I get off the plane in San Diego and stand around blankly trying to figure out the transportation system. I'm looking for a city bus, or the trolley, or something, but all I see is charter buses, taxis, and shuttles to the rental car places. I've never been here before without a rental car lined up for someone else to drive (yes, I'm so important that I usually have a driver. Actually, I'm just so driving-chicken that I will walk outrageous distances and take public transport of a dubious nature and even occasionally buy a cab ride just to avoid the stress of driving in a strange, large city. I'm barely willing to drive in Bellingham.)
I make a half-hearted attempt to leave the airport on foot -- I can see downtown from where I am, it's right there, can't be more than a couple of miles -- but the roads from the airport are weird twisty things with no clear pedestrian egress and I give up in the heat, ride on a little cart from one end of the parking lot back to the place I just was, and try to choose between a charter bus or a taxi.
There don't seem to be any taxis readily available, and anyway, I never trust taxis to be less than 20 bucks no matter where you're going. I investigate the charter buses. Picture me talking to a guy with an ever-so-slightly unintelligable hispanic accent, start with me:
"How much to go to 500 West Broadway?"
"What's the name of the hotel?"
"That is the name of the hotel. 500 West. Brand new. It used to be the YMCA."
"Oh. Oh." (Like he gets it now.) "Seven."
I climb in awkwardly with all my gear and pile it in my lap. I'm joined by a couple of Comic-Congoers from New York City (people from New York always look cool; even their jeans and t-shirts are somehow more stylish than those of ordinary men) and a guy from San Antonio ("I got off the plane and thought, Wow! They have outdoor air conditioning here!'") who thinks at first that it is a "comet" convention and wonders if we are all scientists, which causes much confusion until we get it straightened out. We circle the airport. I'm not sure why. Then we're joined by a guy from Louisiana, and then a man and a woman who are here for a wedding. The driver asks people where they are going as they get in. He asks me,
"What hotel was that again?"
"What was that?"
"500 West. 500 West Broadway is the address."
The New York guys get Goth House mini books and then they are dropped off at the convention center, which is actually farther from the airport than my hotel is, so I'm a bit worried that the driver has somehow lost touch with my destination again. I worry that he has one of those memory disorders, like in Memento. Maybe he's incapable of absorbing new information. If somebody wants to go somewhere he's been before he can find it just fine, but otherwise... Evenutally I am so worried that I call him by the first name that is printed on his driver licensing thingy, which I cannot now remember. I'll call him Rick.
"Rick? I have a map. See that red star? That's where I'm going." I point to the map I have printed out from Mapquest.
He says, "Right, right. We have to go around the one-way streets, it's not direct."
He seems a little annoyed now, and I recoil. Is it rude to assume your shuttle driver might not know where he's going? We begin to drive east on Broadway. We reach the 500 block, and I'm a little confused because it seems farther away than I thought, but I know I have a very poor sense of geography so I'm willing to let it go. But I don't see the hotel.
He says, "See there's nothing there," like he thinks I'm crazy, like I have reservations at an imaginary hotel and bad things are going to happen to me now.
"Well, it's being remodeled," I say. "So there might not be a big sign."
He circles the block again.
"It's 500 right there," he says. "See? There's nothing there."
I sigh. "Well that building covered in scaffolding must have been it. It's being remodeled. Maybe we can't see the entrance."
We pull around the block again and he stops, gets out, hands me my bags. I give him seven bucks and the van drives off. I investigate the building covered in scaffolding. It does not seem open for business and does not seem to have ever been a YMCA at any time, and I get a little worried, like maybe the driver was right and the hotel is imaginary. I look at the map again.
500 WEST Broadway.
I look at the street signs. Broadway. No "west" and the cross streets are all wrong and OH GOOD LORD HE DROPPED ME OFF ON THE WRONG SIDE OF FIRST AND IT'S TEN BLOCKS TO MY HOTEL. So I waddle under the burden of my luggage for ten blocks, and every time I stop to rearrange things, in my head I call the driver an impolite name impugning his ability to do his job. I suppose it's my fault a little. I mean, I didn't outright tell him "don't drop me off here, drop me off at the ADDRESS I GAVE YOU ON THE MAP I SHOWED YOU." But then, I have a wretched sense of geography and I know it, which is why I don't trust North American cab drivers. Or, now, shuttle drivers. (I trust cab drivers in Great Britain, because they are licensed, and they drive those great little cars, and because I have never felt like I was getting ripped off by them. So there.)
