I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I actually want to talk about our Dashcon experience. If you know us IRL you’ll know that my wife and I recently went on a trip to Canada/Chicago purely to attend Dashcon. And following what happened with the convention, I was in two minds. Do we simply wash our hands of the whole situation, or do we talk about what happened?
Given that my wife received an anonymous message on her blog telling her to go and hang herself, I was leaning more toward the former. I almost wanted to pretend like we were never there. But after reading almost everything about the disaster, I think there are a couple of things that need to be said from our perspective.
Also, I’m referring to my wife as ‘my wife’ in this post, not out of a possessive sense, but out of a concern for her health. I will not risk subjecting her to abuse or threats because of the action of others.
I shan’t be referring to any of the owners of Dashcon by their names, of course. This is my own recollection of the events as they were presented to me. For the purpose of this post, they’ll be referred to as Alice, Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
So I guess we’ll start and the start, yes? Back when Dashcon was still in its formative stages, my wife was very good friends with Tweedledum. They were best friends. Separated by oceans, but brought together by friendship. We lived (and still live) in Australia, and Tweedledum lived in the US. In mid-2013, Tweedledum said that if she made enough profit from Dashcon, they would love to help fly my wife and I over to attend the convention. At this stage I thought, “Holy shit, the convention must be going gangbusters!” Tweedledum really wanted to meet my wife, and we thought at this stage that they would only be kicking in for our tickets if they made enough profit, ie, all other monetary obligations of the convention were being managed and met.
We never would have accepted a single fucking cent if we knew the truth. We were mushrooms, man. Fed shit and kept in the dark.
My wife is originally from Canada, so you all know just how much a Canadian will bend over backwards to help out a friend. So after the offer was made of helping to fly us over, my wife noticed that Tweedledum was super stressed. There was some drama going on and someone who was helping out with the blog wasn’t doing it right or something. I’m not sure. I don’t know the full details. But I do know that for about a year leading up to the convention, my wife was volunteering to help manage the queue, answering anon questions and all that jazz.
The owners started calling her an admin, but that was just a nominal title. She had no involvement with the actual management of the convention. My wife helped mainly by being supportive. She was an attentive ear and a shoulder to cry on. She offered to help out in any way she could, and the owners took her up on her offer.
It wasn’t until late 2013/early 2014 that they put $3000 towards our flights. We put $2000 of our own cash forward to also fly to Canada before the convention so my wife could see her family for the first time in 5 years. Our time in Canada was fantastic. I went hunting in a little comic shop in Prince Albert for Abe Sapien #1 specifically for Doug Jones to sign at the convention. Because I fucking love Doug Jones. I’d love to have him play Alphonse in the Metro 7 movie if that ever happens.
We were in Canada when my wife was told she would be managing the entire vendor hall at the convention. The entire thing. She freaked out a little. She’d never managed anything like that before, had no idea what she’d be doing, has no relevant qualifications, and she was only supposed to be there to volunteer. She wasn’t working there. She was not an employee of Dashcon. If that were the case, Dashcon would have needed to arrange working visas to enter the US and there would have needed to be some kind of employment contract signed up. But no, my wife was expected to manage the entire vendor hall as a volunteer with no prior experience. When she raised concerns with the owners, she was assured that she would have adequate support and training.
When we arrived in Chicago we were expecting one of the owners to meet us at the airport. We’d arranged it a couple of weeks beforehand, but they were nowhere to be seen… It should have been a warning of things to come. The whole situation was nothing but miscommunication and lack of support.
Our cab ride cost $80 from the airport to the hotel. Alice and another admin were waiting for us when we arrived. My wife was so excited to meet these people she had been talking to for over a year that she accidentally forgot her phone in the cab. We thought that would be our horrible-travel-situation-turned-funny-holiday-story but by the end of the weekend we had another even more horrible story to tell.
Luckily the cab driver was a rad dude who emailed my wife and said ‘yo, I have your phone, I can drop it back to you but I’m going to need to run the meter’. Which is kind of understandable. So the next day, and $100 later, she had her phone back.
I mainly absconded off to the Woodfield Mall to explore the first day we arrived and left my wife to do her thing. When I got back later on in the evening she was bushed. She’d been helping out whoever needed help, but hadn’t actually received any training or guidance on what she would be expected to do on the first day in the vendor hall. She waved it off and thought that she’d get the training and support the next day.
She told me that she was very uncomfortable with the situation. Alice was always so helpful and open about everything that was happening, but Tweedledum and Tweedledee were less so. It actually got to the stage where my wife said to the other two “I don’t care what drama is going on between everyone – I am here to help and don’t want to get dragged into any politics”. Alice respected my wife’s request. The others did not.
The shittiest thing happened on the day before the convention. We were sitting in ConOps when someone dropped off some paperwork to Alice from Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I can’t remember who it was. But essentially what it was, was a legal document demoting Alice to secretary, requiring Alice’s signature. The day before the convention was due to begin. My wife was getting frustrated with the situation and the broiling internal drama. That night we decided to head to the mall and have dinner together.
