Grand Masquerade Trip Report, Part One of Two

This blog post originally appeared as a series of Facebook posts, cataloging my trip to New Orleans, Louisiana for the Grand Masquerade, a gaming convention focusing primarily on Live Action Role-Playing (or LARP, for short). I have collected these posts, edited them for clarity (and brevity) and present them to you here for your enjoyment.

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Day the First (Monday August 29):
After two different, wacky miscommunications left me wired and unable to sleep until late last night, I worried we wouldn’t get far on travel day #1. We are in Blytheville, Arkansas now, and about to bed down for the night. My day went like this:

Alarm
Roll over in bed
Rub eyes
Fall back to sleep for seven minutes
Wild panic
Rise
Pick up rental car
Finish packing and loading
Wild panic
Pick up Matt M McElroy at his place
Repack the car with roughly 80 metric tons of books
Drive
Drive
Stop for food in LaSalle, IL
Drive
Stop for gas
Drive
Drive
Drive
Drive
Find hotel, food, and pass out.
G’night!

Day the Second (Tuesday August 30):
After a good night’s sleep, I rose, showered, and went with Matt to scope out the free hotel breakfast. 90 seconds later, we left the hotel for the nearby Perkins. Refreshed, we collected our things and hit the road. Shorter drive today, punctuated by intense, post-lunch traffic around Memphis, TN, and traffic wackiness in Jackson, MS.

road2nola
The road from Memphis to New Orleans looked pretty much like this all the way. Photo by Matt McElroy

We stopped for gas at a Stuckey’s off I-55 south of Jackson, and were happy to escape the overwhelming sense of decay, hostility, and imminent danger with our lives (and a full tank of gas.) Was frustrated by the drive into New Orleans; lots of birds, but also lots of traffic on a narrow, two-lane causeway over the salt marshes below; couldn’t scope out the wildlife for fear of death. Matt didn’t help AT ALL by uttering the phrase “Is that an owl?”
Made it in one piece to our overnight hotel, conveniently located between the airport, a large lot filled with construction debris, and the permanently moored riverboat casino on Lake Pontchartrain. Dinner at the hotel restaurant featured a salad, breaded shrimp and the richest pasta and cream sauce I’ve had in some time, plus bread pudding — all for 12 bucks.
I may never leave.

Day the Third (Wednesday August 31):
We checked out of our nearby hotel and drove to the French Quarter to check into the event hotel. We intended to find something breakfast-ish along the way, but mostly failed in this land of pizza and fried things. Saw Cattle Egrets foraging for bugs on the grass-covered levee as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot.

Hot and humid does not begin to describe the weather here; my glasses fog up every time I venture outside. Did I mention the hurricane/tropical storm that’s in the Gulf right now? Yay.

Checking into the venue hotel was easy. We spent an hour wandering down Bourbon Street around 11 AM to forage for our delayed breakfast, but settled for a brunch of fried fish and chicken, with indifferent french fries, and bottled soda. Not much was open yet on Bourbon Street at 11 AM. Coke rules the land in these parts.

My, there certainly are a lot of strip clubs on Bourbon Street.

Alcoholic drinks are not particularly cheap here, and seem very watered down. Of course, that may be caused by the ice melting faster than it can be added to the glass! Frankly, I’ve had much better tasting drinks in Wisconsin, so I shall save my attempts at getting pixilated until I am home. Likewise, only buying bottled soda from here on out.

The event hotel’s bar and restaurant closed at 10 PM tonight. Oddly restrictive policy for a legendary party town. McElroy and I were graciously invited to join a group of Grand Masquerade staffers and friends that went to escape room experience Clue Carre’, and we had a lovely time. The particular scenario was vampire-themed, so naturally our group was out of there with 7 minutes to spare.

Day the Fourth (Thursday, September 1):
Today was spent sitting at the booth. It took less than half an hour to set up, and by the end of the day we’d sold out of three different titles. Managed just fine without the Square reader and access code; many people had cash, and those that didn’t seemed cheerful about coming back later (and did so) when we could process their credit cards. Having written for two books for Vampire: the Masquerade — Anarchs Unbound, and Ghouls & Revenants — I discover through casual conversation that I’m in reasonably good standing at this event on those merits alone.

boothgm
Me putting finishing touches on the booth. Photo by Matt McElroy

Being the 25th anniversary of Vampire: The Masquerade, a documentary film crew is here filming interviews with a select group of approved luminaries who were involved with White Wolf Publishing. Sitting with a large table from that group was interesting; the conversations frequently took a turn into the surreal for me, though I doubt that was the intent of the speaker(s). It rapidly became “old Home Week” as these folks were mostly interested in catching up with each other, progressing into a figurative dick-measuring contest among a select few, which grew tiresome. After a while, Matt and I lost patience with the lack of dinner-like progress, and left the group to find food. We both were too tired to forage far, so we ate in the hotel restaurant. Matt and I were joined by Shannon, a fan and LARPer from the UK, and we talked at great length about vampires in media, conventions, and assorted other topics.

This has been a typical booth experience for me so far. Because of our location in the room housing registration we had lots of traffic passing by, everyone actively interested in what was on display. Had a few people who were desperately interested in telling me about their character/campaign, and all the clever things that happened — occupational hazard. There were also plenty of people who were a bit more social in the sense of dialog as opposed to monologue, so things evened out quickly.

I met my roommate for the weekend, Matthew Dawkins — himself an accomplished Onyx Path freelancer and also a veteran game reviewer and bonafide YouTube celebrity — who arrived late in the day. It turns out we may perhaps work on a project together for Onyx Path in the near future, so us sharing a room is fortuitous.

Day the Fifth (Friday September 2):
Did not leave the hotel at all today.

Boring day in the booth. Traffic was light — the super-enthusiastic are already here, while those who couldn’t get time off from work will likely come in later tonight or early Saturday. Still, sales were decent considering, though some of my booth help was not much help. Alyssa from By Night Studios very kindly brought me a piece of pizza so I wouldn’t miss lunch, then later I was informed that a lunch buffet was over and now open to all with “Staff” badges (that includes me) so combined with the Staff-specific breakfast buffet I ate well today.

Saturday is Big Night #1: Matt will get his LARP on at the big vampire event tonight and reprise a popular character he played at previous big gatherings. I plan to see more of the city that evening, and maybe take a Haunted New Orleans tour. Occult/voodoo stores await!

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