It has become a tradition to post about my Sakura-con experience: Each year, in a span of a few days, and despite being about 5 miles from home, it is truly a grand experiment. I don’t really consider it a ‘business trip’, although it has the trappings of one: You spend your time in a hotel, eating out for meals, and spend your time in meetings.
But unlike my work, I’m put in charge of a bunch of people. So putting aside my talent building software (and helping others build it too), I’m thrust into a role of being, well, friendly. And helping. I’m basically an assistant of sorts. And this year I really had two roles: Taking care of Leo, who at 19 months, is a quarter of the weight but four times the energy of, say, my wife. I had to hire help for him, but I was to care for him at night.
Secondly of course was my staff role, though perhaps more minor this year, was still important. I was helping with a booth, the fine folks at GoFa: “Gallery of Fantastic Art.” I have seen them over the years at Anime Expo and have spent a bit of money there. They are sort of a combination of art gallery and museum store for manga artists and illustrators, selling signed prints and goods. It wasn’t clear to me, until this year, that they were actually a non-profit organization and anime conventions actually paid to fly them out and provide space for them.
I didn’t meet my guests until Friday: Thursday evening I was coming back from California from a trip down to California. I arrived, got my badge, and headed over to the staff autograph session, in progress. Leo was running around, in costume, while signing was going on. Then, being the tallest of the lot, I lead the crowd of guests over to the dinner, at Sullivan’s, a steak house.
Fortunately, the weather was quite nice and despite the banquet room being quite small and dark, it opened up into Union Square. Union Square is a bit of an oasis. A park in the middle of a bunch of office buildings and retail. The timing of cherry blossoms couldn’t have been better either, with fresh petals barely coming off the trees. There Leo ran about in his pink pig costume, while jet-lagged Japanese guests smoked and drank, and I grabbed steak sliders and whatnot from the buffet. It wasn’t quite the party of the past few years, where we had an acrobat and food by Tom Douglas.
I did have an interesting encounter with Toshi Yoshida, who already was Facebook friends with Hitomi. And one thing I did not know was he lived in Seattle and sends his kid to John Stanford International School. In fact, he lives across the street from that very school and is a regular at the local izakaya (Isshian) in Wallingford. Which is only strange because I knew him as a panel translator at Anime Expo, and probably saw first in 1997 (or ’98), when I was a teenager with almost no Japanese skill and he was an adult in the industry.
Before the sun sets, it’s back to the Fairmont Hotel with Leo, and I have to figure out how to make a sleeping area as best as I can. I make a nest out of a wire tunnel toy, a Thermarest, and his sleep sack, barricading one portal with furniture. Tired from a long day, I try to get some sleep.
Friday is the first ‘con’ day. Early in the morning, I take the car with Leo, drive back home, drop him off with Memmi, then bicycle my way back to the convention center before 9:30. Bicycling is a great and I get a taste of the Spring weather, but sadly I know I’m really just spending the day indoors.
GoFa has their booth nearly setup. I get introduced to Ms. Seiko and Mr. Isono, store managers; Keiko who is cosplaying as a character from Otome Youkai Zakuro (great name); and the youngish Mr. Takahashi, who works as a barista in the GoFa cafe. They have some nice art on display–sadly not any I really wanted were for sale. I basically was there to talk to customers, make sure they didn’t take pictures, etc., and to help with getting lunch.
There weren’t a lot of customers on Friday, so I took my time getting food from Pike Place Market. There was quite the line getting piroshky and chowder, and probably I spent about 20 minutes in line getting each. But despite just standing in line, it was beautiful outside and I enjoyed the music from buskers and the fresh air.
Back in the convention center, I chatted a bit more with the guests. There is something tiring about the crowd din, lighting, and walking about on concrete flooring. I was hoping for the babysitter and Leo to come in a bit earlier to relieve the monotony. Memmi, after eventually waking Leo up from a late nap and dealing with traffic, came in just in time for the exhibit hall to close at 6.
Friday is the guest meet and greet session, a $50 buffet dinner plus a chance to talk to guests who come to the convention. My guests weren’t particularly interested in coming, so their table was empty, sadly. With Leo in the stroller, I happened to snag a table next to Hitomi’s guest (Atsuko Ishizuka) and then throughout the evening I was either trying to feed Leo or keep Leo from running to mommy and interfering with the table. It was all a bit overwhelming for him with all the people. But we ate well. Leo ended up eating three little desserts.
