How Louisville Changed My Life

This was written in August, 1991. It was intended to serve a speech at Rivercon XVI, where I had been invited as the Fan Guest of Honor. But as it turned out, I didn't have to give a speech; I was interviewed instead. At the time, I was relieved, because I was nervous about the idea of speaking to a big crowd. I did manage to do a bit of the "Trouble in River City" bit as part of the interview, but most of the speech was never given.

Rivercon Fan GoH Speech

by Leslie Turek

3 August 1991

First, I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me here to Rivercon. I've been having a great time.

My talk today has two parts, both pretty short. The first part is about my personal relationship with Louisville; it's called How Louisville Changed My Life. The second part is directed at you; it's called Trouble in River City.

How Louisville Changed My Life

I've been to Louisville three times before this weekend, and every time I've been here it's marked some type of turning point in my life.

The first time I was here was before I got involved in science fiction fandom. I had been at college for a year, at Radcliffe in Boston, and my parents moved to Louisville because my father had accepted a job as a customs inspector here. It seemed surprising to me at the time that a city a thousand miles from the ocean should need a customs inspector, but I soon learned that a lot of cargo is brought in "in bond" up the Mississippi River and doesn't go through customs until it reaches its final destination.

In any case, here I was spending a summer in a town where I didn't know a soul. I was depressed because I had been having academic trouble at college, it seemed amazingly hot and humid (I'd previously lived in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Massachusetts), and on top of that I had trouble finding a summer job. I hope you can understand that I wasn't too crazy about the place at first.

In finally did find a job: as a carhop and waitress at a "Jerry's Big Boy" out on the Shelbyville Pike. It was my first work experience, and it had a big impact on me. You see, before I came to Louisville I'd been having so much trouble at school, both academically and socially, that I became convinced that I just wasn't college material and maybe I shouldn't go back. But there's nothing like spending a summer as a carhop to convince a person that maybe a college education is a good idea after all. I did go back, which turns out to be a good thing, because it was at college that I discovered science fiction fandom.

So that's the first time that Louisville changed my life.

The next time I came to Louisville was for the NASFiC in 1979. I had been chosen as chair of the 1980 Worldcon, which was the following year. Now you have to understand that I hadn't become chair because of some deep burning fannish desire to run a Worldcon, or because I was such a great organizer (at least at the start), or that I had charismatic leadership abilities. No, the main reason I was selected was that I was the person on the committee who was feuding with the fewest other people. At the time, I was fairly shy, not very assertive, and was uncomfortable meeting new people. A lot of the things that con chairs have to do seemed very scary to me: things like negotiating with hotel reps and running meetings.

So I came to the NASFiC, a year before the Worldcon, my first major contact with outside fandom since we had won the bid. And here were all these Big Name Fans who wanted to talk to me, and ask me favors, and give me advice. And after a little bit of time, I realized that having Power can be Fun!

Let me tell you, when you're chairing a Worldcon, you're never at a loss for small talk. "Hi. What are you doing lately?" "Well, I'm chairing this Worldcon…" opens endless possibilities for conversation. Even in the mundane world, it gave me a certain stature, if only as a bit of a weirdo. "Here's Leslie - she's running this big sci-fi conference…" "Wow! Do you know any science fiction writers?" "Well, as a matter of fact, I do…"

Discovering this new-found ease and confidence with social interactions was the second turning point in my life that happened in Louisville.

Up until Noreascon 2, I'd been a fannish workaholic. I couldn't enjoy myself at a convention unless I was working on about six different things and running non-stop all the time. I never got to see the program. But running a Worldcon really cured me. After Noreascon 2, I learned what fun it could be just to attend a convention. I was so burned out that it wasn't until about four years later that I could actually bring myself to even gopher for a few hours.

Although it wasn't exactly a turning point, attending Rivercon a few years after Noreascon epitomizes for me this change of attitude. The memory I have of that Rivercon involves the Galt House pool, overlooking the river, and a large shiny black floating object brought to the con by Ken Moore. It was what I gather is Ken's famous inner tube, and on it I found bliss. It was big enough for two, and my friend Ellen Franklin and I spent hours just floating in the pool talking about life, the universe, and everything.

After that I stopped working so hard on fandom and spent some time smelling the flowers (literally — I really got into gardening). I also got into the sport of orienteering (which involves running through the woods with a map and a compass trying to find preset control points). And just generally trying to find time in my life to enjoy things.

(We'll not talk about editing The Mad 3 Party — that was just an aberration in this general theme of mellowness. And actually, you've got to keep in mind, once you've run a Worldcon, editing a 22-page publication every 6 weeks does feel pretty mellow by comparison!)

So that's the story of me and Louisville. As to whether my visit here this weekend will change my life, only time will tell. Thanks for inviting me here to find out.

