Convention report!

I’m happy to say the Garroway at Large delegation to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention is now home after a successful and fun visit. While it was an intense two days or so, and while it was much less time than I’d have liked to spend there, it was well worth the effort.

The journey started for me at the nearest airport providing direct flights to Baltimore. It was a brief but pleasant flight up. Then at the Baltimore airport, it was off to the light rail station for what turned out to be a long ride out to Hunt Valley. As it happened, the light rail trip was longer than the flight up. At Hunt Valley itself, I found that my estimate of the place via Google Maps was mistaken, and that walking from the light rail station to the hotel took some inventiveness. A couple times I crossed myself up. But, eventually, I got there.

The Hunt Valley Delta Hotel is a sprawling hotel. It reminds me a lot of the Doubletree across from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: a lot of jogs and doglegs connecting various wings. But, like my memories of countless nights at the SeaTac Doubletree, if you’re fortunate in which room you draw, you feel like you’re staying in a nicely secluded place, and the rooms are pretty nice. I was very happy with my room, which was at the end of a corridor and had a view of a peaceful courtyard. It was certainly a nice place to unwind after a busy and slightly weird day of travel.

The next morning I headed downstairs to the convention. Now, having recently helped plan and run a large national convention, I know what the organizers of something like this are up against. And if anything went wrong while I was there, I certainly could not tell. There were plenty of volunteers on hand, all wearing bright shirts, ready to help (and staying busy helping in a hundred ways large and small). I encountered no difficulties of my own, and I didn’t see anything go off the rails in the time I spent on the convention floor. This convention was competently run and everyone I encountered seemed happy.

The hallways and one ballroom were given over to the vendors. I’ll show you a few photos, and perhaps your billfold will run in the corner and hide when you see it’s possible to find just about anything and everything there:

Here’s one of the hallways. Many vendors emphasized items related to the many celebrity guests; you could buy, for instance, that Annie poster and have Aileen Quinn sign it. (Wasn’t it only yesterday, by the way, it was 1982 and the film version of Annie was everywhere? Aileen Quinn was all over just about every magazine cover when I was a kid. And all of a sudden I’m in a vendor room and I look over and there’s a grown-up Aileen Quinn signing autographs, and I’m reminded again how time flies in this small world of ours.)

Entering the ballroom where more vendors were set up. Some of the guest celebrities were signing in here; other tables hosted some of the most amazing collections of this-and-that you could find. My wallet was not immune.

Here’s another view. Wouldn’t you just enjoy trying to get that framed art on the airplane back home? Heh.

And, this being a convention for fans of pop culture, there’s no shortage of opportunities to indulge your geekery. This particular display had a steady stream of takers.

Here’s a few wares that I found particularly interesting:

Some of those caricatures are better than others. But that one of Ray Bradbury is truly for the ages.

I grew up a Twilight Zone fan and understood what these were supposed to be. But, so help me, the only thing I could think of was a certain stanza of this song.

I’m still kicking myself for not buying this.

But the convention isn’t just about the merchandise. (It isn’t?) Nope. There are panels, presentations, movies and rare programs for the viewing, re-enactments of radio programs. Here, for instance, is a presentation by author Johnny Ray Miller about his research into The Partridge Family.

Another session featured Jeremy Ambler, Cindy Williams, Gary Conway and Dawn Wells discussing their experiences on iconic television series:

(Forgive the pixelation on this; I was at the back of the room when I took this and the next one, and the zoom on the iPhone was screaming for mercy.) This session was particularly fun. Cindy Williams shared a couple of very sweet stories about working with Robin Williams. And Dawn Wells is a hoot. If you ever get to see her, do so.

That collection of pixels depicts Shirley Jones about to take questions from the audience. I didn’t have any interactions with any of the celebrities and really wasn’t around them – the most I did was pull myself to one side in a crowded hallway to let one of them through – but from everything I saw at the signing tables and in the seminars, all the celebrity guests were grateful for the fans’ interest and interacted with them kindly.

While it was neat seeing a few famous faces, the real reason I was there was to meet people and make connections. And I met some nice folks along the way. Novelist John French was very generous with his advice on getting started in fiction, crime writing in particular, and I had him sign a couple books for me (and yes, I bought them when he signed them. Look, make your own jokes on your own blog, will you?).

There were some folks I was really hoping to meet, and I met two of the most important. One of them was Mitchell Hadley, of It’s About TV. I met up with him and his wife on Thursday morning. I wish I could tell you about our conversation, but I would have trouble describing it because (a) I don’t think 90 minutes have ever elapsed so quickly in my life, (b) we all got one another’s references on even the most obscure things about so many topics – I mean, how does a conversation that starts out talking about Dave Garroway wind around to us talking about Jimmy Clark and Swede Savage? – and (c) it was just so much fun that putting that conversation into words just would not do. I think at least half of those 90 minutes were consumed by laughter. Having only known Mitchell through his blog and through e-mail, it was great not only to put a face with the name, but to have so much fun and connect so quickly on so many levels (and to find his wife is as much fun as he is)…that was a treat.

The other really good meet-up I had? That was with Carol Ford, who was there promoting her book Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. In two really good conversations I had with her, Carol shared the lessons she’d learned while working on the book, and gave me several pointers on how to make the process less stressful for everyone involved. And I brought home a signed copy of the book, too, which I am reading and enjoying. There’s a prevailing perception about Bob Crane that’s been reinforced through the years by various stories, a motion picture, and countless tasteless jokes. Ford’s massive, incredibly well-sourced book looks at Crane as a complete human being, and works to put his story into an appropriate context. In my conversations with her, I told her I was interested in how her book handled Crane’s complex story, because we’re dealing with a complicated and sensitive story in writing about Dave Garroway. Carol was incredibly generous with her time and advice, and I am deeply grateful; as I read the book, I am learning not only how to handle such a subject, but I am also enjoying it. (Get yourself a copy, too. And now. You won’t regret doing so.)

What else did I bring home? Well, what good would it be if I spoiled the surprises now? Suffice to say that I found a few Garroway-related items; not many, but just enough to help deplete my cash supply.

Soon, it was time to get back up to the room and prepare for a really early departure. After too few hours of rest, it was out the door and waiting for the ride back to BWI. As I waited out front at 5 am, I caught a glimpse of vendor tables slumbering in the wee hours.

And all too soon, my ride was here; off to the airport, and soon I was headed home.

The world stands out on either side — no wider than the heart is wide;
Above the earth is stretched the sky — no higher than the soul is high.

It was too brief, yes, but it was too much fun. And I’ll be back soon. With some luck, it’ll be with a completed book.

Thanks to everyone who made this convention possible for everyone, and special thanks to everyone who made it extra special for me. And if you’ve never been to one of these, give it some thought. As a satisfied customer, I think you’ll be happy if you attend.

At large, and growing

We’re happy to report we got not only a very kind mention in It’s About TV this week, but with it some kind words about Dave himself and a vote of confidence in our project. Thank you, Mitchell!

In that post, by the way, there’s a paragraph about the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. I’m planning to be there for a while the first couple of days, so if you’ll be there too and would like to talk Garroway, drop me a note through the contact form.

Finally, although we’re still working on it, we’ve made some great new discoveries in the last few weeks, and more could be on the way soon. We’ll share details as appropriate when the time is right. As always, if you have any great Garroway material you’d like to share, or if you knew him and would like to share your memories, we’d really love to hear from you. The more we have, the better a book we can create, and the better we can try to capture Garroway the man in full.