Comfest 2006 Summary


What a weekend!

Saturday morning I opened up the FreeGeek Columbus booth at Comfest. I spent about an hour there, talking to the dozen or so who stopped by to find out about the group. Then I had to run to the COLUG meeting, since I had the key to the facility. Due to poor planning on my part, we didn’t have a formal presentation this month. Surprisingly, we had a much larger turn-out than I would have expected, and a pretty interesting discussion ensued.

After COLUG, I zipped back to Comfest, where I spent the rest of the day. I didn’t see too much of the festival, preferring instead to stay at the booth. We gave away about 50 Ubuntu CDs, a dozen or more OpenCDs, and hundreds of fliers. We met some wonderful, interesting people, and I had a great time talking about Linux and Free Software.

I was surprised at the number of people who were familiar with GNU/Linux. A lot more people were extremely interested learning more about it. One fellow wanted to bend my ear complaining about spyware and adware on his PC. I smiled, handed him an Ubuntu Live CD and said, “Here. Boot your computer from this CD. You can browse the internet without worrying about viruses or spyware!” He was skeptical, at first, but after a little more conversation his skepticism gave way to enthusiasm.

The overwhelming majority of people we spoke with, though, were interested in our computer recycling program. Nearly everyone has an old clunker PC, in the closet or in the garage, and they were thrilled to learn that we’d dispose of it for them. I suspect we’ll have a huge influx of donated hardware in the weeks to come! Hopefully some of the folks who donate will stick around to volunteer with us, to help disassemble and sort the donations!

Around 8 PM I left the FreeGeek booth for the Jazz Bar, where I was scheduled to serve beer until midnight. I was more than a little anxious as I walked up: the lines for beer were more than 20 people deep – and there were at least that many separate queues! After a quick refresher of the rules, they put me on the tap, and I started pulling beers.

It was the fastest four hours of my life. I must have walked two miles total, taking two or three steps at a time. And I had a ball! The other bartenders were all good natured, and even though we didn’t ever really converse at all, we had a lot of fun together, making quick jokes or just sharing amazement at the number of thirsty people. We fell into a pretty good rhythm, and we were able to work together to serve beer as quickly as possible. As we approached the tap, mugs in hand, we’d ask the person already there to leave it running so we could fill up quicker. One tap was left on non-stop for well over ten minutes, as we shuttled back and forth between it and the counter!

I did learn a few things that might not be entirely intuitive to the beer drinkers. At Comfest, they sell plastic mugs for $2, which folks are encouraged to use (in order to maximize the beer sales profit on beer sales, as opposed to beer + plastic cup sales). Clear mugs were preferred by all the bartenders, because it made it so easy to see how full the mug was, and how much foam was at the top. Folks with clear mugs consistently got better pours than those folks who had dark or black mugs.

Friendliness also goes a long way. A simple smile, or a genuine “thank you” was far more likely to get you a better pour than any of the crazy stories people concocted. The system was this: one blue drink token would get you a 16 oz. plastic cup, or half a mug, of either Labatt’s Blue or Labatt’s Blue Light. Two blue tokens were required for a full mug of Labatt’s. A single black token was good for a full mug of Labatt’s, or half a mug of Columbus Pale Ale. Two black tokens would get you a full mug of Pale Ale.

I must have had ten different people try to tell me that they “lost” their other token, or maybe they gave three the last time by mistake, and could they please get a full mug this time? It was actually quite humorous, and the bartenders all had a lot of fun laughing about these stories as we poured the beers. I usually decided to split the difference, and give them three quarters of a mug. One fellow, a soft-spoken middle aged man, complained that he had already stood in four lines just to get his beer. He handed me a single blue token, and his mug (a clear one). Taking a bit of pity on his sob story, I gave him three quarters of a mug. When I handed it back, he literally gaped at it, and then just stood there looking dejected. I explained the system to him, and he said “I just don’t get this labrythin of rules you guys have.” He tried – unsuccessfully – to weasel more beer out of me. He finally gave up and wandered away.

To my surprise, no one was belligerent or ill-tempered. I only saw a couple of really drunk people, and thankfully they weren’t in my line. Most people were in good moods, even after having waited upwards of twenty minutes in line. One enthusiastic girl reached across the table and gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek! Folks grumbled a bit when I asked for their ID, complaining that they had shown their ID when they purchased their tokens; but everyone relaxed when I explained that the folks selling tokens weren’t the one who’d go to jail if I served someone underage. I only had to turn away two people for lack of identification; and one of those I genuinely felt bad for: he told me he had received an OMVI and lost his license as a result. Thankfully for him, though, his dad was there, too: I gave the beer to his dad, and instructed him to walk out of sight before handing the beer to his son.

I did have to turn away a lot of people who wanted to pay cash at the bar, rather than buy tokens. Folks had to buy tokens, as no cash was handled at the bar. The festival organizers learned a long time ago that this system helps prevent problems.

Festival volunteers were paid in beer tokens. Volunteer tokens were white. I feel bad, now, because I wasn’t quite as generous with the volunteers as I learned others were. I originally treated the white tokens the same as blue: two white would get a full mug of Labatt’s. Toward the end of the evening, though, I eased up a bit, and gave folks a full mug of whatever they asked for when presented with a white token.

I found out at the end of the shift that the bartenders were permitted free beer during their entire shift. We had a couple beers when we were all finished; but the reality was that we simply didn’t have time to imbibe while serving! After the bar closed, we went behind the beer trucks and enjoyed our beers while some other volunteers did cleanup and some basic accounting. Our tent sold 260 kegs of beer on Saturday. We all simply stared at the line, two high and two deep, of empty kegs.

Sunday, I slept in very late, then went to Comfest first thing. I spent the afternoon at the booth again, then left for a cookout at my dad’s house. Dad’s cookouts are always fun: he’s got a master’s touch on his grill, and the friends and neighbors are wonderful people. After the cookout I went back to Comfest to help tear down our booth. I intended to volunteer on Comfest cleanup detail, but instead spent the last several hours just wandering around with one of the fellows from FreeGeek while his wife wandered around looking at jewelry.

This was, by far, my best experience at Comfest ever. I will definitely be volunteering again next year!

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