Every year Dallas hosts the high-nerd homecoming A-Kon. Tens of thousands of costumed characters clogged the hallways of the Hilton Anatole this weekend, where nearly 100 vendors sold everything from DVDs to broadswords and rooms were filled with card dueling gamers. Meanwhile, I was looking for something off the fairly unbeaten path.
Above the panels and anime dealers, I wanted to peek inside the hotel rooms and elevators of the nations' longest running anime convention. What excitement and oddity takes over the hallways of the Anatole when the last vendor packs up his foam swords and wigs? Turns out, A-Kon attendees party hard and cause all sorts of trouble.
Around midnight, things looked sparse. I heard rumors of a party on the 14th floor, but as luck would have it I stopped at the sixth floor, on the east side of the Hilton. As I exited the stairs I found my self face-to-face with a girl, dressed in black shorts, a black tube top and black wings. Her hand was over her mouth and she looked rather green, but it wasn't reptilian makeup. Being a gentleman, I ran for the first thing I could find - a recycling bin - and pulled it up to her.
I politely stood watch, while people stepped out of the elevators, throwing questioning glances. One guy shared a bit of eco-friendly knowledge by pointing out, "You know that's just for cans right?" Noticing an 18-pack of fully recyclable Bud Light cans in his hands, I pitched them my idea of documenting the night's festivities. After assuring them that I would neither take pictures nor use their last names. Taylor, Nash, Moe, Michael and Miranda, became my new best friends. I quickly pushed recycle bin girl out of the night's narrative. I wonder how the rest of her weekend went.
After a short wait we piled into the Anatole's main elevator, along with a guy cosplaying as BMO (pronounced "beemo"), a sentient video game console from the fan-favorite show Adventure Time. His costume included an iPad on his chest displaying the character's iconic smiling face, and a backpack sound system that was blasting dubstep.
As soon as the drop came, everyone in the elevator began to jump. "No more jumping in the elevator!" said a visibly shaking Taylor. "I really don't want to die tonight." Me neither, Taylor, I thought.
We got off at our floor and made our way to the party. Gerald, a local who mentioned that he lives just off Cedar Springs (gayberhood, I thought, got it) greeted us at the door and gave us individual bear hugs as we crossed the threshold. Introductions were made between us and Gerald's hotel-mates Jamie and Nathan, set to the tune of Daft Punk's "Doin' It Right" - a perfect soundtrack for the evening.
Taylor made sure to start a conversation with the hosts of the party, which was mostly made up of gay men and strangers with liberal amounts of alcohol. He told me that he always makes sure that everyone is having a good time no matter what the situation. But Taylor was not settling for a merely "good" time and I found myself folded into an away team of sorts, conspiring to bring Taylor's friends into the party. This is A-Kon, where even real life interactions feel like video games.
Of course, this is where the night began to fall apart.
I followed Taylor for a while, but after a few failed attempts to furnish the party with fresh faces, we split up. I was trying to find a way back to the room when I ran into Michael and Miranda, who had also given up on the recruitment effort at A-Kon's annual rave in the Anatole's Chantilly Ballroom.
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The line for the elevator had dramatically increased, snaking into the Hotel's west wing and moved imperceptibly. Apparently, the hotel shut down all but one elevator due to at least one pulled fire alarm on the 18th floor. We found the stairs but a line had already been formed by A-Kon staff and they were only letting people go up four at a time. Unfortunately, the police had pepper sprayed a man who may or may not have been on acid in the lobby, right next to the stairwell.
While we choked and gasped for air, arguments broke out by the elevators between A-Kon staff and the ravers who'd been evacuated from the ballroom. Michael almost threw up from the thick, peppered air and Miranda's eyes were watering profusely. Then came the fun part. We walked up twenty flights of stairs. I'm sure I don't need to explain why this was not the party I expected. We dripped sweat in the muggy stairwell, sucking in through our chafed lungs. The thought of Gerald and the cold beers spurring us on.
By the time we made it, the night took on a mellow tenor. Gerald and Jamie competed to see who was better at giving neck rubs (Jamie, you're a god), and we all licked our wounds (some more literally than others...) and reminisced over a night none of us will soon forget.
For a few nights a year, A-Kon gives inmates the run of the asylum; socially awkward boys and girls turn into kings and queens, spirits and demons and the eccentrically boisterous are free to flourish their personalities. And sure, sometimes things get a little out of hand, raves get evacuated, pepper spray is sprayed, but as one con-goer said, "It's not really a party until something gets broken."