anime. I had followed "anime" in the sense that I collected Robotech VHS tapes, but my eyes were opened when a Hollywood Video opened near my house. No longer would I need to scour the shelves of Asian video rental stores in sketchy neighborhoods, nor would I need to save up for an LD player: now I had access to the real stuff, nearly on demand. I don't know how many tapes I copied, but I got very good at plugging in RCA cables blind.

The interesting thing about this time was that anime as a product was becoming mainstream, but no one really knew what it was. So, you'd end up with hardcore titles like La Blue Girl and Adventure Kid on the shelves, next to titles of varying maturity - Tenchi Muyo, Bubblegum Crisis, Ranma 1/2, Ghibli films - and the adults and the people in charge didn't know any better. This was like crack for teenage boys, and I would argue that this was critical to anime's surge in the early 90s. But that's another topic.

With this, my friends and I searched for a community.

--

Back in 1995 there was a gaming convention called Slugathon. It happened over the course of a weekend in the Santa Clara Convention Center. I saw a flyer - likely in some gaming shop - and convinced my best friend to go. We got dropped off early and stayed late, and it changed us profoundly. This was near the beginning of LAN gaming, and we were blown away by the ability to compete against a real, live player in Doom or Hexen or whatever game they had set up. It was amazing.

Supplementing the gaming was an anime room. It was staffed by two individuals I'd later meet in different circumstances: Tracy Brown and Rob Miles. They played fansubs of Street Fighter the movie - wow, a Chun Li shower scene! - and The Wind Ninja Chronicles - woah, so mature! - and we couldn't get enough. We were too in awe to approach Tracy or Rob, but we knew we had to reach out. They turned out to be prominent in the FanimeCon scene down the road. Little did I know that I would meet them again, years later, as peers.

As it happened, there was a flier for FanimeCon '96 laying around at the convention. We went home and begged our parents to go. They agreed. We mailed (!) a check (!!) and a hand-written registration form (!!!) and waited for the best day of our lives to begin.

--

FanimeCon '95 was hosted at Foothill College. If I'm remembering correctly, they had a few video rooms playing the latest stuff, a dealers room in the cafeteria, and a LAN set up for gaming. We got there terribly early, for teenagers - around 9am? - and stayed until it was dark. I remember debating whether to spend $90 on a probably-bootleg Ryo-Ohki. I remember hoping I could meet a girl that was into this stuff.  I remember Brian/Dieter hosting the masquerade. And then, it was over, and I couldn't wait for the next one.

--

Now it's FanimeCon '96. Still at Foothill College, but now getting massive, taking over the campus. It was held over two days and, for me, was a blur of getting up early, saving/starving our way through the day, looking out for a killer buy from a dealer, gaming, and watching shows. Anime was getting serious; Pioneer premiered Hyper Dolls and the Tenchi Muyo movie - in Dolby! The gaming area had Japanese PSX's playing Macross games, and hot gotten hotter and smellier. I seem to remember the dealer's room occupying the gymnasium, and that it rained in the afternoon, so everyone scrambled to get in there. Once more, Dieter hosted the masquerade, and we cheered and jeered each show. Still, not many girls were into this stuff.

My friends had a bit of a rift around this time, so I forgot about FanimeCon for a few years. By then, Power-Up and Howie's High Tech Games sprung up as places to get anime, so I didn't have as much interest in going to cons.

--

Then it's 1999. FanimeCon is in a real convention venue - a hotel - down in San Jose. We're old enough to drive, and we have real spending money, so we make our way down to the Wyndham.

Frankly, it sucked. We had to wait a while in a hot, stuffy room to get our badges. We paid $40, went to the dealers room, and were unimpressed. The gaming seemed non-existent, and we were accustomed to watching videos at home, so the convention's appeal was gone - replaced with teeming multitudes that we did not identify with. There were now pretty cosplaying girls that were into this stuff, but they always had jealous boyfriends hovering nearby, projecting their displeasure. Overall it was a disappointment, and we wanted our money back. We carried that sentiment as an in-joke for a long time; we would often look at each other, disappointed, and say: "Where's my forty dollars?!".

--

Anime was now entering the bubble era. It was easier to find titles at Suncoast, find sites on the net, or even just see stuff on TV. It was in shops and mom-and-pop rental stores. It was no longer underground - just niche. Though it was still a part of my formative years, it was no longer a priority. I had moved on.

And then, I met a girl that was into this stuff.
« Last Edit: May 09, 2015, 04:55:49 PM by Tony »
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Barnes

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2015, 10:31:30 PM »

Cool backstory, looking forward to more  8)

2005? You  must mean 1995 XD

You're moving on after this year? Ah, we'll all miss you.

I missed out on 1999. Ouch XD
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2015, 04:55:17 PM »

Haha, good catch! Thanks Barnes.

Yep, I'm done staffing and attending. Enjoy it for me!
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2015, 04:57:39 PM »

I didn't know it yet, but I met my wife in 2000. She was into anime and games, and I couldn't believe it. We bonded over RPGs, Ranma, Bubblegum Crisis - but not Sailor Moon, that's just not workable for me - and we generally fell in love.

She had been to AX once and didn't like it. I said I had been to FanimeCon and it was smaller and more fun. I convinced her to spend a weekend at FanimeCon 2002 with me, and we enjoyed it. But I didn't have as much fun as I could have; I thought the show could have been run better. I sent an email to the website saying that I had some sound engineering experience and would like to help - oh, and I make websites, if you need help there. I was asked to join as webmaster soon after. I remember exchanging emails with a guy named Scott while I was on vacation in Thailand. Something about receiving a pseudo-job offer while at a dial-up internet cafe on the beaches of Pattaya has stayed with me.

Enter FanimeCon 2003.

Scott Rux - chair (chairman) of FanimeCon at the time - asked me to come to a meeting so I could learn the ropes. I was supposed to meet him at, say, 3pm, in a meeting room at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I waited outside, staff slowly gathering around.

It was almost 3pm, then it was 3, and then it was a little after 3. Nervous, I slowly opened the meeting room door and peered in, hoping to find Scott. The room went dead and a dozen unfriendly faces shot a look at me from inside. Who was this kid, they seemed to ask.

