Planning The Trip
Back in late 2016, I sat down and wrote 12,000 words about my weekend at Chicago Wizard World. It was an epic rundown that was written just so I wouldn't forget the finer details. This document was found sitting in my work email where it's remained for the past several years. I've decided to post it here, in all it's unedited glory. It'll be posted over the next several blogs that are broken into segments from that trip. In August of 2016, I spent in a weekend in Chicago that was the best weekend of my life. This is that story. Back in 2005, I met a guy named Alex through my ex-wife. She knew Alex from high school, and thought we had similar interests, so we agreed to go on a double date and see Batman Begins. Alex and I hit it off right away. We were both Star Wars nerds, loved comics, and were into all things geeky. Back even as recent as 2005, it wasn’t all that common to meet other people in real life who liked nerdy things. The Big Bang Theory wasn’t on the air and people tended to keep their interests quiet to avoid any mockery. Oh, how the world has changed. Not too longer after seeing Batman Begins, Alex and I hung out once more. That day we ate Memphis barbeque and played video games all day while I gawked at his amazing Star Wars figure collection hanging on the walls. He had them hanging on the walls in order of appearance in the movies, which I thought was great. His cats Anakin and Padme walked around lazily like cats do and Alex showed off his R2-D2 robot that made me so envious it hurt. It was a great day, but unfortunately, I was in the middle of moving to North Carolina following some family issues. I wouldn’t see Alex again for over ten years. We played Xbox Live a lot on the original Xbox and have kept up via email over the past ten years, but that’s been the extent of our communication. Every year or so, usually in the summer, I get an invite from Alex to join him on one of his escapades to a comic con somewhere in the country. I’m always forced to turn him down, because it’s difficult for me to afford a ticket to comic con, let alone a hotel room and plane ticket. Last year, Alex shot me an email asking if I’d be interested in accompanying him to Chicago for Wizard World Chicago. My knee jerk reaction was to type my usual, “I’d love to, but I just cannot afford it right now.” But I read a little further and Alex mentioned he had a hotel room already booked with plenty of room, so lodging would be taken care of. He also mentioned what great public transportation Chicago has, so I wouldn’t need to bother with a rental car or anything, just a $20 pass for the train. Basically, I just needed to get to Chicago and get my ticket for the con. I told him I’d think about it. Not having to deal with a hotel room or transportation was great, but a plane ticket was still a couple hundred dollars and then there is the con, food, and all the other stuff included in traveling. For a guy living paycheck to paycheck, that can be a huge decision to make. I took almost a month to consider all my options. Within that time period, I went from going to not going, to going and then not going again. The decision to go or not to go was based on a couple of factors: 1. I really wanted to see my friend again. It had been so long, I thought it would be great to catch up. 2. I was watching a lot of The X-Files at the time, and really wanted to meet Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. They were going to be there along with a few other cast members of The X-Files. 3. My experience with conventions was not good. I’d attended four in North Carolina, and all four were mediocre at best. I wasn’t sure flying to Chicago to experience a lot of overpriced entertainment was worth it. I went ahead and drafted my “Thanks, but I can’t afford it” letter and was ready to send it off. But something kept eating at me inside. This truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’d been through hell the past few years, and it was just a great way to get away for a few days and experience something different. Plus it would be with an old friend. So, I deleted my letter and started again, agreeing to go just a month and a half before the con. Alex I talked that night. He was excited that I agreed to go and wanted to give me a heads up on one minor change- someone else would be going with us. He told me about his friend Adoniram, who was coming with us. He told me about what a great guy he was and how he was into all the same nerdy stuff as us which sounds great to me. I just wanted to hang out with some other people who’d appreciate the same stuff I do and enjoy whatever Wizard World had to offer. I booked a plane ticket, picked up some cheap travel supplies, printed off dozens of sheets of paper covering all the information I’d need (maps, train routes, extra tickets, confirmations, etc.) and spent hours tolling over who I wanted to meet and get a photo op with while I was there. As I mentioned before, The X-Files cast was what really excited me, but after reading about some experience with the cast and looking at some of the photo ops, I could tell not everyone in the cast enjoyed meeting their fans. I’m super sensitive about stuff like that, and I know if I had a horrible encounter with a celebrity I enjoy, it’ll ruin the show for me, so I decided to skip any X-File photo ops and go a different route. Now, it’s safe to say I changed my mind at least a dozen times. I wrote down and listed all the pros and cons, prices, and time frames, and did everything I could to make the best and more economical choices I could. I decided to do three photo ops: Bruce Campbell, Lea Thompson, and William Sadler. I met Bruce Campbell once back in 2005 at a book signing, but he wasn’t doing any photos at that time. He was a super nice guy and a joy to meet, so I knew getting a photo with him would be great. One of my favorite movies as a kid was Howard the Duck (don’t judge me) and Lea Thompson was my first crush. She’s amazing in everything she’s ever done and while I appreciate her performance in Back to the Future more than Howard the Duck as an adult, there is still something about punk rock Lea Thompson that will always bring a smile to my face. William Sadler is just awesome. This guy shows up in everything I watch it seems and a lot of the stuff I absolutely love: Roswell, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Roseanne, Iron Man, The Flash, The Pacific, Wonderfalls, Deep Space Nine, Tales from the Crypt, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Die Hard 2, and the list goes on and on. Alex actually turned me on to Roswell back in the mid 2000’s, and his performance as Sheriff Valenti is one of my favorites. So, he was a no-brainer to meet. After visiting Wizard World’s website a few hundred times, buying all my photo ops, packing my bags, and saving as much money as I could I was ready to see Chicago for the first time. Back to the Top
Wizard World Chicago ran from Thursday, August 18th through Sunday, August 21st. Alex had the hotel booked from Friday through Sunday, so I could arrive anytime then or I could come on Thursday and find a hotel for the night. My initial thoughts were to fly in Thursday morning, get a hotel, and see the town a bit. But, after adding up the additional costs, I couldn’t afford that. So, I found the cheapest flight on Friday (leaving at 6 AM) and made plans to get into Chicago that early morning. I awoke at 3:20 AM, took a shower, and made the drive to the airport. This was my first time flying in six years, and the first time flying ever with using long-term parking. That was a bit nerve-wrecking, but being that it was really early in the morning, the lack of traffic helped keep me calm. It was actually really easy to find the lot, park, and ride the shuttle over to the airport, so I spent my entire drive worrying about things being confusing and missing my flight for no reason. I arrived at RDU around 4:30 AM, made it through security within half an hour, found my gate, and decided to go grab a bagel. It was only after I had my bagel in hand and an hour to kill before the flight that I started to have some doubts. Was this the right decision? Am I wasting a ton of money? Am I really going to enjoy this? I let the negativity take over some. I started to regret my decision, dread the flight, and the whole weekend. But it was too late to back out now, so I fuddled with my phone and got ready for my flight. I had an issue with the flight attendant (that ended up getting me a voucher from United due to his disrespectful behavior), that didn’t help my current mood. I was plumb miserable by this point. It didn’t help my mood any that Alex was flying into Midway (I was flying into O’Hare) and he wouldn’t be arriving until a couple hours after I landed. So, I was flying into a town I’d never been to, traveling public transportation (something else I’d never done), while thinking about all those horrible news stories about Chicago. My concerns were unwarranted. We landed at 8 AM, I quickly made my exit, and easily found the train. I was able to buy my three day pass with relative ease, and even took a moment to appreciate the view of the trains waiting to depart. I know millions of people see this sort of thing every day, but for a guy who has spent his entire life in the suburbs in the South, this isn’t something I’ve ever encountered. It was exciting. The O’Hare train station is the end of a line, so the train was empty outside of people coming in from the airport. I found a seat next to a window with lots of room and sat with a smile extending ear-to-ear as I watched a beautiful city pass by while taking a bunch of photos. All the fear and frustration I had flying to Chicago had faded away and I was simply on cloud nine. I think I just needed a little confidence and all that I had experienced earlier in the day and making it onto the train with no problem instilled that confidence that I needed. I was going to Comic Con! Well, first I needed to make it to Midway airport on the other side of Chicago where Alex would arrive in four hours. I watched the train stops like a hawk and read the map above the door like it was a lifesaving message. Unfortunately, due to my arrival in Chicago at 8 AM, I was riding the train during the morning commute. My comfy seat by the window soon became a very cramped and uncomfortable as peopled filled in all around and standing above me. Still… I had my window, so I just kept an eye on the city and got ready to hop up and exit once the stop I needed to change trains came up. I made the switch to the Orange line and rode the less congested train straight into Midway Airport. I maneuvered my way over to the baggage pick up and pulled out my Kindle Fire and finished watching Kung Fu Panda and then started The Shining. I still had over two hours to kill before Alex would arrive, but luckily I found a great seat with lots of space around it complete with an outlet to charge my electronics. I watched my movies, taking a quick break to grab a nine dollar ham and cheese sandwich from the snack vendor and then got the text I’d been waiting for. “We are taxiing in, see ya in a few.” I hopped up, gathered my things, and went and stood at the bottom of the stairs. Fifteen minutes later, I saw a familiar face coming down the stairs. Back to the Top