I figure there must be a city bus that goes to the airport, and in fact, one drives right past me. Route 992. Runs right down Broadway. Well, isn't that convenient.
My hotel is, as established earlier, being remodeled from a YMCA. It is covered in scaffolding, and smells of dust. The lobby is filled with a maze of plywood painted a limey sort of green, which is supposed to be hot for next year. It occurs to me that, someday about twenty years from now, they will have people walk into their hotel and see the lime green funkiness, and conclude, "you can really see when the last time they remodeled this place was." And then they'll give it a makeover in whatever the current style of the day is, puce triangles maybe, right before their early-oughts decor becomes attractively retro.
My room is, as promised, tiny. It is actually as tiny as Paul's room in our house, which is about as small as I thought a room could be and not be a closet. It has a wee little desk and a wardrobe and a bed which is actually narrower than a twin bed. On the desk is the tiniest, cutest television in the world. It is the room of the future, I think. A room for Tokyo or New York where I imagine all the rooms to be this size. Outside they are building a skyscraper that right now looks like a pagoda, a cement column surrounded by elaborate walkways of wood. I hear them hammering, and think: they are putting so much work into building structures that are just part of the process, and will be torn down when things are complete. I take a picture.
The bed is not particularly comfortable -- the mattress is weirdly thick, as if to make up for its narrowness, and too soft, and kind of rounded at the sides. (I dislike soft mattresses, and they often cause me to wake up with a sore back. I can't readily explain this: why I can sleep on the floor, or the ground, or curled into a little ball, or standing up, and be all right, but a too-soft mattress can render me practically immobilized with pain.)
The bathrooms are separate from the rooms, individual cubicles with a toilet and a sink and a shower. You can unlock them with any room key, but there is a deadbolt. Over the course of the weekend, it will become increasingly annoying that there is no way to tell if the deadbolt is thrown without trying to open the door; there is no "occupied" sign. People start hanging their "do not disturb signs" outside the bathrooms.
I take a shower and head to the convention center. I think I can find it by following the water, but I get lost in a maze of buildings that seem to be a shopping center. I'm getting hot, so I duck into one of the convention hotels and try to cut some distance by walking through the hotel, but I get confused and end up in some kind of service corridor where people are pushing big carts full of food past me. I toy briefly with the idea of taking some food from one of the carts. It looks really good. Nobody seems to be paying attention to me. I haven't eaten for about ten hours.
No, I don't want to get in trouble for purloining food on the first day of the convention.
I find my way out again, and try for the convention center once more. I make an interesting discovery. It is nearly impossible to get into the convention center from the water side. There are stairs, yes, but security guards in red t-shirts wait at the bottom of every one to tell you that you can't go that way. (This is actually an improvement over last year, when the guards waited at the top of the stairs.) Finally, I take an elevator, but it doesn't all the way to the registration area. I look around. I can't find any open stairs up here, either. Then I overhear a security guard telling a man and a little girl that they need to take this other elevator to get to registration. So I get in the elevator with these two people who seem as confused as I am.
We take the elevator up. Then we take a stairway down. Now, finally, we are on the same level as the registration area.
Actually getting my badge is, as usual for this convention, easy-peasy.
By now I'm almost late for my stint at the Friends of Lulu table, even though I left my hotel room more than an hour ago and wasn't going very far. I enter the vast exhibit hall near the 500 aisle. The FoL booth number is 5426. So I assume I'm at the complete opposite end of the hall from where I want to be, grumble, and start trudging. I trudge the length of one or two football fields. I trudge past small press and artists alley and the enormous booths for people like DC.
I'm always a little confused by the big publisher booths at Comic-Con, because I can never tell what they're selling. They're not set up to sell you copies of their latest publications. They're not set up to sell you action figures. Sometimes there are people autographing or giving portfolio reviews, in which case I can tell why people are milling about, but otherwise...what are people getting out of it? The coveted opportunity to stare at giant, backlit plastic cutouts of their favorite characters?
