"Summertime an' the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high."
-- DuBose Heyward (lyrics) from Porgy and Bess
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On the calendar, summer here in the northern hemisphere begins on June 21st and lasts until September 21st, but we've always thought of summer as that part of the year between Memorial Day, at the end of May, and Labor Day, in early September. More specifically, we've always thought of summer as the time between Disclave and Worldcon, the two conventions we usually attended that occupied those weekends. Well, Disclave is no more, expiring in the aftermath of the Great Sprinkler Flood incident of the 1997 convention, and occasionally even the Worldcon itself wanders away from its usual weekend. When that happened in 1998, it produced some disorientation; subconsciously, we knew that summer was ending way too soon.
It's now been more than a decade since we moved from Tennessee to Maryland. Back then, we used to go to about ten conventions a year, most of them in mid-South cities not all that far from Chattanooga where we lived. One of them was Rivercon in Louisville, Kentucky, held each year in late July, the heart of summer. We feel a sort of a kinship to Rivercon, because Rivercons came into existence in 1975, the same year we attended our first convention, and because we had been Fan Guests there in 1986. About a year ago, we received a letter from Steve Francis, the chairman, that the 25th Rivercon, in July 2000, would be the last in the series and their plan was to bring back all the guests from previous Rivercons who were interested in attending -- would we like to come?
Louisville is a lot farther away now that we're in Maryland. We usually make only one trip to the midwest each year and that's for Midwestcon, which most of the people we'd want to see at Rivercon also attend; in the 11+ years we've been in Maryland, we haven't been back to Louisville even once. Luckily, there was no Australia worldcon trip this year, so there was enough vacation time available. And we didn't want to see the convention pass into history without seeing the finale. So we were only too happy to go to Louisville as two of their many Guests.
But there was more to do in Kentucky than just go to the convention. We had been wanting to visit the Museum of the American Quilter's Society in Paducah for a long time (Nicki, who is a quilter, especially so), so we extended the trip all the way to Western Kentucky. By the time the trip was over, about a week after we started, we had driven almost 2,000 miles.
If you consider the quilt as a work of art, there were some splendid examples in the museum. The contemporary collection, which was the largest of the three galleries, had many many of the quilts that had been selected as part of the 100 best, or at least most significant, of the previous century. (Supposedly the selectees were determined by polling a number of well-known quilters.) Many of the ones on display certainly were marvelous works of art and craft. The museum had on display the historic as well as the elegant one of the other galleries displayed a collection of antique quilts, some dating back to the end of the 1700s. The Quilt Museum wasn't so large that it took more than a couple of hours to see it all, but it was without question worth the time and effort to drive the extra four hours out to Paducah. Besides, there were other things to see and do there, too.
You'd expect Paducah, by its location not far upstream on the Ohio River from its confluence point with the Mississippi, to be an important inland port. Not so. It's situated on a bluff that does a good job protecting it from floods, but not so good a job providing access to the river itself. What Paducah seems to have become (at least the downtown area) is a home to antique dealers, little art shops, and lots of interesting caf‚s and restaurants. It survives on the presence of outsiders, apparently. Apart from the Quilt Museum, and the river itself, there really aren't too many reasons to come to the older part of the city. Other nearby communities have the same dilemma. But one of them, just across the river on the Illinois side, has found a unique way to attract visitors. It's become the home to the Man of Steel!
It takes only about fifteen minutes to drive to Metropolis, Illinois, from Paducah. But the trip took us back more than 35 years, back to the 'Silver Age' of comics in the early 1960s. A few decades ago, the small river town of Metropolis, in southern Illinois, successfully petitioned DC Comics to become recognized as the 'home town of Superman'. Once you find your way to the center of the town (which is more difficult that you'd think -- there aren't very many road signs), the first thing you see, right next to the county courthouse, is a statue of the Man of Steel on a rectangular stone that reads, 'Truth, Justice, The American Way'. He's big! We were unprepared for how large it was, probably 20 feet in height -- much larger than life, just like our childhood memories of his exploits were.
