Airship Isabella Spring 2015 – our longest journey yet!

What a journey!

 We are home from an epic and amazing cross country trip that was our spring con season, but the adventure started way before then. It’s been an amazing year so far for us here at Airship Isabella. It started last year, actually, but we didn’t really ramp up the process until January 1st. The first two weeks of January were spent building an epic project that I can’t talk about, but if the inklings that I have been getting are any indications, I will have something to show you guys soon of that. Suffice it to say, it was our first “big boy” contract and our first venture into working with some really big and well known companies. It went splendidly, and we delivered our contract 10 days ahead of schedule. Not a bad way to start the year, but though we didn’t know it, it was just the beginning. On a particularly good day where we had earned enough at the market to have the company owe us dinner, we got an email from Drew Hall with the production, Aether.

promo shot from the Aether: Prologue

promo shot from the Aether: Prologue

Unbeknownst to us, our illustrious captain had answered a casting call for a steampunk inspired short being shot in Alabama. They were asking for steampunk extras with their own gear. Paid gig. Why not. In his eyes, it was a guaranteed paycheck for the crew and a fun way to pass the week. What it turned into was a whirlwind introduction to the movie industry as crew. It started with a gun holster and ended with our entire shop and the physical history of ASI on set and eventually on screen next to a handful of our hand built custom props. It turns out that the broken, beaten and abused gear of 5 years worth of wear and touring was exactly what they were looking for as accessories. When you see the piece after it’s release, look for all incarnations of Captain Whittaker’s top hat. He has had three. All were used in the filming. 🙂 The email came in on January 19h and we worked nonstop on the project through filming on February 12th. It was unexpected, wonderful and fabulous. We met people who had won awards for work that shaped our childhood and adult life. Broke bread with people who quit jobs that we could only dream about to work on this project. And were offered opportunities that only weeks before had seemed unattainable. I’m not going to lie. It was surreal, and it continues to be so.

We came home from Alabama so excited we couldn’t see straight…right into a flood of commissions and work. With our tour start date of February 27th looming in the very near future, we put our heads down and started plowing through the work and getting ready to hit the road for our longest run since 2012 and mileage wise, our longest run ever. Now I’m convinced

Airship Isabella by William Colgin

Airship Isabella by William Colgin

that God has a sense of humor and it is sometimes as dark as ours. Less than a week after getting home from Alabama, Mr. Fox came down with symptoms of the flu. I quickly followed suit. It wasn’t too bad as far as a flu goes, but there just wasn’t time to be sick. We had scheduled a photo shoot with the amazing William Colgin for that week, and though it really made me sad, Mr. Fox and I had to bow out. It was super cold that day, and with being sick, it just wasn’t in the cards for us. Cedric, Lulu, Zombie, Lumi and Suzo went to meet him and I am super jealous and happy with the shots they got.

William always makes us look so awesome! We managed to get what we needed to get done, though a bit slowly and with lots of help from the non-incapacitated members of the crew. In the end it was just enough time to bring us up to speed and pack, but not a bit more. Mr. Fox had recovered and I was just starting to feel better on the 27th when we packed up the Fang Van and headed for our first stop, Tampa, Florida for the very first Endless Night event being held in that city.

 

I want to start with the venue. Oh. My. God. If you have never been to the Castle in Tampa, you have to go. I didn’t even know goth bars like that still existed. The ambiance, decor and staff are fantastic. The Endless Night krewe did a great job

Father Sebastiaan and the ASI shop crew at Endless Night Tampa

Father Sebastiaan and the ASI shop crew at Endless Night Tampa

with setting the mood and hosting, and the event was really enjoyable. The costumes were top notch, and the entertainment was great. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a party or a club type person. I generally don’t like the atmosphere or the vibe of most places or events of that nature. Nothing personal towards them. It’s just not my thing. But this event was fun. The vibe was great. The people were great and I was happy to be there…until they turned the air conditioning down so cold that I could see my breathe. This wouldn’t have been a huge deal if I had been at 100% but I was just coming back from the flu. I had fun, but the 6 hours I spent in, I kid you not, a room in the upper 30’s temp range, did me in. As miserable as I was physically, I was still in awe of this AC system. No really, when I remodel our shop, I want the number of the company that built that unit. I didn’t even know you could get a room that big that cold and it not be a freezer. When I woke up at the hotel on March 1st, I was sick as a dog. We drove the 12 hours back to New Orleans for the two days before we had to leave for Tucson, and I crawled into bed with a high fever, breathing trouble and no voice. Final verdict, secondary bronchitis. I have always been an overachiever. But these events are scheduled a year in advance, and sick or not, we left for Tucson at 6am on March 3rd. The trouble with traveling and living in close quarters with people is that there is no way to avoid each other. While the bronchitis wasn’t contagious, the initial flu was.

 

The first leg of our journey took us to Junction, Texas and the Fox family ranch. We set out predawn for West Texas knowing that a winter system was trying to beat us there, but we were bound and determined to get there before that happened. The two New Orleans cars separated ways in Houston. One going straight to Junction. The other making a detour to Victoria to drop off my son at my mother’s house for the three week run. Sam switched from self directed home schooling to online schooling this year, and the threat of little or intermittent internet on the road and trips that would keep him in the car for days at a time were not conducive to keeping up. He opted for an extended grandparent/cousin visit instead. That put us about an hour behind the trail car. We were just leaving my mother’s house when the first warning rang on our phone.

 

When we had left, the weather services said that they were expecting inclement weather after midnight. The first warning we heard had moved that time to 9pm. At that point, if everything went well, we would make it at 8:30. Ok, fine. Cutting it a little close, but still enough time to drag our night clothes into the warm house before the snow and ice. Just outside of San Antonio, about an hour from our destination, the snow flurries started. While some of them were impressive for the area, we didn’t hit any ice on the road, and we made it to Junction without incident if a little peeved at the weather forecasters. In Junction, we met up with some of the Austin crew, Tank, Nika, Kitty and Atti for the second leg of the trip to Arizona. Their trip in was a little hairier.

 

We had planned to leave Junction for the 15 hour trip to Tucson at 7am. The frozen road that morning disagreed. We ended up leaving at 9am in a frozen, but melting winter scene. The first couple of hours were beautiful if scary at times. Adding to the list of things I didn’t know about winter is that when West Texas is frozen and covered in snow and ice, the entire place looks like it is in greyscale. No color at all. Just shades of white, grey and black. It was really beautiful and really weird. We knew that we needed a tire for the trailer and planned to make our customary stop at the Fort Stockton Tractor Supply to get a spare and a new tire. Apparently, we were a little off on our timing…again. And for the third year in a row, we found ourselves on the side of I-10 changing a trailer tire. We learned from our previous experience where we nearly had to trade Becca for a tire in a town that resembled Novak more than a little bit, to carry a spare. And we limped the 25 miles to our planned stop to change out the flat. On the way out, we had to stop for gas in Fort Hamilton…our Novak. As we stopped at the gas station in the middle of no where, there sat a stand….with a whole host of tires for sale including ones that would work for the trailer. I guess we weren’t the only ones who had been in a position of talking about trading our crew for a tire. 🙂 Once we passed out of West Texas, the weather turned warmer and we made good time. If you are ever passing through Demming, New Mexico, I highly recommend Taco Mirasol. It was one of the highlights of the trip. Not fine dining by any stretch, but the homemade horchata alone was worth the stop! Sometime between Demming and Tucson, Cedric started getting sick. By the time we checked into the hotel, we were going through cold and flu medicine like water.

