By the time the dozen or so of us hungry MidAmeriCon-goers got desperate about food we learned that the Kansas City Rot had spread through the whole city. The hotel’s own coffee shop would take no reservations before midnight, and their fancier restaurant had already closed its doors. Still, one person among us claimed to know a great restaurant no more than a block away. Since all of us were by then beginning to feel rapid emaciation starting to occur in our bodies, we headed there.
We had no trouble finding the place. Unfortunately, when we got to that great restaurant no more than a block away the doors were closed and the lights were out.
Bad luck; but it wasn’t a major setback because we could all see another restaurant a block or two away, and that one was brightly lit with hospitable-looking tables set out by the curb. But to get there required a few minutes walk, and as we were heading there people were coming out the door, looking disgracefully well-fed, and walking away. And the lights were beginning to go out and the tables were being taken in until, when we arrived, it was as dark and unwelcoming as the first place.
And that was only the beginning.
I don’t remember how many places we tried, but, one after another, they all declined our custom. In the few whose doors were open at all their kitchen had just closed and their chefs were on their way home, or they had run out of the ingredients for most kinds of meals entirely.
At last we found a restaurateur willing to take pity on us. Well, reasonably willing. The best the proprietor said he could do was give us a few wooden chairs and tables scattered around an unused dance floor, but, of course, one that was also lacking in musicians or ballroom-type lights.
By then our yearning for gracious service and perhaps a candle or two was outvoted by our famished condition. We placed the most cursory orders we could imagine, and then pleaded with the waiter to tell us what foul event had turned Kansas City hosts into misanthropes. The waiter, as well as his partner in the folded-menu business, helping our guy out because the plague had scared away customers, too, was pleased to fill us in. That’s when we learned that the precipitating event had been the 1976 Republican National Convention, charged with the task of nominating candidates for the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency of the United States, to do battle with the Democratic candidates for those same offices in the November elections.
Since the Presidential candidate they nominated was the incumbent, Gerald Ford, who hadn’t much wanted to be President in the first place and wasn’t particularly good at running a nation-wide election, since he had never experienced one of his own — and who went on in November to lose to a nearly unknown Georgia peanut farmer — they might as well not have bothered.
But, of course, they didn’t know that at the time. Exuberant after hearing themselves telling each other that they couldn’t lose, the delegates wanted to celebrate the impending victory. Celebrate they then did, and in the course of doing so they laid waste to Kansas City’s entertainment industry in a blizzard of bum checks and invalid credit cards and mouths that were adrool for food and drink, mainly drink.
When we had all got ourselves seated and placed our orders I found myself sitting next to the blonde member of the pair of young women, whose name (I gathered from overheard fragments of conversation) was Betty Something. She was still embarrassingly good-looking and depressingly young, but she was holding out a sheet of typing paper. “Did you ever actually get this?” she asked.
It was a carbon copy of a letter, addressed to me at the Bantam Books office and signed by one Elizabeth Anne Hull, Ph. D. It came from place called William Rainey Harper Community College and what it was about was inviting me to take part in a panel discussion of science fiction in January of the next year, 1977, to be held under the auspices of the outfit whose members I had been mingling with, the Science Fiction Research Association.
I finished scanning it and said, “Never saw it before. Wait a minute.” I took another, more careful look and then said, “I can tell you why I never did. It doesn’t say anything about paying a lecture fee or even expenses, Dr. — I mean, Betty. I’m not in the office every day, so my assistant takes care of my mail and messages. If they mention money she makes sure I get them. If not they’re pretty likely to get lost.”
She looked regretful. “Well, I wish I had had any funding to offer you. It’s the first conference I’ve organized. The administration let me set it up but they couldn’t give me any funding.”
The picture was beginning to change. If she had a doctorate she couldn’t really be just nineteen years old. I looked at the letter and said, “Let me take this with me. It’s possible Bantam might fund me.”
Now she looked curious. “Do they do that for their editors?”
“Sometimes,” I said. “They’ll pay for this trip.”
She said, “Thank you,” very nicely, and then she demonstrated her capacity for attention to important detail by saying, “They’re picking up the menus. If we want to eat we’d better give them our orders,” and captured enough of a waiter’s attention to deliver her order for a salad and a cup of coffee.
Then, when I had ordered a BLT and, also, coffee, I asked her which party she was planning to hit next. She looked troubled. “I don’t know,” she said. “What I really want to do is meet writers, so I can drop the name into conversations with my class. You know. ‘Gordie Dickson? Oh, yes, wonderful writer but when he comes to a con he takes a nice big room and stays in it, and anyone he wants to see gets invited to the room, because he never comes out.’”
I found myself laughing. “Sounds like you’ve been doing your homework already.”
“Not really. Another teacher told me that story. She also told me that the really big writers don’t go to room parties.”
I was beginning to respect this woman’s capacity for getting right to the point.. “Well, that’s pretty true. At least of some of them. Would you like to go to a room party that’s bound to have writer, because it’s the writers’ own? It’s called the Sifwa suite, because the con gives one to the trade union, the Science Fiction Writers of America.”
She looked suddenly entranced. “Yes! Will they let me in?
I said, “Members can bring guests. Let’s give it a look.”
To be continued.