"Um, sorry, I'm Tony? I'm here to meet Scott?" You know it's bad when you can hear the question mark in your voice.

"Yes, yes!", Scott said, jumping to his feet, "Come in!" He grabbed me by the arm and led me to an open seat. He introduced me as the new webmaster, and that was it. No sizing me up, no trial by fire. I offered to help and it was accepted unequivocally. I was now a member of the Senior Staff. That was really cool of Scott.

My first task was to redesign the site. I had the help of my good friend Chase, and we designed a few mockups. We ended up with a very peachy site whose taste, though debatable, was a step ahead of previous years. I got to know the senior staff by processing site updates for them. This was the year where Aya, head of Guest Relations (GR), pulled in a massive number of heavy-hitting guests; I became her best friend as I constantly updated bios on the website. It became a game to see how fast I could make updates for her.

This was also the first year of Gakufest. Senior staffer Lorrayne and her boyfriend saw the potential for a concert featuring Japanese or Japanese-inspired acts. She was absolutely thrilled to have landed a headliner, BLOOD, and filled out the roster with local acts. I soon learned two things: one, Visual Kei/VK followers are rabid, and two, always assume a VK artist is a man. I learned that last part the awkward way. Remember: before you say a chick is cute, make sure the chick is a chick.

Over the course of the year, I got to know a number of senior staff, but was otherwise an island. I had worked their content and got it onto the website, but no one really knew who I or Chase was. When we got to con, we had an uneasy position: we were technically senior staff with some level of authority, but no one knew or cared about it. I could see things from both the attendee and the staff perspective, and I didn't like it.

We had several run-ins with power-tripping staff that left a bad taste in our mouth. Staffers enforcing line control were yelling, being rude, and condescending. As senior staff, we had some authority to call them out - but we had no leverage, being essentially anonymous.

After a few of these incidents, we decided we were done. We threw our badges to the ground in anger. Then we realized people could impersonate us - as staff - and quickly picked them up. But we were pissed and almost didn't return.

What brought us back? The staff.

Aya - seeing us being yelled at by a staffer, and then missing the cutoff for autographs - very discreetly got us into the autograph room. We were thankful to be considered.

Lorrayne got us into Gakufest. It wasn't my thing, but I love music, and I was happy to support her and the event.

Scott, generously valuing our work, arranged for a hotel room for the weekend. Unfortunately through some crossed wires, I had already paid for a room. The chat, paraphrased and ill-remembered, went like this:

Scott: "Hey, when are you on-site?"
Tony: "I checked in yesterday!"
S: "You did? How?"
T: "I... showed them a credit card and ID... ?"
S: "But the room wasn't reserved until today."
T: "What room? I made my reservation a long time ago."
S: "Wait, you reserved your own room?"
T: "Yeah - why?"
S: "Ah. Crap. So, I got you a hotel room, and now I'm telling you about it."

I think it was put to good use as storage.

It didn't matter; the sentiment was appreciated. And that - the consideration - was what got us back to staff for FanimeCon 2004.
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Angelx624

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2015, 07:12:10 PM »

Sad to see you move on, but reading up on your times with Fanime is great. And yes, the number one rule of Visual Kei: ALWAYS assume it's a dude! XD Cause, 95% of the time, it is. ;D
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InsaneDavid

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2015, 07:35:14 PM »

Thank you for sharing your stories!  So much of this is very familiar as it matches my early path into anime fandom.  My local Hollywood Video had a similar eclectic mix of anime (awesome) and since the anime shelf had limited space they would always rotate stock and sell the old tapes for $5 a pop - memories.

I can't wait to read what is to come!
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Kyra_Maverick

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2015, 01:43:48 AM »

I look forward to more stories. I remember your time as Chair fondly and there was definitely an adjustment period after you had left.

It's nice to get nostalgic over titles near 20 years old and remember the impact they had on you as if it was just yesterday.
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2015, 06:02:04 PM »

2004.

FanimeCon 2004 was held in the San Jose Convention Center. This is notable because it was arranged before FanimeCon 2004 had ended; this was the first time that the date and place of the convention had been decided early. It has remained on Memorial Day Weekend at the San Jose Convention Center ever since.

Unfortunately FanimeCon did not have sole possession of the SJCC in 2004. We shared the space with a large WWII veteran gathering. It was quite dissonant to be celebrating Japanese culture alongside veterans who had fought, and had lost friends, against it.

We made sure to grab the majority of the venue after that.

PMX launched around this time. It was terrifying. A big new event with deep pockets - held on the same weekend! - was threatening to eat our lunch. We had a huge overlap in their focus on music: they had booked TM Revolution, and we had our bourgeoning Gakufest.

Gakufest was becoming a cornerstone to event programming. We now had both the SJCC and the Civic Auditorium across the street, and the Civic would be the showcase venue for the concert. Behind the scenes, we debated about how the show should be run. Should it be ticketed? How should the venue be set up? Can we get a lineup that will fill the Civic with attendees? We discussed ideas, conjured numbers - very optimistically - and forged ahead to put together a multi-act, multi-hour show.

Planning, however, turned tense. Gakufest's budget was ballooning as performers confirmed. The tech would be expensive. Lorrayne's idea to account for this was to sell tickets, but the idea was rejected. Generally we do not like having a "premium" tier or a-la-carte events, and a ticketing scheme was counter to that philosophy. Yet the event was becoming unaffordable, and tensions were mounting.

About a month before con, things came to a head: Lorrayne had come up as the head of programming and a champion of Gakufest and had done a good job, but she was livid with the rejection of her plans. She quit abruptly and never turned back.

Sometimes passion turns negative, permanently. It's a recurring theme in Fanime.

Senior staff were left to pick up the pieces - trying to figure out who had been invited to perform, organizing the lineup, planning the tech, projecting a budget, and trying to execute it all.

I had been talking to Lorrayne before and after she left and had a good idea of what to do, but I lacked confidence. Instead of volunteering to run things, I volunteered as a second-in-command. A friend of then-video head Camilla stepped in to run the show. I forget the dude's name, but he had some experience and was nice to work with. Dude and I did our best to put things together, but we went into the show without a proper plan. It was a best-effort collaboration, and it was amazing it happened at all. Somehow we made a five-act show happen.