 

Airship Isabella Wild Wild West Con 2015

Airship Isabella Wild Wild West Con 2015

Even miserable, coughing and sick, Wild Wild West Con is an amazing event. The 3 day con held at Old Tucson Studios is the kind of thing that steampunks everywhere dream about doing and participating in. The setting, the people, the camaraderie…all as far as I’m concerned are the best out there. It was really good to see old friends and make new ones…I’m looking at you L.O.S.E.R! The staff made a last minute change to the schedule for us to be able to premiere the first behind the scenes look at Aether, the short we were working on in February. Drew happened to be passing through on Saturday coming back from Los Angeles and we had a chance to show him around the con and introduce him to some of the things that we do. On Sunday, we turned on the projector and watched to see what the community and attendees thought and did. They were all over it, and super excited. It was good to see, and really encouraging to the production team back in Alabama. Cedric managed to host his panels, keep going and still be friendly even though he was loosing his voice and felt like crap, but by the end of the weekend, the crud had started letting go of both of us. While not 100%, it was the first time I had felt partially human since before we had left for Tampa. We were invited by Robert Levin to do a photo shoot on Monday with Jim Kelso and we were invited to go visit Kim Bailey in Phoenix on Tuesday. While we didn’t have a lot of time, we also didn’t want to miss the opportunities.

 

Airship Isabella by Jim Kelso, Tucson, Az

Airship Isabella by Jim Kelso, Tucson, Az

On Monday morning we made our way to Mr. Kelso’s studio and spent most of the day working with him. He was great to work with and the studio was awesome! At about 4pm we loaded our gear back in the truck and traveled 2 hours north to Phoenix. As a point of note, when we travel, we normally stay with friends and family. This trip was taking us way outside of our normal range, and for the first time in ASI travel history we were booking hotels along the way. We stay at hotels at our destinations, but not normally sight unseen, we don’t know anyone here, stop for the night hotels. So this was new for us…and there was a learning curve. In Phoenix, we booked a hotel based on travelocity reviews, and I will give them this…the hotel was clean. The bed was comfy, and the plumbing worked. On most days, that’s all we really care about. Except maybe it would have been nice to note the normal clientele is not necessarily non-wealthy travelers just looking for a place to sleep comfortably. It started with trying not to run over the screaming toddler who was playing with a group of unsupervised children in the parking lot when we pulled in. This should have been a clue. But we brushed it off as people traveling with children, and maybe not being the best parents in the world. As it got dark, the place got a little rougher. And by a little rougher, I mean I’m pretty sure there was a meth lab two doors down. There was a guy that stood by our truck in the parking lot and talked to himself from about 9pm til 3am and literally didn’t move once. There were the shady characters going in out of the assumed meth lab and the obvious druggy who walked back and forth down the corridor at least 4 times before working up the courage to knock on that door. Then when Lulu and Zombie pulled back the sheets to go to bed that night, they noticed the bed had a spot that was a little

Stabby mattress!

Stabby mattress!

different. Upon further inspection, they realized that the different feeling to that spot had to due with the MULTIPLE STAB WOUNDS on the mattress. We normally call road side inns, shank me shacks…this one really was a shanked me shack. Nobody slept great that night in spite of the relative comfort of the room. Upon leaving, Becca couldn’t help but note the hotel cleaning crew wearing what appeared to be no BS rubber gas masks to clean the room two doors down. Still going with meth lab. We pulled out of the hotel before 9am and headed to go visit a legend.

 

For those of you who don’t know who Kim Bailey is, among many things including being a great human being, he is well known for being the designer of the original Borg cube and the Stargate on SG1. He graciously invited us to come visit his home while we were in Arizona, and he was kind enough to sit down and talk to us for several hours about his time in the movie and television industry and to give us some pointers and tips for what we are about to get into. And on a personal note, he got me. For the first time in 5 years of meeting people with pedigrees that cause people to gush, I have managed to not fan girl. I was prepared for Star Trek, Star Wars, SG1, stories about directors and production meetings. I was ready for that. I didn’t realize he wrote one of my favorite episodes of MASH. And for about 10 seconds I lost my crap before I was able to reign it in and regain composure. Damn it! My spotless track record, ruined! I knew there would come a day when something would get me to say the words “Oh my god, you did that?! That’s my favorite episode/scene/character/book! That is so awesome!” and bounce on my seat like a 5 year old. I just didn’t realize it would be that day. It didn’t last long, but the crew got a huge kick out of it. HA! The ice queen broke character! I can’t help but grin. What a great day. We left with hugs and promises to not be strangers, and we headed on towards Covington, KY.

 

The plan was to make it to Albuquerque. The mountains had other ideas. When we left Phoenix it was 90 degrees. Within an hour and a half of driving, it was 37 and we had climbed to 5000 feet. To get to the road we wanted to be on, we had another 6500 feet of elevation to go. Point of note, we are coastal kids. Hawk and I grew up minutes from the Gulf of Mexico and have spent most of our lives living in coastal towns. While I adore the mountains, I fully admit to having little to no knowledge of how to deal with them. Like, oh I don’t know, the need to turn off your ac to avoid overheating while pulling a heavy trailer up the mountains. Luckily, the truck was a trooper. We let her cool off. Took the roads a little slower and rolled

The Sands Motel!

The Sands Motel!

down the windows, and we were fine. It did however slow us WAY down. We finally made it to 11,500 feet and took a right. We passed snow and elk, lots of elk. Drove through some of the prettiest country on the trip and for the first time in ages, I was able to breath. I don’t know if it was the elevation or the clean air, but my lungs finally cleared up. We didn’t make Albuquerque but we got close. And we saw a sign for the Sands Motel on Route 66 in Grants, NM and we decided to make a detour. We stayed two doors down from the Elvis room, and just enjoyed the hell out of staying at a place that people have written songs about. While also a shank me shack, this one was just fine. It was roomy and comfortable and everyone slept like babies. We also learned to look before you pull out your credit card. Before dawn the next day, we were off again.

 

We came out of the mountains and into the plains. We passed within 30 miles of our final stop on the journey, Borger, Texas, only to shoot right past it and on to Tulsa, OK. The trip was quiet and uneventful as far as travel goes, but on this leg of the trip we started getting phone calls. Exciting phone calls. From four separate entities with good, better and OMFG level news. The trip was punctuated with cheering and tears of excitement. And then long discussions of the complexities that we are about to face. And suddenly a lot of what Kim Bailey had said to us made a lot more sense. I don’t know if he knew we were about to get those calls, or if he just has really incredible timing. Regardless, I was even more glad that we had the chance to visit. We had originally intended to stop and stay with friends in Tulsa, but at the last minute, there was an emergency in their family, so we were back to looking for hotels. Everyone was a little leery, but we found a small, but well appointed and very inexpensive hotel that was actually just as nice as the Marriott we ended up at in Covingtion. The art department set up shop in that little motel, and worked until 3am. The rest of us rested to take first driving shift at 8am.