Across the street is the Superman Museum, which is housed on the first floor of a somewhat rundown-looking storefront building, right out of the 1960s. Inside, it's a rabbit warren of Superman memorabilia, including costumes worn in the movies, toys and collectibles from decades past (now worth small fortunes, no doubt), and photos and stills from some of the movies and television shows. It didn't take more than about half an hour to see it all, but what memories it brought back -- the 1950s and `60s were our childhood and adolescence. That time seems so very far away now, but the museum was a time machine to bring some of it back again. Being in the museum was like stepping into a large time capsule, which we guess in a way it was!
The way back to Louisville from Paducah took us along the Western Kentucky Parkway through lots and lots of wilderness, or at least what used to be wilderness. For the past several decades it's been turned into lots and lots of coal mines, and you can see some of them from the road. At about the middle of the Parkway is Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, which Rich came to know very well during the eight years he worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority. The county seat is the optimistically-named Central City (which has a population of only a few thousand); we stopped there on the way back to Louisville not so much to see if there had been any changes in the past decade (there weren't many), but because we'd seen a sign on the Parkway that mentioned there was an 'Everly Brothers Monument' there. We got off at the exit and drove through the town (which didn't take long), but somehow missed the memorial; we had thought there would be another sign or perhaps a park with some sort of statue. No such luck. We even drove down the dirt road of the museum-to-be (construction hasn't started yet) and didn't see anything. So we stopped at the Dairy Queen and the woman at the counter told us the memorial was back up the road, just past the stop light, in front of the City Hall. "You can't miss it," she said. "It looks just like a tombstone." And she was right! It turned out to be a big slab of granite engraved with images of the singers as young men. All it lacked were the dates.
Turns out that the Everlys were originally from Central City, or at least from a now nonexistent town that used to be near Central City. Land has been cleared next to the Parkway for some kind of museum, and there's now a one-day music festival each year over Labor Day weekend in Central City that features the Everlys and guests such as John Prine. The festival began the year after we moved to Maryland; about eleven years ago the Central City police and fire departments were trying to raise money for new emergency radios and were having a hard time finding all the money they needed. Somehow, news of this reached the manager of the Everlys, and soon after that the Mayor got a telephone call telling him a check for all the money he needed would be coming to him soon. Apparently, the Everlys had been wanting to go back and Do Something for their old home town for a while. And it didn't stop there; the next year, the Everlys agreed to come to Central City for a benefit concert, and it has been continued every year since then.
We learned all this from the wife of the Mayor of Central City. The door to city hall (where the monument was located) was open, so we went in there for a look around. Turns out the Mayor's wife is in charge of the Everly Brothers Foundation that oversees the Festival, is planning for the museum, and sells postcards, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. She seemed happy to talk to us for a few minutes and tried to convince us to come back for the Festival (we told it we couldn't because we had another commitment that weekend, in Chicago). As we got back in the car and headed back to the Parkway, we agreed that this is the kind of thing that would make a great independent film documentary -- loads of human interest on the struggles and successes of a small rural town.
We had time the day before the convention began to do one more bit of touristing. In the decade since we'd moved to Maryland, the Hillerich & Bradsby Company had moved their main baseball bat production facility to downtown Louisville from where it had been across the river in Indiana. And they had also opened a museum next door to it -- the Louisville Slugger Museum. You know when you're near the place, because the world's largest baseball bat is in the plaza outside (with the world's largest baseball 'breaking' a large mural of a window at the plate glass company next door).
The museum itself was somewhat interesting, but would have been more so if it stuck more to the topic of baseball bats instead of trying and not really succeeding to be more of a general interest baseball museum. On the other hand, the tour of the bat production facility was fascinating. You could see, right there in front of you, each step of the process for converting a wooden cylinder into a finished baseball bat, right down to the 'autograph'. (In fact, for all the hard-core baseball fans and for a not-too-unreasonable fee -- about $50 -- it's possible to get an honest-to-god Louisville Slugger wooden baseball bat, major league quality, with *your own* signature engraved on it! Rich was tempted, but it seemed just a bit too self-reverential in the end.)
