Thursday, January 22, 2015

San Diego Comic Con 2014

CAUTION:  Extreme Geek-Out to follow...

Once my plane touched down in San Diego on Wednesday, July 23rd, I headed to the hotel to wait for mi amigo Andres.  Andres is a good friend and fellow geek who I met while living in Guadalajara.  Much like myself pre-2011, Andres had always dreamed of attending Comic Con.  After flirting with the idea for a couple of years, I finally convinced TJ that I just HAD to go again.  Plans were made and it was decided that Andres and I would be sharing a room for comic con!  He flew in via Tijuana just as I had three years prior, though this time it was more convenient for me to fly directly into San Diego.  Although booking through separate airports and not really discussing travel plans in depth, we somehow managed to arrive at the hotel within 20 minutes of each other. 

For the con?  No.  Just
business as usual for Lego. 
We stayed at Town and Country Resort, one of the convention's preferred hotels.  It was a 20-30 minute commute to the convention center by trolley, but the price was right and a gigantic mall was located across the street.  As we didn't have tickets for preview night, which would have allowed us to enter the convention that evening for a look around before the mob arrived the following morning, we instead headed across the street and commenced shopping.  After a quick perusal of the Lego Store, which was seemingly all decked out for the occasion, we headed over to the Build-A-Bear Workshop.  Now, manly men such as ourselves wouldn't normally have need to visit such a place, but...Ninja Turtles!

When I was eight or nine years old, I won a contest through my school library that allowed me to be on the Fox Kids Club, which was basically a series of bumpers that ran between episodes and during commercial breaks for cartoons that aired on Fox weekday afternoons.  For my part, I was going to be asked what my favorite cartoon was.  There would be no cuts, no edits, no reshoots.  It went exactly like this:

Host:  "What's your name?"
Me:  "Aaron"
Host:  "And what is your favorite cartoon, Aaron?"
Me:  "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!"
Host: "Wow!  Who's your favorite turtle?"
Me:  ""

WRONG.  My favorite was, is, and always will be Michelangelo.  I was devastated.  They didn't tell me they were going to ask that question.  I totally choked, and in doing so betrayed my favorite fictional party dude.  Devastated for life.

Flash forward to the teddy bear shop, where I was bound and determined to get a stuffed Michelangelo.  Andres wanted Leonardo.  Don't worry, there had been ample time to think about it.  He truly wanted Leo.

As Andres was making his selection, I couldn't help but notice they didn't have Mikey.  I pointed at the nunchuck accessories and asked a clerk if they had the turtle that went with them.  She said they had run out, but I continued to scour the shelves for him anyway.  Another clerk walked up.

Clerk:  "Can I help you?"
Me:  "Sigh.  I don't believe you can."
Clerk:  "Oh?  Why not?"
Me:  "You apparently don't have Michelangelo."
Clerk:  "We don't?  I can go look in the back for you."
Me:  "Sigh.  No, that's ok.  Your colleague told me he was sold out."
Clerk:  "Oh. I'm sorry."
Me:  "Sigh.  It's okay.  I didn't really need him anyway.  Thank you."

No joke, I really laid it on thick.  As Andres was making his purchase, he tried to strong arm me into getting another turtle.  I was just about convinced that the gap-toothed Donatello was cute enough to make for an acceptable substitute when the second clerk returned and handed me a Michelangelo that had apparently been out on his 15 minute break earlier.  I thanked her, made my purchase, and ran out of the store in joy AND shame.  I had almost betrayed Mikey again.

(As is often the case with impulse purchases, the plush toy now sits in the guest bedroom, an oddity for all visitors.)   

We returned to the hotel conference room and claimed our convention badges for the next morning.  You see, one of the (only) benefits of staying at a preferred hotel located so far away from the con was that we didn't have to make a special trip to the convention center to pick up our tickets...and there was minimal waiting in line because nobody else was crazy enough to come this far out.  

With that particular mission accomplished, Andres headed off to Target to do some more toy hunting.  Having been to Target at least twice while visiting my parents earlier that week, I opted to stay in the room and relax.  We met back up later that evening and I noted that, between the items he had already purchased and the packages that were awaiting him upon arrival at the hotel lobby, Andres possessed enough merchandise to open his own booth at the convention.

