Far From a Level Playing Field

The two towers rose above the river to the north.  Slowly, the pilgrims came from the other corners of the world.  There were Hobbits, Wizards, Klingons, dragons, artists, authors, actors and other disparate species .  They all came to call the corner of E. Wacker and Stetson in Chicago home.  The towers did not guard the entrance to Mordor, instead they welcomed everyone to the 70th World Science Fiction Convention.  Over the course of several hours, these two towers were quickly transformed from a large hotel to a village.

A convention really is its own self-contained microcosm.  The hotel provides beds, which in many cases are rarely used.  The hotel also provides convention facilities encompassing 3 levels below the hotel and a big bar (which was indeed its name) above.  If an immigrant to this village so chose, they would not ever need to leave the hotel complex, with the towers connected with an enclosed skyway and an underground tunnel.  The con provided food for snacks and lunches; the hotel provided the alcohol and shelter from the heat and humidity.

Including the bar, the con took place on 4 different levels of the hotel.  In investigating our surrounding, I realized that like the convention, Chicago was a town of many levels.  There were two levels of underground roads surrounding the hotel.  The river was yet another level down.  Looking westward, one could not miss Donald Trump’s latest ego driven construct, the Trump Tower; built in 3 distinct shining glass levels, each level proclaiming the increasing socio-economic status of its residents.  Rumor has it that the penthouse, with its modest $32 million price tag, is still available.

Up the street from Trump’s monolith and down in a hole,  sits the Billy Goat Tavern.  Famous for both the curse that keeps the Cubs from winning baseball’s World Series and John Belushi’s “Cheezborger! Cheezborger!” skits on SNL.  The shining and new tower with its 3 progressive levels is juxtaposed with a grimy (through clearly charming) old tavern.  The upper crust top level looks down upon the lowest level, a simile made concrete.  Or, in this case, glass.

Within the convention itself, there are levels.  One can tell what the organizers think of certain topics and speakers based on time slots, room sizes and conflicts. They probably don’t see it that way, but from my perspective it was hard to see it otherwise.  Jim C. Hines, in accepting his Hugo, talked about how he found Science Fiction Fandom and remarked that he “found his people.”  It was touching and rang true.  I’ve always known this was one of my tribes, as we all belong in more than one tribe.  Often it is difficult your place outside your immediate family.

The convention is not at all what one might think.  It skews much older.  The amount of “longtime fans” is quite large. I would guess more than a third of the attendees are over 50; a ver significant amount over 60.  And I’m probably guessing low. This in and of itself creates the stratas and layers within the convention.  Like the rest of society, there is also resistance to change.  It is not always obvious, but it can be seen if you look closely.  With such a long history, one must wonder why ComicCon and DragonCon are huge compared to the humble village that is WorldCon.  I’m guessing it’s a resistance to change.

Unlike the Con, Chicago shows its changes.  You can see them on its sleeve. On its lowest level, you can tour the city via the river look up at the buildings.  Some are big blocks, others sweeping curves and still others are stacked in layers.  But you can see the changes from the down below.  You can see when it was in vogue for architects to “turn their back on the river,”  leaving little to no view of the water from the building.  Art Deco, Modernism and other forms of architecture cohabitate along the shores of the Chicago River, showing how change has imbued the city with a spectacular skyline, a modern forest and a past that welcomes the future.

We are not so different from the modern jungle. We may choose to ignore it, but we each have many levels and layers.  Generally, we only show a few to the people around us.  Those closest to us see a bit more.  The trick is knowing what should and shouldn’t be shared; when to embrace change and when to hold fast to what was previously a change.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not the long-haired teenager wishing I had been 18 in 1967.  That will always be one of my levels.  But there are several more.  I know I never expected me to  have a blog.  Did you?

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