As children whined all around me, I shrunk in my seat and tried not to lose my temper. I accept the fact that kids ride trains too, but I loathe any parent who doesn't prepare them for the journey - specifically, the need for proper behavior in a closed, social setting. My IML buddy was in the seat behind me as youngsters whined, bitched, wailed, shrieked, climbed over seats, and smeared spit & snot on the windows; the two of us were already in foul moods, cold and wet with water & sweat, having gotten drenched in a downpour during our race to catch the 2:40pm train. We stunk, the people around us stunk, and the air in the compartment smelled like wet dog & Doritos. It seemed like the whole fuckin' city had chosen our specific train to return to the suburbs, and the ride to Aurora took an extra 20 minutes because we had to stop so the police could remove a obnoxious passenger. That passenger had been two seats in front of me, btw...
"Hotels" are what I'm going to talk about here, as this year's IML really caught me off guard. Before I go further, please let me say: I am not writing a Michigan review. If IML is to be reviewed at all, it's the organization of the convention itself that matters - not the amenities offered in a building. So long as sheets are clean, the rooms have WiFi, and the presentation halls have enough space for the market, IML can be held anywhere. Sure, a nice lobby is appreciated - and what guest doesn't enjoy the perks that come from a big-name property - but when it all comes down to a hotel full of flesh, nobody cares how many stars the restaurant gets. Besides, the longest-running joke at the convention is that whenever a particular hotel hosts IML, they're probably going to remodel soon afterward.
I can barely recall my first IML's, but I do remember that they weren't as big as today's. From what I've learned over the years, in order to guarantee that a host-hotel makes money, the convention must rent 90% of its rooms beforehand - enough to justify closing to the general public, and declaring the event a "private party." If an IML can't hit the magic 90%-mark, any family of four can rent a room. And as funny as it might be to imagine Pat & Adelia Robertson staying in the suite next to Chuck Renslow, their complaints would have to be taken seriously, should they see something offensive. So the trick for IML organizers is to find/book a venue that's likely to sell out. Early host-hotels were small, with few planned events & sponsors. As the convention grew with the internet, host-hotels got bigger. IML began to mature in the late 90s, commanding larger spaces and better backers. Host-hotels went from large lakefront brownstones to the modern towers of Chicago's big name brands like Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott.
But the "security" is what I liked best about the Hyatt. Their dark suit-coats & walkie-talkies on their belts could be seen everywhere one looked. As the lobby filled with testosterone & flesh, the Hyatt security became as omnipresent as secret service agents. The only thing missing were the dark sunglasses as they oversaw the masses, smiling politely, allowing folks to have their fun, but also to intervene if necessary - should the intoxicated or excited cross the line of public decency. As with any convention - from corporate trade shows to ComicCon - once night falls and the liquor starts flowing, there's bound to be bad behavior from those who would normally know better. Most Doms can keep their submissives in line - even when without a leash & collar - but there's inevitably some jackass (or herd of jackasses) who'd behave so badly when they think that no one's looking, it ruins the moment for everyone. Good host-hotels never let that happen. And the Hyatt also never let that happen, but they also somehow managed to keep the carpets clean & dry. Now, that's a good host-hotel!
and completely unprepared for the amount of attendees coming in and out of the doors. I hesitate to bring this up - I feel like in doing so, I'm betraying a longtime friend - but the once-great Congress failed on so many levels, I felt ashamed to show my convention buddy (an IML newbie) around. And again, this ain't no snobby review, but what I experienced in the Congress was no less than heartbreaking - and I will share a few observations from this weekend:
- The hotel is in disrepair. I get that the place has been around for a century, but clearly no recent effort has been made to repair broken light fixtures, soiled carpet & ceiling tiles, and shopworn surfaces throughout its public areas - all issues that existed long before IML. In fact, the only "new" electrical work I noticed were the gas station-style fluorescent exterior lamps added like an afterthought to the lobby's street side canopy.
- The building's exterior is filthy. I mean, inner-city alley filthy. Road soot, spiderwebs, cracked concrete, and sidewalks that haven't been power-washed in a decade...even Aurora's big halfway house (a repurposed, turn of the century hospital) has better curb appeal.
- The Congress's interior was just as dirty, though much of that came from a lack of janitorial maintenance during the event, itself. My boots literally stuck to the floor in places, while other areas - especially the first floor hallways - had pools of liquid from spilled drinks, and the grime that came from walking through them. Litter everywhere - paper plates, paper napkins, plastic cups, and everything once contained on/in them.
- Large events were crammed into small rooms, with the sounds of each event intruding on the next. And having the leather market - one of the convention's primary draws - spread out over multiple rooms/floors made visitors feel as though we were walking through a dead person's estate sale.
- I'm probably making more than this than I should, but the fabric used to "dark out" first floor windows had been thrown up half-assed, and was falling down everywhere. Directional barricades, too. And there were many "staff areas" left unsecured, allowing the crowd access to restricted places without any supervision.
- The hotel's service staff-temps (especially in the bar areas) were so overwhelmed and unfamiliar with their stations, it was hard not to jump behind the counter and help them.
Even with many IMLs under my belt, I threw in the towel at midnight that night, opting to return to the Hilton, where I had planned to stay through Monday. I had lost my buddy in the crowd somewhere, and after several unanswered texts, I turned in. I was awakened at 2am, when he entered our room - shaking.
My buddy like me is a guy in his forties, a newbie to Chicago but experienced with the kink world. He had, up to that point, totally enjoyed the weekend...and as mentioned, we had plans to stay through Monday. But my friend had experienced something horrible at the hotel after I left - a situation that should have been stopped cold by even lax rented security. But it hadn't been stopped, and it continued into one of many unlocked, unmonitored staff-only rooms...like violence in a prison yard, ignored by oblivious guards. Adding insult to injury, the mood of the Congress offered no repercussions - causing us to cancel our hotel room and leave the next day. I apologize for vagueness, but giving specifics would only open doors that hurt to close.
This year's IML at the Congress Hotel was just...shameful.
I was speaking to a new Recon bud this morning, a 25-year-old newbie who recently joined the scene. 2015 had been his first experience with the convention, and he excitedly told me: "IML was great! It was so sleazy!" It pained me to hear him say that.
Every year I see new faces in the community, online and in person, popping up at bars & events. There's a whole new generation of up & coming leathermen, and it's up to the older folks to mentor them for the scene. IML is to the leather community as Pride is to the gay one. We must never forget that.