Travelogue: Live From Sky Harbor

I’ve flown for twenty minutes and I’m already writing my first travelogue. God, I’m such a nerd.

There aren’t a lot of things to do while waiting for one’s next flight. One can read, of course, and you can be certain that I brought an ample supply of literary material to keep my mind so occupied. One can also drink beer, which is something I’m doing right now; this may well be my final Kiltlifter until I return to the western United States next week. I’m not certain this fine brew has made it all the way back to the east. In fact, I’m not sure if any of my favorite brews are known to the people of my ancestral land. I’ll have to investigate while I’m there.

What else can one do while waiting for your next flight? One can blog, which is what I’m doing! The WiFi is fairly shoddy, though, so there is a very curious time-delay between what I type and what appears on the screen. It’s unfortunate when I notice a typo, because the text tends to keep scrolling for several more seconds until I can arrow back to correct myself.

I started my travels in Tucson little more than an hour ago. My first flight brought me to Phoenix, which I noted was slightly ironic given how excited I was to fly out of Tucson . . . right into Phoenix, which where I always fly. All roads lead to the Shy Harbor, it seems.

It’s going to be a long night for me. My next leg will take me into Philadelphia, which is an airport I’ve never seen before. I worry that they won’t have any of my favorite beers. I’ll probably have to drink some strange Pennsylvanian beers. I wonder what that’s going to be like.

It’s funny, because as much as I’ve grumbled to myself and my coworkers this week about the amount of layover I’m going to have (almost as much layover as actual travel time!), the truth is, I’m really enjoying myself. Aside from my horrific experience last year, I really enjoy traveling. I like the flow and the feel of it. I like people watching. I like drinking in strange airports and typing on my little laptop and thinking about the world.

I also really enjoy red eye flights. Seriously, the plane from Tucson to Phoenix was less than a third full. When the captain told us he needed several people to move to the back of the plane to “balance things out,” rather than worry about the fact that planes can apparently become unbalanced, I leaped to my feet and proceeded to back of the plane to secure my very own emergency exit row. As I explained to the guy behind me, I really enjoy the extra leg room . . . and if the plane did go down, I could totally be a minor hero by valiantly opening the emergency exit and ushering my fellow humans to safety.

The only downside to this experience was that I’m now completely spoiled for the rest of the trip. I doubt I’ll be lucky enough to get my own row again, but we wants it, precious, we wants it. Ahem.

What else can I tell you? Not much; it’s incredibly weird to be on a flight that lasts only 2o minutes. I kept looking out of the window trying to figure out which Tucson streets we were flying over only to realize that we were already over Phoenix and preparing for landing. That was strange!

In my opinion, all flights should be twenty minutes long and allow you to have your own row. This would make flying an optimal experience.

That’s probably what it feels like for rich people when they fly. I think I would like to be rich someday. I may or may not blog again when I arrive in Philadelphia. We shall see!

Phoenix ComiCon 2013 Recap

I decided I would write my recap post as soon as I woke up, because I’m sure that if I do not, I’ll procrastinate long past the point where anybody would be interested in this sort of thing. So, here you go. You’ll have to forgive any continuity errors on my part since I wasn’t exactly taken notes or anything.

If you’re actually curious about the convention itself and not interested in reading my inane travelogue, you may wish to skip Friday entirely.

This is also the longest blog post I’ve ever written. Ye be warned.

Friday: The convention technically started on Thursday, but since I wasn’t in Phoenix at any point on Thursday, I decided to omit that day entirely. Actually, there’s little reason for me to include Friday, since I missed this day as well due to having to go to work. My departure from Tucson was a little bit interesting, though.

I got home from work around 5:30 and packed my bag for the weekend. I had enough foresight to do laundry the night before so I would be the very freshest and clean smelling of nerds that weekend. It’s a point of pride for me. Here’s where things get a little bit interesting. You might have noticed references I’ve made to a “loaner cat” that I have with me. See, it’s actually my mom’s cat. The cat’s name is Cleo and she’s about fourteen years old; basically an octogenarian in cat form.

