K and I cashed in miles for first-class award tickets to Toronto. This was a good thing. It was also a nuisance. We ended up with a late-ish flight out of San Jose that was supposed to put us in to Toronto at 11:00pm. The flight to O'Hare was fine, but bad weather in Pittsburgh delayed our Toronto crew for about an hour. We got in to Toronto at about midnight, breezed through customs, had some ATM drama until we found a machine that would take one of our cards, got our luggage and caught a town car to unayok's place. It turns out it was pretty close in price to a cab, and was much more comfortable when we got caught in late-night construction delays on the Gardiner Parkway. It was about 1:00 when we finally got to his town house (it's a good think that he's a night owl). For some less-than-sensible reason we stayed up until about 3:00 talking.
In the morning we took Hudson for a walk, got brunch at a nice little diner and stopped at a less-than-inspiring LCBO (Liquor Control Bureau of Ontario) store. U picked up some rum that was legal for him to buy, I picked up a bit of white wine, and we headed back. We did a lot of nothing, and then packed up to head to the hotel. The taxi (we could have taken the streetcar, but it would have been a hassle) showed up quickly, but the driver was a bit confused when he found out we weren't heading to the airport; the dispatcher hadn't asked where we were going and just assumed. As it turned out, it was convenient for him, he could take a parcel delivery from the neighborhood of the hotel before he went off-shift.
In any case, we got to the Best Western Primrose Hotel a little after check-in time, and our room was ready. 20th floor, same as the consuite (which wasn't open yet). We saw nobody from the convention. Move-in was quick and easy, but we found that the internet access was spotty at best. Three geeks, three laptops, no wired connectivity and bad wireless. We weren't happy. The service was out about 25% of the time.
A bit later we went back down to head into town in search of food and an ATM. By this point there were several members of the convention in the lobby, but being hungry we did little more than say "hi" before running off. After a not insignificant walk, we settled on The Pickle Barrel Grand restaurant. The Pickle Barrel is a Canadian casual dining chain, kind of like Applebees or T.G.I. Fridays, only with a menu the size of The Cheesecake Factory. This Pickle Barrel had been remodeled with that trendy sort of organic circular drop ceiling, art-glass hanging lamps, very high-backed circular booths and chain-curtain dividers. The food was very good, and the front door of the restaurant (we went in the back door) let out in one of the ubiquitous underground malls you find in large northern cities (the ones without skywalks, at least). U wanted to stop at his bank's ATM, which just happened to be near a rather nice LCBO store in the Eaton Center. There we found some nice icewine, an aluminum flask of Bright Pink rosé and Chartreuse Verte V.E.P. for C$70 for a 50cl bottle. Now at home, a 750ml of Chartreuse Verte V.E.P goes for US$150, so we picked up a bit. Should have picked up more, but we weren't absolutely sure it was what I thought it was (booze is usually significantly more expensive in Canada).
When we got back to the hotel, we caught up with a few friends. shaunskywalker, runchadrun, rvrjoe775, drewan, Chris and Mark persuaded us to go to Remington's. Remington's is a strip bar. It's a strip bar where the strippers really do take it all off, one of only three gay clubs in North America this is allowed (and I hear the one in DC is gone now). It was a refreshing change from the sort of stripping we've seen at clubs in California; the dancers were (for the most part) good dancers and hunky. They didn't do the fancy "production number" strip-tease in silly costumes, and when they got down to their shorts there weren't any of those ridiculous padded banana-hammock thongs. No point; they were coming off and padding would have been a joke. So, yeah, it was a lot of fun, more fun than I expected. Even K had fun, and he's been tired of strippers for years.
When we were all strippered out, we headed back towards the hotel and stopped at Zippers. Zippers is an odd place, half dance bar, half cabaret. The dance floor was empty on a Thursday at midnight, and there were only a few people in the piano bar (where some guy was belting out 70's pop songs). ashoemaker, David and John caught up with us there and we all talked and had a few more drinks before going back to the hotel. Not a bad Thursday.
