Monday, September 7, 2015

DragonCon 2015

I'm home! As always, this will be really long. Like, super stupid long.

This year I went down to Atlanta earlier than ever before, on Thursday instead of Friday. This was partly because there were too many events on Friday that I didn't want to miss, partly because my hotel (in Smyrna, GA) is close to a birdwatching hotspot and I thought I could spend a few quiet hours birding along the Chattahoochee River at Chochran Shoals before plunging into the madness of DragonCon. But when I reached the end of my directions to Cochran Shoals, I was in the middle of a gated subdivision with nowhere to park and no access trail in sight. Probably for the best, in retrospect, because it was storming.

I got some lunch instead and checked in to my hotel. Then I headed into Atlanta.

I only expected a few people to be hanging around the con area. There's not much official programming on Thursday. But not only were thousands of people already there, a surprising number were already in their cosplay outfits. I guess if you spend a whole year making your costume, you wear it as much as possible.

For some reason I never got my postcard this year and had printed out my receipt instead. There was no delay to get my badge, though--just a few minutes including standing in line--and then I was free to wander around

In November I'm coming to Atlanta again to see King Diamond play at The Tabernacle, so I decided to find the place to see what my parking options will be (since I'll be coming directly from work and will be hard pressed to get there in time even without having to worry about parking). It wasn't hard to find and it's a handsome place. I've been a King Diamond fan for 25 years but have never seen him play live, so I'm excited for the show for sure.

My friend Kevin, cohost of The Flopcast, a fantastic and hilarious weekly geeky podcast, texted me while I was on my way back to the con hotels. We met for lunch at Hsu's and had a great time catching up. DragonCon is the only time I get to see Kevin since he lives way up north in the Boston area, so it was great to have a few hours to relax and talk without either of us needing to rush off somewhere. The food was excellent too. Unfortunately I sucked down four glasses of unsweet tea first and then for some reason was not able to finish my walnut shrimp, which in retrospect is a tiny sliver of agony because those shrimps were damn good.

We went to my first DragonCon event after that, a Geek Music Singalong. The room was unexpectedly full, and of course everyone was in a great mood. DragonCon was starting and we were all among our people, about to sing along with theme songs from cartoons and stuff like that! It was a lot of fun but neither of us stayed for the whole thing. After about an hour we both ducked out, since he had something else to go to and I wanted to get back to the hotel and grab as much sleep as possible to shore me up for the weekend.

When I got back to my hotel, I discovered I'd left my toiletries at home. That wasn't a big deal since there's a Target within walking distance of the hotel, but it meant my fresh set of contacts was at home and I had to make do with last month's for the whole weekend. My poor eyeballs.

From my Twitter:
Hypothetical question. Let's say you go out to eat and get delicious shrimp, but you drink four glasses of iced tea so you can't finish it.
So you get a box and put it in your car for 3 hours, then take it to your hotel room without a fridge. The room is sort of air conditioned.
Can you eat that shrimp for breakfast without dying? Asking for a friend.

(Responses all indicated that I would be a complete moron to eat that shrimp so I didn't, and I will regret it forever.)

I got about seven hours of sleep and was up early to get to the convention. The first panel I attended was about Rifftrax. Kevin went to that one too, as did a friend of his whose name I caught as Christian but may be wrong about. If so, apologies to not-Christian and I am so sorry I got your name wrong. I am terrible at names. Anyway, this is a picture of us. Kevin's in the middle, I'm the girl one, and that third guy is maybe named Christian. (I should add that he's an awesome guy whatever his name is and I got to talk to him at a few other panels, so probably I should have been more careful with his name.) [Kevin tells me that I was right about his name! Hi, Christian, I was just kidding that I was wrong about your name, ha ha ha!]

The panel was fantastic and a great start to the day, but immediately after the three of us went our separate ways I had a problem. The DragonCon app seized up and refused to do anything, froze my phone so that I had to reboot, and when I uninstalled it out of desperation I couldn't reinstall it because I didn't have good enough internet access for a download. My schedule was in there! I went to the Sheraton to get a paper schedule but they were out.

Above: Bill Corbett and two people whose names I should remember but don't. Me and names, not a thing.

