It all started with a day at work (this could be argued that that's how a number of script ideas/plot points got established, but never mind). I was presented with the vacation schedule, where I got to fill in the weeks when I could take my vacation. This was back in February. Much to my chagrin, I found that my fellow co-workers took the week of (and weeks surrounding) San Diego Comic-Con...just like last year.
I needed some time to think about it. I really wanted to attend a convention this year. I made a list of potential conventions to attend. Drawing a mental Venn diagram between conventions and available weeks, I found a match: Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (or C2E2), the weekend of April 26-28. 'Huh', I thought. 'A convention the same week as my birthday, and I've never been to Chicago. Let's do it!'
I dove head first into planning this trip: looking up restaurants, looking up music stores, booking a flight, listing places I wanted to go to. I grew somewhat nervous as the day drew near, but I guess I thought it important to keep a cool head and a good attitude.
- I arrived at O'Hare International Airport. Now, Chicago is famous for, among many other things, the el tracks. What I didn't know until moments after I arrived was that the el tracks lead right to downtown. How many other cities can you think of with that kind of convenience? Not many, I bet. I took the train, following along with the map in my streetwise Chicago travel map (only $6.95 at Barnes & Noble). The bellowing, "starving" homeless guy aside, it was an enjoyable ride.
My arrival at Roosevelt Station (transferred from the blue line to the red line) was undercut by heading in the wrong direction. I turned back around, heading toward my home-away-from-home, the Best Western Grant Park. It involved quite a bit of walking. As I skipped breakfast, I was hungry. I practically inhaled a chicken salad sandwich combo from a nearby Dunkin' Donuts. I got to the Best Western Grant Park, but my room wasn't available, at least not until 3:00. I was able to leave my suitcase in a storage closet while I toured the city...well, the city in and around Wabash leading up to Randolph.
There were a number of places I wanted to hit up. As I traversed the streets, I was struck by how many homeless people there were; just sitting in the streets, holding up signs. Doing my best to ignore them (...oh, like you
wouldn't!), I wandered around, taking pictures and soaking up the sights.
I'd been ordering from Graham Crackers Comics on and off for years, but this was my chance to see the store for myself. It was interesting to see the place, even if it was, ultimately, inferior to Midtown Comics and the two places I visited last year in Los Angeles. Still, I picked up "Supurbia #6 and the Ghostbusters" '100 page Spooktacular', so the trip wasn't a waste.
Heading up to Randolph, I stopped at the FYE. Disappointingly, the one location that exists around here is a letdown in most respects. The one on Randolph, however...wow! Two levels of stuff: movies on the ground floor, music upstairs. The locations that closed down were pretty good, but this one blew them away. This must've been what it was like to be inside a Sam Goody or Virgin Megastore. Having a limited supply of money sucked, but I did pick up some soundtracks and Land of the Lost
on DVD (seriously, that movie is hilarious).
After picking up some Mrs. Fields cookies (I'll never not have a taste for them), I went back down South State, witnessing the people, the locations and the el train passing periodically overhead. As I headed back for the hotel, I was craving something delicious. Something without which a trip to Chicago is incomplete (to say nothing of pointless). Say it with me, now: deep dish pizza.
I had hoped for a slice, but one of the places I passed only had whole pies. Much as I desired the stuff, I didn't have the stamina for a whole pizza. Then, I saw it: Lou Malnati's Pizzeria. They had deep dish pizza...in a 6-inch pie. Sounds marvelous. Instead of plain cheese, I wanted one with sausage and pepperoni. Let me tell you: Chicago deep dish pizza lives up to the hype.
More walking followed and I got back to the hotel, where my room was finally available. I got to kick back, enjoy the latest episode of "Community" and just plain relax, awaiting the festivities tomorrow.
- I mentioned that there was a restaurant next to my hotel: Yolk. The place was busy. Very nice atmosphere, personable staff and, of course, the food. I decided on the Countryside Skillet. A truly marvelous flavorgasm and definitely something to work into my rotation on future trips to the Windy City.
