Arisia 2019:

Multiple strikes, and we're still not out

  This had to be Arisia's most difficult year in general, with its very existence threatened at several points.  And it wasn't just the leadership-level scandals and restructuring; there were a whole lot of other things going on throughout the year and into the con that would affect us in a host of ways.  I've tried to keep the preliminaries as a relatively brief overview; the full details would fill a book at this point, and perhaps will someday.

This is in five parts, roughly chunked at convention-day boundaries, with the last one detailing completion of the move to new storage space.  They're named in an obvious partN.html pattern.  There are a lot of links scattered through all of it -- a good reading methodology may be to skip chasing them at first, and then go back and use them to fill in context.
[And if the background interferes with text readability, turn your screen brightness up some.]

The first hint of adversity was perhaps that our storage building got sold to a new property management outfit, which was of course going to start raising rents and likely not do a whole lot to improve the place in ways that we actually needed.  Eventually the decision was made to look for new storage space, and with the ongoing concessions to Taza Chocolate's expansion the new landlord actually offered a *financial incentive* for us to move out.  However, our serious space search and site-visits began later in the year than we wanted, so the final decision was somewhat on the hasty side.  Meanwhile, the management company went into total lockdown-mode as far as the building's parking facilities, putting up a whole bunch of draconian signs and wanting physical permits on cars and generally making it more difficult for people to just come in for work-sessions.

That Spring also brought the acquisition and takeover of our long-time favored lighting equipment rental house.  ALPS became part of the national company 4Wall, with quite a few procedural changes handed down from on high.  Most of their staff stayed on, so we could for the most part deal with the same rental executives who were familiar with our needs, but we knew that the relationship would get more depersonalized over time.

There were some frustrating concerns in early October, the primary one being a labor strike starting up against our usual hotel and many other Marriott properties across the country.  It looked like the unions were dug in for a long siege, so nobody had any idea when that would be resolved.  Arisians overwhelmingly stated that they would not cross picket lines just to have a convention, so we kept watching that situation closely.  Meanwhile, our video group was trying to integrate newer gear into the production rig, but meeting quite a few obstacles -- notably, not enough time or workspace to get things done as we wanted.

As the search for new storage ramped up I found myself going along on several site visits.  Surprisingly, Craigslist seems to have become a good way to look for commercial real estate rentals nowadays.  But there didn't seem to be anything available within the Boston metro area that was dollars-per-square-foot affordable enough and not a total dump.  Sorry, a damp basement in a flood zone is not what we were looking for!  Bottom line, a site up in Haverhill was selected, up near the NH border, and about an hour's truck ride from Boston downtown.  To help get the community familiar with that as a "new home", I put together a quick intro page about it.  We could somewhat rationalize the distance thusly: once you've loaded a truck and have gotten on the road, it doesn't make that much extra difference driving 15 minutes from Somerville or an hour from Haverhill; it's a little more time and per-mile rental cost on the trucks, but amply made up for by the cheaper rent that far out.


As if this wasn't already enough to deal with, on Oct 25, *everything* changed.  To crib from someone else's phrasing, the internet basically fell on top of Arisia and caused serious structural harm.

Arisia dumpster fire
A long post appeared in Crystal Huff's blog objecting to, among other things, the results of Arisia's recent officer elections, and it rapidly got amplified all over the place.  It was an explicit, biting expose' of fairly toxic and exploitive culture within the innermost circles of old-guard Arisia leadership, fingering the [returning] president as a sexual predator and declaring the entire inner cabal as complicit.  It went into deep detail on traumatic events, basically leaving out no scrap of damning assertion.

The community reactions were immediate and powerful, with this FB post leading the charge and wrapping more context around it.  The alleged antagonist, Noel, had just enough time to emit one small squeak into Arisia's Slack system:

    If anyone has any questions for me about that post, I am willing to speak with them in person.
before he was silenced forever under an avalanche of outcry.  Some prominent members, including the writer guest of honor for the upcoming convention, declared "I'm out".  Other victims of harassment and marginalization, directly con-related or not, began popping up on various media with their own #metoo stories.  Rather than try to explain or even timeline any of it, at the risk of total info-overload here's a small nest of public links from that span of days:

and because of the way Fecebook works, you have to manually expand all the comments to see entire threads. 

