The first presentation we attended was “The Not-So-Wild West; The North-West Mounted Police,” which dealt with the origins of the forerunner to today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The presentation included a great deal of very interesting information about the history of Canada and the founding of the North-West Mounted Police, but was somewhat difficult to listen to due to the speaker’s verbal tic, which at times seemed as though every other word was “ah” or “um.” I think that having the presentation copied out instead of switching between notes and reference books might have helped this.
The next event we went to was one of the “Immersion Events,” “The Story So Far,” which was described as “Totes McCoates, from last year’s ‘Time Travel for Tourists’ is back to get you up to speed on what’s brought everything to this point.” I’m sorry to say that this event was very poorly prepared. When Your Correspondent attempted to get the ball rolling by asking her to relate the significant events of the past year, she essentially responded that she couldn’t do that. “Beauregard Krieger”, also present, offered no help, although perhaps he felt he’d already done his share at the “War Stories with Beau Krieger” event earlier. After a bit of unstructured talk, “Ms. McCoates” attempted to address the request of another audience member, who was a new attendee, to fill in some of the more historical backstory. This was done clumsily, and the information supplied in many cases directly contradicted the historical timeline given in the Cognitive Reasoner. For example, referring to Lord Bobbins’ lunar adventure, she alleged that Dr. Proctocus had used a giant magnet on the moon to activate a robot army on Earth. According to the newspaper, Proctocus had pre-positioned a robot army on the Moon, which was de-activated by Bobbins and Krieger using a giant magnet.
At dinner time, we had purchased advance tickets for the “Krieger Family Barbecue.” At $21.00 a head the price might have seemed a bit high, but in my opinion made up for not having to either go out of the hotel for dinner or deal with the hotel’s rather small restaurant. The quality of the food was mostly excellent, with smoked brisket, beans, bread, and barbecue sauces being particularly good. Corn on the cob, which, at this season, has to have been frozen, was a bit spongy, but not too bad. The musical entertainment, “Milkhouse Radio,” was very good and entertaining, without being obnoxiously loud. Admiral and Frau Krieger worked the room, but, with 150 for dinner the actual interaction couldn’t be much.
After having stood in line for dinner, we stood in line for the Opening Ceremonies, which was the biggest disappointment of the convention. Entering the auditorium, we found that there were very few seats set up (presumably in order to leave the floor open for the Cotillion, which was immediately to follow), so the vast majority of people attending were “standing room only”. After having stood for an hour to get in, we did not feel like continuing to stand, so seated ourselves on the floor along the wall and attempted to listen. Unfortunately, the sound was poorly adjusted, and was largely unintelligible past the first few rows. Given that the other people in the back of the room couldn’t hear either, there was no reason for them not to mill around and chat, which made the whole thing a bust from our position. We eventually gave it up as a bad job, and, feeling too tired to dance, went back to our hotel room and to bed.
Saturday started off better. I was assisting my wife, Georgie Schnobrich, with her presentation on “Lies and Legends of the Old West,” which covered such storied characters as Wild Bill Hickok, Jim Bowie, Judge Roy Bean, and “Deadwood Dick,” the pulp hero. The presentation ran smoothly and seemed to be well received by the audience.
After a break in which we took a brief glance into the awesome dealer’s space, I did my presentation on “Weird Weaponry of the Steampunk Era,” which again the audience seemed to enjoy.
After that, we attended “From Disaster to Dashing; Steampunk Fashion for Men,” presented by Tony Ballard Smoot and DJ Doctor Q. The two gentlemen gave an entertaining and useful presentation on style basics for men, from shoes to hats.
This was followed by “The Pinkerton Detective Agency” presented by “Famous Captain Anthony LaGrange” a.k.a. Tony Ballard Smoot. This covered the establishment, founding principles, and history of the pioneering detective agency. The presentation seemed to be well researched, included lots of interesting information, and was skillfully presented by Mr. Smoot.
