September 10, 2004

Chris vs. Dragon*Con 2004

>>Friday

Melissa took off to the Con around 3:30, leaving Matthew with her parents for the weekend. On the way, she witnessed two car crashes right in front of her, one in which a truck was sent airborne. After the accident, she noticed a familiar-looking Gray Saturn in front of her.
Mel met up with a bunch of her "Arms of Middle Earth" group that has been organizing stuff on the internet, and they're all headed to the LOTR-themed "Night in Bree" with band Emerald Rose.

>>Saturday

>>9:05 AM :Mel's dad drops me off at the hotel and I find Mel in short order. After registering downstairs, I head across the street to the Hyatt to see the "Arms of Middle Earth" group off to the parade. I'm a little nervous, like every year, since this con usually holds every ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend that Mel and I ever dated. It's a crap shoot which people from our past we'll run into any given year. It doesn't help my nerves that 3/4 of the women here all look like Alyssa. Or she looks like most of them. Either way, I've got more false alarm panic attacks per day than a pregnant woman with Braxton-Hicks.

>>9:15 AM: The 501st Garrison of stormtroopers are slowly gathering in the hall with about twenty people dressed as Cobra troops (from "GI Joe"). I've never seen lady stormtroopers so ample that they needed a Bullet Bra welded into their chestplate, but this is 2004, gotta think progressively. Personal note: Lara Croft in a short, plaid skirt somehow works. Kind of like her early years in Catholic school or something.

>>9:25 AM:
Okay, a Spiderman in a painted body stocking, complete with visible red thong underwear? That's just not right. And here's a tip for any woman visibly wearing black bikini briefs under control-top pantyhose: If your underwear looks like a blindfold on a beach ball, PLEASE cover up a bit more! We're glad you love your Brazilian Wax, but please keep it to yourself.

>>10:00 AM:
I staked out a spot next to the Hard Rock Cafe for the parade. A Morrisey-looking Superman makes good with a very convincing Supergirl.

>>10:27 AM:
Before the parade group passed me, the brave lad who dressed as Gollum (Maybe "dressed" isn't the right word...) lost this ring on the road. The hobbits were looking for it like a lost contact lens until Melissa found it. As she picked it up and held it out to him, she snapped back into character: "What Am I DOING?? Frodo giving the ring to Gollum?" She ran away from Gollum, with him ambling after her. When the group's Sam character saw this, he brandished his sword and chased after Gollum, shouting "Get back here you stinker! Mr. Frodo! Look out!"
After the group got back to the hotel and had a breather, we were all off to the Food Court for some drinks. As we went across the bridge, I saw two men with "Repent or Perish!" t-shirts rolling up their signs with accusatory slogans on them. What jerks. In all the world, I don't think a few hundred geeks dressing up like movie characters are the biggest threat to Christianity.

>>10:45 AM
The Food court does not have Lambus Bread. I never imagined that there were lady Balrogs, but sure enough, we have one. Not surprisingly, she's overheated. Q: What kind of sub does a Balrog eat? A: Toasted.

>>11:15 AM
An attractive blonde, not looking geeky at all, asks me if I know any D&D groups that she could join. After my jaw's round-trip to the floor and back, I gave her my card. "Yeah, I think I know a couple of groups that would be interested in having you over..."

>>11:32 AM
Fellow Gem Clear Warrior Josh Krach ("not crotch") writes comic books for a collective called Studio Phoenix, whose panel I'm attending. His wife, Kathleen (another friend from UGA) is not feeling well, but hopefully the four of us are still on for lunch. During the panel, member Dan Jolley describes relationship dynamics:
"Editors are like small woodland creatures: You need to approach them slowly and feel how to get them to eat out of your hand, but big arm movements will scare them off."


>>12:30 PM
Melissa and I were supposed to finally get together with Kathy and Josh to catch up, but Melissa and the Ringers (good name for a band), were attempting to cross the road, being stopped every five feet or so for pictures. When we finally get the group together in the food court, there is nowhere for the group of 12 to sit together during the lunch rush. Kathleen, now 5 months pregnant, needs to sit down and eat soon. We decide to split up for now and get together later, so I catch up with J & K while Mel leads the Middle Earthies to Blimpie.
Over lunch, Kathleen and I debate the advantages of having multiple siblings. She says her sibs and step-sibs have done nothing but make her miserable, but I argue that you learn something from every relationship, doubly so for the bad ones. Look at what I learned to avoid after Laurie Handler!

