Arisia 2020:   almost like we never left!

[20/20: "clear vision ahead", or "hindsight is a bitch" ?]

    2019 in review

After our "year away" and all the craziness of Arisia '19, we were going to be "back home" at the Westin Waterfront.  The intervening remainder of 2019 had not been particularly rosy either.  The upstream corporate entities at Marriott decided to sue Arisia under arbitration for upwards of six digits over the cancellation timeframes around the strike, there was more turmoil on the Arisia corporate front, and a frustrated exodus of several key people.  Newer folks to the fold were still coming up to speed on how to run things, and more change would inevitably come from their own personal twists and biases applied to the efforts.

A bit of common community spirit was pulled together at the BARCC walk in April, where a bunch of Arisians turned out to visibly and financially support abuse victims.  Even that wasn't free of minor issues, as the involvement of "" in event signups was way more intrusive than I expected.  Not exactly in keeping with "consent", I thought... but the walk itself was fun, quite well attended, and included some high-profile speechmaking.

Relaxacon happened on the Cape again, I suppose, but I didn't pay any attention to that and in fact headed in exactly the other direction on the same weekend.  While they-all found surf and seaweed, I suppose, I found snow ... in June!  [Decidedly not an "accessible location"]

The smattering of mail over the summer was less fun, with bursts of sniping and backbiting on the Corporate list and not a lot being discussed about the next con.  Nobody seemed sure of the organization's future, with looming financial hardship depending on how the lawsuit settled out.  In August the hammer dropped, and the arbitration decision [PDF, 1.8 Mb] in favor of Marriott was really biting.  This spawned another couple of shit-storms on the mailing lists, and with civility in the toilet and word-policing being the norm I decided I'd had enough of that, and to simply not renew my Corp membership that year.  People were pulling personally-owned gear out of Storage in case Arisia's general assets got seized, so my big ol' wiggle lights came home.  [Yes, at this point it makes sense to offer them up to wherever they might get more productive use.]

I managed to lay low and keep my yap shut that whole time, knowing that if I piped up in Corp or Staff-anything it would only get me in trouble.  I was in strict wait-and-see mode, unsure what my role if any would be in the 2020 convention.  I've never really felt usefully influential in the corporate structure anyway; seldom understood the things that were being voted on enough to make an intelligent choice, and didn't feel qualified to help set course and steer the ship.  I knew where my strengths were: if the larger "they" managed to constructively decide where we were headed, I would likely row like Ben Hur to help get us there.

Concomm meetings finally started happening later in the year, supposedly with remote participation, but a couple of attempts to GoToMeeting into them met with failure.  Key leadership positions still hadn't been filled, despite a couple of false starts and half-promises.  Most of the concomms I'd ever attended had consisted of each department reporting "we're moving along, tell us if you need anything" and not yielding anything I could really hang my hat on, and I figured that usefully relevant stuff would eventually emerge via mailing lists.  *If* the participants could get a handle on their email etiquette and understand the importance of that common-denominator channel, that is, and not just assume that everyone would see what they banged into Slack.  At some point Slack started simply refusing to talk to my perfectly good browser with no apparent recourse, so I just gave up on it.  Maybe email isn't the newest and shiniest thing, but it *works*.

I headed into November wondering if there would be a writeup for 2020 at all, frankly.  And then an additional distraction of parental health problems came along, taking obvious priority, and I was soon headed southward for one of my longest Florida stays to date.  I could still keep track of Arisia stuff from there while helping with elder issues [aka: "the parts wear out"], and finally in December some planning of substance finally seemed to get moving.  An embryonic tech-timeline spreadsheet was even taking shape, snapshots of which could be conveniently exported as a scaleable PDF to keep on one's own device for local reference.

Things started looking up quite a lot close to the end of the year, when the financial burden was made far lighter by a combination of things: a big chunk of the settlement was eventually waived, and an extensive fundraising effort got under way.  This met several significant goals in an incredibly short time, and within only a couple of weeks the road to recovery seemed far less rocky.  [This is an ongoing project]

And finally it came down to January, I was back home, there was a Logistics Plan that made sense, and I even managed to get to the final tagging party to help prep things for transit.  I wasn't needed on the Wednesday-before's "baby truck" loadup at NESFA, which nicely knocked one workday off my con; that was okay, there would be plenty more, and I was still packing gear at home.  We were about to implement something I'd semi-suggested in years past: get a "crack crew" up and running early Thursday morning with two trucks and get all the movement done that day, and thus not worry about where to park trucks overnight and get away with questionable legality of same outside of our event time.  We made sure our Zello channels were still working, and got to bed nice and early Wednesday night, to be ready for our busy morning.

[Images are linked to larger copies as usual]


Here we go again: truck pickup
  (Pic: sjs, video still)
We arrived at the Woburn Enterprise place, and I stashed my car outside their gate to make sure I could bring it out of there later.  Lisa was already dealing with the paperwork, and they brought out a pair of the usual 26-foot monsters for us.  Mark happily took off toward Haverhill in one of them, with Lisa in chase, and only then it emerged that there was a billing problem for the second truck on the card she'd used.  We raised her on Zello and she came right back to straighten that out.  I could have conceivably just put it on my card but I was already looking at significant future hotel and parking expense to bill to it, so I wasn't sure I wanted to risk bottoming the account.

Oops, no window crank! Almost in parallel with this, when I went to "preflight" the other unit and set things up as I usually want, i.e. side windows slightly open so I can hear things outside, I found that the window crank handle was missing!  The driver's side is especially important, as I always drop that window for local maneuvering so I can talk to people.

I went back in to report this, and since the rental folks didn't seem to have any spare cranks on hand one of the guys went out back to scrounge one off another truck.  This was apparently the wrong approach, though, since after quite a while he simply came back with a different truck.  But not a 26-footer, something clearly shorter!  Won't do, sorry.  I pointed this out and he drove it away and finally came back with another 26' and drew up new paperwork.