I get to 5200, and, whoops, we're out of exhibit hall. Great. From a nonexistent hotel to a nonexistent booth. I ask one of the security people at the entrance to the exhibit halls if there is a map of the numbers and she helpfully points out that there is one in my programming guide, if I had bothered to unfurl the centerfold, which I had not.
At first, I feel like an idiot, then I feel annoyed. What they have done, is, after 5200, the numbers start wrapping around the perimiter of the hall. So 5426 is actually ten blocks west. I mean, at the end of the 1200 aisle. So, about half the distance I have already gone, back the other way.
"Hi," I say to Katie Merritt. "Sorry I'm late."
"Nobody can find this booth if they're looking for it," she says. "But for people just wandering past, it's a good location."
I give Katie the chance for a bathroom break, and then sort of...apprentice at the Friends of Lulu table, in awe of her sales ability. That night I go to the FoL awards banquet. Talk to people. Steve Leiahola, who lives with Trina Robbins, was at a VikingCon. So we talk about Bellingham. I talk to a guy from the San Diego area, and a guy from Oklahoma who is sometimes a preacher. He buys a set of Goth Houses.
Lea Hernandez (Girlamatic)wins Lulu of the year and gets emotional on the phone to a close friend, which is kind of fun to watch since it makes the whole thing feel more like the Oscars or something. Scott McCloud shows up with an entourage. I try unsuccessfully to eavesdrop on what they are talking about. It's probably very high tech. I decide I've had enough of the pricy drinks at The Bitter End, which is a lovely and atmospheric bar with Victorian upholstery and a fake fireplace.
Back in my room I play with the tiniest cutest TV in the world for a while. Everything seems to be about the upcoming Democratic National Convention. We live in an odd world right now, where news -- cable news especially -- seems to all be about what will happen. It's like it's being programmed by telephone psychics or something. Then, once something does happen, everyone is sick of it so it gets hardly any coverage.
I get a latte from the cart right outside the hotel. It's pretty good.
When I get to the convention center, in spite of having not gotten lost or anything, I still get to be baffled. Because it is after ten and they are not letting people into the hall. Nobody can figure out why this is. We can see people inside, and they don't seem to be special security people or celebrities or anything. Some of us go in through a door and mill about in confusion for a while, not sure why things seem to be roped off, then a security person makes us go outside again. I start walking to the other end of the convention center hoping for answers.
"What are you dressed as?" some kid asks me. I'm not prepared for the question.
"Ha! Can I take your picture?"
I get almost to the end of the convention center and see that people who are not yet registered are being directed in through a particular door. I ask the security person,
"Look, I already have my badge -- WHERE am I supposed to GO?"
"Hall G" he says, like, duh, it should be so obvious.
So I enter at the door to Hall G and find out that I was wrong about the time anyway, and I don't have to be at the FoL booth for another couple of hours.
I decide go to a Vertigo comics thing, which has some cool people on it, but they don't really get to talk -- it's just a slideshow of upcoming projects and Karen Berger talking about them. Everything seems to be "edgy" this year.
Katie Merritt really is a masterful saleswoman, able to get people to stop and take a flyer and listen to her spiel about Friends of Lulu without ever seeming pushy.
"Have you heard about Friends of Lulu? We're a non-profit organization encouraging female readers and creators of comics."
Little kids come up and want to spin the wheel. You're supposed to get to spin the wheel after making a $5 donation to FoL, and you take home whatever the wheel says: t-shirt, Elfquest hardcover, whatever. But then one of the convention people comes by and tells us that would be considered illegal gambling. So we make it the "bonus wheel" so if you buy something at least $3, you get to spin the wheel and also get whatever it says. The same convention guy tells us that we can't give the stickers away. Because apparently when people get stickers for free they are struck with the uncontrollable urge to stick them places they don't belong, like carpets and walls. I discover that it is still emotionally exhausting to stand at a booth even when I'm not trying too hard to sell Goth House. (Although I do have some copies laid out, and Siamese Bunnies on the table as a mascot.)
I think, maybe I'm not a trade show person.
Paul arrives. Hooray!
Paul walked here from the airport. I am in awe of his ability to find his way out of there on foot. He says, "it wasn't easy."