It was crowded and people were moving in all directions, so it wasn’t the best time to catch up, so we shook hands and Alex introduced me to Adoniram. I quickly guided the guys to the train so they could snag their three day pass and we could get moving from there. Alex had one stop he promised his wife he would make and that was a quick trip to the Hard Rock Café to pick up a t-shirt for his infant daughter. We agree that this errand should probably get done first, so we rode the L train back downtown and hopped off to walk the six or so blocks to The Hard Rock Café. Alex lived in Chicago some, so he knew some of the sights, and acted as an amateur tour guide as we made our way through The Windy City. I’d never been inside a city of Chicago’s magnitude and Adoniram was equally enamored with the skyscrapers, and beautiful scenery. We chatted as we walked and I watched in wonderment as my little suitcase held up to all the bumps and broken sidewalks we walked downtown. See, back in 2010, I bought a fifteen dollar rolling suitcase from Walgreens to help keep my things organized following my divorce. This little suitcase has gone all over the country as I have traveled. Usually it goes straight from a plane or car into another car, but on this day, it was taken off the plane onto a train, across another airport, back onto a train, and then dragged across a sidewalk that was difficult to walk let alone drag a super cheap suitcase across. I kept waiting for the zipper to burst, or the wheels to snap off, but it took the punishment and just kept rolling. In fact, after all that that suitcase went through that weekend, it’s still in excellent shape and is still in use today. We made it to The Hard Rock Café around 1 PM and found the restaurant to be mostly empty. They were gracious enough to let us stash our bags and enjoy our meal without having to fight with the luggage. I ordered a club sandwich which took quite a while to come out, but that was fine with us. We were all tired (I’d already been up almost ten hours by this point) and it gave Alex and I some time to reconnect and Adoniram to know each other. Alex was right, Adoniram was one of us. He was quite a bit younger than us, but he loved all of the same types of TV shows, video games, and comics. I’m always skeptical when meeting new people (because I usually don’t have much in common with them) but Adoniram and I just fit. We made a great trifecta. After our meal, we decided to take a cab the rest of the way to the hotel, which was actually all the way back at O’Hare. Like the train, I’d never been in a taxi before, so this was yet another new experience for me. We all piled into the cab driven by a very unfriendly driver, and Adoniram fell asleep almost instantly in the front seat while Alex and I really got a chance to catch up on the past ten years while riding the forty minutes back to the hotel. It was almost four before we got into the hotel, got settled, and managed to rest a little bit. Veteran con attender Alex suggested we go pick up our passes for the con that evening, so we can just go stand in line in the morning. Friday nights tend to be quiet at the conventions, but some guests are there and lots of the vendors are open. We made our way down to the L train yet again, rode the two stops over to The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and got our first taste of the Con Life.
Back to the Top
We walked the quarter of a mile from the train to The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and the excitement was overwhelming. There were people everywhere in costume, walking around and celebrating their fandom. A dozen or so tables with metal detectors restricted entry through the front doors, so we hopped in line to get our bags checked and scanned. The line wasn’t too bad, and we made it through in about five minutes. Once we gathered up our belongings and closed our bags, we opened the doors to this. My jaw just about hit the floor. It was way more people than I was expecting to see on a Friday night and realized that I was in for a convention that was a different beast than the NC Comic Con and Heroes Con out of Charlotte. You could take all of the conventions I’ve attended in North Carolina and fit them into just one of the three rooms the convention took up in Chicago. It was overwhelming, impressive, and a joy to see. This was going to be the type of convention I’ve always wanted to see, and after a few moments I gathered myself to face one of my biggest pet peeves: crowded spaces. Alex guided us around the lobby as we took a look at all the cool statues and few vendors that were set up. We listened as a DJ pumped music that created an almost party atmosphere before making our way to the back of the building to grab our VIP badges and photo op tickets. The fire alarm was sounding, but nobody was running. The words “Chicago fire” popped into my head, and I thought of this being the type of situations where people actually die. There’s an alarm and no ones in a hurry. I guess it just goes to show how false alarms do a ton of harm in destroying any sense of fear and urgency. With that being said, there was no fire, but it was just an interesting moment worth mentioning. Since it was Friday night, the Con wasn’t packed yet and that gave us plenty of time to tour everything, buy some things, and take some pictures. I made a goal early on to try and take five pictures with different cosplayers as Harley Quinn. I snagged two the first night. We got our tickets, and headed back out to the lobby to take in the sites. The convention was broken into four sections. There was the lobby, where the DJ was, a couple of vendors, and lots of people cosplaying. On one side of the lobby was a gigantic room (Hall A) with nothing but vendors, the car from Starsky and Hutch, a bunch of geek themed motorcycles, a zombie killing jeep, three snack bars, and the artist alley. On the other side of the lobby was another ginormous room (Hall F) with many of the larger vendors and some more cars to get photo ops with. The entire back end of that room was dedicated to the autograph lines for celebrities, so probably four dozen tables and barricades were set up for all the celebrities sign autographs or do table pictures. Let’s take a moment to talk about table pictures. I had no idea these existed. So, if you’ve never been to a convention before, let me smarten you up a bit like I wish someone had smartened me up. Most large conventions have professional photographers onsite to take “photo ops.” Basically, you pay the convention money, stand in line at the appropriate time, and get your picture taken. It’s very much an assembly line process with very little interaction with the actual celebrity. You are herded in like cattle, told to smile, and the next the next person comes in within seconds. By the time you’ve walked out of the photo ops spot, a line of printers is busy printing professional grade 8x10s of your photo. It’s an impressive site to see, but it really leaves a lot to be desired in the form of celebrity interaction. Table photographs are photos you get at the autograph table. These tend to be $10-20 cheaper than a traditional photo op and are taken with your cellphone. Sometimes it’s a selfie, but for the most part, you can find someone nearby to take a photo or two. Because you walking up to the table, you actually get a few seconds or minutes to talk with the celebrity (depending no their line) and its more relaxed. If I’d known about table photographs, I would have skipped out on some of the photo ops, not only for economic reasons, but also because I never got a chance to really speak to William Sadler. Meanwhile Alex, who just did a table photo got to spend a few minutes talking Roswell and still came out with a photo which I think, was actually better than mine. Now the downside to table photos is that they create a sort of false market. I’ve noticed at wrestling conventions you’ll have wrestlers charging $60 for a table side photo which is the same price you can get a professional photo op with them if you are at a bigger convention like Wizard World. Upstairs (Hall G) is where all the photo op magic took place. Huge lines are set up and gigantic curtains block off all the photo op booths. Next to the photo op booths was a huge video game set up for a video game tournament along with a dozen or so Bandai Namco games set up to be tested. Some games hadn’t been released yet like Pac Man Championship Edition II. Once you passed the video