BoroughCon: Our new business, my new passion


As you know, I’ve had a rough couple years, both personally and professionally. No need to go into detail about any of that because this isn’t a note about venting or sense-making or woe-is-me. This is a celebration of the event that has dug me out of the morass my life had become and has made me optimistic about the future.

It’s called BoroughCon.

At the beginning of the year, my friend Gary Port told me he had hired a couple law students to help him with his practice, and that these 20-somethings were just as geeky about pop culture as we are. In fact, they used to run an anime convention when they were students at University of Central Florida in Orlando. Now that they’re going to Hofstra Law, they’re exploring the idea of starting another one on Long Island. Gary wanted to be part of that, and thought I’d have something to bring as well. After all, I had a deep background in IT management, credentials as a project manager and a graduate degree in business — yet also long-term unemployed.

So I took a call from Matthew Goodison-Orr and we impressed each other with our knowledge of conrunning as well as general geekdom and agreed to meet. A week or so later, Matt and I sat down, along with his longtime friend and business partner Victor Lai, at The Greene Turtle Franklin Square where we shared a couple beers and appies and talked about “Suburbacon,” the code name for the new project which we all agreed was just an awful name for a convention.

The biggest problem with “Suburbacon” is that there was no place in suburban Long Island to hold it. Anywhere west of Route 110 would be too remote to draw from anywhere but Suffolk County, we reasoned, and I suggested the fate of I-Con supported that premise. And there was no venue in Nassau County or eastern Suffolk (or the rest of Suffolk for that matter) that had a big enough room for the vendors’ and artists’ booths and sufficient breakout rooms for panels, screenings, workshops, green rooms, con ops and so on. There’s a small annual event called EternalCon at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, but by all accounts that space is constraining and not optimally laid out for this purpose; unless and until EternalCon finds another venue, we believe it’s not likely to grow attendance significantly going forward. We didn’t want that for “Suburbacon”.

So we expanded our search to Brooklyn and Queens. Surely the Barclays Center has enough … no. It’s got all the booth space you could ever want, but no breakout rooms. How about the Brooklyn Marriott and all those other four-star hotels near the Bridge that … no again. They had ballrooms adequate — barely — for vendors and artists, but not nearly enough other meeting rooms.Then Matt and Victor had a brainstorm. They learned the craft on a college campus, so why not look for a campus instead of a hotel or convention facility? After a short search, they settled on St. Johns University Queens.

At this point Gary invited his law partner George S. Sava onto the leadership team. Unlike the rest of us, George isn’t a nerd. He’s a jock. He probably spent high school shoving guys like us into gym lockers. But George has more than proven his mettle. He’d eventually be our guy for lining up investors and high-end sponsors as well as our negotiator with outside stakeholders (including SJU), but his first contribution was to coin the name “BoroughCon” which we all agreed to on the spot. (Then we spent two weeks quibbling over capitalization, spelling and spacing.)

It forced our event into a defining personality. We weren’t “Suburbacon” anymore. It’s not going to be about Long Island. By the same token, it’s not going to be about “The City”. It’s about the Four Boroughs — the neighborhoods looked down upon by Islanders, Manhattanites and tourists alike. Have your sterile tract housing and chemically enhanced lawns. Keep the shiny object that is midtown Manhattan. Spend all the money you made in the last five years selling farm equipment and get your picture taken with that homeless guy in an Iron Man costume. We’re focused on where real New Yorkers live. And let’s be clear: Queens and Brooklyn have the populations of Houston and Chicago respectively.It turned out the only weekend St. John’s had available for us was Memorial Day. So not only were we forced to accept a four-day programming schedule when other first-year cons are confined to one or two, we just had to have it at one of the few spots on the calendar when so many people are heading out of town that there’s really nothing to do in New York for the rest of us. I’m pretty sure we can find, out of the millions of people still stuck in the boroughs over a long weekend, 20,000 people interested in stopping by BoroughCon.

This all started to gather steam around February and March. Ever since, I’ve been back to the kind of management consulting work I’ve been trained to do. I wrote a business plan to show BoroughCon’s potential investors. I crafted a project plan that decomposed the processes and illustrated progress along a Gantt chart. I developed a web and social media strategy and began executing it. I composed and curated web content ranging from reviews to blog posts to premium content of interest to other conrunners. Matthew Kressel, whose web development and genre credentials are both beyond reproach, agreed to craft our site. To see his outstanding work, please click http://boroughcon.com/.