For a while I wandered around not knowing what to do with myself. I texted Kevin finally and asked him where the skeptic track was located since I couldn't remember. That's my go-to track when I don't have anything else I want to do in any given timeslot. I headed that way and actually found a paper schedule in the skeptic track room! I guess it was a miracle. So things were looking up, and looked up even more once I realized the reason I couldn't see very well was that my contacts were in the wrong eyes. I fixed it and lo! another miracle!

I found a burger place to eat and got a table to myself, since it was still fairly early. While I ate I went through the schedule and wrote down the panels I wanted to go to. Unfortunately I'd missed one I really wanted to attend, but after I ate I went to one about 80s animated movies and that was fun. When the Last Unicorn trailer played I actually got chills, so when I'm done writing this ridiculously long post I'm going to watch the movie. Clearly it's been too long.

After the animated movies panel, I attended one about the Beale Papers, an unsolved code from the 19th century that's supposed to lead to hidden gold and silver in Virginia. It was a fascinating, well-researched panel and even though it seems likely it's a hoax, I still enjoyed learning about it. I also wrote down a lot of books the presenter (Elonka Dunin, and I had to look that up because you know I didn't remember it) recommended.

Above: I think I get a picture of this Captain Morgan every year. I love him. (That is not me in the picture. I would never wear a costume that covers the tats on my legs.)

I went to an event after that that was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't meshing with me and I slipped out and just wandered around looking at stuff and people. I bought an Abney Park t-shirt since it was a design I didn't have.

A note about t-shirts. I like buying t-shirts when I see a live show. It's a great souvenir, gives a little extra cash to a band I like, and I always need something to wear. I only brought two shirts with me to DragonCon since I knew I was buying more, and I ended up with three new ones. The Abney Park shirt was most expensive at $30, the Here Come the Mummies shirt most comfortable (lighter cotton) and slightly better price at $25, and the Voltaire shirt was a bargain at only $15. I love all three, not just because I love the performers but because the designs are awesome.

Kevin and I texted back and forth a bit and I ended up joining him for the "Heckle-along" of the movie Starcrash. Basically the hosts show a terrible movie, riff along a la MST3K, and invite the audience to shout out comments too. It's chaotic and freaking hysterical. Starcrash was a particularly good choice.

From my Twitter:
I saw a viewing of Starcrash with Kevin. It's a hot mess of a 70s Star Wars ripoff, awesome in its cheesiness.
Afterwards I won a DVD of the movie! I remember screaming and jumping up and down and Kevin hugged me and everyone went awwww.
Most people only react that way when they win money.

I grabbed a piece of pizza and a Coke after that and got in line to see Voltaire at midnight. I was so close to the front of the line that when they let us into the ballroom, I had time to buy a shirt from the merch table and still get a spot really close to the stage.

From my Twitter (while in line):
The kid next to me won't stop talking to me and I accidentally told him I watch the show he's into and now I'm living a lie.
Omg just realized what this girl near me is dressed as and it's so incredibly specific I feel like an uber nerd.
Looks like the line has probably grown enough that it's outside by now. Enjoy the humidity, suckers.
Guy in front of me pointed out that we're in line for two hours to see Voltaire play for one hour. I told him it's like Disneyworld.
Dancing Stormtroopers will never not be funny.

The show was great as always, and as a fun addition Voltaire had the band This Way to the Egress back him during most of the set. The crowd was full of energy and I danced so hard my hair was wet with sweat. When the show was over I reeled outside into the breezy evening and realized with great joy that I still had the full weekend of DragonCon ahead of me.

I slept three and a half hours--I could have slept longer but I wanted to beat the parade traffic. I parked downtown at about 8:30am, my bag full of stuff I would need before I returned to my hotel at about 3am.

From my notes:
It's not that I'm carrying too much stuff, it's that I'm carrying it in the wrong bag. It all sinks to the bottom of the bag and it's lumpy and hard to find anything. Next year I will for sure get a Bag of Holding [this, and I just ordered myself one]. Kevin told me about them. He says ThinkGeek sells them and they're designed for con-going. I've seen quite a few around and they look trim and useful.