This, folks, is an addiction.

Andres surprised me by having already had dinner.  And Chipotle, no less!  My favorite!  How could he?  *cries*  I planned to grab  a quick bite before meeting up with some fellow con-goers for some late night cocktails at ALTITUDE Sky Lounge, but...  

We found a Disney promo booth instead, and got the opportunity to play Disney Infinity 2.0 on a variety of gaming platforms.  I played it on either Playstation 4 or Xbox 360 and I was terrible.  Just...terrible.  BUT I got a free t-shirt!

It was super exciting for me, as I had decided long ago that despite not having played Nintendo in years, I was going to need to get this.

Let's just flash forward to Christmas 2014 really quickly.  TJ loaded me up on Disney Infinity goodies and a Wii U gaming console with which to enjoy them because he treats his geek husband very well.  So far, I'm still pretty terrible, but to be fair I've been super busy sucking at the latest Super Mario game to truly attempt sucking at any others.  With Mario finally defeated, I shall be moving on to new opportunities as soon as this post is completed.  

Anyway, back to July.  Gaming cost me any remaining time I had to eat before I was supposed to arrive at the I just had a cocktail instead.  But only one.  I was still jet lagged from having arrived in Texas just a few days prior.  Now I was hungry and normal-tired, too.  I think my drink had a lemon wedge, so there was some nutritional component at least.  The rooftop bar offered a lovely view of both the San Diego Convention Center and PetCo Park, which I would be visiting in a few days for the most exciting event of the weekend.

We retired relatively early that evening.  We had plans to be in line at the convention at 4:00AM.  Or was it 3:00? I can't remember.  It was insane, whatever it was.  If you've never purchased a ticket to comic con before, you may not understand that what you are actually doing is buying a ticket that allows you to stand in line for the chance to receive a ticket that allows you to stand in another line, where you hope to buy things.  Or maybe you just stand in line in the hopes of sitting through one or two hours of discussion on a topic you are not interested in so that you can secure a seat at the panel you DO have interest in afterward.  It's insane.  And I love it.  When it goes my way.  On this particular morning, it most certainly did not go my way.

EARLY Thursday morning, we cut the line and met up with John, a friend from an online community who had already been in line for god knows how long prior to our arrival.  We waved at some other friends that were much farther ahead in line, so god himself probably doesn't even know when they arrived.  And then we sat.  Forever.  And Ever.  At 9AM the
doors finally opened and we were allowed to enter the convention space and go wait in whatever other lines we wanted to wait in until the convention actually started at 10AM.  Andres and John made way for the Hasbro line.  I faltered for a bit in the Hasbro line myself, but then headed for the main exhibit hall line, from which I could make way to the Lego line once the convention opened.  I had my eye on an exclusive item inspired by the 1966 Adam West Batman show.  It was a long shot, as Lego was only offering 250 pieces per day, but we were so far back in the Hasbro line, I thought that was a long shot, too.  Here' a picture of the set.  It's as close as I'll ever get.

As soon as the convention doors opened, single file turned into a mad dash, and people were appearing from places that people shouldn't have been able to be, like nefarious ninja nerds.  Doors that I didn't even know existed flew open, and extra lines of people appeared out of nowhere.  It was uncanny.

Andres and John managed to get to the Hasbro booth, where they were able to get tickets to go back and wait in line to maybe buy stuff later.  So did Mary, another friend who just happened to be walking by after the fact.  Our other friends, who as you may recall were farther ahead in line, somehow got directed out of the line and didn't get tickets.  The whole line concept was an absolute cluster-frak and left everyone feeling somewhat cranky first thing in the morning, though all concerned managed to get their Hasbro loot before the end of the weekend.  As for me and Lego, the closest I got was finding the beginning of the line, following it all the way around the booth twice, realizing that an "end" to the line didn't actually exist, and then getting yelled at by an angry dweeb who accused me of trying to cut in front of him.  Though, to be fair to him, I totally was.   