We go to the Mirror Mask panel together. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Background: at last year's convention the two of them were on a panel with Jim Henson's daughter. According to her, Sony, which owns the 1980s Jim Henson fantasies The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, had noticed that they were "stone classics." They just didn't stop selling. (My friend Sharkins, who teaches high school math, can attest to the fact that fifteen year olds thought it was cool she was going to the David Bowie concert, and Labyrinth is why.) Sony thought, "hey, maybe we need more movies like this, instead of movies that make all their money on opening weekend and sink without a trace." So they went to Jim Henson Productions, and JHP went to Mssrs. Gaiman and McKean. They were given four million dollars to make a film. In case you were wondering, that's not a lot. Especially for a special effects movie. On the plus side, it meant they were largely left alone, creatively.
This year, the movie is nearly done, and they have clips -- a cute little promo that parodies the usual movie trailer. Goes something like:
A movie beyond the imagination of most people.
(pictures pictures pictures)
But not you, you're special.
(pictures pictures pictures)
And not the filmmakers, either, or the whole thing would never have gotten started.
(pictures pictures pictures)
Mssrs. Gaiman and McKean collaborated on the script while hanging out in Jim Henson's house in England. Mr. Gaiman tells a little story about finding ancient puppet parts in the basement, and making a frog puppet blink -- the blink mechanism worked, but shortly after, the eyelid crumbled. (This sight, I think, would be nearly as disturbing as Meet the Feebles.)
Mr. McKean did the direction of the live people. And then, he set about animating it. Apparently, he is drawing on each individual frame of film by hand. Well, actually, he's using a computer, but it sounds like drawing each frame would be less work overall. I dimly remember reading a quote from Mr. McKean a few years ago where he expressed his disappointment with moviemaking, at discovering that you couldn't just animate Photoshop. I believe the technology has finally caught up with him, and now you can. Or maybe most people can't, but he can, judging by the clips.
They look fantastic. And more -- they look utterly unlike anything you've seen before. Utterly. Like the first time you saw Pixar rendered animation, or maybe Yellow Submarine, or...well, Labyrinth.
Last night, tell us, was the first time Sony executives got to see any of this. One of them said, "It's like Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast...on acid...for kids!"
I think they're going to use that one for the tagline.
For dinner we go to Casa de Bandini, in Old Town State Park, with Henry Gonzalez. Bandini often tops the list of favorite Mexican food for all of San Diego, and there is never less than an hour's wait for a table, but, they serve margaritas the size of your head so that's all right. I like Bandini. They are friendly to vegetarians, limited meat eaters, and health-conscious folks. They are in a cool 19th century mansion. And did I mention the giant margaritas?
By the time we get back it's much too late for the Eisners, so we just go back to the hotel room.
Gee, it is small, isn't it?
I have leftovers, and I put them in the refrigerator in the kitchen area of -- well, I'm not sure what it is. It seems to be some kind of common room, with a big TV (not plugged into anything that gets it reception), a big chrome fridge, a really nice-looking commercial gas stove, a microwave, and cookware and stuff. I don't know if I'm supposed to use it, but there's a guy sitting at the table when I put my stuff away and he just says "hi," so I guess it's all right. It makes me feel slightly clever and daring to have discovered this.
The espresso cart outside the hotel isn't there, so we hit Starbuck's instead.
More time at the Lulu table, then we go to lunch at Paul's favorite Irish pub, The Field. It is literally his favorite Irish pub, anywhere in North America, and Paul goes out of his way to go to Irish pubs pretty much everywhere we go. You can find 'em pretty much everywhere, too. It's not a terribly hot day, but it is sullen, heavy air and just enough sun to make everyone drip with sweat. The television says something about "monsoonal" or "monsoonoid" conditions, which I don't know what are.
Inside the pub they are watching a soccer match on projection TV. It is a little annoying, because it is sports, but it seems kind of appropriate since it's soccer, so I don't mind too much.