My mom was going on a camping trip for a week and needed somebody to watch her cat. My brother Chris couldn’t do it because he has two cats of his own and these cats don’t get along with Cleo. Actually, flip that around. Cleo doesn’t get along with those cats. So I agreed to take her, never doing the mental math with my dates and realizing that this meant I was agreeing to take care of an ancient cat while I was away on my own trip.

After packing my bags, filling up on gas and caffeine for the road, I drove over to  Chris’s apartment to give him my apartment key so that he could check in on Cleo while I was away. I’m very grateful for him for doing this and I know he reads this blog from time to time, so there you go. Thank you, little brother!

With all of that squared away, I took to the road. Tucson to Phoenix isn’t actually all that long of a drive, unless you’re driving it after working a full day. And you already had a long commute from Sahuarita to Tucson to begin with. Tucson to Phoenix isn’t a drive I usually make solo, either.

What this meant was in order to prevent boredom, there was car singing. Oh yes, there was car singing, to a degree and depravity that makes me cringe to recall it. There was also some reflection as I contemplated how long ago some of my favorite songs were actually released. I have come to the conclusion that there are two things that can be used for milestones regarding your own personal level of old: children and music.

I arrived in Phoenix and drove around aimlessly for a while because Phoenix is fucking confusing. With a combination of luck and smartphone GPS navigation, I made it to Tempe and met up with Mira. We wandered around Tempe’s Mill Avenue for a while, which is like a larger, more franchised version of Tucson’s Fourth Avenue. We had dinner at an Irish Pub called the Rula Bula. Actually, Mira had dinner while I enjoyed a very tasty red ale. Mira’s dad and brother joined us and we had a great time drinking and discussing all the various things. After that, it was back to Mira’s family’s house, where I fell asleep on the couch, exhausted even though I hadn’t actually done anything at the convention yet.

Saturday: I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, refreshed and ready to get my geek on. We fortified on coffee and then hoofed it a mile and a half back to Mill Avenue so we could catch the Tempe Light Rail to the convention center. We did this for two reasons: first, it meant saving a tremendous amount of money on parking close to the convention center. Center, it meant not having to worry about drinking too much at dinner since we’d be walking home. My later actions would cause this plan to unravel somewhat.

We made it to the convention center around 11:00am and went to get my badge. Mira had already checked in the day before and was sporting a very lovely “Professional” badge since she was going to be speaking on a panel on Sunday. Here’s where things got even cooler, though. I followed Mira to the “guests and professional” section of the registration hall where she flashed her badge to the woman working the desk and asked for a significant other badge. At that point, even before I could produce an ID of some sort to prove who I was, the woman just smiled and gave me a “full event” badge. That’s right: comped badge! I was thrilled, although I would have been more amused if the badge could have included something like “talent-less hanger-on” or something. Anyway, with that done, we skipped off to see a panel.

We made it to the second half of a panel called “Many Shades of Fae” which was being held by one of Mira’s friends Aprilynne Pike and our mutual friend Janni Lee Simner. By the time we arrived, they were doing the Q&A section of the panel. Not wanting to be that guy that asked a question that had already been covered in the first hour, I just listened in. It was a good panel, though, and especially interesting to me since I have a few fae characters in the novel I’m working on. We had a good time.

After that, we headed over to the “John Scalzi Spotlight” panel. This was one of the highlights of the weekend for me, because John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors of all time (and definitely my favorite science-fiction author). The panel was great; John puts on a wonderful show and did a reading of a blog post he wrote called Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be. During the Q&A section, I got called on to ask a question which was very gratifying. The question, incidentally, was “how do you pronounce the names of your alien species in your books?” and the answer was “I have no idea, I just write them and let the audiobook guys figure it out.” It was great.

