Steampunk World's Fair 2011, a Travelogue
Created by ProfHoppingood on 6/20/2011 10:04:58 PM

Professor Henrietta Hoppingood (Trish Nolde) talks about her experience and adventures at the 2011 Steampunk World's Fair in New Jersey. 

When first asked to write a review of 2011 Steampunk World’s Fair, I admit that my initial response was, “Certainly! How hard can that be?” Afterall, the previous year’s event seemed so extraordinarily delightful and well-managed to this outsider’s glance, that surely any review of its sequel would only comprise one glowing eulogy of panels, entertainments, accommodations, and consumeristic ebullience. Little did I suspect that this small task would not only challenge me as a journalist, but also as a gentlewoman.

To begin, let us dispense with niceties and be straightforward: from the moment we set foot in the lobby on Friday, it was quite evident that all was not as it should be. To be sure, the new arrivals waiting in line at registration were exhibiting the same buzz of excitement that all con-goers experience when the party is imminent, but it could not be denied that a haunted and harried aura hung about the con staff. Not the usual we’ve-been-up-for-the-last-week-stuffing-totebags-and-making-signs weariness that is the norm for event staff everywhere, but something much more daunting. Eager to inspect our accommodations and change into more appropriate attire for the evening, my travelling companions and I retired briefly before emerging again into the foyer, whereupon a most curious sight greeted us.
It was as if a great exodus of merchant caravans were taking place in advance of an invading threat. This was not an auspicious beginning to the weekend. Upon inquiring, we were informed that the Fire Marshall taken sudden umbrage at the accommodations for many of the merchants and had demanded an immediate reorganization of the space arrangements at the very last minute. Wherever we looked, tables were being bustled about and merchants toted their wares from the rooms in which they had previously assembled, to relocate themselves into every available corner: ballrooms, seminar rooms, lounges, etc. Space was dreadfully short and tempers flared in the face of uncertainty.
This widespread displacement had an unfortunate ripple effect throughout the con. Although the staff tried heroically to maintain the schedule (beautifully printed as a newpaper), panels, meetings, and events were moved into other locations, making it difficult to find the session one wanted to attend. Some vendors, particularly publishers and authors, found this most unsatisfactory. And while recognition must be given to the event staff for trying to accommodate all scheduled events in the grand spirit of “The Show Must Go On!”, the effect of using every conceivable space for overflow of displaced sessions (including the hotel lobby and restaurant!) resulted in there not being a comfortable gathering place for attendees to engage in civilized conversation. Those hosting the sessions found themselves in competition with ambient crowd noise, while those who wished to gather socially found themselves herded to the parking lot. 
However, now that we have dispensed with the undeniably frenetic commencement of the event, let us proceed to the finer points of the event itself. Indeed, it is in the great patience and triumph over adversity that the Steampunk community may take due pride, as the attendees and event staff demonstrated the remarkable flexibility, creativity, and adaptability that comprise the Maker culture. Once tempers cooled and the Fair was underway, it could only be noted that the Steampunk spirit found in its moment of adversity, the will to triumph. More than one vendor spoke of being assisted by attendees to move their shops during the mass relocation of Friday night, and expressed gratitude and wonder at people pitching in to assist, even without knowing the vendor personally. One particular kind lady admitted to me that, once she discovered that all vendors had not had an equal opportunity to show their wares on Friday night, that she stopped shopping that evening to wait until all had a chance to set up. It was apparent to me as I queried the crowds that the vendors had of course come to make money, but not to be mercenary, whereas the attendees certainly had come to buy things, but were not merely self-interested consumers. Truly, a sense of community and mutual appreciation and respect ruled the marketplace economics of this hearty exchange!
Another particular delight, as always, was the creativity exhibited by vendors of all sorts. Buskers lined the halls playing their tunes for coin, and one extraordinary young lady named Merlin offered stories on demand in order to fund her educational endeavors. In fact, she wrote a delightful vignette regarding my dear friend, Doctor Q, quite on the spot, based wholly on my brief topic suggestion. In return, she asked for any contribution I deemed reasonable. It was quite the bargain, and will certainly be a cherished memory prized beyond its mere cost. 
The weekend continued from that point more calmly and peaceably than the initial indications of Friday provided, and I can report that the event staff managed the crisis in such a way that the vast majority of attendees soon put behind them the inconsistencies and rallied to enjoy their time at the event.  Steampunk World’s Fair  proved to be, once again, a rollicking carnival of humanity and creativity, albeit not perhaps as originally intended. But nonetheless, it was a spectacle not to be missed, and certainly never to be forgotten.
Patricia Nolde is an absent-minded professor with a wanderlust and too many unfinished projects. 


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