Minor personals loaded in
    (Pic: SJS)
So three trucks and about 20 minutes later, we finally had something workable as our second unit and the billing cleared up.  That was okay; it would take a while for the first truck to get loaded so we had the extra time to make it up to Storage.  We threw our minimal personals into the box and got on the road.

This one was on the ratty side; something like 240K miles on it, and not a whole lot of creature comforts up front.  At least it had heat, and working windows.

Drizzly trip up to Haverhill As I often reflect here, back in the saddle again!  Or on a grander scale given this year's longer runs, "Take her to sea, Mr. Murdoch ... let's stretch her legs."  I love that scene.  With the truck evidently governed at 65 MPH, it was a little more peppy than 21 knots.

It had started raining a little harder, and the slog up to Haverhill was notably ... dark.  At least it wasn't snow; it was actually uncharacteristically warm that day, which is always good for Arisia load-ins.  The radar showed the system passing over us, and it would end soon.  [Another useful capability of a network-enabled smartphone, of course..]

Haverhill alley, two trucks Having come in on the non-railroad-bridge side of Essex St, I negotiated the more-than-90-degree blindside backing turn into the alley and tucked my truck against the opposite wall while the first one was still loading.

The rain had basically stopped by now.

First truck declared full
    (Pic: SJS)
There was a lot of empty air above the load in the nose of the first truck, so I hopped up there to receive more stuff and try and fill in some of the space.  It wasn't a floor-to-ceiling pack anyway, but the critical heavy stuff was on board.  This was mostly the artshow load, because we would get that space to move into earliest in the day.  And having real dock-height at the Storage end [not to mention smoothly working elevators!] made all of this go *much* faster.

At this point, the sun was trying to peek through.

Still clear of the bump stops I checked the suspension "spring scale", as this was one of the older types of truck you can do that with -- still nicely clear of the bump stops, so we declared it good, and Rich and Mark rumbled off for the hour-ish run to the hotel.

Hard-working feet were here Next!  Once they were clear I moved the other truck over, and loading continued.  Our personal gear kept shifting toward the back so it could come off first when we got into town, because my room would likely be available by then.

Busy feet were clearly hard at work here!  The dock was still a bit wet.


    < ## insert happily uneventful drive here ## >

Bumping the dock on the Grand side
    (Pic: SJS)

With Pendragon's help I slithered around some dealers' vehicles that were already swarming around the Galleria dock, and ejected some fridges and carts into the eager hands of volunteers who whisked them away.  My ultimate destination was over here at the Grand or "high side", as my load had a lot of the tech and ops gear, and we'd been given some limited space in that area to stage stuff into while waiting for the big meteorologists' convention to finish up in some of the other ballrooms.  Bumping the dock unassisted felt pretty normal, even after the year hiatus; I remembered the little wiggle needed to get lined up on the inner bay and leave the "easier" one accessible for other deliveries.  Still much more pleasant than that tight area-of-street at the Park Plaza.

My hiking buddy John from the Meetup group had shown up to help out too, and we spent some bit of time geeking about trucks.

Buffer space for us had been made available far earlier than we originally were given to understand, when initial timelines from the hotel had said that we weren't going to get *any* of it on this side until after 6:30pm.  That crisis was semi-averted when they realized that they could accomodate us loading into some limited areas, as long as we were quiet about it.  It still meant schedule slip, but not as bad as it could have been.

  Continued load-in was the usual sort of whirlwind.  Our 4Wall [nee ALPS] rental got delivered and brought in.  Mark took the "baby truck" back out to fetch scaffold and program-books.  I went to claim my room and move into it.  Lots of other stuff happened in parallel, I'm not even going to try and timeline it.  But eventually it came time to return the truck I'd been driving, so John and I tooled off to Woburn to do that and swap to my car -- geeking about trucks on the way out, and electric cars on the way back in since we were then in one.  [Still feels like a new toy.]  What was nice about this year's Logistics timeline is that I could dovetail my own vehicle movements into it fairly nicely.

Also in the new-toys department, I found my new Zello-compatible speaker-mic a huge convenience while working all of this.  It's a wireless Bluetooth device that provides the equivalent of a phone headset and a push-to-talk button, and can key up Zello without having to unsleep the phone and re-front the app and mess with on-screen buttons.  It also provides immediate access to a *physical knob* volume control.  It has a minor bug in that if it's in full bidirectional Bluetooth mode *and* on cellular data, releasing the button doesn't drop the channel right away -- it hangs on for an additional five seconds or more.  Might be some weirdness about BLE or my version of Android...  But I found that if I set Zello's audio to "phone" mode, all I had to do was use the microphone on the top end of the phone instead, and the rest was fine.  I could tuck the phone in the chest pocket of my jacket and that was plenty close enough to my mouth to work, and sounded better than the external microphone anyway.  It was finally the long-haul communications setup I had been agitating for -- something I could hear and squeeze to talk without looking at, while driving, and it made everything *so* much easier while on the road. 

On returning to the hotel I pulled around the front-entrance loop to drop John off before going to park.  Part of the hotel's recent spiff-up had included the installation of an ENORMOUS video screen facing the main door, and as I stopped I looked in through the glass and there was this huge moving winter-scape with snow and trees coming at me.  It was rather disconcerting, even from outside.  Over the course of the weekend I observed many people just stopped dead in the lobby looking up at this thing, often trying to analyze what some of the moving scenes actually were.  Most of it was satellite imagery, slowly moving along as though the viewer was in low earth orbit.