We decided to split our time between going to panels and visiting the show floor, so after the Spotlight, we headed down to the cavernous belly of the Phoenix Convention Center to see how many different ways people would manage to extract money from us in exchange for nerdy goods.

The answer is: a lot. A lot of ways.

We each went in with a budget. I mostly blew mine on ale and whores books. By the end of the convention, I ended up with a stack of books, an awesome t-shirt, and a House Targaryen crest decal for my SUV.

The crazy thing about being on the show floor was how many times we ran into people that we knew from Tucson. Despite the fact that the convention center was absolutely packed with a population density that rivaled San Diego ComiCon, we found our friends Heather, Diana, and Jason who’d all come up from Tucson. That’s one of the things I love about the geek community in southern Arizona; we’re tight-knit like that.

Around 3pm, I decided to split off from the convention center because I wanted to go to John Scalzi’s book signing even that was taking place off-sight at a place called the Poisoned Pen. I wanted to go to the signing for a few reasons: first, because it was being hosted by my friend Sam Sykes who is totally awesome. Second, I knew wanted to get my copy of John’s latest book The Human Division from a local business and third, I figured it would be a lot less crowded than any event happening at the convention itself. These were all very good reasons for going to the signing and I was not disappointed in my choice. But getting to that signing was . . . interesting, to say the least.

I knew I’d have to leave the convention early to make it to the signing at 5pm. To give myself enough flexibility in case I got lost or missed the light rail, I left the convention at 3pm. I hiked over to the light rail and only mildly panicked until I figured out which train was going back to Tempe. I secured a place on the train and settled in for the thirty minute ride back to Tempe. Which is when things took a turn for the awry.

Shortly after we left the station, I became aware of a deranged transient man ranting about a conspiracy theory involving Jesus and the symbols of the cross and the fish and aluminum and brain signals. I tried to ignore it; none of my business, after all, and I really didn’t want to get into some kind of altercation that would derail my plans. I wanted to see John Scalzi!

However, the man’s ranting was punctuated by a tremendous amount of profanity and by tremendous, I mean he said fuck and shit and cunt more than he used any actual words. The problem with this idiosyncratic form of communication was that the train car we were in was filled with ComiCon attendees and about half of them were families. There were at least six or eight kids between 5 and 10 on the train. Two little girls in particular were with their moms and all four looked pretty scared by this crude, obviously disturbed homeless guy.

I kept waiting for somebody to tell the guy to shut up, but nobody was doing anything about it. That’s about the time when two different thoughts started going through my head. The practical thought was don’t get involved, you’ll regret it if you get involved and the foolish thought was you need to do something about this.

I went with the second one and shouted to the guy something to the extent of “there are children on this train, watch your language, show some class,” that kind of thing. I don’t really remember the exact specifics.

So, of course, the guy staggers over to my side of the train and gets in my face, ranting and spraying spittle with every word. He was a skinny guy but about my height, so we were pretty much eye to eye. The entire time my only thought was I really hope I don’t get stabbed.

We went through the usual “what the fuck did you say to me?” “I told you to shut your mouth” kind of routine. It escalated to the point where I told him “if you don’t watch your language, I’ll throw you off this train,” which was a threat I really had no idea how to follow up on, but it was the heat of the moment, so there you go.

The crazy part was that the guy stopped. He just stopped and looked at me. He stared at me and I stared at him. Nobody else said anything. An eternity later, but was probably only a minute or two, we get to the next stop and the guy leaves. Just shuffles out the door and goes.

At that point, the adrenaline rush I was on ended and I leaned back against the wall and tried to get my heartbeat under control. At the time, the only thing I was thinking was how much of an idiot I was for doing that and how lucky I was he didn’t take a swing at me. However, it did prove to be worth it in the end: when my stop arrived and I headed towards the exit, one of the mothers thanked me and the other one said, and I’m not exaggerating, that I was a hero. Embarrassed,  I said a quick thanks and left the train, but I will admit, I felt pretty cool for the rest of the day, even though I really was just lucky.