Three of the acts were great: The Beautiful Losers, Duel Jewel, and Camino were straightforward to handle and real professionals.

Nami Tamaki, cute and perky on-stage, was a diva behind the curtain. Her management lectured me more than a few times in the wings of the Civic. She needed the Proper water with a particular Bendy Straw placed correctly on stage. She took food from hungry staffers without thanks. She tossed trash to the ground. I was happy to see her go.

The acts continued. We were running further and further behind schedule. The crowd was getting restless between sets. The bands were eager to play. The stress mounted on me and the dude. He told me, "you and me, we're getting hammered tonight. If you can get me a beer, it would be a miracle." I dashed across the street mid-set to the hotel, grabbed a huge can of beer, and brought it backstage to him. There's no outside food and drink allowed in the Civic, and certainly no alcohol, but he cracked it open in full view of the Union staff that ran the venue. They understood why, and didn't say a word. They were just as flustered.

BLOOD was the end of it. They neglected to tell us that they would be spitting fake blood all over the stage, and the venue staff were pissed. Then things went bad on-stage. During their set, a guitar amp had overheated and cut out. The guitarist kept strumming - so hard that I could hear his pick against the strings from the wings 15 feet away - but to the audience, it appeared that he was faking the performance to a backing track. There was nothing we could do but wait for the amp to recover.

They were furious after their set. The guitarist either threw or kicked a chair at staff. When we confronted them with the bill for the fake blood, they forgot how to speak English. Needless to say, we did not ask them back.

That night, the Dude sent a parting post-mortem email to some of the senior staff. From that, I learned the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. He quit, and I took over as head for the next four years.

--

You may wonder what "Gakufest" is - it doesn't exist nowadays. The reason is simple: after the split, we needed to make sure that we had no liabilities in terms of naming and copyright of the event. Gakufest became MusicFest, and that's how it's been ever since.

I'm not sure what happened to the bands after then. GR head Aya even ended up going on a road trip with Camino after the show, all the way to Texas, where I believe they played A-Kon. But as is common in the music industry, success is short-lived. I think Camino broke up shortly thereafter. TBL dissolved after a few years, I think, but their lead Raj played at FanimeCon 2014. I heard Duel Jewel went on to some success, but like a lot of VK groups, they broke into solo acts and then disappeared. I never checked up on Nami Tamaki or BLOOD.

What happened to PMX? They hit hard for a few years and got some really fantastic performers, but eventually changed their dates and dialed back their guests. I'll explain why soon.

Conventions are hard, and working with Japanese guests is even harder. Making good, sustainable choices is difficult to master. I got my first real taste of this with FanimeCon 2005.
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FanFicGuru

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2015, 10:47:06 AM »

Very cool story! I was an attendee pretty much the whole time you were staffing it haha. Interesting to see it from "behind the curtain".

Looking forward to more!
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #10 on: May 11, 2015, 08:38:04 PM »

Scott was out.

I don't remember how it happened, but Scott, the chair of FanimeCon, was released from his position. Tomoko took his place. Tomoko was a very early staffer of FanimeCon, if not a founder, and had a spot on the Board of Directors.

Scott and Tomoko are, in my opinion, both geniuses in their own respects. Both are highly strategic thinkers. But where Scott is an analytic thinker, Tomoko dealt in interpersonal relations. The trouble in being a genius of any regard is that you operate on a different level than the people around you, and that disparity always causes friction. In Scott's case, his frustration with staff missing deadlines or doing half-assed work was becoming more and more public, and sentiments turned bitter. It's hard to deal with people when you are two steps ahead of them; they're always two steps behind.

This is conjecture, but it seems that despite Scott's performance - snagging the SJCC in advance, pulling MusicFest together, and so on - there were staff that were upset with him, and so Tomoko took over. I had a crisis of conscience with this. Scott could be rough, but he was my leader - my chair - and I wondered if continuing on would be a betrayal to him. On the other hand, I had grown to be friends with much of the senior staff and really enjoyed contributing. Scott ended up coming back as head of IT, and I was a fan of Tomoko's style, so I continued on. Scott is still running IT single-handedly.

To give you a sense of Tomoko's leadership style, when we set up a general staff mailing list, there was a question of what to name it. Would we give it a codename? Would it be a generic "staff@" list? No, Tomoko's idea for a name was much softer, touchy-feely, "we-love-our-staff".

Definitely an emotional leader. More on that later.

That's how 2005 began.

I was still focused on building the website, taking little time to figure out what to do with MusicFest. I knew what to do on the tech side of things, but guest acquisitions? Not my forte. Aya - still running GR - took lead in sourcing performers. She was already extremely successful at acquiring guests of honor, so it fell naturally to her to rope in musical guests as well. My job, then, was to run the show.

Contacting Japanese guests is a secretive art. You had to know the right people in the right places - friends of friends, nieces of managers, secretary-to-whomever - to get in touch with someone and see if they'd like to come to the U.S. Usually this is a fairly direct contact, after you talked some through the go-between; you would end up talking to a band member directly, or to their manager - not to their label or a stateside 3rd party, like you might do today. Negotiations were usually informal and minimal, too. You could confirm an appearance with a few emails and a few phone calls, and you didn't have to offer anything beyond a flight, a hotel room, and the promise of American fans.

Things were changing. Guests were getting burned by poorly-trained handlers, shady go-betweens, and cheapskate conventions. It was no longer a novelty to appear in the U.S. The question of what having an American presence would be bring was being answered, and the answer was largely, "not much." To counter this, guests were being stricter in their negotiations and less trusting with who they work with. A handful of people across U.S. conventions built and maintained a reputation for handling guests well, and it's why you see megastars appearing at Otakon, ACen, Sakura-Con, and so on even today. But beyond that, you started to need a lot of pull to get Japanese guests to come.

I didn't learn any of this for another year. Instead, Aya came to me with very simple options.

