‘The Little-Known Underbelly of Con’ is part of a multi-post series where the writers of Some Nerd Girl share their convention stories – whether they be good, bad, or ugly!
In the wake of one of the biggest east-coast conventions – DragonCon – wrapping up, Some Nerd Girl put out a call for convention stories. Partially to help assuage the post-con depression for those who attended, but mostly to keep up the experience-sharing that SNG loves so much!
One of our responders’ experiences stood out as the lesser-known perspective of the self-described ‘underbelly’ of the Con. There are many reasons people are attracted to DragonCon – we heard about a lot of them in Melody’s post last month – but many of those reasons hold no allure for our respondent.
Intrigued, we asked our wishes-to-remain-anonymous-responder a few questions to learn more about the alternative DragonCon experience. Read on for their answers!
Read responsibly: adult topics ahead!
How long have you been going to DragonCon?
The first DragonCon I attended was in 1999 so this past con will have been my 16th consecutive DragonCon. There’s a few other conventions I’ve been attending for the past 13 years as well but none of them even hold a candle to DragonCon.
What do you look forward to the most at Con?
Really just the chance to get together with all my friends in one place. A lot of us have moved to different cities and states so I see the con more as a family reunion than anything else. We almost always throw a room party. Years ago it was open door. If you could find it, you were invited but with how quickly parties tend to break fire codes these days it’s now invite only.
The things that draw most people to the con hold very little importance to me. While I love Star Trek to death, I don’t really care that Patrick Stewart is giving a panel, I care that there’s some guy who had way too much to drink handing out all the stolen plaques that labeled what floor you were on in the stairwells. It’s all the little bizarre moments that only happen at con that really keep me going.
Do you keep the same group of usual suspects?
Yes and no. My core group of people I attend con with consists of about thirteen people. About seven years ago that group consisted of about thirty. When I hit my adult years I found that a lot of my friends were causing nothing but problems in my life and I burned a great deal of bridges.
What is the most unusual thing you’ve seen or done at Con?
That’s really difficult to say. If I had to pick a single event I’d have to say it was a BDSM room party I somehow found myself in when I was sixteen years old. Against one of the hotel room walls were some women dressed in fake leather gimp suits with some of their breasts exposed. They were all suspended from the wall by leather handcuffs and ankle cuffs. If you donated a bit of money to the party host he would let you put on a latex glove and allow you to grope them for a set period of time. Apparently there was also some sort “premium package” but I had no plans of sticking around.
What is the riskiest thing you’ve done at Con?
Despite the circles I find myself in I’m generally a very tame and laid back person. After high school I tried my best to start staying on the right side of the law. Personally the riskiest thing I did was probably just going to the convention underage and unsupervised in the first place. There were plenty of times in my teenage years when middle aged men would try to get me into bed. After the first time that happened I never went to a stranger’s room party alone, but by the time I was seventeen my circle of con friends was large enough that it wasn’t an issue. Any hour of any day of the con I knew of at least one room with people I knew and something going on.
As for people I know however, they have done some incredibly stupid things. From absinthe parties on the roof of the Marriott to gathering every homeless person they could find and inviting them to room parties they didn’t like. Like I said earlier, I’ve had to cut some terrible people out of my life.
Have you ever gotten in trouble with security or the cops? If so, what happened?
No. Like I mentioned I’m very tame in comparison to most of the cons party scene. It used to be very difficult to even get in trouble with the police if you had a badge. Several years ago a couple was having sex right on the stairs of the Marriott and an Atlanta Officer just gave them a warning.
Have you ever had issues with other members of the Con?
Who hasn’t honestly? Everyone has their con drama from year to year, mine is just usually far more extreme. The worst was at a very small anime convention when my friends and I were informed someone was trying to get a friend of ours into bed when she was so drunk she could barely speak. Within minutes we had a group of twenty people ready to drag him out into the streets of Atlanta by a broken arm.
Is there anything that ever scared you?
The only thing that outright scared me was the one time I did anything but drink at the con. A friend of mine gave me a very mild hallucinogen but when it comes to me and drugs I have a very low tolerance. If I took a Tylenol someone could probably take my leg off with a hacksaw and I wouldn’t notice until I tried to stand up. When the drug finally kicked in I was on one of the highest floors of the Marriott and I quickly learned that my fear of heights was greater than my fear of police. So after thirty minutes clinging to a guard rail for dear life a friend of mine convinced me to get into an elevator and close my eyes, we got to the bottom floor and I managed to walk by two Atlanta officers without having a panic attack.
There’s also a good many things that don’t necessarily outright scare me every year but bring a great deal of uneasiness. Primarily when I happen to be in the immediate area of large amounts of drugs being traded and sold.
There’s also the issue of some of Atlanta’s homeless. During most hours of the con there’s absolutely nothing to be worried about as long as you stick close to host hotels but even those areas become dangerous late at night. A friend of mine got mugged and beaten in broad daylight walking back to our room from the dealers room. Some guy sent him to the hospital over $8 worth of bargain bin comics.
What wouldn’t you do again, but don’t regret?
Two things. Both con games a friend of mine and I used to play. Our first game was “Random Bandit”, the goal was to steal as many worthless things from room parties as we could and whoever had the most at the end of con won. A lot of rooms ended up with missing towels, light bulbs, hotel shampoos, bibles, etc.
The second we called “Party Conga” one of us would hold up an object above our heads that people could see from a distance in a crowd, then we would walk through all the lobbies and atriums around 2 AM shouting “Follow (name of object) to find the party”. Once we had a sufficiently large group of people (usually 30-50) we’d either find a spot to sit down and drink if we had any liquor, or in most cases just ditch them at some remote part of a hotel. One year we somehow trapped about 25 people in a business conference room at the top of the Hyatt.
What are some things people don’t know about that go on at the Con?
So many things but it basically boils down to sex and drugs. It doesn’t matter what your drug of choice is. At con someone is selling it and if you know who to ask it isn’t hard to find. A guy I used to know would generally show up to the con with a brick of weed and no money in his pocket on Thursday nights and by Friday night he’d have a badge and a hotel room paid in full.
And then there’s the orgies. Dear god are there a lot of orgies at con. In the weeks leading up to it some lesser known websites explode with people organizing them. I can’t count how many I’ve walked in on in my younger years just looking for room parties.
Con also happens to be a very busy time of year for escorts in Atlanta from what I’ve heard. Even the strip clubs and local bars try to siphon off the convention crowd. If you head to any of these places this time of year you’ll see more slave Leia’s and Harley Quinn’s than you would see in the Marriott.
Any advice for those who might want to part from the mainstream part of the Con?
Bring plenty of friends. Unless you are a party, you’re not getting invited to one. Speaking of friends, don’t be without them after 2 AM especially if you’re wandering the smoking areas. The Marriott steps in particular have homeless people outnumber con-goers late at night. And while you’re at it get in on the action quick. The party scene at DragonCon is slowly starting to become a thing of the past. Just this year the Atlanta police were basically trying to start a curfew at some of the hotels. It might have been part of an investigation, it might have been a request by the hotels, I can’t be sure.