After that whole escapade, I hiked the mile and half in afternoon Phoenix heat to find my SUV. After a quick pit stop to fortify on powerade and water, I follow my smartphone GPS to the bookstore. I ended up being about forty minutes early, which was fine with me.

Rather than try to recap the discussion (this post is already insanely long), you can watch for yourself: Sam Sykes and John Scalzi discuss the Human Division. If you watch the video, you can hear my actual voice as I get to ask a couple of questions, which was awesome (asking questions, I mean, not you getting to hear my voice. My voice sucks).

After getting some books signed, I headed off to dinner with some more friends from Tucson that I’d run into: Ericc and Trish, whom I haven’t seen in years. The weirdest part was that we were both at the previous Spotlight panel but because the crowd was so large, we didn’t see one another. Anyway, after driving around in circles and getting lost (the restaurant was two miles away) and then getting lost again in a parking garage, I met up with them at a P.F. Chang’s and I had a beer and a bowl of vegetarian fried rice. I was going to be meeting back up with Mira, Heather, and Diana later that evening for dinner. Everything went well even though the small bowl of rice turned out to be enormous and I ate too much. Ah well.

I said goodbye to my friends and drove back towards the convention center. At this point, I realized that my smartphone battery was critically low even though I’d charged it that morning. Between the poor signal coverage in the center itself and the amount of GPS navigating I was doing, I’d burned through the thing pretty quickly. I was very, very worried I would run out of power before I found my friends, because that would mean getting lost since I have no idea how to navigate Phoenix. I kept turning my GPS on for a few seconds at a time to get my bearings before turning it off to save juice. Regardless, I got where I was going and ran into another friend from Tucson, Jennifer. We met up with Heather and Diana and some of their friends at a place called Angel’s Trumpet, a pizza and beer joint. Mira arrived shortly thereafter and we ate and drank and discussed until 11 or so. Good times.

After parting ways with our friends, Mira and I drove back to her family’s house in Tempe and I tried my best not to fall asleep while driving. I was exhausted from everything we’d done that day even though it wasn’t all that late. I managed to avoid killing us both and we arrived without a problem. I crashed on the couch again and fell asleep almost immediately.

Sunday: Sundays are normally the quiet, laid-back day of the convention. Everybody is usually exhausted from the previous few days of partying, drinking, etc., so you’ll see both fans and guests doing this sort of bleary I-can’t-believe-I’m-awake routine. We got an early start, took the Light Rail to the convention center and waited for the show floor to open. We did some shopping and hung out for a bit before it was time for Mira’s panel. We headed over to the room and met with the other guests who would be presenting.

At 10:30, nobody other than the guests and me were there and everybody was a little worried it would be a bust. However, in the tradition of Sunday mornings at convention, people did trickle in about 15 minutes after the start and there was soon a very respectable crowd of about 15 people listening to Mira and the other guests discuss their favorite YA books. It was a good panel, although it amused me that there was only one actual teenager in the crowd; the rest of us were all older. I mostly watched and listened and enjoying the fact that Mira gets to be on panels at Phoenix ComiCon, which is certainly not small beer, so to speak.

After her panel was done, we headed over to stand in line for the Wil Wheaton/John Scalzi Super Happy Fun Time Hour. I predicted, correctly, that this panel would fill up quickly, so we got in line about 40 minutes early. I’m very, very glad that we did, because the room was packed to the gills and a lot of people, including Heather and Diana (sorry!) weren’t able to make it inside.

And that was a real shame because in my opinion, this panel was the best of the entire weekend. Wil and John are an awesome team and put on a really great show. Special recognition, however, goes out to one anonymous fan in the audience: at one point, with about twenty minutes left in the panel, the lights in the room flickered and then went out. Everything plunges into darkness and you can feel the collective well, shit expression going through everybody’s minds. And then, with the classic snap-hiss sound, a brilliant purple beam of light erupts from the center of the room as one fan ignites a plastic lightsaber to provide illumination. Everybody cheered and applauded.

