The convention circuit, that is.
Back when Ruth and I ran The Five Wits together, I was constantly on the road with the business. One year we did nine shows in a row, on subsequent weekends. These days, since online sales have picked up, we only do about one show a month. Slightly more in summer than in winter. While I worked at St. Gregory’s, I helped out with shows occasionally but wasn’t really part of the business any longer.
That’s changed now. I’m at Ikkicon in Austin this weekend, back in the swing of the very unique job that is selling stuff at anime, video game, and pop culture conventions. If it’s not a world you’ve experienced, well, let me tell you about it.
First, you spend several days packing your stuff into crates and bags, and then into the van. It fills every last inch of the van. The final moments of shoving in the personal luggage and car snacks are always an exercise in Tetris.
Then you drive to the show. Sometimes this takes a couple of days. Austin was only a five hour drive which was great.
Then you arrive at the loading dock and load in to the convention center. Some shows make this easy and are organized. At other shows you end up in long lines of irritated vendors, or illegally parked, or getting yelled at by convention staff trying to make you unload faster. Load-in consists of taking everything out of the van and using our four-wheeled cart to truck it in to our designated spot in the vendors’ hall.
Then you go park the van somewhere legal, and hopefully not too expensive. Bonus points if this is within walking distance of the convention center. Otherwise you catch public transit to get back.
Then you set up the booth. This is a group effort, and involves putting up gridwall, hanging wig heads and wigs, setting up the tea and jewelry displays, and labeling stuff that somehow lost its labels in transit. Setup is a 6-8 hour process. By the end of it we are all excessively cranky. We go check into the hotel, get food and beer, and then get some sleep.
The next day the show opens. You get into a costume and a wig, because this is a wig shop, after all. After some finishing touches to the booth, a stupid thing called VIP hour happens. This means a few attendees who paid extra get let into the dealer hall. No one ever buys anything during this hour, so we just stand around looking decorative, or chat with other vendors. We see the same vendors again and again at different shows. There is usually lots of camaraderie between vendors, since we’re all in this together.
Then the floodgates open and they let general attendees into the hall. We are all crazy busy for a couple hours. No one gets to sit down or use the restroom or get a break. Eventually it slows down and we get to have snacks and take little sit-down breaks. There is rarely a real meal during a show. The hall will be open between 8 and 10 hours. We will sell lots of stuff.
When the hall closes, well-run conventions shoo all the attendees out of the hall quickly so the vendors can cover their stuff up and leave and go get dinner. Irritating conventions don’t do this, and a closing time of 7:30 drags on to 8 or later while attendees take their sweet time not finishing up their final purchases.
Food, hotel, getting off your feet. Counting cash money and tying rubber bands around stacks of a thousand. Checking the website and social media and email, putting out any fires there. Bed. Your feet still hurt but you fall asleep anyway.
Rinse and repeat for three or four days, however long the convention is open.
Load-out is load-in in reverse, only quicker since it’s easier to throw stuff into boxes than to get it out and nicely display it.
Drive home. Unload all the stuff and put it back in the garage.
Crash for a day, if there’s time.
The convention circuit is completely exhausting. And actually a lot of fun, though I do hope I’m not still doing this when I’m 65.