Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Modernizing The Family Reunion

One of the reasons why I might go off the grid on this blog from time to time is that not everything I spend time thinking about is ... appropriate. Let me quantify that. If part of what makes this blog good is that it's interesting it stands to reason that I should find interesting stuff to write about and sometimes the most interesting thing occupying my head is something personal. Or more potently something that involves my interpersonal relationships, my family.

Yep this is one of those though its probably not going in the direction you think it is.

See in about a week and a half I'm headed to my annual family reunion. There is a lot I like but there is also a lot that frustrates me about it. And before I continue let me put up this disclaimer.

This specific family reunion will probably be awesome. I am a critical, snarky, smug bastard by nature but beneath all that is an actual affection for both my family and the institution the family reunion has become within it. Also planning one of these things is tough as a year long endurance run and I am in no way insinuating that I could do it better or that anybody else has sucked doing it or that this family reunion should shift wagons a week and a half before go time.


Remember I'm the guy who runs the website for this thing. If I really wanted to be a spiteful dick I would just blow that up.

If we're being truly honest the family reunion in general has a flaw. It's designed for kids and people with kids which kind of leaves people in my age bracket 18-30 kind of in the lurch. And I need to do it again.

I get it. Out of all the span of the ages that group might be the smallest one and it also might be the one with the least economic power in the planning stages. Before that parents and the family as a whole is willing to spend money on what kids want and after that time a lot of members of the family, though not all of them, may have enough money to just swing for stuff they want. But in the middle not so much. Money is a reality. And almost everything I'm going to say after this should have the asterisk "if we can afford it"

I know most of the time we do this anyway but it was an inevitable turn that this thing would become a how "Greg would plan the family reunion piece" IDEALLY the person running the reunion would know at least two years in advance. Financially the second year would be about individual and nuclear units paying their way but the first would be aimed at figuring out ways to get the family to financially support the thing as a whole.

Now that would mean that each reunion crew would be working wallets at the same time. But donations, merch, carwashes, and baked goods would be voluntary contributions so I don't think people should have much of a problem with it especially if we carry out another suggestion

Financial Transparency
My family plays nice but we are a catty bunch and nothing gets them talking like a scandal involving money at the family reunion. I've seen it happen.

The Onion Looks Back At 'It's A Wonderful Life'
I'm not going to do it because doing it if you're not the host branch it would be a nightmare but adding a section to the website for financial transparency would go a long way. Just have a Google spreadsheet ledger or something so people can see exactly how much money was brought in and exactly where its going. You could even scan and put receipts and invoices in there.

If you did that you might even make the reunion fund revolving and be able to register as a nonprofit. It would increase the trust necessary to get those donations.

Furthermore doing that could act as a guide for guys like me planning this thing later. Do hotels require a down payment for things like the banquet room or group rates? How much does food for the picnic cost? How much for a charter bus?

While having a sit down with the elders might be good for that actual financial documents might be better.

The Hotel
Again stuff everybody already knows. One of the hardest parts is booking the right hotel for the events. There needs to be a balance between having a nice classy hotel and having it be inexpensive enough so that people can go.  If the fundraising and financial stuff worked out well the host family could use those funds to underwrite the hotel costs and negotiate a lower event rate. Meaning that individuals in the family could stay in nicer places.

I say that because if I were running things here in Detroit I would really like to book the GM Renaissance Marriott but that place is expensive as hell at $189 a night.  For the reunion most people swing something closer to $100.  I figure at the end of the day we would book about 30 rooms for 2-4 nights so it would take about an extra 10 grand to swing it sooo there goes that plan.

All the same It's right in the heart of downtown and has a lot of good event rooms that would make other aspects of the plan easier.

Learning from the Con Scene

Okay the real reason why I want to do it in the Renaissance building is because a few years ago I went to Youmacon and every time I think about updating the family reunion I can't help but think there is a lot we could learn from the con scene and if I were running things I would use Youmacon as a model.

How so. Remember the problem that got me thinking about all of this in the first place. I think the reason why that problem exists is because the family has an expectation that everybody in the family if they can will elect to go to all the events of the reunion. This means that every event has to cater to everybody and in doing so caters to nobody.