The lights came back on shortly thereafter, but it was a really awesome moment.

After the panel, we decided to spend the rest of the day cruising the show floor, making a few final purchases. Mira wanted to meet Brandon Sanderson to invite him to the Tucson Festival of Books next year. We stopped by and chatted with John, Sam, Janni, and a few other notables. Everything was starting to wind down when . . . *gasp* the fire alarm went off.

At first, we all did this sort of “what?” shuffle. The prerecorded message told us to proceed to the nearest exit, but only a few people were moving. You could see the agony in the dealers’ faces at the thought of leaving so much valuable merchandise completely exposed, especially for what was almost certainly a false alarm.

That’s when a staff member came over the intercom and said, no, this was the real deal and we needed to haul ass (I am paraphrasing a little). That got us moving in a hurry, although I will note it was still a calm and orderly hurry. We trudged up the stairs and out into the oppressive afternoon sunlight. We found some shade and waited around, wondering what caused the alarm. Theories ranged from bomb threat to fire to false alarm. A few of us checked Twitter for updates while others sent messages to friends and family to let them know we were okay.

After about twenty minutes or so, the all-clear was given and the dealers went back in to secure their tables. In a show of absolute classiness, the ComiCon staff announced that in order to compensate for the interruption, they would be keeping the hall open for an extra hour and a half. This was very cool of them and we were grateful that they went the extra mile.

We went back in for a bit, made a few final buys, and stood in line to meet Brandon Sanderson who proved to be a very classy guy who came back to his table from his hotel room for some overtime when he found out there was a line of fans there.

After that, it was time to depart. We caught the Light Rail back to Tempe and walked back to Mira’s family’s house. We wound down, had a quick dinner there, and regaled everybody with the stories from our weekend. Since Mira had left for the convention on Thursday night, she had her own car with her, so we were going to be driving back separately. I decided I wanted to get started on the drive before it got too late, so I said my farewells, thanks Mira’s family for their hospitality, and packed up and hit the road.

The drive back was uneventful. I listened to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians on audiobook, which proved to be a very excellent choice. I stopped by my brother’s apartment to get my key and then headed home. I’d intended to get a few things done before going to bed, but after dropping my stuff and shelving all my shiny new signed books, I decided that sleep was a much better idea than doing stuff. I passed out while watching an episode of Castle.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend. I’m glad I was able to attend Phoenix ComiCon because it really soothed my craving for a big-league convention experience, especially since I wasn’t able to get a ticket for San Diego this year. I think Phoenix is turning into one of the premier venues and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it rival San Diego in a few more years, especially if more people who can’t get tickets to San Diego look for other conventions to spend their con dollars.

This post has run far, far longer than I intended; if you’ve stuck with me this long, I wanted to say thanks for reading. To all my friends and Mira especially, thanks for an awesome weekend. You guys are the best.

Phoenix ComiCon Report . . . Tomorrow!

When I walked into my apartment and set my bags down, I had every intention of writing my report from Phoenix ComiCon 2013 as soon as I sat down at my desk. Now that I’ve taken my shoes off, kicked the loaner cat out of my chair, had the loaner cat jump back into my lap, and taken a few moments to relax, I’m ready to say that I . . . will write that report tomorrow. It’s been an awesome couple of days, but also very, very tiring. After a long drive back to Tucson, I think I’m ready to turn off my brain for a while.

I’ll write up all the details tomorrow, including a gritty, firsthand account of where I was during the harrowing ComiCon Evacuation of 2013. Spoiler warning: it involved proceeding to the nearest exit in an orderly manner while making sure my friends were with me. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of this gripping tale!

But for now, I think I shall sleep.