Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why are You Going to Dallas? A Furry Fiesta in Review

So this was an ordinary weekend.

I spent months planning and preparing for what would be an uneventful weekend... in of all places Dallas, Texas. Dallas is the last place I'd picture myself going for, well, anything! I just don't picture Texas, let alone major suburban sprawl as something worth going out of my way for.

Then Furries happened. Rather, I developed connections with animal people in the Lone Star State that pretty much compelled me to give Furry Fiesta a go. It should be clear that I had no expectations for this con, and given how my last interstate convention left a bit to be desired, I took precautions to ensure that the events of my last experience weren't repeated:
  1. Knowing the people I'm staying with as well as making sure I am in good terms
  2. Saving up and properly budgeting
  3. Picking reasonable travel times
  4. Ensuring that I can get the time off without consequences
  5. Getting enough Clipper cash to cover public transit to SFO
  6. Being very low key about the convention: Only a twitter name change, some minor tweets, and an FA meme beforehand to avoid being drowned up in hype.
  7. No expectations. Period. This is entirely new and the only knowledge you have is from friends in TX. Oh! You've also been bitten by the Hyena and are now part of staff.
 The result? I exceeded my expectations with no regrets, period. In fact, the only thing I could possibly be a drawback was the flight from SFO. But enough about that, let's do the quick day by day recap!
The itinerary was brief compared to past cons: Leave Friday, return Sunday. Given I am now an employed marf I tried to take as minimal time off as possible while still ensuring a decent time. I will spare the details of how the initial flight went and instead direct you to this other posting on San Francisco flying for the curious.

The Hotel Intercontinental, as I first saw it.

I arrived at what at first glance may possibly be a hotel too fancy for a fan convention. Seriously, the Intercontinental's lobby is... classy. Amidst the otherwise 80s flair.

After a brief visit to the concierge to grab keys and a hop on the....deceivingly slow elevator, I flopped in the room, if only for a moment. There was a con waiting! A quick shower and I was off!

First animal encounter! 

Oh, and you know how I passingly mentioned being reeled into staff by a Hyena? Yeah, I spent a portion of this weekend manning the Con store with Zielfox. This in itself turned out to be pretty okay and a surprisingly good way to get in touch with most folks (as I had found out, pretty much everyone I know in the area staffs the con), and the location was just by the door of the Dealer's Den, effectively high traffic. Yet, it was overall a mellow, enjoyable experience. Shiva, the Dealer's lead, was rather friendly and helpful individual who I am grateful to have worked with. Likewise to Ziel, who seemed to have been more knowledgable worked far more harder than I (seriously, give that fox an award).

On the first day however, I arrived a little late due to aforementioned flight, and also was pretty much a hungry, tired floof. I was working retail again after so many years. To my delight, Asyx Collie and Path Hyena, two several furs I looked forward to seeing, popped by. I was later treated by the latter to what could be best described as a Texas-sized package of chicken and fries. Talk about a welcome!

That evening lead to me meeting more furs I've only once known as a digital cartoon face (shout out: Skritch, Rubyx, and Takoda), and brief sleep before being voluntarily hosting a panel on Furry twitter with Takoda, Path, and Ringer.

Now I wouldn't necessarily call myself worthy of representing social media, let alone speak on it (3.9k followers notwithstanding), but the audience seemed to enjoy it. The panel was essentially a discussion on our own purposes for using twitter, experiences in dealing with social media, and how we're effected by it.
I did have some thoughts, but um... it was an experience, okay?

Afterwards, I had planned on getting some much needed sleep, but not without checking out one party, Muttcon, very, very briefly. It was 10pm, or 8am home time, but the lack of proper snooze for well over two days had gotten to me, and I had to call it a night. Besides, it had quickly became apparent that as I didn't really know much folks at the party, any future efforts would be awkward, so I pretty much avoided the party scene for the con and took it easy... by flopping into bed. It was at this point I knew there was something different about this con, but it was a good different.


Animal people awaiting to enter under an 80s-esque canopy.
I awoke well rested and free of yeen bites around 9am... 7am home time and a refreshed coffee zombie until I had my brew and a quick breakfast. The con store had sold out of shirts and hoodies almost immediately, and we switched to doing mail order forms for those who desired. Everyone was pretty good-natured about that, and again, a smooth experience chatting with various furries old and new.

Never cross a husky.
I just loved this little spot.

