RAIL Con I
June 20-22, 1997
Summerfield Suites Hotel, Chicago -
The only thing better than sitting down to watch an episode of a favorite TV show is sitting down to watch it with a group of like-minded friends. That noble endeavor was the central purpose of the world's first-ever RAIL Con. Eleven of us, current and former members of the RenÚ Auberjonois Internet List (RAIL), along with several of our significant others, gathered in Chicago at the end of June to watch the last episode of Season 5 of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE together, talk about what we saw, and speculate about what Season 6 will bring.
If you haven't encountered it before, the RAIL is an online newsgroup/mailing list devoted to discussions of actor RenÚ Auberjonois and his 30+ year career on stage, screen, and television, with special emphasis on his current role as Security Chief Odo on DS9. People participate in the RAIL because they are fascinated by Odo, or because they like RenÚ and admire his skill as an actor, or (often) both. The conversation can range from reviews of movies RenÚ made 20 years ago to analysis of events in the latest DS9 episode, and an infinity of side tracks on related subjects. A frequent, favorite topic is if, when, where, and how Odo and DS9's first officer, Major Kira Nerys, will take their close friendship a step farther, into romance. These conversations can get heated -- members of the RAIL hold strong opinions, and express them eloquently, and often. It doesn't take long to discover which members of the RAIL share your point-of-view, and which are dead-set against it. But even when people disagree, they do so with great intelligence, and, usually, all due respect. Whatever else the RAIL may be, it is never dull!
Inevitably, several participants in the RAIL decided that they wanted to move beyond the an Internet acquaintance and get to know one another face-to-face. Some were already acquainted through their contributions to Love and Justice, a fanzine devoted to Odo and Kira, or ORACLE, the official RenÚ Auberjonois fan club. In the spring of 1997, Carolyn "Kirys" Fulton bravely volunteered to coordinate a get-together in her hometown, Chicago, on the weekend of the Season 5 finale.
Con attendees, who arrived by car, bus, and airplane at various times on Friday, were Carolyn, Cynthia, Dianne, Tracy, Cristal, Rick, Marguerite, Ina, Chris, Jeff, and FyrDrakken. Some people were housed at Carolyn's home ("Free! Complimentary cat hair for all guests!"), some with relatives, and some at Ina's room at the Summerfield Suites Hotel, which became our official "con suite" for the weekend. We represented several states -- Illinois, Indiana, Texas, South Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota -- and a wide span of ages, incomes, backgrounds, and professions. However, what we had in common -- our love of Odo! -- more than made up for our differences.
The agenda for RAIL Con I was simple: talk, videos, laughter, videos, food, more talk, a little shopping, more laughter, and more videos. This was a small con, designed for maximum interaction between the attendess: in other words, we made our own fun! No guests of honor, no panel discussions, no art auction or dealers room -- although Chris did bring Love & Justice I & II for those of us who didn't yet own copies -- just lots of enthusiasm, intense conversation, and frequent laughter. Meals consisted of snacks in the con suite -- pizza, popcorn, soft drinks, chocolate (oh, that cheesecake! Thank you, Rick!) -- lunch at a food court at the Saks 5th Avenue Mall down the street from Summerfield Suites, a festive dinner at a T.G.I.Fridays restaurant, and Sunday brunch at Carolyn and Cynthia's.
On Saturday afternoon we spent several entertaining hours at the Viacom Store on Michigan Avenue, just a few block from the hotel. We bought large numbers of DS9 and Odo souvenirs for ourselves and our friends back home, participated in a Trek trivia contest (Tracey stumped the staff and won a gift certificate!), and posed for a group photo in the store's special green-screen studio: most of us in Odo t-shirts, all with silly smiles on our faces! By 5:00 p.m. we were back at the con suite, and watched "A Call to Arms" with rapt attention (most of us did, anyway: two of our patient, long-suffering significant others took the opportunity to catch forty winks while the rest of us were glued to the TV).
I can't relate all of the conversations that took place at RAIL Con I -- there were often four or five going on at once! We talked Trek, of course, but we also talked about social/political issues, about experiences some of us have had in technical theater, television, and movies, about our jobs and pets and kids -- about life. But the thing that stands out in my mind about this con was the laughter we shared. Part of the credit for that must, of course, go to RenÚ. Thanks to people who brought items from their personal videotape collections, we were able to watch RenÚ in a number of performances, most of them amusing. With our varied levels of interest in RenÚ and/or Odo, some of us were already familiar with (and fond of) his work outside of DS9, while others were thrilled to have this first opportunity to see RenÚ portray anyone besides Odo. Among the movies and episodes we viewed, in whole or in part, during the course of the weekend were the mid-70s movie Panache, an episode of The Bionic Woman called "The Dijon Caper," several Benson episodes, including "The Earthquake" and "The Blind Date," bits of the movie Pete 'n' Tille, and RenÚ's part in a sugary-sweet program devoted to children's books, in which he read an excrutiatingly adorable story about a cuddley penquin. If you don't believe that sitting in a hotel room with a bunch of adults and listening to RenÚ read a cute children's book is hilariously, side-splittingly, face-hurts-from-grinning funny.... well, I guess you had to have been there. All I can tell you is that if I ever buy that particular book for my nieces or nephews, I will never be able to read it without thinking of RenÚ -- or without cracking up!
After our visit to the Viacom Store (affectionately known as "ViaBorg" for its obvious ability to assimilate all lesser species of mercantile life), someone thought it would be really neat to send an autographed photo to our favorite actor, as a change of pace from the norm of asking him to send photos to us. Late on Saturday evening we tried to sign the shiny cardboard frame that the photo came in, but that didn't work. Instead, we each thought of something passingly-clever to say, and Carolyn volunteered to write our thoughts in comic strip-style word balloons and add them to the photo, then send it to RenÚ. If he sensed even a fraction of the fun and affection that went into this silly gift, then I'm sure it brought a smile to his face when he received it.
If I have one complaint about RAIL Con I, it's that it was too short! We could have used an entire weekend just for conversation -- an entire weekend just for watching a selection of our favorite DS9 episodes -- an entire weeked just for a "best of Benson" marathon -- an entire weekend for watching RenÚ in movies. In other words, we need more RAIL Cons!
After all, the only thing better than watching your favorite TV show is watching it with your friends.
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