This primed the pump for me professionally. I now had the confidence that I could get back to IT management consulting work, and have been growing my client list since.

I also took on the responsibility for BoroughCon publicity, which got me back into keyboard rhythm, and I’ve onboarded several new journalism clients concurrently.

Now, rather than being a victim of the gig economy, I’ve adapted to it and am now thriving.

So thank you, Gary, Matt(s), Victor, George and everyone else who has contributed to BoroughCon’s successful launch.I hope to see everyone reading this note at St. John’s in Jamaica, Queens, over Memorial Day weekend 2017. I’ll be the one with the biggest smile.

Thanks for letting me gush!

Bill Freedman

Web: http://boroughcon.com/

FB: BoroughCon

Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope: @borough_con


Appearances, writing, recording, general update, and … (shhh, it’s a secret)

So a lot has happened since Indianapolis.

First, I’ve video-blogged the entire trip, and you can see entries on my YouTube channel. I’ll be editing those down, so be patient. These will form the raw notes for the non-fiction book I intend to write about the Cross-Country Local. A Big Name Author Of Whom You Have Heard is helping me develop my pitch, so I’m guardedly optimistic I’ll be able to go the traditional editing route. Meantime, I’m being invited to speak in front of a number of transit advocacy groups, and I’ll be posting those on the Appearances page.

I’ll also be making appearances at Albacon, Lunacon, and who-knows-where-else. Keep checking back.

As I completed the Cross-Country Local, I crashed at the home of a friend from high school, Richard Gutierrez, who now lives in San Francisco. Rich is a multi-threat creative type — actor, director, video producer, designer, foley artist, drone operator … he’s got so much talent it makes me sick. Anyway, he had need for some voice talent that day, so I went back to my undergrad major in radio broadcasting and, well, here’s the results. I figured I’d get this out there before the blackmailers did.

Also, I’m feeling much better, thank you. Clinical depression is well-controlled since I’ve added meditation to medication. And my back, which just got worse and worse as I went along to the point of being crippling by the time I got to Reno, is all healed up now.

Further, it looks like my technology and business writing business has turned a corner and I’ll be returning to positive cashflow in short order. For more on this, you can view my clip site, Freedman Freelance.

Lastly, I can only whisper about this, but I have something “yooooodge” in mind for 2017. Hope to be able to share more soon.

Downtown Indianapolis, November 2015

To wait in heavy harness

My back ached like a motherfucker when I went down for breakfast yesterday.

It damn well should have. The day before, I’d hiked two miles in an overstuffed backpack to get to my first pickup point. Then I rode a series of five buses and vans to get from the Cincinnati suburbs to downtown Indianapolis, loading and unloading that millstone every time I got on or off one.

But with the Colts playing away (badly) that Monday night, Indy’s Wholesale District was pretty much abandoned. With the Hilton Honors status I’d garnered in a previous self-reinvention as a corporate road warrior, I ranked a major upgrade at that monument to lucre, 120 West Market Street. They gave me a king suite with two bathrooms, a conference table, a TV nook with a six-foot sofa and two wing chairs, free wi-fi, free cocktail and ultimately a free breakfast. And all it cost me was $50 and 12,000 hilton points (of which I currently have around 250,000). You’d be lucky to get double beds at a Hampton Inn for that.

Nobody remarked when I showed up at the host stand with my backpack strapped to my shoulders, chest and hips. I calmly followed my waiter to a table and responded positively to his offer of coffee as I went through the practiced steps of taking the fucking thing off.

Breaking fast lightly with oatmeal, croissant and smoked salmon, I relaxed to enjoy my third cup of coffee before leaving on the mile hike to catch the first of three transports I had scheduled for the day. I relished how well the cushioned seat cradled my newly fragile spine. I contentedly acknowledged that the coffee was good, even if the cold buffet was nothing special and the hot buffet wasn’t worth ordering. And then I noticed how people were looking at me and then looking away before I could make eye contact. I guess they weren’t just looking, they were staring.

Trying to make sense of me.

Here I was, in a Brooks Brothers polo shirt, sipping coffee over a white-linen tablecloth, relaxed in my posh environs. My coat and trousers might have been no-name and rugged, but my boots were top-of-the-line Keen hikers from REI, my watch an understatedly elegant sports model, and I was tapping away on an iPhone 6s for chri’sakes.