Lunchtime came around and I tried out the food trucks while spotting a very familiar sight across the highway. Barbecue pork chicken was pretty good for the cost of a mobile-prepared meal.

Before long and a bit of downtime in the room, I was off to the parade. Staging time: 30 minutes. Parade time: Another 30.
Animal Selfie!
Wait... 30 minutes? I doubted any kind of preparation let alone performance would take that quick to set up and roll out, but somehow, TFF managed to make what may be the shortest parade span ever (look for a marflederp around the 10:30 mark)

Dinner that night was improvised, with meeting a Minty Miotas wolf from northeast and a split decision for trying out Texas trademark Whataburger over seeing what may be the emptiest In-n-out ever.

This never happens.

Minty and I shared a similar experience with the con, with us essentially colliding from opposite ends of the coast and this being the furthest we've ever traveled for such an event. It was a genuinely good, low-key experience sharing some stories away from the con, and, thankfully, not getting lost on the way back.
 We then parted ways and I went to check out Bandthro, a joint performance of major furry musicians: Fox Amoore, Pepper Coyote, Matthew Ebel, Rhubarb Bear to name a few. 

Bandthro in performans

These artists are good on their own credit, but put together they provide an phenomenal ensemble. It was a good time to spend my penultimate night.

I then suited up one last time for the night, encountering Asyx again with his fish-eye lens (do send the boop, collie), and sneaking into Kempsy's (sp?), an underground club, for an encore performance courtesy Rhubarb and Co. Needless to say, I took delight in being a goof around everyone before again calling it a night. It was at this point I didn't want the con to end and just felt... happy to be here.

Plus I fell in love with this sunset

Daylight savings happened, and the once cloudy sky gave way to a summerlike sun. I thought I woke up early at 8am.. only to remember that hotel clocks aren't automatic, and then rushed down to do one last Con store shift. The shirt orders kept coming, and the shift ended shortly by noon with a food truck burrito (and no, California Burritos don't have fries in them, but it was satisfying).

As the final hours ticked by, I tried to find a few furs to part ways with, and grabbed one last souvenir from the Dealer's Den, and checking out the Dance Comp before packing up. I complimented Path on the job well done, before hanging out with Skritch and Rubyx on the way to Love Field to the tune of Pitbull (and, oddly enough, I'm not complaining about ending in this style).

Before I knew it, I was back at the airport, and I realized the con, for me, was over. All good things come to an end? I did realize, with the two-hour dwell time, that I didn't need to rush my way out and could've taken more time to say goodbye; the con space was pretty much small enough to do so.

Farewell, Eye of Sauron

Come 7pm and one Dunkin Donut later, I took off on a Southwest plane, soaring over Texas' surprisingly endless sprawl. I began to wonder how anyone could manage to live in a flat, endless suburban maze that goes on for miles... from above it looked like a trap, maybe I do enjoy spending $5k/mo for compact space for my thoughts to be skewed). The flight itself, with a brief stop in San Diego, was pleasant, and dare I say, a much better experience than the Virgin America I took just a few days prior. Before I knew it,  I soared over downtown San Jose and touched down at home, just before midnight, as if it never happened. Done just for the weekend.

The end of the journey... waiting for a shuttle home.

In short, it was just that - a quick getaway. And you know what? That was just what I needed. I didn't stay long, but it was just enough to refresh myself. This was the first convention I've been to where I seldom saw a single person from my local community. As an unintended result, it felt more like an actual vacation. I ended up meeting people I had only known online since I was a newly-formed teenage furry nearly a decade ago. It was akin to a crossroads, seeing people from the East coast, the Midwest, people I never would have thought I'd see. Yes, I was largely restricted to a store in the Dealer's Den, but even then that in itself worked in its favor: I would've have been able to converse with as many people or connect with more folks, or even see half the people I looked forward to seeing as they, themselves, were on staff (I swear, Path hires everyone).

This con itself felt like a reset. It was for all intents in purposes the closest any recent convention has given me the "very first con" magical feeling. It might as well be the perfect experience. While the late Rainfurrest might have deterred me from doing interstate conventions, Furry Fiesta has encouraged me to do even more of them.

Would I recommend TFF? I will say that my experience is mine alone and a majority of my stance is based on this experience. While I did enjoy myself in ways that some or most wouldn't, you yourself may have a different experience altogether. I will say this: The convention is well run and the hotel is nice. It's worth a go at least once as it is now.

