World Fantasy Convention, 2017, Part I: Before the convention
This year I could not afford the trip to Helsinki for the World Science Fiction Convention, so I decided to go to World Fantasy instead. I've been told for years that World Fantasy is a lovely convention -- smaller, more literary in focus, more professional in tone. Many people say it's their favorite. And, indeed, I thought about going last year to Columbus, but two things intervened -- 1) I thought about it rather late and I think it was already full; but, anyway -- 2) my day job was incredibly busy at that time and I ended up spending much of the last quarter of 2016 traveling for business. (Why that is no longer an issue is a rather bitter story that I can't really address in a public forum.) All that said, I signed up me and Mary Ann for World Fantasy in San Antonio in plenty of time.
Things were simplified to an extent because my brother Paul lives just north of Dallas. It's a longish ride, but not undoable, from our house in St. Louis to Paul's house. We left on Halloween, with our daughter Melissa staying over with her dog to keep our dog company. We chose a slightly slower route, for a change from our usual Dallas trip -- this time we went through Arkansas, mostly US 67, then I-30 over to Dallas. This was pretty worthwhile, though it did, in the end, take about an hour extra. For one thing, Arkansas is basically prettier than Oklahoma -- at least, the parts we went through. For another thing, we spent some time on the "Rock and Roll Highway", which was supposed to be called the "Rockabilly Highway", except that the politicians didn't want the implied "hillbilly" association. That was in commemoration of some of the early rockabilly stars -- Arkansas native Johnny Cash being the most obvious -- who played in that area. Most interesting, actually, was Walnut Ridge, AR, where we found a sculpture inspired by the brief visit of the Beatles to the local airport -- on the way to a vacation in Missouri. A local sculptor created a version of the Abbey Road cover in steel, with lots of Easter eggs referring to Beatles songs.
Anyway, we did finally make our way to Dallas, and to Paul and Diane's house. They treated us to a nice dinner at a local upscale burger joint (name alas forgotten). We saw their son David as well, and his twin Christopher a couple of days later. Benjamin and Thomas are away at college (SMU and Georgia Tech respectively), so we missed them. Diane served us (as she does!) a spectacular breakfast the next day, and then we headed for San Antonio. On the way we stopped at Waco, to visit Magnolia at the Silos, the little shopping/food area that Chip and Joanna Gaines have. Mary Ann bought stuff. Then we drove through the campus of Baylor, just to say we saw it, and we found a place to eat, a barbeque place called Coach's XXX Smoke. We thought it no better than ordinary.
The rest of the drive was uneventful enough, though we did take the lesson that traffic through Austin is insufferable. (On the way back, with the help of the GPS, we took a loop around Austin and saved 10 or 15 minutes.) The convention was at the Wyndham Riverwalk Hotel, which is on the one had right on the San Antonio river, on the Riverwalk, but on the other hand on the unoccupied end of the Riverwalk -- all the restaurant action is a good hike away. We got parked and situated, up in our room. We couldn't find the closet. There was a door with a handle that wouldn't move. We figured it was a connecting door to the next room. Only later did somebody tell me that they had the same problem, until they yanked on the handle, and found that it opened to a typical hotel closet. Ah well.
A number of people were already at the Con, but it didn't officially start until Thursday. We decided to walk to the part of the Riverwalk where all the restaurants are. It looked like the quickest way was overland, and it probably is, but I mishandled the map of downtown we found and managed to get us rather lost. Eventually we corrected the wrong turn I'd made, but that turned a merely "good hike" into something of a trek, and we kind of settled for the first restaurant we encountered. This was Waxy O'Connor's, which, not surprisingly, turned out to be a standard issue touristy fake-"Irish Pub". I had the lamb stew, which was, at any rate, decent.
On getting back to the hotel, Mary Ann, feeling rather tired, opted for the room and some TV, and I went to the bar, and sat down at a table in the restaurant area, with Ellen Klages, Karen Joy Fowler, Walter Jon Williams, Peter Halasz, Jack Dann, Janeen Webb, and several other people that I feel foolish for not remembering offhand. They strongly recommended against having the ribs at the restaurant. This was only a continuation of a theme about Texas barbeque that I feel horribly misrepresents the state in that area.
To wit: the first time I ever had barbeque in Texas was when we were driving Melissa to her first post-college job in Phoenix. We drove a long way that day, eventually staying the night in Tucumcari, NM (which I thought was cool because it's mentioned in Lowell George's great song "Willin'"). We had had a late dinner in a small town in the Texas panhandle. (I honestly can't figure out which town -- Adrian? Boise? I just don't know.) It was a barbeque joint, looked liked it was in an old gas station. I remember the food being just fine, and that we had to wait for our waitress to finish singing karaoke before she served us. But, the next day, as we continued across New Mexico, Melissa got violently sick. We had to take her to the emergency room in a hospital in Grants, NM. Turns out it was appendicitis, and I'm sure it had nothing to do with the previous night's barbeque, but it's stuck with us. And since then, despite Texas' reputation, we have yet to have really good BBQ in that state!
Speaking of Tucumcari and "Willin'", I spent some time on our trip thinking about geographical songs to play that had to do with our itinerary. For example, "Choctaw Bingo", by James McMurtry (as he puts it, "about the crystal meth business of southern Oklahoma and northern Texas" (granting that we came through Arkansas on the way there), and the song is originally by Ray Wylie Hubbard); "Dallas", by the Flatlanders; "Cross the Brazos at Waco", by Billy Walker; and, of course, "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?", by Charlie Pride. (Fortuitously, the Texas Tornados' version of "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?" popped up on my Pandora station on the way down there.)
And, finally, a place not on our itinerary: Lake Charles, LA. "Lake Charles" is the title of a Lucinda Williams song, one of her most heartbreaking pieces. (She has a habit of writing songs about people close to her who died.) (The song does mention a town in Texas, Nagacdoches.) Anyway, the key lyric in that song goes: "Did an angel whisper in your ear/And hold you close and take away your fear/In those long last moments." I wanted to figure out who the song was about, so I used Google, and found an article by Margaret Moser, an Austin based music writer. The person in the song is Clyde Woodward, once Lucinda's boyfriend and manager. The kicker is that Margaret Moser herself seems to have perhaps been the angel in the song (though she doesn't actually make that claim). I don't know why, but I just found that really moving. Listening to the song can do that, though.