 

Just off I40 near Borger, Texas

Just off I40 near Borger, Texas

Upon mapping our route for the day, Mr. Fox realized that we were going to be passing through St. Louis, and asked to stop for pictures by the arches. We didn’t have as long a journey that day as most, so we said sure! We headed to the Ozarks and stopped in Springfield, where I was able to finally show my southern compatriots why I hate snow. Sure enough there in the 75 degree parking lot were 3 foot high piles of nasty stinky snow. When I lived in Maryland for a very short period of time, I learned to despise the stuff. I would tell my kids and my husband stories of the 15 foot tall pile of mud, salt, snow and garbage that was the bane to my nostrils in DC in the spring. They thought exactly what I did being from the south…but it will melt! No. No it doesn’t. Not until May. All they could say standing in awe that they were not wearing jackets or cold looking at a pile of resistant snow was…EWWWWWW! My thoughts exactly.

 

We made it to St. Louis right around rush hour, and cued up the GPS to get us to the park in front of the arches. It was here that we discovered our left blinker had decided to stop working. It was also here that we discovered that Google maps is the devil. We were attempting to navigate a full sized truck and an 8 foot trailer trough downtown St. Louis with a trail car. We did pretty good except for the signal issue until we got right up to the park. We followed the directions Google maps gave us…and crossed a bridge that dumped us on ground streets in East St. Louis. For those of you who have never been there, DON’T DO IT! DON’T GO! We live in New Orleans. We shop in Holly Grove. We shop in the 8th and 9th wards because that’s where some of the best deals are. We have seen and we know ghettos. We have experience with rough neighborhoods. But this was something new. This wasn’t a ghetto. This was a war zone. It looked like the buildings had been blown apart. Some were just sitting there smoking with no fire department presence at all. It wasn’t that the buildings were old or dilapidated…they were destroyed. We high tailed it out of there, and tried to get to the arches again. This time we realized where google was trying to kill us and made the right turn. But to no avail. They wouldn’t allow trailers, so we continued on. Through Illinois where we encountered our first frozen pond. Zombie asked…Does that water look funny to you? Is that pond frozen? And Lulu’s response was priceless…Unless all of those ducks are Jesus ducks, then I’m going to say that pond is frozen…as a group of ducks waddled across the hopefully frozen water. From Illinois into Indiana and from Indiana into Kentucky. We arrived in Covington at around 1am and found our hotel on the Ohio river beautifully inviting. We crawled into bed and prepared for an early morning for the first day of A&G.

 aandg

We had spent so long on the road and had such good sales at WWWC4 that I was completely out of goggles and hadn’t had a chance to build. Also in our epic trip across the country, not one of our motels had had a working washing machine. So I took off the first day of the con to build goggles and to defunkify the crews cloths. It’s kind of a weird thing to pull out power tools in a hotel room, but it is kind of part of the gig on long runs when you don’t have a friend’s yard or garage to set up in. Becca and Kitty ran the character building panel for me and did a great job. Sometime during the day, what had started as one gnarly spider bite on Zombie’s forehead that went away after a good nights sleep and benedryl, turned into three more the morning we got to A&G. One on the side of his face, and two on his arms. The one on his arm was swollen to the size of a baseball. We sent him to the con med station, and they made sure it didn’t get any worse while threatening to take him to the hospital. We gave him benedryl and went to bed early to catch up on the sleep missed the day before. We woke to the sound of scraping metal and Becca asking for the cold medicine. Upon looking out our window

Saturday from our hotel room window

Saturday from our hotel room window

we saw the work crews putting the levee in place for the river. Being from New Orleans, you know that that is never a good time. Sure enough, the river started to rise and by that evening it was to the levee walls and rising. From the 15th floor con suite we could look down the side of the levee and see, sitting there quietly right next to the levee, our truck and trailer. Suddenly this didn’t seem like a great day. But the river slowed down rising that night. We had a wonderful time with the people at A&G and they once again showed us why they are one of our favorite cons. The people who run it are good people and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s always a laugh when you get to see your boss dressed and acting as peewee herman fight in a wrestling match. These guys are a hoot. Our guest relations person, Ken took wonderful care of us and made a point to make sure my daughter got fed and Zombie was taken care of when he was hurting. On Monday morning, we loaded up our gear and headed out yet again. . And right on our heels within less than 24 hours of us leaving, the Ohio river ran into the streets. Thank you, river, for waiting and not making this THAT kind of story.

Ohio river 2

Tuesday in Covington, KY Photo courtesy of A&G convention

 

To this point we had traveled, over 5000 miles in 2 ½ weeks. The original plan was to drive straight through to Dublin, Texas and our north Texas hideout. But as we learned over the course of 2 ½ weeks, flexibility is key. We were tired and worn and road weary. As we rolled through Little Rock, Arkansas, we decided we were done. We stopped over in Bryant, Arkansas to rest. We finished the remaining 6 hours in record time and what seemed like an incredibly short driving day to us. We spent 4 days relaxing in Dublin and went to visit Mr. Fox’s parents. Well, kind of relaxing. We had gotten an order on the road for another prop for a television show that was really outside of our wheel house. Watching these guys work in these styles was hysterical. Suffice it to say, Zombie was really funny dealing with really girly. But he got it done though it needed some adjustments when we got home. And we learned a little about the limitations of working on the road. We were able to sleep in for the first time in 2 weeks. 11Am has never been so sweet! And the biggest plus of all? 4 days of home cooked meals. You don’t think about it on the road or plan for it really, but eating at restaurants gets really old, really fast. We are a large group of people, so we don’t tend to eat out much. And fast food isn’t really part of our diet. I would just like to say for the record, I’m really glad for that. I really don’t like fast food. But on the road, if you don’t have thousands of dollars to throw at sit down restaurants, it’s what you get. Even if we did have the money, we never had the time. Our solution was to stop at grocery stores for cold food instead. But even that gets old after a while.

 

On Friday morning we woke up to thunderstorms. We waited for them to calm down to leave for Borger. At the hideout, the roads are dirt and mud is a real problem. When you are trying to pull a loaded down trailer down a windy slick dirt road it gets dicey. We very nearly got stuck and still have the huge amount of dirt splatter all the way down the trailer that we got peeling out in the yard. Zombie realized that while you can’t go slow down the dirt road…too fast is also a problem. Luckily there are no deep ditches on the road out of the hideout. Once we escaped the mudpits,we had a pretty quiet trip, and found ourselves crossing a spot on I-40 that we had crossed going the other direction. Almost done. We checked into the hotel. Got caught up on some paper work and got ready for the last event of the run.

 

Aether panel at Borger Comic Con

Aether panel at Borger Comic Con

Borger, Texas is a small town in far north Texas just south of the Oklahoma border. It boasts a whopping 15,000 people, and I’m pretty sure Borger Comic Con had every single resident under the age of 24 in the town present on Saturday. The con was well attended for the area, and I can honestly say I’ve seen cons in places with 100 times as many residents get 1/5th of the attendees. The guys out there did a really good job. We also had the largest attendance of an Aether panel that we had seen on the trip. A quick head count in the room showed at least 100 people, but there were more standing all around the edges. We got to see Marquis of Vaudeville play which is always a treat, and we got a rare chance to actually sit and visit with Toby and Genevieve for hours. We didn’t get to sleep until the early morning hours.