Many of us stayed glued to these and other salient channels for the rest of that week, chasing new comments and cross-linked posts as they emerged.  The truth of the Noel/Crystal matter is likely somewhere between their respective accounts, and we will probably never know it.  I've worked well enough with Noel in the past, notably in the Logistics area when he was heading that up, and while I had the clue back in 2014 that things were not entirely rosy between him and Crystal, his private life wasn't any of my business.  Nonetheless, now I could only sit and watch as the "friends of Arisia" FB group turned into an ugly lynch mob within mere hours -- calling for the heads of Noel and the rest of the executive board, without necessarily having all the facts on hand.  Once that began, there was no going back.  Arisia was suddenly teetering on the edge of a cliff, after the comforting but ephemeral hologram of a solid road beyond it had dissolved.

Obviously, immediate action was needed at the highest levels, be it corrective or damage-control or just some public updates.  As is common in such situations, the many detractors were far more vocal than the supporters at first, really making it feel like the rat cage was on fire and the rats were eating each other.  The older board members were essentially forced to visibly resign regardless of their level of involvement beyond that, and plans rapidly formed to try and bring new blood and fresh eyes into the governing structure and save what could be saved.  A public meeting was arranged, a few bylaws were bent to accomodate a radically different election cycle, a venue was selected, and an announcement went out over the official corporate FB page and similar channels.  People were encouraged to come help be part of the solution, with no pretenses made about the amount of difficult recovery work to be done.

[Images throughout are linked to larger copies.]
Big corporate meeting The format was a pair of back-to-back corporate meetings, in token compliance with procedures for voting rights, and the turnout was rather amazing.  Somewhere around 150 new people signed up, wanting their voices heard in the establishment of new community leadership.  People threw their hats into the ring to occupy the vacated board positions, and a long and complex cycle of elections was held.  People stuck with it to the end, and generally emerged with more confidence that the ship could be righted.

  While the new e-board was coming up to speed on the inner workings of Arisia, the next question was the fate of that year's convention itself.  One camp was calling for complete cancellation of 2019 and taking the year to reconcile the wrongs, heal the community, and solidify the incident response process.  Others asserted that doing whatever it took to hold the con anyway would be a good show of community strength and continuity.  A hasty poll was taken, and the overall sense was "try to go ahead with the con".  Because that's kinda what we do every January, and life would just feel empty without it!  This not only meant trying to fill in many fresh holes in the org chart, but also coming up with a contingency for a different venue on very short notice.  Undisclosed forces set to work reaching out to possibilities -- long story short, it turned out that the Boston Park Plaza had our usual weekend free with all the event space available, and they said "bring it on".  That would depend on being able to cancel with the Westin by some reasonable drop-dead date if the strike was still in effect.

Things fell into place very quickly in the week after the meeting.  The decision to move to the Park Plaza emerged on Nov 16, only sixty days out from con, and then in almost frighteningly coincidental timing the strike at the Westin was resolved *the next day* and its employees went back at work.  However, the powers now driving Arisia had already made a firm decision and weren't going to waffle about it.  Everyone was already deep in emergency planning work, since they in effect had to start over with very little time left.

Yowza.  The Park Plaza.  A very notable Boston landmark -- one of the original Statler hotels, built 90+ years ago in several major US cities and having some unique design features for the time, kind of a blend of that era's "modern" and old-school Victorian.  We had last been there in 2006, and many of us had fond memories of the place.  It had undergone two changes of management and another refurb cycle in the meantime, but the sturdy bones of the building were still the same.

With the decision to move the con there finalized, everybody was feeling pretty jazzed about it [read: excited and terrified at the same time] including myself, and I decided on a complete whim to go re-familiarize myself with the place and start a page about it.  Later I was part of a semi-official tech tour and added info from that to the same page, and then headed out of town for my usual early-winter travels.

Mention of Park Plaza in a book about hotels
    [Pic credit:   sjs]
Sandy was at a completely unrelated conference in early December and happened to come across a book on historic hotels, which contained an entry for the Boston Park Plaza.  This is all clearly post-recent-renovation, but describes some of the early features.  One other amusing aspect had been renovated away -- the old-school room doors with the bowed-out panels and interior laundry valet chamber, that could be opened from either side.  The idea was that a guest could hang clothing inside it, and it would be cleaned and returned overnight.

