Antares '95 Con and Hotel Fire Report

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Antares '95 -- A Smokin' Time, and I Ain't Talkin' Cigarettes

A convention report by Paul W. Cashman

Antares '95, held Nov. 10-12, was small, but intimate the way only smaller SF conventions can be. I had a great time, since my directorial responsibilities were officially over when the program book was put to bed at the printer's. So, during the convention I was free to roam about, helping out where needed and otherwise meeting and greeting, since I had numerous friends there. I helped pick up Hal Clement at the airport in my car (we missed him at the gate, but found him again at Baggage Claim), and I made several runs for the consuite in my car, as Antares had a remarkable dearth of directors-with-cars. :) The convention was held at the Harvey Hotel Powers Ferry, formerly the Holiday Inn, which had hosted several PhoenixCons in the past.

Total attendance was a bit over 300, I hear, including staff of about 35 and guests, but that includes quite a few one-day memberships. The panels were lightly attended, but as some pointed out, this can be a Good Thing, providing a chance for real one-on-one interaction between the panelists and the audience. I was on two panels, both with topics sufficiently vague in wording to encourage a wide-ranging discussion, and it worked well (not a procedure I'd use myself, but....)

There was a nice, comfortable consuite well-stocked with snacks and such, as well as sandwiches at times, wine, and beer on Sat. night. The suite used for it was darn near perfect for a small consuite, with an ice-maker at the bar, a balcony for the smokers to use, etc. Joe Campbell turned in a fine performance as consuite director, and again in the role of Unlikely Hero (see below).

The dealers room was small, but not small enough, as there were c. three dealers selling weapons (!). Mark Stevens and the SF & Mystery Bookshop did okay, as the sole purveyor of books in the room, but most dealers did poorly. Perhaps half will return next year, and those who do will get a discount off the table rate. My 'trib to the dealers room came on Sunday, with the purchase of a $65 doumbek (hand-drum). Now I have something to pound besides my steering wheel! :)

The art show was also small, but of good quality, and art sales were at least $800, not including the two pieces I was interested in and didn't have a chance to go back and look for on Sunday. :(

The hotel staff were among the nicest and most polite I've ever encountered -- and keep in mind that Antares came nowhere near meeting its room-block commitment, so they really had no huge reason to welcome us.....on Friday, anyway. My, how things change:

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THE GREAT FIRE OF ANTARES '95


or, "Hotel Fire: the Live Role-Playing Game" :)

In the tradition of fine Southern conventions (ChattaCon's flood, then the 'bomb scare' there last year), Antares' first year will forever be remembered as The Year of the Fire. Here's how it happened: Saturday evening at around 9 pm, two miles away from the hotel, a driver hit a pole, and the resulting 'hit' to the power grid caused the hotel's power to drop from 3-phase to 2-phase. Some lights went out, the elevators stopped, and the hotel's generator kicked in, which was a Bad Thing.

I had just gotten out of the pool and dressed when half the lights in the pool area went out; simultaneously I heard a noise like a motor starting up. I shrugged, thinking it was normal evening procedure, until the hotel started leading people through the pool area and to the outside door to the stairwell. I sighed, resigning myself to a 6-story climb to my room. Then, five to ten minutes later, the hotel employees started getting a bit more urgent, and reports of "fire" started drifting through. From outside and looking up at the hotel, we could see the strobing of the fire alarms on two or three floors, but no obvious signs of fire. At this time the hotel was not being evacuated, so my friend Alex and I went quickly up to my room, ditched my bag of swim-gear, and scooped up our coats, as it was near or below freeaing outside -- a Good Call on our part. There was a tang of smoke in the air on the 6th floor, and we warned one mundane on our floor that there was probably a fire in the building.

In the stairwell, we came across Samanda Jeude and her son trying to make it down (her powered chair had to be left in her room). By interposing our bodies in front of her in case she fell, we made it down to the second floor, where the hotel's only security guard encountered us and carried her "babe-in-arms" style out to the front, where she was whisked into the hotel's courtesy van for warmth. Bonus points for the hotel, here.

