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Note: Our Fan Guest of Honor, Pete Weston, is a man of many talents and vast experience. In addition to being a Hugo-winning fanzine editor, well-appreciated raconteur and purveyor of fine rockets, he also chaired a Worldcon. Herein he describes what it was like to bid, at the convention (SunCon, 1977), where the vote for that Worldcon was taken. (Adapted from PR 4, July 2003).
Much as I'm looking forward to Noreascon, I rather regret that the Boston team failed in their earlier bid for Orlando, because I really enjoyed my last Worldcon in Florida and I want to go back and do it again! That was where I first saw Star Wars, discovered hot fudge sundaes, and came away with a great sackful of money. Oh, and very nearly met my old hero, Robert A. Heinlein. Yes, I had a fine time at SunCon in 1977!
We'd come to Miami Beach to deliver our formal bid for the 1979 UK Worldcon, to do publicity and of course to hold some parties. "We" being committee members Rob Jackson and me, and Peter Roberts, who very conveniently had won the TAFF trip that year. With over 1000 pre-supporters we were pretty sure we'd win against the relatively little-known New Orleans bid, but you never can tell for all we knew masses of local people might vote, having calculated that it was a lot easier to get to Louisiana than Brighton. So we thought we'd better show that the Brits were fun people by having a big party on the Saturday night.
My idea was to have a short, sharp blast for just an hour, starting at midnight, rather than one of these long drawn-out affairs where people wander in and out and nothing happens. "We'll need to put on a bit of a show," I said. "We can use those slides of Brighton. What else can we do? How about our bidding song? Has anyone seen Vera?"
The committee let us use a suite, and we packed them in. Vera Johnson duly appeared with her guitar, fandom's very own C & W artiste, and she led us through a few rousing choruses of her song, then we put on a grand Knurdling tournament and ended with a Hum-and-Sway, events which, so we assured the Americans, were traditional at all British conventions. The only trouble was that to my recollection no-one had knurdled since 1966, and I'd never actually seen a Hum-and-Sway. So we had to improvise a bit but it seemed to work well enough!
Our Victory Party
Our Victory Party on Sunday night was better prepared. This time we had a much larger room, which was just as well since word had gone round and people were queuing outside from 11.30 pm onwards. Rob and I had nearly killed ourselves the day before, after borrowing Joyce Scrivner's car and four large suitcases with which we drove downtown and fetched three hundred dollars worth of beer and soft drinks from a liquor store, nonchalantly dragging the heavy cases through the hotel foyer with only an occasional clink and rattle to betray the contraband within. (We were avoiding the exorbitant corkage fees levied on outside drink.)
For the second performance my pal, Tom Perry, and his wife, Alyx, assisted with their usual efficiency and directness by simply bribing a porter to bring up the crates to our room.
I was surprised to see how many Americans seemed to know our National Anthem but I suppose old habits die hard. Vera belted out the bidding song, then one about English food, with a chorus of and chips," which I thought particularly appropriate. Tom Perry did a zany, Bill Bryson-like sketch on the differences between the two countries, and Kathy Sanders performed a splendid belly-dance. This was a bit of pure luck; earlier in the evening we'd exchanged a few words prior to the Banquet and Kathy had asked hesitantly if we'd like her to appear. She and husband Drew were among the small number of Masquerade Masters at the time, and their costume Golden Apples of the Sun had been really incredible. So, too was Kathy's dance routine, which went on for ten or fifteen minutes before the admiring crowd of fans.
More Knurdling, then we ended the party with another Hum-and-Sway, much more ambitious this time. Imagine hundreds of people sitting on the floor in total darkness, drinking, humming, and swaying, while the leader intones the ceremonial words to call up the Spirit of Trufandom. "May you all produce the Perfect Fanzine," and similar nonsense. And yes, for a few brief moments there we did succeed in evoking the Cosmic guiding principle of fandom. How dare the sceptics suggest that it was only Rob Jackson with a sheet over his head!
Much later that night Ron Bounds and Bobbi Armbruster helped me get into the exclusive Hugo Losers' Party in the penthouse suite, where Joe Haldeman grinned at me and said, "Hey, Peter, you just missed Robert Heinlein by five minutes. He was asking after you!"
A Hot Fudge Sundae
It was a warm Florida night and we went out onto the balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Far out on the horizon you could see the twinkling lights of the gambling ships, and low in the sky there was a spectacular full Moon, huge and glowing brilliantly white.
"It's so bright," said Bobbi, "it reminds me of that Larry Niven story "
"'Inconstant Moon,'" said Ron.
" where the hero thinks the sun has gone nova on the other side of the Earth, so he and his girlfriend go for their last hot-fudge sundae."
"I've never had a hot-fudge sundae," I said wistfully.
"WHAT!!" Amazed, well-fed American faces turned to me in shock, clearly not believing this terrible tale of want and deprivation.
"We'll get one now," said Ron
"But it's five in the morning," I protested weakly.
"So?" Bobbi enquired, genuinely puzzled.
