Fur the 'More: Baltimore's first furry convention a success
Fur the 'More, Baltimore’s first furry convention, took place on the first week of April. April is known for its rain, and whenever it rains, it pours. It was to be my first small convention, but it was certainly not as small as many other new conventions.
My own experience, compared to other furs, is limited: Anthrocon 2011 & 2012, and MFF 2011. Today I review this hatchling. I’ve included some personal stories – the greatest convention stories are personal. Besides, if you don’t have stories to tell, than what was the point of going on the adventure?
The Hunt Valley Inn
The hotel had many strengths. The flow from the rooms to the other parts of the con were quicker than the other cons I’ve been to once you had the layout down. Some complained about getting lost in the halls sometimes; I never really had that issue. The place was more horizontal than vertical, with only three floors, making elevator waits non-existent throughout the convention. The stairs were found nearby and were wide and spacious, easily supporting my size 14-wide feet. I theorize this would make them much easier to climb even if in suit, though why you would do that when there are no elevator lines I have no idea.
One of the oddities of the convention layout though was the Zoo’s isolation from the rest of the con. It was in the Frankie and Vinnies 50s vintage bar, which was certainly a cool place to hang out even if the temperature itself wasn’t quite as cool at times. The final dance that took place there was called “dead dog” for a reason. Even without a suit I found myself getting too warm to dance for more than an half hour. I never went to any of the dances in the main hall as the music was a bit too loud for my liking, so I cannot speak as to how those went.
There are talks of renovations which brings hopes as to what improvements will be made. It also brings with it a fear to some who like the style of the Frankie and Vinnies area, worried that it may be changed completely. However, it’s clear that for next year the territory for the convention is spreading, most likely to include the large ballroom across from the Zoo area which other congregations were using for this particular weekend (which was what made the Zoo so isolated this year). It may also increase the cost of nightly rates once it is done, but right now this is the cheapest rate I’ve had at any con in the northeast at $90 a night, so if you live in the eastern area and want to try a con but have a low budget, this one could be a good one to try.
The hotel staff, as can be seen in online reviews for the hotel, are certainly its strongest feature. Very professional, and they welcomed the convention with open arms, some hotel workers wearing ears and tails of their own by their own desire to do so (according to the con chair).
One of the oddities of the hotel is that every once in awhile outside one would be overwhelmed by the potpourii of spices. Apparently McCormick has one of their factories in the area, causing the surrounding area to smell like that aisle of the grocery store on steroids. I joked with my roommates that this could be advantageous as it’d cover up any odors of attendees that neglected personal hygiene. Luckily, the smell was never too overwhelming, and non-existent once inside.
One fear that I’ve heard and had myself is that this convention may in a few years outgrow the hotel; that is not going to be an easy choice. However, as long as this place remains as strong and as loyal as it does, my choice would be capping attendance as FurFright does and let FCN take those that got cut off. I don’t think this convention would be what it was without this hotel. That decision, thankfully, will probably not need to be made for years yet.
This is typically where the experiences of attendees will vary. My main focus was on the writing panels, as that aligns with my particular goal: getting published.
The most memorable panels had interactivity. At previous cons, I was mostly a passive participant, listening and watching more than engaging. The size of this con allowed me to move a bit beyond that, as I’ve always been stronger in smaller groups than large ones.
My favorite was the voice acting workshop. While I attended the tail end of Buck Hopper’s panel by a similar name at AC, this one felt less rushed. It made particularly good use of its time; starting off with explanation, then audience members would go up in pairs to do a dialog scene with two characters, and there was even enough time at the end for questions to be answered, as everyone who wanted a chance to go up got to.
It’s rare to see a beginning, middle, and end structure in a panel, so I gave it major props. I did the voice of a squirrel named Sidus. In hindsight, I may have come off too much like Jaleel White as Sonic the Hedgehog. I'll be looking forward to seeing how they all come together, once posted.
None of the panels I went to had issues (that were not technologically based), however I later heard of activities added at the last minute. This never hindered me, as I just stuck to the paper sheet. I have no smartphone and don’t bring my computer to conventions (I spend enough time on it at home), so I don’t know what I missed. I got lucky that everything I went to started on time; sometimes a little luck is all you need.
I attended the Furries and Media panel, which hadn’t changed all that much – aside from inclusion of the NJ FurBQ incident, which apparently impacted a friend of Kage’s. While I understand the premise of the panel is what to do if one encounters the press, when these things came up the bad encounters were talked about in an "inside understanding" manner. It is possible some of those in attendance aren’t familiar with the incidents that were only alluded to. He mentioned Chewfox, but not what she did; I think it’d be important for those who may not be familiar with the incident to know if you don’t want them doing it. Furries may also be familiar with the CSI episode, but they may not know about the article where the crime show’s writers back-pedalled in 2008 (it’s no longer up, but my response contains the quotes).
After that, I chose not to attend the science panel; not that I hated it or anything, just because I can watch it on YouTube (as in prior years). I always wondered what explaining science had to do with the fandom, I know we’re tied with the Sci-fi community and all-- but let me stop myself before I question it too much. I went to the Flash Fiction, read my entry, then went to hang out with friends in another panel, where a friend was running her’s which was nearly empty. Just three had shown up, and she had prepared quite a bit. I told her not to worry too much; I remembered a story about a pretty well-known furry having no one show up to their panel because of the topic of discussion (dealing with internet drama) so if she had people show up in spite of being next to a Kage panel, not to take it too hard. She didn’t. She did another panel where people learned about gestures and sign-language where more had shown up, important for fursuiter who don’t want to ‘ruin the magic’ (aka talk in suit). It led to interesting discussion on how to improvise if your suit kept you from doing particular gestures which require fingers.