With no time to lose, we scurried to our first panel discussion of the day, "Legends of TV Land," featuring Donald Faison from "Clueless" and "Scrubs," William Shatner from "Star Trek," and Betty White from being flipping BETTY WHITE, gosh darn it.  It was a lively discussion in which Rose Nylund and Captain James Tiberius Kirk  argued about pretty much everything under the sun while that other guy just sat their in mostly awkward silence because everyone was there to see flipping BETTY White, gosh darn it.  Andres had disappeared by this point, not being particularly interested in the pop culture sweetheart of 1980s American gay youth.  Perhaps his absence is how I got roped into next sitting through an hour of "Women Writing Twilight-Type Knock-Offs" or some such nonsense with my friend Jarrett so that he could ensure himself a seat in the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour panel that followed.  That...and the fact that attending an NPR panel would give me street cred with TJ.  

Immediately after the generic Twilight fan-fiction panel, Jarrett looked over and noticed that I was in a daze.  

"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm just tired, hungry, and thirsty."
"Did you have breakfast?"
"Yeah.  On the plane."
"Um.  That was yesterday.  Have you eaten since then?"  
"What about something to drink"
"I had a little rum last night."

One Jarret-donated granola bar and two trips to the water cooler later, and I was feeling a little better, but that didn't stop me from falling asleep in the front row and getting the stink eye from the panelists before the end of the hour.

Somewhere in the mix, I received news from my mother that her medical tests had all come back negative.  TJ sent a message notifying me that he had experienced enough stress due to the summer war in Gaza and that he was taking a weekend to himself in Prague, please and thank you.  Satisfied that my loved ones were all safe and healthy (though envious of a trip to Prague, let me tell you), I was finally able to truly relax.  But, oh man, was I still tired.

Jarrett and I grabbed some sodas and some nachos.  We walked around for a while.  I incurred the wrath of She-Ra.

We met up with some friends that evening for a group dinner at Edgewater Grill. We took one nice group photo of ourselves....and numerous tasteless photos of action figures being naughty.  I shan't be sharing those, as you'd never think the same of me again.  Well, okay. But just one.  It was a wonderful evening of drinking, chatting, and eating.  We were that table.  You know, the one that makes too much noise and stays past closing?  Sorry, waiters of the world.  That's not typical of me, I promise.

Friday morning brought with it the panel my entire group of friends had been waiting for...and, indeed, the primary reason several of us had made the journey at all.  The 2014 SDCC Mattypalooza panel was where Mattel representatives would share what new and exciting He-Man and She-Ra product would be hitting late 2014/early 2015.  (STOP LAUGHING AT ME!  Geeks outnumber you!!!)

I won't bore you with too many details, as this isn't that type of blog, but it was by far the most exciting panel of the weekend.

Books detailing the history of the brand were announced.  Upcoming comic book storylines were revealed.  New action figures were displayed.  In that moment, all of the exhaustion and worry of the last few days had all been worth it.

Of course, it's sort of embarrassing to talk about my passion for these toys, but I don't know why.  It's just a hobby.  A fond memory of childhood that I am able to carry into adulthood.  It's not a reflection on my sanity or ability to adapt to society or anything.  Besides, everyone knows I collect this stuff anyway.  Example:  All of our personal mail is delivered to us at work.  Once, after a convention that I was unable to attend, a friend mailed some goodies that I had requested to our office in Mexico.  The mailroom sent out an e-mail announcing to the entire world that some He-Man toys had been delivered without a recipient's name printed on the box.  The entire office turned around and said "Aaron, you've got mail!"  I'm quirky.  So what?  

But, of course, it wouldn't have been an enjoyable panel without having to first sit through an hour of something nobody in the room cared about.  A modest group of us arrived 75 minutes early and camped out in the front row of what turned out to be a Sailor Moon panel.  We all snickered and giggled at the ridiculousness of it all (because He-Man and She-Ra are so much more awesome, duh.)...except for Andres, who enjoyed every moment of it.