games set up, there were hand full of vendors, along with the car that Iron Man crashed into in the first film, a DeLorean all Back to the Futureized, and a 1966 Batmobile. Next to the cars were probably twenty different old movie theater promotional standees and other large sized statues/mannequins to take photos with. Typing all this out doesn’t do justice to the size of these rooms nor the amount of stuff crammed into them. Everything was huge! To put things into perspective: Hall A (located to the left of the lobby) was 250,000 square foot. Hall F (located to the right of the lobby) was 220,000 square foot. Hall G (located upstairs) was 220,000 square foot. That’s a freaking ton of space, and a lot of walking on solid concrete floors. Other conference rooms were used for panels, contests, and speed dating, so as you can tell, this is a huge building. We started in Hall F. I learned the con procedure of holding your arm straight in the air for security to see your armband as you walked through the threshold and we entered my first real con hall. It was glorious. In all directions there was nothing but geekdom. Cosplayers, retro themed cookies, gigantic Toothlesses to pose with, a large build your own lightsaber workshop, t-shirt vendors, mask makers, and even tattoo artists. Everything was random, but related. Every booth encapsulated the fandom that so many of us enjoy. Dr. Who, Star Wars, Ninja Turtles, The Walking Dead, DC, Marvel, Pro Wrestling, Star Trek, Back to the Future, etc. I came across a cool scene set up with a jeep from Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park is my favorite movie and I absolutely love the design of the original Jeep, so I gladly handed over my ten dollars, put on the dirty and much too small Dr. Grant style hat, and posed for half a dozen pictures. It was the first money I spent at the con (and not the last) and it was well worth it. Alex wanted to get one of his celebrity photo ops out of the way, so he went upstairs to do that while Adoniram and I bummed around and took in all the sites. Once he finished, Alex needed to pick up some additional autograph tickets, and that’s when I noticed Dana DeLorenzo was already at her table signing autographs and taking photos. Ms. DeLorenzo was one of the people I really wanted to do a photo op with, but I just couldn’t squeeze it into my budget. But once I saw the price for her table photo, it was hard to pass up. So, while Alex grabbed his tickets, I decided to walk over and see if I could get a picture. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I knew I looked like hell. It was around 6 PM, and I’d been up fifteen hours, flown two hours, rode in a train for an hour and half, rode a taxi for forty-five minutes, and walked several blocks, but I just couldn’t pass it up. So I nervously walked up and met one of the nicest people I’ve ever met before. She was so cool and I became an instant fan for life. Ms. DeLorezno was full of energy and loved talking about Ash vs The Evil Dead. She hinted at how great season two was (this was before it aired) and how excited she was that all the old school Evil Dead fans had embraced her character. She spent probably five minutes talking to me and then graciously took a couple of pictures with me. I apologized if I smelled and I explained how long of day it had been and she smiled and said I smelled like flowers. I walked away with a smile on my face and I was thrilled with my first meet and greet. Alex and I chatted while waiting for Adoniram to finish up something and out walked Jason Mewes. I decided to say hi, but he was obviously powerwalking and not stopping to chit-chat. He did say hi back and I asked how he was doing and he said good without ever taking his eyes off his phone. I wasn’t mad; I’m he gets talked to and yelled at hundreds of times every weekend he’s at a con. Shortly there after, I ran into a great Spiderman cosplayer and decided to get my first photo with a cosplayer. This guy was great. After making a big loop, quite a commotion came from the lobby as several Jedi cosplayers went to town doing battle. I made a short video to post on Instagram and well… it’s not exactly great, but I think it captures some of the excitement and crowd size. Alex snagged a couple autographs, and the three of us began looking at all the awesome vendors on site. We walked from one hall to another just taking in the sights and picking up a few odds and ends. Both Alex and Adoniram bought some great comic artwork printed on metal, which I knew would be a problem getting through airport security so I passed. I did run into Rob Schamberger, famed WWE artist, and I had to stop and tell him how much I liked his work. He was very kind, and spent about five minutes talking to me, and I walked out with a small Ultimate Warrior print (signed by Rob) and Sting sticker. We browsed vendors until they closed that evening, only stopping to take pictures with some females who were more scantily dressed than the rest and a little more attractive. Now… I’ve never been in a strip club before, but I could tell these chicks were strippers. A quick Google search a little later from the “Admiral Entertainment” that decorated their booth proved my observation. These girls were crazy nice, accommodating all sorts of oogling nerds for pictures in their not to screen accurate costumes. It was mentioned to the one of the artists that strippers were in attendance and he just rolled his eyes, “Yep… it’s all about the comic books here at Comic Con.” While walking around Hall A, we noticed a group of guys swooning around a group of women dressed in various super hero costumes. It took me five seconds to realize they were strippers, which is amazing being that I’ve never been in a strip club before. Adoniram didn’t believe me, and it wasn’t until I Googled the name printed on the sign within their booth and proved it that he did. The girls were very nice, and were taking all sorts of risqué pictures, but nothing X-rated of course. I went ahead and got a picture with the group and then got a second picture with the girl dressed as Harley Quinn. I made a goal going into the convention that I’d try to get a photo with five good Harley Quinns (trust me, there were a lot of bad ones) over the course of the weekend. This young lady was my first. We walked around, chatting, and just enjoying the atmosphere until they finally closed down for the night at 7 PM. It was a nice evening to really seeing everything, because it wasn’t all that crowded. Of course, the rest of the weekend was total chaos, but at least Friday night we were able to see what we wanted to see without having to fight our way to the front of a line or waiting five minutes for people to move. I managed to snag one more Harley Quinn photo before the doors finally closed. We exited the convention center hungry. We decided to head back to the hotel and see what their onsite restaurants had to offer, but were quickly dismayed with their offerings. What they had was expensive and didn’t look all that appealing. So, we decided to see what else was nearby at the airport. We walked across the Hilton courtyard to the airport and found that they didn’t actually have any restaurants. We decided to try upstairs and then a different terminal, but we continued to strike out. We spent a good half hour walking between terminals when finally while waiting for an elevator, I noticed an airport worker sitting in a wheel chair in the dark playing games on her phone. Yes, it looked as sketch as it sounds. It was awesome hiding spot, and I’m sure didn’t expect me to see her, but I did so I hit her up for some advice on where to eat. She told us of a casual dining restaurant a short train ride down to Terminal 5 and mentioned a McDonalds also nearby in another terminal. We didn’t want McDonalds, so we headed for the first place, which of course, was closing at 9 PM and we arrived at 8:58 PM. What they had left wasn’t appealing, so McDonalds was our last resort. We made our way to arguably the worst McDonalds ever. They were sold out of everything, it was dirty, and crazy disorganized. We all three wanted Chicken McNuggets because we thought that would be the safest thing to eat, but they were out of nuggets. Their prices were much higher than a traditional McDonalds and they blamed that on being a franchise as well as not providing free refills. It was a disaster, but it was 9:30 PM on a side of town with no restaurants nearby and unless we wanted to take a taxi into town and that just wasn’t worth the effort. Plus, we’d been walking around for two hours trying to find something to eat. So, we all just settled on burgers and hoped that it would settle well and not ruin our weekend. I gotta say… maybe it was the hunger or maybe because it had been such a long day, but that was the best McDonalds any of us had ever had. We sat talking about all the latest superhero movies and our thoughts on the directions of each franchise, and just enjoyed our grease in a pretty wrapper. It was frustrating, took a hella long time, but you know what… I loved every minute of that dinner. It was great sharing a meal with my old and new friend and talking superheroes and is a moment of the trip I look fondly back on. Our superhero movie conversation continued (now that we had food in our bellies we could actually focus on fun stuff like how to properly reboot The Fantastic Four movie franchise) as we caught the train back to the hotel. We got back to the hotel around 10:30 PM and I was wiped out. It had been a very long day. I decided to take a much needed shower and like our dinner, it was magical. I felt so much better and rejuvenated following that shower I was happy to plop down into this awesome chair that folded out and continue our convention and geek discussions. We chatted until 1 AM, when we finally decided to head to bed. Adoniram got the pull out couch, while Alex and I shared the king size bed. The bed was more than large enough for the both of us and a wall of pillows between us to discourage any accidental Planes, Trains, and Automobiles type cuddling. Back to the Top
