Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Road to San Diego Comic Con 2014

After three long years, I finally returned to San Diego for the annual geek pilgrimage known as Comic Con International, aka San Diego Comic Con.

My journey began on July 18, when I left Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport at 5:15pm on a  British Airways flight headed for London.  I landed around 8:30PM London time, or 10:30PM Jerusalem time.  The seats were comfy, the food was adequate, and the flight offered a wide variety of complimentary programming.  Being a huge fan of "The Walking Dead," and having only seen the first episode of season 4 at that point, I was pleased to note that the entire season was among the offerings.  As my much longer connecting flight would also be through BA, I rolled the dice and hoped that this meant I could knock out the remaining 15 episodes of the season before landing in Texas the following afternoon.  By the end of that first leg, I had completed the fifth episode.  Ten more to go...this was going to be doable, but tight.

Our friend Anwarul, whom we had met in Orlando during home leave in September, greeted me at London Heathrow Airport. I had a fifteen hour layover on the horizon and the thought was that, as Anwaral's home in Henley-on-Thames was kind of far from the airport,  we would have a proper fish and chips dinner, do a little nighttime sight-seeing, and dance/drink the night away so that I could collapse into a peaceful slumber on the second leg of this journey and he could fall asleep on the tube and probably miss his stop and end up at Downton Abbey.  Or something.  I don't now where the tube lines end.  (Fortunately, as this plan was formed prior to my knowledge of the in-flight programming) I discovered mere days before my journey that Gavin, a friend from our years living in Orlando, happened to be in London that same week for a Monty Python concert.  The plan changed from dancing all night to bumming a free place to crash until morning so that I could get a decent night's sleep as any self respecting 34 year old should do.

Anwarul and I still opted for a little nighttime sightseeing and a fish and chips dinner.  But first we stopped at Paddington Station so I could pose with...Paddington Bear!

The places Anwarul had wanted to go were either closed or super crowded, so we went to...McDonald's.  BUT!  It was a McDonald's with a view.  I had the Filet-o-Fish and fries, because I thought it would be funny.  It was.  But not tasty.  Here I am in front of the London Eye.  I had wanted to ride it since my study abroad trip in 2001, but I didn't have time then and I didn't have time now. No worries; TJ and I would be returning for two weeks in September.  I'd probably ride it then.  (Spoiler:  I didn't.)  You'll notice how dapper Anwarul looks.  I told him that, when picked at the airport, I always expect my greeters to arrive in suit and black hat.  And that's just what he did!  He says it happened to be what he had worn to work that day, but I choose to believe it was all for me.

Anwarul was kind enough to accompany me all the way to Gavin's hotel to ensure that I wouldn't get lost during the many station changes.  Before parting ways, he even mapped out my route back to the airport.  I then proceeded to enjoy a cocktail and a chat with Gavin before retiring at a decent hour, while Anwarul missed the last train and ended up on a terribly long bus ride before arriving home at quite an indecent hour.  Sorry, pal!

The next morning I awoke refreshed and scurried off to the airport.  This leg of my journey would clock in somewhere between 10 and 11 hours and take me to visit my parents in Texas.  I hopped into my seat and immediately began watching the next episode of "The Walking Dead."  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to finish the series, when suddenly a..."miracle"...happened.  The captain made a series of announcements over the course of the NEXT TWO HOURS regarding flight delays.  I won't bore you with the details, but it involved two wheelchair-bound passengers, a broken ramp, a jammed door, a lost spot in the take-off queue, and a long line for departure.  

After calling TJ to ask if he would first notify my mother of the delay and then call my friend Patrick, who was going to drive 170 miles from Houston just to have a quick dinner with me because he was supposed to visit us in Jerusalem but then cancelled his trip due to the summer war, and tell him that now *I* had to cancel because of the flight delay, I sat back in my seat and watched 10 episodes of "The Walking Dead" and two episodes of "Pawn Stars," followed by several uninspired rounds of Pac-Man on the seat-back's touch screen.  In hindsight, I should have napped.  The jet lag would stay with me for two weeks.  