The first option was who to work with. There was AVEX or there was Sony. You could choose one or the other, but to put acts from both companies on the same stage would be a problem. Sony was not happy with Nami Tamaki being mixed in with other acts in 2004. Meanwhile, AVEX was making strides in the U.S. and seemed easier to work with; Camino came from AVEX, and they were great to work with. So, we decided to work with AVEX.

Next was who, from AVEX, to bring over. Labels always have a short list of acts that they want to promote stateside; short of having massive cash, they won't offer their A-list artists. Instead, you get mid- to entry-level acts that have some relevance but are still hungry for exposure. Aya came to me with some choices.

"I have two acts that we can work with," she said, "either a JPop singer-dancer, or a kind of a rock-rap group." The singer had a tie-in with video games, but the rock-rap group had more anime material overall. The singer would also require a stylist and backup dancers and would only do a karaoke-style show - that's where there's no live music, just vocals and backing tracks. The rock-rap group, on the other hand, would be performing live. "Let's go with the rock-rap group," I decided, "because they will actually be making music and the genre, with their tie-ins with anime, should have the wider appeal." Aya said ok, and we went forward.

I had just made my first guest decision. I had chosen ZZ over the singer-dancer chick. I think her name was Koda Kumi - I'm not sure if anyone knows who that is.

To appeal to the JPop crowd, one of the guest voice-actresses ended up performing a song or two. And for taking on ZZ, Avex sent us a brand-new singer, Kumiko Kato, to open up for ZZ. They also asked to include a DJ that had collaborated with ZZ. That was a fun situation.

Aya approached Tomoko about adding more guests to the roster. "They want to include a DJ for their set," Aya explained, "so they can do more of their popular songs, and have him spin live. They're also including Kumiko Kato. They'll pay for her flight, but we'll need to cover hotel. The DJ - we'll have to cover everything, and get him some equipment."

Tomoko sighed. "How much is this going to cost us?" "Maybe another $5,000." Tomoko sighed again, but smiled, and gave it the green light. $5,000, just like that. This was Tomoko: more emotional, less analytical. I think it was the right decision, though.

Tomoko was under a lot of stress at this point. This happens when you're overly emotional about the con: every time something great happens, it's the highest high; when something falls through, it's a terrible low. It's hard to endure. It's something I started doing starting with ZZ, and I've never learned how to detach myself from it, from falling for the talent.

She began looking for a replacement, and eventually, Will volunteered. He may claim he was begged to do it, but I recall him - with a sense of resignation - offering to take chair. And I remember Tomoko's relief.

Anyway.

Sometime between Aya snagging the Japanese performers and the convention beginning, I did manage to do some acquisitions of my own. I contacted and booked Ramen & Rice. I offered room and board, but they only asked for free badges. I was happy to oblige.

The convention rolled around and I had something of a stomach flu throughout it. I knew little about how to handle the guests except to have them do sound checks, have the sound guys set the levels, and figure out how to setup and strike the stage. Lucky for me - and thanks to Aya - that was all I needed to do. The most I did was to fetch bottles of water for Ramen & Rice. Again, I was happy to oblige.

The show itself was a massive surprise to me, especially considering how poorly 2004 had went. Ramen & Rice was the perfect opening act: they warmed up the crowd masterfully. Maria Yamamoto and Kumiko Kato dazzled on the stage. The tech and set changes went flawlessly. Then ZZ went on and knocked the crowd over. Mid-set - with the music blaring - Tomoko came into the Civic, saw me, and gave me a huge hug. I'll never forget how that felt.

Even more surprised were the artists. They had set up a 6' table with promo materials at the entrance of the Civic, hoping to sell a few CDs at the end of the show. They left backstage, rounded the corner to the entrance and were floored. Not only had over a thousand Americans showed up for their show - shouting and cheering and dancing like only Americans can do - there was a very long line of people waiting in line to buy merchandise and meet the acts. They had come to the U.S. with low expectations, and here they were, selling out of merchandise with a crowd of brand-new fans. Foreign fans.

Unfortunately I had missed all of this. While I was striking the stage, all of the performers left. I couldn't even say thank you. I've always regretted that, particularly with Ramen & Rice. They never returned my requests to play again. I hope it was because they had moved on, and it wasn't that they felt un-considered.

That was a long day.  I remember the pain of heading back to my hotel room after the show. I had worn steel-toed boots and was on my feet for over 16 hours; I had probably traveled the length of the Civic twenty or thirty times; I hadn't eaten anything since the night before. I was still feeling sick, but I showered, got into PJs, scarfed down a cheeseburger, and got together with staff to critique and celebrate the event.

That was when I was hooked. I knew I wanted to make more and more fans. I was ready to go all-in for 2006.
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YoureMyHiro

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2015, 08:03:34 PM »

Tony, please keep these up! Ive been attending since 2003 and this is like a walk down memory lane, but only its a review on the other side of the coin! I remember seeing Nami Tamaki and never considering the fact she could be a Diva and I remember being completely blown away by ZZ's performance, their stage presence was out of this world! Great reads!
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2015, 08:39:33 PM »

Craige had just got some bad news.

"I just got some bad news," Craige explained over the phone. "I'm not going to go into detail, because it's personal, ok - but it's bad. And you know what, I don't want to deal with any more of your changes."

On the other end of the phone was the agent for a collection of bands forming the core of MusicFest 2006. The agent was asking for changes to the line-up, concessions, and so on - increases to Fanime's costs - and it wasn't the first time it had happened.

"So really," Craige explained, "I’ll go ahead and do this. But if you ask for anything else, that's it. I'm going to kill you - I'm just going to kill you. I'm going to put you in my trunk with a shovel, drive out to the desert, and bury you. That's it. That’s all."

The other end of the phone went silent.

Craige is ex-Military Police and had recently gotten back into physical training. He had been in life threatening situations, and he was in situations where he could threaten lives. He could disappear you, no doubt.

He wouldn’t. But he could.

At-con, I ran into Craige. “Hey, have you seen the agent?” “No,” I replied, “I’ve only interacted with his second-in-command.” “No wonder,” Craige chuffed. “He thinks I’m out to make good on my promise.”

