For Jak and I, the trip started a day earlier than everyone else because we were driving. It is a 13.5 hour drive from New Orleans to Chicago, and we did 9 hours the first day. Jak chose to do the entire way up because he really enjoys driving, which allowed me to tweet and take pictures.
The first hour or so is in Louisiana, followed by a few more in Mississippi. Mississippi used to have the message “It’s like coming home” on their welcome signs, which is quite the joke when you live in one of the neighboring states. Clearly, I am doing the opposite once I get there. Being in MS for so long made it a little hard to feel like we were making progress. We even did our first refuel in MS, though it was a quaint little town called Duck Hill where the gas station was also a restaurant and general store, and the people there friendly.
We finally crossed the border into Tennessee:
And were pretty much immediately in Memphis. I know it’s not fair to judge a city simply by the view you get from the interstate, but all I saw was a lot of housing in poor shape and other such signs of poverty. It seemed really kind of depressing. As we left the city we crossed the river and all of the sudden we were in Arkansas, specifically West Memphis. The turn was so quick I didn’t get the AR welcome sign.
Arkansas was fairly uneventful though – a lot of farmland where none of the crops were planted or at least not showing yet thanks to the long winter we’ve all been dealing with. Changing into Missouri there wasn’t a noticeable difference.
The bleak dirt you see behind the state sign continued in both AR and most of MO, along with a lot of construction going on.
As we continued through MO we started seeing billboards for various tourist attractions, mostly centering around Charleston. The most amusing one was for a place named Boomland. It gets its name because they sell fireworks, but they also promised souvenirs and food and gas. We were nearing fill up time, and I became convinced this was our stop.
Jak and I were laughing at what we thought was a misspelling on the storefront, but it turns out that’s an alternate acceptable spelling. There were in fact many “collectables” inside. Shirts in garish colors with goofy sayings on them. Lots of Christian artwork, the most notable of which was a statue of Jesus on the cross that had LED sparkler lights at the cross ends. A large amount of fairy and dragon statues that tempted me except that I didn’t want them getting broken in our travels. 3D pictures of Barack Obama. Tigers, garden gnomes, owls, cats, dogs, just about any other kitschy silly thing you can ever think of. There was even a Christmas section that I imagine gets more space later in the year. It was all very silly, but it also allowed us to stretch our legs a bit.
Once back on the road it wasn’t too long before we entered Illinois.
Once again, not really all that different from AR or MO. Lots of farmland. At one point there were some cliff faces on either side of the interstate, but that was about it.
When we finally got to our destination in Carbondale, we didn’t really feel like exploring much. There was a Lone Star Steakhouse in walking distance, so we ate there. The food and service were mediocre but at that point we were both too tired to care. I will say that the Super 8 we stayed at was really nice though. The people at the desk were nice and while the room was small (the two queen beds filled most of the space) it was clean and quiet. Perfect for our one night stop. Carbondale itself is a college town, and seemed similar to most other college towns I’ve been to.
We had our free breakfast and then headed back out on the road. Since check in time for the hotel was at 3, we planned to make a stop on our way. Jak had heard about Galloping Ghost Arcade which claims to be the largest arcade in the country. No way we were going to pass that up. We got there at about one. The admission there is $15 and all games are free to play. They were having computer problems and couldn’t give us an official receipt or change, but the guy let us roam and said he would bring it to us when it got up and running. Jak decided to donate his change to their current donation campaign, which let him sign his name on their donor wall.
Their arcade collection is in fact very impressive, and includes a wide range of genres. I would guess at least 75% of their selection is from the 80s and early 90s when arcades were at their peak. There were some that seemed to be turned off/broken but most were available. Jak and I had fun going around and playing them all, but we quickly discovered it was the type of thing that would be far more fun to do as a group activity.
These reproduction carts were sitting in the window of their workshop.
And here’s a shot of the actual workshop, full of all kinds of neat parts and stuff.
Meanwhile, our group was already in Chicago and had been allowed to check in to the hotel at 10:30 because there was a room already available, so we decided to get on the road and meet up with them.
Specifically, the group at the time was Noel, JD, and Igor. Igor lives in Chicago and was the tour guide for all of us during our stay, while Noel had come in from Minnesota and JD from Kansas. Our hotel was pretty easy to find and offered free parking, which was a big bonus. We got there and exchanged various gifts we had all gotten for each other – mine were mostly a bunch of snacks and drinks only available in the New Orleans area, though I had also gotten JD a late birthday gift. Noel surprised me with the childrens’ novelization of Freaked, which I can’t believe actually exists. Having now read it, it’s also pretty shockingly faithful.