Many EV charging spots in the new SPPlus garage Most of the real estate where the big open Laz parking lots had been was now occupied by the hulking construction site for the new Omni hotel going up, so it wasn't immediately clear where to park that might be closer than the old Channelside lot.  But it turned out that many other changes had occurred in our year off ... one of which was a brand new and huge parking deck right across Summer St from the hotel, run by some national outfit called SP Plus.  [Big enough that they own the "" domain.]  It wouldn't be cheap, but at least it would be close when it came time to grab my car into service again.  Parts of it were still under construction and blocked off, but the main structure had basically gone up in 2018 while we weren't looking.
As I entered and climbed up through the levels, I found one *entire end* of a floor populated with EV charging stations!  These are from SemaConnect, which I didn't have a tap-card for, and only level-2 output, but with over 200 miles left on my guess-O-meter I didn't need to worry about charging anyway.  In fact I parked deep in the inner core of the structure, away from the snow that was predicted to fly a couple of days later.  It was then a very short walk back to the hotel, even though the sidewalk was partially blocked off by yet another construction site in between.  The crazy "gentrification" of Southie plunges onward.

Art show build
    (Pic: SJS)
I got back into the hotel, and various builds finally had all their space and were decently in progress despite the unusually late starting hour for it all.  Art show had a lot of structure up ...

Tech build proceeding
    (Pic: SJS)
... and tech build had gotten a pretty good start, and this was where I'd finish out my evening.  The year's budget reductions had proscribed flying truss this time, so lighting would be in the air on regular ol' schedule-40 pipe.  I didn't even know that that 4Wall stocked 16-foot iron, but here it was.  Erected on a single base, it was a little frighteningly wiggly even with a good lump of sandbags piled on, but wasn't about to topple without a lot of help.

A scary pipe structure in the middle Pipe structure from stage
    (Pic: SJS)
In the center was an even scarier-looking array of iron, which David had designed into sort of tripod arrangement with diagonals that was actually quite self-stabilizing.  This position was far less worrisome as a result.  All these vertical pipes would be in the sightlines from the back half of the room when the airwall opened, but thin objects like that tend to just disappear in a viewer's brain once things start moving on the stage.  It was far less blockage than the old forest of camera platforms.

All ladder work for these pipes The upside of generic pipe is that it's cheap; the downside is that it's all clumsy big-stepladder work to get stuff in the air and wired.  Being right against the airwall and over cable-ramps also somewhat limited where ladder feet could sit.

Tangle of wiring and scaffold, why? On walking into the ballroom, I observed this.  We were waiting on delivery of scaffold lock pins that Lynn Ladder had omitted from our order somehow, but here was a compounding of errors: Slinging the remaining pieces underneath was counterproductive because they'd only have to be extracted again once assembly could continue, and we still had plenty of floor real estate to just leave the pile out and accessible.  But then why would anyone running cables pass a tangle over and through the stacked pieces, knowing that all this would soon move again??  Unfortunately this is typical non-thinking that plagues some sectors of our otherwise well-meaning tech volunteers.  Well, right here is a teachable moment and that's all I need to say on it, other than that it was eventually straightened out and nobody died.

A much simpler intercom plan This year's intercom plan was greatly simplified, with the elimination of the "B" video channel.  A couple of folks helped run this out in the room and I found that they were perhaps trying to interpret my *schematic* diagram a little too literally, so I gave some instruction on how to size up the real-life positioning of things and how to adapt to it.

The change also forced me to split the A and B gear into truly separate layers in the GIMP .xcf file I maintain all this in, which of course had lain fallow for an extra year since the Park Plaza design had been totally different.

Donated roadcase, before Donated roadcase, after
A large roadcase trunk had apparently been donated to us, either from or via PSAV or somewhere else, apparently from some prior event that didn't want it anymore.  Mention was made that it might be useful to mark it as Arisia's to avoid confusion during loadout, so I took some white gaff and had some fun with a sharpie.  It would have to be redone for real later; the outer black skin had some kind of oily film on it that didn't let the tape adhere too well, so at some point it would have to be cleaned with solvent and perhaps repainted.  Maybe that was why someone wanted to offload it?

All things to not do with a scissorlift
    (Pic: SJS)
We weren't contracted to use PSAV's scissorlifts this year, and the two they now had on-site sat idle in the back hallway, silently taunting us every time we walked by.  And yes, I think we're well aware of all of the things you're not supposed to do with one, as amusing as this forest of "DO NOT" icons is.
Tech found itself a bit lighter on gear, staff, and direction this year, as David was pulled in many directions at once as overall TD but also LD, sound coordinator, and program-AV point person.  As others have echoed, many kudos to him for shouldering that mantle, and it was good that experienced crew folks were able to support him by already knowing many of the things needing to get done, and quietly setting about doing them.  As I pulled the cyc lights out and started lining them up, a couple of other people who were otherwise idle jumped in to help wire all that up.  With six ladders rented in we had a good number of people in the air, rigging lights and drape and whatever else.  By late evening on Thursday we were in fairly decent shape, considering the forcibly late start, but people were eventually pooped and had to call it a night.

One downside of the Westin is that some cell carriers just *can't* penetrate into the lower ballroom levels well enough to carry signal and data, notably as regards Zello.  I kept falling off the channel, whether on 3G or 4G, and had to go upstairs or out by the windows on D St to get any kind of workable connection.  So T-Mobile was basically garbage down there; Verizon was said to work better.  One trap was that if both cell-data and wi-fi were enabled on a given phone, automatically jumping on the wi-fi would land the device in the hotel's function-room walled garden that *doesn't* permit outside access until you do some browser dance with their routers.  If you didn't know this and go through the process, the phone would think you were on a perfectly good wi-fi network but Zello was still unreachable.  The workaround is to either turn off wi-fi if your cell signal is okay, or go through the "I agree" muck and get on that wi-fi for real, but remember that it still doesn't reach all of the hotel spaces.