A couple of things stand out that night. One was the half-hearted attempt to get people to move about. Attendees obviously want a chance to meet certain guests and there is a limited amount of table space. But much like the game musical chairs, once the music stops there is a small chance you’re left standing–or in this case, sitting at a table with no guest at all. The other is, I am definitely second tier as a father. Yes, Leo likes me but Leo will spot Hitomi in a crowd and run toward her every time.
The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. I eventually got Leo to sleep (late) and he woke us up until early morning Saturday. Ilana came by in the morning.
At the booth, Keiko was out sick. Takahashi had a bit of diarrea so I fetched some medicine from the first aid station. So there was the bilingual person (and ‘booth babe’) out and I had to step up to help. So I tried to act the part as the helpful salesperson and translator and we (GoFa) made quite a few sales that day. In a sense, it was good their staff was sick so I step up a bit. But it still was a long day.
I worked something out with my parents and Ilana so they could hand off around lunch time. So when I got back to the hotel room, Leo was with Tim and Mom. I was thinking I’d be going out with them but instead they said it was okay to head to dinner with my guests.
It felt a bit odd eating next to Hitomi, who I had seen on occasion the past few days but not really felt her next to me, without the presence of Leo.
Trying to head back not too late, my parents confessed to feeling hungry and Tim even ate steak leftovers from our rented fridge. They had a good time, though.
Sunday. Sunday was officially Easter, but I haven’t really done Easter since over ten years ago. Instead, I was eating pastries in a cafe sitting across from Leo. For better or worse, Leo gets to sit and eat like an adult whenever there’s no booster or high chair around. But he’s very attentive eating anyway, so I don’t worry. Some onlookers offered to take a few photos of us with our own phone. Somehow given the time and place, it all seemed quite natural to us but unusual to the world, I suppose.
I told Ilana to bring Leo back to the booth, with sort of the hope she’d get to see some of the convention. It’s a very (very) unusual gathering, for which of us most of the novelty has worn off but I know anybody seeing a large anime convention for the first time would be surprised by the costumes and crowds. The dealer’s hall, too, is quite a marvel of t-shirts, prints, books, models, DVDs, clothes, etc., but I rarely buy anything now thanks to Internet shopping being what it is.
GoFa’s sales were brisk on Sunday, and many people were disappointed not to get the print they had wanted, since they had sold out of many. I helped tear down as best as I could until Leo came by. Then some insistent staffer from the convention was telling me no minors around the forklifts, and thus I had to leave. Luckily I ran into somebody (James) to watch Leo’s stroller while I finished coordinating getting GoFa’s luggage back to the hotel.
It was another glorious spring day, which I had only experienced so far heading to and from the convention center. Still, I had a few hours to kill until dinner, which was going to start a little late at 7:30. I wanted to go to a park, and I thought I might head to Pike Place Market to do a little exploring, but it had just closed at 5. The park-with-the-totem-poles was full of happy people, but more than a few vagrants and unfriendly looking types. Not really baby friendly. And so it was back to the hotel.
The closing night dinner was at (again) another venue and a bit scaled back from previous years, where we had more space to mingle and billards tables to use. But the food might have been better, except Leo wasn’t into waiting around to eat, so I head back. I was really looking forward to eating, but instead I ended up back in the room.
Having a fridge plus a lot of food in the room is really is nice during the convention, thanks to Hitomi for that. I cut up a couple of mangos, plus ate bread and had rice milk. And there was enough leftovers here and there to make a meal.
Monday, I had to take Leo to daycare. And my guests (unexpectedly) were booked home that morning. So I had the day to spend with Hitomi. Except I was pretty tired and instead of going out for whale watching, I slept in the car for an hour. It wasn’t great sleep but I enjoyed it. I was transportation coordinator for the rest of the day, dropping them off at the Museum of Flight, picking up Leo at daycare, getting Hitomi a birthday cake, and taking people down to Elliot’s Oyster house for dinner.
Dinner was at 7 and lasted until about 10:30, when most guests were in a food coma, passing out, or playing with their phones. I got two cakes for 20 people, and though I tried it was hard to rally people to eat more than a few bites. Happy Birthday! Service was slow and I got some attitude from a hostess who wasn’t willing to seat us until our group was all in.
I managed to get Leo to sleep (finally) by strollering him around the building a few times. And then it was off to home, bed, and work on Tuesday.
A couple things stood out: How little I actually saw of the convention: Zero panels, concerts, opening or closing ceremonies, maybe once around the very hall I was in the whole weekend. How little I actually did convention wise–though I was helpful it wasn’t like in year’s past. How little I partied. How tired I was taking care of Leo. How great the weather was. How anxious I was before the convention over nothing. It did all work out, though.