Over eleven years ago I started sharing my thoughts on the Internet for fellow geeks to read. Fan conventions, food, and frivolity were the primary topics of my online ramblings and after years of typing and hundreds of posts, I developed a pretty healthy following thanks to my pop culture relationships and Wasabi Anime appearances.
Last year I was graciously granted a Press Pass from Dragon Con to cover their convention. I was excited at the prospect of approaching the show from a blogger’s viewpoint. Normally I’m attending as a fan, a promoter, or a performer. But a “reporter?” CRAZY, MAN. CRAZY.
Upon getting back from Atlanta after Labor Day 2013, I started gathering my notes to pen the post. My schedule had me in the midst of a bunch of back to back show commitments: PinUpalooza, Anime Weekend Atlanta, and then WasabiCon the first weekend of November. WasabiCon ended the season for my year, so I started putting together a detailed retelling of the whirlwind weekend of Dragon Con 2013 to publish later that month.
Then, abruptly, it all came to a screeching halt.
In mid-November, my father took his own life.
I’ve been insanely busy since then. In fact, these past six weeks alone have been the busiest in my history of involvement in fan conventions. Here we are, though. A year later, and I’ve decided to have a go at this again. After all, I owe Dragon Con at least that much.
So buckle up, geeks. Here’s my play by play of Dragon Con 2014.
WEDNESDAY (DAY -1) at 11:21 PM
I just finished packing. We’re hitting the road in about five hours to drive to Atlanta by way of Orlando to pick up two friends, Russ and Kate, along the way. I’ve packed all the important things, ESPECIALLY this:
That’s an original 1984 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension movie poster. Rolled, not folded. Sure, Peter Weller was in some “Robocop” flick, but HELLO? BUCKAROO BANZAI!
As with all Dragon Cons I have attended, save one over five years ago, I planned on road tripping it from South Florida to Atlanta. Believe it or not, there’s some actual math behind this decision. Let’s look at the numbers:
DRIVING (8 Hours)
- Vero Beach, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia is about 7.5 hours. If you add another hour for stops and food, you can safely round that up to eight hours.
FLYING (6.25 hours)
- Drive from Vero Beach to MCO is 1.5 hours.
- We get to the airport at least 2 hours before each flight, so add that into time spent.
- Flight from MCO to ATL? Another 1.5 hours.
- Once you land, throw in an extra 45 minutes to deplane and find checked luggage because, for Dragon Con, you’re checking luggage!
- Cab ride (or MARTA) to the hotel? At least another 30 minutes.
The difference is about two hours of my life each way. These two hours, though, allow me to have local transportation in Atlanta (if needed) and the annual chance to Think Tifton! while driving up I-75.
THURSDAY (DAY 0) at 10:35 AM
My wife and I have been on the road since 5 AM. We stopped in Orlando and picked up our friends Russ and Kate who are also attending the convention and needed a lift. While sitting in the passenger seat, I have been messing around with the Dragon Con 2014 app and putting in panels and events I want to see. I have eight people who have added me using friend codes and most have shared their schedules with me. Pretty snazzy.
I am not thinking about Tifton yet.
THURSDAY (DAY 0) at 11:48 AM
Just thought about Tifton.
THURSDAY (DAY 0) at 4:34 PM
Just finished unpacking into our room at the Sheraton Atlanta. This makes the 4th Dragon Con hotel we’ve stayed in. Past hotels: The Marriott Marquis, The Westin, and the Hilton. This one (the Sheraton) was BY FAR the easiest to get in and out as far as checking in is concerned. Now, traffic is still a nightmare on par with downtown Los Angeles during summer rush hour – but once we got INTO the hotel, the experience was top notch.
From here we are taking a small walk to the Marriott to snag our passes.
THURSDAY (DAY 0) at 10:42 PM
Just got back to my hotel after a bombardment of geek culture.
After I left our room at 4:30, we got our badges from VIP pick up and proceeded to meet up with one of the Talent For Cons guests, Bill Farmer, in the lobby. Dragon Con is like your favorite pair of jeans that you’ve worn forever but left in the back of the closet. You might forget about them for a while, but when you slip them on they just seem to fit. Walking around the Marriott is when the comfort and familiarity sets in:
- I passed a guy who called me out and wanted to say hi since he recognized me as “Tom from Florida Anime Experience”.
- Soon after, I ran into a fellow Dragon Con regular, Mark.
- After that? I bumped into a fellow con promotor from CONjure.
- Shortly after that, my friend Marc from Anime Expo showed up in the lobby.
- While talking to Marc, we ran into another friend, Rosalind Friday, in the lobby.
- Then we ran into another old friend and Dragon Con regular, Kristian.
- I bumped into Richie from my own hometown.