The doors opened at 9:30 AM for VIPS, so we got up around 8 AM to give us enough time to shower, catch the train and walk the short distance to The Donald B. Stephens Center. I woke up first, and enjoyed the twenty minutes of silence in the nicest hotel room I’d ever been in. I sat in my awesome ergonomic chair, fiddling on my phone, and just trying to take in the whole experience. It was raining and must have rained all night, because a quick glance out the window showed a storm drain overflowing and rushing into the road. That didn’t bode well for the 0.3 mile walk from the Rosemont Transit Center to the convention center, but there wasn’t much we could do about that. We got showered, dressed, and headed downstairs where we stocked up on a few bottles of water to keep us hydrated throughout the day. We then made our way to the train and enjoyed the dreary trip towards the convention center. Lyft drivers were out like crazy to take advantage of the rain, and they were handing out discount vouchers trying to solicit some fares from all us rain weary travelers. I decided to just man up and not bring an umbrella because I honestly didn’t want to have to carry it around all day. Alex decided to forego his rain jacket as well, and we walked the short walk from the transit center getting reasonably soaked. Lucky for us, once we got inside, we dried off in fifteen or twenty minutes, so it wasn’t all that bad. Getting back inside the con was similar to the night before and required us to have our bags checked and to go through metal detectors. Once we got through we entered the lobby that was at least quadruple as busy as the night before. We made our way back to the backroom where we picked up our passes and made our way into a gigantic line consisting of all the VIPs who got early entry into the event. We waited around in anticipation for the vendors to finish setting up and the doors to officially open, and then we were marched out like a misfit platoon of soldiers and allowed to begin our festivities. Alex took off immediately to snag some autographs, while Adoniram and I went on a mission. See… I had several wardrobe malfunctions during Wizard World weekend. The most damaging occurred Saturday morning. I was getting dressed right before we left and I felt my sock slip down. I had vaguely remembered one of my socks seeming to lose elasticity, but they were ankle socks… and it’s hard to tell for sure. By the time we’d made it on the train, I’d already pulled my sock up three times, and still it kept falling into my shoes. If you’ve ever had a sock just fail on you, you know how horrible this can be. Plus, I was setting up for around 12 hours of walking, so not having my heel protected was not a great idea. So, we took off in search of socks. There were vendors there selling everything you can imagine. Walls of belts, Japanese candy, hot and cold ice packs, geek themed hockey jerseys, lights that attach to your shoes, you name it, someone was probably selling it. I didn’t think that socks would be difficult to find. Alex did ask the Wizard World booth about socks before dashing off into the crowd, but they didn’t have any nor were they sure who might. Thankfully Adoniram loaned me his eyes as we cut in and out of the crowds in search of something most people give no thought about. It took almost a half hour, but I finally found a booth with a small section of girl socks. They were all themed of course, so I chose the Ninja Turtles pair. Let me just say, getting girl socks on a guys foot is extremely difficult, especially when that foot is already a little sweaty. It took a ton of pulling and stretching, plus a little seam popping, but I finally managed to get the socks on and protect the back of my heel. Now it was time to go conning! Adoniram and I grabbed a quick and crazily overpriced bite to eat, and then began exploring the rest of Hall A where we found my socks. As we browsed near the back wall, we noticed a man with a mission, armed with a machete and a hockey mask powerwalking through the crowd. People moved out of his way, because this guy was full on channeling Jason. It was actually almost terrifying to see. We laughed and then I decided to chase the guy down to get a photo. He never once broke character. We made our way upstairs and saw that more standees were added to the movie theater standee section. I decided to take a few photos and even snagged a selfie with ET. A few minutes later, I noticed the sign that said it cost $5 to take a photo, which I was definitely not interested in paying since no one was around anyway, I went about my way. Super organized Alex had an impressive itinerary to keep. He, by far, had the most autographs and photo ops lined up, and I honestly didn’t see much of him on Saturday. We’d pass and say hi here and there, but he was constantly bouncing between the photo op lines and the autograph lines. Adoniram wasn’t much better. Both guys took advantage of the Daredevil cast being in attendance and spent a lot of money and time on them. I had quite a few Bruce Campbell related events going on Saturday as well. I had my photo op at 1 PM, the autograph line shortly thereafter, and his Q & A that I hoped to visit. But those were all a ways off, so I decided to see what new vendors had popped up since the night before. It’s amazing how many times you can walk around a convention and still see something new. I circled the hallways a couple of times and I still kept stumbling upon new and exciting things. As my 12:30 PM Bruce Campbell photo op approached, I decided to head up stairs and see if the line had started yet. It had not, and judging by the massive lines already set up I didn’t think it would start on time. I decided to rest my already very tired feet, so I found a seat at the video game tournament and watched some guys beat the hell out of each other in Tekken. It was nice to get off my feet, since I’d already been on them for three and a half hours. That concrete floor was killer. My arches tend to fall when my foot becomes tired, which results in even more pain and I could feel them already slipping. I ate my protein bar, and drank a bottle of water, and took some Aleve. After half an hour, I made my way over to the photo op line again, where a hold out line had begun for us Evil Dead Junkies. I stood there silently, just looking around and enjoying myself, when a lady looked over at my VIP badge and smiled big. “Yea…. I’m finally with my people now.” I smiled back. It was a simple statement, but I think it encompasses what going to a con is really being about. It’s about coming together with other freaks and weirdos who don’t fit in the traditional mold. We’re the type of people who’d rather watch Evil Dead 2 for the fiftieth time then sit down and watch NCIS. I chatted with the lady for a bit, she had come with her son to the convention and he was off getting photo ops himself, while she stood in line to meet her hero Bruce Campbell. After about fifteen minutes, they finally started funneling us into a massive line for the photo ops to begin. The line didn’t move fast and I was dying to just sit down and relax a little, but I manned up and stood in line and people watched. This was my first photo op and I was excited. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it was pretty simple. They pull back the curtain and you are essentially placed in the “on-deck” position. While the person in front of you get their picture taken, you can drop your coats, bags, hats, or whatever on a table, and then walk up to the celebrity. You pose, they snap the shot, then you grab your stuff and leave. Bruce was directing his fans like a champ and making every photo unique. I walked up and he said, “You’re a big guy, put your dukes up and let’s pose like this.” So I did, and by the time my hands made it up, the photo was snapped and I was being shuffled out of the way for the next guy. I walked around the back of the curtain toward the line of printers and quickly found my photo. That’s when I noticed my second wardrobe malfunction of the weekend. I decided to wear some Under Armor beneath my clothes since I was going to be in a super tight place where I was sure to get hot. I had purchased a plain blue Hanes X-Temp t-shirt which was quite soft and I’m guessing contains some of the same material Under Armor is made of, because instead of sticking to my Under Armor it slide off it like a Slip N Slide. Just leaning over a bit caused my shirt to slide big time, and expose my Under Armor. It’s not the end of the world, but I would have preferred my pictures not look like I was wearing a t-shirt with a stretched out neckline. I had some time to kill before the autograph signing and since I was still quite tired, I decided to take a seat outside of the photo op lines near the big projector screen which was live casting the Daredevil panel that Adoniram and Alex were attending. It was a great panel and really made me wish I’d take advantage of meeting some of the cast and watch season two already, something I did promptly after returning home. I headed downstairs and hopped in line to get Bruce Campbell to sign my photo. They had a great photo they were giving out, but I actually bought a classic Evil Dead photo from a photo vendor that I wanted Bruce to sign. It was great being a VIP, because they put you at the front of the line, so I was squeezed toward the front and then just had to wait for Bruce to show up. His handler for the event was a dick. Out of everyone I encountered at the con, this guy was by far the biggest tool of anyone. I’m not sure if it was an inflated ego or what, but the poor volunteers had done the best job they possibly could containing this massive line and he walked up and bitched