The next day rolled around and my wife was shown the vendor hall, given some paperwork and told that if she had any problems, contact the hotel staff directly and they’ll help her out. That was the extent of her training and support.
The day of the convention, my wife was up at 6am and downstairs by 7am. I went out to Quake Collectibles West to go retro toy hunting for most of the morning. When I got back to the convention by about 2pm I went into the vendor hall to check on how my wife was going. She was frazzled. The only support she had was from hotel staff, who were helping to the best of their ability given their limited knowledge of the expectations from the con owners. It was rough, a little unorganised and totally chaotic. Just what you’d expect from a first year convention. Regardless of this fact, everyone seemed to be having a great time. All the vendors I met were super nice. My wife got to meet some of her favourite artists, and despite all the difficulties she was doing a great job trying to help everyone out.
I had an extra copy of my novel Metro 7 on me, and I dropped that off in the “Blind Date With A Book” room who made its way into the hands of someone who really enjoyed it.
Just after 3pm Alice came in to see how everything was going. When my wife said she hadn’t had a break yet (from 7am until 3pm) Alice made sure that my wife got her butt upstairs, had something to eat, and sat down for a while.
My wife had a panel to host at 6pm, so we headed up to our rooms at about 5:20pm to get changed and get ready. That was the last time we were able to get into our room until midnight.
My wife and her panel buddy did their panel, which was highly entertaining, and then went back up to our rooms to get changed out of her panel gear. It was a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy panel, so she was dressed in her PJ’s, armed with a towel. I brought my own towel out of solidarity. She tried her room key, but it didn’t work. Weird. She had been having issues with her credit cards wiping her room key all weekend, so we just laughed and tried my card. Nope. Mine didn’t work either. What the heck?
We went downstairs and saw one of the security dudes talking to front desk. Apparently there was a problem with our rooms and we wouldn’t be let back in until it was sorted out. I asked what the problem was, and the front desk staff were very vague. So my wife and I went downstairs and back to the vendor hall until it was time to close. We closed it by 8:20pm. All of the volunteers left at 8pm – they didn’t wait for the vendor hall to close at all. They just buggered off. So I stepped in as badge checker and official “This hall is now closed! Come back in the morning!” goon.
We then went to the front desk and asked about our room again. They said that there was a payment issue with our rooms, so we were locked out. Confused, we went back down to wait in the ConOps room for more news. We tried to contact the owners, but were told that they were meeting with hotel management to resolve whatever issue had arisen.
Meanwhile, all of our ID, cash, clothes and stuff were in our rooms, locked away. Just after 9pm a couple of convention-goers came up to the ConOps room and asked “Is it true?”
“Is what true?” we asked.
“The post on the blog.”
“What post on the blog?” we asked.
“The one where it says the hotel is trying to close the convention down because they don’t like the attendees and you need $17,000 by 10pm to keep the convention going.”
Us = O_O
This was the first anyone in ConOps had heard of it. We didn’t think it was real until we checked the blog. After we checked the blog all we could say was that it looked real. It was made to the official Dashcon blog. But none of the owners had contacted us and advised us there was a problem, let alone that we needed seventeen grand in an hour.
At this point my wife started to develop the shakes. She started to cry. She couldn’t believe what was happening. The implications of this for us were extremely personal. Why had Dashcon paid $3000 towards our flights if they couldn’t even afford to pay the hotel for the convention!? At first it was all confusion and shock on our part, but I started getting angry. I couldn’t believe that they had tied us up in this. We were there as friends of one of the owners to attend the convention. My wife thought she would be maybe volunteering at a door somewhere, checking badges, registering guests etc for a couple of hours before actually checking the convention out – she had no idea that she would be solely responsible for the entirety of the vendor hall until we had left Australia and there was no going back.
It was at this stage that I knew things were going very, very wrong. I wanted to leave. I wanted to go up to our rooms, gather our things, and then head to our hotel in downtown Chicago that we were due to go to in two night’s time. But mostly I was angry at how my wife was treated. Tweedledum had barely given her the time of day since we landed. It sounded like even when she did have access to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, all they did was complain about Alice. My wife thought of Tweedledum as one of her best friends, but that changed after the weekend. So much was going wrong, and there was no attempt at keeping us in the loop.
We were in another country trying to help as much as we could with something we had no control over and no communication about.
Then we heard word that everyone was being told to come into the ballroom where DashProm was due to be held. You guys have probably already seen the videos of what happened, so I don’t need to rehash that in detail here. Long story short, the convention needed $17,000 by 10pm or the hotel was shutting it down. They asked people to donate through PayPal, which was… okay. It was voluntary and there are protections in place for PayPal. But then they started walking a bag through the crowd, asking people to put cash in. That’s when I knew we were in trouble. Alarm bells started going off. To me it felt like it was a scam. These people, mostly underage teens, had paid upwards of $65 for a convention each but now the con was begging for money? What the fuck?