After that, we took a break to change for dinner. This year’s “Bobbins Dinner” was a bit bigger than years past, which made interaction a bit harder. (I note that the website posted that there were thirty tickets for the Bobbins dinner, but closer to sixty people were seated, some of whom, of course, were cast members.) The Marriott’s banquet staff is usually excellent, and the appetizer, salad, and dessert were all up to standard. The appetizer, shrimp on a rosemary skewer with chili barbeque glaze, was perfectly cooked, spicy but not too hot, and the shrimp were large and tasty. The salad was lightly grilled endive, with cheese and chicken garnishes, and a very nice lime and cilantro dressing. Dessert was a generous portion of flourless chocolate cake with bourbon infused whipped cream. The entrée, cider braised pork belly, was not a success. We were served a very pale piece of meat that some could not tell if it was pork or fish. Half the portion consisted of gelatinous fat, and the rest of nearly tasteless meat. No trace of cider was detectable. This was a misjudgment on the part of the chef. It is to be expected that pork belly is going to be fatty, but the braising method of cooking does not generate enough heat to render down or crisp up the fat as roasting or grilling would have. Nevertheless, since the appetizer was virtually an entrée in itself, the salad a goodly portion, and dessert filling, we did not go away unsatisfied.
After dinner, we lined up for the Night Circus, and were fortunate to get swept into fairly good seats. I was thrilled to enter the auditorium and hear the band strike up “The Big Cage: A Circus Galop”, which I had played in my high school band days. We were pleased to recognize Milwaukee performer Sir Pinkerton Xyloma of Dead Man’s Carnival as the ringmaster “T.E. Night,” and I was delighted to discover that the Original Baraboo Circus Band was being conducted by Professor Jerry Stitch, my old professor of Music.
The first half of the program was made up of acts associated with Dead Man’s Carnival, which are local people who are reinventing for themselves old-style circus and sideshow acts, with considerable success. The feats of strength, balancing, and juggling were truly impressive, all the more so for the occasional wobble or do-over which lets you know the effort involved is real, and the performers human beings like us.
The second half of the program was presented by Madison’s Cycropia aerial dance troupe, who performed a series of sets using fabric, trapeze, and custom equipment, including some I had never seen before. This show was beautiful, lyrical, and sensual and well worth seeing.
After the performance, the seating was broken down for dancing, but we preferred to decompress by finding a spot to sit in the hotel lobby to people-watch and chat with passers-by until we decided to call it a night. (People-watching at TeslaCon is always fun, but this year’s was exceptionally good. Perhaps the Western theme made dressing easier, but it seemed that the level and pervasiveness of good garb and gear was up a notch from years past.)
Sunday morning, I again assisted Georgie Schnobrich with presenting the second installment of “Wild Women of the West,” which dealt with Belle Starr, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, Mary Ellen Pleasant, The Other Magpie, and Adah Isaacs Menken.
Following that, we checked out the Science Fair, which had some very amusing entries, but seemed down in numbers from years past. One of the highlights was the robot-drawn pony cart, which was actually pulled by a walking machine (based, so I over heard, on the walking action of a dollar-store wind-up toy), which was built to resemble a scaled-down version of “The Steam Man of the Prairies” from 1868 dime novel by Edward S. Ellis.
Next, we made a thorough inspection of the almost overwhelming dealer’s room, which was rather crowded, but crammed to the rafters with luscious merchandise of every description. After making a couple of purchases, we escaped with what little remained of our money.
By this time we were beat, and, facing the possible prospect of having to shovel snow walks and driveway at home, we took off before the closing ceremonies.
Conclusions: We had, as we always do, a very good time overall. There did seem to me to be, in some ways, a bit letting down of standards perhaps due to “Lord Bobbin’s Vacation” being a bit of a pause in the more intensively scripted episodes of the past and the promised future, but overall still a very impressive effort bolstered by a lot of very well prepared volunteer presenters. Next year’s outing is Paris for the International Mad Scientist’s Convention, which looks to be fun. Special guests will include Abney Park and Professor Elemental which will be “specially ticketed events” which I expect means they will cost extra, but probably within reason for those who are interested. We have our tickets for next year.
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