To all appearances, I was one of their tribe. I don’t mean that literally, of course. I’m not sure how many Jews there are in Indiana, but it’s entirely likely I was the only one in that restaurant. I mean that I was obviously part of the patrician class to which everyone else in the room was born or aspired to or achieved through merit, luck, or sociopathic disregard for others. I was an outlier, with my two weeks’ growth of graying scalp and beard and a backpack at my feet, but they all presumed I had as much right to breathe that air as they did. They saw me as a rogue, a traveler with some interesting stories to tell but, when I was done, I’d settle back into a martini glass at the Nineteenth Hole and spin tales of the road for their amusement.

What they couldn’t see and couldn’t know was how casually their cousins had tossed me out of that club.How the only reason I’ve been able to maintain my family’s middle-class stature over the past two years of sketchy employment is because I realized I never really was part of that high-flying fraternity, so we lived beneath my means, banked all we could, and are now cracking open the piggy banks that, had all gone well, we’d have kept on the shelf for years to come.

How just that morning I was in a redneck bar that was serving liquor at 9 a.m. and advertising that a band called (no shit) Southern Cross-Fire would be playing there Saturday night. How I’d slept mainly on couches and floors over the past two weeks. How I gratefully accepted a night on the porch of a woman who had started the year living in her car. How I served as Cubmaster for the evening in the basement of a church in a destitute neighborhood, knowing that short, brutish, needle-tracked lives awaited many of the cherubic faces that so eagerly peppered me with questions as I presented them a slide show about mass transit (which their county doesn’t even have, so to these kids I might as well have been an astronaut).

How I felt every bit at home in those environments as I did in that hushed and tony restaurant a hundred feet below the thousand-square-foot, two-bathroom suite I had to myself the night before. How I had at least as much in common with the people who hosted me in their homes as with the go-getters talking business and sports at the next table.

How bad my back hurt.

The spasms in my lumbar region were the direct result of too much weight in the pack. But think of all the things I had to carry. LIke any trekker, I had a sleeping bag, mat, pup tent, ground tarp, rain jacket, single-burner stove, propane tank, and a few instant meals. That’s all to be prepared for the inevitable nights out of doors. But most of my adventure is indoors. If I were going on a wilderness adventure, all I’d need to pack in the way of clothes would be a layer of UnderArmour and a change of skivvies and socks. But I’m interacting with people in the streets and in their homes. I’m obviously spending some nights in very nice hotels. I’m on TV. I have to keep up appearances. So in addition to warm- and cold-weather gear, I also need in-town clothes in addition to the rugged wear. And I need changes of that because I’ll typically be going three or four days between opportunities to do laundry.

That’s when it hit me: I was literally, literally carrying around the world’s expectations of me on my back. And it fucking hurt.

The question is, What was I prepared to do about it.

The answer is, Nothing.

I’m going to keep on as I’ve been doing for the past thousand miles: pushing on from town to town, graciously accepting hospitality from Hiltons and hillbillies, doing my best to fit in wherever I go because, regardless of which tribe I encounter, I will observe their mores and respect them as individuals. I will act the part. I will dress the part. My back might never be the same, but what the hell else should I expect? Most my friends at this point in our lives threw their own spines out of plumb years ago.

I can’t be that guy who says, “Fuck everyone’s expectations. I’m living my own life.” But I’m not living my own life. I’m a husband, father, provider, and a guy who somehow stumbled on something that gives him a following and a platform. As a result, what other people think of me matters very, very much. Human beings are social creatures. I’m a human being.

And now I have to go catch a ride.

Cross-Country Local route map

On a personal note …

First, I want to thank everyone who has responded so positively to the Cross-Country Local. Your moral and material support has been overwhelming, and I am grateful beyond words for your kindness and generosity of spirit.

Part of that kindness has manifested as a concern about my health. I’m 52. It’s fair comment. I’m twice the age Cheryl Strayed was when she did the Wild thing and, I venture to say, twice the weight.