Friday morning we slept in. We got brunch at Golden Diner, a nice little Greek diner under Spa Excess. Yep, we had breakfast under a bathhouse. Also next door to a bathhouse, the Club Toronto Mansion. Did I mention we were in the gay entertainment of Toronto, the Village?
The afternoon was mostly spent in. We registered for the con when reg opened at 4:00pm. Toronto cons don't do much before opening ceremonies, so there weren't any activities before late afternoon, and not much until after 7:00pm. The dealers' room opened at 5 and we went up to visit with a few folks (like Tom and Don). Dealers room was very small (no big surprise), but had some interesting booksellers. Note for johnnyeponymous: Lloyd Penney was running the dealers' room, I've met him now.
We decided to head into the Village for a bit of food, and caught the gang (same as listed above, including the latecomers) a few blocks from the hotel. shaunskywalker and runchadrun were raving about this Thai place they had eaten at the night before, Just Thai. Which was (I didn't notice this until the next day when we were walking down the other side of the street) under Steamworks. Three guesses what Steamworks is. Yep, dinner under a bathhouse. Service was a touch slow, but the food was really tasty. It also, unfortunately, gave a few of us a touch of indigestion.
On the way back we picked up chocolate for the Chocolate Symposium at a good gourmet grocer right next to Just Thai.
The Chocolate Symposium was packed with people. We had a bit of chocolate, and were persuaded to go out to Woody's. That Woody's, the one transported to Pittsburgh when it was featured in Queer as Folk. It was a really nice bar, joined to Sailor, the bar in the neighboring space. We stayed for a bit, watched videos of the '99 Toronto Pride Parade (this coming weekend is Toronto Pride, so the weekend was "Pre-Pride"), and went back to the hotel. We watched Kung Fu Hustle with Chris and Mark before going to sleep way too late.
Saturday we slept in again. K had to get up and work with Penny Lipman, Barb Schofield and Peter MacAvoy on the masquerade (he was emceeing). He spent the afternoon building an impromptu fashion show slideshow from Barbarella when it turned out there were no interested live bodies for the planned fashion show. U and I had pizza at Amato's (I think it was Amato's) and wandered around the con a bit. I was up in the dealers' room again talking to René from the Montreal Worldcon bid when I saw Mistress Midori come in. We didn't know she was going to be in Toronto much less at the con, and she sure wasn't expecting to see us. A bit of cellphone mess later (my phone kept losing service at random times during the weekend) and I got K down to the lobby before Midori left to have dinner before going off to teach a class that evening. We had a nice little chat.
We went to dinner at a little restaurant in the village with U's Australian friend Rod. Food was good, but I've spaced the name of the place.
We got K back to the hotel in time for his call before Masquerade and went to the Atlanta party. The Atlanta Gaylaxicon committee had scheduled its party from 7:00pm-9:00pm. Who schedules a party that early, and for only two hours? Still, the room was pretty busy and they had nice peach vodka punch. I spent a bit of time talking with Scott Bobo about Worldcon, scheduling problems, and parties. This was also the point at which we learned how bad the hotel internet really was. There was a WAP in the Atlanta room, and it was a D-Link consumer model router. The ethernet coming into the room was split and taped up with electrical tape to move the power-over-ethernet leads to the standard AC-adapter plug.
We left the party in time to clean up and get down to the Masquerade. It ran a bit late; they held the show for about 15 minutes on the off chance people were waiting for elevators. Remember that "delay" comment? The elevators were really slow and unreliable. Several times an elevator got stuck during the weekend. In one case, the Author GoH got stuck and the alarm button in the elevator didn't do anything. Not good.
The masquerade itself wasn't bad. The pacing on the fashion slides was a bit off, but the audience liked it. There were 6 entries in the masquerade, and they were all pretty good. K did a few songs to pad out the show, and Peter did a mix of jokes good and bad. After the masquerade we went back up to the room. The Anticipation Party (Montreal in 2009 for Worldcon) party was pretty quiet, with spruce beer but no Montreal smoked meat. I checked out the "Beefcake/Cheesecake" event (a charity function where you buy a slice of cheesecake and a hunky guy feeds it to you), it was pretty successful, successful enough it was difficult to get in the room. I ran into U's friend Nudog there, and we all went back to the room to watch WWII cartoons and have a few more drinks. No Remington's run for us this time. Again, we stayed up way too late (but not as late).