 

The next day we were up before breakfast, packed, fed and ready for the long road home. 1100 miles to go. We drove to Victoria, Texas to visit my family and pick up Sam and drop off Becca and Kitty. We left Becca with her parents in Seguin, and rolled on to Victoria. We ended up turning onto their road at about 12:30 at night. You see, my parents and sister and brother and law don’t believe in living around people or in town. I grew up in the middle of nowhere where you had to go down dirt roads 30 miles from civilization to get to your house. They have moved since then, but the move was just down a different dirt road in a different county. The first time I went there, my mother told me to watch out for the zebras. I thought she was being funny. She was serious. But the night we were driving in, it wasn’t the zebras that were the problem. It was the deer. As we rounded a corner, 5 deer were lined up across the road. Two on the left hand side. One in the middle and two on the right. We had a choice. Two or one. Sorry lone deer. Luckily the truck has a brush guard and the only damage was a dented bumper and fog light. Also on the lucky side is that the deer flew away from the truck when we hit it so it neither went

Perfect end to any trip

Perfect end to any trip

under the truck and then the trailer…which would have been a VERY bad day or around the truck, into the little car of crew behind us…which also would have been a very bad day. Regardless, it was definitely a bad day for the deer. The next day, we visited with my family. Told them of all of our adventures and took the girls to go get ice cream as is our custom. We stayed up late laughing and telling stories and introducing my mom to the term troll. It was a lovely way to spend our last day on the road. Morning came, and we were off again. The trip home was fast and before we knew it we were crossing the bridge into New Orleans. I’ve never been so glad to see my crazy psycho dog and to sleep in my 15 year old bed. By the end of the trip we had logged 150 hours of actual drive time, 26 days on the road, 4 events and roughly 7300 miles traveled. It was the longest continuous trip ASI has made to date. 

Map of our Spring 2015 travel route with all overnight stopping points noted.

Map of our Spring 2015 travel route with all overnight stopping points noted.

Even as I write this after only having been home for a day and a half, the journey continues. We came home to appointments with television studios and more exciting projects on the horizon. While I was writing this we received notice that the project I talked about from January is being debuted in a popular tourist destination in Nevada in less than a month. Aether is moving along at full tilt, and there are other projects that I’m not even talking about where if everything goes through, we may be loosing our Captain for a month to some folks in LA. But for now, we are home. Right now, anything is possible. After 4 weeks on the road and over 7000 miles, even the insane amount of work that sits in front of us looks easy. We are up to our eyeballs in awesome, and I couldn’t be happier. This has been one hell of a year so far, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of it has in store for us.

life

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The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 5

We celebrated the end to 2012 with a vengeance.  There was not one person in the shop who wasn’t happy to see that calendar turn over.  With the year behind us, we looked to a much calmer 2013.  We didn’t book nearly as many events, and we all made plans to see our families.  But we set out at the very beginning of the year with focus: recover, rebuild and reorganize.  In January of 2013, we filmed an episode of Oddities, and worked on getting the shop in order.  We focused most of the early parts of

Mardi Gras 2013

Mardi Gras 2013

2013 on melding into New Orleans.  We organized a Mardi Gras parade krewe for the St. Anne Parade.  We got to know the people in our neighborhood and the Quarter, and we focused on shoring up our personal lives.  We did book some new conventions and ventured into Ohio as well as returning to Arizona for Wild Wild West Con.  We made an effort to reach out to other performance art troupes, makers and steampunk artists.  We got to know the steampunks in our city.  We coordinated a stop of the Steam tour that featured The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk and This Way to the Egress in New Orleans, and brought in our old friends Marquis of Vaudeville for good measure.  And for the first time since the start of ASI, we slowed down.  We settled in, and we started carefully moving forward.  When our lease was up in May, we found a more suitable and stable base of operations in uptown, and in June opened the doors to an actual brick and mortar store on Lyons St.  In August, we met with Kinematic Entertainment out of Pensacola, Florida and contracted for a gig as the wardrobe department for a music video for the metal band, Mind Cage, which was released at Prog Power USA in September.  We were approached by a lovely couple for an international art festival in Fort Payne, Alabama, Boom Days, and decided to give that a shot as well.  We were also featured in The Anatomy of Steampunk by Katherine Gleason.

Behind the scenes with Ken Braden of Black Sails Photography during the shoot that was used for The Anatomy of Steam.

Behind the scenes with Ken Braden of Black Sails Photography during the shoot that was used for The Anatomy of Steam.

In October, Zombie and Lulu relocated to New Orleans and became full time shop members, and we were finally able to operate with an in house art department.  With their addition, we were able to provide on the spot concept art, started work on developing a coming and with two more leather workers in the shop, greatly increased both our production rates and reduced our turnover time.  We were promoted from vendor to coordinator of the White Court for the Endless Night Ball.  Cedric became more involved in the Sabertooth Clan in the Vampire community, and he was granted permission to produce

The krewe of Endless Night, 2014

The krewe of Endless Night, 2014

merchandise with the Sanguinarium Ankh.  By the time Dickens rolled around in December, the pains we experienced during the previous year were a distant memory, and everyone was refreshed and ready to once again pick up the pace.

Which brings us to this last year.  2014.  Where as 2013 was calm and steady, 2014 was a strong wind in a sometimes stormy sea.  We relentlessly pushed forward and the year didn’t have the normal lulls and breaks we were accustomed to.  There was no more than a few days pause until the week before Christmas, and that pause was a decision to rest on the part of the group.  As I sit here and try to think about what happened over the last year, I, once again, find it hard to recall.  The Oddities episode we filmed aired in January.  It had been so long since we filmed that we were all terrified because no one could remember what we had said or done.  In the end, we were really happy with the results.

Me and Brian Kessinger at Wild Wild West Con 2014

Me and Brian Kessinger at Wild Wild West Con 2014

We traveled from Florida to Tuscon to Ohio and made lots of stops in between.   We once again started embracing the idea of convention runs, but none of them more than 5 weeks at a time.  Sales picked up significantly, and much of our time in the last year has been, well, working!  We developed a returning client base.  While many of us might have been hesitant at the idea of becoming more involved in the Vampire community, by early 2014, we had all gotten past that and embraced the idea, and a lot of our time, energies and some of our biggest projects were with them. For the first time since 2010, we took on new prospects, not to replace members, but because there was need and room for growth.   Projects that were put on the back burner in 2010 have resurfaced and are coming to life.  The comic series was introduced, and I couldn’t be happier

Dark Steam Social at Big Mama's in the Quarter.  2014

Dark Steam Social at Big Mama’s in the Quarter. 2014

with what Zombie, Lulu and Becca have done.  We started hosting socials in the Quarter for the dark subcultures and in the process made many new friends.  There has been more, but as strange as it is to say, a lot of what we’ve been working on, I can’t even acknowledge exists.  All I can say is, we’ve been busy.  But in the midst of what was easily the heaviest workload we’ve seen to date, we managed to find our way back out into the world.  Not as steampunks or even as vampires, but as people.

We rounded out our calendar with regular plain clothes outings and for the first time since the inception of ASI started doing things that really didn’t have any connection to our job except for the people.   Somewhere in 2014 we started finding a balance.   While work was strong and steady and often chaoticly busy, we still  managed to make time to escape the shop on occasion if only to walk a few blocks for a few hours.  Thank you, Suzo, for finally convincing us that maybe some time in the outside world would be good for us.  It was and is.

Buddha Belly Karaoke!

Buddha Belly Karaoke!