One of the first things I did was stop by CVS to buy moleskin for a blister on my heel. Then I got iced tea at Starbucks (nasty tea but better than coffee) and made my way to the first panel of the day, Permissible Mullets of Classic SF and Fantasy.

Yes, mullets. There was a powerpoint.

The panel was absolutely hilarious. I hope they do it again next year--the panelists discussed a mullet sequel next year early on Saturday morning for the people who don't want to attend the parade.

From my Twitter:
I go to the fun panels. Thinking is for losers.

The parade is sort of out of control, I think. It takes far longer than its allotted time, and police block off not only Peachtree Street but the only alternate route to cross Peachtree underneath through the MARTA station. I really wanted to see the airship races again this year, but I literally could not find my way across the street. It was frustrating.

My cousin Molly swooped in and saved the day by whisking me out of the crowds via MARTA to lunch. We went to midtown where the sidewalks were almost empty on a Saturday and restaurants were only modestly busy. We got a quiet booth in Front Page News, a southern/Louisiana style restaurant (although they did not have beignets). Molly ordered chicken and biscuits and I did too because it's always a good idea to copy someone with excellent taste in food. We also split an order of fried green tomatoes. Everything was fantastic and it was fun to talk with Molly and decompress, although our server was aggressively hipster and called us "m'dear" even though I at least was old enough to be the little squirt's mom, and Molly was old enough to have babysat him.

I drank way too much unsweet tea and couldn't finish my second biscuit, but I'd learned my lesson. I got a box for the biscuit and carried it with me for the next seven hours. If I didn't set it down, technically it hadn't been that long since I picked it up because what kind of idiot carries around a chicken biscuit for seven hours? I ate it in line that evening and it was wonderful and I did not get sick. So there.

From my Twitter:
I've been carrying this little box with a leftover chicken biscuit in it my whole life.

I went to the Year in Goth panel that afternoon. It's part of the horror track and I don't read/watch horror, but I love goth music and listen to a lot of it. (I recommend Nightbreed Radio, incidentally.) I really enjoyed the panel and snagged a free compilation CD afterwards that the moderator had put together to share some lesser-known bands. (I listened to it on the way home today and will definitely be hunting down more music by some of the bands.) [And the CD was put together by Ichabod, who has a goth music podcast called Out ov the Coffin, and I will be listening to all the back episodes over the next few weeks!] After that I went to a YA panel where I failed to win a door prize but wrote down a lot of great book recommendations.

That evening I met Kevin again and a friend of his whose name I think is Marietta but I am bad at names (see above) [Kevin tells me I am wrong and her name is actually Marianna; Marietta is a town north of Atlanta--but a pretty name for a girl nevertheless], and we went to a comedy show where the Doubleclicks, Paul and Storm, Molly Lewis, and a bunchton of other people performed. It was incredibly fun and lasted a couple of hours. I'd heard a few Doubleclicks songs online and kind of liked them, but now I think I'm going to have to get their new album.

The funk band Here Come the Mummies was playing at midnight. I only discovered the Mummies this spring and was instantly a rabid fan, so when DragonCon announced they'd be playing this year I screamed so hard some letters fell off the screen. Kevin said he'd come with me for a few songs, but he had something else to attend first so I got in line to make sure I got a spot way up close to the stage.

Oh my god. That concert. It was incredible. The crowd went batshit crazy from the first moment. I went batshit crazy. I am wearing my HCTMummies shirt right now and never want to take it off. Kevin went batshit crazy in his quiet way--I think he nodded to the beat a few times.

To go slightly off-topic here, this semester I'm taking drum lessons at the college where I work, because I am a shitty drummer and would like to be less shitty. One of the things I have to do is attend three concerts and write papers about them discussing the percussion. Here Come the Mummies was of course a pick because look at this shot of the stage before the show started.

Drums and more drums and more drums. And during the show, the band used various non-drum items as percussion instruments, such as a length of heavy chain dropped on a tin tray. It wasn't just innovative, it was an incredible addition to the music and the spectacle. But, well, my drum instructor is not much older than that hipster restaurant server and when he told me I could review rock concerts as well as classical and jazz, an expression of real pain crossed his face. And I am going to have to describe this percussion...instrument without making him blush or faint.

Best. Concert. Ever.