--

At a staff meeting near the end of FanimeCon 2005 planning season, the stress had gotten to Tomoko and she looked for help. Now, my recollection of the event has been refuted, but I recall it very clearly: Will - also on the Board of Directors and long-time head of Registration - approached her and said, somewhat resigned, “I think I’m ready to take over.” She sighed in relief and gave him a hug. Will remembered things differently, but I like my version.

The remarkable thing about Will - chair of FanimeCon 2006 through 2008 - is his silence. He’s not one to chat aimlessly. He never shared visions, nor made grand speeches; if he liked what you were doing, he would mutter, “cool”; if he didn’t like what you were doing, he would frown - or look disappointingly, directly into your soul. In that way he was exceedingly good at getting greatness out of people: he didn’t tell you he wanted, but he made sure you knew what was required - inside. You’d be working from a much deeper place than if he used the carrot or the stick.

His first act as chair was to fire everyone. That’s normal. It is not assumed that staff are returning each year. But he didn’t tell everyone they were fired; instead, in a Disney-esque proclamation, he declared everyone “released” from their positions. The vast majority of people came back, but it was a smart move to get rid of some troublemakers.

It also opened up spaces for new staff, and that’s where Marie - my then-girlfriend, now-wife - came in. The previous head of publications had wrapped up and moved on, Marie wanted to help, and so I suggested her to run the department. “I don’t think I can run a department,” she confessed to Will. “You’ll do fine!” Will exclaimed. He was very good at making terrible things look trivial, and so she took the position. She stayed on staff until we left this year.

--

My drive in 2006 was to build MusicFest into something amazing on its own. With the help and ecstatic support of the new head of live programming - Jason Ebner - we aimed to provide the biggest concert we could muster. As he put it, guests were the big present under the Christmas tree, and he wanted that box to be big.

But there were three problems. One, I had never done guest acquisition directly. Two, MusicFest’s guests had always come from GR and so was funded by GR’s budget; as an independent department, it had no guest acquisition budget. Third, Aya - who had been getting guests for years - quit. I had no experience, no help, and no money. A smarter man would have quit, but I am not a smart man.

Months in, it was time to reach out to guests. Without Aya we had little contact with our usual partners. A new partner came around, offering an anisong group. But a much larger offering, from a longtime staffer named Justin, came up at the same time.

I forget the name of the anisong group; I wasn’t told their name initially. It was later revealed to be something about jamming. Project jamming? JAM Project? Who can remember these names, really.

So Justin comes around with a huge group of independents with stateside representation. They were building a Japanese music platform - one aimed at Americans - and were quickly signing local and independent acts in Japan. Some of the acts were weird and quirky, but some were very serious artists. Some were ex-Sony and had significant tie-ins. But all of them loved the idea of getting exposure in the U.S., and the rep saw a chance to explode into the market with FanimeCon, so they approached us, eager to do as much as they could. Justin was ecstatic. He would bring promo materials to meetings, lay it all out, and say, “Here is your lineup. This is your show. This will change everything. This will be legendary.” Justin was good at marketing.

Their proposition was too good to be true: we had to get hotel rooms, but they would pay for the majority of the other expenses. That meant cheap flights, cheap transportation, no hospitality costs - a major win. They would need a dealer’s table, of course - to sell merchandise and recoup their costs - but the arrangement would be practically free.

You know what they say about things that are too good to be true.

Over time, Justin casually revealed concessions he had made to the rep that ranged from inane to infuriating. Two bands turned into three bands; three bands turned into four bands; four bands turned into six bands. They needed more rooms, assistance with flights, a bigger dealers table. They wanted to hang banners - and that cost us labor fees - they wanted flyers in the registration bags - and that took manpower. Eventually they stopped talking through Justin and contacted me directly. That was a relief - I had more control - but then they started going around me, just like they had done to Justin. Everyone was amenable to helping them out - who doesn’t want to be helpful? - but no one had a handle on the breadth of their requests. By the time they had gotten on Craige’s bad side, our obligations had mushroomed past the size of our budget and I had lost almost all control of the situation

Jason was amazingly supportive. As the bands came in - supplemented by other American acts and some last-minute additions from JRock House - he championed the music cause and rallied for more resources. He pushed for a larger budget and got it, and even figured out how to deal with the now-absurd number of bands.

His plan was simple: have more than one stage. Thus was born Stage One, a venue that would host the bands throughout the convention. The big show would happen in the Civic as usual.

Everything was set. There was just one problem: we didn’t really have any staff to run two rooms. It was mostly me, with a girl named Christin who had helped the previous year, and a girl named Lori who loved Japanese rock and had some stage experience. We were going in foolishly optimistic, and I was bad at delegating. A recipe for success.

The convention began. The stomach flu joined me again.

Thankfully, the reps managed the guest relations part of job. They made sure the bands got to con, got into a hotel room, and were taken care of. Well, sorta - I had heard that they were subsisting on pizza and McDonalds to keep costs low.

I’m not sure what happened because the reps largely kept out of view. I realized why when I ran into Craige, like I mentioned.

I was not prepared to run Stage One and the Civic. A few volunteers from the Tech department offered to run the board - they definitely saved my ass - but it was non-stop activity from waking up until crashing at night. I was so out of touch that I called my parents to ask if they could bring some music equipment from home. My dad didn’t answer my call. My mom did, puzzled, saying, “Well, sure you can borrow the equipment - but I’m at work, so I can’t help until after 5.” I had called my mom at 8 AM on a Friday, thinking it was Saturday afternoon. I had no concept of the outside world; it was just crunch time. I wasn’t eating and wasn’t getting much sleep.

Marie was a trooper in all of this.

She was trying to run the Publications department almost by herself. In preparation of con, we bought an office copier/printer so we could do massive print runs quickly. This would save us a ton of money in printing flyers and newsletters. We called it Fluffy, and it would be Publication’s saviour.

Except that Fluffy was an older, used machine. We had a service contract, but were not using her in a normal way. We were throwing a year’s worth of work at her within the span of four days, and it choked. Marie resorted to doing print jobs in the middle of the night to get the newsletters out for the following morning, recruiting staffers to drive her to - and protect her at - every South Bay Kinko’s she could find. She successfully drained the shops of supplies.