Early on when Zombie and Lulu first moved in, strange and unpredictable things would happen.  They happened before they moved in, but we just didn’t notice until Zombie started pointing it out.  He would burst out laughing and scream…”This doesn’t happen to real people!”  After countless times of this happening, we finally responded with “Well, then we’re not real people!  Because it happens to us all the time!”  Most of the time, it’s funny or really great things, and occasionally it’s on the level of bad that makes you cry.  But we have been doing this for long enough now that it’s hard to remember what the real world is like.  To realize that what we see as everyday occurrences are really unusual to a lot of people, and even to our own crew mates who don’t deal with the shear amount of crazy that seems to  be bound to this journey.  And in 2014, we were given the opportunity to see just how far we’ve come through the eyes of people who haven’t been sailing for 5 years.  It’s easy to forget the back porch of the Lake house, the Ike shack and even Celina in the steady march forward.  It’s even easier to forget the secretary and the fire fighter.  But it’s good to look back at that desperate family with an old box of leather and turn around to a world, while far from perfect, which is so much richer than the world we left behind.

photo courtesy of Black Sails Photography...taken one night...just because.  :-)

photo courtesy of Black Sails Photography…taken one night…just because. 🙂

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 4

At the end of July, our plan was to go back to our home in Celina, and start living there only coming to New Orleans for no more than 10 days at a time.  We didn’t want to spend any more time in New Orleans during hurricane seasons than was absolutely necessary.  We weren’t planning another long stay here until starting at Halloween through early Christmas season.  We went back to Celina, and then on to Amarillo for the first Amacon.  On the way back from Amacon, we got a phone call that we were losing our home in Celina.  We called back to San Leon to find that our former shop had been rented out, and in a week, we were going to be homeless.

We had an inner crew meeting to discuss what to do.  We didn’t have a lot of options.  Ultimately, we decided that we were going to move permanently to the shop in New Orleans.  Delacru could not see himself moving to New Orleans and opted to stay in Dallas.  The rest of us packed the entire shop and our belongings into a 24 foot uhaul, a borrowed trailer and the van, and headed for Louisiana.

The air conditioner had been broken in the house in Celina so it was too hot to sleep, and what sleep people had gotten was fitful with all of the stress.  So when we left, people had only napped for four days.  We were exhausted.  As we pulled up to the first gas station at 10pm, we got a phone call that Delacru had announced he was leaving the crew.  We spent the next three hours in that parking lot, 5 minutes from our start point, on the phone.  But in true ASI fashion, we kept going.  We stopped in Shreveport to rest, and everyone but me did.  I couldn’t sleep.  I spent the time comforting some of our members who were out of the loop, worried and upset.  We arrived in New Orleans at 2am the next day worn, beaten down, confused and broke.  When we got here, we realized that during the massive rain storm that happened while we were gone, the roof inside the shop had actually collapsed and was separating at one of the rafters.  That was it.  It was all I could take.  I hadn’t slept in 5 days.  I’d lost my home.  I’d lost a friend. And the only place I had to turn, had literally fallen down.  Understand, that in the entire history of ASI this was the first time I had broken down.  The only time that I felt truly lost since I had embraced the idea and run with it.  The guys that were there were very understanding.  They pulled me up by my boot straps and made me help unload the truck in the middle of the night while I was a blubbering idiot.  By 4am we were done, and I fell into my bunk and slept for the first time in almost a week.

There was no time to wallow in sorrow.  We were leaving for a three week run in less than a week.  We had spent every dime we had to move.  Rent was due. Electricty was due, and we had to drive to Arkansas on Thursday.  We spent exactly one day sleeping, unpacking, and building merch and went directly to the market.  Somehow we managed to make enough money to cover our expenses, and we headed out again.

We went from Bentonville, Arkansas to Dallas, from Dallas to San Antonio and then from San Antonio to Kileen.  Andy’s Aunt Connie, graciously offered up the use of her home as our designated “honeycomb hideout” for stopping points while in Texas.  It went off without incident, and at the end of August, we returned home.  We had been home less than a week when the hurricane warnings started coming in.

On the seventh anniversary of the landfall of Katrina, Isaac came ashore in Louisiana.  It ran right over the top of us, and took two full days to completely pass.  It was a small storm, and the damage to the actual city was minimal.  But we didn’t have electricity for a week at the house we sheltered at.  We couldn’t stay in the shop because the roof had just gotten shims put in but the short time frame, didn’t give enough time to actually repair the roof.  And the shop didn’t get electricity back for about 10 days.  We had some funny moments and some scary moments.  We played Apples to Apples by candlelight, and laughed at our absolutely unbelievable bad luck.  But we made the best of it, and helped out in the neighborhoods where we could.  Our friends in town helped with keeping an eye on the shop and with replacing food.  But the worst was the tourists didn’t come back until October.  Times were tight, and the fallout from leaving Texas was becoming overwhelming.

In September, on a particularly hard day, our friends took us for a drink on the way back from our shift at the market.  We talked about what we could do to reduce the stress in the shop and to help us heal from a really hard year.  I responded immediately.  Give SCARS to the community.  I couldn’t take care of it anymore, and they needed the opportunity to grow with out us.  So that night, Cedric set in motion the transition.  By the next day, we had bowed out to focus on healing and moving forward with our goals.  We still wanted to promote creativity and inspire people to find their own muse, but working at the market had made us realize that there were ways to make enough money to survive on our own as a collective.  We wanted to move from that to making enough for each of our artists to be able to strike out on their own as well.  For that to happen, we had to start thinking bigger and focusing more on the  financial side of the business.  We made a new game plan, and started working towards advancing in new directions.  In the process, we lost a few more people from the part time crew.  While losing crew is hard, this time we were ready and had new people already lined up.   We booked a few television appearances, and started putting feelers out to the movie industry.  One of the first things we realized was that to make this transition, we needed to widen our base.  We needed to branch out of steampunk and show that there were other equally valid avenues for creativity.  That October we did our first Endless Night Vampire Ball in New Orleans, and met Sebastiaan Van Houton, aka Father Sebastiaan and his krewe.133379_350686785028408_770217728_o

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 3

We’d didn’t agree to the idea of the French Market right away.  There was a lot of back and forth and logistics questions.  For one thing, we lived in Texas.  Donald offered to let us stay at his house for the times we came down to New Orleans, and suddenly it looked like we could do this, at least part time.  We were going to Mardi Gras anyway, so we set up an appointment for February 17th, 5 days before Mardi Gras.  We would try it out for a few days, get our sea legs, and see how it worked out.

In the same time period, we catered a wedding, attended Clockwork Con in Austin, and got an offer to move to Celina, TX that we couldn’t refuse.  Our own home with enough bedrooms to house the whole full time crew, a two car garage for a workshop and an acre of land.  So, we started packing and getting ready to move.  On February 15th, we drove from San Leon to New Orleans with literally the last $250 that we had.  We had our meeting, got approved, had an epic foot race to get

Mardi Gras 2012, our first venture into New Orleans as vendors

Mardi Gras 2012, our first venture into New Orleans as vendors

all of our paperwork  signed and payed for…in the middle of Mardi Gras…and with minutes to spare, we had licenses and badges as official vendors in the French Market.  We did our first day that Saturday.   We used the last of the money we had to buy our booth space, and we set up in a tent in the back corner of the French Market.  We realized a handful of things.  We had no idea how to promote steampunk to tourists.  We were not accustomed to working outside.  None of our set ups were designed for a tent or for wind or rain.  At 3pm, we hadn’t made a single sale, and we had scared off most of the people that we had tried to talk to.

