Photo by Ignacio Lopez.
“It’s not wholesome!” a middle-aged mom shouted as she shut the trunk of her SUV. Was she talking about the stoners at HempCon or the costumed masses at FurCon? I didn’t get a chance to ask, as she hopped in the driver seat and sped off the scene of San Jose’s annual set-up for a joke.
Or maybe it’s more of an anti-joke.
Q: What happens when bunch of animal-suited fanatics, stoners and high-school volleyball girls walk into the McEnery Convention Center?
A: Everyone’s super chill about it and gets along pretty well.
At the time, Concerned Mom was loading whatever parents concerned with wholesomeness load into their trunks, I’d been asking a couple other volleyball parents what they thought of having a medical marijuana trade show and furry festival so close to their impressionable youth.
“Is that what they’re doing in there?” one asked, referring to the South Hall currently being hotboxed by HempCon. “They’re keeping it separate. We’re used to the cat convention [FurCon] by now. The girls think it’s funny.”
PHOTOS: FurCon photo gallery
The odd confluence has been going on for a couple years now. Bruce Newman wrote about it for the Mercury News in 2012, when the concerned parent contingent seemed to be significantly larger.
Key quotes from the article: “It’s just a bunch of degenerates who use medical marijuana as an excuse to do whatever they want to do,” says one parent. The same parent, regarding furries: “’Some of the other parents told me they had checked into it and found things that made it out to be basically a porn fetish convention.” He then “conceded his knowledge of furries is based on an episode of television’s ‘CSI.’”
So either the volleyball folks have gotten used to it, or “Freaky Stuff Scaring Middle Class White Folks” makes for a more exciting article than “Everyone Is Doing All Right.” Conflict makes for an easy hook. Emotions are high! People are fighting! Look! Look! So as a reporter, one might dig around a bit to find it. I asked each contingent what they thought of the others, and responses for the most part ranged from ignorance to unconcern.
The stoners, holed up in their big blue tent, hardly knew what was going on in the outside world. HempCon offered more than enough to occupy the average toker. The line for medical marijuana evaluations made a lengthy snake throughout the hall all day. In exchange for $60 and a chat with a doctor, one could enter the back half of the hall where South Bay dispensaries were selling weed and handing out free samples of all sorts of edibles: “Taste the food, not the medicine!”
PHOTOS: HemCon photo gallery
Most of HempCon’s rhetoric still focuses around the useful fiction that everyone is here for the medicinal value of weed. While some definitely are, talking about weed as medicine sounds a lot better than saying that sometimes one just wants to get blazed and eat a family-sized bag of Doritos sans other family members.
Other highlights of HempCon that this reporter witnessed included a six-foot bamboo bong (“King Bong”) poached from a century-old bamboo patch by the Rose Bowl, an “herbonomically correct” weed trimming station complete with iPhone holder and “kief cling texture” and a booth holding a wide variety of polished rocks and crystals.
“Do stoners like crystals?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, they’re shiny, but they don’t emit their own light so it doesn’t hurt their eyes.” Makes sense.
As far as the furries go, they’re much less weird than they might first appear. Anyone who’s ever been to a sci-fi or comic book festival knows exactly the type: maybe a little more skittish than most, but friendly enough and passionate about very specific things. In this case, dressing up in full body fursuits and pretending to be various creatures.
According to Shawna Snopeck, a con-goer wearing a fuzzy white eared hat, the attractions of the furry fandom lies in it being “a way to express yourself other than who you are.” She traveled from New Jersey to go to the event with her “mate,” Adam Wolf.
When asked about the volleyball girls and the stoners, they hadn’t heard about any conflicts or bad vibes. I told them about Concerned Mom in the parking lot, and Philip, another guy listening in, told me, “This is wholesome for me!”
Later, Philip would get in an argument with another guy about the relative anthropomorphism of the rabbits in Watership Down and whether they used doors or not.
“There’s no doors in Watership Down.”
“Yes there are. Maybe you haven’t read it in a while.”
“Well I’ve read it many times and I don’t think there are any doors.”
“Yeah there is…well they went through a gate in the garden…”
On my way out, furries Kevin and Kat told me how heartbreaking it was to leave FurCon. In a fandom found mostly online, cons are a place to meet Internet friends in real life, at least for a weekend.
In the lobby of the convention center, I chatted with a couple more volleyball people. As we watched their daughters practice while fur-suited folks walked by, one mom told me, “The more the merrier.”
Outside on the street, a guy in big purple fuzzy feet and ears was talking to a member of a dispensary street team. “So, if I live in Oregon, can I get my medical evaluation in California?”