by Karina “Cinerina” Montgomery
In Part 2 of a four part series, we talk about ways to work with the SDCC environment and rules, and be prepared!
Pro tip: Don’t forget some kind of Bag of Holding!
It’s the eternal conundrum: How can you bring what you need, but not be over-burdened? Hard core cosplayers learned ages ago that the best accessory you can have is an entourage carrying your supplies. For the rest of us, we’re usually juggling some kind of knapsack or messenger bag in addition to the SDCC bag that you’re given upon badge pickup. This giant bag is useful for things you don’t need to access much, like posters, freebies, and flat art/printed material, but not so much for those items you want to access often, like your wallet or cell phone. How many pockets can you conceal in a Nav’i costume? Sure, you’re in a convention center in a big American city, not in the middle of the Australian outback, but working out access to basic necessities comes up more than you might think.
What kind of stuff would one need to bring? If you get hungry or your batteries die, you need backups. Even if you’re staying in a hotel near the convention, you won’t reasonably have access to your car or room to drop off or pick up anything. The closest convenience store is A-Mart, at West Harbor Drive and Market, down by Seaport Village. This is a long hike you simply can’t make if you’re standing in line for an autograph! Leaving the main convention center itself can be its own mini-expedition, especially if you exit through a door that is not near the Big Crosswalk out front.
Pro tip: The crosswalk is outside Door E and points you right down 5th Avenue.
Smart con-goers bring a bottle to fill with water, hand sanitizer, cameras, extra SD cards and batteries, extra chargers, good shoes, sunscreen (you will be outside more than you think), mints or gum, and good attitudes. Sharpies in black and a metallic color are good to have on hand for autograph moments. A safety pin or two is good to control your badge or if it gets torn off its lanyard.
Pro tip: Pack easy quick snacks (dried fruit and jerky got me through my first SDCC with a press pass) and fold-up supplemental tote bags for all your shopping. I love the big free bag but it isn’t always ideal.
Maps and planning
Check the schedule and the maps and figure out where things are. Be realistic about travel time. Even if you were unencumbered by crowds and bags of goodies, or not distracted by all the stuff all around you, it can be a good 10-20 minute brisk walk from one end of SDCC’s area of influence to another. There aren’t breaks between programming in the Indigo Ballroom, so if you get out of one of the small rooms at the A end of the convention center, you have literally 5 minutes to get to your chair a mile away. The largest rooms have breaks for room turnover, but 17 of the programming rooms do not. Know where you’re going before you start going.
The one nice thing about Hall H is that the bathrooms are inside the room – for every other meeting room, you have to exit to go. This may mean you never get back in – and you’ll be doing some huge circling to get back even if the bathroom is right next to the exit.
The SDCC app (for iPhone and Android) is a very helpful tool. Install it well in advance and as soon as the schedule is posted, update it in your phone and start looking at the offerings. Don’t forget to leave time for shopping, art show viewing, eating, autograph line ups, freebie pickup windows, and the myriad unscheduled things you can see at SDCC. Once you know what you like, you can mark just your favorites and manage your time and routes. It includes maps of the facility – but it does not help with the Dreaded One Way Hallways. I should note: it doesn’t load super fast when 250,000 people are sharing the wireless signal.
Pro tip: Rip out the facility map in the program guide and use it like it was the pre-digital age. Trust me.
The program schedule goes up about 2 weeks before the show. Go online, go into the app, and start thinking about the Can’t-Miss panels or activities. Just remember – having a badge is no guarantee of anything except getting in that main door. Seating is first come first serve, and you can’t get into everything you want simply because you can’t get there in time. If you are in room 6B and your next thing is right away in 6D, even though the facility doors are only one door away, you actually exit on one side of all these rooms and enter on the other, so you will have walk all the way around to the Entrance Hallway from the Exit Hallway you were spit out into. It takes the same amount of time to go from 7A to 2A as it does to go from 6B to 6D, thanks to the one-way hallways. Oh and the throngs of people all trying to get to their rooms, they will also slow your progress. Down in the most crowded area of the vendor floor (closest to all the movie studio booths), some aisles are designated one-way, though it is much harder to indicate or police the flow down there. Your best bet of getting past the studio area is to stick to the outside aisles.
If you’ve never been before, you also might not know about Line Crossings. Besides the one-way hallways, sometimes a room like Ballroom 20 is letting people in from the miles long line outside, and you get to wait for a few hundred people to pass while you’re frantically trying to get from 29A to 7A (that’s the whole length of the convention center). The convention center and security know what they are doing in terms of managing lines, so please let them do their job. Planning ahead is key, but you also have to be flexible. Scheduled meeting times may go astray due to any of these obstacles, so bump up your texting plan for the month and just be patient.
Official SDCC events occur in offsite locations, not just the convention center. SDCC has outgrown its little facility and now local hotels are in on the fun. Know where you’re going so you don’t miss your panel!
The Indigo Ballroom is at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront is on the Hall H/east side of the convention center. There are ballrooms with badge-entry-only panels here and it’s a pretty good hike if you’re coming all the way from the lower numbered booths near entrance A.
The Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter is the other Hilton, which is across Harbor Drive and the trolley tracks in the Gaslamp Quarter proper.