This was a market.  People come to shop, and we had no idea how to sell to a mundane crowd.   Our retail had supported us to some extent for years, but it wasn’t our first goal.  For this environment, our priorities were completely skewed.  We were more than a little flustered, and out of our element. We were starting to count pennies and talking about how much ramen we would need to feed the number of people we had with us.  I called the sales team together to discuss a different approach.  Let’s assume for a second that we are here where we were in the convention world two years ago.  No one knows what we are.  Let’s try starting this out with introducing people to the idea of steampunk.  But unlike the convention world where we have panels, people know the word and the kids have time, here you have less than 30 secs to get them to just stop.  So we used a simple line “So I bet you guys are wondering what us crazy folks are doing out here.”….and it worked.  In three hours, we sold more than we did at most weekend conventions.  The next two days were much easier, and it marked a turning point in Airship Isabella.

We suddenly had the potential to have a consistent way to bring income to the artists and the company.  So in between an already busy convention schedule, we put in at least one weekend a month in New Orleans.  What ended up happening was a 16 week long run.  That’s four solid months starting with Mardi Gras where the only weekend we took off was to move to Celina the first week in March.   At this point in time, I can’t really talk to you about what we did or how that was.  Most of it is a blur of roads, exhaustion, rain and goggles.  We went from North Texas to Daytona Beach, Florida and everywhere in between.  I remember some specific moments, like buying a trailer in Mississippi that promptly tried to kill us, and then bailing out of the car on the side of the road when we stopped holding the ground and clutching a bowl of blackberries that Tracy Stewart had given me that morning. But the non-facing death moments are hazy.  I talked to a very nice woman who I apparently met at Louisianime during that run, which was week 12 btw, just last weekend.  I apparently told her my real name, my whole life story and talked her ear off about me, steampunk and ASI for hours on the smoking deck.  I can honestly say I don’t remember any of it.  I thanked her for listening to me then, and that it was entirely possible that I was trying to remember who I was myself at that point in time.  But I can’t say because I don’t remember anything that didn’t involve nearly dying.

When we finally got home, we all hugged each other, cried and made a solemn vow to NEVER do that again.  On the road, we had a friend secure a semi-permanent location two blocks outside of the French Quarter in New Orleans for the time we spent there.  We had agreed to split the cost of the warehouse.  They had need of a place to store some of their stuff and a vehicle.  We had need of workshop space and sleeping quarters.  Just two weeks after ending the run, we all gathered our things and headed back to New Orleans.  The convention run had been expensive and we needed to recoup some of the income we lost on the death trap trailer.  The plan was to go to New Orleans for five weeks and make as much money as possible to get us through the summer.  In the middle of this, we also had the good fortune of making it to a charity dental clinic and finally getting the surgery to fix Cedric’s teeth.  We spent most of the summer in that warehouse working and enjoying what very much felt like a vacation from the craziness of the spring.

The first New Orleans ASI shop on North Rampart.

The first New Orleans ASI shop on North Rampart.

But life on the road is addictive, and it messes with your concept of time.  People quickly began to get restless and thought we weren’t moving fast enough.  We had been in New Orleans less than a month when the jitters started kicking in.  Most of us realized what was happening and managed to work through it.  Some of us didn’t.  In this time, we also realized something about New Orleans itself.  For those of you have haven’t ever been here, New Orleans is alive.  The city lives.  And you only survive here if she decides to keep you.  The locals told us this early on, but we were only staying for at most a week at a time.  And according to them, anyone can stay here a week.  After that, you will either never want to leave or you will be clawing at the walls to get out.  We’ve been told that it’s best to listen to that instinct.  Either you leave on your own two feet or she will throw you out…generally in a pine box.  It really does take a certain type of person to live here, and unfortunately, not everyone on our crew at the time felt that warm embrace.

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 2

After that Spring run, four of our full time members went on part time/inactive status.  They had gotten jobs, were finishing school or needed to get back to their personal lives.  Doing this kind of work is stressful and assumed at the time a certain level of poverty, so it was understandable.  We were sad to see them go, but there was nothing to do but push on.  We started looking to replace them, and chose Mr. Fox and Suzeaux Ryette.  They, perhaps foolishly, accepted our invitation in the summer of 2011, and molded into the crew almost immediately.  Summer has always been a slower season for us, and living in a house with no central air, we became serious night owls.  We had been discussing some long contemplated storylines and lamenting the lack of villains in our steampunk story.  We had also been discussing how disconcerting the change in direction that our characters had taken was.  We all started as pirates, who by their very nature, aren’t necessarily good guys.  The renegade label was chosen for a reason.  But with the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and with nobody exploring the idea of the dark underbelly of steampunk, all of the stories had gotten a little bit tame.    Late one summer night, Delacru sat at his computer and started giggling and typing.  In all honesty, this wasn’t that unusual, and we thought nothing of it.  At the time Cedric had his computer monitor mounted to the wall above his work station, and we were still at a point that we left chat open on our facebook pages.  Cedric was tooling on leather when the first ping hit.  He didn’t even look up.  And then there was another and another….and his screen filled with chat box messages.  “What the hell….”  He read the first one, and we were all staring at him as he turned to Delacru and very seriously asked him “What did you do,

Cedric as Faust

Cedric as Faust

Dave?  What. Did. You. do?”  Delacru burst into laughter and explained.  He had created a facebook account for a fictional villain we were working on, Faust Horcrust.  And then, he got onto the SCARS chat box and started posting, in character, as this person.  The SCARS community didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t know what to make of the new person.  Being the geeky people that we are, sitting in the same room with each other, we started acting out our characters in the SCARS chat box.  Everyone caught on pretty quick and we had a blast.  We called our crew mates in the middle of the night and told them to get on line to play.  By morning, SCARS no longer had a chat box because we had added more than 100 members.  So, we started playing in the group.  We made accompanying videos and audio recordings.  The posts ran 180 plus messages long of people online role playing.  It was such as success that we set up an in person role play experience at San Japan for that July.  And thus, SCARS v. Order as a LARP was born.

We set up a scenario and told people that it was going to be free form role play, just like online.  Tons of people showed up.  We were in no way prepared for the explosion both in numbers and in activity that this caused in the community.  While fun for some, it caused a ton of problems at the convention, and there were some people that were out right offended by the interactive role play.  Up to that point, we had done in character performances, but they were scripted inside of ASI and only we participated.  This involved everyone that wanted to play, and it was chaos.  We knew after that first attempt that we were out of our league in this, and that while we were great at working with each other in improv situations, involving that many people with no experience with improv was a recipe for hurt feelings and disaster.  On the plus side, it shined a huge light on the dark side of steam, and created a huge movement of “bad guy” characters for us to play with.

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SCARS v Order LARP hosted by Mad Raven Productions at Louisianime.

We booked more, and more and more conventions.  By the time that Dickens rolled around in December 2011, we were already looking at bookings in 2013.  New steampunk conventions had begun to pop up all over the country including several in the SCARS area.  The online role playing had reached such a fevered pitch that it was in desperate need of its own home, and the community was growing faster than we could keep up with.  2012 promised to be the busiest year that we had seen yet, and it didn’t disappoint.

