Moonlight Rising was born out of dissatisfaction. A year or so ago, there was a convention appropriately-named “CreepCon”, held at the Baltimore Convention Center on the same weekend as a large number of Oriole Exposition games, making parking a nightmare and walking very dangerous. Inside “CreepCon” wasn’t much better. There had been virtually no marketing or press for the convention, the guests – ranging from Anthony Stewart Head, to the cast of Return of the Living Dead to Brad Dourif, Debbie Rochon and Warwick Davis – were ill-treated, few of them got paid. A small group of Buffy fans were outraged and decided that if the utter delinquent behind CreepCon could put on his own convention, anyone could. Thus, Moonlight Rising was born, destined to be one of the greatest Buffy cons ever. Also, one of the first dedicated solely to the cultural phenomenon.

The car packed, the travel checklist checked and double-checked, our Yahoo! Map directions in hand, Amy and I set out from our Pennsylvania home very early Friday morning, hoping to make it to New York by ten. By ten-thirty, we had come to the conclusion that once again our Yahoo! directions had proven to be useless. Making it into the Catskills fine, we spent the next hour and a half driving back and forth down Route 32 searching for the Friar Tuck Resort.

For those who ever want to make the grievous error of ever visiting the Friar Tuck Resorts, don’t be deceived by the faux-Medieval façade that tries its hardest to hearken back to the days of Sherwood Forest, but comes off more like a run-of-the-mill dilapidated Renaissance Festival. Paying a hundred bucks per night per person put us in mind of spacious rooms with all the amenities. What we got was a room with stained, sweating walls surrounding a bed, a television and a bureau with broken handles. There wasn’t even a freakin’ clock in the room, and getting water out of the tap that was neither icy nor scalding required the patience and finesse of a diamond-cutter. Four hundred dollars for two days! Keep that figure in mind if you ever find yourself wandering exhausted in the Catskills. And as it would turn out, we got one of the nicest rooms in the building.

The resort itself is a maze of nearly identical corridors with pitifully few landmarks. Many attendees likened the place to the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s “The Shining.” I usually felt like I was in the first few minutes of This is Spinal Tap as Amy and I wandered through the halls searching for the Q&A room or the Dealer’s space. By Sunday, we would have walked about twenty-five miles trying to find our way back and forth from our room, wondering if we weren’t in fact, trapped in a giant Skinner Box. Often we’d see people passing us at the end of one corridor, only to literally smack into them minutes later, all of us still lost.

There were a few minutes of confusion once we finally found our way back to the lobby to pick up our press passes. There had been no word left at the desk that there was press of any kind coming, our names hadn’t been left, etc., and my main contact, Aria, was a woman I’d only ever spoken to via phone or email. I had no idea what she looked like. So we glommed onto a volunteer in a red shirt, carrying a walkie-talkie. Our new best friend, Dan, called down to Aria, and after a few more minutes of confusion, we received our passes and were told to wander around and have fun.

Being the first day of a first-time con, there hadn’t been much planned in the way of activities. James Marsters and Tony Head had photo-shoots scheduled for the afternoon, but there wasn’t much beyond that. We found the dealer’s room fairly quickly, then stepped outside again to make sure we actually had found it. It was literally a room – not one of those sprawling banquet halls we were used to at other conventions, but a space roughly the size of our garage, containing a dozen-and-a-half dealers, selling Buffy merchandise and little else. I know, Buffy con – but a little variety would have been nice. One dealer was actually packing up as we arrived – the source of an “emergency” Aria had referenced earlier. Turns out he was a guy we’d known for years, who was usually a grumpy pain-in-the-ass who seemed to live to cause coordinators trouble. This time, he was busted for selling counterfeit and bootleg photos of the guests. Moonlight Rising being a 20th Century Fox-sanctioned convention, bootleg photos were verboten. Bootleg videos and t-shirts, however, seemed to be okay. I didn’t ask for specifics; people were already eyeing our Press Passes with some suspicion and were fairly tight-lipped already.