  The next morning I arrived back in the ballroom at the specified 9am for the tech meeting.  Only five or six others deigned to get up at that hour and join in, which was a little disappointing.  C'mon folks, crew call means everyone; greenroom had plenty of coffee.  But the time setbacks weren't over yet, as we spent part of the morning chasing a nasty electrical problem.


I didn't get enough illustrative pictures of this because I was busy trying to track it down.  When we went to power everything up and start testing, a clearly problematic circuit from the PDU managed to take the *entire thing* out, no power anywhere.  It turns out that the big 200A breaker in the power closet is a fairly sensitive ground-fault detector as well, and it had decided that there was a serious problem downstream.  The visibly faulty circuit appeared to be at stage left feeding one of the ULD dimmer packs, so I got up there for some debugging... the pack's logic was still working but it smelled very bad, magic smoke had clearly escaped somewhere, and one leg of the dual-input pack did seem to have an anomalous ohmic connection between its neutral and ground.  While that's not supposed to be, on a normal 120V circuit, how could that cause enough fault current to kick its own *non-GFI* breaker that fast and still trigger the master GFI in the closet??  Very mysterious, and individual circuit testing was returning bizarre results.  A spare fresnel plugged into an output immediately lost its lamp, so I switched to one of my little CFL under-stage safety cliplights which seemed to work fine as a tester.  But things were simply not right, and I could *feel* the buzz of a momentary high current draw in my hands when trying to plug the dimmer back into any live circuit ...  Longish frantic run-around story short, it turned out that PSAV had given us a completely wrong PDU that was trying to send 208 VAC to almost every 120V device we had plugged into it.


208 volt Socapex outputs I finally slowed down enough to read the little pinout label next to the PDU's Socapex outputs, and realized that all it listed were circuit hot legs -- there was no neutral here, as we'd expect for usual six-circuit-group distros.  Everything we assumed was a neutral lead was carrying a different hot, sending crazy supply overvoltage to everything already in the air.

So we could have just blown our *entire rig* from the testing we were trying to do before realizing this.  That one genuinely-ground-faulted dimmer pack might have helped save our bacon.  There are shows that run all high-power 208V gear and need this kind of supply setup, but certainly not ours.

Substitute PDU, messy PSAV was immediately called and quickly understood the gravity of having given us something that not only didn't meet our spec, but could have just caused a lot of inadvertent damage.  They went and scrounged up what they had left -- a L21-30 twistlock distro and a bunch of three-circuit "doghouses", with a pile of that flat cable they've gotten fond of using for passing under airwalls and the like.  And we did have the Soco break-ins rented so we could plug the multi runs in.  It was kind of a mess, but gave us *almost* the number of proper circuits we needed.  After some rebalancing and cheating a couple more feeds from wall outlets in the room, we got things sufficiently back together and powered.

[Interestingly, this box outputs 30-amp twistlocks rather than the usual 20A which matches the circuit capabilities.  My three-circuit breakouts made for the Park Plaza system would have worked fine here, in fact, but in advance of the con I saw no need to bring them.]

Spare ULD pack from PSAV Fearing the worst, we carefully powered things back on again.  Amazingly enough, only one dimmer pack had lost its marbles, and not even the smell-bad one I had been testing.  Fortunately, PSAV had several ULD packs on-site and loaned us one or two as substitutes for the 4Wall gear we would now have to explain away.  These got swapped in at side-stage.
We got really lucky on everything else.  The dimmers at the back of the room either hadn't been switched on or didn't receive power for long enough to cook themselves.  The Lustr LED fixtures were okay because they have wide-input-range power supplies that can happily run on either voltage.  Sound hadn't been powered up at all yet, or any part that had was also okay on 208 or 240.  And oddly enough, my test-light seemed perfectly happy on 208V, telling me that the little power supply in the CFL is also wide-range -- completely reasonable as the exact same bulb is probably sold overseas too.

Still, I was hoping that the 4Wall rental would go back with details on what happened and advice to carefully test everything being returned before getting restocked.  Damage remediation would ultimately come out of PSAV's pocket.

Mrs. Hawking set Rig mostly running
    (Pic: SJS)
One of the best exchanges I heard came during the rather arduous lighting focus, with additional ladder work, a bit more gear debugging, and trying to get meaningful programming into the lighting board at the same time.  It was almost XKCD-esque:

    "Huh, that *should* be on..."

    "I hate computers."

And we certainly had quite a few of them in the air, possibly not all yet configured as we needed them.  Despite the hangups and delays, we eventually had a working rig in time for the Mrs. Hawking folks to load in their set and get things together for Friday night's performance.  I honestly thought we weren't going to make it for a while, but we kept busting right up to the end.  I believe Friday evening's "reprise" run went off well with all its needed tech in place.  Kudos to Jason for tirelessly being "Mr. body-mic" for the players, too.


  I didn't leap at runtime positions this year, but was around for the changeovers to and from Masq rehearsals and miscellaneous debugging as usual.  With relatively non-demanding tech functionality, I was able to get out and around and see "that con that's supposed to be around here someplace".  While meandering the art show all I could think of was "wow, we've got some serious talent in our general fold these days" -- lots of really quality stuff on display, all expertly presented by the artshow crew under its new leadership by Julia and Megan.  The dealers' room was bursting with many things of visual interest on its own, and right next door the con-suite crew was cranking out an unlimited supply of cheese cubes, one of my standard convention fuel staples.  I also ran into some old friends I hadn't seen in a while and had some excellent catch-up time.

Just after sorting out the power problem, we had still been having a few lighting control issues, but very fortunately people were disturbing a particular set of connections up one tree at the exact moment things started to wig out and we managed to localize it quickly to one dimmer pack.  We had an extra to swap in at the time, so in idle moments later I decided to open the flakey one up to see if I could fix it.
Bad solder joint on DMX board The problem was fairly obvious, located on the little daughterboard "brain" of the pack: a bad solder joint that barely attached pin 3 of the DMX passthrough, and had somehow held up over the years before being wiggled just the right way into discontinuity.  A manufacturing defect, basically.  Initial diagnosis by passing an intercom line through the 3-pin XLR made it obvious: a live station downstream started howling in the typical way it does when the power-supply terminator is lost on the audio line, which is pin 3.  [I needed *something* to test DC continuity in an audio-bandwidth domain, which is the best way to locate intermittent connections, and without my all-in-series cable tester setup, setting up a stub comm line was the handiest thing.]

