Ok, it’s about time I stop procrastinating about this andÂ begin writing about my DCon trip before the memories start fading away. I’ve been fairly busy with a little work, and a lot of Yankee-related activities (and occasional moping bout – I know, I’m pathetic, but I miss them, so there), but that’s no longer an excuse by now.
So, without further ado, here’s “What I did on my Georgian holidays”, by a Hob… Er… I mean: “DragonCon 2008 – European Invasion!” – there and not quite fully back again.
Let’s start with a little explanation of two facts. First, what is DragonCon? Well, it’s a science-fiction convention that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, every year around the end of August, beginning of September. Over the course of a weekend, people with interests in many things that are broadly speaking sci-fi related have access to various activities and social interaction with similarly minded folks. The site explains it better, and I’ll be going into more details later; but for the moment, just think of it as a geekfest, but with more T&A than you’d expect.
The second thing is: why did I go there? Well, apart from the T&A, there’s this little costuming interest I have, which is fairly new and due in most part to a certain online community, the Aliens Legacy boards. Now, the general consensus among those who had been there was that, unless you go to Dragon Con at least once, then 1. You haven’t lived, and 2. you’re not a real Colonial Marine. So, in order to live a little, be aÂ manly man, and also meet the US and Canadian members of the boards – while I did meet most of the British crew and a couple of US guys at the NSC in Leicester last year, the American portion of our group wasÂ mostly limited to screen names and avatar pictures to me – IÂ took that week off, bought a plane ticket, a Con membership and booked a hotel. All of that back in January. I’m not getting any younger. If I wanted to do this before I start feeling self-conscious about silly, semi-adolescent behaviour, this was the time.
Comes the hour and good ol’ El Robo drives me to Dublin Airport in his fiery Robmobile – me, my two suitcases, backpack, laptop, and 5-feet long cardboard box containing one musket (replica) and one infantry saber (replica too, but it’s still a pointy lump of metal…). We went early so I’d have time to talk to customs, concerning those and a couple other weapon-shaped resin bits. All harmless, but you never know, do you?
Turned out of course that Irish Customs could hardly have cared less, and only had a proper look at the contents of my luggage through the X-Ray machine for oversized bags, and ONLY because I insisted they pay attention. Residents of Ireland, we can sleep safely knowing our borders are protected by this savvy band of motivaded professionals.
So I boarded the British Airways plane to Gatwick, and promptly fell asleep – that wasÂ 9 AM. I’d slept about 2 hours that night, between the need to get up before dawn, the excitement/nervousness I always feel before a long trip, and the fact that I’d only gone to bed at 3 AM so I could pack the costume Kim had just finished making. Last minute is alsoÂ the way I work most of the time, but it’s hard on the sleeping muscles!
In Gatwick the layover wasn’t too bad – only about 2 hours – and allowed me to gorge myself on sushi from the revolving bar they have in the terminal. Yum. Sushi good. And of course, towards the end of that wait, I followed the loud exclamation and coarse laughing to a knot of people gathered around the gaming area. Whaddaya know? That’s where I found the UKCM crew – United Kingdom Colonial Marines, a fringe group of deluded people who still don’t understand that they are part of EUROPE now, and cling to their tiny, damp island, the silly buggers.
There was much merriment at this meeting, of course! (No, really – I have to do some dissing because thisÂ is the Grumpy Frenchman’s blog after all, but compulsory cultural in-good-fun-poking aside, they are a wonderful bunch, the Brits are, and even though I’d only met them once before I was welcomed like a long lost brother).Â Merriment that continued during the boarding process (oh, what fun they had with the “Are you bringing any snails into the USA?” question on the US Customs form!), on to the plane, and through the flight. I didn’t participate directly, as I was sitting slightly apart from their group (us flying together was actually a coincidence), but rumor has it that they drank the plane dry of Jack Daniels within an hour of taking off…
Once in Atlanta airport, the fun continued. Long ID checking process, fingerprinting, picture-taking, customs and immigration forms to fill in… Welcome to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Carefully Filed Under… It was even worse for the Brits as their country is taking that particular road too, and they had to do much of the same at the start of their own trip – whereas Ireland is much more “Aw, move on lad…” in its approach to border security.
