My generic con report, perhaps making conventions seem a bit more appealing than the one Teresa Nielsen Hayden has made available for public use, would be something like "Food, conversation, sleep deprivation, books, conversation, walking, far-flung friends, conversation, who was that masked fan?" I am rarely willing to assume that I dreamed the whole thing: if nothing else, dreams don't usually leave me with laundry to do and books to find a place for. My current condition is only slightly jet-lagged, and having returned without much difficulty to my usual location, I think Orycon deserves a bit more detail.
Andy and I decided we needed a vacation this fall, and Orycon looked just right. A long weekend at the con, then a couple of days in Seattle with Alan Rosenthal and Janice Murray: we'd be in good company, and safely thousands of miles away from Andy's job. (Even at that distance, he called in once and solved a problem for them.) We got to Portland Thursday night, checked in, and were greeted by a surprised Kate Yule--I hadn't bothered to tell many people I was going to be there. We had a pleasant dinner with her, David Levine, and John Dallman at one of the restaurants in the nearby shopping center; John was in town, not for the con, but because his employer had sent him, but he managed to see a bit of the con as well.
It's very fannish to ignore most of the programming, less so to make a point of seeing the city a con is in. But I've gradually concluded that if I'm going to spend hours traveling to get somewhere, I might as well take a look around, not just see the airport and the con hotel.
We spent Friday afternoon of Orycon at the Portland Zoo. They have a wonderful otter exhibit, sun bears, and the tamest peafowl I've yet run across: they hang around next to the snack bar, looking for handouts, and wander casually away if someone noisy comes too close, but are quite willing to wander under your table if you don't startle them. (The peafowl at the Bronx Zoo also have the run of the place, but tend to stay away from humans.)
The zoo also has a fairly successful breeding program, or else a good publicity department: they were featuring a six-week-old black rhinoceros (on closed circuit television, because cool and rainy isn't good weather for baby rhinos) and an even younger giraffe. The baby rhino was cute, even on television: I never thought of rhinos as cute before, but "young mammal" is something we seem to be hard-wired to react to, even if we don't want to raise one of our own.
We took the bus to the zoo, and learned something in the process--Portland buses are easily wheelchair accessible, and the process is quick enough that passengers already on the bus barely notice that the wheelchair lift is being used. (The buses have posters, explaining that they're trying to make access as easy as possible, and that they will use the lift for any passenger on request: you don't have to be using a mobility device, they assume you know what you need.) The contrast with the cumbersome procedure a nd poor hardware on the New York City bus system is so great that I can only assume that the NY Transit Authority deliberately bought the worst available design, in order to discourage wheelchair users from trying to ride the buses.
Orycon was, of course, full of people I didn't know, but there were also enough familiar faces that I felt comfortable: fanzine fans I know from paper and Corflus, a few East Coast people, some of the feminist cabal from Wiscon, and a few people I'd met at Potlatch--John Mead, a friend of Kate and Dave's whom I had dinner with last Potlatch, was the only friend who seemed completely unsurprised to see me there, when we ran into each other in the supermarket. Add a couple of people I hadn't known in person--John Dallman is one of my British TAFF nominators, and we'd only known each other on paper, and Petrea Mitchell co-runs ElderMOO, which is an odd combination of conversation and text-based computer environment--and it felt very fannish, but refreshingly novel.
Saturday morning I attended the Liars' Panel on how to get published, in which the panelists (all editors) gave an hour's worth of good advice by humorous counterexample--for instance, they urged aspiring writers to use brightly colored paper and staple the manuscript together at all the corners; the audience helped by throwing in leading questions like What color of paper is best? My bad advice was to always single-space everything; Teresa Nielsen Hayden picked that up and ran with it, explaining that you should also type on both sides of the paper and never leave any margins. I'm sure it was cathartic for the editors on the panel, who got to complain about all the really annoying mistakes, and about writers who will try to explain why their manuscripts are better than they look. They even passed along some practical advice (don't use Express Mail) and told a few funny stories.
Lunch at the mall food court was bland, but John Mead was good company, and we rode on the carousel before going back to the con. The carousel was a delight, an original from 1921, with wooden horses, carved and painted in intricate detail: they're adorned with glass jewels, bunches of grapes, flags, even rabbits behind the saddle. The people running it were clearly used to enthusiastic adults: one of the crew, after reminding a child in front of us to strap himself in (I don't think the woven black seatbelts were original equipment), smiled at John to indicate that he was free to just hold on and take his chances. If there hadn't been a con waiting for us, I'd probably have gone around again, shouting "gidd-yap" and waving at complete strangers, just because waving is part of the proper merry-go-round experience, and has been since my parents were there to watch.