Rivercon itself was a nice, pleasant convention, and with over 1,000 people, the most well-attended. We were only on a few program items, which left lots of time to talk to people (our favorite convention activity). We're starting to get to know the fans from NESFA pretty well, and many of them were there promoting their Boston-in-2004 bid, which looks to be a good one. It was a fun convention, especially the parties and dinner expeditions. There are some very fine restaurants in Louisville, and meals with friends like Joel Zakem, Bob Roehm, Dave Rowe, Carolyn Doyle, Ned Brooks, and Ben Yalow, made the dining all that much better. Two of our friends, Mike and Christa Sinclair, gave one last 'Say "Da" to Moscow' party, which featured flavored vodkas and all the trappings of (formerly) communist Russia; Mike, Christa, and some other friends had once run a series of these parties, at conventions across the midwest, promoting Moscow in a semi-serious bid for the 1995 Worldcon. By the time that the bid, such that it was, had run its course, the L.A.Con people had copied some of the shtick, such as a passport-style book holding stickers from various convention parties, in their successful bid for the 1996 Worldcon. And there was even a surprise for us -- at that party Mike and Christa presented us certificates, signed by Jefferson County, Kentucky, Judge/Executive Rebecca Jackson, that proclaimed us Honorary Captains of the Belle of Louisville riverboat!
This was likely to be out last trip to Kentucky for quite some time -- there just isn't anything, especially now with the demise of Rivercon, to bring us back there again any time soon. The friends we have there we'll see again in other places, but the city has always been a pleasant place to visit. We'll miss that.
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"Are you going to drive this car all the way back to Maryland?"
-- Bellman at Hyatt Regency Chicago
It seemed like an odd question to be asked as we packed our car in preparing to leave the Worldcon in Chicago. We weren't sure if he was commenting on the condition of the car or our ability to endure a long trip. Later we realized he must have meant to ask if we were going to make the trip in one day. Many people seemed surprised that we had driven to Chicago rather than fly, but we were bringing along a mimeograph and electrostenciler to give to Dick and Leah Smith, and those are not the type of things to take on a plane. And if we'd flown to Chicago, we also wouldn't have been able to make all the stops along the way that we'd planned.
This year, we've made our vacations do double duty. Instead of just driving to a convention and back, we've been seeing sights along the way and taking side trips while we're "in the area." Our trip to Midwestcon in Cincinnati at the end of June included a side trip to the Bob Evans Farm in southeastern Ohio for its annual Quilt Exhibition. In July, the drive out to Louisville for Rivercon took us well out of our way to Paducah before heading back to Louisville for the convention. But on the drive at the end of summer to Chicon 2000, we didn't have to detour miles and miles to see the sights -- they were right on the way. And the one we wanted to see most was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
The most obvious thing about Cleveland is that it's a city in transition. Shiny new buildings belonging to computer companies and health care groups shoulder up to abandoned buildings on the route into downtown. The waterfront area is different, though; the renewal has already taken place. There's now a big new stadium for the professional football team. And there's also the Museum.
If you haven't seen pictures of it, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is housed in a spectacular glass pyramid on the shore of Lake Erie. It's not large by Smithsonian standards and, being a pyramid, the above-ground exhibit space gets smaller as one ascends. At the bottommost level, where the main exhibition area is located, there are many displays filled with historical artifacts. Snippets of rock and roll are everywhere, bombarding you and constantly overlapping -- every ten steps, what you were listening to gets drowned out by the next piece of equally loud music. The artifacts, though, were pretty interesting, and included such things the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper uniforms and the suits they wore on the cover of their debut album cover, as well as music play lists from various concerts, guitars galore, and stage costumes from Madonna, David Bowie, Kiss, Michael Jackson, and many, many others. But the continuous assault on the senses takes a toll and sensory overload happens quickly; it's not long until the next costume or piece of sheet music doesn't mean much.
One thing that we quickly noticed is that the museum seems to use pretty much a scattergun approach, with bits of this and some of that. There seemed to be a lack of coherency and connectivity; perhaps it's because trying to capture the whole of rock and roll in one place is a bit futile. And that leads to a larger question: how is it decided what belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Maybe this was captured somewhere else in the museum; to see everything, to sit through all the videos and listen to all the recordings, would have taken far longer than the time we spent there. You could spend the entire day just in the various video venues and in soaking up the music. But there are other things to see.