  Arisians basically spent December scrambling like crazy on multiple fronts -- trying to restore community faith in their ability to handle safety issues at or outside of the con, adapting a large event to the different hotel, and figuring out the Storage move along with.  Fortunately, no hint of the political dust-up reached the new landlord-to-be in Haverhill, and the 3-year lease finally got signed.  On the tech side there were several conference calls, and a whole batch of documents and diagrams flew around on Google-drive as new designs took shape and room allocations were hashed out.

calf all bruised up Meanwhile, I decided to finish off my southern journey with a few days in Key West, hanging out with some friends from the barefooter community and experiencing some of the New Years wackiness that goes on down there.  That place really is Margaritaville for many of its residents.  In the process, I did a stupid, which didn't even involve drinking -- I tried to run a 5K without really having trained up for it properly, and wound up with a muscle tear in the gastrocnemius.  I had been doing a lot of hiking over the summer and figured my legs were in fine shape, but the dynamics of *running* are very different and ordinarily I don't do very much of it.  Hubris got the better of me: about a mile into the course, I felt what I thought was a strong cramp-up deep in my right calf.  WTF?!  Tried to stretch it out a little and keep going, but it just kept getting worse.  It could actually have *started* as a cramp and then torn because I kept stressing it.  If I'd had the sense to just stop right there and walk slowly back to the startpoint it may not have been quite so bad, but by hobbling my way through the rest of the run I probably did more damage.  Classic symptoms -- the leg got all bruised up from about mid-calf down, the ankle swelled up, and I was gimping around with no "launch power" in my right leg for days afterward.  As I put it in science-fiction terms and very mixed metaphors, my starboard warp nacelle only made it one light-year out and then threw a rod.

And I had to drive 3 days back home with that still hurting.  Cruise control in a Prius is a meaningless travesty and I don't use it, but fortunately the go-pedal has a light spring.  My far greater concern was how I'd be faring by the time I needed to do logistics, as pulled muscles generally take a long time to heal.

Because of my late return this time, I also missed all the tagging sessions in Storage -- which many department coordinators basically had to *do over* because of the venue change.  Everyone was urged to cut their gear down to the bare essentials, because the loadin/loadout facilities at the Park Plaza are far less streamlined.  No nice covered loading docks, just a couple of doors onto the sidewalk and street with the general public continually trying to squeeze by.  We also discovered very late and by happenstance that the hotel had taken a fairly essential freight elevator *out of service* for upgrades -- the one noted in my "bppp" survey page, that goes up just one floor from street level to ballroom level, a path which a lot of our heaviest gear would need to travel.  The hotel reps never even thought to warn us about that -- it would *not* be functional again by our load-in.  There was a workaround, by going down to the basement and then up two floors along a longer path, but this was going to be far more of a bottleneck for everyone -- in an unfamiliar place whose back-of-house hallways are already a confusing rat warren.

In the week and a half before con, all the mailing lists that traditionally explode around that time were unusually quiet.  "Too quiet", as they say.  People were certainly working on preparations, but apparently without as much of the visible cross-communication that we've seen in the past.  I was hoping this wasn't a bad sign, like an indication of people just not really caring anymore.  Nonetheless, we still had to go through the usual mechanics of holding the convention, as though nothing was different.

  Into the con: Wednesday

So the fateful morning arrived, as it always does ... and there I was, back in the saddle again wheeling a big-ass truck to Storage.  I got it backed up to the dock with the usual lip-of-liftgate positioning for easier roll-on, and the Great Flow began as always.

Main storage ready to go
Annex/artshow storage ready to go
Despite all the lead-up chaos, things for the con were all tagged [and then re-tagged!] and reasonably ready to go.  The minor difference this year was tags saying "keep" or "discard" instead of "do not take", as the start of the move to Haverhill was partially engineered into this and ultimately, *everything* had to go out of here.  Lisa, leading Logistics again this year, decided to put Artshow on the truck first, so we rolled all the stuff out of the Annex and down the freight elevator it went.

Passenger elevator also down Now, we also knew that the ordinary passenger elevator in the building was firmly out of service at the time and waiting on significant parts.  This has served as a backup on occasion for getting things downstairs and to the street when the freight elevator was being balky, but we didn't really think about it too hard this time because the freight seemed to be working well this morning.

UPS van jumped in right where we needed to be The truck from NESFA showed up a little later, and just as it got there ready to slot in next to mine, a UPS guy showed up and jumped right into the space we needed, and went to make a round of deliveries and pickups in the building.  I thought he'd only be a couple of minutes, to just dump boxes in the central hallway, but he insisted on wandering all around the place and spent quite a while bumping his hand-cart up and down the stairs to reach all the points he needed to.  Finally he was done and got out of there, and we could put the second truck in next to the dock.  I'd forgotten to bring my "ramp boards" this time, but we found some old sandbags out back which helped bump the truck wheels up over the curb.