to them about pushing people back two feet, which was impossible since there was absolutely no room to back anyone up. I’d understand if they were going to impede on Bruce coming in or be right in his face as he sat down, but that was not the case. This was just a guy being an asshole because he could. I heard a few stories from Alex about some of the handlers and a few of the volunteers being a little power hungry during our stint that weekend, but I didn’t have any direct issues with anyone. I will say that Chicagoans are definitely different than Southerners, and they can be a little direct, harsh, and rude at times, but I only really noticed that outside of the con on the streets of Chicago and to be honest, it really wasn’t that bad. Bruce was nice, asked my name, and I just mentioned how I met him once before in Raleigh. He said he remembered that event, but I highly doubt that. It was nice of him to say though. I shook his hand, and left with a smile. Money well spent. I made a first con mistake by buying a cheap 8x10 and having Bruce sign it. The photo was very glossy and not matte like the one they gave out for free. Bruce warned me to let the autograph dry and I did for almost ten minutes before placing it into a protective sleeve. It wasn’t until three weeks later when I went to remove it that I watched in horror as all the ink tore from the photo and remained stuck inside the plastic protector. I’d talk to a con vendor in Richmond about this a month later, but that’s a story for another time. I was a starving by this point in the day. All of the vendors were out of food and I just wanted a nice cold drink and a snack. But since there was nothing available, I decided to make my way towards the panel rooms and catch Bruce’s panel. I was told by a volunteer that I was there way too early because they didn’t expect the crowd for The Back to the Future panel. He told me to come back in half an hour and not to worry about the line because I was a VIP. So, I went back out into the less crowded hallway and I sat down because by this point, my feet were on fire. The convention has concrete floors and after a few hours, things began to hurt and then go numb. By the end of the day, we were all limping and begging for a spot to sit down. I piddle on my phone (when I could get signal) and just enjoyed all the costumes. I made my way back to the panel room after twenty minutes to not only find it already going on, but also to be a standing room only capacity. I did a quick Google search and didn’t find anything quick, cheap or easy nearby. I went to check out a restraint attached to a local hotel, but it was closed until 5 PM. The hotel did have a gift shop though, so I bought a couple Diet Mountain Dews, a bag of Potato Skins, and a Snickers bar. You know… a healthy balanced lunch. I sat down on a bench and watched as an amazing mixture of people poured out of the hotel. The hotel was hosting quite a few cosplayers and con goers, but was also hosting a ton of competitors for a ballroom dancing contest. It was quite a sight to see the two groups emerging from the same hallways and passing each other. I saw a guy in maybe my favorite cosplay of the weekend, he was dressed as The Shadow and I regret not getting a photo then. I figured I’d bump into him back at the con, but I never did. I planned originally to get my William Sadler photo op on Sunday, but I was worried about it running into Lea Thompson’s so I decided to hop in line for the Saturday shoot. I was first in line and thought that this would be a quick photo op but the photo op was over an hour late. I eventually grabbed a worker to ask what was going on and he explained with a smile that Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was causing problems. She was taking her time, taking multiple breaks whenever she wanted, and just being Carrie Fisher. He shrugged his shoulders and said to me, “It’s Princess Leia, what can you do?” I heard all weekend how cool Carrie Fisher was. She was signing multiple items and really taking time with her fans. She seemed to really enjoy the con atmosphere much to her handlers and security’s chagrin. She would flat out ignore them when they encouraged fans to hurry up or to only present one item, she did what she wanted, and that made me smile. It was nice to hear how fun and fan friendly Carrie Fisher was, especially when a couple other celebrities in attendance were the opposite. William Sadler did show up and despite the way the picture looks, he was actually quite happy. He was dancing, smiling, and singing when I walked up. I honestly don’t think he was ready for the picture. But that’s the way the photo ops work, they don’t really care. You got your picture; now get the hell out of line. So I took my photo and headed back to find my friends. It was almost three o’clock and I had finished everything I wanted to do on Saturday (I was saving my Lea Thompson photo ops for Sunday) and so I went to have a seat next to Alex while waiting for Adoniram to finish up an autograph signing. It was his first time off of his feet since he got there. Unlike Adoniram and I, Alex hadn’t eaten anything more than a small granola bar early that morning. So we made our way over to this really neat cookie stand that sold all sorts of cool cookies like this Full House one. Alex bought a cookie and I bought a Michelangelo one. Adoniram joined us and we decided to do some walking together. We visited all sorts of vendors, snagged pictures with other cosplays (including a couple Harley Quinns!), and Alex and Adoniram bought some cool stuff to get autographed the following day like a Charlie Cox Daredevil plaque and Bella Twins figures. I ran into another great Spiderman cosplayer and a nice Catwoman that I snagged photos with. It’s amazing how nice everyone is at a con and how much they seem to appreciate the attention that comes with dressing up. I had to swing back buy and get a solo picture with the Wonder Woman stripper as well. As we were walking, we noticed Lea Thompson’s line had almost died out and Alex wanted to get a photo signed. I hopped in line with him and got a chance to shake Lea Thompson’s hand and say a few words with her. She was as sweet as you’d imagine she being and I regretted getting the photo op instead of doing a table photo where I could actually spend a little more time chatting with her. We wandered around (what really goes on most of the time at a con) and tried to make plans for the evening. The cosplay contest began at 6 PM, followed by a barrage of other activities, but by 5, we were dead tired and very hungry. We decided to head back to the hotel and see about getting some delicious Chicago pizza delivered to us. Back to the Top
Alex swung by the front desk of the hotel to inquire about who would deliver Chicago style pizza and that’s when we got some bad news. Giordano’s was the only place that delivered to the hotel, and it charged an $18 dollar delivery fee because it was located so far away. Also, there was an hour and a half wait, which really didn’t seem appealing at the time although I could stomach that if it meant I didn’t have to stand up anymore. There was some debate about how to handle things. Adoniram was really excited about exploring the streets of Chicago some more, and I was on the opposite. My feet hurt, and I wiped (Did I mention Adoniram was almost half my age), so I was okay with ordering some regular pizza or finding something else to eat that didn’t result in a lot of walking. I was so desperate to stay in; I even offered to pay the $18 delivery fee on my own. We ate some Clif bars, drank some water, and just showing off our goodies from the con while trying to decide how to proceed. I wore my arch strap, swapping it from one foot to another, and just sat back in that amazing chair. An hour and half later I was feel refreshed and so were the other guys, and we decided as a group to go ahead and head downtown in search of some authentic Chicago pizza. Alex was excited about showing us downtown some and now that I was rested I was excited about seeing it. We hopped the L Train, took the fifty minute trip downtown, and got off on the closest stop near the actual Giodano’s restaurant. There is some debate in Chicago about whether Giodranos is actually Chicago style pizza, I think by some locals it’s viewed as the more tourist friendly place, but that was okay with us. We were tourists! So we hop off the L Train and its dark. We are downtown Chicago, a city known for its violent crime (of course, all three of us lived in Memphis) but surprisingly at least I felt pretty safe. Dowtnown was clean with lots of tourists and other people walking around and it was gorgeous outside. We walked over to the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and took a few pictures. Then it was time to use our GPS to find Giordanos which was supposedly just a couple blocks away. We walked a couple blocks and suddenly my GPS spazzed and said we were going in the wrong direction. I’m not sure if it was my cheap LG Stylo phone, my T-Mobile service or the skyscrapers all around us, but the GPS could not direct us properly. I conceded to Alex’s AT&T phone which didn’t fare much better. After walking back and forth covering quite a few blocks, I finally stumbled upon a bus stop bench complete with a map. Who knew in 2016, we’d be so grateful to see a map when we were all three armed with cell phones. The map got us going back in the right direction, but Alex’s memory of his old hometown wasn’t quite what it used to be. We passed through the strangest Target I’ve ever seen and a large gang that at first we thought were a youth ministry, but realized rather quickly they were not. They didn’t bother us, and we didn’t bother them, and we just continued walking the street of Chicago keeping our eyes peeled for pizza. We ended up at a huge landmark that I cannot remember and Alex knew we weren’t in the