Letters to Holly

Sunday, August 31

The Convention Or We Owned the Show

We left Mayberry around 6:30 and be-bopped down the road to Atlanta with nary a bump on the road. Then we hit Atlanta and discovered a dead-stop traffic jam created by construction. We learned afterward that the city decided that they would save much time if they started and finished a specific interstate construction project on the Labor Day weekend instead of doing it during a work week. Never mind DragonCon. Never mind the weekend's biggest college football game (Clemson vs. Alabama) held in downtown Atlanta. Never mind the Black Gay Fair. Or the Woodworking Fair. It was a mess. The southbound 85 was detoured through downtown, right past the convention, in fact, and we made our way to the hotel, near the airport. We arrived much later than we expected but before the hotel bar closed. We split a sandwich and called it a night. We had an early morning.

We got up at 5:45 to shower, ran downstairs for breakfast, ran back up for the basic costume layers, and grabbed a hotel shuttle to the airport. There we took the subway to convention. Unlike our last visit, this years convention spread to an additional hotel, making four major downtown hotels used almost exclusively for the convention. We're talking a lot of people. The con requires memberships for each day's events. Most folks buy their registration on Saturday. We tried that one year, and it was murder. Because this is the majority's choice, it's the longest line. Even if you arrive as soon as the registration begins, you can easily spend two hours in line. We had to register and run to the park to join the parade. Luckily, we registered through TicketMaster.

When we arrived at 7:55 to get in line, it already wrapped around the foundation of the Hyatt Regency. We assembled the rest of our costumes in line, and it wasn't five minutes before someone walking across the street spotted my costume (out of everyone else's) and yelled "SHIPWRECK!" This was repeated dozens of times throughout the day. I knew it would be a fun costume (and that Your Sister's would be equally fun for her), but I had no idea how popular it would be. And all credit for character recognition goes to the parrot. It made people look twice and realize I was a GI Joe.

The doors opened, and the line split into three groups. Instead of 200 people in front of us, we now had eight. We knew within minutes we'd get to the parade OK. We were assigned badges and labeled them with our character names. If you don't have the badge, you don't get into the convention events. Like the parade. We walked the mile to the small park and learned we were the first people of our con-determined groups.

Because the convention encompasses so many genres, the parade folk were broken into groups. Were were in the Cobra group, and they hadn't arrived yet. Across the street was the 501st legion, the gigantic Stormtrooper contingent. The group swelled to include any Star Wars in the parade as well. On another corner were the Colonial Marines from Aliens, and behind them was the Battlestar Galactica group. There were Chinese dragons, rollergirls, magicians, superheroes, zombies, the 1960s Batmobile, a rolling pirate float. Name it. It was there. We even had a Santa. Our group walked second in the parade, right behind the small Reno 911 costumes. The parade was led by a bagpiper. As we waited to begin, we mockingly argued with the Cobra troopers (maybe 15) and took pictures of other attendees. We quickly realized we had picked good outfits as the streets got hot before the sun rose above the skyscrapers. We stood in the road, waiting for the command to start, and when it did, we simply strolled through closed roads back to the hotels. Within, a block, we saw the crowds.

The streets were packed. Early estimates say 10,000 people showed up. I believe it. We were told to acknowledge the crowds and wave to the kids. We yelled out to those in costume and told them how good they looked. As we were early in the parade, and following the silent Cobra villains, we decided to be the official greeters. We played it up big, smiling and waving, and thanking folks. Virtually everyone had a camera. We pointed to kids in costume, yelled their character names, and got them to wave back. One kid was dressed as Harry Potter. We yelled to him, and he moved his hair to show his affixed scar and nodded his head like he was sharing a secret.

A news website took a pic of him.

People were shouting "COBRA!" and "SHIPWRECK!" and we would answer with "Yo, Joe!" Behind us, in the bed of a white pick-up truck stood Cobra Commander, and we played up the bookending bad guys.

We walked slowly for maybe 20 minutes, maybe half an hour. About halfway, I heard someone yell my name and there was my hometown comic gang. I had no idea if they would be there. I ran to the curb, hugged and smiled like an idiot and ran to catch up to Your Sister. That alone would have made the day.

The parade ended in the covered loading entrance for the Hyatt, and free water bottles were waiting for us. We ran back to a good vantage point to watch the rest of the parade, standing on concrete planters. The parade took a good hour, if not longer to go by. The organizers say they had more than 2,000 parade folks and a dozen vehicles. When the parade ended, we bolted to grab lunch before everyone else. We found a pizza stand, sat in a good people-watching spot, and gobbled lunch. People would stop us for pictures, and we returned the favor. Then we hit the show for reals, yo.

You can see parade pics here.

You can see us walk by on YouTube. We're at the :30 second mark. I'm in the blue shirt. Your Sis is on my right.

The larger rooms of the hotels are used for art shows and contests and vendors. The vendor rooms are crammed full of booths from small businesses selling cards, games, collectibles, toys, jewelry, corsets (yeah, a lot of them too), and anything else a geek nation can need. I bought a GI Joe figure -- the Boston-raised firefighter, but passed on the t-shirts. I'm growing away from them. The aisles crawl along. You have to be polite and patient to get through each room, and the bulkier costumes can get beat up quickly. We got photos for others and posed for them too. This is what I used to go to DragonCon for: the shopping. Stuff you can't find in malls and comic stores. Now we focus on the costume party.