After the Mattel panel, most paired off into small groups and went their separate ways.  I got distracted by a guy that was handing out free donuts (Hey, I was still tired, but at least I was remembering to eat now.) and got separated from the group.  I wandered around for a while until I stumbled upon the Disney booth.  They were promoting the summer flick  Big Hero 6, and I got to take a photo with a giant statue of the protagonist, Baymax.  I noticed that they had a really fun looking Baymax figure for sale which was, of course, sold out for the day. I made a mental note to return the following morning.

Later, I joined up with Erik and Jeff, a couple I had met at the Betty White and those other guys panel, as we attempted to conquer a two hour line to see the cast of "Bob's Burgers."  We failed miserably.  Dejected, we skulked off in defeat...only to stumble upon the holy grail of comic con:  the end of the line for Hall H.  Not just the end of the line, but the end of the line actually entering the hall

Hall H is legendary for bringing big Hollywood starts to comic con to screen clips of upcoming projects and then doing Q&As about them.  Panels for shows like "Game of Thrones" or "The Walking Dead" generally require an overnight campout to get in.  It was while waiting in this line that a "Twilight" fan got run over in 2012.  This is serious stuff.  The panel we stumbled across boasted a generic title like "Upcoming Fox Movies" or something.  We didn't know what to expect, but we suddenly found our schedules clear and decided to take a gamble.

What awaited us was amazing.

First, the cast of "The Maze Runner" came out to show some clips and do some Q&A.  In a moment of purely adorable awkwardness, young star Dylan O'Brien totally spoiled the death of a major character and then tried to justify himself by pointing out that it was based on a book and people should be reading instead of watching movies anyway.  Oops.  (I would go on to tell TJ how excited I was for this movie, who himself would then go on to love the movie.)

Next....NEXT...Channing OHMYGOD Tatum, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman, and Guillermo del Toro  came out to discuss their work on the absolutely gorgeous movie, "The Book of Life."

I excused myself early to go meet up with Armando, a friend from Guadalajara who now lives in San Diego.  He showed me around Hillcrest, San Diego's happening gayborhood, and then we stopped for a quick dinner at Urban Mos.  Let me just tell you that after almost a year in Jerusalem, that bacon cheeseburger was to die for.  

I then headed back to the convention area for more geek fun at Hennesey's Tavern, where it has become an annual tradition for He-Man and She-Ra fans to meet up the night following the Mattel panel to discuss all that had been revealed earlier that day.  I bowed out early due to still being completely exhausted.  On my way back to the shuttle, I witnessed a fight between a young couple.  She was highly intoxicated and had clearly done something to upset him.  He was walking at a brisk pace to get away from her, and she was stumbling after him screaming his name.  He got caught up by a traffic light and she could have caught up with him, had she not paused to light a cigarette, lost her balance, and fallen on her backside.  She just sat there and yelled after him for the longest time.  I may have been tired...but at least I was doing better than her.

Andres and I returned to the convention early the next morning (but not crazy early).  He headed off to the Nickelodeon booth to purchase a Ninja Turtle or some such thing while I made a beeline for the Disney booth.  Baymax was, of course, sold out.  I then wandered over to the Funko booth, only to discover that its line had been capped off, just as it had been at every single turn all weekend...and would remain so until late that evening, at which point a friend would notify me by text message that he was in the line...and everything that I was interested was sold out.  Naturally.  Not even knowing that last part yet, but bitter nonetheless, I sent Andres a text and asked him to buy me a damned Turtle because I wasn't going to leave this convention without something exclusive.

Everyone reconvened on Saturday morning to attend Nickelodeon's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" panel.  Seth Green and Sean Astin were there.  It was dreamy.  In that geek sort of way.

Now, despite whining about a plush mutant turtle just three days prior and buying a plastic one just hours before, I hadn't actually watched a turtle toon since the late 90s.  Okay, so I saw an episode of the new show at the gym once...Okay, so I stayed and watched  a second.  Anyway, point being that I hadn't seriously watched it since the early 90s.  Buuuut my friends are all fans and I wanted to fit in.  Well, the panel did what these panels are supposed to do: it got me excited.  I love the show and have now downloaded every episode on iTunes.  #Sucker.

