Getting to Toronto
I have *never* had such an interesting time of getting to Toronto!!! It's only about 60-70 miles away. As the crow flies. Keeping my wheels on the road is still not all that far - almost exactly 100 miles. But there are two major hurdles.
First is crossing the border, which may be five minutes or may be impossible. Second is the traffic around Toronto.
To cross the border now, according the the leaflet they gave me last time, you have to have proof that you exist as a citizen of the States - your birth certificate, and proof that you are that person - picture ID. Corvier, who swore he had his birth certificate, turned out to *not* have it. Fortunately, his mother did. I said, "Take the car and run over and get it while Raederle and I finish up." He came back 2 hours later.
So we left at 2:00 instead of noon. Then got the headlight bulb replaced and bought gas, which took about a half hour, and headed for the Peace Bridge.
Where I goofed up big time by mentioning that I was volunteering at SFX. That counts as employment. US citizen can not be employed in Canada. I might take the opportunity to volunteer away from a Canadian. Picayune, much?
We had to go home. I would have actually bought a ticket, but they had shut that down online two days before, so we mocked up a ticket for me for SFX by photoshoping from Rae's ticket. It wouldn't have gotten me in of course, but it looked for all the world official. But then, wouldn't you know, when we went back they simply let us on through without looking at the ticket we spent an hour creating.
We finally got into Canada at 4:30. The traffic was horrendous. I thought it would be all right by 6:00. It wasn't. We got there about 7:30! That's an average of about 35 miles per hour, and there are places on the QEW that you do 80.
The Canadiana Hostel
I've tried various things. The first time, we stayed at a rinky-dink hotel, which was pretty awful. Then Lor put me on to trying the hostel.
A hostel has minimal facilities, although it essentially has as much as the little hotel did. You get a bunk in a room that you share with strangers, and the bathroom is down the hall. But it's clean, you get clean sheets and towel every day if you want (make your own bed), and full use of the kitchen; and it's relatively cheap - around $30 per day, depending on the size of the dorm. The kitchen is in the common area, which also includes tables and chairs, a futon for lounging, three internet access computers ($1 for 20 minutes), and outdoor tables and chairs in back.
This year, knowing that the kids and Lor were going, I reserved a Quad - a room with two pairs of bunk beds - just for us, which meant that we could totally lock it up. And mess it up. And $120 a night for four people is cheap enough for Toronto.
The biggest drawback is parking. A nickname of the place is 'backpackers'. You really aren't expected to have a car, and parking in Toronto is a pain where a pill won't reach. If you hit it right, though, you can get one of the four (count them - 1, 2, 3, 4) parking slots that the Canadiana has. This means that you get to scrape your car around a few twists in an alley and hope no one blocks you in.
But we went up on Wednesday. This cost more for the night, of course, but Daughter said she could not possibly be ready to go at 9:00 Thursday morning, and I knew that indeed that wasn't happening. With the delay getting there, I'm glad we didn't lose Thursday over it. And at that time of the week, the parking is more available. We missed it Thursday night by a half hour, but got lucky in that someone vacated a street parking spot across the street. (Night parking in Toronto from 6:00 pm to 8:00 am - and parking enforcement was there at 8:05.) And the next morning I got parking, and so did Lor. $15 per 24 hours, which is really good in Toronto, especially that close. Before we have paid $20 per night, no in-and-out, about 2 blocks away. Then you have to pay for day parking at the convention center also. So parking is a major part of the expense of this trip. Lor and I could share a car for that, though, so it was $16 per day between us. The kids mostly walked - it's not that far, but I can't do it, and Lor would rather not. She did it Saturday morning, though, to save another parking fee when I wasn't there.
We got a good room - more floor space than most quads, and an air conditioner, a luxury that I didn't expect. Unfortunately, you have to reserve much farther ahead than I did to get a ground floor room, so I had to pull stuff up a flight of (long, steep, narrow) stairs.
Big thing though, was that I hadn't managed to shake the hip pain enough this year. I had been 'running' (standing with my hands on the back of a chair and jogging in place) and had worked up to 300 steps, which I figure is enough that I can walk for a 'normal' length of time, but I had a bit of toxemia, which has the effect of loosening the bond between my bone and the metal of the replaced hip. If I move wrong, it feels like a broken bone, complete with the nausea. Then I'm 'stuck' and can't move for several minutes until the muscles stop spasming. It started on Monday last week, and while it was better by Thursday, it didn't go away until this Sunday.
About Volunteering at This Event
Some of you might remember that I originally volunteered for this event because Elijah was going to be there. I had already paid for my ticket - around $400 - but Lor talked me into volunteering, and I've never regretted it. I *have* regretted the $400 more than a little, since I ended up not getting what I paid for, and could have had anyway without the money, but shit happens when you're new at something.
I *did* establish a place for myself among the other volunteers and staff by holding together the waiting line for Elijah against the official policy of "There is no line."
Staff can be differentiated by the shirts they wear - if they look like football shirts, it's a major staff person who actually has some authority, and there are five of them who specifically look for me.
There is Jeremy, who is in charge of recruiting volunteers, scheduling our hours, getting out badges, and logging our hours worked.
Adil, who decides how the autograph lines are handled, who works them, who sits in a guest's booth to watch their stuff while they take a break, etc. Adil was just a volunteer in 2005, but asked for and got 'staff' status the following year.
