August 15, 2016
I've been an SF fan since I was four years old, watching the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials. I was surprised to learn that Buck and Flash were also available in the Sunday comic pages. But I'd have to learn to read before I could follow them. They got me interested in astronomy, and I quickly discovered Conan the Barbarian and John Carter and, of course, the pulp SF magazines. I was sorry to have missed Captain Future. (He was before my time.) I can't imagine my life without starships and time machines and visiting aliens. I've always suspected those serials were a turning point for me.
Science fiction conventions didn't show up in my life until relatively late. When my Navy years came to an end in 1962, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Make a lot of money one way or another, and retire to the Poconos when I hit 35, where I could spend the rest of my years reading. By then my interests had expanded to include Hemingway, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain, Greek drama, and American theater. The one detail was that I wasn't sure how to steer a course that would make me financially independent.
I'd considered pursuing a writing career, but in those years becoming a professional writer seemed helplessly out of reach. (To provide a sense of where my capabilities were: I had given some thought to creating a James Bond-style secret agent. He would be a Native American. His name: John Thundershield. Today, of course, I mourn the loss of the character who never happened. Where would I be now if I'd brought it off? And I can't help wondering which of Hollywood's big action stars would have built his career playing the part. Along with a bevy of beautiful actresses who'd be known now as Thundershield girls.)
So there I was in the summer of 1962, headed back to Philadelphia, with no clue what I was going to do with my life. I'd written columns for the newspapers at my high school and at LaSalle College, so I thought I could manage a career as a journalist. Consequently, during those closing days, I applied at The Washington Post, hoping to become a reporter. They offered me a position as a copy boy.
A copy boy? I was outraged. At the time, I had no idea that was the standard way to start. So I passed on it. I went through several jobs in Philadelphia, doing investigations for a private firm that checked out insurance claims. I also worked for a while on a small-town New Jersey newspaper which eventually decided I wasn't the guy they wanted. And I drove a taxi. Which was where I found out about SF conventions. On Saturday, November 10, I picked up a man and woman and took them to the Sheraton Hotel in center city. They seemed excited, and I heard Isaac Asimov's name mentioned.
Ordinarily, I didn't engage in conversations with passengers unless they encouraged it. But I couldn't resist. I asked about their connection to Asimov. "Are you kidding?" one of them said. It turned out they were headed for Philcon, which was being held that year at the Sheraton hotel. I still remember pulling up at the front door and watching them jump out of the cab and join the crowd headed inside. I drove off, wondering what I was doing in a taxi when Dr. Asimov was behind me, talking about Mars and interstellar travel.
I didn't give much thought to SF cons for another fifteen years. Life got busy. I became an English teacher and later a customs inspector on the border in North Dakota. At one point, around 1977, I received a temporary assignment at the Grand Forks Airport. And another Saturday night arrived. I discovered there was an SF convention downtown somewhere, so when I wrapped up the last of the flights, I went. It was my first con. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and have been hooked on them ever since.
As you can probably guess, what brings all this up is that the 74th worldcon will run this week in Kansas City. A lot of us will be there, having another good time.