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Any type of weirdo is welcome. The MisCon schedule caters to all levels of geekdom, from confused spouses (one session is titled, "What the heck am I doing here?") to diehard fanatics. For the diehards, the weekend compares to Christmas—something they wait for all year. For everyone else, it's a peek at a close-knit community more than willing to introduce others to its customs.
"My wife wouldn't come to this a couple years ago," says Barba. "There was no way. Now, she's here every day with the baby. And the baby's wearing a Yoda hat."
The man who's worked hardest to create this all-inclusive environment is Bob "Cthulhu Bob" Lovely. For the last 14 years, Lovely, who is 48, has served as MisCon's chairman. Despite suffering from a neurological disorder that causes frequent seizures, dyslexia, blurred vision, and a wicked headache he's had "since February," Lovely has a hand in every aspect of the weekend. Last year, at the suggestion of another MisCon organizer, he added a drag show.
So—what, exactly, does a drag show have to do with a sci-fi convention?
"Nothing and everything," Lovely says. "It's all part of a community we're trying to create."
Enter the giant squid
Bob Lovely can't stop crying.
His job during the opening ceremonies is to introduce this year's three guests of honor, acknowledge a few other important attendees, and announce any changes to the schedule. He leaves his wheelchair to the side, preferring to address the room while standing. He looks sharp in a dark suit, purple shirt, and green tie, his hair pulled back in a ponytail. Everything's running smoothly except for the fact that he can't get past mentioning someone's name without choking on the words.
"For those who haven't been to an opening ceremonies before, I cry a lot," he says.
The first tears come when Sgt. 1st Class Clay Cooper of Missoula, currently stationed in Iraq, appears on a computer screen via Skype wearing his MisCon 25 badge. Cooper, who purchased the $35 badge even though he knew he'd miss the weekend, woke up at 4 a.m. Iraqi time to be a part of the festivities and warn Lovely of a special visitor. Right on cue, someone in a squid suit enters the room and hands Lovely a flag that had flown over Cooper's base in Iraq. Scattered "ooh-rahs" break out in the room.
Lovely cries again when introducing John Dalmas, an 84-year-old sci-fi author. Getting Dalmas to Missoula wasn't easy—he's on oxygen, and wheels around a tank nicknamed "R2O2"—and a local nurse spent hours securing the necessary paperwork to allow him to fly. But it was important he be here, Lovely says, because the former Spokane resident is a mainstay in the Northwest sci-fi scene, "and we're all a family." During one of the event's leaner years, when volunteers were scarce and funding nonexistent, Dalmas kicked in $500 to make sure things could continue. As Lovely recounts the memory, his voice begins to crack, and he reaches for a table for balance. But he doesn't fight the emotion or stop to collect himself. He powers through, voice cracking like a teenager's, face crinkling as the tears well up. Then, in a neat public speaking technique that he repeats throughout the ceremony, he swings himself out of the moment with a remark that leaves the room laughing. "Without that check," he says, "I guess we'd all be watching a marathon of 'Stargate' or something—not that that'd be a bad thing, of course."
Lovely even has tears for people who are new to MisCon, like the general manager of Ruby's, Tim Giesler. Turns out, most hotels don't exactly welcome sci-fi conventions. MisCon has been "professionally tolerated" or downright kicked out of a half-dozen local hotels, including the Quality Inn, Campus Inn, Doubletree, and Red Lion.
Ruby's, on North Reserve Street, rolls out the red carpet. Giesler and his staff wear MisCon T-shirts. Thirteen rooms have been stripped of all their furniture so gaming tables can be set up. Two other rooms are empty for late-night parties that double as fundraisers for other Northwest Cons. Almost the entire hotel is covered in silver wrapping paper—literally taped, with Giesler's consent, from floor to ceiling—to honor the silver anniversary. In all, MisCon controls all but six of Ruby's 125 rooms.
"I thought for sure the minute he saw a naked Klingon we'd be looking for another new hotel," says Lovely, again rebounding from an emotional moment. "But this man was all right. He remembers the hospitality part of this business."
During the course of the 45-minute kickoff, Lovely cries 11 times. By the end he's exhausted and needs his wheelchair again.
"I can't imagine anyone not greeting these people with open arms," Giesler says later. "I mean, they're the nicest, big-hearted people. Did you hear Bob during the opening ceremony? That's just how he is. This is his family, and the Inn considers itself part of the family, too."
Lots of squid
Mike Fowlkes strikes an imposing figure at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds. It only adds to his presence that he's wearing a black kilt, combat boots, black socks, official MisCon STAFF T-shirt, sunglasses, baseball hat, and a wire in his ear. Even the gigantic werewolf from the costume contest—stilts were built into the wolf suit's hindquarters—looks small next to Fowlkes.
"My job is to protect the Con," he says. "We're not so much security as we are a liaison between the Con and the hotel. We just make sure people are smart."
Fowlkes is part of a 12-person "elite" security team referred to as "Squids." Another 15 "Mooks," or security trainees, also keep an eye on the proceedings. All of the Squids and Mooks operate out of Room 233, aka Base Operations, which houses an eight-camera surveillance system. "When it was smaller, they maybe had 200 people and there wasn't much of a need," says Fowlkes, who also works as a driver for Yellow Cab. "Now, as we get more and more people, we need more and more people to protect [them]."