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Conventions Sourcebook

The Commodore's Ramblings
Michael Sinclair, aka the Commodore, has been attending science fiction conventions since 1975. He has graciously agreed to provide his reminiscences of those great old days of science fiction fandom to The Thunder Child.
Godzilla menacing Michael

Index to The Commodore's Ramblings
The Ramblings

  • Introduction to the Commodore
  • Kublai Kahns and More
  • Hotel Horrors: A comedy of errors and more in the life of a convention-goer
  • Say Da to Moscow: The Tale of the 1995 Moscow Bid Masterminded by Mikhail Sinclair
  • The Commodore's Collection - Photos

  • Convention Badges
  • Convention Programs
  • The Trains
  • Nola Con Photos 1984, 1988
  • Say Da To Moscow - Moscow Bid for WorldCon
  • Miscellaneous Convention Photos
  • Introduction to the Commodore

    These are somewhat rambling remembrances of some of my early fannish activity. I won't quote Charles Dickens, "Whether I shall turn out to be..." However, a Charlie Dickens of Nashville will, a couple of decades later, ask me to be G.O.H. at Pharthacon in Nashville. Let us see if the memory banks, aided by some photographic evidence, will yield a plausible, if not coherent, story line.

    Early in the summer of 1975, I noticed an article in the paper saying that a Science Fiction Convention was going to occur in Louisville. When I was a kid and reading science fiction I would notice, in some of the magazines, ads for conventions in New York, Los Angeles, and other large American cities. Since I lived in Atlantic Beach, Florida, not much chance of me going to one of these conventions (or Cons, as they are usually termed now.)

    I promptly showed up on the appointed Friday and found out that it was also called Deep South Con XIII and was the very first of a long line of Cons called RiverCon. I was wandering and wondering rather aimlessly around the Con. Checked out the Huxter Room, looked at the list of films, and checked out the art show.

    As I was making my rounds and not knowing anyone, a white haired gentleman by the name of Lou Trabakow growled in a mafia-like voice, "Why don't you sit down, kid, you are making me nervous." I promptly sat down, although I was a bit long in the tooth to be a kid at the age of 37!

    Next thing I noticed were a lot of people were greeting Lou and sitting down. Among them were Philip Jose Farmer, Andy Offutt, Kelly Freas (who did the cover of the convention booklet), and some other Con chairmen such as Ken Moore of Kubla Kahn, and Dick and Nikki Lynch of Chattacon.


    Everyone was talking and I was listening. Met someone that I would later work on a World Con Bid for John Guidry of New Orleans. I had not booked a room and was about to go home when I noticed all the room partis being listed near and in the elevators. I went to a few of them and finally called it quits around 1 a.m. It would be the last time I would go to a Con without having a room to crash in around the coming of dawn.

    I missed RiverCon II as I was in Glasgow, Scotland, teaching a Fullbright Exchange.

    I went to RiverCon III and had a great time. Then I left for Scotland again, to teach in Glasgow where I ran into Scottish Fandom and The Friends of Kilgore Trout. I had carried a couple of RiverCon program books with me and showed them to some people who were starting to plan the first Con to be held in Scotland - to be called FairCon. Several of us went down to Birmingham for their convention and the lads were going to invite James White to be their G.O.H.

    One of their committee men (the fake Bob Shaw) not to be confused with the late author the real Bob Shaw, thought we ought to take him to Wimpys and ask him their. I said, let's take them to a decent restaurant and I'll spring for the bill. We did and James White was a great person to talk with. He and I managed to touch on some of the books we liked as kids and among them of course was C.S. Forrester's Captain Horatio Hornblower. The fake Bob Shaw had apparently never read them. James White agreed to be their G.O.H. Alas, I had to return to the States in 1979 and missed FairCon. RiverCon was originally started circa 1975 as a DeepSouth Con and grew into an annual convention and later spawned the Nasfic.

    It had a good run for 25 years.

    Cliff Amos, Steve and Sue Francis and Bob Roehm were the founding fans.

    I did get to the big British Con which I think was called Easter Con, held at Heathrow Airport Hotel. The Brits at the time did not have a con suite so folks went t the lounge where I discovered the art of each person buying a round. Wound up talking with John Brunner, about of all things, steamboats. He had just written a book called The Great Steamboat Race. Since I had done graduate work in American Business and Technological History we both wound up being interviewed by some British grad student with his handy tape recorder.

    Another cool thing about Heathrow...everyone would gather on a deck to watch the take offs and landings of the Concorde. She really was a beautiful plane and looked like some sort of predator when she came in with her nose tilted down from the rest of her body.

    As the school year came to a close, I caught a liner to Leningrad and flew on to Moscow before returning to London to catch the Polish liner Stefan Batory back to Montreal and thence to Louisville. Returning in time for the North AmeriCon, the Nasfic of 1979 held at The Galt House. Had a great time.