Sunday was a bit weird. With the late start on Friday, it didn't really feel like it should already be the end of the con. We got breakfast at Fran's Restaurant, a Toronto institution. They do a really good french-toast style Monte Cristo. K talked with a reporter from FAB magazine for a while. U, Chris and I spent part of the afternoon playing Wooly Bully, a silly sheep-farming card game. See hot interracial sheep-on-sheep action! K discovered that the WAP he was connecting to in the consuite was a Linksys 802.11b router, probably the same old model we gave to lobolance when he needed one. Not only was the hotel network cobbled together, it was cobbled together from different manufacturers' devices.
Closing ceremonies was pretty simple. The guests who were still present said a few things. Gaylaxicon 2008 was announced for Washington DC and 2009 for Minneapolis. Several of us went to Il Fornello (not Il Fornaio) afterwards for dinner, only to find the rest of the gang showing up in a pack behind us. Food was excellent, particularly the Fig and Prosciutto pizza. We got back in time for the dead-dog party and stayed there until around midnight. U packed up and went home, he had to work Monday.
Monday was pretty calm. We joined the gang (again) for breakfast at Daybreak. Then it was time to pack and head out to the airport. shaunskywalker, runchadrun, ashoemaker, David and John all had flights about 10 minutes before ours, so we got a huge van to take us to the airport together. Shaun now owes Andy something at laconiv and I owe him a drink (we had to scramble to cover the shuttle cost in cash; the driver didn't have his credit machine).
The AA Business Class check-in line at Pearson was the pokiest I've ever been in. There was a great deal of confusion. The three guys in the coach line for US Airways got through more quickly than we did. Customs, on the other hand, was dirt-simple. They read our forms (we bought a pair of Gaylaxicon 2006 shirts, well under duty allowance) and waved us through.
Flight to O'Hare was pretty painless. I noticed a really weird plane that just landed at Pearson while we were in line to take off. It had this huge gang of rear wheels on stubby little landing gear. We passed it (on the taxiway) on take-off; it turned out to be a Dneipr-Volga airliner. Don't want to think about what landing in that thing would be like. Had a surprisingly good dinner at Wolfgang Puck's Cafe once we were in Chicago. Looked at Shure noise-canceling earbuds, but decided not to pay $180 for headphones without reading a few reviews first.
As mentioned at the top (when I started writing this), the flight out of O'Hare was delayed. We boarded about 30 minutes late. We then sat in the plane for at least another half hour. I stopped watching the clock and played solitaire on my phone; serious boredom. It turns out there was a problem with one of the air conditioning units (this might have had to do with what delayed the plane's arrival in the first place). The maintenance crew didn't want to clear the plane with only one ACU, the pilot just wanted to get going (it was a comfort issue, not a safety issue). They sat arguing back and forth until the crew got the ACU fixed. The good news is that we didn't get canceled. They really didn't want to cancel us on a mechanical failure. At least we were in first class sitting bored in somewhat comfy seats.
Got in late, caught a cab and went home. That's it.
Things learned from this convention:
- Online prereg is vital, and evil nasty PayPal conveniently solves exchange difficulties
- It's possible to be too close to the gay entertainment district. The easy access to the bars (4-6 block walk) sucked people out of the con at night
- Things have to start earlier on Friday. People who are coming a long distance to a traveling con are looking for a full three days
- Things have to start earlier on Friday. More locals will get hotel rooms if the con is a full three days.
- The hotel needs a cozy, inviting lobby where people can hang out, particularly before the con starts and after it ends
- The hotel needs a good bar, even if it's an easy walk to the gay entertainment district
- The hotel needs a decent restaurant, even if there's tons of good restaurants nearby
- Splitting the con across the topmost and lowest floors of the hotel should be avoided if at all possible
- Bad elevators can really mess up a con (yeah, this isn't news)