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Vulkon 2002

Orlando, Florida
March 22-24, 2002

report by Amanda Gillespie Baker and Ina Hark

Amanda

I can't quite decide whether I should open with the negative stuff, or the really great stuff. I guess I'll start with the negative so that I can get it out of the way.

Con schedules were so difficult to find that even René had difficulty. We were told by several attendees that he had rushed into the con area late on Friday evening desperately trying to find a schedule. A woman who had been in the area was proud to tell us that she gave him hers. He managed to make her weekend, but the rest of us had only a vague idea of even when registration would open Saturday morning.

There was also very little to do. The guests all spoke in the afternoons. Otherwise, there was a small dealer's room, a model room, and a few dull panel discussions (i.e., "How to be a Klingon Warrior"). There was an unusually high number of Klingons, all of whom felt the need to be insufferably obnoxious, not to mention loud, in order to be properly in character. For some reason, it always seems like it's the Klingons who show up in the most outrageous costumes and this con was certainly no exception. It was quite a show. The Klingon bar was very cool, however. It was a darkened room filled with neon lights in every, unusual futuristic form the organizers could scrounge up. It looked like the kind of place that Quark might operate if he opened a franchise on the Klingon homeworld, sans the holosuites and the dabo tables, of course. Unfortunately, there was no real place to sit and relax inside; you had to get your drinks and go. The Klingons really seemed to like it, though. They prefered to stand around and scream things like "You have no honor," at anyone who happened to strike their fancy. In case you didn't know, Klingons have the bad habit eavesdropping and commenting on the conversations of strangers. Wereally needed Odo come, take charge, and throw a few of them into the brig, or at least in the nearest broomcloset.

The staff tried to discourage us from selling ORACLE items in the autograph line, were rather unpleasant about René signing extra stuff from the ORACLE table (they were selling extra autograph tickets and limited the the number of autographs based on which ticket you bought), and even insisted that one of their staff sit beside him to assist him during the autograhs (he had originally asked Ina to do that during lunch). I honestly think that all of the misdirection and totalitarianism came from greed and not just because I was trying to convince Ina to relinquish her place beside René to me. René's basic generosity was cutting into their profit margin. I eventually bailed out of René's autograph line because I couldn't stand to hear anymore screeching about the rules (poor Ina).

I absolutely agree with what another fan who said that René should have been treated like a king. I (and I think many other people) originally started attending cons for the opportunity to see my favorite Trek stars. The con staff didn't treat the con-goers that well, either. It seems like a very bad policy for a business dependent on a very specific group of consumers.

I'm sure that they had some choice words for all of us for being so demanding, but my loyalty remains firmly with ORACLE and René. We followed the same procedures for René's charity autographing this time as we had at every other convention I've been at (just in case you're wondering). I think an organization dedicated to Trek and it's philosophy should collect money for charity and not just line its own pockets.

Oh, well. That's con organizers for you. It's a shame that there can't be more non-profit fan groups out there able to organize and run cons. At least I'd feel better about spending so much money.

I'd like to say that I'll never do another Vulkon, but the truth is that if René did another one, I'd be back. The weekend overall was not even close to bad, however. My companions were wonderful, René was wonderful, the weather was beautiful, and the hotel well run. We managed to meet some very nice people, and even received invitations to parties and dinner from some of them. There was also that magnificent feeling of comraderie among the fans, mostly total strangers, that I've come to cherish.

Ina [with further Amanda comments in brackets]

The prospect of seeing René and Armin at a fairly small con an easy Amtrak trip from South Carolina, combined with the opportunity for Sharon, Paul, Amanda, and I to get together again so soon after a very pleasant evening spent in Columbia last Thanksgiving weekend, was too good to pass up. On Friday evening, I was supposed to go to the registration desk to look for Christie Zizo of the Far Beyond the Stars club, so that we could coordinate the manning of the club charity table. Alas, the registration desk was empty, with a sign saying that registration would open at 9:30 a.m. However, Christie called me in my hotel room and I arranged to staff the charity table from 9:45 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, along with my fellow ORACLE buddies. [We even managed to sell a few things. One guy turned out to be more of a René fan than a DS9 fan and had brought a City of Angels program for René to sign.]