It was then easy enough to touch up the relevant solder joint, and it was ready to put back into service.

  I had one particular Awesomeness Moment on Saturday evening.  I was headed back down toward the ballrooms in the service elevator.  A tall, well-dressed gent got in, and we started chatting, a similar conversation I'd already had with several other employees in that setting -- how it was nice to be back in the Westin and all.  I got immediate and emphatic agreement -- he said that it was nice to *have* us back, wished the best for our weekend, and that if we needed anything at all, we should call on him.  As he got out at his floor, he said "I'm the general manager!"  It all went by so fast that my jaw didn't have time to hit the floor before he was gone, zipping off to some important duty or other.

And not one word about my feet during that whole ride.  My first thought was that if *anyone* might have mentioned something, it would be a brand-new general manager that had just come in from the new franchise management company that had been spun off under the Marriott and Starwood merger.  That arrangement had kicked in *that very week*, so he was all of two days on the job by then.

I learned later that his name is Steve, having failed to note his name tag while in the elevator.  I had other things on my mind at the time, but hopefully I helped give him a favorable feeling of the collective teamwork of Arisia and its venue. 

I continued down to the ballroom level in a somewhat more elated state, but still thinking about the long and sometimes painful history of this.  Over the 8 years we'd been at the Westin, its people seemed to have learned a fairly mellow attitude toward some of our footwear choices and other attire and presentation quirks.  Maybe it was just their people thinking wisely before saying anything derogatory; maybe it was a result of backroom negotiations with the secret inner cabal of Arisia; I can only conjecture and I don't waste a lot of time or worry on that.  There had been a couple of incidents in the earlier years and a significant portion of that had actually come from the *Arisia staff* side [in grave error, of course].  That's partially why I launched the big publicity campaign back in 2018, due to rumors that our own resident closet footphobes were going to try and act up again.  I think Arisia finally got the message that year; with the new hotel shakeup there might be a little more tacit education needed, but enough of their familiar old staff were still around and still completely cordial to us that the matter seemed pretty settled on all fronts.


  I didn't do a whole lot on Sunday, either, other than minimal Masq support and a little bit of gear-tetris to clean up what would become the green room.  I briefly laid hands on one or two sound systems, mostly to get them out of the way of hotel room changeovers.  I stuck around to help with house-open prep for the Masq, while its long-suffering run crew went off for dinner.  There seemed to be a minor disagreement over exactly when the house was supposed to open, but the benefit was that we didn't get a huge lineup outside that the Watch had to manage.  I had a mild inclination to stick around and see the Masquerade itself, perhaps in the role of an available tech floater if the run-crew needed something.

Then I happened to look at my phone, and suddenly realized that something was deeply wrong elsewhere in the hotel.  Forget what I just said two paragraphs ago.

Text messages from two different people had come in at almost the same time, to the effect that they had just been thrown out of the M.J. O'Connor's pub off the hotel lobby for not having shoes.  Why this was suddenly a problem *now*, as opposed to over the entire weekend, was a mystery, so I cruised upstairs to try and find out.  By this point in the con we'd seen many people happily barefooting all over the hotel without interference, proudly sporting the brown ribbons expressing their full intentionality and that they knew what they were doing.  I and others had randomly handed out quite a few of the ribbons to people who said they'd been looking for where to find them.
M.J.Oconnors *fail* on 'failte': shoes suddenly required?!
(bad cellphone shot)
But indeed, MJ's had suddenly gone reactionary foot-hostile, with nasty signs placed out front that they'd clearly just printed off and taped up.  "You must have shoes on to enter this establishment" -- one out here, and another one inside at the desk.  Not even the typical thing; this was *very* targeted, surly, impersonal hostility that had just begun that evening.  The nonsense extended to City Bar next door too, under the same management, with another sign in front of that door.  I steamed across the lobby to grab a 5-myths flyer from the stack at Info Desk, and then back to MJ's to try and impress some sense into whoever cooked up this insanity.  The manager on duty insisted that it was "policy", offering the usual phobic "broken glass" excuse as justification.  Even just to pick up takeout food, I learned later, with purchasers thereof forced to wait *outside* the restaurant space and have one of the staff bring it out past some nebulous division of area on the lobby floor.
I doubted I was going to get anywhere with the immediate haters present, given their recent and very sudden actions, but they took my flyer and gave me a card for the pub's general manager who wasn't there that night.  The sad irony in this picture is profound.  Painted on the door glass is the word "Fáilte", which is supposed to express a traditional warm Irish welcome.  When you look up this word and its origins, you also find this article, containing in part

There's a saying in Gaelic, "Céad Míle Fáilte".  Its literal translation
is "one hundred thousand welcomes", or "you are welcome,
a thousand times, wherever you come from, whosoever you be."
[Here's a quick pronunciation guide (mp3), lifted from this video.]

Well, apparently not here as of Sunday night, unless you possessed some arbitrary token garment or adornment, which could have just as easily been a Red Sox cap, something with a shamrock on it, or a "vote in 2020" pin.  Doesn't matter what, it's still the textbook definition of discrimination: picking one harmless attribute of another person or their presentation, and using it as an excuse to deny or diminish service.  All the unfounded mythology in the world doesn't exonerate such superficial and unwanted minding of other peoples' business.  "Failte" had been turned into "FAIL".