When we got back, Alan Rosenthal, Karen Schaffer, and Mike Ward invited us to join them on an expedition to Powell's City of Books, with a second lunch thrown in, since they hadn't eaten yet. If you're looking for a good meal in Portland, Oregon, I can recommend Typhoon: along with the fresh-tasting Thai food, they offer literally scores of kinds of tea; I chose a vanilla-scented Ceylon to go with my soup. We limited ourselves to an hour at Powell's, which meant I got out of there for less than $50, with (among eight or nine other things) an autographed copy of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow (the most recent Tiptree Award winner, just out in trade paperback--an excellent if sometimes harrowing novel) and a used copy of Dave Langford's The Space Eater. I could have spent far more, both time and money: it's the sort of place where you wander from one section to another, see something on display and remember that you've been meaning to pick up a book by an author with the same last name, so you go back to the science fiction section and grab that copy of Sarah Canary that you somehow didn't get around to buying in any New York bookstore. I particularly liked their practice of filing books by category and then author, with no separation between new and used, or hardcover and paperback--it made it easy to see that, in one case, the remaindered hardcover of a book I wanted would cost me less than the paperback of the same book.
When we got back from Powell's, I grabbed Andy and Alan and we walked across the Columbia River. There's a bridge whose entrance is near the hotel, with walkways on both sides, and it's maybe a mile from Portland to Vancouver (Wash.), a pleasant if windy walk in the late afternoon of what had been a warm November afternoon. The traffic made it too noisy to talk much on the bridge, so I walked along with bits of Woody Guthrie's songs about the Columbia River running through my head as they had all weekend... "At Bonneville now there are ships in the locks...Roll on, Columbia, roll on, Your power is turning our darkness to dawn, So roll on Columbia roll on..." praise of a river and the riches it can bring that I've known since long before I set eyes on that great river. To the west, clouds made a gorgeous sunset over the river in deep blues and reds; to the east, Mount Hood gradually vanished into the darkness, its white cone clearly visible as we started across, fading by the time we reached the far shore, and visible more to memory than the eye as we walked back to Portland and the convention. There were a few other people using the walkway, not a crowd but enough to make it clear that we weren't the only people in the area who liked walking and rivers.
Orycon weekend was Art Widner's 80th birthday; the Fan Lounge hosted a party for him on Saturday night. Andy and I went to one programming item--"Whose Line Is It Anyway?" improvisational comedy based on a British television show, which I eventually had to flee because I'd laughed so hard I'd gotten a headache--and otherwise spent the evening at Art's party. Marci Malinowycz had asked Art what his favorite food and drink were: crab cakes and single-malt Scotch. Two cakes, one chocolate and one carrot, were added on general principle, because it was a birthday party, and there were chips and such around. I nibbled on crab cakes and other munchies, and declined the single-malt Scotch, figuring it should be saved for people who would appreciate it. The three-year-old Oregon whiskey got some interesting comments, many from people who had only sniffed it, though a few brave souls tasted it: Patrick Nielsen Hayden described it as "lapsang souchong Scotch," which was all the warning I needed, not liking either lapsang souchong or Scotch. Somewhere around 2 a.m. Andy and I helped Janice and Alan clean up after the party, and I took the last o f the birthday cake to the con suite, which seemed glad to have it. (The other leftovers were put aside, which meant Art got cold crab cakes for breakfast Sunday.) We then climbed into the jacuzzi for a soak before sleep: it was a snug fit with four, but water hot is a noble thing.
My one real disappointment is that I never saw the Art Show. I'd counted on visiting it Sunday morning, expecting to be up early because of jet lag, and instead barely had time to shower, pack, and get out of the room by noon. After lunch, I bought a pair of earrings in the dealer's room--it feels odd not to have gotten books there, but Powell's had a much larger and more appealing selection--listened to Tom Whitmore chat with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden for an hour, in the guise of a "Guest of Honor interview," and hung out in the Fan Lounge until closing. It was a good place to be: lots of friends and friendly strangers wandered through, including most of the people I knew I wanted to talk to, and in between times there was a newspaper to look at (for that half-awake Sunday afternoon brain), and a good display of fanzines for those with the energy to give them the attention they deserved.