Once her work let up, she came to help me at Stage One. She would bring food, but I would snap at her - I was stressed, tired, and too busy. Kids, don’t try that at home. I had a lot of apologizing to do at the end of that year.

I can’t say I remember how everything went. I was too focused on running the board and coordinating bands to see if any of the efforts were a success.  I missed Akai SKY, Kamijo, and USA Musume. Staff got together to watch and support Lori’s band, wherein she twisted or fractured her leg jumping down from the stage. I do remember being impressed musically by mothercoat, Swinging Popsicle, Goofy Style, and Poplar. UP HOLD was good but too hardcore for me. Miami was weird, in a cool way.

But to be honest, it was a blur. Between that and the pre-con negotiations, I was just trying to get through the weekend.

Next year we’ll do it differently, I thought. No more go-betweens with go-betweens. We’ll work directly with bands and be responsible for it. Lori piped up - it turned out she had become friends with the managers and handlers of ZZ from the previous year. She could tap them to have ZZ come back, since we knew they were popular, and secure more talent from their agency. We could fill out the rest of the lineup with local acts. It was a simple formula that could work.

We had the in. We started strategizing for 2007 immediately.
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Steve.Young

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2015, 04:53:47 PM »

This is amazing in every way. I remember it different since I was in different positions but...awesome :D
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Angelx624

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2015, 06:03:04 PM »

Argh, Kamijo. Unfortunately I wasn't a fan of his back then and I didn't really know about Fanime. Hopefully someday he'll come back so I can finally see him.
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #15 on: May 13, 2015, 07:47:31 PM »

I'm really surprised people are reading this long-form stuff. It means a lot to me, and says a lot about you - so thank you!

I want to mention that this is primarily from my perspective, and that means a lot of things: it is not 100% un-biased, it is not 100% accurate, and I'm leaving out a lot of friends - and not - and their recollections and viewpoints.

It's really just a narrative, crafted for my own catharsis. I hope it can give some idea of what happens, maybe evoke nostalgia, or at the least, entertain.
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Tony

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2015, 08:08:26 PM »

Planning started early for FanimeCon 2007.

With Lori’s contact, we were in negotiations for ZZ’s return by the end of summer. The agency that the contact was representing was open to bundling more acts. Rumblings were that a big VK band, PENICILLIN, was on the table; their vocalist Hakuei and their guitarist Chisato were interested performing in their respective groups, but might perform together for an additional fee.

Getting a bunch of bands from one source started feeling like the irrational exuberance of 2006, but our contact was level-headed and a straight shooter. He wasn’t extremely communicative, but was solid. We were able to verify his terms as we negotiated, and things were looking solid.

Jason came to me with bad news, however.

“I’m so sorry, dude.” He called me from a meeting I had missed. “We were talking about the numbers and the demand and everything, and I had to make a decision. It will be for the best, I promise you - we will make this work, and it will save money, too.”

“... what’s going on?”

“We’re not going to use the Civic. It’s just too expensive.”

--

The Civic had been our showcase venue for a few years now. The Civic - as well as the convention center - are owned by the city of San Jose, but are administered by a group called Team San Jose. My understanding is that they are contracted with the city for maintaining the venues and booking events. There are only a handful of people running Team San Jose; they sub-contract with local labor for most of the work, like maintenance, security, logistics, stage hands, and so on. And since they are working the with city, the city naturally places restrictions on who can perform that labor. Thus, San Jose’s venues are mandated to be run by local union labor. It keeps revenue local and jobs safe. But it means outside labor can’t be employed - not even volunteer FanimeCon staff can work certain positions. That means higher costs. If we were Apple or Oracle or Microsoft running a convention, it wouldn’t be a problem. With our budget, labor was a huge drag.

The grand plan was to move operations out of the Civic - where there are labor and hour minimums - to a smaller venue inside the SJCC. A smaller venue would attract less attention from the unions and would require less labor anyway. We could save thousands. Since the Civic had only ever been half-full, it made sense. I hesitantly agreed with the plan. At the least, it was a blank slate.

That’s the story of how The J came to be. It only lasted that year, but it laid the groundwork for the dance, which has been held in the J for the last few years.

I spent a few weeks trying to figure out how to set up The J. It would need a stage, speakers, lighting, and sound equipment. There would be a large power requirement. We had to figure out a backstage. It was a mess, but we made do.

Ironically we didn’t save any money; the performance schedule tipped off the union and they mandated minimum staff and hour requirements. I think we ended up spending more than expected.

The J debacle was one of the better things that happened that year.

--

As we began to secure negotiations with our contact, things got weird. If I’m remembering correctly, we exchanged contracts for ZZ, Hakuei, and Chisato to make their appearances under machine and Crack6. We signed our copy, mailed it off with a large check to cover their expenses, and then made announcements ... before our contact signed his copy. He was upset, saying it would ruin things. It did: Hakuei canceled. Collaborations would not be happening. As it turned out, it wasn’t for reasons you would think.

Things got weirder. We discovered through a third party that ZZ would not be exclusive to FanimeCon. The contact had booked them for another con during the same weekend. We’d have them for a single day.

Then things got really weird. The contact stopped responding. Emails were not returned, phone calls went unanswered. We worried that no bands would even show up.

I consulted with Marie and Lori. What should we do? Did the guy die? We had his address - he was night’s drive down to SoCal. Should we go see him?

Let’s do it. Let’s knock on the guy’s door. He’ll either be dead - or we’d force him to wrap up on our terms.

We got the OK from the higher ups to cover food, gas, and a hotel for the night, and we got packing. It was time to see what was up. Lori, one of Lori's friends, Marie, and myself packed into a car and drove through the evening to SoCal. We blasted Japanese rock to get in the spirit and ate all the junk food we could. Lori shared a lot about her childhood, and I learned that she was quite a strong young woman - a fighter.

We drove on. We got there around 3am, surrounded by fog and silence. The contact lived in a complex so we drove around looking for his apartment. We hoped no one would call the cops on us. Approaching his door, we saw his light on. Lori called his cell - once, then twice, then texted him that we were here. No response, so we rang the doorbell.

I was half expecting him to come out with a gun. Instead, he saw Lori and remarked, “Oh, shit. You guys are crazy.”