  And this wasn't just going on at MJ's.  Along my path of flyer retrieval, I received the second real kicker of the night right on top of that.  Some friends sitting at a table in the lobby flagged me down and said that they had also gotten harassed about footwear in *that* area, the indistinct rectangle surrounding the bar area in *open lobby space*.  That area wasn't under M.J. O'Connors jurisdiction, it was part of the hotel, so clearly something more widespread was going on.  The abruptness of the ramp-up on these two fronts made it feel like a massive shoe-conspiracy had suddenly sprouted, targeted at Arisians as a means of puerile, vindictive harassment.

That transient feeling of triumph, not to mention existential safety, from meeting the new manager in the elevator rapidly deflated out of me.  There was evidently more work to do here.  I went back to Info Desk to grab another flyer, and took it back to the "Birch Bar" area in the lobby to try and find its manager to talk to.  It took a while for them to bring someone out, but eventually Cynthia appeared and claimed that this "rule" was coming down from some faceless entity up the chain in Marriott or Westin corporate, out of anyone's control here on the ground but still mandatory to enforce.  She actually already knew who I was, and said she'd previously read the "5 myths" sheet.  Personally, she completely agreed that it was a ridiculous situation and seemed to admire the fact that some of us hike mountains barefoot, but at least this time around it was said to *only* apply to food-related areas.  Which told me that someone up the corporate chain, if that origin was even correct, was buying into the old lies about food-service having any relationship to footwear.  Cynthia seemed intrigued to learn more about why such tripe had never been true, and the history of how it came to be, and ultimately we actually had a pretty good conversation for a while, with me standing there barefoot the whole time, OMG *inside* the magic Birch rectangle.  We were presumably still waiting for some other more senior manager to come out [not Steve; I believe Cynthia would have been totally candid about that if he was involved] who ultimately never bothered to.

She even suggested, almost laughingly except that she was serious, that the disposable white hotel-issue foam bedroom slippers would be "acceptable" under these so-called rules.  But she apparently still wasn't in a position to simply back it all down as mistaken meddling.  The upshot was that I spent most of the time that the Masquerade was running upstairs talking to managers, or waiting for them to show up.  None of this even affected *me* directly, since I wasn't ordering food or drinks from either place but content to refuel in our Green Room.  This was on behalf of everyone else at the con, a simple matter of civil rights and what we've worked for and collectively come to expect from our venue over the years.  Arisia really needs to grow a SPINE and stand up for its constituents.

The conversation also carried an implication that the abrupt change of heart may have originated with or through our main event customer-service manager [CSM], Veronica, from the Banquets department downstairs.  Their office is right across the back-of-house hallway from the main ballroom, and their staff sees a lot of us during the entire con.  If it hadn't originated with her, she could probably tell me where it had come from and/or who the main contact was on the Arisia side.  Now, I had seen Veronica's name go by quite a few times over the years in discussions about contracts and BEOs, which are the formal instructions for changes and setups the hotel makes during the course of an event.  Veronica was said to be very good at her job and effective to work with, but I had never specifically met her myself.  Maybe it was time, if it might help straighten this mess out.  So when I went back downstairs for what little was left of Masq, I poked my head into the Banquets office to ask for her, but she had gone offsite for the night and would be back in the morning.

Not much else to be accomplished that evening; we wrapped things up and prepped the room for overnight airwall moves, caught a couple of libations in Tech Suite, and went to bed.  One big plus that came out of Masquerade was a lot of leftover food being offered up in its greenroom, decent-quality wraps and salads from a fairly high-end sandwich shop, so a generous helping of that got hauled up to my room to as tasty supplemental fuel supply for the rest of the con.  Which we could obviously eat in any state of dress, duh.


Crew call was again at 9am to begin tech strike, which I would be able to spend a few hours on before it was time to go get trucks.  I tried again for Veronica in the Banquets office, and the assistant there said they'd track her down and send her to the ballroom I was working in.  A little later the assistant found me and said Veronica would be out soon, but was "finding the information I needed".  Which was interesting, because I hadn't detailed any particular issue to the other banquets staff.  Anyway, Veronica eventually emerged and we had a mostly cordial meeting at long last.  She was very familiar with Arisia and our technical needs and the contacts that she'd interacted with over the years, and said she always enjoyed the synergy of working with us.

But in her hand was a clutch of papers, which she then went on to describe.  Here's where it started to get stupid.  One was from a web page describing the hotel's amenities and service areas, notably the offerings for food and libations, carrying a suggested dress code of something called "smart casual".

Wikipedia's idea of 'smart casual'
    (Pic: Wikipedia)
To support this, she had also printed out the Wikipedia page on this term [Linked via the image here] and pointed to the phrase within about "dress shoes".  That webpage declares itself as very ambiguous and open to interpretation right up front, and this example image is so ludicrously *not* what we generally see at Arisia, that her argument was already starting to fall apart.  Arisia isn't her usual stuffed-shirt corporate gig where everything is about expensive appearances, so trying to forcibly characterize our event this way was simply inappropriate.  Her third item was a full printout of the recent Massachusetts health department letter from, which she said she had gotten from the *Massachusetts* state website but that's doubtful.  That's where it is clearly stated that food and footwear have no relationship in law or code, but she was fixating on the ONE sentence at the end about local venue rules and laying that down as unconditional.
In retrospect, the combination of all this was just plain insulting, not to mention self-contradictory and irrelevant to our situation.  It was actually a rather icy and one-sided conversation, with her doing most of the lecturing, while clearly dismissing most of my attempted counterarguments.  She claimed that they already made a lot of "concessions" for Arisia's sake, but this "rule" about food functions wasn't going to be one of them.  Without any sensible explanation of why.