So let’s discuss the situation of the gravity. I should drop about 50 pounds. This expedition will probably do a lot to facilitate that, as I won’t be spending so much time 20 paces from the fridge. Since I began the project about a month and a half ago, I’ve already shed a couple inches off my waist. I’m so deep in plan-and-design mode that I’m more likely to skip meals than snack in between them. It should be mentioned in passing that, despite my history with stress eating, I never developed diabetes or heart problems. My blood sugar is in the normal range — to the high end to be sure — and a couple pills a day control my tendency toward hypertension and high cholesterol. As I lose weight, these should take care of themselves. I’m realistic, not expecting miracles. Just progress. I’m in better health than I look but I stand 5’8″ in shoes and weigh as much as an average NFL linebacker, and they’re usually somewhere around 6’1″ (yes, I looked all this up).

The two, 600-pound, copulating gorillas in the room, though, are my clinical depression and anxiety disorder. Again, the Cross-Country Local has already salved those wounds. Even if I didn’t have these diagnoses, not having a steady job for two years can torture any soul. But that’s what the doc says and yet, ever since I started this project, I’ve cut way back on the anxiety meds and have stopped self-medicating with liquor. I’ve had a glass of wine with friends a couple times but that’s it. The best part is that I didn’t “get on the wagon” or “take the pledge” or anything so cliche. I’d gone over a week without a drink and then one day it occurred to me, “Hey, I went over a week without a drink.” I take my maintenance dose of an anti-depression med in the morning and I’m fine.

Not just fine. It’s not just the absence of depression and anxiety. It’s actual joy. Joy from having a mind agile enough to come up with an idea nobody else has had. Joy from having the discipline to develop an idea from inception to workable plan. Joy from having the enterprising spirit to make it real. And joy from having family and friends who inspire me to go and do something unprecedented.

I’ve had three checkups this year. Doctor says I’m fine. Blood work looks good. I got two months’ supply of all my meds already packed.

Taking this trip is not the craziest thing I’ve ever done. At this point, not taking it would be crazier.

(If you care to support the Cross-Country Local, please donate to the GoFundMe campaign, and thank you!)

Cross-Country Local route map

Cross-Country Local

It’s been a trying time.

As many of you know, I was let go from IBM a little over two years ago — three weeks shy of my 50th birthday. I’m not saying that had anything to do with it, but I’m not not saying that either.

The job hunt has been frothy. I’ve had a couple temp-to-perm jobs, that ended up being strictly temp, never getting that promised employee badge. I’ve also had more job interviews in the past two years than in all the time I’d been working, starting at age 14 — as many as 18 in a month. On at least four occasions, I’d interviewed at least half a dozen times for a job and ended up not getting it. Earlier this month, I had sat through my eighth interview for a position that seemed all but custom-designed for me.

Meantime — and I don’t want to get too personal here — my wife and I were having our difficulties. My getting turned down for that job didn’t help. We have since patched things up, but with one proviso: I’d had this thought experiment worked out, and I was going to put it into practice.

Back in June, I’d attended another one of those professional networking dry wells — you’ve been to them. This one was in New Brunswick, N.J. To get there from our house, it was an easy jaunt on the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station, where I transferred to the New Jersey Transit commuter rail and arrive on time and in comfort. Now, the LIRR starts all the way out in Montauk and goes into midtown Manhattan. NJT goes straight into Philadelphia. SEPTA goes almost all the way through Chester County, maybe all the way to Lancaster County. Lancaster has its own transit system that maybe hooks up with Harrisburg’s. Or, from Philly, I could head south through Delaware into Maryland, pick up the MARC into Washington, and the Metro and its feeders would take me well into Virginia. How far did this chain extend?

The obvious question is: Can you cross the United States from coast to coast, using only mass transit? Yes — in the 25 years the Americans with Disabilities Act, government agencies at the state and federal levels have been pouring money into rural transit. There are also a bunch of options that strain the definition of public transportation, but sound like they’d generate some stories to tell. After The Conversation with my wife, I began working out a route and timetable. It’s possible, and I’m going to do it. Why not?

I haven’t totally given up on getting a straight job in IT consulting again — I’m still interviewing with a couple places. But by the time they make a decision — presuming that decision is yes — we’ll be in the down slope of the fourth quarter, and nobody will be actually on-boarding new employees until January. So I got the time. And my wife and I could probably use some time apart; I know my excessive presence around the house has been an annoyance to her.

As for the boys — they’ll be fine. I’ll be leaving right after the youngest’s 14th birthday, so it’s not like I’m leaving helpless naifs to fend for themselves. And I’m coming back in about nine or ten weeks. IBM had sent me overseas for more than seven weeks more than once when we were all much younger. Nobody who’s ever had a deployed service member in their family would think twice about this.