right spot. So, we decided to admit defeated and hailed a cab to take us to our desired pizza. Both nights, it took us well over an hour to find food, but it turned out to be a great memory. Three guys wandering the street of Chicago lost and only further confused by your malfunctioning cell phones. Our cab driver was insane. I thought the first cab driver drove fast and reckless, but this guy took things to whole other level. I just gripped the door the best I could and try not to slide really hard into Alex as this psycho took corners like he was in a Formula One car. It was one of those situations where you just hang on for the ride and hope you don’t die, and luckily we made it there in just about three minutes. The Giordanos we were dropped off at had two entrances, but we didn’t know that. We walked into the bar side entrance that was much slower and not staffed as well as the main entrance. All three of us just stood there for a few minutes waiting for someone to come along. Finally I made a break for the bathroom and Alex went up to the bar to inquire about some assistance. He got attitude, but that seemed to be the Chicago way, and by the time I got back we were being seated in the much busier dining portion of the restaurant. It was 9:30 PM, and we were just sitting down to eat. We wanted to order fast since they were so busy, so we decided on a large pepperoni pizza. The pizza took forty-five minutes to cook, but once again, we were thrilled to be seated, chatting about relationships and video games over a plate of mozzarella sticks. When the pizza finally came out, it was hard not to smile. I don’t know what I was expecting but it was not that. We all took our slices and dug in with a fork, and I am not kidding you when I saw it was the most delicious pizza I ever tasted. Maybe the lack of food and huge calorie deficit I had for the day played into that decision, but it was wonderful. We didn’t think the three of us could get through it, but we did. Alex and I kept going back until that pizza pan was clean. (Note: Giordanos ships frozen pizzas for a reasonable price. I haven’t ordered one yet, but after writing this, I promise you it won’t be long before I do.) When we exited Giordanos, returning back out into the beautiful city where this time… we found a map on a bus stop to find our way back to our train. Technology failed us that night and an old fashion map guided us home. I’ve never been to a city as big as Chicago, so I was shocked to see how many people were riding the train at midnight and to find people playing the violin at the train stop. There was just something magical about standing on a train platform counting the mice while listening to someone playing Coldplay’s La Vida Vida on the violin. We were only a block away from the L Train, so we hopped on and made our way back to The O’Hare Hilton. We were all tired and there was no arguing that. Adoniram fell asleep on the train and Alex and I attempted to chat over the loud sound train. I had Alex take this very unflattering picture of me. I think you can see the exhaustion, along with a very forced smile. We woke up Adoniram and made the short walk to The Hilton and up to our room. It was almost midnight by the time we got back and after a quick shower we chatted a bit before heading to bed to do it all over once more. Back to the Top
We woke up early, but had a few things we needed to do before heading to the Con. Alex and Adoniram has purchased these beautiful metal comic art prints on Friday, but neither one had given much consideration to how TSA would like them. They decided that mailing them home, along with a few other goodies purchased during the con, would probably be the wisest choice. Luckily, right outside of our hotel was a UPS Store, so we got there as they opened and got their stuff packed up and shipped home. The guy working was obviously bored, and spent a lot of time talking and worked an extremely slow pace, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but we still had things to do and a con to get to. It took thirty minutes, but we were finally out of the UPS Store and on our way to check out of the hotel. We made it to the front desk, checked out, and then needed to see if they would store our luggage while we finished up at the con. They were very accommodating and I spent the time discussing The Ultimate Warrior with a bellhop who didn’t realize he had passed on. It took about ten minutes, and then we were ready to make our way to the train. Luckily it wasn’t raining, and we could tell walking in that Sunday would not be near as busy as Saturday. We wanted to avoid the intense hunger that we suffered from the day before with a quick stop at a Dunkin Donuts outside of the L Train. This tiny Dunkin Donuts had a line out the door and after five minutes of it not moving, we decided to take a chance with the vendors at the convention center. We walked in right as the doors were opening at 10 AM, and there was no need to line up like yesterday. We walked in and headed straight to the concession vendor in Hall A, but they didn’t have food ready until 11 AM, which sucked. We wandered a bit before returning to the concession stand where we grabbed some very mediocre and very overpriced food and then watched as Alex struggled with the vendor because he’s allergic to pickles and the hamburgers did not mention anywhere that they came fully loaded with a ton of pickles. I took almost twenty minutes for them to cook him a new burger, because they refused to refund his money or swap it out for anything else, but he ended up with a fresh hamburger that wouldn’t cause him to suffer from a medical condition so that was a win in our book. My flight left Chicago at 3:30 PM but Alex’s and Adoniram’s flight didn’t leave until much later that evening. They had completed most of their con goals, with exception of getting a couple of add on photo ops and autographs. I still needed to do my William Salder and Lea Thompson photo ops, so I made them my priority for the day. I headed up stairs to get my photo with Lea Thompson and was third in line. Of course, she didn’t remember me, but she shook my hand and introduced herself and we took our photo. It was a much better photo than the day before (thanks to my shirt not slipping around like crazy) and I was thrilled with it. I had two more things I really wanted to do at the con. The first was to take a picture in the Impala like the one the Winchesters drive in Supernatural. I love that car and I’d been waiting all weekend for the lines to go down so I could take my turn. I finaly had an opening but then I realized that the guy who owned it was doing his own photo ops with the car. There was no “take your own pictures” nor were the photo ops cheap. I think it cost $25 to get one photo sitting inside the car. It was like $15 just to stand behind it. That was not happening, so I passed and decided to go to something I’d been waiting for since Friday. The week before the con, I was doing some Evil Dead research and wanted to see if there were any directions online to the Evil Dead 2 cabin here in North Carolina. I’ve looked it up a few times before, but I know the landowner didn’t want visitors, so I’ve never attempted to see it. I thought maybe I’d email the landowner and visit the cabin, but that’s when I discovered that it had collapsed and the land was sold to a lumber company. A mega Evil Dead fan had convined the landowner to allow him to remove the workshed and all props/evidence of the filming before the land was completely destroyed. This guy had a plan to tour conventions with the workshed so Evil Dead fans could experience it for themselves. Friday night, while walking around Hall F I noticed a lady putting out a banner for the Evil Dead workshed. Now, I was on his website like the day before, and there was no mention of him being in Chicago, so I went up to make sure this was the same guy. Apparently, it had been a last minute decision and he was driving all night to get the cabin set up. I couldn’t believe my luck and was thrilled to check it all out. On Sunday, I walked over and talked to the guy and told him I was from North Carolina and had just read up on him taking the workshed. He told me how much was still left that he needed to get, and was super cool talking Evil Dead. He gave me one his custom built chainsaws to stick on my arm and told me to take as many photos as I want. Alex, was the photographer and I posed and just enjoyed having a few moments with this precious piece of pop culture. Alex had more autographs to get, so Adoniram and I spent my final hour browsing vendors where I finally came across some plush Animal Crossing toys. I purchased and Isabelle and was thrilled with my find. It’d taken me all weekend, but I finally found something Animal Crossing related. I also purchased a Supernatural art print that I really liked and got the artist to sign it for me. It was nice having a final walkthrough all the halls because it wasn’t nearly as busy as it was the day before and it gave Adoniram and me time to talk and really enjoy everything that was going on at the con. He really wanted to checking Chicago some more and I figured once Alex finished up they’d probably check out Navy Pier and take in some of the sights. My time started to run out and that nervous anticipation set in, so I went and found Alex in an autograph line, gave him a hug and promised not to allow another ten years to past between visits. Adoniram walked me to the door and I thanked him for the great weekend and told him how much fun I had. We shook hands and out the door I went. I didn’t get more than two feet before a wave of sadness came crashing over me. Back to the Top
The Trip Home