One thing my British friends couldn’t do, unfortunately, was bring their various replica weapons and ordnance. They’d have left the UK without a problem, but would have been confiscated on the way back. Lovely, innit? Anyway, what that meant was that I was the only one traveling with anything looking like a weapon: the musket, the saber, a couple of handguns, and my Pulse Rifle. A regular little arsenal, perfectly legal, but likely to provoke serious delays while Customs officers checkÂ it out. But of course, Murphy’s listening. And while I flew through customs without so much as a “What’s in there?”, at least one unfortunate Briton was stopped for some mysterious, photo ID related problem; and of course another had seen his zippo lighter confiscated when leaving the UK. It really felt silly and ubuesque…
Anyway. We made our way through the several miles of terminals and secondary baggage conveyor belts (in Atlanta, you get your luggage back from the plane the usual way, you go through customs, and then you give your luggage back to airport people and get it back again at the exit. I still don’t know if it’s a way to make the long walk easier on the travellers, or if it’s a weird security measure…), headed to MARTA, the mass transit system, and scared the natives with our various colourful accents – and insane behaviour.
Once at the hotels (I was in the Hilton,Â the Brits were mostly at the Hyatt, and the Marriott was in the middle)Â there was the compulsory pause to shower, change and take our bearings, then we proceeded directly to… the Hyatt bar! Rallying point of the Colonial Marines in general and Spat in particular, it was apparently the central point in the previous years for most of the happenings during the con – although this year it was eclipsed by the newly-redecorated MarriottÂ - it was the logical spot to gather and get introduced to the other marines as they arrived. Also, it’s a bar. With alcohol. And stuff.
Now, bear in mind, this was Thursday night – the Con wasn’t on yet. A couple of people had some mild costumes out already – rather more like strange casual clothes than costumes, really – but that was all. Then on Spat’s advice, the whole Brit group and the few others who were there headed to registration to get the Con Badges, the ones you need to get anywhere interesting during the week-end.
That’s when it started to sink in – the queue for registration went from midway through one side of the block all the way around the corner and down another side. That’s a lot of people already. Thanks to the fact that Spat is a well-known figure at the Con, we managed to get expedited entrance into the registration room – which turned out to be huge, and the line of people waiting for badges, snaking through the entire place, was easilyÂ four times the size of the one outside. Talk about icebergs and hidden depths…
Finally in possession of our precious passes, weÂ made our way back to the bar, where the process of getting acquainted – and roasted – continued. At some point that evening, Gareth, who hails half from London and half from Outer Space, slipped out and came back as possibly the first hard-core costumer of the event: full “Bug” suit. An amazing costume, and a second skin for him. He certainly has the movements and gesturesÂ nailed. As usual, Abe (his Xenomorph alter ego) was a show-stealer as soon as it appeared. Then again, since most of us were busy getting tanked (or in the self-confessed case of a few Brits, staying tanked) rather than getting into Convention mindframe, we certainly didn’t mind him having the limeline! Aside from Dom Beaudouin and Rex Adams showing up in Starship Troopers armour a bit later, the only costuming bits available at the time in our group were the bunch of pith helmets that the Brits had brought along for some weird reason…
That, however, was pretty much the end of the evening for me – little sleep the night before, lots of hurrying up and waiting in airports, no sleep during the flight… I needed rest if I wanted to function during the week-end and enjoy the place. And since I considered that this was most likely to be my one and only D-Con, I wanted to make sure I’d see a fair deal of it. So, I did my old man impersonation and bid the revellers goodnight. The next day was Friday, first actual day of the con, and I’d seen a couple of things in the program that I wanted to check out. Busy day tomorrow, I thought.
Man was I right! ^_^