Ordinarily I call it a day after the midnight concert, but not this year. Not on Saturday night. Because at 1:30 am Rasputina was playing and I wanted to see them. Kevin did too, so we met up after the Mummies finished. But there was a delay and Rasputina didn't get onstage until 2am, and by then the Mummies-induced euphoria was wearing off and I was slowing down. Like, a lot. We only stayed for a few songs and then I had to stagger back to my car and drive the 20 minutes or so back to my hotel. (I have a 50 minute commute to work so 20 minutes feels like nothing, incidentally.)

Next year I will definitely stay up to see the Cruxshadows play at 1:30am. No, really I will. Every year I say I will but I don't, but next year I will, just watch.


I slept four and a half hours and made it back to the convention in time to get in line to see James Randi at 10am. Back when I was an undergraduate he spoke at my college and I was so impressed I can remember it clearly, unlike most of the things I did at college. I wasn't going to miss hearing him again after a quarter century.

Randi's talk was amazing. He's 87 years old but by gum he is still sharp and articulate, with lots of fun anecdotes. Afterwards I spent some time hunting for coffee that wasn't Starbucks, without luck, but fortunately at some point I realized it was lunchtime and I could skip straight to pizza and Coke. Which I did. I got in line to see the Reel Crime panel and settled down to eat and look at my phone. Because Twitter is how I talk to my friends.

From my Twitter:
I've been eating since I got in line. Pizza, half a banana, a few animal crackers, and now I'm digging scattered peanut M&Ms out of my bag.
I stood up partly to stretch my legs, but mostly to brush the crumbs from my skirt.

The Reel Crime panel was hilarious and fun, with Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and Bill Corbett, all formerly of MST3K. When it was over, I was pretty much thinking I was the best panel-chooser ever and skipped off to see a panel in the paranormal track.

It's probably a good thing the tweets I wrote about it didn't go through. They were pretty cruel. I won't say anything more about the panel except that I slipped out early and wandered around trying to decide what to do next. It was mid-afternoon by then and I was worn out.

From my Twitter:
I don't know what I want to dooooo. Sick of the crowds.

I ended up at the Bringing Steampunk to the Screen panel. I'm not a bit interested in making movies but the room was nicely air conditioned, the seats comfortable, and I could plug my phone in. I listened politely at first, then slowly got drawn into the topic. I like steampunk a lot and have written a couple of steampunk books (not yet available) and a lot of stories (some available here), but nothing lately. But as I listened to the panelists discuss ways to portray steampunk onscreen, how to find extras, how to decide on props and fabrics for clothes, how to slant your portrayed world to address issues you find important like inclusiveness and agency, etc., for the first time in a year I got excited about my writing.

Also that last guy on the right was nice to look at, just sayin.

My good mood restored, and my phone charged, I got another piece of pizza and another Coke and headed over to see the Magic vs. Mayhem magic show. Unfortunately, it wasn't in a very big ballroom and the line had already been capped when I got there. I finished my pizza and went upstairs to get in line for the Q&A session afterwards instead. Kevin joined me after a while, and while we were waiting a guy I used to work with stopped by and we talked for a few minutes. It was actually a pleasant way to spend an hour, just standing around looking at costumes of people passing us, talking idly, and waiting to see a panel with three professional magicians, including James Randi again. Kevin had missed Randi's talk that morning since he was on a panel at the same time.

The Q&A was excellent, and afterwards Kevin and I went to the panel "Geek Years 1985 and 1990: Years of Almost-Good Sequels." Kevin was on that panel too so I sat with possibly-named-Christian. The discussion was funny and relaxed, with lots of audience participation.

After that Kevin and I said our goodbyes, since he had a thing to go to and I was getting in one last line. I feel lucky that our schedules overlapped so much this year and we were able to spend some time talking. I know two members of my writing group were at DragonCon and I never did get together with either of them.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster blessed us with her appearance.

My last line was for Abney Park, and I got in it early. I love Abney Park and I was so afraid the ballroom would fill up and I wouldn't get in--not likely on a Sunday night, but I wasn't taking any chances. Before I got in line, though, I went to the parking garage to dump some stuff in my car. While I was there something happened that I've been debating about even mentioning here since it didn't have anything to do with the convention and I wasn't directly involved, and it's not a satisfying story. I'll just copy my tweets about it (changing a few word choices here and there to clarify).