Back at the convention we get in line for Hall H, where Sarah Michelle Gellar and her costar in The Grudge will be speaking in about half an hour. Things are running late, so when we get in, the previous panel is still going on. It's for a movie called Sky Captain, and the big deal on the panel is that Jude Law is there. He seems quite charming and handsome in real life, but I'm not sure about the movie. Like Mirror Mask it's done with actors all filmed against green or blue screens and then integrated with CG animation, but they seem to have done something to the human actors, given them some kind of patina that is probably meant to blend them in with their animated surroundings, but in the clips it makes them look like creepy puppet people with out-of-synch voices. Paul says maybe they're not finished with post production yet.
The preview for The Grudge looks good -- an American remake of a Japanese horror series with the original Japanese director. Then, Sarah Michelle Gellar comes out with her costar Jason Behr, who was on Roswell. Nobody is there to talk to him. But, he and SMG seem to be expecting that. SMG has prepared a "top ten reasons I haven't been to Comic-Con before" list, which is funny, and she handles the questions well -- turning some incredibly lame questions into interesting and entertaining answers. There are a couple of audience-groan moments. One, when a questioner refers to "Josh Wheldon." "Who? (long pause) Do you mean JOSS WHEDON?" Another, when a questioner addresses her as "Buffy." "SA-RAH. The name is SA-RAH."
I confess. I'm kind of starstruck. She's beautiful, witty, and SHE PLAYED BUFFY! Look, it's really her!
I think actors are a bit like comic book artists (when the artist isn't also the writer, of course). Yes, the writer is the ultimate and primary source of the wonderfulness. But the actors and artists create what we see. And you notice, in the credits page of long-running series, it gives credit for creating the character, or the series, to both the writer and the original artists.
"Sandman created by Gaiman, Keith, Dringenberg."
Paul wants to try a barbecue place he noticed by the convention center, which turns out to have been used in the movie Top Gun. It is impossible not to notice this, as every surface -- the walls, the tables, the menus, the t-shirts worn by the waitstaff -- proudly announce that Kansas City Barbecue was used in the "sleazy bar scene" in Top Gun.
It's something to be proud of, apparently. However, we manage to refrain from buying any Top Gun merchandise of our own.
We wander about the hotel bars for a while, looking for anything interesting that seems to be going on. A spontaneous invasion of sketch artists is about it. There is also the animation writers' guild shindig, which we are not invited to, but it looks fun. Sigh. They have little sandwiches and things. I guess I'm hungry. The only thing I had at the BBQ place was corn on the cob and some baked beans.
Eventually we wander over to watch Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. I've seen these a couple of times at Comic-Cons past, and it's a weird experience, because -- well, there's a contingent at Comic-Con, at Spike and Mike's and also the masquerade, who I think of as "the peanut gallery." And the peanut gallery is really vocal in their opinions. They boo. They shout things. They don't actually throw peanuts, but it seems like they are about to at any moment. At the masquerade I just hate them, and they're part of the reason I stopped going. (That, and the incredible boredom that I feel after the fourth or fifth competent but not terribly imaginative Sailor Moon costume.) But at Spike and Mike's they aren't just acting up, they are serving a purpose. These collections are being play-tested here at Comic-Con, and Spike and Mike are right there gauging people's reactions. But, you know, if you don't like something -- can't you just not applaud?
Anyway, the animation collection, which includes a few destined for the regular festival, is actually pretty good. My favorites are a French one about sea crabs that can only go one direction, a Squirrel Nut Zippers video that does an amazingly good job of looking like it's from the 1920s, the second of three Happy Tree Friends vignettes where a Christmas pageant goes horribly horribly wrong, and the replay of the still-hilarious "Here Comes Dr. Tran." I assume those are my favorites because they are the ones that come most immediately to mind as I type this.
It's pretty late as we leave. One of the pedicab drivers stops and says "hi! Bellingham!" which makes us stop. Turns out he recognizes us from shows up here. He doesn't say why he moved to San Diego, but he says that now he's there, he can't escape. "It's too expensive," he says. "I can't save enough money to leave."
It's a trap.
We don't hire him to drive us anywhere, which we will kind of regret later, but neither of us really like the pedicabs and it doesn't seem natural at the time.
I look at the million-dollar condos which are sprouting everywhere in the gaslamp district and downtown, major construction every single year we've been to Comic-Con, and I think, a trap. A trap with moderate weather and the ocean and great Mexican food. As traps go, I guess, it's not too bad. But maybe there's a dark side I haven't seen. Maybe during the wee hours of the morning, the gangs roving the streets harvest people for organs, or take them to be eaten by Morlochs, or trick them into going to work in the demon mines like in that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Back in our room, I think once again about New York and Tokyo.