That afternoon, my friend Brian (right, who also sent me some Disney Infinity awesomeness for Christmas...thanks, Bri!) showed me the post office so I could mail off some convention loot to friends that were unable to attend.  We ate lunch at Whole Foods.  We chatted.  I bought a book I had wanted for years.  We took this awesome picture with a woman dressed as She-Ra's pal Sweet Bee (and our buddy Andrew (left), who happened to be passing by at the time).  It was awesome.

We stumbled across some adorable Muppet replicas, which appears to be a theme, as just such a thing also happened while walking around with Brian in 2011.

That evening, Brian and I headed over to Petco Park, where we joined friends Manuel, Mary, Jarrett, Julien, Scott, and Ted for The Walking Dead Escape, "an immersive zombie run experience."  This was the non-panel activity that I had looked forward to most in the month or so leading up to the convention, and it had certainly played no small part in my binge-watching of season 4 on the flight.  Participants were invited to experience the event in one of two ways:  You could either be a walker or a survivor.  We all opted to be survivors, as being a walker involved a two-hour make-up commitment that we just weren't buying into.  Brian, a professional actor, put it best when he said "I am not paying to be in the show.  I get paid to perform."  I don't have any acting chops to speak of, but that's certainly a philosophy I can stand behind.  Things start out fairly calm as you acclimate to your environment.  Men in army fatigues play the part of US military personnel on the scene to contain an outbreak of the zombie plague.  As you walk through the breezeways and corridors of the facility, things quickly fall apart and zombies start lunging for you at every turn.  Fear not, would-be adventurers; for sanitation's sake, the pretend virus is spread via touch, not bite.  

Afterward, we joined another friend, Ricky, for a late dinner before I grabbed the complimentary shuttle back to the hotel.  Andres hadn't wanted to participate in the zombie run and I wanted to spend some time with him before he left the next morning.  I fell asleep on the shuttle just as it approached my stop...and woke up in front of the convention center.  By the time I made my second trip to the hotel, Andres was already asleep.  Hasty goodbyes were all we had time for the following morning.  He headed for Tijuana, and I headed back to the mall.  I had spent myself into needing another suitcase.

I departed San Diego on Sunday at 8:30PM (or Monday at 6:30AM, Jerusalem Time) on a British Airways flight headed back to London.  My convention friends all departed that day as well, and the afternoon was filled with text message farewells from trains, taxis, and terminals on the other side of the airport.  It wasn't until I was leaving that I had a moment to stop and reflect on just how amazing a time I had actually had.  The summer war in Gaza had not resulted in travel restrictions being placed on my return to Jerusalem.  TJ's impromptu vacation meant that he was safe, regardless of what happened in Jerusalem anyway.  My mother had called to tell me that her medical tests all came back negative.  I had begun this vacation with so many worries, but it was ending on such a high note.    

As first class began boarding, I looked up to the sound of a young male with a British accent thanking someone for their hospitality.  It took a moment for me to recognize that it was Will Poulter.  The 21-year old actor has been featured in such films as "The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Voyage of the Dawntreader," "We're the Millers," and "The Maze Runner."  Yes, he had been at the panel.  My camera was buried in my carry-on.  My cell phone was turned off in preparation for departure.  I couldn't get to either of them before he had disappeared down the boarding ramp.  SIGH.  I scoured the plane for him as I walked to my seat in coach, but this plane didn't send the commoners down the walk of shame past first class.  UGH.  Oh well.  Let's enjoy a stock photo instead.

Oh, yeah.  That's the stuff.

I had an eight our layover in London and Anwarul was kind enough to meet me at Heathrow again. We sat and chatted for a couple of hours at an airport pub.  We ate fish and chips (not the McDonald's variety).  I spilled ketchup everywhere.  There was no restroom inside the restaurant.  There were no paper towels in the restroom outside of the restaurant.  I threw a bit of a fit.  I was tired.

I landed in Tel Aviv at 6:00AM Tuesday morning (or 8:00PM Monday evening, California time).  TJ had landed an hour prior and was waiting for me with the car.  We somehow managed to go home, change clothes, and arrive at work by 8:00am.  

By 3:00, I had fallen asleep at my desk.  I got up, logged an hour of sick leave, and went home to rest.