I had a plane to catch, so I couldn’t allow my emotions to slow me down. I power walked to the L train, rode the two stops by to O’Hare for the final time, and went to fetch my luggage. The bellhop actually mislabeled Alex and my luggage, so he had to let me into their storage room so I could actually find my suitcase. It was a bit of a mess, but didn’t take too long and I was on my way. I stopped by a gift shop and pictured up a drink and a handful of Cinnamon Certs, since I had been searching for Certs, a candy that stores seemed to stop selling. The TSA was much less strict at O’Hare than RDU, but I did have a bit of an encounter with one agent. They had one guy standing at the front of the line yelling out “Have your boarding pass in your hand and ready to scan before you walk up.” This was a continuously moving line, so I stepped out of it for a second to fetch my boarding pass. The moment I stopped the TSA agent with a dog came running up screaming, “DO NOT STOP! KEEP WALKING!” I just looked at her and said, “But he said to have your boarding pass ready so I was getting it out.” She just screamed at me again and I realized there was no winning this argument. I finished getting my pass and got back in line and muttered a handful of dirty words under my breath. Other than that slight encounter, I made it through security quickly and found my gate was already full. The gate seemed to not have enough seats, so I squeezed in where I could and put in my ear buds. I decided to take United up on their offer to check my bag for free, since my bag is what led to my problem with the flight attendant on the flight in. I boarded the plane rather quickly, but then was seated in a row with a husband and wife, who both had children on their laps. This turned into an issue that the flight attendants were forced to deal with multiple times and I was asked to move seats, which I gladly did just to get the freaking plane in the air. I went from an aisle seat to a window seat, but at least I was heading home, something I really wanted at the time. The flight seemed to by rather quickly, or maybe watching The Thing sped things up. I took some photos with my Kindle Fire that were about on par with the potato quality of my LG Stylo and as we approached Raleigh it finally set in that this weekend was over. It went by so fast, and was so exhausting, but I was having the time of my life and didn’t even realize it. I felt a knot build up in my throat and I kicked myself for getting emotional over something so stupid. But I wasn’t done with those feelings. I landed, found the baggage claim, snagged my bag, and headed for the shuttle back over to the long term parking lot. Everything went smooth and I don’t know why I expected it to not to. Millions of people fly everyday using these same shuttles and parking lots, I guess I just always assumed there would be some issues with them. Twenty-one dollars later I was exiting the parking lot, back on I-40 and heading home. That’s when it really hit me. I remember an email Alex once sent me regarding a con he had went to with someone. He compared it to war (which seemed ridiculous) because you come away this brotherhood almost. It’s like you spent this amazing weekend that can never be re-created with a select few others that are the only ones that can appreciate it. On that drive home, I knew exactly what he meant. I realized I couldn’t walk into the house and explain how magical and fantastic my experience was. There weren’t words that I could say (or type for that matter) to truly describe the experience. It was something only Alex, Adoniram, and I could truly understand I felt closer to these guys than I had felt to anyone in a very long time. I shed some tears, I won’t lie, and I guess when I got home the look on my face showed the pain I was in. I didn’t want the weekend to end. It was such a wonderful experience, returning to normal life hurt. The next morning I wrote Alex and email and thanked him for the amazing invite and explained how much the weekend meant to me. I knew he would understand and he did. His acknowledgement that it wasn’t just my delusional ramblings of a fantastic weekend helped verify what I had experienced was real. He sent me some photos he took after I left. He and Adoniram went to Navy Pier. I really wish I could have seen it. I wrote 5,000 words the Tuesday following the con about my experience there. It wasn’t very good. Like I said before, it’s so difficult to put into words. I spent the next six months thinking about the con almost daily and how I wanted to really write everything out before I forget any of it and share my experience with anyone who might be interested in reading about it. But I knew the challenges I faced. How do I describe convention going with it sounding like three guys walking around in circles, looking at geeky items? To be honest, that is a lot of what we did. My only solution was to stop worrying about it being entertaining and just write it for me. Write about the minute details so that I can remember them. Maybe the fact that I had to alternate my arch support doesn’t interest anybody, but it was part of the memory and the best way to retain memories is to write them down before you start forgetting the little things. On a weekend in August 2016, I spent time at my first big convention with an old friend and a new friend and had the time of my life. It sometimes saddens me because I don’t know if I’ll ever have that much fun again. But I am so thankful for the experience and so glad that I was able to experience it. I will cherish that weekend for the rest of my life. Back to the Top
The End of Mad Men and Some Thoughts About a Friend
I finally recovered by the end of Justified, just to have to go through the end of Mad Men. That was one heck of a ride.
There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said a thousand times before in regards to Mad Men. It was an incredible study of human behavior, and never before has a show been so character driven. The fact that the show covered an entire decade, and the massive changes that went on from 1960-1970, is amazing. It was quite simply... brilliant.
As usual, the internet will spend the next three days arguing over whether the finale was worthy or not. I felt that the finale did its job well, and wrapped everything up nicely. It also showed how Don's character came full circle, and that was rewarding. I maybe wasn't quite so thrilled with how Don found his enlightenment, but the hippie movement was strong in the late 60's. It made perfect sense for the time period.
I started watching Mad Men around the second season. I checked out a few episodes, enjoyed it, and then took sometime to share the show with some people at my old job. My boss was one of the first to really appreciate the show and become interested.
He and I shared a lot of things, especially when it came to media. Music and television shows were our two favorites, and we had such similar tastes rarely were one of us disappointed after recommending something to one another. However, I really didn't think he'd take to Mad Men like he did. At first glance, its a show about powerful white men in the 1960's with 1950's ideals. They were sexist, racist, and practically alcoholics. I didn't know how my African-American boss in his mid-40's would relate. I sometimes underestimated him like that. I guess he related the same way a white guy his late 20's managed to relate to a show set two decades before he was born.
He died about two years ago. He was one of the unfortunate souls who died of lung cancer and never smoked. It wasn't quite like Betty's diagnosis, there was no real estimated time of survival nor did he ever make it home. It was very sad.
As ridiculous as it may seem, one of the first thoughts I had was about how much he'd miss out on his favorite TV shows. He had recently gotten into Breaking Bad, and the final season was coming up soon. I remember thinking, as irrational as it may seem, it really sucks he missed out on seeing the ending. For almost two years, I've beat myself up for thinking that. I realize that while he laid up in a hospital, his mind was most likely on his family and more important things than a television show. I knew it was stupid to think that a dying man's thought would be on how a TV show ends. But as I started the last episode of Mad Men, I couldn't help but think about him. I thought about how excited he would be on Monday morning to discuss the finale like this. We'd share some great laughs, and he'd talk about his "girl" Betty. That's when I realized, it wasn't him that I felt bad for not getting to finish these TV shows, but it was me. I felt bad that he'd never get to finish watching these TV shows, and because of that, I wouldn't get a chance to discuss and dissect them with him. One of my most treasured moments to spend with him.
Mad Men was pretty much the only remaining show that we watched together and discussed weekly. So, tonight was in a way, me saying goodbye to two people; Don Draper and William McKay.
I'm not religious, nor do I believe in an afterlife or anything, but if there is something out there after we die, I really hope I get a few minutes to discuss Don's evolution and get his thoughts on how Mad Men ended as silly as that might sound.
Back to the Top
Rec Center Memories - The Moment of Glory
I'm sure everyone remembers their first crush. That first person who seemed so perfect that if you could only be in their presence, you'd be much happier. Your heart fluttered if they ever glanced at you. It was painful and magical all the same.
My first crush went to the rec center with me. She was two grades above me which put her out of my normal social zone. I mean, a fourth grader couldn't date a sixth grader could he? I could only dream.
I don't recall her name, but let's call her Stacey. Stacey was that sweet head cheerleader, not the b*tchy one. She was blonde, had a great smile, and was incredible friendly. She just seemed perfect in every way. All of the boys had a crush on her but I kept mine pretty quiet. I knew I wasn't worthy, so there was no sense in torturing myself.