There is a lot of traffic noise that comes in through the open window, but when I close it, the room turns into an airless closet in about five minutes. Noise I can live with; lack of air is something else again.
We eat breakfast at the hotel diner and head to the convention for my last stint at the Lulu table. Then, the panel where Joss Whedon talks about Serenity, the movie based on his short-lived but much-beloved SF TV series Firefly.
One of the big rooms is pretty packed when he comes out, peers at the cheering audience, looks a little taken aback, and says, "I've never seen so many people in my whole life." He talks a bit. Then says he has some surprises. Nine of them.
The crowd goes wild!
All nine regular Firefly cast members walk out to take their seats. This is cool because, not only is it all the cast members right there in the flesh, but also, it means all of them will be in the movie! Woo!
It's the best convention panel. Ever.
The Serenity cast has the rapport that you would expect from a crew that is working in close proximity for months at a time, whether it's on a spaceship or on a movie set. They tease each other, make jokes, and generally seem to be entertaining themselves, with or without the audience. Which makes it very entertaining to be in the audience. A couple of the questions are structured to give everyone a chance to talk. "What is your next project?" "Tell us your favorite thing about your character...and your least favorite thing about Jewel." (This one from Joss).
The questions are of a generally higher quality than the SMG panel, but, somebody calls him "Josh" again. What's up with that?
Serenity is coming out April 2005. The trailer already looks great. Make it a hit, and there's every indication that they will do a trilogy.
Our job is clear.
Paul and I meet up after the panel -- I didn't see him before the panel started, which was a bummer, because he had a better seat than I did. He shows me the loot he got in the Sky Captain bag, which includes a really nice t-shirt, no, two t-shirts, some trading cards for A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the Lemony Snicket books. A strange, rude woman seems to think that Paul should give these to her for no readily apparent reason. We go back to the exhibit hall so I can buy my annual Finder collection, some Y: The Last Man, and Persepolis.
We go back to The Field, where our waitron is kind of jealous that we got to see Jude Law, and another waitron's family is from the same part of Massachusetts as Paul's family. Then we walk back to the hotel, but it's really hot so we stop by The Yard House because we heard it was good and has a lot of beers on tap. It does have a lot of beers on tap. But it smells weird inside and has a very chilly industrial decor that seems geared toward mainstream clubbers who frequent pickup joints. It is called The Yard House because they serve beer in yards and half-yards, if you want. I had a half-yard once, years ago, at a place in Fairhaven called Bullies which served them. Somebody bought me one for my birthday. I'm usually a fan of novelty glassware, but I dislike "yards" -- they seem to be engineered to force you to gulp your beer, as it all comes rushing down that narrow tube. We both ordered regular pints. I had Young's Chocolate Stout, which was pretty good and unusual to find on tap. So that was all right.
Then I put Paul on the bus to the airport. I wander along the waterfront with Henry G, then inland toward a weird building that has always intrigued me because it looks like it used to be a movie theater. I'm disappointed that it doesn't seem to be an ex movie theater, just a gimmicky building. We eat dinner at China Camp, a Chinese restaurant with an old west theme, which is kind of unusual, but in California it makes sense and I wonder why I've never seen it before.
I have breakfast with Henry G at the restauarant in our hotel (he was the one who alerted me to its existence.)
I take the trolley out to Old Town, where they have, wow, actual bus schedules! How amazing! I don't know whay they don't seem to have them anywhere else. They also have a penny-squisher. I squish a penny for Paul. A bus takes me out to Mission Beach, and here I am. You don't see too many goths at the beach. You don't see people wearing clothes. And I don't know, I don't care how perfect your body looks, I still think it's a bit tacky to carry that no-clothes look onto the city streets. As soon as your feet are no longer touching sand, put some clothes on. Thank you.
I call Paul with my cell phone. Paul I'm at the beach. He says, put your feet in the ocean for me. And ride the roller coaster.
I stand in the ocean for as long as I think I can get away with it and not get sunburned. I am wearing a big hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and a long skirt tied up around my knees, all of them black. I think, this place was a resort back in the twenties, and I wouldn't have looked so out of place back then. I mean, Victorians loved the beach.
