Thursday, November 26, 2009

Con Trek II: The Wrath of Con

For those of you who came in late:

Last year, for reasons best understood by . . .well, not understanding them, I went to Nekocon, an annual anime con held in gloriously Virginian Hampton Virginia. That I did this despite my anime fandom having fallen off sharply since about five years ago or so is again, one of those bits of understanding perhaps best left not understood. Upon returning from the con, I posted a long rambling remembrance of the trip in various places on the 'net.

This year, for reasons best understood by . . .well, not understanding them, I went to Nekocon, an annual anime con held in gloriously Virginian Hampton Virginia. That I did this despite my anime fandom having fallen off sharply since about six years ago is, once again, one of those bits of understanding perhaps best left not understood. Upon returning from the con, I am posting a long rambling remembrance of the trip in various places on the 'net. I had promised pictures, but sadly, I couldn't find a digital camera in time, and so you will have to rely on my ability to paint word pictures of the event.

Anyways, our story begins on Saturday, November 7th at 5:00 in the morning. Everything's set from the night before to take off in 30 minutes, but a half-hour to ground oneself before hopping into a car and driving for 3 hours is a good idea, as 3 hours in a moving vehicle is an excellent way to lose one's mind. So, after a little mental centering, I hit the road.

According to Mapquest the surest way to get there fastest was to use the interstates. This is advice I almost immediately discarded because hey, Mapquest doesn't own me, I am not a man to be following directions like some sort of sensible human being who follows good advice and good things happen to him as a result, I am a free man!

. . .or a stubborn fool who is sure his method of navigating using country back roads will cover just as much distance without a lot of dicking around on the interstates, surrounded by people who are driving with much the same relaxed attitude that the people in The Road Warrior had towards driving. So off on my merry way I went.

I have friends of mine who live in other countries. For the most part, they are rather stunned that one can drive three hours to anywhere without finally hitting ocean--it is a manner of scale, and in those terms, three hours end to end is crossing an entire country. Three hours of driving will not even get you from one end to the other of the state in which I live.

A word about driving on country roads, if I may. Driving at 5:30 in the morning on a cool but not unpleasant November morning has its own special perils. One is deer. Yes, like "Bambi." By my rough calculations, we have had the concept of the automobile for a century and change now, and in that time, deer have found no peace with it. It is not uncommon for deer to be hit by cards whilst trying to cross the road. You would imagine, of course, that the deer would get the worst of it, but it's a 50-50 thing--deer can destroy cars as completely as cars destroy deer. Worse still, deer, like moths, love bright lights, and will often stand, enraptured, when in the path of one. You can imagine the rest.

The other danger was, of course, fog. Country roads are built on hilly terrain, usually shaded by trees and as a result, when fog rolls in, it can really sock you in. I drove through pockets of hatefully thick fog where I could barely see maybe a foot in front of me at points. Thankfully, once I hit the highways, the sun was up, and once it went to work, I was in the clear.

Most of the drive took me through the eastern part of the state , through towns that just barely hang on since no industry's been close enough to support them for a number of years. The farmers are the only ones left, really, and even they just barely hang on. Driving through these towns is kind of curious and a bit sad. You can see old and crumbling main streets, proud antebellum-style houses that are huge and imposing and probably way too expensive to live in, and plenty of storefronts that house local business bracketed by a Pepsi logo on either end. I've seen those things all my life, and I've wondered, "does the soda industry really own that many buildings?" (answer: no)

Eventually, one state gives way to another and we're in Virginia. I lament that the weird gargoyles they had out in the cornfield outside of Franklin aren't there anymore--apparently the annual haunted house thing is taking the year off, which is too bad because this means I missed it, and also the subtle mind-screw of driving by mile after mile of cornfields and seeing gargoyles all of a sudden is lost.

Anyways, I finally hit the home stretch--nothing but highway, bridges, a tunnel (yes, that's a tunnel. Underwater. I know--it's odd) there's not much to see and less to comment on--the whole business of staying alive rather takes precedence, so apart from a basic autonomic awareness, one has time to occupy their mind with the deep, searching questions of the day.