>>4:27 PM
One thing I love about DragonCon is the fact that most people aren't self-centered bastards. They are courteous in lines, even while waiting for Peter Mayhew to sign something. Even the costumed people are personable, and you see most of them spending just as much time behind a camera as in front of one. The Costuming, on the whole, is more an homage to people's favorite characters than a plea for attention.

>>5:41 PM
Geeks do occasionally breed, as evidenced by a stormtrooper dad followed by an Imperial Officer mom with a baby ewok in a back carrier.

>>6:15 PM
Bruce Hopkins (Gamling from LotR) describes seeing the city of Edoras for the first time:
"The landscape opens up to this pristine valley, mountains on three sides, rivers winding through this huge plain. Then there's this...pimple. Right there in the middle of the plain. It WAS like a pimple, and the city of Edoras was the pus on top."

Bruce talked about a literacy program that he and a few other stars of the film worked on. The idea was if kids read the complete Lord of the Rings saga, they would be taken out to see the movies when they came out. Over 15,000 children took part in the program in LA alone.

>>6:55 PM
Back at the room, Melissa, her Sam and I were getting ready for dinner. Melissa's phone rang and Sam answered "Hello, Melissa's pants?" The reply came "What is Samwise doing in Frodo's pants???"

>>7:30 PM
A very large party slowly makes its way towards Pacific Rim, a sushi restaurant down the block. Phil, Anya and some of their friends (including one couple and their baby who were taking refuge from hurricane Frances) sat one end of a long table. At the other end, Josh & Kathleen, Mel and I, and seven others from the "Arms" group, some still in costume. Then Mel made an apology:
"Chris, I'm sorry that I've been off most of today, and I haven't given you much attention."
"What am I, Mr. Bigglesworth? I don't need constant stroking and attention to continue living. You're fine."

>>9:30 PM
The group gradually breaks up, and Mel & the "Arms" people go off to the Hyatt to meet up with the others. Josh asks me "What's it like to be a Hobbit Widow?" I decide to hang with them, and join Josh's co-workers Dan & Marie for a drink in the Marriott garden bar. We sit along the balcony, talking geek stuff and judging the costumes as they pass.
"Oh dear God, do you see that woman in the purple shirt?"
"Eesh! We're going to need a bigger boat."
Kathleen talks up this Playstation horror game called "Fatal Frame" where you go around capturing ghosts with a camera. We debate for a few minutes on whether that "cameras capturing your soul" was a Buddhist or Shinto belief.

>>10:30 PM
Our spirits were dampened when we were, literally, dampened by spirits. Some jerk poured out a strawberry wine cooler from one of the upper floors, and it rained Bartles & James on half of the bar. After washing up, we agreed that the evening was over, and wave goodbye. I make a pass through the Hyatt lobby across the street looking for Mel, but it's wall-to-wall costumes and elbows to arseholes trying to walk through it.

>>11:08 PM
I head back to the room to call it a night. After convincing Anya that her costume makes her look like a goth elf, and not a withered old bat, as she insists, she heads out to join the fray. I wish her the best of luck and turn in.

>>11:35 PM
If geeks have some all-party fraternity with a name like "Kappa Tappa Keg", they have set up shop next door. At least 10 people are in there with a suitcase of Bud Light. They appear to be testing the theory that sound waves, if shouted loud enough, can eventually reach the moon and return as an echo. They later expand this experiment to see if rude words work any better than ordinary shouting.

>>12:?? AM
Melissa stops in to get something, then heads back out with Rebecca. She plans on getting up at 7:30 to be in costume for Emerald Rose's 11:30 concert. "Let me get this straight. You're getting up at 7:30 in order to be fully costumed and dressed for an 11:30 show?" "Well, yeah." "Have fun."