For instance a few years ago we tried to do an 18 and over Karaoke night but everybody ended up bringing their kids so the music got nerfed as the event slowly turned into a glorified daycare. (Remember what I said at the beginning about being a snarky bastard by nature and having an affection for my family.)

We need to have events that cater to different interests and age groups and cons are great at that. Almost every major panel has an 18 and up counterpart so the speakers can go off the cuff and man the raves. The raves.

You just can't pull that when there are a bunch of 9-year-old's running around in the room.

Again stuff everybody already knows and does.  But since I'm the website guy I've been in a position to observe a few things. Mainly COMMUNICATE AS SOON AS YOU CAN.

I almost never get info when I want it and I'm more or less a communications officer on this thing.

The success or failure of the family reunion often depends on the finances. And all of that depends on people realizing this might be something they want to spend money on long before they can't spend money on it. So as soon say you know the hotel, or have a price on tickets, or are opening up donations and fundraising options, or even just have a committee to investigate all that stuff, tell people!

That way they can give the money to support the endeavor while options are still open to do cool stuff.

And also you want people there. The family reunion for a lot of folks is their summer vacation and it's something they spend all year saving for. Without the intel they may forget to do that and you end up with a whole lot of folks who want to go but can't.

Youmacon has a year round website as soon as they start getting info they post it.

The Problem of Kids
Okay I have to speak for myself here. Some parts of the reunion just aren't for kids. Don't get me wrong a lot of parts are for kids, but some just aren't and it's unfair to both them and everybody else to pretend otherwise. They're bored and unruly. And everybody else is frustrated. Something that the family should have done years ago is just admit this and have a series of kids only events that they'll enjoy and will keep them out of everybody else's hair for the more adult stuff.

Or to put it another way from another event. You're not going to make a 8 year old want to hold it to keep him from interrupting a speech by Jennifer Granholm in her prime. It's stupid to try. You are not going to win that one. And its not the kid's fau...nope not doing that.  Where was I.

The Mandatory Stuff
My family's reunions tend to have three mandatory events. And not having them is not an option. But I think making them good requires some thought about why they came about and who they are for.

The Banquet
I have to be honest. I never liked the banquet. If I didn't go to most of these with my parents I would probably skip it, but I get it. The family reunions started right around the time African Americans were starting to economically and socially do better and its an opportunity for the old guard of the family to do the sort of classy event they would have been barred from going to back in the day.

They worked hard for that. They earned that. It's not my place to take it away.

Part of the reason why I dislike it is because of the dissonance between that and trying to be fun and inclusive to everybody else who might not get it, but if you keep that in mind and do the event like say the corespondents dinner it makes that parallel all the more apparent, letting the younger crowd like me get it.

There are some parts of it where the kids do some stuff and the adults get a kick out of the cute factor and the tradition of it all  but let's be honest most of the night's fun for them is just hanging out with each other and all the glitz might make running around in their wee suits and dresses frustrating to them.

Do the thing then let them change and run around like they want and will do anyway so they don't get yelled at later for ripping or spilling punch on their good pants.

There is generally a good after party but honestly as I will mention later I would make that a separate event. Have a brief intermission. Clean the dance floor off move some tables a bit, set up some lights and then bring everyone back to cut loose like it were a club.

Of course because of the nature of these things... that might not be a good comparison. All the same there needs to be a bar and some tracks and the straight laced 1940's banquet atmosphere clashes with that.

The Picnic

This is probably the event closest to my temperament but its still not the reason I show up. To be honest I don't go for the big events anyway but that's another segment. The picnic is the big general audience event. Everybody gets something out of it. The kids get to run around outside. The older adults get to wist about days gone by, and the guys like me get to just hang out a bit.

I'm not particularly religious and am flirting with outright atheism but I can't say the same for the fam and like the banquet. Who the hell am I to take that away from them. If they want to end it on a Sunday after prayer with one of my family's many reverends fine by me. Take 'em to church.

One of the things that always intimidated me about the family reunion is that I have a large extended family and honestly there are a lot of people there who I don't particularly care to interact with. I'm sorry but if I haven't heard from you in 5 years chances are yes I have forgotten your name. And yes doing the who are you again mambo is kind of awkward.

That's not why I go. I go because it's great opportunity for me to reconnect with the much smaller circle of people who I just don't get to talk to as much as I like for whatever reason.  Because of that I feel that the reunions have to have a place to facilitate those more intimate conversations and that's only going to happen if we admit that not everything can be for the entire brigade. Not everything can be a giant party. And like I said before the con scene has that on lock.