I mentioned in my last post that a skating rink was attached to the rec center. Every Friday and Saturday night, the skating rink was the place to be on base if you were a kid or teenager. But during the week it was us rec kid's playground. We watched movies, danced, took pictures on motorcycles, played dodge ball and soccer, and occasionally skated. Since I had never roller skated before, I was grouped up with the other non-skaters at one end of the rink for some training and practice. Each week when we skated, I'd attempt to keep my balance and get somewhere in the most illogical way man has ever devised to travel. My little brother took to it instantly, and was out of the non-skater group within a week, but me... I embraced my role as the kid who fell down too much.
Eventually they dissolved our little training group and we were thrown in with everyone else. We'd all be skating in a huge circle, and someone would call out a certain move to be performed and us non skaters would just look at each like, "We can barely stand the hell up. There is no way I'm going to try to lift one leg off the floor."
It wasn't a bad time, since we just got lapped a lot and tended to stick with ourselves in the back. So I wouldn't go as far as to say we dreaded skating time, but we'd much have preferred to be left to play video games in the lobby.
One day, some Satanist decided that our comfort as skating losers could no longer be tolerated. A massive bracket was put up on the wall, breaking down a roller skating competition to crown the best rollerskater from both the girls and the boys. I assumed they would have left me off, but the size of the bracket had me doubting that. After that buzzing crowd disappeared, I walked up to take a look and saw that I was to face off against Roberto, the fastest skater for the boys.
It was like the first round of a major sport playoffs, where you take the best team and put them against the weakest team. What the heck did I have to prove? I was lucky to make it a lap and not fall down, there was no way I was going to even be slightly competitive with him. It bothered the heck out of me, especially since we were to have our match later that afternoon. I knew I had to either get out of this or come up with a plan.
My request to be pardoned was denied, I guess due to some strange lesson about life not being fair. So as I slowly laced up my skates, I decided to take the next step and plead my case with Roberto. We weren't close friends, but we got along fine. I figured maybe he'd let me win, or at least not embarrass me.
I guess he saw the desperation in my eyes as I asked him not to annihilate me in front of everyone, especially since Stacey was up next and would surely be watching this duel. He smiled and with a very compassionate heart, he told me to do my best and he would make sure I looked good.
The whistle blew and I kicked those rubber wheels into the ground trying to get a decent push off, but instead nearly fell over. I rounded turn one and was coming out of two when I heard a thunderous roar in a building with no more than ten people in it at the time. As I made it to a straightaway I was finally able to drop my concentration some and look around. I realized I was winning!
The next turn put me in front of my fellow racers who were due up next. I heard them chanting Brandon, and I looked up to see the girl of my dreams, Stacey going absolutely nuts cheering for me. I could hear her yelling over the top of everyone else, and I nearly wrecked looking at her and trying to process everything.
That cheering went on one more lap and it looked like the massive underdog might pull off the greatest upset in rec center roller skating history. My face hurt from smiling so hard, and I tried to soak in every second of it with what little bit of mental power that wasn't being used to keep me from breaking another limb.
As we neared the start/finish line for the third and final lap, Robert skated up to me and matched my pathetic speed. He looked over with a big smile and said, "I told you I'd make you look good" and then blistered on past me finishing the lap before I even made it back around to turn three.
Roberto went on to win the boys division, while I got dismissed to play pool with the rest of the losers. But for that one lap I was the hero. I got so many cheers and congratulations after my race while attempting that dangerous transition from skating rink to carpet, I almost fell over yet again.
Stacey came over and told me how proud she was and what a great job I had done. I stood there amazed and I'm pretty sure speechless. She smiled and went back to her friends, while I attempted to record that entire encounter in my memory forever.
I'm pretty sure that was the first and last thing she ever said to me.
Back to the Top
Rec Center Memories - The Chicken Fight
In the summer of 1993, me and my brother moved to Orlando to live with our dad. A few months prior he had been transferred to the Navy base in Orlando and he wanted us to finish out the school year before moving down. We were excited, I was ten years old and we were moving to the home of Universal Studios and Disney World! We thought we had won the lottery, which was nice after dealing with the divorce of our parents the year before.
Things were different though. We didn't have a stay-at-home mom anymore, and the Navy isn't exactly known to work around children's schedules. So my dad did like most military personnel, he enrolled us in the base MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) recreation center, a sort of daycare/camp located in an old rectangular building attached to the skating rink. I'd never been to anything like that before, heck I had never been in a skating rink before. It was going to be a very different experience and something I was really weary of.
I remember arriving our first day and just looking around stunned. In this building was four pool tables, ten or twelve arcade games, a TV area with a Nintendo hooked up, a huge patio, a craft room, and one of those awesome metal spaceship playgrounds out back.
Our days would be split enjoying all those activities and more. We'd play football out back with our cool counselor Todd or work on making all sorts of crazy crafts with Jenny in the back room. We'd spend some days in the skating rink where I embarrassed myself trying to learn how to roller skate and others taking field trips all over central Florida in the big Barney colored purple bus.
Two weeks in we had a picnic across the base at a little park. There wasn't much there, just a shelter for some tables and a few random pieces of playground equipment. The kids who'd been there before immediately ran for a small balance beam, no more than six inches off the ground and six feet long. Not an unusual sight to see back in those days, but I could not understand the excitement, it was just a pole in the ground. One kid finally told me they were playing a game called chicken, and I just looked at him wondering what the hell chicken was.
The game was pretty simple; one person gets on one end of the balance beam, and one kid gets on the other. You put your hands behind your back and attempt to use your chest to knock the other person off the balance beam. Of course, after a few rounds, hands started getting used and the game took a more dangerous turn, but that didn't stop me from wanting to try.
One boy was the chicken master. He went through the entire line twice before I decided to give it a try. He was unstoppable, and no one could dethrone him... until I got there. It took me less than a second to throw his butt off the beam and suddenly I went from the new kid to the hero. Kids cheered, a marching band started playing, and a parade in my honor began. Okay... maybe that didn't happen, but it sure felt like it.
He took it pretty gracefully and simply got in the back of the line in hopes that I'd still be there for a rematch. His patience was rewarded and suddenly it looked like a showdown in Rocky. The new rookie who had defeated the champ, was now backed in a corner to face an angry, embarrassed champion looking for vengeance. What was going to happen next?
I wish I could say there was an epic battle that went on ten minutes or something, but it was over in just a few seconds. The boy stormed across the beam, locked up with me, and then took his leg and kicked my legs out from underneath me. I remember falling and hoping I wouldn't hit the balance beam, but then I heard the loud pop, followed by a searing pain in my elbow.
Being ten years old, I thought I was dying. I had no idea what had just happened. I started crawling my way towards the woods just trying to get away from all the chaos while trying to comprehend that I probably just broke something. Like always, the stress made me want to sleep. I just wanted to close my eyes and relax.
If I would have been able to sleep it wouldn't have been for long. The Navy has full fledge emergency services on base that usually have nothing to do. So when one of the counselors called for an ambulance, two arrived, along with a firetruck, and two base security cars. You would have thought someone had been shot with all that attention.
I refused to go with the paramedics and instead waited for my dad to arrive to take me to the base hospital. I broke my elbow and shattered the growth plate which required me to have to see a specialist to ensure my elbow wouldn't start growing the wrong way.
I got a Miami Dolphins cast put on, not because I was really a fan but because rec center counselor Todd was a fan. He was in his early twenties, and was that cool guy all us kids looked up to. He loved the Dolphins, so I figured getting a Dolphins cast would endear me to him. I was right.
Below is a pic of me wearing my awesome Dolphins cast. I got to started the fourth grade with that cast on, and to save me on writing I went by a nickname my dad had for me, J.B. It was the only time I ever did that.
People were impressed with my win over this kid whose name I forgot in chicken and everyone called him a cheater for sweeping my feet out from underneath me. Suddenly I made friends, and fit in with the rest of these military brat misfits, and I knew things were going to be okay.
Oh yea, one last thing. Nobody made a fuss about me breaking my arm at least the way people seem to do so today. There was no talk of lawsuits or asking to have the balance beam removed or any of that crap. It was simply kids stuff and it was left at that. I learned my lesson, I stay off balance beams now.
Back to the Top
Rec Center Memories - The Chicken Fight