Lots of Jokers this year, to no surprise. Lots of anime and comic stuff. Oddly, there were a horde of Super Marios. Maybe it's just an easy costume to prepare. We moved through the various floors and stores for a few hours, and people shouted when they recognized us. Again, we were never so popular. People were gobsmacked with nostalgia. If they only knew us from the cartoons, the realization must have been heady. We heard a lot of "Shipwreck! Oh my God!" They would see me and ask for a photo. I'd grab Your Sis and ask "we got get Lady Jaye in here too," and they'd all say "Lady Jaye! Yes! Oh my God!"

As soon as we exited the Marriott, I found a message from an online buddy. I called him back, and we met in the hotel across the street. We stopped for caffeine and got acquainted. They were outside the Walk of Fame, a room reserved for celebrity autographs, but we never got in the room. I found a Rocketeer and grabbed his photo, and he made me stay put while he called his friend dressed as Indiana Jones to say he found a Shipwreck. "He has to get your picture," he said. "He's gonna stalk you the whole convention. Shipwreck's his favorite Joe." He didn't reach him, but I promised to keep and eye out for Indianas (and there were a lot) so he could find me.

I caught sight of a particularly good costume and walked over to take a picture. Before the person could adopt their pose, SHE walked up.

She is the worst of the worst, the embodiment of every bad stereotype of geeks, the clown that wrecks the curve. She has her own superhero identity. Mighty Woman or something,. I don't remember. But she is goddamn crazy. She babbles endlessly, she has no sense of decorum or courtesy. She cornered me a few years back and I couldn't shake her. I literally couldn't walk away from her. She ran to keep up and wouldn't shut up. "Oh, my hero does this, and my hero does that." She is a brainless clod, and she ruined my photo, and I hope she catches fire. She never even looked at me, never had a clue she was interrupting a shot. I should be glad she didn't see me; I'd still be stuck talking her even now, days later.

On the other hand, I was approached by Vera Vanguard, the other kind of con con celeb, an attendee of shows nationwide who also makes her living as a model. She ran up to me, proclaimed her love for Shipwreck, and asked for a picture with the two of us together. She was wearing this outfit.

I was a gentleman, I assure you.

My gang all moved to their hotel's executive floor to meet more folks and escape the noise for a bit. Some of them had met up the night before for costumes and drinks, but this afternoon, they were in casual attire, and they were patient as people stopped us to take pictures of our costumes. We met more online people and traded con stories. One of us was a photographer and model who has worked cons professionally as a "booth babe." She shared spooky stories about actors she met at parties.

We eventually moved back to the executive floor to organize dinner arrangements. We had so many people, and we had to determine how everyone would ride over to the restaurant. Our car was back at the hotel, and the subway didn't reach this particular restaurant. It was right after we agreed to this dinner that I got a call from a college buddy in town who wanted to meet up for dinner. We instead agreed to met for breakfast the next day.

We ate Mexican and gabbed for hours. Before we got to the restaurant, we removed our more noticeable costume elements -- the bird, the guns. While the city was hosting the show, we didn't know how well they'd go over in "civilian" establishments. We went low-key. I think some folks thought we were real military, and I worried about them making come comment about Iraq. Didn't happen, but I had a polite thank-you ready if they did.

After dinner, went back to the convention. During the day, the convention is a broad, family-friendly gathering of customers and sight-seers. At night's it's a full-on costume party. This is when people bring out their best outfits and photos are exchanged non-stop. I wanted to milk the moment and see the best costumes. We stayed on one floor of the now slam-full Marriott and made laps. It was a blur of geek, and we were belles of the ball. We even found another Joe character -- Snake Eyes, the ninja -- got his picture and then posed with him as a flood of cameras came at us. I was getting snowblind quickly from the flashes.

The Indiana Jones guy found me and had me pose with his gal who was dressed as a 1940s pin-up gal. He walked off t take the photo and left her standing near me, and neither of us knew what to do. "How do you want to handle this," I asked. I turned to face him, and she sidled up next to me. Again, a gentleman.

Shipwreck was apparently the Han Solo of the GI Joe cartoon.

We had to head back about 10:30 to catch the subway back, but before we could leave the hotel, we were discovered again by my hometown gang. We ran up to their seats, hugged again, and caught up. The husband of the crowd has his surgery scheduled for this fall, but he looks great. We knew about my dad and uncle, and we traded cancer notes. We then had less time to get back to the hotel, and we ran out of the convention. But right before, we reached the escalator, I had one last great moment. I ran into a guy dressed as Sandman, the mid-century hero dressed in gas mask and trenchcoat. I wore the same character a few years back. His was a nicer costume. I nudged him as he approached the down escalator and said "That's a nice Sandman costume." he turned, saw me, and then recognized the costume. Through his gas mask, I heard "Miphrac! Oh muh waugh!" And down the escalator he went, craning to see my outfit.

We made the airport at 11 p.m. but didn't get to the hotel until after midnight. The Atlanta hotel shuttle directions are horrible. We managed to catch a shuttle just as the Clemson fans arrived from the game. It was ugly.

We got up and met up with my college pal and her gal for breakfast at the Flying Biscuit, an all-day joint. We traded college notes and talked about moving heavy furniture. We drove for home around noon and arrived around 3:30. Trying to find a restaurant in Atlanta using road signs and construction detours is a level of hell all unto itself.

But Saturday was an absolute blast. I have Your Sis to thank for our costume success; Shipwreck was her idea.

I'll put the rest of our pictures online soon.

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