- We even ran into our friend Myna in the midst of the craziness.
I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a couple of other “ran intos” – but you get the idea. All of those bullet points happened in less than forty-five minutes. Dragon Con is the Cheers of conventions: everybody knows your name.
After snagging a quick bite in the cafeteria and getting a couple of Guests situated for Talent For Cons, we walked back to our hotel room to get a few hours of precious sleep before tomorrow’s insanity begins.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 7:41 AM
I’ve been up for almost half an hour listening to Shannon get dressed for the Dragon Con Fun Run this morning. Yes, she’s dressed as Olaf.
I have to be down at the Marriott to make sure an 8:40 AM interview happens. Before that, MAYBE Starbucks (line pending).
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 8:50 AM
Starbucks? HELL NO. That line is inhuman.
Instead, I got to watch Bill Farmer (@GoofyBill) film his Dragon Con TV Interview. I’m heading back to the Sheraton and then snagging a quick breakfast from there.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 12:34 PM
After helping a couple of actors get to their panels, Shannon and I directed ourselves over to the Marriott to drop off banners and photos for the Talent For Cons Guests that were setting up in the Walk of Fame. With time to spare, we started to wander around outside to check out the usual array of amazing costumes as they were starting to show up.
Around the Marriott elevators by the Walk of Fame was a sea of Steampunk and Goth. I’m not sure how popular these musical acts are outside in the “real world” – but they’re bona fide rock stars here at the convention. The Crüxshadows were near their usual spot with a presentation of video, lights, and a gaggle of black t-shirts. It’s a quirky fandom with an avid fan base, and bands like this help create Dragon Con’s identity as a unique fan experience.
Upstairs we ran to Jenne and her dance troupe, Noise Complaint. It looked like they were setting up to perform guerrilla style since I didn’t seem them on the schedule. If so, attendees were in for one hell of a cosplay dancing explosion of awesome.
This stroll around the Marriott kind of captured the vibe of how much of a mesh Dragon Con can be: artistic goth cosplay music dancing steampunk fans and stuff.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 2:25 PM
Just ran into Cary Elwes in an elevator on my way back from a photo op. I told him I loved him in the TV show Psych.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 3:44 PM
Was just handed a free Red Bull while walking back to my hotel by a woman wearing a refrigerated backpack. Seemed legit.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 4:34 PM
While going from the Sheraton to the Marriott, I heard a woman behind me scoff at another woman who walked by us.
“I can’t stand grown women that wear bows in their hair. It’s ridiculous.”
I looked back at the woman who made the comment. She had striking dyed red hair, a pierced eyebrow, and a couple of tattoos. Also, she was smoking.
“My wife wears bows in her hair,” I said to her, evenly and calmly.
“I don’t mean smaller ones,” she replied. “I’m talking about adult women who wear those really big bows.”
“Yup. My wife wears those, too,” I retorted. “I think she looks awesome when she does.” I just smiled at her.
The woman shut up at this point realizing she might have bit off more than she could chew.
Dragon Con is about celebrating diversity. Running into the random cigarette smoking-pierced-tattooed chick who likes to judge others (because, you know, she’s in THE position to do so) is going to happen. It’s an anomaly, though, and not 98% of the normal convention culture and experience.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 5:01 PM
My pal Marc and his fiancee Pam brought back some Fat Matt’s BBQ for a late lunch. It lived up to the local reputation of food awesomeness.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 5:16 PM
Shannon got to meet (and take a photo with) Giancarlo Esposito – the actor who played Gus on one of her favorite series: Breaking Bad.
Note the look of excitement on my wife’s face at the prospect of having a knife to her neck.
For those “in the know” of the series, he was selling box cutters that he would sign. A. Mazing.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 8:42 PM
While leaving the lobby of the Sheraton, music was pumping loud to keep fans happy and excited. The exact moment Shannon and I were leaving for dinner, though, THAT Journey song started playing.
Every Dragon Con attendee in the lobby started singing. Loudly. And off key.
I stopped believing at that exact moment.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 8:42 PM
Everything is awesome.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 10:36 PM
I passed a man standing on the street corner by the Sheraton. He was singing “I Can Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules loud and proud. No costume. No cause.
He just wanted to sing.
And everyone was okay with it because: Dragon Con.
FRIDAY (DAY 1) at 11:22 PM
Cosplay Deviants hosts a great party each year for Dragon Con at the Hard Rock Cafe. Was I there with some friends? You betcha.
SATURDAY (DAY 2) at 1:32 AM
SATURDAY (DAY 2) at 10:08 AM
The Walk of Fame opened at 10:00 AM and I was already in line to meet Peter Weller. As mentioned earlier, I was in possession of a very particular 1984 movie poster that I needed him to sign.