Thence with Alan and Janice to Seattle, which was more of the same, but with five cats and fewer fans. Monday Andy and I went to the Woodland Park Zoo, where we looked at some of the same animals (sun bears and good otter exhibits seem to be routine in the Pacific Northwest, and I've never seen them in the East: otters, yes, but not in the aquarium-style exhibit that lets you watch them while they're underwater) and some different ones, including some charming kangaroos. We like zoos and don't mind seeing very similar animals twice in one week, but we didn't make much effort to see Seattle's baby giraffe. The nocturnal animal house is smaller than I'd remembered from one previous visit, but every bit as fascinating, especially the fruit-bats. The zoo has rocks you can stand on to see some of the outdoor exhibits a bit better; for some obscure reason, these rocks are labeled as a memorial to Jimi Hendrix. Yes, he's a local hero, but it seems an odd memorial, if a practical one.
On Tuesday, Alan, Andy, and I went to a little-known county park called Cougar Mountain, in what are now being called the "Issaquah Alps," because that makes it easier to convince people to preserve them as wilderness for hiking and such. It was a clear, crisp day, just right for walking a few miles of up-and-down in the woods. The land is wild enough to support cougar and bear, but it's not exactly pristine, a mix of second-growth forest and old mining land. The warnings at the trailhead include the standard warnings about potentially dangerous animals; it doesn't exactly say this, but if you see a bear or cougar, don't move--the advice is not to approach it, flee, or turn your back on it, and the overgrown slopes don't leave much possibility of sideways--and when it leaves, the people who run the parks would appreciate it if you called and told them what you saw. Less standard, and perhaps more necessary, is the warning against approaching any abandoned coal mine shaft, because there's no way of knowing which ones are emitting poisonous gas.
With all that in mind, we went up and up, and down a bit, and along. We didn't say much except to point out interesting flowers, fungi, mosses, and fallen trees, and ask for the occasional pause, either to examine something more closely--I was trying to learn the feel of the moss, which was drier and more textured than the species of moss I'm used to--or to catch our breath: I at least haven't been doing as much walking as I'd like. I wasn't even thinking much, just walking and listening and being outside. The center of our walk was at a bubbly little waterfall. Below the falls, the stream is bridged by two fallen logs; Alan crossed that way, Andy and I used the logs as handholds and crossed on rocks in the streambed. We saw no wild animals except a few birds and a squirrel or two, and met, I think, a total of seven people (one a baby on someone's back) and two dogs in the whole time we were in there; it was a holiday of sorts (Veteran's Day, no banks or mail, but a lot of people still have to go to work), but we'd picked a nice obscure place to do our hiking. We saw no mine-shafts, though we took short detours to look at the remnants of a mining hoist and at an exposed coal seam. We almost walked right past the seam; it's just a bit of black hillside, less impressive than the fallen tree on the other side of the trail, but the rock was shiny and crumbly and felt like coal. Or enough like coal to convince a liberal arts major who grew up with gas heat, anyway. Mostly it was in the right place, and there was nothing remotely like coal further up the trail. [Andy confirms that it was coal, but lousy coal, and points out that if had been good coal, the miners would have carted it off.] So we figured okay, that's a coal seam, and went back to the car, pleased and energized by a few hours of going nowhere in particular.
We rounded out the afternoon with a trip to the Pike Place Market--Andy and I wanted smoked salmon and chocolate-covered cherries to take home, and Alan wanted a Toronto newspaper and some vegetables. In the process, I discovered that Seattle buses have an elastic definition of a transfer: apparently you can ride as many buses as you want for one fare, including the same line twice, as long as you do it within a set amount of time (a bit over two hours).
We had a delicious dinner that night, at a neighborhood sushi place called Mori (nothing fancy, but they had a good variety of fresh, tasty fish, including snow crab, and ginger ice cream for dessert), with Stu Shiffman, Andi Shechter, and Alan and Janice, and went back to Stu and Andi's to hang out. Stu and Andi are spending much of their time in mystery fandom these days, so I enjoyed the chance to catch up with them. We weren't in Seattle nearly long enough to see all our friends there; fortunately, a number of them were at Orycon, so I didn't feel the need to run around frantically and have dinner with ten people each night. As we packed that night, we joked about stealing two of Janice's cats--the one who loves everyone and the shy one who decided she liked Andy--but she knew that our cat wouldn't tolerate any such thing.
In an excess of generosity, Alan and Janice not only fed us large amounts of good fish, they're mailing us the books we picked up at Powell's, thus depriving us of annoying and only marginally amusing anecdotes about luggage with which to adorn this trip report.
Copyright 1997 by Vicki Rosenzweig
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Last modified 24 November 1997.