Ed. note– If I needed a proverbial nail in the convention coffin, this convention did the trick. It also pissed me off. The fact that it took me about four times the amount of time I was actually there to write this review should say it all, but please read on for details.– P.F.
The Dead Can’t Walk through This Overcrowded Hall
Walker Stalker Con, East Rutherford, NJ
December 14 at the Meadowlands Expo Center
I should have stayed in retirement.
I told myself that after the lackluster experiences of the Living Dead Festival and last April’s Chiller Theatre that I was taking a year off from conventions. For a myriad of reasons, the scene had run dry for me, and the avidity and excitement I once had for cons had vacated. But the Walker Stalker Con was heading to close by East Rutherford, NJ, and the promoters had sweetened the deal for me. They gave press passes for me and X, and went one above by offering to set up interviews with some of the guests. And this was a relatively new con I had never attended, so it had that going for it. I figured what the Hell, and cast my lot. And what a mistake I made.
From the outset this was a mess. I forgot to set my alarm, and after a grueling stretch of days at work, I only woke when X called to tell me he was almost at my new apartment. As we hit the road, GPS kept rerouting us. When we finally arrived, an odd thing happened: I noticed the Chili’s in the Meadowlands Expo Center’s large plaza. X and I had eaten there when we went to the second Saturday Nightmares convention, and filled with warm memories of that con, I put my reservations about conventions out of my mind. Maybe this would be a good time after all… until we tried to park and found the parking situation a nightmare.
As we walked the long walk to the expo center, X remarked, “This convention got me out of a children’s recital today,” in reference to a very different kind of show to which his girlfriend had invited him. “This show got me out of bed today,” I replied. I would soon find out that X got the better end of that deal.
When we finally arrived, we entered the center to utter confusion and chaos. Legions of fans were looking for ticket windows, and when they found them, the staff didn’t have solid answers. I myself was looking for the “Will Call” window, where the mass of emails from Walker Stalker’s coordinator had directed me. But no such window existed, and a staffer guided us toward a hand written sign that read “Media Badges.” They couldn’t even get that right. First the teenager couldn’t find my website’s name, and then they had run out of media badges. So she gave us regular bracelets and in tiny print wrote, “Media Badge.” She gave us her mom’s Walker Stalker business card and said to call if anybody stopped us. X kept chiding her, telling her all of this would go into the report. And here it is, as document of what a disorganized mess this show was right from the front door.
Let me stop here for a second and make a few points about this interaction. First, as X pointed out, if you have a finite number of media people coming, how do you not have a finite number of badges to hand out? Either they gave our badges to some other non-media types or they didn’t order enough. Next, as X and I discussed, right from the media badge mistake, this con was guilty of many of the same errors most fledgling cons make. We were about to head into the heart of disorder, which would further prove just how poorly run this rookie show was. And sadly, given the number of fans present, this isn’t likely to change. But more on that later.
We entered to immediate gridlock. Wall to wall, thousands of fans clumped together as they tried to move around the massive hall. If the entire room had been filled from corner to corner with cement, it would have been easier to navigate through. I got wind of the fire marshal closing down the show the day before, but I had no idea it would be this bad. According to this article from the Hudson Reporter, the show’s greedy organizes oversold 7,000 tickets to a venue that only holds 2,000. By overselling, these promoters guaranteed fans a logjam instead of an experience with celebrities, and guaranteed themselves fat wads of cash. I was appalled by this human herd, which made it nearly impossible to breathe, let alone move from place to place. At one point, I came across a woman screaming through a megaphone that Norman Reedus’ line would be four hours long. A short distance away, another staffer held up a sign that read, “BE BACK AT 1:30 PM.” But there was no way to distinguish which line went to which celebrity. That’s not fan friendly. That’s a disgusting disgrace.
The only place that wasn’t crowded was “Nobody Cares Row,” as I named it, where all the non-Walking Dead people sat. Because let’s face it, if you weren’t part of Walking Dead at this Walker Stalker, nobody cared about you but me. Remember those interviews the promoters had set up for me? Turns out they were 5 minutes each, and I had to go to some separate room upstairs to conduct them. Even if I could’ve found that room, I’d never been able to reach it through the masses, unless I headed there an hour early. Plan Be would have been to conduct those interviews at the celebs’ tables, but that wasn’t going to work; the promoters had set up Q&A’s along one wall of the hall, and the speakers were set up so thunderously loud, it would have bled all over my audio if I had been on the other side of the hall (a problem I ran into at the Living Dead Fest, also. One more reason I’ve found to avoid panel discussions).
Maybe the dealers’ “room” would make up for this? No chance in Hell. There were a smattering of tables thrown together toward the exit door, and most of them were selling junk. I actually bought a POP Vinyl Gremlin figure, solely to justify making the trip. A glance at a few more tables, and we were out.
But hey, at least we could look forward to a good meal at Chili’s. We had a fun time with a cute waitress back when we went to Saturday Nightmares. Not this time. Our bleach blonde waitress gave some atrocious table service, and the food was mediocre at best. A terrible end to a terrible experience.
The Walker Stalker Con was a bust. It confirmed not only that I’m ready to avoid cons for a long time, but also that greed chokes out fun and kills it. I can’t ever see myself going to a Walker Stalker con again, but here’s the problem: I guarantee this show made money hand over fist, so I’m sure the promoters won’t change a thing as they run shows across the country. So goes the convention circuit, sadly.