We discovered James Leary crammed in a corner of the Dealer’s room, along with Julie Caitlin Brown. We’d met Leary at a previous con and he recognized us as we came over. Okay, he recognized Amy, then me as “the guy standing behind and to the right of Amy”. (Everyone makes their connections in different ways. My journalistic credentials are usually far less impressive than Amy’s low-cut black dresses and charismatic smile.)

A few seconds prior to talking to Leary, one of the volunteers proceeded to punch noisy holes in my ego by professing to be completely unfamiliar with the magazines I was representing. “I’m sorry,” she said, trying to be cheerful, “I’m not a sci-fi geek; I’m just a Buffy fan.” The dichotomy of the statement sent my mind spiraling into a vortex of circular logic, so I didn’t press the issue. I’m sure my expression conveyed the right amount of indignant snottiness.

Another circuit of the dealer’s room brought us into contact with a wonderful woman from London named Pamela who proceeded to sell us photos of Head and Marsters at half-price. Suddenly, my Press Pass was garnering more respect.

And then, just as suddenly, we ran out of things to do. Our stay at the hotel granted us meal tickets for breakfast (which we’d missed) and dinner (which wasn’t for a few hours), but not lunch. As underwhelmed as we were with the hotel itself, we didn’t want to gamble money on the food. And as confounded as we were in just getting to the place and finding a space to park, we weren’t up to leaving and searching for a Wendy’s. So we went back to our dinky, crummy room and chowed down on Parmesan and Garlic Ritz crackers.

At four pm, “Opening Ceremonies” were scheduled. There was a small teeming mass gathering in the lobby, and Amy and I stood to the side. I doodled in my notebook and tried to look officious as I watched the crowd grow, waiting to be let inside the main banquet hall and experience whatever the “Opening Ceremonies” were. “Is Tony Head or James Marsters going to be there?” a girl asked Amy, who could only shake her head. We weren’t in on any of this either. The program said “Opening Ceremonies” and left the rest to our imagination.

While standing there, we struck up a conversation with “Missy”, one of the volunteers, and learned our good friend and colleague, the marvelous Amber Benson, had been involved in an early-morning accident – (a deer hit her car and royally fucked up her journey) – and wouldn’t be arriving until tomorrow. This bummed us out a tad, as we’d been hoping to grab dinner with Amber and her mother. (Sometimes, connections work. Amber had been a good friend to Amy and I, as she’d been the only one of the Buffy divas to actually grant me an interview during my Femme Fatales salad days. She was also, for some reason, a fan of our first movie and lurked periodically on Amy’s personal website. At the Toronto Trek convention, the first time we’d met her face to face, she recognized Amy in the autograph line, shouted “Oh my god! Amy!” and proceeded to freak out everyone around us – including us. Which is why she’s so cool. But I digress…)

Finally, the doors opened, and out popped a short young woman with one of the shrillest voices I’d heard in recent memory. “People! Hey! This is not a line, this is a mob! I need everyone to get into two lines or you will not be allowed in! Two lines! I won’t say it again!” And thus, coordinator Ingrid, an otherwise quite pleasant woman one-on-one, made about seven hundred enemies in one fell swoop. And proceeded to cultivate that relationship with the attendees.

The main problem with this is: no one was told to make a line. No one was told anything at all. Human beings are herd animals by instinct; we do not form lines instinctually. Cons have conditioned us to respond, Pavlovian fashion, to line up only between velvet ropes, poles, and occasionally yellow police tape. There were none of these things in the lobby, only space to mill. And mill we did. But the milling enraged Ingrid, who then proceeded to shove people, two-at-a-time and in groups of forty, into the room. Amy and I exchanged “If she touches me, she’s a dead woman” looks, and remained off to the side, entertained by the forced herd-into-line formation.