  Amanda, Sharon, and Ina at the charity table

There had been tentative plans to have a club meeting Saturday evening after René's and Armin's play, but we were distressed to discover that the play had been cancelled, due to low ticket sales (those Philistines!). I hoped that we could still meet, but had to wait until René came by the table, which he had not done by the time Christie relieved us at 1:00. Fortunately, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, and when we walked in, we spotted René talking to a woman, who turned out to be a new ORACLE member, Liliana from Uruguay. I went to René's booth to see if we could still salvage a club meeting. He had not been told that the ORACLE table was up and staffed, and was unhappy that he had lost the opportunity to draw some cartoons to be sold for charity. He asked me to collect money for his charity, Doctors Without Borders, from cartoons he would draw at the afternoon autograph session. He had changed his plane reservation when the play was cancelled, and would have to leave at 3:30 a.m. He therefore wasn't keen to do a late club meeting but said he would go out to dinner with the group if he was not obligated to attend the banquet. (Unfortunately, it turned out that he was).

After he finished his own meal, René came and sat at our booth, and filled us in on what he had been doing recently. His last television work was an episode of Enterprise. When the Enterprise folks asked how he liked the script, René had told them, "Well, we shot this the second season on DS9." (I'll let all you René fen decide for yourself to which episode he was referring when you see the episode.) He also tantalized us with the possibility that he might be bound for Broadway to do a musical next year. He isn't sure if he wants to commit to a year away from his new house in California and other attendant life disruptions. We assured him that if he did do a New York play, many ORACLE members would buy tickets, even Sharon, who likes musicals about as much as Garak likes Dukat. [I think Sharon and I both winced a bit when we heard the word musical, but we're already planning a tentative trip to NY to see it.] René said that doing another television series would be easy compared to the really hard work of doing live theatre eight times a week.

René did his Q&A for an hour, starting at 3:30 p.m. He told the story about doing the Enterprise episode again and commented on all the judges and psychiatrists he's been playing of late. He said that Ira Behr had asked him to play a psychiatrist on the ill-fated Jason Alexander comedy Bob Patterson. René worried that the character would be too similar to the one he played on Frasier and asked if he could do it with a slight German accent. Ira wouldn't budge on the concept, so René turned down the part.

Another highlight of the Q&A was René's singing of the famous patter song "Tchaikovsky," which is a tongue-twisting list of Russian composers that Danny Kaye originally did in Lady in the Dark. [He made it through without missing anything.] We also learned of his regular early morning hikes with Armin's wife Kitty, while Armin stays in bed, and that René hasn't really been in touch with other DS9 cast members besides Armin since the show ended. To a question about his most challenging role, René responded that it was Dr. Walter Kerry on Chicago Hope.

After the Q&A, I was seated at the far end of the autograph table, selling club photos and publications and requests for René to draw and personalize his Odo bucket cartoons. There were two Vulkon staff between us, and René said to shout down the table if someone had bought a cartoon. A few attempts convinced me that this was a bad system, so I seized a Vulkon memo pad on the table and tore it up into small slips of paper upon which I wrote a letter "C" for every cartoon purchaser. I was referring to these as "chits" until someone misheard me; then I started calling them "pieces of paper." Liliana waited until the autographs were done and then presented René with two lovely pieces of folk art from Uruguay. It was good to meet still another ORACLE member, although language differences didn't allow us to converse as much as I would have liked.

We made over $1,000 for charity, despite the less than ideal conditions under which the ORACLE sales operated. Partly this was due to my selling the cartoons for $10 rather than the usual $5 (no one told me they were supposed to cost less than the photos!) and partly to the fact that all of us staffing the table kept concluding that we had to have the newest photos. [It was difficult to pack up and go home on Sunday. Time always passes so quickly at cons. I never fail to limp home completely exhausted, often to the amusement of my various co-workers, who can't seem to comprehend just how much all that geekiness can take out of person.]

Photo by Paul Hancock

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