But we had more important work to do, and I wasn't going to stand there all morning uselessly arguing with her.  Her mind was made up, and not about to be confused with the facts.  She gave me the sheaf of paper and wandered off, but as I continued the rip-n-tear and packing-up of strike I was able to clarify in my mind where she was most likely coming from.  She deals with a lot of event-managers who come in under high stress and probably ask the world of her department, and it's her job to tell them "no" about a lot of things without seeming too obstinate.  Also, I recalled having spotted her in one of the back halls earlier in the weekend before I knew who she was, but nonetheless took note of how she had rather pointedly glanced down at my feet before passing by, so that was another hint that she may have some personal phobic bug up her butt about it.

These groundless fears can and do reach the fervor of a bad religion with some people, just like any other false assertions that have been beaten into them since childhood by parental and social prejudice.  This is usually where anyone starts learning the basics of hate; it plays on the unfortunate "us" vs. "them" tendency of patriarchal humanity.  But I probably wasn't the right person to effect Veronica's re-training.  I might have a possible ally in Steve, so I would simply present all of this to him later once I'd had some quiet time to sort it all out and assemble my thoughts and facts.  I also got more of the story around events at the pub, including details on how flat-out rudely some of my colleagues had been treated over there, when in fact there had been not even a hint of this earlier in the weekend.

Therefore, getting poignant communication out to both of these management structures became the priority before I could really start on my general writeup.  In both cases I sent an initial probe email, to ask if I could describe a significant and upsetting failure in customer service, and to make sure no spam-filters would impede the communication.  Both entities returned a clear and concerned go-ahead, so I unloaded.

Here is my letter to Steve Juscen at the Westin.

I then sent an email to Donnie Hui with the MJ's and City Bar, containing much of the same rhetoric but reworked into his own context.  In a later followup, the customer-relations lead at Briar Group expressed interest in what was going on so I forwarded that same piece with a little preceding wrapper for explanation.

Here is my resultant letter to Briar Group.

I received positively-toned and apologetic interim responses from both entities, which indicated that they had read through all of the content and would continue working the problem at their end.  My position held unwaveringly that what happened was 100% dumbass, rooted in outdated nonsense, and needed to be rectified on their side and not ours.  And every one of the people I had talked to has the individual right to speak out, to say no, to tell their powers that be that they will not marginalize guests in such a baseless manner and try to impose inappropriate "standards" where it's not warranted.  Especially for a group as diverse as Arisia.  Fixing it is as easy as an authoritative all-staff memo, essentially stating "this is not an issue at any time, don't try to make it one".  Non-Arisia guests or visitors raising busybody objections should simply be reminded that it's none of their concern.

There was an update to this about three weeks later, just in time for Boskone, and a generally positive outcome for the barefooter community.  I thus decided to attend Boskone for the first time in 33 years.  It worked out really well, in fact, on several fronts.  Read about it here.

I was really hoping I'd never need to have another "red section" like this in an Arisia writeup, but here it is.  It may be my last.  But don't start dancing in the streets too early, you never know, and everyone can still learn.

Lowering stuff from scaffold But enough of that; back to work.  Lowell had come up with the clever idea of using a load-strap with its hook to raise a couple of chairs to the spot platforms, so it seemed sensible to use the same hack to lower stuff down rather than attempt to hand-pass it over sketchy work-planks.

We'd gotten some pretty nasty scaffold this time.  Lynn Ladder is not only much farther away [we didn't have them deliver], but doesn't offer the courtesy of trying to find us clean equipment for indoor use.  This was covered in concrete dust and detritus, and hopefully we didn't leave too much of that on the ballroom floor at the end.  Returning the set would be another Logistics destination on Tuesday.

Center rig strike using scaffold With the floor space rapidly clearing along the back wall it also seemed that scaffold-based disassembly and lowering of the lighting stuff was sensible, so that's how things proceeded.  It went reasonably efficiently, even with a small crew working it.

  It was nearing noon, though, and it was time to go pick up a new pair of trucks from Ryder down D Street and get things moving out of the hotel.  I had made a priority of packing up the intercom, so I could take it directly out and load it into my car in the process.  [Except for the one long green cable that despite our best efforts at clearing a safe path, the housemen had managed to trap inextricably under one of the airwall panel glands.  No damage, fortunately]

Expensive parking I went to get the car out of hock next door, involving a somewhat eye-wincing amount of financial hit but probably still a little cheaper than parking under the hotel itself.  We had assurance that it would be okay for me to stash a car in the Ryder yard overnight, so at least I could get out of here a day earlier.

For a deck installed in 2018, we would reasonably expect to find chip-card readers on its payment stations.  These weren't, just traditional magstripe dip-swipe.  Prime targets for skimmers, as we all know.  I called up SPPlus at one point to ask about this, and whoever I talked to in their Boston office was unfamiliar with them but interested in the idea that they should upgrade their kiosks to something more 21st-century with better transaction security.  So it might happen at some point.  I suppose some portion of people pay with a phone app or something, and don't even think about these things.

While the Grand Plan to send a truck to Storage every two hours on Monday was kind of a non-starter, they did eventually get usefully loaded and each one made a Storage run that night.  Once again, reviewing the Zello log helped me recall and timeline how things played out.  I had Artshow and other Galleria-side stuff in the first run, and we could still hear people coordinating all the collection and packing activities continuing back at the hotel.  Lisa seemed dubious about sending the second truck, but it was *ready* and we already had an enthusiastic crew in Haverhill ready to unload, so we collectively convinced her.  There was just enough time for a short dinner break for that crew before the second truck arrived; not the three-plus hour delay like last year.  She needed my truck back sooner, though, so I skipped on dinner to start back, and our two trucks passed like ships in the night somewhere around the 93/495 interchange.
Unloading artshow at Haverhill
(bad cellphone shot)
It had snowed a bit over one of the nights and turned fairly cold, and the dock was an unpleasant mix of icy water and rock salt, but I don't think we carried too much of that into Storage on casters and feet.  Things flowed back upstairs fairly well in general, with a minimal delay between truck arrivals, and we were all back in town and bumping the docks at the Westin in time to catch some food at the tail end of Dead Dog before loading up more stuff.  Actually I think dead-dog was being mostly kept open by a dedicated Team Arisia crew that had set up camp in there to tally up all the timesheets, and that continued fairly far into the night.
We still had to finish emptying Grand before midnight as usual, and the remaining crew and gear there had meanwhile been forcibly squeezed into E so the next event's setup could begin in the other sections.  A high-end production outfit called Ice 9 already had a truck in the next bay and was loading in a lot of roadcases while we were carrying scaffold and wheeling stuff out.  I peeked into the back of AB later and saw really big fastfolds; it was clear they were on a complex all-night setup.  After we'd finished I put that truck back on the Galleria side for the remaining NESFA stuff, and wound up loadmastering two trucks at once for a while.  It had been a long day for all of us, though, and possibly the best expression of that landed in the Zello log around 11pm: "I am taking half an hour; I am dead."