We took the elevator down to the basement of the Hotel Fontainebleau, and when the doors opened I was amazed to see the restaurant was full of people. (I now realise that Americans never sleep: all night long they eat, shop, buy cars and go to chiropractors.) And there I had my first, and best-ever hot fudge sundae, with delicious creamy ice-cream drenched in hot, sticky chocolate sauce with a whipped-cream topping. Bliss! But, I thought, let's see them try this in Brighton; at 5.00 am you'd be lucky to get a cheese sandwich!
Next morning in the very same elevator I stood behind Robert Heinlein, all the way up to the top floor. Now, I'd corresponded with him, off-and-on, for nearly ten years, but it's different when you meet someone face-to-face (or in my case, face-to-back-of-head). I noticed his hair was close-cropped, which made him look very strict. And what could I say? It wasn't the right time or place, I didn't want to act like one of the autograph brigade, and he was promoting a drive to donate blood which didn't much appeal to meI hate needles! So diffidence won and I missed my chance to meet one of the greatest names in science fiction.
However, I did get to see one of the greatest films in science fiction Star Wars. It was on the Thursday afternoon, before the con had really started, but Peter Roberts and I were already feeling a bit left-out from the various witticisms being made by the fans. What exactly was a Wookie and why should we let him win? Why all the heavy, asthmatic breathing? And I didn't get the "Chinese Restaurant" joke, with the punchline (spoken in a solemn voice), "Use the Forks, Luke. Use the Forks."
We decided we had enough time before the opening ceremony to go along to a local cinema and see Star Wars, despite being warned there'd be long queues and we would never get in without advance booking. Strangely, the cinema was almost totally deserted and we couldn't understand why. We sat through the epic, emerging slightly stunned to find that outside it was raining. That was why everyone with any sense had stayed at home. Because "rain" doesn't adequately describe the sort of tropical deluge that faced us, with road and pavement already under inches of water, traffic stopped, and no-one about but us, standing under a dripping canopy and contemplating our dwindling chances of getting back in time to be introduced (it didn't matter so much for me, but was rather more important for Peter to show his face as the official TAFF delegate from the UK).
We waited ten minutes or so, then a taxi came by and stopped at our frantic waving, although the driver made no attempt to come across to our side of the street. "Sadist!" I thought, as we ran through the swirling torrent, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. Although at least it was warm rain!
Peter later described the experience in his TAFF Report, "It was more like riding in a boat than a cab: the road was awash and invisible, rain thundered on the roof, the driver peered through the downpour, gripping the wheel like some old sea dog. We two sat in the back, keeping an eye open for sharks. 'This is OK,' growled the cabman. 'I've seen worse.'"
A Big Sack of Money
On the last day of the convention Don Lundry handed a big sack of money to Rob Jackson and me, the accumulated funds people had paid to vote in the site-selection ballot. We hadn't understood the rules, hadn't expected it, and were totally taken aback! Later, it made a huge pile when I emptied it onto Tom and Alyx's kitchen table in their house at Boca Raton, where we had gone, along with Lee Hoffman. And I do mean huge, with hundred-dollar notes and cheques mixed in with the mound of fifties, twenties and smaller bills.
"Look, this one's ripped," announced Alyx.
"Throw it away," said Tom dismissively. "It's only a ten."
"There's nearly as much here as you earn in a week, Tom," I said, playing up to his reputation in British fandom as a Rich American.
"Oh yeah," he replied, with an expression on his face which seemed to say, "I should be so lucky."
"We could go a long way on this money," Lee remarked thoughtfully.
Eventually we finished sorting and counting, finding 24 uncashable cheques made out to the administrators, "Mercury Services," by people who clearly hadn't read the instructions on the SunCon site ballots, and a Scottish pound note which, by the look of it, had been in somebody's wallet for the last thousand years. (When I finally arrived back in Birmingham, a week or so later, that note was to save my life, being the only item of British currency remaining in my pocket and just sufficient to pay a reluctant taxi-driver, with a handful of nickels and dimes for a tip!)
The pile totalled over $10,000, and I started to wonder how to get the money back to the UK. I mean, turning up at Immigration Control with great wads of notes stuffed into my socks like some sort of Drug Baron would be asking for trouble, and I'd never be able to explain the intricacies of the Worldcon bidding process to the Customs Officers, especially since I didn't entirely understand them myself.
So we decided to take the loot into the nearest bank, but the cashier at the Bank of Coral Springs was bewildered by the foreigner with the funny voice, the sack of money, and his suspicious request to transfer it to an offshore account.
I realised for the first time that the American banking system is very different to ours in Europe. Instead of the "Big Four" clearing banks with their myriad branches in every High Street, each little U.S. town seems to have its very own bank. It's in their Constitution or something. But this one was a bit out of its depth, they didn't know how to handle us at all.
I gave up trying to explain about Hugo Gernsback and asked, "Can you tell me where is the nearest branch of Barclays International?"
"I think there's one in Boston," the woman offered helpfully.
In the end Tom came to the rescue, had the money put into his account, and got the bank to write a Certified Cheque which I put into my pocket very carefully, to take home to our Treasurer, John Steward. And then it suddenly hit me: we really had won the Worldcon! Now life was going to get really interesting!