Jonathan Strickland is a technology blogger and podcaster in Atlanta
I attended the very first Dragon*Con in 1987. My father, Brad Strickland, was the toastmaster for the convention. As a kid, I competed in the masquerade. I dressed up as Danger Mouse one year and Marvin the Martian the next. There was a time in the mid-'90s when I took a break from conventions, but by 1999 I was sucked back in. I've been every year since.
If, in 1987, you told me that Dragon*Con would be what it is today, I would have thought you were crazy. Back then it was just a small convention. Even after Dragon*Con hosted Origin, a gaming convention, it wasn't enormous.
Now the convention sprawls across five hotels. They have programming tracks for everything from Tolkien-themed panels to how to build your own Tesla coil. You might walk by one room full of people singing in Klingon and see another room in which people are having a serious discussion about worn-out fantasy tropes and clichés.
At the same time, some of the fan-related core content of the old convention has been pushed aside. "Filking," a twist on folk singing, has had trouble maintaining a space at the con despite the fact that it's one of the older convention activities. The Mighty Rassilon Art Players, or MRAP, used to put on increasingly elaborate plays based off of popular movies, books and shows, but it went away after getting terrible time slots. That part is unfortunate. But on the flip side, there's more to do now than ever before.
Dragon*Con certainly can be overwhelming. There was a problem a few years ago with the Hyatt becoming so crowded that the fire marshal would close the hotel. Even if you had a room you couldn't get inside. But once the Marriott finished its renovations, things settled down. The best way to avoid getting overwhelmed is to take breaks. There are a lot of people around you, some of whom are obsessed with getting somewhere else to get an autograph or see a panel. It's good to find a quiet spot once in a while to focus and drain off some of the stress you can accumulate just from navigating the crowds.
I am all too familiar with "con crud." It's not really surprising — the convention brings together thousands of people. Some have a rather weak grasp on what the word "hygiene" means. With that many germ bombs all in one place at the same time, it's amazing when you don't come down with a cold afterward. My best advice is to wash your hands frequently, particularly before you eat, to keep from contracting con crud.