We closed out the year in Dallas, Texas at the  Difference Engine Convention, and started preparing immediately for the busiest con season that we had booked to date.  Before our first scheduled event, Clockwork Con in late January 2012, we got a phone call from Donald Tennant in New Orleans letting us know that Del had passed on in his sleep.  He was 48 years old.  We gathered what crew was available, and traveled to New Orleans for his wake.  Donald graciously let us stay in his house, and after a memorial pub crawl, we took the next day to wander about the Quarter talking about Del and how much this city meant to him.  We were all a little down, and in sombre moods as we somewhat aimlessly wandered into the French Market.  As we passed the front office, a small blonde haired woman darted out and grabbed Cedric.  She asked him if we made our outfits ourselves.  We told her yes.  She, in what we would come to know was a typical way, turned her head sideways and said with a sly smile “Do you sell this stuff as well?”  We promptly produced business cards and introduced ourselves.  Her name was Ann Meyer, and she was the Director for the French Market.  And out of the blue, she offered us a job.  Contact her online, fill out the paperwork, show up with product for vetting, pay the city and have a place to sell our wares year round.  And at this point, the world opened up around us, the clutch let go of the roller coaster and we all held on for dear life.

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 1

We have started filming on a documentary, and I was tasked with updating our written history.  In sitting down to write, I realized that while we have touched on a few of our life and company events, we haven’t logged anything since December of 2011 and that only chronicled until December of 2010.  You can find our early history here:  https://airshipisabella.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/airship-isabella-the-real-life-origins-of-cedric-and-amelia-whittaker/

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Cedric and John Strangeway at Steampunk World’s Faire 2011.

We’ve come a long way from that Dickens on the Strand in December of 2010.  It was our first big show, and so many of the newly burgeoning community showed up to support and promote the idea that steampunk belonged in both the spotlight and the everyday lives of the main stream communities.  It was filled with hope and energy and excitement.  The chant of “Steam….punk….Steam….PUNK….” haunts my dreams to this day.  We came off the high of that event into what would become our first extended convention run in the spring of 2011.  Six weeks in a row traveling between Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona.  We started reaching out towider audiences and seriously ramped up our online presence.  It was in this time that SCARS was created.  It started as an idea that had been discussed between us and Ben Hamby of the Skydogs.  A statewide internet community group to promote discussion of the ideas, philosophies, build techniques and events that related to steampunk in Texas.  But with the rapid expansion of territory we had been reaching, limiting it to Texas seemed to be excluding some our most avid followers.  So we expanded it to the idea of the south central United States, hence the South Central Armada of Renegade Steampunks.  It took off like a weed and took on a life of it’s own almost instantly.  In March of 2011, we started our very first real internet campaign.  We decided, sitting in our run down Ike shack, between conventions, that there wasn’t enough representation from the South Central region in the awards ceremonies that were being held in some of the bigger events in the Northeast and West coast.  Steampunk World’s Faire had just announced nomination openings for a Knighting ceremony that May, and our first officer decided that this would be our chance to bring ourcommunity to the attention of the guys outside of our area.  We nominated our illustrious leader for knighthood, and campaigned vigorously for SCARS representation in the event.  The response was explosive.  Literally overnight, Cedric had outpaced every other nominee in the running.  John Strangeway, otherwise known as Steampunk Boba Fett, one of the other contestants, contacted us for the first time and his first words to Cedric were literally, “Who the hell ARE you?!”

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The photo we used for the Knighting campaign in 2011

Cedric flew through the nomination process and then the voting started.  Their systems crashed repeatedly with the traffic that was going to their site.  It was fantastic.  In the end, three men were granted knighthood, among them were Cedric and Strangeway.  So we pooled every penny we had, and bought tickets to Steampunk World’s Faire, a hotel room, and round trip greyhound bus tickets for Cedric and Javert.  And we sent them to New Jersey.  If you ever want a funny story, or just to see either Javert or Cedric turn beat red and angry, just ask them what it was like riding a greyhound bus for 40 hours.  It was our first experience with an established steampunk community and we were really surprised by the differences between there and home.  They had the same problems that we were facing, butthe sides were literally reversed.  It was bizarre, but comforting all at the same time.  We had begun having “purist” backlash in the SCARS world while in the Northeast it was the “purists” who were being givena hard time.  It just proved to us that the message of inclusivity in steampunk was important REGARDLESS of your affiliation.

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Del circa 2010 before we met in September

Local community forums had also started popping up all over the SCARS region.  One, Steampunk Americans, headed by Del Zarpafolus in New Orleans, contacted us and set up a meeting after Louisianime.  We met him and one of his members, Donald Tennant, at Cafe Du Monde the Monday after the con.  We spent all day touring the French Quarter, discussing the ups and downs that we had faced in Texas, the pitfalls of community building and the challenges of running a subculture based business.  Del wanted to see the New Orleans community become more active and united.  We made plans to attend Mardi Gras with them the next year.  We left the meeting loving New Orleans even more than we had, excited to see where these guys would take the New Orleans community, and energized in seeing the love of the genre spread.

Life as a Full Time Member of Airship Isabella

I so often hear “It would be great to be able to travel and go to cons for a living…to meet all kinds of people and feel like I’m making a

Captain Whittaker fitting a custom bracer to one of the patrons of Louisianime 2010...the moments that make it worth it.

difference…I want to do that!” My standard response is…no you don’t. On the one hand all of those things are completely true. It is wonderful to travel especially with the eccentric personalities that I have the pleasure of traveling with. Two, cons are wonderful to me because I’ve never known them as a civilian. I enjoy the work, but make no mistake, it is work and a lot of it. Honestly, the reason we keep doing this is the meeting people and the feeling like your making a difference, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Nothing I have ever done beats those moments. But nothing is as easy or as pleasant as it seems. Traveling when you want to is wonderful. Being on the road for 6 weeks with the same people in a confined space with lack of sleep takes a special kind of person to enjoy, and you don’t get to choose where you are going nor what you do when you get there. That is easily overcome with the joy of the event and the people that you work with, but it’s what you don’t see that makes this life difficult.

Enjoy your sweat because hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but without it you don’t have a chance. Alex Rodriguez

There are no promises. We may work our behinds off and be totally prepared, and we may sell out of merchandise at the first event in a six week run. Great ,right! Yes and no. Great that we will actually be able to eat on the way to the next event. Not so great in that as soon as we find crash space for the three days between events, we will be feverishly working to replenish supplies before the next Friday, all while maintaining an internet store. God help us if we run out of raw materials on the road. Did you know you can ship things to post offices in towns you will visit? Just saying. Or on the flip side, we may work our behinds off and be totally prepared, and no one shows up to the event. If we walk away with enough for cup o noodle for the next three days, we will be lucky, not to mention where we are going to sleep. National Park passes are a good investment as is making friends with the locals. And it starts again every Friday. The uncertainty and instability is enough to drive most people crazy. On the crew, we have all had moments of “I can’t do this anymore” and “I just want to know where I’m going to sleep or how are we going to eat.” But we hold each other up in those moments, and figure out new and inventive ways to survive. Some of my favorite stories involve having to come up with ways to get through what seemed to be impossible obstacles. To date, we have had to sleep in our vehicles, but no one has gone hungry. For that, I am thankful.