Would I do it again? Maybe. This experience was just by pure chance, and may not happen again. Hell, I'll start having expectations for this con that will end up skewing my perception! Only time will tell.

Thank you Path, Shiva, and the rest of the TFF staff for your efforts in making such a memorable con. Thank you various animal people for the time we spent together!

What's in the future? BLFC, RMFC, and Midwest FurFest are on the list. Let's see how they all turn out!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Getting to TFF, aka a Night in SFO

They say the journey is just as important as the destination. In some cases, memorable even. While Furry Fiesta was by all means a blast that I will get into in much further detail later, getting there was indeed an experience worth writing about.

I tried to take as minimal time off as possible (because working marf) while still ensuring a decent, fun stay abroad. This meant picking flights that worked with my schedule and opting only for one day (Friday) off. I won't bog down with the details, but due to timeliness of working a 9-5, the flights at the closest airport, San Jose, were.... limited and costly. Thus, Fly out of SFO Thursday night at 10 pm (with a layover in Vegas at 1:30am, arriving in Dallas at 6am) and return to San Jose Sunday night (leaving DAL 6pm).

San Bruno BART station: Surprisingly exposed to rain. Result of a brief train transfer means photographic potential.

Theoretically speaking, this is doable. I mean, the Bay has decent public transit from work to ports (even if it takes 90 minutes), and I had more than enough time to make it solo (with a brief stop to pick up my bags from a local fur). This would've gone smoothly, and it did, rainy day and all.... until I arrived at SFO.

One major caveat I learned about flying to/from San Francisco: Unless it's international, expect your flight to be late. My flight was stated to be delayed by an hour, which wasn't too bad...

...until 11pm became 12:05...then 12:30....

Apparently that plane was coming from equally rainy Seattle. Needless to say I wasn't going to make that connecting flight, and was left with either rebooking for a 7am departure and staying all night in the terminal, or I could risk being stranded in Vegas (or I could've demanded my money back and bailed because who flies to Dallas?).

SFO's Terminal 2, in all its shiny glory.
I was crazy and opted to rebook. This in itself turned out to  Sleeping inside the Terminal was a unique experience that one should be fortunate not to go through if they can. Those benches, laid with armrests, aren't the comfiest to sleep on. I ended sleeping for an hour, moving to the next bench, sleeping for an hour, repeat. Eventually, around 4am, I gave up and roamed around....and then found the most ideal spot to rest.

The surprisingly comfy IKEA-esque display between terminals... aka brief folf bed.

Come 6:30 am, my beautiful Virgin America plane awaited. I was barely awake and running on a mere danish as I boarded the lavender backlit interior to the dance club airline. The flight itself was uneventful, but I managed to get some on and off sleep between looking out the window and staring at the map.

The plane in question, awaiting marf boarding

 Despite the fact I have traveled many a time in the past to much further places (Manila, Amsterdam, Liverpool), the fact I was flying over Utah and New Mexico, several thousand miles away from home over the course of three hours, all solo, just left me in awe. This was something I've never done before myself. Sure, I did take the train to Seattle two years ago and flew back, but actually going beyond the West Coast for something that wasn't a group or family occasion, and the fact that I did this on my own and without a guide... I was very much not unlike this:

The plains gave way to more clouds as the plane touched down onto the teeny, yet pleasant Dallas Love Field. Upon the sight of a Dunkin Donuts, Whataburger, and the sound of very obvious accents, I knew immediately that I was in Texas.

Phone booths and 3D Microsoft Office interfaces are totally Texan!

If anything, from a Californian who's hypocritical about stereotypes, Texas is pretty honest about being Texas. On the (rather confusing) super shuttle to the Hotel Intercontinental, there was just something about the windy roads with tan, concrete ramps towering above the low-level buildings with tall, slim signs sparsely layed out on otherwise flat, lush green fields, to the old-fashioned houses of aged suburbia and clear picket fences. This haphazardness with that feeling of "open" in an otherwise sprawl just screamed to me: "Welcome to Texas".

Evidently the only photo I got to prove my case. It's pretty.

And yet, everything wasn't too far. Despite the traffic, I was soon in the very fancy lobby of the Intercontinental. Immediately I can spot the 6-foot-tall fuzzy canines and deer walking in the distance. After a brief stop at concierge to get my key, I went up to the room....

There's a furry con here?

.... and flopped, if only for a refreshing moment. There's a con to be had!

Lesson of the day: Try to avoid SFO if given an option.

San Jose is much nicer.