The actual Hall of Fame itself is on the third level, but it mostly consists of a hallway where signatures of the honorees are on display; it was kind of disappointing. There was quite a bit on some of the more famous Hall of Fame inductees, like Springsteen and Billy Joel. There was also a theater where you could view the best moments from some of the past Hall of Fame Induction concerts, and even a computerized listening station where you could bring up digital recordings by everybody who had been inducted. We'd thought it would take only an hour or two to see the museum, but after four hours, had managed mostly just a superficial look at much of what was in there. After that, it was mid-afternoon and time to head farther west.
Seeing all those artifacts from rock and roll's earlier days in such an expensive and magnificent setting, though, made us a bit envious. The closest thing to it in the science fiction world are personal collections like Forry Ackerman's that are made available for public viewing only because of the largesse of their owners. Someday, perhaps, SF will get its own museum where we can see its roots and marvel at original typed pages from Heinlein and Asimov, jackets from Cliff Simak and Harlan Ellison, and program books and badges from all the worldcons. Until then, we'll have to settle for temporary traveling historical exhibits like the one at Chicon 2000.
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"This is the oddest but most entertaining event I've ever been to."
-- Galaxy Quest director Dean Parisot
Chicago is an interesting city to walk around in. There's always lots to see and do there, more so when there's a worldcon in town too. As you might expect, there's lots more to do in Chicago than in Cleveland. Chicago is much like New York, in that the downtown area is active and interesting well into the night (even on a Sunday night), whereas in Cleveland, the whole downtown area pretty much shuts down after dark. We arrived on a Wednesday, which happened to be the free-admission day at the Field Museum, so that's where we went. We wanted to see Sue.
The Field Museum is a Natural History Museum, similar in many ways to the one here in Washington that's part of the Smithsonian Institute. But the Field Museum has something the Smithsonian doesn't -- a nearly complete fossil skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It's the largest and most complete ever found; it was discovered about a decade ago in Montana, and ever since then it's been called 'Sue', after the first name of the paleontologist who made the discovery.
There was more at the Field than just dinosaurs, of course. The Star Wars display we'd seen at the National Air and Space Museum more than two years ago was there, and there was *no* line! There was a roomful of jade from China that was interesting (but dimly lit), and a recreation of an Egyptian tomb -- actual stones with hieroglyphs, a display of burial objects, and a Book of the Dead. The museum is pretty large, and there were alcoves and displays we didn't have time to explore. The Field is part of an extended museum complex that also includes the Shedd Aquarium (which we also visited the last day we were in the city) and the Adler Planetarium. The scenic park area they occupy becomes a peninsula that extends out into Lake Michigan; the day we were there it was windy enough where rather large waves were crashing up against the breakwater.
Another place in Chicago where the wind often blows is 1060 West Addison Street on the north side of town -- Wrigley Field. Rich been there only once previously to see a baseball game, back in April 1988, when it was so cold that there was a threat of snow that day. This time it was almost the opposite -- it was so hot a day that the public schools stayed closed; if we'd had tickets in the bleachers or down the left field line where there was full sun, it would have been very unpleasant. Chicon had purchased a block of seats and resold them to the worldcon attendees; there were maybe 15-20 other people from the convention there, enough where we even got scoreboard recognition! As for the game itself, it was a bit of an anticlimax; the Cubs played poorly and were routed. Sammy Sosa, who was leading the majors in home runs, struck out twice. It was just our luck to catch him on a bad day; if we'd been able to attend the previous day's game, we'd have seen him hit two homers.
