Where to begin…?

I guess I’ll start by saying that this was probably the best convention I’ve ever attended. The smaller size made it much more intimate and I really enjoyed what I call the “gay bar” factor. By that I mean you know going in that everyone in the room is into the same thing. You don’t get that awkward “what do you write” moment where you find out the person you’ve been chatting with for ten minutes only likes cat cozies where no one swears.

I arrived at 7am on Friday, after a very choppy, jam-packed red-eye flight during which I’d managed maybe two or three 15 minute naps. I was burnt out and worn down to nothing, but the nice man at the hotel desk had me in a room in less than ten minutes. I stole a few hours of sleep and then headed over to the venue.

First thing on the agenda, lunch with Ardai. Since I’d never been to Philly, I figured cheese steaks were an order. I had passed Jim’s Steaks on the way to the venue and was tempted by the art deco sign that read “since 1939.” Charles was game, so we headed back down South street. On the way we passed a huge crowd of other writers standing on line at a nearby Johnny Rockets. I made some scornful remark and called out for everyone to ditch the soulless franchise crapola and join us for “real food.” Much to my surprise, we wound up with a huge crowd of over twelve people at Jim’s. It was worth it, not just for the old-school food and atmosphere, but for the entertaining conversation.

Afterwards, I headed back to the venue to catch the Dorothy B. Hughes tribute and the Bruen interview. Megan and I snuck off for a quick drink with Reed Farrel Coleman and then headed over to the hotel to doll up for the big banquet, during which Ken Bruen would be receiving an award.

The restaurant was called the Saigon Maxim. As soon as I walked in, I thought I was back at the Hak Heang. The restaurant itself was Vietnamese, but they were hosting a Cambodian karaoke night in the larger of the two banquet halls. Since Eric Stone wasn’t there, I think I was the only one who recognized Chnam Oun 16 by Ros Sereysothea There were uniformed police in black rubber gloves lined up to frisk everyone entering that half of the restaurant (which incidentally was where the only bathrooms were located.) The food was lousy, mostly bland, uninspired Chinese junk that even their hottest hot sauce couldn’t save, but the parade of chubby Cambodian hotties in micro minis and platform heels more than made up for it.

The high-decibel Cambodian warbling continued all through the meal and the actual award ceremony. Nothing but a thin, folding wall separated us from the festivities. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a short clip my friend Lili shot of the Hak Heang house band in Long Beach.

Now invite 50 friends over, turn this up to eleven and try to read a serious heartfelt speech. That’s about how Reed Farrel Coleman felt. Meanwhile Bruen is just hanging his head in the background and dying a long slow death. It was hilarious, excruciating and surreal. I’ve been to way too many boring, endless rubber chicken dinners at conventions in the past, but whatever else you may say about this event, it was anything but boring.

After that we let Philly local Duane Swierczynski pick the bar to try and wash the bad fried rice and Cambodian karaoke out of our mouths. He suggested an Irish pub near the hotel called the Plow and the Stars. When we arrived it was packed with tipsy mutli-culti club tramps in outfits only slightly more modest than the Cambodian girls at the Saigon Maxim (no problem there in my book) and blasting Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. Not exactly what I imagine when I think Irish pub. We hung there as long as we could stand the music, and eventually wound up back at the hotel. I called it an early night since I had a feeling the following night would be anything but. Boy did I have that right…

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Comment by Chandler Hill on April 8, 2008 at 8:35am
Great description, Christa. I was scheduled to addend and then got sidetracked at the last minute. Good to hear some of what happened.

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