In my case, I wondered, "Who would win a fistfight--Perry Mason, or the Fatman from Jake and the Fatman?"

Thankfully, before I could answer that, I arrived. The Hampton Convention Center is a big, swanky nautical themed building (complete with sails!), right across the street from the Hampton Coliseum, a holdover from those days when it was fashionable in architectural circles to construct buildings that look like cakes. I'm not sure what the process was there. "Look, you never know when Godzilla might come out of the bay . . .let's build a building that looks like a cake and he'll come up and be all like 'Holy shit--a cake! I LOVE CAKE!' grab the building and go away." I would really like to think it happened like that.

Inside of the convention center everything is very clean and old school--that means metal and big wooden doors that, if you squinted hard enough, look a little like the offices of Sterling Cooper, which is always something to be admired. Sterling Cooper, however, never had a bunch of people in wacky costumes prowling around, no matter how out of control Casual Fridays got.

The costume thing is the biggest culture shock to the uninitiated--I'm not sure whether people dressed up to get photographed (seriously--if you saw people in costume, thirty seconds later, someone had a camera) or people brought cameras because they just had to document something this crazy for the Folks Back Home, and as I came late to the party anyway, it's not for me to speculate, really.

The clear winner in my eyes? The guy who came as Zombie Jesus, carrying a sign that said, "I"m looking for hearts and minds." I was tempted to run up to him, point and exclaim "SWEET ZOMBIE JESUS!" But I was halted by the fact that I am never sure how many Futurama fans are within earshot of me at any given moment and also that I am a spineless coward who cries himself to sleep every night at the opportunities he misses to yell possibly clever things at complete strangers.

Anyways, my three destinations are--dealer's room, artist's alley, game room. I will repeat this circuit at least 20 times in my time at the con. Oh sure there's other stuff to do, but I am liberated from The Man's suggestions about what panels I should visit by my usual attitude of not giving a damn, and as such, go my own way.

The Dealer's Room is an interesting peek into the future, or as I like to call it, the precise moment I smelled my own extinction. From the amount of fake weapons, leather goods, goggles (clearly Adam Bomb was far more influential a figure than I thought) and just plan crazy stuff being sold, I can honestly tell you I just have no idea what's going on with this younger generation at all. Not that this is a bad thing--it is the responsibility of every generation to make the generation before it feel like it's being pushed into the sea. You just don't expect to see whole "arming for the future" thing happening so blatantly is all.

Artist's Alley is a different matter altogether. Several dozen artists, all plying their trade, crowd into a room and compete for attention. They sell prints, cards, sketchbooks, pretty much anything and everything. I have to say, I draw a little bit, but I cannot and would not compete with the time and dedication most of these people have to their craft and turning into a profession. My hats off to 'em.

The game room was the most crowded place at the whole con. Perhaps, indeed, the whole world. There was never not a moment when the place wasn't crowded with people playing one of the many fighting games available (Including Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. Because Third Strike will always be at these cons, because it's where the big boys play. Like WCW used to be) it was people playing Dance Dance Revolution or something similar to it and moving with agility I have never in my life possessed or ever will.

In between this constant, unceasing circuit, there's a few things to take care of. Lunch is a big one. I find myself in a place that offers a sandwich called the "Baczilla," and I cannot help but wonder if it is made from Godzilla (who would, in that case, be a pork product despite the fact that it is a lizard), though I don't say this to anyone because, despite all evidence to the contrary, I am not completely insane.

The hour gets late and I head for home. In the dark. The plan is to go straight through and, if all goes as planned, I will arrive home at midnight. Long story short, while I do make it home by midnight, my brain is rather dramatically scrambled and the whole thing ends up not unsurprisingly feeling like Hunter Thompson must have felt like walking around Circus Circus out of his mind on ether.

Things I learned from this experience: There are a lot of people in the world with personalised licence plates. All of them are on the road at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night. Also, driving for three hours is an excellent way to forget your own name.

And that's basically the con. There wasn't quite so much culture shock for me this time, since this was my second trip, which means either I'm less easy to shock, or I'm just getting used to the whole thing. Hard to say. Will I do this again next year? Will I travel to more cons and feel equally bewildered at them?

We'll just have to wait and see.

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