>>??:??
Melissa wakes me up as she comes in, and apologizes that she isn't going to see me tomorrow. (technically, it's later today.) I tell her I understand and goodnight. She tries to explain something to me, but I stop her. "Let me be clear on this: I do care, honestly, about what you are trying to say, but please tell me tomorrow."

>>>Sunday

>>9:00 AM:
She is Pippin today instead of Frodo. I'm meeting her at the concert at 11:30. She and Merry tell me that one of their group was almost car-jacked last night, but he threw a punch and knocked the woman out of his car.

>>9:45 AM:
I leave a note for Phil & Anya, who appeared mysteriously in the middle of the night. "A&P: Give me a ring on my cell when you two are ready, and we'll get breakfast (or lunch, depending). -Chris"

>>10:00 AM:
By chance, I run into Mel and the fellowship at the food court. After Mel tells me that Anya & Phil got in around 4 AM, I decide that they won't make breakfast. Melissa, as Pippin, is speaking a bit o' Scottish, and misunderstands me when I say that it just isn't right hearing her talk like that. As Pippin, it's pretty good Scottish, but it's slightly disturbing coming out of the lips of my wife.

>>11:10 AM:
Here's why I don't mind being a Hobbit Widow for DragonCon: First, Melissa gets to hang out with some friends, dress up and be silly for a couple of days each year. She's a great wife and mother, so she deserves that at the very least.
Second, it allows me some time to do some geeky things by myself. Failing that, it leaves me with a few hours of quiet time in like-minded company in which to ponder my place in life. This was and is my crowd. And come Monday, I'll return to my home, complete with a beautiful wife and a great kid, which is something that many people here this weekend desperately wish to have themselves. So it reminds me to count myself lucky for the many blessings that I have in my life.

>>11:30 AM:
Emerald Rose, the Celtic band who played at "The One Party" for the Oscars this year, is sounding good this morning. The Middle Earth contingent is off stage left, dancing around and generally being camera flash magnets. EmRose does a song that has, inexplicably, become an audience participation Macarena dance number. The hobbits are more than willing to teach the crowd, and Gollum even takes over center stage to show the people how to do the Hunchback Macarena.

>>12:30 PM:
We take of for "elevensies" at the food court a bit late. Anya was supposed to meet us, but I can't raise her on the cell phone. I go back to the room to look for her, only to happen upon Phil in just a towel, coming out of the shower. I quickly head back to join the others, but I've now lost my appetite.

>>12:30 PM:

Merry's Favorite Drink: Chik-Fil-A Lemonade, Coke, 1 Large Pixy Stick and water. She was neither drunk nor high when she concocted this, only bored. Reminds me of my own "Pan-Galactic GargleBlaster"

Merry: (Brandishing a 2-foot PixyStick) "I challenge you to a duel!"
Merry's Friend: "Hmm, no. That sounds like a lot of work."

>>3:00 PM:
We negotiated a 2PM checkout, but we had to store our stuff in Sam's room. We meet up with Anya and very...very slowly make our way down through the Exhibitors' Hall. Mel picked up the first 3 DVD's of her new anime interest, "Gundam Wing." Anya is arguing with her mother on the cellphone for ten minutes before she rejoins the group, still at it. Anya tells her to put "The Cone" on the dog's head repeatedly, and then denies that Phil and she are going to Nepal for Christmas.

>>3:30 PM:
I steal off to the Comics Room downstairs to get Dan jolley to sign my Bloodhound #1, and I pick up a copy of his Firestorm for good measure. I shake Josh's hand once more and we promise to get together for dinner before they move again.

>>4:30 PM:
Our group gets in line to meet Craig Parker, who played the elf Haldir in "The Two Towers". Meanwhile, I get in line to see George Lowe, the voice of "Space Ghost - Coast to Coast". I say I'm a friend of Joey Googe, who did the "Pal Joey" episode with Space Ghost, and he remembered Joey. He was a really personable guy, and I really got my $20 worth for an autograph, because filled up tha page with various character ramblings and "Any pal of Joey...(sorry I killed him)". Back at Craig Parker's table, Anya, Mel, Sam and our Canadian Frodo chat it up with him and take some group pictures.