“Hey! Just wanted to see how our favorite guy is doing!” Lori exclaimed. “We thought you were dead!”

He looked at us, wide eyed, and cautiously said, “Come in.”

His apartment was almost empty. There was alcohol and a rice cooker on the counter, an ashtray - a barren bachelor’s pad. He ushered us to his living room. “Sorry, I’m in the middle of something. I’ll be right out. One second.” He lit a cigarette and went to his room. He didn’t come out for a long time - maybe 30 minutes - and again, I was half expecting him to come out with a gun.

Instead, he came out and we sat and talked for a few hours. He assured us that everything was fine and that he’d get us all the information we needed. He smoked, we asked questions. We felt better. It was daybreak and we were exhausted, so we agreed to get our hotel, rest up a bit, then reconvene later in the morning. We slept hard that morning.

The next day, we went back to his apartment, refreshed and ready to finish things off. With the details done, we could move full steam ahead, and we were excited. Lori rang the doorbell frantically and shouted “GOOD MORNING!” when the contact answered the door. “Dude, quiet! I have company!” he said. “My bad!” We tiptoed to his living room and waited for him. It was odd that he had company over in the few hours we were gone. I understood when he coyly escorted a woman to the front door, then joined us.

He had called Japan and got most of the information we needed. We were ready to go, except for one question.

“What happened with Hakuei? Is he coming?” Lori asked.

“I’m working on it. We’ll talk about it. I’ll hold on to the money for now in case it comes through - so we can move quickly.”

We left and continued planning, feeling confident.

--

Around this time, whoever was running Tech had to take a temporary break from FanimeCon. It was a month or two prior to the event, which is the most critical time for Tech. That’s when all of the rentals need to be planned and ordered. Like a lot of my Fanime career, I got it done, not knowing anything about what I was doing. See, kids? You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

--

We filled out the lineup. Mari Iijima agreed to play. Japanese bands Karma Shenjing and Mechanical Panda came. Lori’s band played, and maybe Akai SKY too, and this weird but cool band from Santa Cruz, God of Shamisen. With ZZ and Crack 6 we had a pretty full weekend.

By this point, we had nearly everything we needed for ZZ and Crack 6. But our contact stopped talking again. He still had our cash for Hakuei, but there was no time to do anything about it. At that point, we just needed him to show up and be a handler - to help us with the show. We called, texted, emailed - nothing. We had a plane ticket arranged for him, so we checked the flight. Nothing.

He never did come to the show. From what I heard, the agency paid him a visit some months later. We never collected our money.

I had picked up a staffer, Val, the previous year and she turned out to be a golden staffer. She helped managed things and brought in a friend from Texas, Charles, to help translate. Charles was likewise amazing, though sadly, he could only help the one year. Without the contact, Mechanical Panda had no handler, so Charles stepped in and showed them a great time. Interesting guy. He had possibly the most Americanized Japanese accent I’ve heard ("Wah tah she wah Charles desu. Doh zoh yo row she koo.") but that dude was fluent as a native, just absolutely perfect. I wondered if the style was intentional. It would be pretty jarring to see a white dude from Texas speaking perfect Japanese in a perfect accent, so maybe he kept the American thing to keep from seeming uncanny. He moved to Japan a year or two later and has been working there since.

Back to the show. The convention came, along with another stomach flu. Little eating, little sleeping. By this time, I had a tactic: meal replacement drinks. I brought a few six-packs of Ensure this time and it helped.

ZZ came and played to a much smaller crowd in a much smaller venue. They were unsettled. The manager called Japan to inform the agency. Between this and our contact failing to appear, they steeled themselves for a disappointing show. Crack 6 got on their flight to the U.S. while ZZ left for the next con at some god-awful hour in the middle of the night. Things weren’t looking great.

Remember how I said guest acquisition wasn’t my forte? I was not very responsive to Mari Iijima. I had to reassure her twice that everything was fine and that she would have a good show. Then the day before her show, she was supposed to get on a plane to San Jose - and I still had not sent her flight and transportation information.

That morning, I called her, apologized profusely, and gave her all the details she needed. She wasn’t happy, but she hesitatingly gave me one more chance. “By the way, I sent you an email earlier this morning,” she explained, “but don’t open it up. Just delete it. Everything’s ok. I’ll be there.” Out of morbid curiosity, I checked - it was a scathing email wherein she canceled her appearance. Out of sheer dumb luck and earnestness, I avoided that catastrophe. When I ran into Rob Miles later that morning - he's a personal friend of Mari's - I explained the situation. "Wow, that's really rough. I'll talk to her, though. I've got your back." I still owe him for that favor.

She actually had a very successful show. A lot of people - some international - came to see her perform. A huge number turned up for her sales and autograph session. Reuben Langdon asked me to see if she would meet him for dinner. “Is he cute?” she joked. I took it literally: “I think so, and he’s very fit.” She gave me a funny look and smiled. “I was just joking. But sure, I have no plans.” As she left, she thanked me, gave me a CD, and we exchanged an awkward hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Not to gloss over things, but the rest of the bands were cool - I just barely remember the performances themselves. Karma Shenjing - a VK group - turned out to be men, of course. Lori’s band played Japanese music, and some Japanese people actually sang along. Mechanical Panda were cute, and rocked. God of Shamisen were amazingly talented - though, they played in fur suits. I still can’t remember if Akai SKY played.

Crack 6, our headliner, was a bit of a sad story. I had hoped to pack the house for them, but we only managed to get things about half full. All of the build-up was for a let-down.

I was sullen, and angry. I went to the bathrooms to be alone and cool off. I cried in frustration, and in anger, started beating the crap out of one of the stalls. All of the time spent listening to their songs; all of the time spent negotiating the deal; all of the time spent setting up the J; all of the time spent driving to and harassing the contact; all of the planning that was supposed to culminate in a grand performance, and in the end, it was - well, it was ok. I was heartbroken.

I composed myself and went to the backstage area. Chisato came offstage for the encore, and I was surprised to find he wasn’t sad or upset at all. He was happy, he was having fun, he was playing to an American crowd. “Do you like our soft rock style?” he asked, in English - I stared back and said, “What?? That’s not soft rock!” He laughed and bounded back onto the stage. (Later, in his blog, he claimed I replied “usotsuke!” - I like that version a little more.)