It's important to have something to snack on while walking the conventions, so I stopped by a store to load up on supplies. Today's snack: Junior Mints and Lipton Brisk Sweet Tea. Momentarily forgetting the pick-up spot closer to my hotel, I head up Roosevelt and head down South State. After what feels like a good half-hour, the bus arrives and whisks me and my fellow geeks to McCormick Place. The final destination is what seemed like an underground tunnel, making the experience more than a little creepy.
That sense of unease dissipated when I took the two escalators to the main floor of C2E2. It's always a little daunting seeing so many people...and most of them dressed up. (I got a lot of good shots. Favorite: A tie between Jessica Rabbit and the girl dressed like the house from Up
. The one that got away: the genderflipped Rise of the Guardians
grouping of Jack Frost, The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Rabbit.)
Surprisingly, people go to comic conventions to buy comic books. (Yeah. Weird.) Thankfully, I was able to plug up a few holes in my collection. It sucks that I have to go to such extremes to get this done, but there it is.
In addition to the cosplay and the comics, there was also the merchandise. Unfortunately, I only brought so much money with me on this safari, so the stuff I really wanted to get was not going home with me. Case in point: a t-shirt that mashed up a now-classic fairy tale feature with one of Pixar's finest films..."The Inconceivables". Strangely, on subsequent days, I couldn't remember where I'd seen the shirt and, to this day, I'm half-convinced that I imagined the shirt.
The one panel of the day that caught my fancy was "Wikia Qwizards: Sci-Fi Quiz Championship". Basically, a game show that specialized in trivia about video games and genre film and television. The video game questions stumped me, but I had a blast with the rest of the panel. I was even asked to answer a question. ("True or false: Kirk and Spock were younger in 2009's Star Trek
because the film took place in a parallel universe." Having a vague recollection of the film, I answered "...true?" It was correct.)
All was not well on this day. Succumbing to peer pressure, I opted for a nacho plate...but the meal was so greasy, I refused to finish, lest I risk puking all over some poor patron.
After a while of stalking the show floor, I went back to my hotel where, after picking up a cheeseburger and fries from Mei's Kitchen, I retired to my room and settled in for dinner and a show (the show in question being "Happy Endings"). Sometimes, it's best to savor the simple things.
- I got up and headed downstairs for breakfast. Yolk looked to be full, but looks can be deceiving (more on that later), so I took in the breakfast buffet at Mei's. I can never resist a good breakfast buffet. Waiting for the bus at my designated stop, I had to snap a picture of a little girl dressed as Merida from Brave
. Too adorable.
The shuttle bus arrived, taking us to c2e2. The day promised to be much busier, and it was. I figured I'd need to get in early for the Patton Oswalt Q & A, so I blew off a pair of somewhat interesting-sounding panels: "Writing for Television" and "Grimm Fairy Tales Animated".
Who knows what I missed, but it was worth it to get a good seat. Oswalt talked about his career and his family. The highlight of the panel, by far, was the sudden appearance of fellow stand-up Brian Posehn and his "tweets" about Oswalt.
Next on the schedule: "IDW Publishing Presents: the Greatest Panel in History". Much as I love their titles, the name didn't live up to the hype, so, after about 15 minutes, I skipped out, hoping to get Oswalt's autograph in my copy of "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland" (fun fact: the paperback copy being sold on the floor had even more content than my purchased-at-Borders-in-their-final-death-throes hardcover copy, including the Ain't It Cool News reviews he wrote as "Neill Cumpston").
The line was, of course, crazy long, but I figured it'd be worth it. The hour during which Oswalt would be signing was nearly up by the time my turn came. I can't say I blame him too much for not acknowledging me as he signed my book, but it does hurt a little.