By the time I landed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, it was around 6:30PM...or 2:30AM the following day by Jerusalem time.  I couldn't find my parents.  I didn't have cellular reception.  I feared that they had gone to the wrong airport.  After walking up and down the International Arrivals corridor a couple of times, I walked the length of the Arrivals pick-up sidewalk.  I finally located them at the domestic Arrivals gate, where they were growing equally concerned by the fact that no flights from London were showing up on the board.      

I spent Saturday evening through Wednesday morning with my parents.  For the most part, it was a relaxing visit filled with good foods and good company.  We ate.  We drank.  We reminisced.  My aunt came to visit.  My mom's dogs barked...a lot.  We went to Best Buy and looked at the technology that has been passing me by whilst living overseas, and passing my parents by whilst they don't regularly go to Best Buy.  Apparently, televisions are curved now.  Why?  I don't know.  I still haven't been able to explain it to TJ.  My dad showed me the newest classic Chevy that he was restoring.  Mom took pride in showing me her rock garden.  I visited my old college town.  I crawled through the barn and looked at my old toys.  I laid them all out and smiled.  As many as there were, I knew that many more had been sold off at one garage sale or another (with my permission, of course) over the years.

As much as I had wanted to, as much as I had planned to, I didn't tell any of my old friends that I was home.  I was nervous and sad and too anxious to do anything but spend time with my parents.  

While I was safe at home with mom and dad, TJ was once again assisting American citizens that were departing Gaza.  Rockets were exploding overhead, shattered glass and concrete rubble were everywhere.  Cell reception and battery power were not our friends that day, and I had minimal contact with him.  It wasn't until he made it home that I was able to relax.  The experience shook him to the core.  The following weekend, while I was in San Diego, he skipped town and visited Prague.  He just needed a break.

That was fine by me.  There had been talk over the last couple of weeks about sending family members back to the US if the conflict worsened.  I was worried that the order would be given while I was stateside, restricting my return while requiring TJ to remain behind to continue his work.  The thought of this made me sick.  I didn't want to be separated.  I hadn't left because of fear.  I just wanted to go geek out for a few days with my friends.  I wasn't able to truly enjoy my trip until TJ landed in Prague and I knew that, if any such order was given, we'd at least be locked out of Jerusalem together.  

Throughout all of this, my mother experienced her first (and hopefully last) cancer scare.  Tests had been run prior to my arrival, but the results would not be ready until after I had beens scheduled to return to Jerusalem.  I suspect she planned it this way deliberately so as not to dampen the mood of my visit, as I went running to her side the last time there was a medical concern.  She was in good spirits, and seemed to be in a positive frame of mind, but it was still cause for alarm.  Should I stay and await the results?  Should I go to San Diego and then come back if the worst was confirmed, or would she be better served if I went back to Jerusalem, and return home for treatments?  In the end, she was optimistic that things would be fine, so I continued with my planned trip, knowing that I could always return if necessary.  

Jet lag combined with the external stress contributed to wonky sleep patterns.  I found myself unable to fall asleep earlier than 2AM, but wide awake by 6:30AM.  Eating patterns mirrored the time zone I was inhabiting, so that was a plus., so early...on Wednesday, July 23, my parents drove me back to Austin, where I flew to San Diego International Airport via a connecting flight at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.  

The entire flight was filled with convention goers.  You could just...tell.

An obese, introverted geek sat to my left, an average, friendly, extroverted geek to my right.  When the flight attendant walked the aisles and asked that we buckle our seat belts, I could not find mine.  I turned to the large fellow beside me and had the following conversation.

"I think you are sitting on my seat belt."
"No, I don't think so."
"Well, could you check?  I kind of need it."
"It's not important."
"No, really, it is.  She just said so.  Get. Up. Now."
"Oh. Here it is."

I then turned to my right and did something I have never done before:  I conversed with a stranger on an airplane.  We talked for the duration of the flight about all sorts of nerdy, geeky, dweeby things.  I don't believe careers or family or other hobbies ever came up, because we were going to comic con and who had time to talk about real life, am I right?

My flight landed at 10:00AM...or 8:00PM Jerusalem time.  In the course of five days, time around had shifted by two, eight, and, finally, ten hours.  My internal clock had not yet adjusted.  It would never accomplish this task.

But Comic Con had officially begun.