Julia atop the loaded art-show gear The artshow stuff gets Tetrised into the truck in slightly different ways every year, but usually goes toward the nose because it's a major part of the load weight.

Straps hung up handy The load straps were hung on the truck rails with care,
in the hope that more heavy stuff soon would be there.

Things had started flowing along quite nicely up to this point.

Then, disaster struck.

Around 1:30 pm, I heard my radio bark, with Lisa saying "the freight elevator is totally dead."

Followed by "It's not even making any clicky Im-thinking-about-moving noises."

Followed by Dan concurring, adding "there's a pretty strong burning electrics smell in the shaft..."

And indeed, it wasn't the sense roller or a door switch this time, the whole thing was electrically dead as a doornail and had clearly let out the magic smoke someplace.

Two half-trucks, and we're stuck Suddenly, the enormity of Arisia's vertical challenges became dreadfully clear to everyone, giving almost immediate rise to the "Tilting at Elevators" subtext.  Annoyingly limited at the hotel, and now dead in the water at Storage.

Here's where we'd gotten to in both trucks, and totally stuck with a long way to go yet.  Frantic calls were placed to the building management; the usual maintenance guy couldn't do anything and the elevator service company was called.  If *either* elevator was to be repaired that day it would still take some hours.  With a crew still present we cross-loaded the NESFA stuff from right to left, to at least have one mostly-loaded truck in case that was all we could bring in the next morning.

Frantically digging for lights and C-clamps
    [Pic credit:   sjs]
The tech director got involved and pointed out that there was certain gear we unquestionably still needed for the scheduled rigging call the next day, and could we please at least hand-carry that and get it on the truck.  It amounted to six of Arisia's lights which were easy enough to unearth, but then I had to dig pretty deep to find the C-clamps for them.  A few other items were walked down the stairs but we quickly realized the almost total futility and fatigue factor of trying to get much more stuff out that way.

[Obligatory tech butt-shot, there's one every year...]

Freight elevator doghouse I took a quick trip up to check on progress in the elevator doghouse -- the property-manager lady and the repair guy were in there, but when I knocked on the door to inquire she basically chased me off the roof.  "We don't have enough insurance for you to be up here", was her excuse -- like wtf, they left the stairwell door open, did she really think I was going to leap to my doom over *their* busted elevator after everything else we'd been through??  She wouldn't even let me peek in and grab a picture of the fried relay board.  I can only offer an old shot from a bad cellphone camera when a similar problem happened in 2012.

Just as well that we were getting out of this building; it and the people running it no longer had any laid-back personal charm.

Combined load from NESFA
    [Pic credit:   dpn]
As evening fell we finalized what was a respectable enough load in one of the trucks, and dismissed the crews for the night.

Lots of stuff still trapped in Storage
    [Pic credit:   dpn]
A lot of essential gear was still trapped in Storage, with no clear way to get it to the con on schedule.  This was *precisely* the wrong time of year to have so much infrastructure not working, but there wasn't much we could do about it.

  We had sort of a plan, though. Tomorrow we'd take the full-ish truck to the hotel and start unloading anyway, and Dan would take the empty other truck out to pick up all the publications from our printer -- all the way up in Newburyport, where they'd moved to that year.  Now, we try to limit the number of off-route stops that Logistics has to do, or requests would snowball to an unsustainable level, but with one empty truck and a continued poor prognosis on having working elevators any time soon, there wasn't much else to do so it would be okay this time.

As word [rumor?] got around of the elevator-repair guy seen muttering and shaking his head, we wondered if our old cantankerous freight would ever run again.  With the age of the controller board and its unobtainium parts, I offered the supposition that they were waiting on the *one* wizened old guy somewhere in West Virginia who knew how to lovingly hand-machine new relay contacts from solid chunks of special oxygen-free brass and overnight them to Somerville.  I don't think we ever learned what was really wrong with the thing.

Trucks put to bed at the Golden Anus With our near-term plan in mind we headed out of town to put the trucks to bed, tucked into the far lot under the Sign of the Golden Anus.  My interpretation of Wal-Mart's recent rebranding, which does not look like a "spark" to me, but is sometimes a beacon for a place to pull in and sleep during roadtrips.  This one is an easy drive from my house and Lisa's house, so we've used it as convenient free truck parking for a couple of years even though it's a ways out of town.  In fact, there was already a ratty RV that had been sitting in the same spot for over a week, and big trucks overnight here on a regular basis.

    [Go to Part 2/5]