So I was there in line with a slew of other people and Mr. Weller was there ready to begin a day of autographing and shaking hands, but his assistant was nowhere to be found. Ten minutes went by and he was on his phone and working with Dragon Con staff trying to find the person who was supposed to be there with him to collect money, etc. Weller was getting visibly agitated while trying to get someone to answer calls from his cell and was pacing back and forth. In the midst of this, though, he took note of a woman waiting in line on a cane across from his table. Peter Weller stopped everything he was doing and walked over to her.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said. She looked up at him in time to see that he had taken his seat from behind the table, lifted it over the line of tables, and placed it in front of her. “Please sit down while we get this taken care of.”
Peter Weller gave his seat to a woman on a cane so she would be comfortable while he worked with convention staff to fix an issue.
Around 10:28 AM the issues got resolved and I got my movie poster signed. I was a great experience and I can’t wait to frame the signature and hang is my very geeky living room.
SATURDAY (DAY 2) at 2:58 PM
My biggest pet peeve about conventions in Atlanta? Smokers who walk with crowds on the sidewalk and smoke in the midst said crowds. Seriously. It’s hot as hell and I don’t want to inhale your second hand smoke. Find a designated smoking area, please, and don’t think it’s “okay” to smoke in the middle of a bunch of children, fans, and folks in costumes.
SATURDAY (DAY 2) at 4:04 PM
I found my way to the Hyatt to attend a panel (about Weapons in Fiction?) that featured Mike Grell as a speaker. Sometimes seeking folks out at Dragon Con for one reason can be a gateway to interesting entertainment entirely outside what you are looking for – and I thoroughly enjoyed the panel. My favorite quote from it?
“Whatever weapon an alien is shooting at you was probably designed to hurt him.”
Never thought about that. It’s pretty accurate and damned interesting.
I enjoyed the panel and, at the end, I approached Mr. Grell with my Green Arrow issue number one. We spoke briefly and I shared how I had recently been introduced to his run of the comics and sincerely enjoyed them.
It was a very “Dragon Con” moment.
SATURDAY (DAY 2) at 10:25 PM
And now we come to the highlight of my Dragon Con weekend. For years, we’ve always made reservations at Trader Vic’s at the Hilton to gather for a night of Mai Tais and inebriated conversations with friends. Many of these Dragon Con dinners have resulted in some EPIC adventures.
I was there with fellow convention runner friends from Anime Expo and Momocon having fun and, you know, buying way too many drinks. A couple of Mai Tais in, my friend Stuckey (sitting to my right) pointed out that someone was being seated at the table next to us.
That someone? Terry F***ing Gilliam.
Mr. Gilliam stepped away to go to the bathroom and, on his way back, I leaned back to confirm.
“Mr. Gilliam?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied, looking directly at me.
I extended my hand. “My name is Tom Croom and I just wanted to tell you that I’m a big fan of your work.”
Now, when you do this with a celebrity, you run a 50/50 chance of getting an “annoyed” response or the opposite.
Terry Gilliam provided the opposite and it was AWESOME.
“Thank you,” he said and took my hand to shake it. Across from the table, my friend Marc already had his camera out.
“Would you mind taking a photo?” I asked.
“Sure!” he replied.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out, apologizing for my obviousness in being a fan. “Marc, hurry up!”
Terry put his hand on my shoulder and spoke up. “No rush. Don’t worry.”
The man was a class act.
I thanked him again, expressed how amazing his work was to me, and he went to his table. You can see the giant smile on my face:
SUNDAY (DAY 3) at 11:48 AM
I just had one of those surreal Dragon Con moments that defy explanation: there was a line to get in the men’s room in the Marriott. A LINE TO GET IN THE MEN’S ROOM.
SUNDAY (DAY 3) at 3:00 PM
I swung by the Dragon Con store in the Marriott to pick up some convention swag. I grabbed a mouse pad, a cute plush dragon, and a new Dragon Con hoodie. I was told, as they took it off the hanger from the display, that i bought the LAST extra large 2014 hoodie.
SORRY OTHER XL WEARING DUDES.
SUNDAY (DAY 3) at 3:36 PM
The Vendors Room for Dragon Con is in a building called the Americas Mart on Peachtree Street near where the Hard Rock Cafe is. I decided to brave the Sunday crowd and check it out. While walking through the hoards of people on the sidewalk near the entrance, a woman grabbed my attention.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Are you going to the dealers room?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Would you mind helping me when we get there?”
I looked down and saw she was pushing an infant in a stroller. “Sure.”
When we got there, I helped her carry the stroller up the stairs until she was able to easily get to the elevators.
“Thank you,” she said, obviously grateful.
“You’re welcome. I have to tell you, though, that I’m a little disappointed that your baby isn’t cosplaying for Dragon Con,” I said looking at the cute infant in a red striped jumper.