We tried to make the best of it. As the show was ending, I told the staff that we needed to have fun - we needed to get some food and drinks and hang out. When the band returned to their room, we plied them with cheap pizza and warm bottles of vodka and whiskey. The bassist commented: “This is a lot of liquor for a few people. I think they are trying to kill us.” We spent the night telling dirty and inappropriate jokes, and forgot about our ambitions.

Now here’s an insight. I’ve tried telling this to every band that has come, but it just hasn’t resonated. It’s simple: you aren’t really popular until you’ve got exposure. What this means is that you grow a following at a convention after you play the show, not before. In fact, the best time to get back in front of the crowd - doing autographs, shaking hands, selling merchandise - is right after the show.

I learned this because the next day, we had a good-sized crowd line up for autographs and merchandise. The turnout, though small, was evangelized. The band was happy. I was happy. The agency was feeling better.

The band was still having a fun time. We went to Stage Zero to promote the session. On the way from there to the autograph session, a man dressed only in a blue speedo and angel wings asked Chisato for a hug. I was mortified, but before I could do anything, Chisato gave the guy a hug. We walked away, and Chisato turned to his bandmates, smiling. “Crazy … crazy desu.” He laughed.

That wasn’t the only crazy in the crowd. Did you know that some Japanese have been banned from live shows for their behavior? Did you know that obsessed people will track where bands play, and follow them across an ocean? I hadn’t even thought about that scenario. But then the agency guys noticed a handful of women - not allowed to shows in Japan - here, in the U.S., in the front row for the show, at the front of the line for autographs. We were on edge. I hoped that no one would go crazy or turned violent. Luckily, the opposite happened: the group were so pleased to be able to see their band up-close that they sent gifts to the band and to our staff as well. I ate some of the mochi they gave us and did not die. Maybe those ladies were ok after all.

On the day before their departure, we talked about the deal with the agency. It turned out Hakuei and machine were never really on the table. The money requested had always been for the bands we’d already negotiated for. The contact had been telling half-truths.

Paying was a first for us. FanimeCon has been against paying guests for a number of reasons. For one, there is no utility in it; it doesn’t necessarily fix a problem or enable something to happen. That’s money that could be used for flights, hotels, promotion, and so on. Second is that, historically, appearance fees can make things worse. Cash does strange things to people. It is something that can be weighed and measured. If Con X can pay more than Con Y, what does that tell a guest? It can also turn conventions on their attendees. Want to see that guest? Want a photo? Want their autograph? Pay for it.

The agency, however, explained that it wasn’t an appearance fee, but was to pay for the services of a technician. They had, in fact, brought a technician. That made the situation more palatable. Still, due to the contact’s half-truths, the end result was not what either party had expected. Even though things had worked out, it was still Lose/lose. Sometimes, that’s just how it works.

--

Marie missed almost all of this, dealing with an odyssey of her own.

Back at the Fanime office, Fluffy was serviced and ready for battle. New toner. Plenty of paper. Warmed and ready. We had printed as much as possible ahead of time, but now that con was here, it was time for her true test. And Fluffy failed nearly immediately. She just wasn’t meant to print thousands of pages at a time. She would overheat, require downtime, then would cough back into life, churning a few hundred pages before overheating again.

All of the money that would have been budgeted for Kinko’s jobs was allocated to Fluffy. All of the eggs were in one basket, and that basket dropped. Marie had no options now.

Marie and her staff had to babysit the print runs through the night. It was extremely hard work - because it was so droll - and she sought relief midway through the convention. “Can we please buy a real printer? Please?” she begged. The higher-ups conferred and deliberated. I imagine they finally returned and solemnly set forth a proclamation. “Go to Fry’s. Get two laser printers, and no more. Use them only when needed, for Fluffy cent-per-page ratio is much lower. Now go forth, and print.”

By the time her work was done, con was essentially over. She had spent the weekend in the office, in a stuffy office full of xerox fumes, missing the highs and the lows. But the print jobs were completed, by god. She finally joined the masses in the convention center as things wound down.

--

As usual, we were exhausted. But we still had enough energy to play. This is when the convention gets really fun for us.

Facilities had full control over the convention center and no one was around. We grabbed the mobies - these little electric scooters like you might see at a supermarket - and raced from end to end. Senior staff, still overseeing load-out, were wandering the halls. We’d say hi and give hugs and exchange stories.

Will, his sister Sam, his girlfriend and facilities staff Ashley, myself, Marie, and a few others took over a room with speakers and a projector and watched movies and videos ten feet large. I fell asleep halfway through. Like the hug from Tomoko during ZZ’s first show, that night was something I can still feel, and I remember it fondly. That night, we forgot about our ambitions.

Those are the nights I miss the most. There were still more to occur, but in the coming years, the character of those nights changed. In 2008 the gravity of the situation became real. In 2008 I decided I wanted to chair.
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Kyra_Maverick

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #17 on: May 13, 2015, 08:54:53 PM »

We drove on. We got there around 3am, surrounded by fog and silence. The contact lived in a complex so we drove around looking for his apartment. We hoped no one would call the cops on us. Approaching his door, we saw his light on. Lori called his cell - once, then twice, then texted him that we were here. No response, so we rang the doorbell.

I was half expecting him to come out with a gun. Instead, he saw Lori and remarked, “Oh, shit. You guys are crazy.”

“Hey! Just wanted to see how our favorite guy is doing!” Lori exclaimed. “We thought you were dead!”

He looked at us, wide eyed, and cautiously said, “Come in.”

I can't believe you all actually went in. That is some dedication to the cause because seriously, entering an increasingly reclusive guy's apartment at 3am is near the very top of my "DO NOT DO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE" list.
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InsaneDavid

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #18 on: May 13, 2015, 11:24:03 PM »

This thread is awesome. Thank you again for sharing these stories!
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Barnes

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Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
« Reply #19 on: May 13, 2015, 11:25:42 PM »

If I only had a story that was half as interesting as what I'm reading so far...then again, I'm too lazy to join staff XD
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