    MidWestCon is probably the oldest relaxicon in the world held in Cinncinati on the last full weekend in June for about the last 58 years. A relaxicon is a convention with no programming. Mostly fans gather from various and sundry poiints and swim, play cards, Mai Jung (slip of the key) and generally have a good time. Sometimes there will be a small dealer's room to sell books or early pulps. File 770 (Mike Glyer's science fiction fan newzine, reporting on fanzines, sf clubs, conventions, fan funds and fanac) whining about something..I think it had to do with huckstering out of his hotel room. In any event, I wrote a rebuttal letter to File 770, saying, "The last thing the fannish world needs is either a Con run by or and or/criticized by lawyers." Cliff Amos saw the letter and called me up to ask if I wanted to work on RiverCon. I said I would like to work on the film program, but would like to have a budget and not depend on library flicks.

    The committee agreed and I started working on the film program. Remember, this was when most films were shown in 16mm and not those oh-so-convenient tapes. We did have a 35mm projector, but it was always problematic whether it would work or not. We had a great team of projectionists headed up by Mike Lalor of Cincinnati.

    One time when Harry Harrison was RiverCon's G.O.H. I was supposed to introduce him for a showing of Soylent Green.

    We stopped off at The Galt House's bar and had a couple of quick drinks. Suddenly, I remembered were supposed to go to the film room where Harry could introduce the film. We ran down two flights of stairs and went huffing and puffing into the room.

    As Harry was sitting down I quickly said, "And without further ado, here's Harry Harrison to introduce Soylent Green. He said, "That is the shortest introduction I have ever received." To which I replied "I've never been this short of breath before." The fans enjoyed the movie and Harry was kind enough to hang around for about 45 minutes talking about the flick.

    For the next several years I went to such Cons as Kubla Kahn, ChattaCon, UpperSouthCon, Satyricon, Concave, Rubicon, Bhamacon, and many others. One of the important relaxicons was Midwest Con - which would play an important role in my life as I'll explain:

    I met a woman at a Con run by Chris Barkley of Cincinnati. I was hosting a party for the NolaCon bid and she - her name was Christa - came up to my party and we talked until about 1:45 in the morning, and I said I would walk her to her car. I gave her one of my NolaCon cards, which she later admitted she had thrown away once the car turned the corner. She thought: "The nerve of a married man giving me his card while his wife and son were up in his room." Actually the dark-haired lady with the blue eyes and the dark-haired blue-eyed kid were not mine. I had given them crash space in return for her driving me up to Cincinnati.

    Then, at MidWest Con, John Guidry and I were hosting a party for NolaCon. I went out and fetched some more ice, wearing my trademark Panama hat and Hawaiian shirt. Christa saw me and made it a point to drop by the Nola Suite. I had told Guidry that I was going to take a nap and not to call me for anything except an earthquake or other natural disaster. I had no sooner cut the bedroom's light and lain down when John called and said, "You need you need to get up, there is someone who wants to see you." I was somewhat testy and thought it was some other SMOF that John wanted me to meet. He said, "No, no, trust me you will want to meet the young lady."
    John Guidry

    As it turns out, it was Christa Cook, whom I had met at Barkley's Con. She asked after my wife and son and I told her I wasn't married, and that John would back me up on this. I then explained what the deal had been before.

    She then told me that the lady had been putting out a lot of "don't walk on the grass" signs and the kid had kept asking me if he could do one thing or another and she'd thought, "all those dark haired and blue eyed folks looked like a matched set."

    I knew it was serious between us when my phone bill to Harrison, Ohio (where she lived) was larger than my phone bill to New Orleans. Later in the fall I proposed to her when she brought me down chicken soup when I had the flu. I managed to get on my knees and proposed. We set the date for June 6, 1987.

    Read more about

    World Con bids here.

    Meanwhile, as I was traveling for New Orleans, I went to thirteen conventions in six months. Flying to places such as Los Angeles, Baltimore and Boston for conventions and being driven or taking planes to regional conventions in the south. The trademark Panama hat and Hawaiian shirt and hand full of Mardi Gras beads became well-known as I roamed the conventions and threw Nola parties.

    The big thing about Nola's parties, was utilization of the suites almost around the clock. We would start the parties around nine and keep going. I would have coffee and newspapers sent up to the suite in the morning, having reminded everyone to come by in the morning for coffee. I kept the pace up even when there was not a convention in town.

    I flew to Los Angeles and hosted a Nola Party at the Chateau Marmot for some L.A. writers and fans. Did the same thing for San Francisco fans. The payoff came at Atlanta when the Nola bid threw one continuous party. Which brings to be one of my favorite bidding parties. A famous or infamous one depending on your point of view.

    Lee S. came to my suite shortly before I was to start the party one night. She came to the point and asked: would it be possible at the Atlanta World Con to borrow the NolaCon suite. I told her I didn't think so as we were trying to win a World Con. She persisted, "How about Thursday night?" I said no. She said, "How about Saturday evening?" I said we would be celebrating our hoped-for win. She said, "How about Sunday night? You won't need it if you lose." I told her to the F- out of the room! Then I thought, after she left, hell, I should have kept my mouth shut. About 30 minutes later, people began to drift by my room and shake my hand, telling me what a fine fellow I was for throwing her out of the suite. The next morning, people again came up to my breakfast table and shook my hand. I thought, oh, well, lose one vote and gain twenty or thirty votes.

    Needless to say, at Atlanta the Nola bid crew worked the crowds. I stood at the door in my Riverboat Pilots hat and blazer and shook hands and said, "Welcome to the fever dream!" I actually had to soak my hand later in the evening.

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