Then there is the disparity between the way we see the con world and the way a convention goer sees the con world. I hear time and

The Wonderland Crew - Dickens on the Strand 2010. They started with about three hours of sleep and these guys worked in a crowd of approximately 20,000 people for six hours without a break.

time again once people actually book and work conventions, “How do you guys do this?! This is too much like work!” Well, yes, yes it is. It is our job, and treating it as anything less will make you miserable. We do not attend conventions to have fun. We go to promote steam punk, the steam punk community and hopefully make enough money to survive until the next one. To me, that IS fun. I will give you a little taste of what it’s like by relating what we have learned over the course of two years on the circuit. We did attend Ikkicon 2010 as guests, but mostly we stood around being awestruck and not knowing what to do. It was a whole new world to us, and we LOVED it. I had no idea that there were that many people who took the time to make costumes of their favorite characters and dress up for the weekend. I can’t explain to you, as a costumer, how excited that made me.

After giving our very first panel. If you don't recognize them, they didn't make it past the first Spring.

The first convention that we tried to pull together some organization was Comicpalooza in March of 2010. It was our first run at hosting panels on our own, and standing completely independent from other more established groups. We got our first taste of what con life was like on the inside. First, nobody sleeps. How is it that nobody sleeps? But there we were fighting waves of sleep deprivation while having to maintain some semblance of knowledge and decorum. Second, it’s really hard to find food that isn’t a convenience store hot dog for $9, and cons frown on coolers. So, eating is an issue. Third, it’s really, REALLY hard to be polite, welcoming and answer questions without sarcasm when you are suffering from numbers one and two. Finally, desperation often breeds real innovation.

Cedric at our first con workstations, Comicpalooza 2010

Comicpalooza was the first convention that we set up workstations for our leather workers. Not because we thought, “What a great way to get people interested in steam punk!” or “This will be really good marketing!”. No, it was because we are just like every other artist out there, and we had time management issues. We were utterly unprepared for the convention, so in desperation, we brought our workstations with us thinking that we could work in our down time. It turned into a round the clock DIY panel that was inspiring for everyone. It also taught us how horribly wrong not sleeping and eating can go. One of our crew members fell asleep at the wheel, and crashed into a culvert. He broke his back. We now have a policy for cons in which we have to travel more than 3 hours. We do not leave until Monday. Nothing is worth a 21 year old having a lifetime of pain.

At conventions, we are up every morning between 5:30 and 7:30am depending on the con, and work solid until 8pm-midnight. Some cons, I won’t mention any names, seem to think it’s ok to push that end time to 4:30am. This is not because we choose to be there. This is not because we thought it would be fun even if it was. It’s in our contract that we will attend/host/vend. I have wanted to see Abney Park play since I started doing this. I have attended three conventions where they were playing and have not seen them once. The last time I was not working at that exact moment, but I had to choose between catching two hours of sleep, literally on the convention center floor, or the concert. I chose sleep, and including that two hours, I only got three hours of sleep that night. So please don’t take offense when we don’t show up to after parties or don’t drink with you. We are already looking at less than 4 hours of sleep. Having a hang over only makes the next day worse. We had to learn that one the hard way, though we still do it occasionally. People have to cut loose sometimes. As strange as it sounds, you do get acclimated to operating under these conditions, and the pleasant demeanor gets easier to maintain in time. It’s the first six months that’s a killer. After that, it becomes second nature. I will also tell you that you can do far more than you think you can, and push much further than you ever thought possible if you want something badly enough.

To be honest, I think that we learned all of the basics at that first full-fledged con. At the time, we thought it was a fluke. That we hadn’t prepared properly. But the truth is, the con world and life on the road is both totally predictable and utterly unpredictable. You can count on the lack of sleep, the difficulty in locating food and the iron will to maintain a pleasant face while operating under the first two. You can also count on the fact that something will go wrong, things you were promised will not happen and schedules change without anyone bothering to notify you. These are a given. But you can also count on that one person that makes your smile real through the fog, the one panel that you enjoy giving as much as the people enjoy attending, the random acts of kindness, and the light in people’s faces that just make everything worth doing.

Kitty and Nyxie, Ikkicon 2011, day two, midnight

Surviving in this world requires one thing: perseverance. Thriving in this world requires two things: perseverance and flexibility. One, always have a backup plan. You are suppose to have a hotel room? Know where the nearest dive that you can afford to shove all 15 of your people into is. In the same vein, know the crime rates in the city you are going to. Green room access? First trip will be to the grocery store. We will have time to do that once we get there….no you won’t. Two, schedules don’t work…for us or for them. Cons are notorious for changing in mid-stride and we just learned to deal with it. Nothing is ever written in stone,so it is a waste of time and energy to get upset about it. Knee deep in a season, we have neither of those things to spare. Plan for it instead. We assigned crew members and friends to this problem. Their job is to keep poking around places so that we have as much warning as possible to the inevitable changes. And it doesn’t hurt to get to know the staff. They are either your best allies or your worst enemies. Don’t make them the latter. You will regret it.

Finally, people seem to think that we can relax between conventions. This is so far from the truth that its mind boggling. I hear people on the internet talking about con comas when they get home. We have a rule in the shop. If we arrive at the shop, or our next port of call before 9pm, we all have to put in an hour of work before we can sleep. Actual building work, not computer work. The computer work is for the next day. And that includes the end of a long run. Once we end a season, there is still a weeks worth of work to do. We do occasionally have two-three week breaks and those are when our con comas hit. I have seen a marked change in the crew in this regard over the year. When we first started, every break was treated like a weekend. Now, people won’t take more than two weeks even if we have more time, and for anything less than two weeks, no one slows down at all. But after that 6-8 week push in the fall and spring, the first week back, no one changes out of pajamas or goes out to do anything other than buy smokes or sodas. And they sleep. Sleep like they will never see it again. Which in their defense, they won’t once the ramp up to the next run starts

…I didn’t bring my peremptory tone to bear in regard to what you’d just said about the unnecessariness of sleep but only, only, mind you, because of the fact that I absolutely, simply, purely and without any whatevers have to sleep now, I mean, man, my eyes are closing, they’re red hot, sore, tired, beat…” Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The guys of Airship Isabella hosting an impromptu panel with Mr. Saturday and Sixpence at Realmscon 2011, day three, at this point an hour of sleep in 48 hours.

During long runs, we only have three days to replenish stock which is all hand made by us. That means 16-18 hour work days leading into 4-36 hour road trips leading into 20-22 hour work days with no weekends for 4-8 weeks at a time. Now with all of this, you still have to update your outfits, repair any gear that was damaged, and maintain family relationships….and I home school my children as well. We still have the Ike shack as a shop and home when we are not on the road, and we have added a leaky camper in the driveway to house our two newest full time members. And somehow we have managed to eek out enough space to fit three more workstations in the living quarters that has no central air or heat. Any creature comfort we have ever had is gone, from privacy to consistent hot water. Still sound like something you want to do?

I will tell you it is worth every minute, but it is not for the faint of heart! Every time someone comes up and thanks you; Every time they bring their first attempt at building and garb to an event; Every time you see a family brought together by a common vision; Every time you leave the con floor with a smile, and I have never left the con floor anything but smiling, you are reminded why you work so hard. In the midst of everything, I do get to spend more time with my family. Even if we are all working, we are working together. I am closer to the people on this crew than I have been to anyone that is not related to me by blood, and with them, I have shoved a lifetime full of incredible stories into the space of a year. I have been to more places than I ever thought I would get to see. I get to work my rear off for something that I love, and I was not raised to be ashamed of hard work. I’m actually really proud of it. So if you still have a mind to set out after that dream with your eyes open, come talk to us. We will help you any way we can!

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. Jack Kerouac

The Airship Isabella crew at Wild Wild West Con, Tuscon, Arizona...would not trade them for anything.