I steeled my resolve. We needed to leave. I looked around to see where my wife was, and freaked out a little when I couldn’t see her. Then I looked down. She was on the floor, curled into a ball, rocking back and forth, shaking, sobbing. I asked her if she was okay but I knew she wasn’t. We waited there until the ‘con was saved’. The $17,000 had been raised through the power of Tumblr! You’ve seen the videos. After that, Tweedledum, Tweedledee, Alice and their entourage walked out of the ballroom and back to ConOps. We followed them, eager for some answers and to be able to be let back into our rooms.
We were assured by Tweedledum that everything was being sorted out. Our rooms would be opened, and we could go to bed. It was 10pm by this time, and my wife had been on her feet for 14 hours. I was pissed, because there wasn’t even so much as an apology offered. Only justifications about why it wasn’t really Dashcon’s fault. We went back upstairs to talk to front desk to make sure our rooms were good to go.
Front desk said that the rooms were not going to be made available to us. They said that they were given a list of rooms which were no longer Dashcon’s responsibility to pay. The hotel required payment details from us in order to be let back into our rooms. I told relayed Tweedledum’s message about the rooms being ‘sorted out’ to the front desk, but they had no records of anything like that. By this stage I was ropeable. I felt like we were being lied to.
I asked front desk whether every room paid for by Dashcon had been cancelled. They said no. They said they had been provided with a list of rooms that were no longer Dashcon’s responsibility to pay, but some rooms were still being paid for.
I asked whose rooms were still paid for.
They declined to comment. I think they knew that they had already said too much.
I then asked them what it would take for us to get back into our rooms.
They wanted payment details they could authorise.
I asked how much the room was per night.
That wasn’t too bad. I said that we could provide our credit card for that night just so we could get back into the room, I could put my wife to bed, and then get the fuck out of there in the morning.
The front desk staff member said “Not just for this night, but for the three you’ve already spent here too. Dashcon has said they’re not paying for your room at all anymore. It’ll be just under four hundred, total.”
I went back down to ConOps looking for Tweedledum. She was gone. I was pissed. It was four hundred dollars that we just did not have. I relayed this information to one of the admins about the supposed list of rooms and that it was now everyone’s responsibility to pay for their own rooms retroactively.
We tried to contact Tweedledum again. She assured us that the situation was being managed. The admin came up to front desk with us to try and sort it out. My wife had started to go white. She had started to go into shock. She hadn’t eaten since 3pm and it was almost midnight, putting her total time on her feet at 18 hours with one meal in between. I knew that I would not be doing my duty as a husband unless I got this shit sorted out right there and then.
I said to the front desk that we are being told one thing by them, one thing by the Dashcon owners. I said that I would not leave until we had some kind of resolution. I didn’t (and still don’t!) know what actually happened. I can freely admit that. I don’t know what the fuck actually happened, only that we were caught up in it. I don’t know whether they actually did cancel a bunch of rooms or not. I just don’t know for sure. But what I do know is that Tweedledum came down to the front counter after we refused to leave, talked to the front desk staff, and we were let back into our room.
Back in the safety of our room, my wife and I talked. I made sure she didn’t go to bed on an empty stomach. She finished half a cheese sandwich. And then I told her that we have to go. We have to get the fuck out of there before things got worse. She broke down. I have never seen her so distraught. Canadian guilt is worse than Catholic guilt, I swear.
She wanted to make sure that none of the vendors were disadvantaged by her absence. She refused to leave unless she could stay long enough to open the vendor hall the next day. Even though she’d had one of the hardest days/nights of her life, she still put others first. I am so fucking proud of her. I told her I would pack up our stuff while she opened the vendor hall, then we’d get the fuck out of there.
She fell asleep, but I couldn’t. I was awake most of the night. She shivered the entire night, and it wasn’t from the cold.
The next morning she did exactly what she said she would. She was a little unsteady on her feet, but still wanted to press on. I finished packing up very early and decided that I would go down with her to the vendor hall to help her open it up. Another security guard was there. We told him the situation, that we were leaving, and he was very understanding. He said he would stay on the door checking badges after my wife left.
Alice was in ConOps when we arrived and we told her that we were leaving. My wife works in workplace health and safety in Australia and she did not feel healthy or safe as a volunteer at Dashcon. We said exactly that to Alice and she agreed that we need to do what we could to ensure my wife’s health and wellbeing. We bid her a teary farewell. Out of everyone involved with Dashcon, Alice was the only one who actually seemed worried about the wellbeing of everyone affected by the mismanagement of the convention.
We left and watched the rest of the disaster unfold from afar, our stomachs knotting themselves about the whole situation.
The thing that pisses me off most about the entire situation is that a person who my wife considered a close, trustworthy, personal friend left her high and fucking dry when she was needed the most.
I never got to see the ball pit. We were gone before the kerfuffle with Welcome to Night Vale. And the problems with gingerhaze and the Baker Street Babes’ rooms. And I didn’t get to meet Doug Jones, which is one of the things I was most looking forward to out of our whole holiday.
But I kept my wife safe, and helped her keep her sanity.