Next stop: Ron Perlman Q & A. There were a number of fascinating bits about his career, from his reaction to Sigourney Weaver's trick shot in Alien Resurrection
to his singing aspirations (and how his Sinatra-style crooning put him against a young turk named Seth MacFarlane).
Leaving my phone on is not a usual thing for me, but when you keep it on all day, the juice is bound to run out. I spend some time getting it charged back up. Then, it was on to "Nerd City". The only thing I clearly remember from it is the animated short that was featured. Had a very "Black Dynamite" vibe to it, even though the main character was a white guy.
I considered going to "Promic-Con", but the money just wasn't there, so I instead opted for the "Keep Your Pants On 2: Electric Boogaloo" panel. Basically advice on dating for geeks. Something must've gotten into me, as I was compelled to ask a question: "What do you do if you're too shy to even talk to a girl?" Answer: just go for it. If only...
I boarded the shuttle bus back, but, deciding that I wanted to have an adventure, I got off in front of Graham Crackers Comics...at 9:00pm...several blocks from my hotel...with a brisk wind nipping at my uncovered areas. Ultimately, my main concern was less for adventure than for a) getting back safely and b) finding something to eat. Fortunately, Starbucks was open and an egg salad sandwich with chips and a hot chocolate made for a nice dinner.
Following my "adventure", I returned to my hotel, grateful for the warmth and safety of my temporary home.
- I returned to Yolk for breakfast and ordered the Blue Bayou Frittata, which consisted of (among other things) eggs, blue cheese, tomatoes and spinach. With all due respect to the culinary artisans who created the meal, there are some things that do not go together.
Off to c2e2. More stalking the show floor and more snapping pictures. This time, I concentrate on the awesome merchandise, from the work ID badges on the Enterprise and NCIS to inventive mashup pictures. ("My Little Pony"/"Dogs Playing Poker" and a movie monster variation on The Expendables
poster being two favorites. Sadly, I didn't snap a shot of that one artist's rendering of Hellboy in "Sons of Anarchy" garb.)
Next: "We are BOOM!". BOOM Studios has impressed me lately and I was excited to see what they had in store. A number of Cartoon Network shows are yet to appear in comic book form. Sounds fun.
Following a cheeseburger and fries for lunch (better than the nachos, but my jaw was working overtime to break them down), I went for the "Wikia Qwizards: Sci-Fi Championship" panel. A lot of fun, though I was a little dismayed at the first challenge: "Name a planet, real or fictional". The three contestants seemed to be sticking to real planets, then they got stuck on whether or not Pluto still counted. (There's a wealth of planets they missed. Partial list: Omicron Persei 8, Krypton, The Neutral Planet, Spengo. I mean, come on!)
As with Friday's panel, I volunteered to answer questions, but this time for a shot at some fabulous prizes! I answered three out of four correctly (one of them was about George Lucas's original choice for Han Solo; my Christopher Walken impression as I gave the correct answer seemed to have little, if any, impression on the crowd) and earned a gaming keyboard...though a new pair of earbuds would've been nicer and less cumbersome on the trip home.
My flight home was set to leave at around 7:00pm. The panel ended at 4:15. Clearly, this was a problem, compounded by the fact that the shuttle bus back to near my hotel was full, with a good 20 minute wait for the next one. Deciding that I may as well do something constructive, I chatted up a cute girl also waiting for the bus. I get back to my hotel, hoping to take a shuttle to the airport. As it turns out, I had to make the arrangement with the hotel 24 hours in advance.
The time was 5:15pm. At this point, I could either take the subway back to O'Hare for only five bucks and risk just missing my flight or I could bite the bullet and take a cab. Weighing my options, I took a cab. Though the driver was fast, the traffic was murder, somewhat atypically for a Sunday (or maybe, this was business as usual for Chicago roadways). Still, I got to O'Hare, $40 poorer but glad that I made it in time.
In spite of very minor misgivings, I had a lot of fun, at c2e2 and in Chicago. I would very much like to do it again.