There's a note I made from that evening, confirmed by Kylie's report: the shuttle "Columbia", at a minimum, would need new casters.  It had the problem we'd already seen on other wagons, where the outer softer plastic "tire" disintegrates and falls off in chunks.  The remaining harder plastic inner disc will serve as a usable wheel for a while, but doesn't roll as well and won't last forever.


Funny room-tip note An early order of business was to clean up the room and check out, and even though we hadn't really used any housekeeping services in the interim we do try to make their lives better.  Sandy drew an amusing representation of Arisia's new logo on the customary [and possibly necessary, I'm not sure] note reassuring that it was okay to pocket this.

Food area still not clean or packed up That same dead-dog room was exactly as we'd left it the previous night, and the food people responsible for packing it up were completely AWOL.  It fell to Logistics and the few remaining volunteers to deal with this, including dumping of a lot of dead food and cleaning dishes and serving gear.  Without a sink in this room it had to be taken downstairs to the Con Suite area [which had been cleaned up long since], and then dried and brought back to pack for the ride home.  This took up a lot of extra Logistics time which we shouldn't have needed to spend, and has apparently been a perennial problem.  It was also clear that Food had adopted the "oh, just bring everything" philosophy we in Logistics always discourage, and maybe used about a third of what they brought.  These points really do need to be rectified in future years.
Somewhere around 11am, that selfsame Veronica came by to view the ongoing chaos and badger us that we needed to "pick up the pace" on cleanup and loadout.  That was just rude.  We contractually had the room until 2, and were working about as fast as our skeleton crew could manage already.  Clearly, Veronica is paid to be a professional hard-ass, and was already worrying more about her next incoming event instead of being supportive of our situation.  She probably thought she was doing us a favor by cracking the whip.  Frankly, the more I observed of her the more I started thinking that someone really needs to take some of the ill wind out of her sails. 

Food donations ready to send to shelters We kept emptying, cleaning, shuffling, and shrinkwrapping, and soon had built up an impressive pile of donations that our homeless-shelter associate would in theory take away and bring to good use.  We still had way too much soda, and many flats of 2-liters wound up going to both Storage and NESFA.  People may be starting to wise up to just how bad most soda is for us, even "diet" varieties, so buying far less in relation to expected membership might be a good idea.  It's another one of those unhealthy but habitual things that anyone might be better off without.  It's also a pain in the ass to ship.

  We finally got loaded and out of there, and the rest of the day was the usual slog of driving and loading.  The NESFA and local-runs truck fell to me, so after a little stupidity from not quite remembering how to get around the Somerville bridge detours, it was once again to the tricky business of backing its big butt into that narrow channel of the clubhouse driveway and not destroying the tree or the neighbors' house.  I hadn't done it in a couple of years, but I did okay.  Unload there was reasonably smooth, we ate a bit more of our haul from the Masq greenroom, and with only the scaffold stuff remaining lashed up in the nose, headed off for Lynn.

That was a sort of interesting run.  Lynn Ladder is just west of 107, and rather than take the huge dogleg up 93 and over on 128, I opted to go right out 16 and onto 107 for the bulk of the way up.  In retrospect this might have been a questionable choice, as there are a lot of lights through Revere, but nothing really horrendous and nothing worrisome for a truck.  Once we got clear of that, was a nice run up through the wetlands and past the *other* local Wheelabrator plant, into Lynn.  The guys in the scaffold warehouse looked totally stunned when I walked from the truck cab back to the dock over ice-crusted snow to hand them the return paperwork, and then hopped right up into the bay to help unload the heavy end pieces and hang them on the forklift.  They're solidly in the "steel toed shoes" camp, I suppose, and had probably never seen anyone adeptly and happily doing that kind of work without them.  On the other hand, the clanking and banging they produced moving the gear left my ears ringing, and the guys who do this all day had nary a hint of any hearing protection.

We took the same way back down 107, but shunted over to 1A past Logan and blended onto I-90 for a run through the Ted Williams.  There's a toll-gantry just as you emerge into Southie, before we peeled off to the Congress St exit to find our way back to D St.  The Ryder place was almost closed but there was one guy still there shuffling trucks around and refueling them from the pumps they have right in the yard.  He didn't know how Pike tolls work in a rental situation.  Some rental cars have a switchable toll transponder, or keep one in a shielded metal box you can optionally pull out to expose for tolling, which presumably gets back-billed to the customer.  The trucks we get haven't yet added anything like that.  It't not even clear that the gantry cameras and OCR could make out the plate, buried fairly far in under the box and pretty filthy by then.

After rescuing my car it was just a routine drive from Southie out of town, with the typical slow weekday-evening creep up through Medford.  Like in a hybrid, traffic jams seem far less stressful in an electric.  We even found an opportunity for a relatively relaxing sit-down dinner in the north burbs.  Then finally home to fall over and die.

_H*   200130