>>5:10 PM:
We regroup downstairs with the rest of the fellowship. Mel is off to Sam's room to lie down for a bit and I head downstairs for Phil's autograph panel. I really wanted to get a copy of his novel "Wet Work" or the short-story magazine that carried "Full Throttle" for him to sign, but they both were out of print. I settle for issue #2 of "Evil Ernie" in which Ernie lays waste to The CDC in Atlanta and sets the pseudo-alpine town of Helen, GA ablaze. You know, this Ernie fellow is all right in my book.

>>6:30 PM:
Most of the "Arms of Middle Earth" group gathers for a final dinner outing. First, we head to Mick's, but they close at 7:00 on Sundays. A company of hobbits checks out Hard Rock Cafe, but there's a line out the door. We try the Champions place in the hotel, but they can't seat a party of 20 either. We called around, but no place could seat such a large party, so we eat in the hotel Sandwich Shop. The food is surprisingly good, and there's room for all of us to sit, so it's probably for the best.

>>8:30 PM:
The group heads off to their final showing: "The Sunday Night Costume Free-For-All Photo-Op Riot" in the Hyatt lobby. I kiss Mel goodbye. Shortly after, David Carradine passes me by in an impeccably tailored suit. The man just exudes cool.

>>9:15 PM:
It must have been the largest costume group shot in DCon history. 34 LotR costumed characters commanded a 30' radius of picture-takers. Aragorn (Dusty) did the "It is not this day" speech, the hobbits sang and danced, and the crowd cheered to the unveiling of the new & improved Gollum. (Canadian Frodo gave him a latex skull cap and spine accents with latex and spirit gum. Amazing work on short notice.)

>>10:30 PM:

After an hour and a half of "Flash mobs" on the floor, the whole of middle earth goes to Dairy Queen for drinks and ice cream. The picture was a bit surreal. We all sit at another long table and call it "A Hobbit Thanksgiving."

>>10:55 PM:
In appreciation for her organizing efforts, Melissa leads the whole group to pull Gayle, our beloved Balrog and owner of the "Arms of Middle Earth" group, from her downstairs panel and thank her personally. Afterwards, we all head back to the lobby floor.

>>12:30 AM:
Phil sees me writing in my journal and asks "Are you writing the Great American Novel, Chris?" No," I answer, "Just writing out the police report in advance." A few minutes later, Melissa re-appears. Remember the "Where the Wild Things Are" chicken that cornered her in the elevator last year? Well the girl that was in the suit found Mel and apologized, and they've made their peace.

>>12:42 AM:
The batteries in my camera are gone and I've taken all 136 pictures to fill up my card, so I'm finished for the night. I wish they would have lasted until the end, because the "Where the Wild Things ARe" group from last year stole the show again this year, dressed up as the Muppet Band. (The former chicken was now dressed as "Animal".) I also missed taking pictures of the Stormtrooper Pimps, Stormtrooper Austin Powers, the GI Joe team and Captain Chaos (from "Cannonball Run")

>>1:30 AM:
A few of us, myself included, decide to turn in. Our Sam's friends took off today with the room being paid for, so we crash there instead of trying to drive home so late. I tuck in while Mel and some others go back out.

>>Sunday, 8:40 AM


Sam, Mel and I head downstairs, but we don't press the buttons fast enough, and our elevator returns to the top. "Now who the hell is calling this elevator back to the 25th floor?" Mel asks Sam. The door opens and I think "Who's this guy think he is, unshowered with no shoes and a crumpled transformers t-shirt on?" Mel and Sam, on the other hand, recognize him immediately as Bruce Hopkins (Gamling). He heads off to in search of the sauna.

>>10:30 AM:
We have one last group meal together, and Merry is dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow this morning. Lots of pictures are signed, hugs and promises to e-mail are exchanged all around. Samwise, ever-faithful, accompnies Melissa and I to the parking garage and gives Mel a tearful hug goodbye.

I tip the valet and we drive back into the real world to pick up our son and rejoin the human race.

(See all of the pictures)

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