But enough about me — let's talk about you.

Trouble in River City

You've got trouble right here in River City. And that starts with T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Con — Worldcon.

First you hold a nice little regional and you think that's kind of fun.

And the next thing you know you're making it bigger and better and doing a lot more work.

And pretty soon you're talking about things like… Multi-Track Programming,… and Operations Base Stations,… and maybe even Bidding for a Worldcon.

I tell you folks, before you know it, your sons, your daughters, will be caught up in that irrepressible fannish instinct — you'll have mass smoffing!

What can you do to put a stop to this? Well, it's not too late. The vote hasn't been held yet. You can still withdraw.

Some of you may think, well what does this have to do with me? I'm not on the Worldcon bidding committee.

But how many of you have friends on the bid committee, or acquaintances on the bid committee? Or maybe there's someone on the bid committee who has heard of you. How many of you live within 100 miles of Louisville? Or have friends who live within 100 miles of Louisville? Or have friends who know someone who lives within 100 miles of Louisville? I am here to warn you. There is no escape. You will get sucked in!

Let me make it clear, I have absolutely nothing against holding a Worldcon in Louisville. I think it would be a great idea. In fact, one of my main fannish pleasures these days is going to conventions that other people are running. So I'll be happy.

But I'm under a sacred fannish obligation that's laid upon ex-Worldcon-chairs. We have the duty of roaming the earth trying to explain to people what it's really like to run a Worldcon. This happened to me, I recall. At the N2 bidding parties, we would occasionally see a certain spectral presence hanging about on the fringes of the group around the punch bowl. It was Don Lundry, chair of Suncon in 1977. He would hover about, occasionally moaning "Beware! Beware!", and telling horror stories about his Worldcon. And I in my arrogance would think. "Well, he just didn't do it right. We're going to do it better and we won't have all those problems."

(I was partly right. We didn't have those problems. We just had lots of different problems.)

So Don failed in his duty, just as I will fail in my duty to you. You'll say to me, "You had your chance, now it's our turn.

  • We want to come home from work each day to find 27 messages on our answering machines (including at least one half-hour message from Ben Yalow telling us about the latest disaster).
  • We want to go to social events with 33 pieces of paper to distribute to whatever committee members we can corner, and then come home with another 42 pages that need to be read and commented on by Friday.
  • We want to have nightmares about hotels cancelling contracts, unions charging outrageous fees, fire marshals shutting down the art show, and local politicians preempting the hotel ballroom on the night of the Hugo awards.
  • We want to be a party to the dissolution of old friendships, the breakup of marriages, and no-holds-barred fannish politics!"

Why do we do this? Why do fans keep flocking, like lemmings, to the banner of Worldcon-committeeship? Why this compulsion? What is it about Worldcons that makes people want to work a ridiculous number of hours, for no pay, only to find themselves being criticized, vilified, and feuded with about everything they do?

I have a theory about this.

I think the reason we like to run conventions is the same reason that so many of us read science fiction and fantasy. It's an escape from our mundane lives. Although a few of us manage to eke out a living doing something we love, most of us find ourselves working in the business world, where we can't choose what we do or who we do it with. Teamwork and loyalty are nearly non-existent, with people being laid off at the drop of a balance sheet, and the goals are usually set by remote executives and are less than inspiring.

But in fandom (as well as in the literature), we have a different paradigm. I think that when we get together to run a con, we share the vision of a band of adventurers off on a quest. We have a worthy goal (running a great convention) that we're all committed to. Achieving the goal will require hard work and self-sacrifice, but we feel part of a team, with comrades that we can depend on for support. And we all have our individual roles, which we're selected to match our interests and abilities.

  • There's the leader on the white horse who will inspire the band to follow through danger and death.
  • There are the wizards who use their arcane knowledge to work magic on inanimate objects (such as video monitors or computers).
  • There are the negotiators, who seek to subdue the foe's threat by words rather than deeds (they write the hotel contract).
  • There are the courtiers who use flattery and cunning to manipulate the nobles into sharing their knowledge and skills with the common folk (they're the programming staff).
  • There are the tactical leaders down in the trenches making minute-by-minute decisions how to deploy the troops (they tend to carry radios).
  • And there are the common foot soldiers who find glory in being part of a brotherhood working toward a noble cause.

I think this is the vision we all have somewhere in the back of our minds when we do the exhausting things we have to do to put on a good convention, and this is what makes all the hard work fun. So my final words of advice for you is that if you should have the misfortune of winning the bid and running the 1994 Worldcon, you should do your best to establish an environment where everyone working on the convention can feel themselves a part of this fantasy.

And if you succeed, maybe Louisville will change your life, too.

Thank you.