It was the first weekend in May, and I was going to a fan convention.
I’d been planning it for a year and had convinced two friends to go with me. We had originally planned to attend one in October, but the tickets sold out way faster than we had expected. Tickets had almost sold out for this one too, but I had pounced on them at the last minute, desperate to make sure this was really going to happen.
Going to a fan convention has been high on my bucket list since watching the documentary Trekkies in a college class. After that, I became, in many ways, a fan of fans. I loved the fact that people were willing to go against societal norms and boldly profess their love for some fictional thing. I loved the creativity that so many fans had, and the sense of belonging people seemed to find from being part of a fandom. Whenever I met someone who had attended a convention, I would quiz them extensively about it. What was it like? Was it fun? Did you dress up? Did a lot of people dress up? Was it crazy? I had this notion that attending a fan convention would be like entering a different world. It seemed a little weird, but in a good way.
When I found out there were conventions for the television series Supernatural, I was thrilled. After reading some blogs and watching some videos, I knew I had to go to one. Supernatural is my favorite show—it’s about two (incredibly, ridiculously handsome) brothers who fight evil. There are demons and angels and a whole mess of monsters, along with a gorgeous car and a classic rock soundtrack. It plays with American and religious mythology in a way I think is completely unique and compelling, and is also willing to break the fourth wall and make fun of itself.
Basically, it’s the perfect show.
After lots and lots of planning and a five hour drive from Ohio to Arlington, Virginia, my friends and I arrived at the convention hotel. As we searched for a parking spot in the underground lot (noticing several show-themed license plates in the process) and gathered our things (including a pan of show-themed baked goods), I was filled with a happy kind of panic. This is so freaking exciting. I might lose my mind. “I don’t know if I can be cool about this,” I told my friends.
The first thing we saw as we entered the hotel lobby was someone dressed as Castiel, Supernatural’s trench coat wearing angel. He reached behind his back and a pair of handmade wings sprung from his jacket impressively. We turned the corner and the actress who plays Sheriff Jody Mills was sitting at a table, chatting with fans. The room was packed with people in costumes and so much plaid, all laughing, talking, waiting for the next panel or photo-op to begin.
By the time we reached the check-in counter, my face hurt from smiling.
Initially, I had hoped to go through this experience with an air of “otherness,” observing and analyzing and trying to figure out what was at the core of fan culture. One thing I was cynical about was the price of everything. We went the cheapest route (still over $100 for 2 days), which gave us paper wristbands and unreserved seats in the very back of a huge hotel ballroom. Silver and gold tickets were much more expensive (almost a grand for a gold weekend package), and gave you access to autographs, special cocktail parties, and a laminated pass on a lanyard. Then there were photo-ops and meet and greets with key cast members, all of which sold out in a snap. Why would someone pay so much for this? I wondered. How do you justify that kind of expense? Like I said, I wanted to be cynical.
But then I got there. Almost immediately, I morphed into the overly-excitable fangirl I am at heart.
If I could describe my convention experience in three words, they would be “silly, weird, fun.” Maybe also “magical,” although that might be pushing it a bit. What can I say? There’s something truly special about attending an 80’s themed karaoke party where fans and cast get onstage together to belt out the best of Journey. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of a cheering crowd, or gasp when the actors give hints as to what’s coming next on your favorite show. It’s weird to see an elevator full of your favorite actors or stand in line next to someone you’ve seen on tv. It’s enough to make anyone a little starstruck, I think.
But I think my favorite thing about the convention (and I guess this shouldn’t surprise me) was the fans. I was pleasantly surprised with how kind and open everyone was. Every long line (and there were many) was an opportunity to strike up a conversation, even if it was just to gush about how handsome Dean Winchester is in person. I met a mother and daughter who signed up for photo ops to help the daughter get over her shyness. I met a middle-aged lady who was attending the convention alone and having a blast. I met a couple who had splurged on gold passes and assured me they were worth every penny. One girl was sharing a hotel room with friends she made at the previous convention. I ended up sitting next to two Star Trek fans and having a fun discussion about the differences between fan-run conventions and corporate ones. Everyone was so different, but we were all there for the same reason. It was fantastic and very comforting.
One night after the day’s activities were over, my friends and I decided to visit the hotel’s revolving rooftop restaurant for a mint julep (it was also Kentucky Derby Day). On the elevator, we met a pilot who was staying in the hotel and was baffled by all the plaid-wearing people in the lobby.
“What on earth is going on down there?” he asked us.
“Oh, it’s a convention for Supernatural!” I told him.
“What is that?”
“It’s this great show about two hot guys who fight evil. You should definitely watch it!”
The elevator doors opened and we filed out, leaving him behind. He was grinning and doing some sort of karate-chop motion when the doors closed. I don’t think he understood my description of the show, but that’s okay.
So was attending a fan convention everything I’d hoped it would be? Pretty much. It reinforced my thoughts on fan culture (basically just that it is important and lovely and helpful to a lot of people). It reinforced my love for Supernatural. Will I go to another one? I’m not sure.
But if I do, I might spring for a weekend gold pass. I’ve heard they’re worth every penny.