Usual But Not Mandatory Events
Quick Hits

  • Fish Fry
  • Meet and Great
  • River Cruise
  • Golf 
  • Bowling
  • Poker Game 
  • Breakfast
  • Kid Swim Time
  • City Tour
  • All but in Name Room Open House

None of those are as institutionalized but they're stuff people like and if the planning process is open stuff people will generally ask for.  There is a part of me that thinks I'm an introverted freak for that past part but really as I think about most of my thoughts on the matter aren't so out of the ordinary. People like breaking into smaller groups and having some fun.

But a lot of those events aren't fun to me so let's go through some other suggestions.

Stuff I Would Like To See

Pub/Club Crawl

This is a recent idea from the last couple of reunions and it always hits a brick wall for the same reason. One avoidable problem, transportation. A lot of the people being in their early 20's might not have cars and almost definitely wouldn't have driven them out of town, so transportation becomes a nightmare and the plan falls through.

If you plan it early and rent a charter bus you can avoid that problem. Boom. Pub Crawl.

Rave/Club Night
Like I said before I would like to chop up the banquet into three parts. The first would be the banquet for most of the older crowd. Than maybe a old school dance for folks in the middle. And then for the 35 and under crowd a late night wild ass rave.

Breaking it up would let each group know exactly what they were getting into. You wouldn't get young folks bored at the Isley Brothers and old people outraged at Jason Derulo. Everybody would get the party they wanted.

Movie Night
Simple to explain a room that shows movies. You schedule stuff in advance maybe even polling the family about what they want to watch and when so you can get some good stuff. Maybe even a few movies that are hard to find.

You would have to program it right though.

Video Game Tourney/LAN Party/D&D Room/Card Game Tourney

The hardest part of this would be the kid problem. No matter what you tell people they hear video games they think kids. And it would downright piss me off if I actually managed to make this work only to have a bunch of parents screaming at me later that they didn't want their kids playing M rated games or that they're kids got locked out by more experienced players.

It might be a good idea to just play it like pools and have adult and kids swim on this one.

And while I'm at it the same basic set up would apply to TGC's, Role Playing Games, sports and any competitive activity I might want to throw in there.


But like with movies you would have to program it right. What's the game. DOA, Soul Caliber, Smash Brothers, Mario Party, Mario Kart, WoW, Warcraft 3Starcraft 2, Diablo, Rise of NationsMinecraft, Total War, Civilization, Call of Duty, Halo, Madden, Saints Row, GTA, Doom, Street Fighter 2  or good old fashioned PowerstoneWhat?

You need to give people some lead time to practice or even bring their own rig and buy the game if we're doing a LAN thing. Heck even if they aren't it would be good to agree on what the games would be ahead of time so nobody wastes any money buying a game nobody wants to play.

You know for real kicks you could have the competitors in one room and another room for spectators. You know TV and controllers in one and maybe a projector and even live streaming in another.

Yeah you could even do a few overlays if you had the right gear.

I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anime Night

Hey I said I was basing this off Youmacon. It would be kind of cool to marathon Cowboy Bebop...or Bacanno... or Beck or Hellsing... or Fujiko Mine ... you get the point is all I'm thinking.

Also it has the same problem as the video game tournament a lot of people think cartoons=kids and if a bunch of us decide to have a late night Rin marathon some idiot is going to drop off their kid and then yell at everybody else for showing them that.

It's got to be programmed in advance with some sort of rating system.

Basketball Tournament

I'll be honest Everything up until this point has been about injecting stuff I dig into this thing but you know what surprises me. Despite how much I know my family digs sports specifically basketball we haven't just bit the bullet and made a basketball tourney a regular thing we do at these things. It wouldn't even be that hard to organize. Just figure out the size of the court maybe the player count on the teams and build a roster and bracket with maybe a few age divisions. Boom. I can think of no fewer than 5 guys qualified to ref the damn thing off the top of my head.

P.S. One idea I didn't think of until after I wrote this was having three permanent merchant accounts. One for the reunion 3 years away, one for the reunion 2 years away and one for the reunion 1 year away. A month after each reunion the funds in the accounts would be transferred accordingly.

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