Then you also have Petco Park, the Omni Hotel, the San Diego Marriott, and a host of other active sites next to and across the way from the convention center. You’ll see a lot of them as you arrive. If you stay only inside the convention center, you probably miss a full fifth of what’s on offer.
Meeting places and areas of calm
The mezzanine level has very few meeting rooms, but it does have a small café and places to sit down, and lots of great fan tables. These folks don’t get to leave their tables much to see the con, so come by and say hi! You could join up with Klingons, pirates, a variety of steampunk organizations, SCA fighters, Furries, the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, and more. That’s just what I could remember off the top of my head. Apologies to the many fan tables I forgot! The escalator has great visibility to those in the mezzanine, and you can arrange to meet your friends there or out on the patio.
The patio is good for large group meetups, getting some fresh air (no smoking!), gawking at the Ballroom 20 line, and taking photos. Saturday afternoon in particular is chockablock with fun groups meeting so swing by and check them out!
Other quiet areas that are good for a respite or to meet your friends are Artists Alley on one far end of the vendor floor, or the really serious comic book vendor booths at the other end. Booths are numbered so you can always say “meet me at booth 2543” but it’s not always easy to find the numbers. It’s easy to say “Meet me at the WB booth” since they have that handy easy-to-see water tower every year, but that is pretty much the most crowded spot in the con.
Pro tip: DC Comics always has a huge spot staked out but not much actual furniture or crowds, unless there is a bigwig signing things. And their booth is almost always carpeted which means soft floor to stand on. Booth 1915. You’re welcome.
I talked about food options last week (there is also Seaport Village a good hike away to the east) because you definitely need to remember to keep your blood sugar up and stay hydrated. On paper it seems like just a big room with neat stuff and standing in line to get into other big rooms, but really SDCC can really take it out of you and/or damage your calm if you don’t take care of your physical needs.
How not to get kicked out or locked out
• Don’t record the studio clips! Yes, they will watch you, and when you post it on YouTube, the studio could even boycott showing clips next year.
• Don’t bring an animal – it’s horribly cruel and traumatic and it can cause problems. Service animals are trained for this, but even they can get overwhelmed or overrun in the melee.
• No, you can’t get back in the same door if you left to pee. No, your seat isn’t being saved for you, even if your friend thinks they can do that. You should have gone on Wednesday like everyone else.
• Scoot in and don’t put your stuff in a chair next to you. Every panel, whether it’s in Hall H or in the smallest 280-seater, is first come first serve but also very limited. Let everyone in who wants to get in and make room.
• Keep your badge handy. Sure, you want it out of sight so it doesn’t ruin photos of your awesome costume, but if you can pop it out or conceal it in an easily flashed way, you’ll get through the doors faster and help mitigate bottlenecks.
• Beta test your costume for maneuverability and safety. Big costumes are amazing, but on the vendor floor or sitting in a panel they can impede fun for you and the people behind you. Take it to your local mall and see if you can navigate pretty easily in a clothing shop without pulling product off the racks or costume pieces off yourself. If you can’t navigate in a Claire’s, you have no chance in hell of getting within a mile of the WB water tower.
Pro Tip: Be awesome no matter what you do!
Hall H: It’s a bear.
Seating over 6500 people, it’s the big ticket place to see all the biggest stars, announcements, and panels. It also is the longest line, in the sun.
In 2010, folks lined up for the Thursday, 10am Twilight panel starting at 2am Tuesday morning. After that panel was done, the hall was totally emptied because those fans weren’t interested in whatever came afterward. Look at the schedule and plan accordingly. You will be in line a long time, but a long chunk of line gets in at a time. Sometimes you can waltz in, and sometimes you wait for 3 hours or 5 or more.
As of press time the no-room-clearing between panels policy still stands: if you get in, stay in. To exit means to get back in line. One year I needed to get my cell phone charger cable from someone in Hall H and it was simply not possible for him to stick his arm out the door at me. Always roll with disappointments. The big rooms that break between panels are 6A, 6BCF, 6DE, Ballroom 20, and Hall H. The rest just have a quick turnover so your opportunity to fix a mistake is brief.
4800 people crowd in here to see the second most popular panels, which are still usually huge things like Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. In 2011 the 11am Walking Dead line had already reached room capacity by 6am.
Plan accordingly. The upside is that the content of the panels (except for whatever clips the studios show) will be on YouTube within a week thanks to amateurs and professionals, so you’re only missing the admittedly awesome experience of being there in the room with the people. I’m not dismissing that – being 30 feet away from the cast of Chuck while Jeffster rocked our socks off is one of my favorite SDCC memories of all time – but at least you can see what happened if you miss it.
Know your zeitgeist!
SDCC covers a lot of things. People are excited about Guardians of the Galaxy and the new Doctor; Game of Thrones is blowing up and True Blood is ending. Oh and I think there’s something going on with Star Wars? You can predict that related events will be mobbed. At press time the schedule was not yet posted – it should be a week from now – so I don’t know what will be trending. For example, this year is the 10th anniversary of Lost and the Lost panels in Hall H were always mad scenes, so whether Lost is your thing or not, you should know that if your thing is competing with or coming after Lost, you should get in line earlier than you might think.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of ConSurvival!