The unexpected event which I participated in more than anticipated was the charity auction. I’m not the kind that likes to spend money; in fact, I find myself going to dealer dens less and less because I think very carefully about what I want and then go buy it. My eyes will never wander; spontaneous purchases are not my thing. By the time the auction rolled around and the items were being displayed I remembered that I was still well under my con budget; so why not?
Kage brought out his Christmas-saurus to the chopping block and then started to say “This is a dear childhood toy of mine-” I thought that was a nice gesture so I started bidding. Then I wondered as the bids were going, what would happen if I won and then took Kage’s stuffed dinosaur and gave a maniacal laugh, and once that thought crossed my mind I was determined to win just to pull off that effect. But now that I have done that, and have his childhood toy in hand, my thoughts wander … can I make this a thing? What evil plot does the roo have in store for the stuffed Christmas-saurus?
Personal plots aside; in a crowded world, it can be hard to see the impact even the smallest of us can have. It was certainly easier to give myself identity and move towards personal development here than it has been at other previous conventions.
I will not lie: one of the primary concerns I had with this being a first convention is that, unlike an extremely established con like Anthrocon, the local general public was going to get their first glimpse of this type of gathering. You hear the stories of the earlier convention’s encounters: a ‘ruined’ wedding, people complaining about the riff-raff, and just generally unpleasant things about judgemental non-fandomers reacting badly to the large gathering of costumers.
There were plenty of opportunities for such storms to occur, as the hotel was shared with other gatherings. As my roommates and I headed back to the ground floor, we noticed a credit union gathering had commenced on Sunday in the main ballroom; the demographic was mainly well-dressed senior citizens. A solid contrast from our own convention. During down time; my friend had to go outside to smoke so we hung out at an outside door. There were some looks of confusion on some of the newly-arrived union attendees’ faces; as if they weren’t sure where to go or even if they had the right building. So I had an idea; as groups of these individuals came up to the side door, I asked them if they were there for the credit union meeting and gave directions while opening the door. Obviously, it wasn’t just a Good Samaritan thing; I was trying to keep contention between the congregations low, making both stronger in the end. On its face it appeared to work, the neutral expression of the ‘outsiders’ became more positive. Of course, I was there to have fun, too, so as soon as my friend finished his smoke we went back inside.
Then there were the inquisitive. During time at the bar on Sunday I sat in my usual spot on the right side. Most of the other furs were at the tables or on the left side. The two that sat around me were not of the convention. One lady asked the bartender about us. He didn’t have much information other than: “I don’t know all that much, but they’re friendly people, that’s all I really care about.” So I decided to speak with her, mostly because I was curious about her accent. The lady came from New Zealand on a business trip; being a kangaroo, I was instantly at an advantage. “So you’re kind of like Skippy?” she asked. I enjoyed our conversation – it was one of the more engaging of the convention. It’s good to be reminded that the fandom doesn’t have a monopoly on intelligence, and to take a break and talk about more worldly topics.
However, to say there were no rumbles in the clouds from the general public would be a lie. One customer at the bar in an earlier evening stood by an empty stool to my left; I looked over and could tell something was off, but went back to minding my drink. She placed the plastic cup on the bar and complained about the cocktail, particularly the way it was served in a cup instead of a glass.
The bartender apologized and offered to alleviate the problem by transferring the liquid to a glass. However, as he did so the real ‘problem’ revealed itself as she said “I’m not with this convention,” as if that’d be a bad thing to be tied with. Following that she canceled her food order and walked out with her significant other; of course not before he repeated the same issue. That was the more annoying part because now I felt bad for the bartender. He had cancelled the order already, he didn’t need to be lectured on things he could not control a second time.
At the end of the ordeal, despite the differences in the way we live our lives I can always be assured of the one thing I have in common with the irate customer: We’re both proud of the fact that she is not with the convention. As I talked it over with another furry who heard it sitting two seats down, I summarized it as: “Our fandom brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others.”
With the closing ceremonies came the announcement that the attendance had been about double than the con chair had anticipated at 473. After announcing that success, Kage quipped: “Remember, you wanted this.”
The final dance finished in the Zoo at the stroke of midnight. With so few of us left, I helped move the equipment back to convention operations. The hotel staff was needed; the trolley carrying the largest items required the freight elevator, so we were escorted through. This was my first time in the employee area of the hotel and upon the stretching plain white walls was an old piece of paper with a saying: “Everything in its proper place”. The phrase was not what drew my eye; for some odd reason I could not comprehend, there was a female roo hopping with joey in pouch on this motivational poster style item. It was not part of the convention; it had the stain of a few years of being up.
That stuck out to me. As a moderately spiritual person, I believe in symbols that occur around us in some form – that there are reasons for these things. The best way I can interpret it is that this convention is the roo’s proper place. That said, I am planning on making this my current main convention. The one that gets highest priority for the year. There are too many positives, and to end with that literal sign makes it quite clear this convention is here to stay in its proper place as one of the greats, and this roo shall remain with it.