The young man in charge of the lines to get in to the panels, whose name escapes me at the moment, determines which way those lines are run and what he'd like those volunteers to do. His is a truly thankless task, as sometimes people are turned away who simply can't get into the room. I could probably have had that position if I lived closer, but since I can't go to staff meetings, I haven't asked for 'staff' status.
Then there's Ted, who I thought was a real pain the first year, but who I have come to admire. He's one of those in charge of what the younger staff does, and he collects complaints and suggestions and passes them on to Armond, who really doesn't care. It was Ted's job to keep saying "There is no line," in 2005, but it was also he who got us the right to keep the line, and moved it upstairs. Ted also stood in Brent Spiner's autograph line like any ticket-holder and waited his turn. His football shirt doesn't say "Ted" on it though - it says "Boba Fett".
Anyway, it was Ted who specifically asked for me the following day to work the line for James Marsters, and he has sought me out for at least one conversation each year since then. A good listener and a truly good and reliable person, even if I wish he'd take the initiative to break the rules just once in a while.
This year, we - Lor and me - arranged to be there to work some of the setup on Thursday. We went down to the convention center about 2:00 and wished we had gone sooner, since things had started about noon and wrapped up by 5:00. I probably couldn't have handled more, though, due to the hip problem. We were walking down the length of several tables picking up items and putting them in goodie bags for the first 1500 customers. By the end of the two hours I worked, I was down to standing in one place putting things together so the others could scoop up several items at once. Then I tied bags together in bunches of 10 to make them easier to carry and to count.
It was a good thing for me that we did that, because it was difficult for me to put in my full 8 hours, and to get 2 of them out of the way on a different day worked well.
The next thing that I really wanted to be in on this year was the line of people entering the event. Official opening is 4:00 pm, but they now, starting last year, sell early entry tickets so that a lot of people go in at 2:00. When people come in to the 600 level, they buy a ticket for the day (day pass), for the three days (Deluxe badge), for VIP (they're going to get in to see the big-ticket guest, for gaming (MLG - whatever that stands for - I must find out for next year), and maybe for early entry.
An hour before opening, the line of ticket holders goes down the escalator, where they are told what line on the 800 level they need to join. Too many get past us, thinking that they know exactly where they are going, and they end up very sorry. Next year, I think I'll spend time haunting that pre-line to tell them what to expect, but it didn't occur to me this year. We've only just gotten a system - starting last year - that better handles the line on the 800 level.
Event locations are the gaming, autograph, and dealers' room on the 800 level as well as the big Hall G where they have the masquerade. Going up the escalator to the 700 level are the rooms where the panels are held. You must buy a Deluxe pass to get in to many of the panels, but a day pass will get you in to some of it, as well as the big main room, and anyone can watch the masquerade.
In order to make sure that people don't buy a pass, get their hand stamped, and then give their ticket to someone else, there is a two-step process. If you have a day pass, you turn it in for the hand stamp and you're good to go for the day. If you have a Deluxe pass, you get it punched for the day and get your handstamp, and then you can prove both that you have the Deluxe because you've kept it and are wearing it, and that you are the valid holder because you have the handstamp.
But doing this process takes a lot of time. It used to be that you'd get this done as you go into the big Dealers' room, and it could take 2 hours to get everyone processed. That was why they started the early entry program, to split that up. It still takes too long. So the security guard at the door started only punching Deluxe passes and collecting day passes and leaving the hand stamp to a guard at the Exit.
And people will miss that and find themselves unable to get back in because they don't have the hand stamp and it looks like they simply have a stolen, already-punched ticket. We don't have a solution for that. There are signs up all over, but it still happens a lot.
Starting last year, we have started going down the lines that are waiting on the 800 level to go through the door at either 2:00 or 4:00 and doing the punching, collecting, and hand stamping so that people will be able to simply walk through the door when they get there by showing their already-stamped hands. This works extremely well. I'm proud to be able to say that I was part of what turned this into a workable system.
So Lor and I arrived at noon to be sure to be part of that again this year. When Ted got us the equipment, we punched and stamped for an hour until the line was admitted, and then I did it again for the later line.
This year the autograph lines were set up better than they ever have been before, with more space allotted to them. As usual, there was a red carpet (about 4 feet wide) in front of the guests' booths which is a visual barrier that the lines are supposed to mostly stay off of. Most guests get kind of panicky when the customers crowd too close. It's a scary feeling to not be sure whether people might get out of hand. So in past years, a major part of my job has been to walk up and down that carpet pushing the eager lines back and shooing off the picture takers. (I let them get one in, and remind them to move back as quickly as possible. Staff won't let them be up there at all.)
There was an open space behind the red carpet of about 15 feet, then another red carpet, then more open space of about 8 feet before the dealers' booths started. We still had to curl the lines around, but they weren't nearly as convoluted as they have been before, and it was fairly easy to tell where one line ended and another started. This is sort of good for me, since it was easier to keep the people back far enough, and I just couldn't do the walking. But I missed that - keeping in touch with what kind of line each of the guests had, and becoming more familiar with each of the guests personality and method of handling their lines.
The Family Reunion
Handling the Lines
The autograph lines
The panel lines