The way I figure it, this’ll do them so good. They won’t have a bum of a dad lounging around all day doing nothing. If this works out, they’ll have a father who had just accomplished something nobody else has even tried before. Meantime, they can take care of their own damn dog they made me buy for them and which I do 90% of the feeding and walking and cleaning up shit and where was I going with this.

Anyway, I’m repurposing this blog for the time being. Yes, I’ll still be working on my third novel, Augie, while I’m on this expedition. But until I’m safely back home, AuctorLanxSatura.com will be the linchpin of the online marketing of what I’m calling the Cross-Country Local.

On October 19, I will get on the N32 bus a block from the house and will finally leave the nationwide mass transit system 68 days later when I step off the Muni rail at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I could do it faster, but I don’t want to spend more time traveling in a day than a typical commuter would. (A typical New Yorker, I should say. The U.S. average commute is 25 minutes. That won’t take me between gas stations in some parts.)

I’ll continue to work at and grow my freelance writing and consulting businesses — almost all of which is done remotely already. I do need some cash to get started, though, which is why I’ve initiated a crowdfunding campaign. Whether or not you can contribute, I do hope you can give the Cross-Country Local a signal boost.

So if you’d be so kind, please share the following links with your friends and followers. If you care to support the Cross-Country Local or just track its progress from idea to reality and from sea to shining sea, please select any or all of the following links:

Twitter: #xlclocal

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpp7cTV7Y1pB-QXBvQ4NnSQ

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/xclocal?fref=ts

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/e73uzcda

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1941781295/cross-country-local

Exposing myself throughout this hot summer

I’d do a striptease but, in my case, that would take too long. Much more efficient to just read my novels.

“Where,” you might ask, “can I hear William Freedman’s words while playing Candy Crush on my phone so I don’t have to look at his grotesque form, for he is quick of wit and sharp of tongue, yet resembles nothing so much as a pallet of white paper towels that just soaked up a hundred gallons of pink lemonade?”

I’m glad you asked. (Smartass.)

You can check the Appearances page for details, but the big picture is that I’ve got two venues where I’ll be appearing this month.

First is the coolest place in West Hempstead (feint praise as that may be), Creative Corner, the storefront gathering place for musicians, painters, writers, and the normal people who tolerate them. I’ll be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to emcee such talents as Michele Lang, Alex Shvartsman and Christopher DeFilippis, each of whom I respect immensely on a professional level and for whom I have an abiding affection on a personal level. We’ll be sharing the podium Wednesday night, July 29. Come along and bring a friend! (By the way, I often read between sets at Creative Corner’s ongoing open mics. If you play an instrument and you’re looking for an informal spot to try out new material — original compositions or spoken-word pieces — drop by any Monday night!)

Second is 9 Pi-Con outside Hartford, Conn., July 31-August 2. My New England-based convention friends have been trying to get me to go there for years, and I finally relented. Glad I did, as it turns out this is going to be the last in the series and I’m thrilled to have the chance to be part of the Pi-Con legacy. Not only do I get to read with my dear friend Justine Graykin, not only to I get to carpool up and back with legendary editor Gordon Linzer, I also get to sit on a panel with Tanya Huff! I expect to have a bunch new fodder for my Distilled Wisdom series.

I’ll be promoting Mighty Mighty, but I expect to read from some works in progress as well.

So if you live in the tri-state area and I don’t run into you that week, it’s not because I’m hiding. It’s because you’re an asshole.


Last-minute reading on Long Island

My dear friend Karen Levine from the Long Island Writers House gets me the most interesting gigs.

Just a few months ago, she scored me a reading at Walt Whitman’s birthplace. But she contacted me last night and outdid that.

I’ll be reading Friday night at the Women in Words event at His & Hers Bar & Lounge, 259 Post Road, Westbury, N.Y. Sponsored by the Greater Westbury Council for the Arts to commemorate Women’s History Month, the “evening of celebration, inspiration and joy” is scheduled to run from 6-10 p.m.

I don’t know when I’m scheduled to read, or how strictly the five-minute-max rule will be enforced. But somewhere in there I’ll be reading from Mighty Mighty. I’ve selected the scene where Supermodel meets her spirit guide. How is a crowd who came to hear feminist poetry going to react? I don’t know, but this frat-boy-turned-funny-man plans on wearing a cup.

Anyway, hope to see you there!