Downstairs they were routing guests back through the pool area and out the front door into the parking lot. Convention ops/security were assisting in evacuating the upper floors, and in keeping the crowd of guests and convention attendees clear of the fire-lanes. Eight Fulton Co. fire engines responded, as well as several county police cruisers and Georgia Power crews, since the problem was electrical in nature. After a while the building-wide fire alarms finally began whooping, and the trickle of evacuees broadened into a flood. The hotel brought out blankets in tubs. The mood was somber, yet there was a sense of camaraderie, especially amongst the con people. The conention's Masquerade, which had been interrupted by the crisis, resumed in the parking lot, and awards were decided and awarded outside in the chill of November.

After perhaps 20 minutes -- it's hard to be sure, since there was so much going on -- the hotel went completely dark, its electricity cut by Ga. Power.

Meanwhile, unseen to us, 'Dramas in Real Life' were being enacted inside the hotel. Convention security assisted in evacuating a 103-yr old patron from an upper floor, and consuite director Joe Campbell helped rescue a mom, an 8-day-old premature newborn, and the grandmom off the 9th floor after the power had been completely cut, and with the hotel in deep darkness. Way to go, Joe!

At around 10 pm we received word that Mcdonalds and Wendy's across the street were taking refugees into their dining rooms, and some of the hotel patrons and con folks walked over there (we stayed near the hotel a bit longer). Filkers Bill and Brenda Sutton regaled a crowd of fen -- and mundanes -- with perhaps the first filk concert ever held at a McDonald's, while GoH (and retired Air Force colonel) Hal Clement presided over at the Wendy's, telling war stories.

After hanging about at the hotel for a while and watching the power partially restored to the lobby area, we went over to McDonald's, only to discover that they were about to close, so we trekked over to Wendy's. We'd been there about 15 minutes -- it was now past 11, and only a few fire trucks had left -- when word came that the hotel had been allowed to reopen its lobby, so we all trooped back into the hotel.

About half the lobby floor had been reopened with partial main power, and Antares ops/security were enforcing the perimeter at the behest of the hotel manager and the fire marshal. A scene straight out of Hollywood's disaster epics ensued: the darkened lighting, the guests curled up on the floor in blankets, the fan playing the lobby piano with fen and regular patrons joining in ("Bridge Over Troubled Water" was no surprise, but Christmas carols? Eee argh!), a group of fen, myself included, singing Rennie pub-songs in the darkened restaurant, and a continuing camaraderic feeling of grace under pressure.

Well, mostly. Many of the other hotel patrons were NASCAR race fans in town for a race that weekend, and some of them were getting a bit drunk and disorderly by this time. Our ops/security folks helped the hotel considerably with these rowdier guests, at some risk to themselves.

At around 1 am the fire marshal finally approved the rest of the hotel as being safe, and power was fully restored. We scampered upstairs to the consuite on the ninth floor, fearing the worst -- the ice cream had been left out -- but we restarted the post-Masquerade party, renamed it the post-fire party, and everyone had a good time despite the later hour.

.....Turns out that the hotel generator itself may have started smoking and fuming, and the resulting surge of power may have cooked some electrical systems as well. There was never any open flame, but there was sufficient smoke and fumes that the hotel had to be evacuated, and some sprinklers were apparently set off due to overpressure in the lines.

The Harvey Hotel kindly offered complimentary buffet breakfast Sunday morning (making the "brunch with the guests" and the awards presentation a low-dough affair indeed), and also offered to waive room charges for Saturday night. --For most of our convention people, anyway; the NASCAR folks, who had been drunk and contentious the night before, had to ask for theirs to be discounted. :)

So all was well that ended well. The convention received some redress from the hotel since all Saturday evening festivities were disrupted or canceled because of the fire (not to mention the role our staff played during the fire); the hotel's redress allowed the convention to close its books in the black (although barely).

--Sometimes a crisis can bring people together, and this was no exception. All the con guests and attendees took the evacuation in stride, and this experience, thankfully not tragic, is something we will all share for many years to come. On Sunday, Joe Campbell received a Thank You card from the lady whose mom and premature infant Joe had helped evacuate; we passed the card around the consuite and at the Dead Dog Party that night. "Thanks for being there," it said. I'll add my thanks, and route them to everyone!

--Paul W. Cashman <pellaz@adelphia.net>

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