“He is!” she replied, giggling. “He’s dressed as Toby!”
I paused for a moment and then I realized her reference. “Labyrinth!” I exclaimed. “Well played!” We shared a laugh and went our own ways to the dealers room.
I’ll spare you the complaints about the Dragon Con vendors area. In short: great selection in a “flea market” environment. Word has it that next year will have a new and improved location so I’m hoping for a better vibe when fans return in 2015.
SUNDAY (DAY 3) at 4:11 PM
While walking around the vendors room, I got recognized by a WasabiCon 2013 staffer. Dragon Con is such a small, small world.
SUNDAY (DAY 3) at 5:29 PM
I carved out a little bit of time to walk over to the Hilton and check out all the LARP and fan tables. I like the Hilton (Trader Vic’s!) and it’s got a great layout for people watching.
The bottom floor of the hotel is where the tabletop gaming takes place. I never really think “gaming” with Dragon Con (since I’ve been to Gen Con for the past five years) – but DAMN. That place was packed! Folks were jammed together at tables playing a variety of games and everyone was having a great time.
It seems, though, that games of Werewolf had finally gotten out of hand:
SUNDAY (DAY 3) at 9:40 PM
It was a forty-five minute wait, but worth it for the beer and the INSANE burger I got. It was something I hadn’t ordered since 2010: the Double Coronary Bypass Burger. Here’s the post about my first confrontation with this burger beast back in the day: http://www.tomcroom.com/archives/514
We finished dinner, got back to the hotel, and then passed out for the night. We were going to need a solid eight hours of rest since we were driving back to Florida the next day.
MONDAY (DAY 4) at 10:38 AM
This is the slowest day of Dragon Con, but for the first part of it things are still pretty hectic. While hanging out in the Walk of Fame, I had the pleasure of running into Timothy Zahn. I remind him each time we meet of something I think he already knows: he wrote the three best Star Wars books.
I then reminded him of our strange first connection which had NOTHING to do with fan conventions. In 1996, he was visiting Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida when he walked into the Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time gift shop. He started talking with the woman working behind the counter about the collection of unique pens the shop was selling,
The young woman, Carrie, was my girlfriend at the time.
Timothy Zahn explained to her that he collected pens because he was a writer.
“What have you written?” she asked.
“Well, I write science fiction and fantasy. I also wrote a trilogy of Star Wars books.”
The name finally clicked and she recognized his him. “I haven’t read those,” she said, “but my boyfriend has. He said you wrote the only good Star Wars books outside the trilogy.”
Zahn reached into his bag and took out three small rectangular decals. “What your boyfriend’s name?” he asked. She told him and he wrote on each decal.
For Tom – Best Wishes, Timothy Zahn.
She brought them home and I put them in my books which I still have to this day:
MONDAY (DAY 4) at 11:13 AM
Joe Flanigan‘s handler apparently disappeared from the Walk of Fame and the Dragon Con Guest Relations team came over to let me know and see if there was anything my team could do to help. I decided to send over some crazy Stargate fangirl to help him handle his autograph sales. That fangirl? My wife who not only has SG-1 uniform, but also an Atlantis one – both having been cosplayed at previous Dragon Cons.
I watched over the Talent for Cons actors and for the next hour Shannon helped Joe get through the rest of his morning. They even took a selfie together:
MONDAY (DAY 4) at 11:00 AM
Meanwhile, Courtenay Taylor started signing women’s boobs in the Walk of Fame.
MONDAY (DAY 4) at 12:04 PM
I watched Courtenay sign ANOTHER set of boobs. (Sorry, no pic from the 2nd time.)
MONDAY (DAY 4) at 2:30 PM
After a relaxed day of in the Walk of Fame, I took Courtenay and Dino Andrade over to the vendors room to take a gander at things outside of the Marriott. Monday, I discovered, is THE best day to hit the vendors room: less of a crowd and plenty of deals to be made. It was more relaxing than the Sunday walk through.
We got back to the table and it was becoming very obvious that the four days were winding down. As my wife and Courtenay stated, “Dragon Con was done.”
MONDAY (DAY 4) at 6:04 PM
The actors have been situated for airport runs and we’re packed and heading home. Armed with caffeine and adrenaline, we hit Interstate 75 south.
I have been to at least half a dozen Dragon Cons now, and this one was the smoothest run one I’ve seen. No horror stories about lines; no epic panel fails to speak of, no negative vibes…
Just geeks celebrating being geeks – as it should be.
According to the Dragon Con Twitter, this year’s event had over 62,000 attendees who came to Atlanta for an extended weekend of pop culture themed goodness. Kudos to the entire team for making 2015 amazing and now, if you don’t mind, I need to get some much needed extended recovery sleep.