Feb 18, 2020
The Grand Arbiter and I have had the pleasure of being a part of the Wild Wild West Con magic since almost the very beginning. We started hosting tea duelling at the convention the second year and have expanded our offerings and activities every year since then. In short, we have seen and done quite a bit at the convention over the years, and as a consequence, I feel we have a little insight to offer especially to those who are attending for the first time! Think of this as a bit of a primer to help you pack and prepare for your grand adventure at Old Tucson.
One of the key elements when planning ensembles and gear for any travel adventure, the local weather is usually the first grave concern. Sadly, I must report that the weather in the Sonoran Desert in early March is somewhat unpredictable. It may be coolish for those who live in the desert with lows in the 40s F (4-10 C) and highs in the 70s F (20 - 26 C). I strongly advise an evening wrap, cape or coat as the desert chill comes on as the sunsets. With little humidity to speak of, the heat of the day does not linger without the glowing death orb in the sky. Be warned, however, that those daytime temperatures have in several years past been even warmer than average-- 80+ F (26+ C). For those coming from wintery weather, this can be a shocking adjustment! Layers and breathable garments are most helpful given the wide range of temperatures.
Be prepared also for blustery, windy weather and the dust! There have been 2 or 3 years when we have enjoyed somewhat cooler, rainy weekends--a disappointment for those looking for the sunshine but a boon to desert dwellers!--and that rain has tamped down the dust to a more manageable level. However, in most years, the dust has achieved almost sentient levels of existence. It is everywhere! Goggles can be a wonderful advantage under such gritty circumstances. If not goggles, then some variety of eye protection is highly advisable. Also, make certain that various pieces of headgear are firmly attached with hatpins, clips, cords, etc. Any bits and bobs that attach to your ensemble and gear should be similarly wind--proofed.
The Death Orb in the Sky:
Those of you who have never spent time in a desert may be taken aback by the sheer intensity of the sun. Please know that it is, in fact, attempting to murder you and everyone else. To that end, you must combat its nefarious plots with regular application of sunscreen. A wide brimmed chapeau or a parasol are also boons when combatting the sun’s death-rays. A pair of smoked glass goggles are particularly apt and stylish for day wear and as another layer of protection against the sun’s foul attempts to blind you.
With the sun generally in full force, the wind, and the general lack of humidity, prepare to drink more water than you might expect. If you will forgive my indelicacy, your perspiration will disappear before you notice any untoward glisten upon your brown or any dampness about your person. Drink water at every opportunity. There are water stations throughout the convention area and in years past the convention has had reusable water bottles available as momentos. As a note, it is illegal in Tucson for any establishment to deny you water but they often will not automatically provide you a glass of water at a restaurant so do ask for your water and know that you may take your water bottle into any establishment. As some of you may choose to indulge in spirits and other adult beverages, I cannot overstate the importance of consuming water regularly. Dehydration is the enemy of enjoying your convention weekend.
Wild Wild West Con is a wonderful adventure in the rough and tumble environs of Old Tucson. We are further afield from the fine parlours and posh evening balls that one might find in coastal cities or more settled communities. Gunslingers, bounty hunters, adventurers of all varieties find their way to Wild Wild West Con as well as the mad scientists, fortune hunters, and iconoclasts. Rarely do I see people dressing for afternoon calls and then changing into evening dress for the night’s entertainments. In generally, day time togs will carry one into the evening’s escapades. Should you choose to dress for the evening, be assured that the very latest fashion in self propelled tassels or colour changing lace is not required to be au courant. What you might discover is that boots are in fashion for all styles of dress throughout the day and evening, skirt hems are often shorter (to avoid the dust, scree, and various thorns), and trousers rather than short breeches are common for all ages, genders, and occasions.
Whilst one might assume with the proliferation of dust and the strength of the sun that individuals would tend toward wearing a palette of brown, khanki and sepia, there is, rather, a penchant for black amongst many of the denizens and marvelous kaleidoscope of colours on display amongst visitors and adventurers alike. Do bring a brush or other tools to dust off hems, boots, and trousers at the end of your day’s adventures on the streets of Old Tucson. Every garment acquires a bit of a patina, if you will, after a day’s amusements.
Nibbles, Nosh, and Comestibles:
Both the convention hotel and Old Tucson Studios offer a variety of eateries. In general it is easiest and most efficient to simply enjoy your elevenses, luncheon, and afternoon tea at Old Tucson proper. There are no nearby restaurants or other establishments, and any forrays to find a meal outside of the park during the day will require a rather lengthy commute. Instead, make your way to Big Jake’s BBQ, Rosa’s Cantina for bevvies or the ice cream parlour next door, or the Pony Express and the old pharmacy for quick bites.
Once your day is done at the convention, you may wish to explore something local as an alternative to the hotel eateries which are indeed very nice but who does not enjoy the occasional gastronomic adventure?? Tucson is the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States and offers some truly delightful dining options. Given that, I find it it impossible to provide a comprehensive list of the brilliant eateries in Tucson but I shall share a few personal favourites.
The Famous Sonoran Hotdog:
El Guero Canelo on Oracle -- if you enjoy a little spice, ask for everything including the peppers. There are also some delightful, inexpensive Sonoran dishes beyond hotdogs.
