by Charlynn Schmiedt
While a little something was happening on the other side of the Atlantic this weekend, I was immersed in my own convention experience. It was my first time as either a volunteer or even an attendee. I went into it with little idea of what to expect, and I came out of it knowing it might be one of the best convention experiences I’ll ever have.
The convention I attended, ValleyCon 38, is an annual sci-fi and pop culture convention held every October in my new adopted home of Fargo, ND. When I learned about the event earlier this year on ValleyCon’s website, I was ecstatic. My previous homestead, Casper, WY, is too small for such an event, and driving time to the closest conventions clocked in at a minimum of four hours. Because of the time and money involved, what ultimately happened is that I never traveled to a convention while I lived in Wyoming, so this was my chance to meet like-minded people and geek out. I filled out a volunteer form on the spot.
Without hesitation, the friendly group accepted me into the fold. We met for planning sessions in the months leading up to the convention, and even when I couldn’t make it to meetings due to work, the group kept me in the loop. I was grateful for that, as I feared that my absences would make them think I was unreliable. Thank goodness they saw that wasn’t the case. The night before the big event, we filled goodie bags for pre-registered attendees. Sometime during that meeting, the convention’s coordinator, Tony, asked if I’d be willing to pick up our guest of honor, Nicole de Boer (who played Ezri Dax on Deep Space Nine), at the airport. He would be too busy running things at the convention to do it himself. My first instinct was, “Me? Most of these volunteers have been helping at this con for years, and I am a mere first-timer. But you’re asking me?” I suppose it was a wink and a nod to the fact that I am among the most avid Trek fans of the group. With the opportunity suddenly in my lap, no way did I turn it down.
I have to admit, the fangirl in me did a few flip-flops at first. For the first time ever, I was going to meet one of the people I’ve seen in my countless hours of Trek-watching over the years. Better yet, I’d have way more than the standard thirty seconds granted to fans during photo ops or autograph sessions at larger conventions. Best of all, she was going to ride with me in my Honda Civic Limo!
Despite a long flight delay, Nicole arrived in good spirits and I knew instantly that any concern about what in the world I would say to her was for naught. The twenty minutes it took to drive her to her hotel zoomed by as we talked about the convention, her daughter, the importance of having good teachers, and how I landed my own teaching position at North Dakota State University, among other things in between. I learned quickly that Nicole is a genuinely kind, easygoing, and fun person to be around. I liked her immediately.
After I dropped her off, I thought that this experience would be the extent of my “special assignment” with the convention’s guest of honor. I was perfectly okay with that. I knew I’d see her talk the following day, and if she was available, I planned on asking her for a short interview for Trek.fm.
The following morning, I headed to the lower level of the Hjemkomst Center after my “duty shift” at the registration table. That’s where the vendor’s booths and guest tables were. Nicole was front and center, and when I said hi to her, she said, “Hi, Charlynn!”
Keep in mind that most people don’t pronounce my name correctly, much less remember it, until they hear it a few times. She did. That made me smile. She mentioned in her talk later that day that her memory isn’t that great, but I’m not convinced. Not if she remembered my name after telling her only once or twice.
I got an autograph from her and asked if she’d consent to an interview between signings. “Of course!” she said. I ended up staying with her for about an hour as she took turns answering questions and signing autographs. The interview itself probably took a third of that time, and her patience with everyone was exemplary as she seamlessly multitasked.
In the midst of this, Tony came by and asked how things were going. I told him that all was well; she was signing quite a few autographs and we were recording the interview in between. “Would you mind staying and assisting her?” he asked. It’s pretty typical that a convention guest has someone assisting them in some way, either to organize, collect money, grab food/beverages, etc., and for whatever reason, no one was assisting Nicole. It’s a foregone conclusion that I stayed, and she told me later that she appreciated that. It was a relief hearing her say that, as I wasn’t sure early on if she really did want help or preferred having her space to herself.
When it was time for her talk, we covered her table, asked TNG guest actor Mike Aron if he’d hold down the fort (he jokingly said he’d sign autographs for her and take the money), and headed upstairs to the auditorium, where the talk would be held. Dean Haglund, best known as Langley of the Lone Gunmen on The X-Files, was finishing his talk, so I slinked away for a much-needed bathroom break. By the time I got back, Nicole was already onstage, and I apparently missed an opportunity to introduce her to the crowd. While that would have been a thrill, I think it was best that Dean introduced her. I’m sure that whatever he said was far better than what I would have thought up on the spot.
Nicole talked at length about her time on Deep Space Nine, since most of the crowd knew her from that show in particular. She told the story about how she nearly spit water on Rick Berman during her audition when a sip of water went down the wrong pipe, and wanted nothing more but to run away at the time. She’s now glad she didn’t run, as she would have missed out one of the most important roles in her career. She talked fondly of her days on the show and recalled it being hard work with long days, but still fun. She recalled that the other cast members were grateful for their lighter schedules, since so much time was devoted to Ezri, and Nicole was grateful that they developed Ezri as much as they did for the one season they had her.
She was also grateful that she had the opportunity to do something she never would have imagined she would do when she watched TNG as a fan: kissing Worf. I recall her mentioning how much she enjoyed that at least twice during the talk, if not more. She really, really, REALLY liked kissing Worf.
Once her talk was finished, Nicole returned to signing autographs while I escaped for some much-needed (and delayed) lunch. When I came back, Nicole was ready to return to the hotel for a little bit of R&R before the banquet later that night. Once at the hotel, I took advantage of the downtime by catching up on the thousands (and I kid you not, thousands) of posts waiting for me in my Twitter feed about Star Trek: Destination London.
I planned on seeing Nicole later that night at the parties happening at the hotel, but our timing didn’t match up and we didn’t see each other. I was elated when I found out I was going to pick her up at the Hjemkomst so she could catch her flight home the next day. We had one last hurrah in the Honda Civic Limo. She was kind enough to let me get a photo with her and even threw in a second autographed photo before she gave me a big hug and we parted ways.
Whether you were a fan of her character on Deep Space Nine or not, know this: Nicole is a genuinely kind, honest, and fun person. She was incredibly gracious, both to me and to anyone who came her way, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the time I had with her. I will most definitely volunteer for and attend more conventions in the future, and while I’m sure they will stand out in their own way, the bar’s been set high. I will most definitely look back upon this experience with a smile on my face, knowing full-well that I was more spoiled than Veruca Salt with my first convention experience.