From my Twitter:
Here is a bad thing that happened. It will take several tweets to tell and has an inconclusive ending. Real life is not like books.
After my last panel I stopped by my car to drop off some stuff. While I was in the parking garage I heard a man roaring all angry and
a woman screamed. So I ran to see what was going on and if I could help the woman. I heard car doors and more screams and yelling.
I never saw the people but I saw them drive off, the woman driving and still screaming, the man roaring and slamming the car door, which he
had broken so it was actually bashing the side of the car. Slam slam slam. Three cosplayers were nearby and saw better than me. They were
dressed as I think Gaiman characters, those French clowns with big weapons?* Two girls and a guy. One of the girls had a baseball bat and the
guy took it and said "I'm going after them," and I said "I'll go with you" (because I am a fucking badass and was so hopped up on adrenaline you
would not believe). But we couldn't get close enough to get a picture of their license plate and they got away. The girls called 911 but the
cops and security couldn't find them either. And I feel awful that I'm going to be dancing to Abney Park in 90 minutes and I couldn't help.
So that is the bad thing that happened and I wish I had run faster, I wish I had gotten a picture of the license plate, I wish I was a superhero.
*Harley Quinn, and now you know I'm neither a DC fan nor a Gaiman fan

Several friends on Twitter reassured me that the cops would definitely be able to trace the car from both the parking garage's security camera pictures of the license, and the parking pass they had to have used to get out of the garage without going through the cash exit (I ran up and told the lady in the cash booth, who also called security while the girls were calling 911).

That episode made me feel awfully pensive although I tried hard to rekindle my excitement about seeing Abney Park. Knowing that this was my last DragonCon activity made me sad, too, although I was exhausted and also kept thinking about all the things I needed to do when I got home.

From my Twitter:
Tons of people in amazing costumes. Constant movement, unbelievable noise. It's chaotic and amazing and overwhelming and surreal.
And I love it and will miss it but it takes me a long time to recover once I'm at home and life returns to its quiet pattern.
A view of the main party floor in the Marriott while I was in line for Abney Park. Elves in the front, party in the back. I am so sorry.

Abney Park put on a great show, and I danced and sang along and wished it would never end. Except for the part where a really annoying woman elbowed me in the boob when she bashed past me to get in front of me and take up half my dancing space. I'm not one of those people who carve out a ten-foot radius of floor because I dance big, but I'm also not going to stand there and twitch slightly to the beat. I've come a long way since that first concert two DragonCons ago where I was embarrassed to dance at all. Now I love it, I look forward to it, and no too-skinny woman with sharp elbows and big hair is going to take that away from me. Even if she does have gorgeous tats. I moved over and got closer to a small woman in a big Groot costume, who had a lot of space around her because her Groot antlers/branches looked dangerous, but she was actually really careful about them so I had room to dance with Groot and no one got in my space.

Everything has to end finally, even amazing Abney Park concerts. Even DragonCon. I drove back to my hotel and fell into bed for five and a half hours, then packed the car, checked out, and drove home.

Practically the first thing I found when I got home was a mockingbird in my house. I recognized him as the undersized, scruffy male that's been hanging around my yard. I don't think he ever found a mate and I've felt sorry for him all summer. He let me catch him and when I took him outside and let him go, he flew off into the trees. I discovered that the kitchen window wasn't shut all the way from the top, but I still don't know why the bird came in. I hope he's okay. Half the reason it's taken me so many damn hours to write this stupid overlong blog post is that I've been cleaning all the things spattered with bird poop. Also, I have a cat. He was in the house with the mockingbird. Nobody died. WHAT IS HAPPENING

So that's that. That was DragonCon. It was a wonderful, weird, amazing, exciting, frustrating, chaotic, fun, geeky experience--as always. I've already bought my ticket for next year.

If you want to find me on Twitter, FSM help you, I'm @kc_shaw. You can see my books here and hopefully buy some. Come see me at DragonCon next year!

Taken in the hotel room this morning. I was not wearing pants.