Sonoran Mexican Cuisine:
El Charro near to the hotel or downtown -- a local treasure, family owned and operated, and one of the oldest restaurants in Tucson, famous for their carne secca. (Vegetarian options available)
Lovely but not too posh:
Feast on Speedway -- my personal favourite restaurant in all of Tucson, the one list is extensive and they do have a lovely absinthe service. The head chef and owner, Doug Levy, changes the menu on a monthly basis but one dish has remained on the menu every month since Feast opened and that is the incredible haloumi cheese and eggplant sandwich. (Vegetarian options available)
Eegee’s on Oracle -- an original Tucson experience, enjoy the fruit based eponymous icy beverage--perfect on a warm day!--and a tasty sandwich.
Lucky Wishbone on Oracle -- a little bit greasy spoon, a little bit old Americana, The Bone is a Tucson original and provides charmingly hearty and quick options with lovely fountain drinks.
Groceries and Markets:
Lee Lee International Market has a little bit of everything from all over the world
Safeway on Oracle is a mere 5 minutes away and has a full array of the necessities that may not have made it into your travel trunks
Navigating the Convention Adventure:
Of course, the Grand Arbiter and I are rather biased and hope to see you at many of our particular events. As usual, we shall be hosting tea duelling, splendid teapot racing, and compliment duelling. As two of the founders of the Tea Scouts, we shall also be part of the Tea Scout quest activities. As soon as we have our official convention schedule, we always create Facebook event pages where we list the times and locations of all of our events. Currently, we already have our wonderful tipsy tea party event page. This is part of the Friday night amusements at the hotel and we adore these sheer bawdy whimsy of this party. Tickets are available here just scroll down the ticket page.
There will be a lovely program guide available once you arrive at Wild Wild West Con. There are a wide array of panels and workshops throughout the day as well as a variety of special events. Explore your program and plan to have a few hard choices! I have heard that this year there will also be an online schedule integrated with a mobile app which should assist greatly with finding wonderful panels and events during the day.
Also watch for the wonderful entertainments and theatrical set pieces created by the entertainers of Old Tucson studios. These will not be listed in the convention program but they are part of the experience. Take the train, enjoy the carousel, explore the zipline or gamble about the desert on horseback.
The Saturday night concert is a highlight for many of the denizens of Wild West Con and this year is truly special with the extraordinary Poison Garden from Italy and the much loved Marquis de Vaudeville from Texas. I have had the personal pleasure of enjoying the Marquis de Vaudeville live previously, and they do produce a wonderful stage show with their lush and engaging music. Personally, I am over the moon that Poison Garden will be the headliner at the Saturday concert. Reminiscent of Abney Park and Nightwatch, they have a sound uniquely their own. Do remember to wear comfortable and sturdy dance shoes--or boots!--for the Saturday night concert!
Travel to and from your adventure at Old Tucson:
Sadly, there is no public dirigible or omnibus that makes its way to Old Tucson Studios, and this delightful park out of time is best accessed by a personal airship or horseless carriage. Carpooling for those who are willing and able is a wonderful strategy. Hiring a hackney or other such conveyance would be prohibitively expensive--particularly those of the lyft or uber variety-- however a weekend rental might be advisable for those visiting from out of town who have not found a chum with whom to carpool. Do visit the Wild Wild West Con community group to ask around for carpooling companions.
Within the city limits, however, omnibuses operate throughout the city and with the downtown proper there is a wonderful new fangled streetcar that makes the rounds. Hiring a hackney for a brief venture is much more the thing within Tucson proper. There are also omnibuses that depart from the airship docs though one may need to take several different buses to reach the convention hotel. A hackney cab might be a preferable option for across city transit.
Flora and Fauna:
Cacti and various venomous creatures abound in the Sonoran Desert. Old Tucson and the Tucson proper are generally fairly clear of cacti in the commonly used thoroughfares. However, diverse cacti are often immediately adjacent to footpaths. Endeavor to avoid brushing against an errant cactus with your bare flesh or more delicate garments. The needles are quite happy to embed themselves in everything. Cactus needles can be removed but the process is uncomfortable at best. Cacti are a wonderful reason to protect your, ahem, ankles with a fine pair of boots or a splendid set of spats or gaiters.
Alongside the rather aggressive flora with all of their thorns and needles, the desert is home to some rather unfriendly creatures such as scorpions. This is another wonderful reason to indulge in boots, spats, and gaiters! However, also take special care of where you place your hands and bare feet, especially at night. Avoid reaching into any dark holes or crevices without a thorough inspection with a bright light first. Rock walls and benches are particularly welcoming to scorpions in the dark of night so investigate any such spots with a black light before taking a seat or leaning against such spots. Most desert dwellers learn the habit of shaking out their foot gear, chapeaux, and other small dark objects before donning them anew. Occasionally little insects and other creatures may attempt to inhabit such objects over the night. Better to check first with a good shake or a strong light away from your face and hands.
The Grand Arbiter's Highlights (TL:DR)
- Temperature can be a gamble and may be as low as the 40s to highs in the 80s. Be prepared for tempermental temperatures.
- The Sun wishes for your destruction. Be prepared with headgear and protective sunscreen.
- Dehydration is common in this locale. Drink more water as well as tea.
- It is recommended to bring a snack or eat at Old Tucson Studios restaurants as other establishments are a considerable journey.
- Old Tucson Studios is a bit of a distance from the hotel, and there is no shuttle to and from so you will need to ensure that you have scheduled travel to and from the convention space.
- Be aware of both pointy cacti and introverted insects. No need to harm either but be sure to check carefully.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Woida at Hyn May photography