May 2, 2017
In the late summer of 1962, I came home to Philadelphia from my time in the Navy and, while thinking about what I was going to do with the rest of my life, took to driving a taxi. It was, on the whole, a sedate existence, cruising through those quiet streets. But there was one particularly memorable moment.
On a Saturday morning in November, I picked up three people –I think that's correct—and took them to the Sheraton Hotel in the downtown area. They were excited about their destination, and I was surprised when I overheard one of them mention Isaac Asimov. When I got a chance, I asked if something was going on at the Sheraton.
"There's a science fiction convention," they told me. And they asked "Do you read SF?"
I was an avid reader, especially of the pulps and Edgar Rice Burroughs. But I'd never heard of conventions. A few minutes later I left them off at the hotel and watched them go inside. Other people followed. I don't recall if any of them were in costumes, but the energy level was substantial. And I sat there wondering what I was doing inside a cab getting ready to drive away, when Isaac Asimov and maybe Robert Heinlein and Nelson Bond and Leigh Brackett were just inside the building. Maybe Ben Bova. Maybe Arthur Clarke or Ursula LeGuin.
Ultimately I shrugged it off and drove away. I would have loved to know then that I would eventually get to talk and spend time with several of them. And that didn't happen simply because I eventually started writing too. It happened because I took to the cons. I wandered around, saying hello to everyone who looked my way, and discovering people said hello in return. Including writers, physicists, and artists.
It took me fourteen years to get started, though. And if you're thinking I'm a slow learner, there's an argument to be made. In 1976, I was a customs officer on a temporary assignment at the Grand Forks Airport in North Dakota. My family was eighty miles away, in Pembina on the Canadian border. This was the place that, in my imagination, would later become Fort Moxie. But on that night, I was seriously alone and looking for something to do when I discovered a science fiction convention was in town.
Now, forty-one years later, I can't recall who was there. It might be that I've attended so many since that they've all come together. The important thing was that a substantial number of fans were present. Everybody talked to everybody, and that was the experience that locked me in.
And by the way, the enjoyment of a con was never simply related to meeting writers and artists. My son Chris attended Ravencon in Williamsburg, VA, with me this past weekend. On the way home, he described how enjoyable it was to spend time with people who have a broad interest in the world. That'd exactly what, years earlier, I'd discovered.