“Opening Ceremonies” turned out to be Aria and the rest of the coordinators explaining how the rest of the weekend would go. The etiquette towards the guests smacked of Hannibal Lecter’s visitation ritual: ‘do not touch the guests, do not approach the guests, pass them only soft paper, no paper clips or pens, don’t get too friendly, don’t ask for their social security numbers or discuss the weather’. Okay. Aria and company would, first and foremost, protect the privacy and comfort of the guests. Terrific. But as far as I knew – and I had met a few of the guests before, as stated – they weren’t endangered animals, nor were they particularly susceptible to disease, or dangerously emotionally fragile.

Again, used to other con protocol, I had expected the guests to be cordoned off in their own spaces, where lines for autographs could form at their leisure. Nope. Autographs would be done according to your ticket number. Where that left Amy and I, we couldn’t guess, but figured we’d work something out. The ticket-number thing actually seemed like a good idea – and as it turned out, was a good idea – and would surely keep things moving smoothly, particularly in this spacious banquet hall, which was roomy and more like what we were used to in terms of gathering-spaces.

As everyone began to file out, still jumpy and tending towards creating lines out of fear of Ingrid, we heard the first grumblings. Most people were terribly dissatisfied with the accommodations. The vegans were pissed that the only veggie dish available was salad and vegetarian lasagna. Just about everyone hated their rooms. We hung out with some people outside who were risking maiming from the broken swings, or intense hay fever from the rampant weeds taking over the playground, parking lot, tennis courts, and even the fountain-fed pond itself. Isolation and confusion was a bitching point, as was their previous “herding” treatment.

The biggest problem – one that surfaced a few months ago on the various Buffy message boards – seemed to be the fact that everything was an extra expense. The convention itself cost the average attendee $150; those with VIP designations had paid $250. This didn’t cover the accommodations, only admission and the guarantee of autographs. Or, rather, the guarantee of the opportunity for autographs. The Common Rotation and Julie Caitlin Brown concerts were an extra expense for a ticket. The screenings of “Benson’s Chance” and Ghosts of Albion (co-written by Golden), and Leary’s “Stunt Cocks,” also an extra expense (with additional grumbling that the movies were scheduled for Sunday night only. Leaving people like us who had to work the next day, pretty-much S.O.L.).

But the main gripe centered around the photo sessions. To have your picture professionally taken (only – no pictures of your own) with ONE guest of your choice was an additional $30, preferably paid in advance. You could include a friend in the picture, who could, in turn, pay to have their picture with another guest and include you, but that was it. And throughout the weekend, this was a source of controversy – as was the fact that for one session, people were lined up according to ticket/badge number, in another case, they were lined up according to photo-ticket number. The miscommunication and disorganization regarding this simple matter led a number of attendees to give their tickets away in frustration. Which is how we got our picture taken with Amber, but again, I digress…

Now, to be fair, these fine ladies and gentlemen do not come cheap. James Marsters, one of the top stars of “Buffy” and the sole reason “Angel” was renewed, commanded a salary similar to my yearly income. Tony Head had to be shipped in from Great Britain and would not have taken kindly to being loaded in as freight. Since only Buffy-related dealers had been contacted to vend, the cost had to be covered somehow. By limiting the ticket-number and, thus, achieving the desired intimacy, you had a cost/effect equation worthy of advanced economics majors. So the middle class was taxed and taxed heavily. Few people seemed to mind the ticket cost, but resented having to pay extra for everything else in addition.

As for the disorganization, every con will have that; even the most experienced seem to go wonky from time to time. Still, as one attendee griped, “The excuse ‘first time con’ can’t be used for everything!”

As one of the volunteers, exhausted and irritated by the complaints, said to me, “You know what? If they’re just going to bitch, fuck ‘em!”

And to quote the cab driver from “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “I say everybody’s right.”

The story continues in part three of A FAREWELL TO BUFFY>>>

Posted on July 2, 2003 in Features by

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