The worldcon itself was as worldcons usually are, a human kaleidoscope -- a whirl of activity, parties every night and friends everywhere. It's something that's sure to wear you down after a few days, but on the other hand, you never really get tired of it. And, admittedly, we look forward to it. Worldcons are the only place where we are likely to see many of our friends each year. Lowell Cunningham and Dorothy Tompkins from Knoxville were there; we've known each other for probably close to twenty years, long before Lowell gained fame as the creator of the Men In Black. Many of our contributors for Mimosa were there, such as Dave Kyle, Julia Morgan-Scott, and Teddy Harvia, and some of our time was spent trying to line up some contributions for this very issue. Mimosa was not the Best Fanzine Hugo winner this year, as it turned out. That went to Mike Glyer's newszine File 770, his first win in over a decade. We were not all that disappointed that we didn't win; Mike has been publishing some very fine issues and finished second (behind Ansible) in the category last year in Australia. But wait til next year!
If we had to single out any particular highlight of Chicon 2000, we're not sure we could do it. Neither of us was on a single programming event, the result of not receiving the program questionnaire that had apparently been sent out much earlier. Not that it really mattered; there didn't seem to be many, if any, panels that we were much interested in or felt we could contribute to in any meaningful way. Much of our time was spent in the Fan Lounge in the Concourse area, which was well-designed (and also well-located, not far from the convention registration area). It was set up to look like a fan's living room. The couches and overstuffed chairs were suitably old and tacky (especially the green slip-covered chair and footstool combo) and the section was bounded by cinder block and wood bookshelves which held paperback books and prozines. There was even some programming there Dick and Leah Smith gave a get-your-hands-dirty show-and-tell about fanzine reproduction methods of old, including even the now-legendary hectograph. It made us nostalgic for the past, but at the same time grateful we live in the present.
The Fan Lounge was also used for other impromptu events, such a 'Meet the TAFF and DUFF Representatives' party. We managed to do neither, though. Neither Sue Mason, the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate, nor Cathy Cupitt, who represented the Down Under Fan Fund, made Washington, D.C., part of their travel itineraries, and our paths just didn't seem to cross with them during the convention. On the other hand, Janice Gelb, the North American representative of the DUFF, was omnipresent and scored a coup by overseeing one of the most financially successful fan fund benefit auctions ever at a worldcon. Outcomes of auctions like these are hard to predict; even though there are more people at a worldcon than a regional convention, much of what gets donated for a fan fund auction is usually more suitable for a more select audience that might be found at a regional convention.
The auction at Chicon 2000 included the usual aggregation of books, fanzines, and collectibles that had been donated (and which found new homes for a few tens of dollars), but much of the success resulted from the auction of two big-ticket items Mike Resnick and Harry Turtledove both agreed, on very short notice, to use the name of the respective winning bidder as a character in upcoming science fiction stories they would be writing. Bidding was brisk, and after all the dust had settled, the two auctions netted $650 and $666, respectively. It led Rich to wonder aloud, "Why are we even bothering with all this other penny ante stuff?"
On the other hand, the parties at Chicon 2000 were hardly 'penny ante'. Some significant money was spent over the weekend by all the various worldcon bidders. Hot barbecue was available every night at the Charlotte-in-2004 suite, while the rival Boston bid had wonderful desserts and microbrew beer. The Scotland-in-2005 bid had single malt scotch. The most interesting of the bid parties, though, was by the Japan-in-2007 bid. At every worldcon there's a contingent of fans from Japan, including their mentor, Takumi Shibano. Japanese fandom is so highly regarded at worldcons that they are allowed to present their Seiun Awards, for best science fiction story and novel translated into Japanese during the previous year, at the Hugo Awards Ceremony. They have enough knowledge and experience on what happens at and is expected of worldcons that it seemed only natural that they would one day bid for one. They held bid parties two nights at Chicon 2000, giving out samurai headbands and saki to bid supporters; they were actually a bit too successful -- hundreds of people signed up as pre-supporters and by their second night they ran out of headbands and had to close down early.
After five frenetic days of Chicon, we finally reached the point where we were about ready for it to be over. The last party on the last night of a worldcon always seems to signal the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, and it was time to go home. We took back with us pleasant memories of friends and good times, and the desire to do it all over again next year. After all, it was only 51 weeks to the Millenium Philcon...
Title illustration by Sheryl Birkhead
Photo in Wrigley Field by Joel Zakem
Photos of Everly Brothers monument and Glass Pyramid by Nicki Lynch
All other photos by Rich Lynch