The water is the perfect temperature. I think I could probably stand in the waves until it's time to leave for my plane, if I didn't have to worry about getting sunburned.
Anyway, I need to ride the roller coaster. It's a wooden recreation of the one that was there in 1926. I'm not sure how old this one actually is. Old enough to smell like wooden roller coasters do when they're next to the beach, that is to say, like the one at Santa Cruz. Like damp wood and salt. It's a good smell. Wooden roller coasters decay organically, and this makes them unpredictable and more dangerous-seeming.
Also, wooden roller coasters don't dump you upside-down -- they just go really fast up and down hills. This is actually the funnest things that roller coasters do. Big loops and corkscrews and backwards things-- these are exciting and all, but they're just not as fun.
Having had my early twentieth-century entertainment, I start to meander back to the bus stop. I meander by way of a park on Mission Bay, and get my feet wet there, too, just for good measure. I stop to swing in a park that has no children in it. Adults rarely play in playgrounds.
I start to wonder. Am I weird, or are they? Why do adults stop doing so many fun things? Adults don't play. Adults go to the gym.
Bus back to Old Town where I wander around for a while. Old Town has a number of vaguely quaint businesses tucked into the old buildings, along with museums and frontier artifacts. I am surprised to walk into the tobacconists and smell cigarette smoke and see a collection of hip-looking young people; all the other businesses seem frequented by middle-aged families with children. Behind the counter is a kid who got off the trolley this morning at the same time I did, who I noticed at the time because he looked so much like a new wave rock star. Shaggy ink-black hair, red button-up shirt, narrow black pants. I'm guessing he works here because he can smoke on the job. I am also guessing that a tobacconist must be some sort of exception to California's rather draconian anti-smoking legislation.
I am also thinking, we will never get the kids to stop seeing smoking as "cool" as long as the hippest crowd in Old Town is the one smoking. Sheesh.
I eat lunch at Casa de Bandini, after carefully reading the menus and sniffing the emerging aromas from the other eating establishments. No, Bandini is still the best choice. I order a fish burrito off their "healthy choices" menu. The healthy choices menu is right in the center (their menu is kind of a booklet) and gives the nutritional breakdown of all the meals -- calories, grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, milligrams of sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, and maybe other stuff but those are the ones I'm sure of. I don't know if I'm ordering from it because I'm sort of reflexively health conscious, or if it's just that I really like to know exactly what I'm getting. I'm a label reader. One of those kids who read cereal boxes. I wonder why they don't have info for the other dishes. Is it expensive to get that analysis? Takes up too much space in the menu? Depresses people when they realize the cheese enchilada plate has 1,500 calories all by itself?
I am killing time at this point, so I order a margarita and start reading my book in earnest. The book is Bed of Nails by Michael Slade, who was a guest of honor at the 2001 Seattle World Horror Convention (the one we ran, you know), and details from that convention figures prominently in the book. Henry G is thanked for his information on Maltby Cemetery. I'm tickled to see all these things I recognize, including some of my own program item titles. What, no royalties? Oh, I got an autographed copy, I guess that's okay. Anyway, program titles are probably considered in the public domain or something. I'm tickled anyway. Look! My words! In a real book!
(Not quite as exciting as getting my novel published, but it's a start.)
Then I take the trolley back to the hotel, collect my stuff which has been waiting for me behind the front desk, and hop on a bus to the airport. I ask if there's an earlier flight (mine leaves at 9:59 p.m.) and get put on one that leaves at 8:59. So, a good two and a half hours of waiting around the airport. The San Diego airport is curiously small, for such a large city. Quite a bit smaller than Seatac.
My flight is delayed by half an hour. So I only get to Seatac half an hour earlier than I was supposed to. Ulysses picks me up, which is VERY VERY NICE OF HIM and he drives me all the way back to Bellingham. I'm mean, so I try to make him jealous by talking about the Serenity panel. (Actually, I try to share entertaining tidbits for his amusement. I'm being nice! I am!)
That's it for the convention experience. I notice that most of the program items I went to were related to movies or TV, rather than comics. I don't know if I should feel embarrassed by that.