The Facts About|Science Fiction

     I was on vacation last week, so instead of the well-reasoned, scholarly treatise you’ve come to expect, you’re going to get something a little different: Highlights of My Fabulous Trip to Spokane, Washington.
     Tuesday, Aug. 18: I’m just about to leave my house when I get a text from Delta Airlines – my flight, the only nonstop from LAX to Spokane, is delayed a half hour.
     I bide my time but still show up too early and then a curious thing happens: a game show breaks out.
     Well, not exactly a game show, but a game-show-like experience. It seems that Delta has managed to overbook the flight and the announcer (aka the Delta ticket-taker) is asking for three volunteers from the audience who may not mind missing the flight.
     There will be compensation for volunteering, but he’s not saying what it is. Only if you dare approach the gate counter will this information be revealed.
     I’m not the least bit tempted. I don’t want another ride to the airport.
     Fifteen minutes pass. There’s another announcement. They still need two volunteers. Delta continues to refuse to reveal the compensation.
     I begin to wonder what happens if no one steps up. Will someone be stashed in an overhead compartment? Strapped to a wing?
     Could this person be me?
     More time passes. The departure time is changed again.
     Are they going to wait until someone gives up and goes home?
     It’s a clever tactic, but it doesn’t seem to work, because the announcer finally reveals the prize: $1,300 and you get to take another flight in the morning that goes via Salt Lake City – so you might get to Spokane in a day or two.
     Again I have questions. Is this the prize they offered the first volunteer, or did they up the ante because we waited them out? Is someone going to be mad – or sue – about taking the first offer?
     Door No. 2 is always more enticing.
     I guess this one works, because we finally get to board, after frantic hand-waving by the gatekeeper, whose microphone has stopped working.
     I’m already questioning my sanity in trusting this outfit to get me safely anywhere, when mere inches from the plane doorway I spot a Prop. 65 warning that fumes on the jet bridge could cause “cancer, birth defects and other reproductive injury.”
     Another question leaps to mind: Wouldn’t it make more sense to give me this warning before I walk through the fumes? Is the sign there just to explain how we got cancer?
     The plane is very hot inside. The stewardess announces this in case we missed it and tells us to use the overhead air nozzles to cool the place down.
     Good thing they have passengers to help out with climate control.
     The trip is off to a grand start. I arrive an hour late – 11:30 p.m. – and when I finally get to my hotel, George R.R. Martin is sitting in the lobby.
     Wednesday, Aug. 19: It’s Day One of the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. My son and I walk across the street to the Spokane Convention Center. There are signs with arrows – pointing in opposite directions.
     We arbitrarily obey the one going left and find a park. A sign advises us to go right. We do, and find a door on the other side of the building that some people are entering. Nothing inside looks like a place to register for the convention.
     I ask a guy in a sweater vest with an official-looking convention badge where we register. He points to an almost hidden opening behind a stairwell and tells us to go though a tunnel, out some glass doors and across into the Doubletree Hotel. This sounds dubious but we comply.
     Inside the hotel a woman at a convention information table tells us to take the elevator to the third floor and then go right. She tells us that the registration line is hellish: “It’s like GenCon.”
     We have no idea what this means.
     When we get to the third floor and turn right, we’re on a bridge back to the convention center – the building we just came from.
     This has become a dystopian science fiction experience. But we finally find the registration line. It’s not all that long. Clearly, these people have never been to a Comic-Con.
     Comic-Con lines are serious, punishing affairs that may never lead to where you want to be. This is nothing.
     I look around at the people in the room.
     I feel thin!
     Thursday, Aug. 20: One of the panel sessions is called “Improving Your Health & Preventing Diabetes.”
     I feel even thinner.
     Quote of the day: “My husband argued and won a 9-0 Supreme Court case wearing a Terry Pratchett tie.”
     I am impressed and envious.
     More highlights from this once-in-a-lifetime journey next week. Unless I feel like writing about something else.

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