Noel and JD were both pretty exhausted, having gotten up super-early to catch their flights and then being taken to Chinatown by Igor. Jak and I were feeling ready to stretch our legs though, so we followed Igor as he gave us a tour.
We started in Chinatown, and I managed to take this picture of the public library there. Many of the buildings had similar beautiful architecture. Once we reached the end of Chinatown we bought bus passes and hopped a bus to downtown. We saw lots of historical buildings turned into retail stores, the theater district, and government buildings.
A shot of the gorgeous ceiling inside city hall
And an even more gorgeous domed ceiling inside the cultural center.
This is the room below the domed ceiling.
From here we headed toward Millennial Park, and my feet were screaming at me. See, I’m so smart that I ordered a pair of shoes the week before the trip and never broke them in or tested them over long distances. And it turns out they are made in a way that the heel pushes my toes forward badly and caused friction every time I walked. So while we started trying to head toward the lake and the wind pushed us back, I also decided I couldn’t walk much further. Getting hungry didn’t help really, so we decided to ride the bus back to the hotel to meet up with JD and Noel and eat at a place nearby.
That place was Ricobene’s, which offered a mix of pizza and sandwiches. I found it interesting that they offered three types of pizza there – the traditional Chicago style deep dish, pan pizza (aka deep dish pizza anywhere else) and thin crust (sort of New York style, but not as large). I got a mushroom and spinach deep dish slice and it was amazing. After that we went back to the hotel, said goodbye to Igor, and settled in for the night.
Friday morning we all got up early to go to the con. I had been nervous because I kept seeing this massive crowd of people in promo shots, and didn’t really want to be pushed and shoved trying to get in. While we did have to wait in a large line, Friday was actually the lightest day of the con and walking the floor was a mostly pleasant experience. I say mostly because Jak hadn’t brought his backpack and I had a full water bottle plus my hoodie in my purse weighing me down so we were both a little uncomfortable. We walked around and around trying to find him a tote or backpack, but everything was too expensive or nothing that interested him. But it did allow us to see most of the show floor at least.
We met back up with the guys for lunch, and we were all pleasantly surprised to find out the food court at least had a decent selection. One of the areas had superhero theming for their food, though they apparently had not bothered to tell the cashiers this. I tried to order an Ironman burger and the ladies had no idea what I was talking about. But once I got it, it was actually really good – a burger with caramelized onions and bacon. After eating, we all separated again, Jak and I heading for a panel.
It was called Publishing Your Indie Game, which I thought might be interesting/useful since Jak is working on a few of them right now. It was mostly a local Chicago game company talking about how they are helping out smaller companies, mostly in working with Valve since they already have a working relationship. They also mentioned a few other things about promotion and being connected to your fans. It was mostly logical information, but the guys involved were charismatic enough to make it entertaining.
We wandered around for a little longer, waiting for the one other panel I wanted to see that day. It was titled The Legacy of Crusher Hogan: Wrestling and Comics. I wanted to go mainly to see Mick Foley, because Mick was one of the main reasons I watched wrestling from 1999 – 2001. I’ve read his first autobiography Have a Nice Day and watched Beyond the Mat as well as some of the bios WWE has put together on him over the years – he’s just this wonderfully charismatic warm guy, like a great big teddy bear, and he used to do all these crazy things in the ring that you wouldn’t believe.
When the panel opened up for us to go in, Mick actually wasn’t there yet. But I was surprised to find out that Jill Thompson was. She’s doing cover work for the new WWE Superstars series released through Papercutz, which the panel was largely promoting. Mick is doing the writing for the series. Jill chatted with the editor of Papercutz and another panelist whose name I have forgotten about wrestling in general until Mick showed up. While they clearly wanted to promote the new series, I thought they did a good job of keeping the discussion general – Mick told us about how he once was told he was going to meet “the Hulk” and he assumed it was Hulk Hogan, only to have Lou Ferrigno walk in. He also collected superhero comics from a young age, and said there was no doubt an influence on coming up with his larger than life wrestling personas thanks to reading them. They also dissed the old WCW Comics a lot. It was a highly entertaining panel, and I’m glad I got to go to it, especially since Mick’s line was way too long for the rest of the con that I never got an autograph or picture like I had debated doing.
Once that was done we met up with JD, Noel, and Igor and walked back to the hotel. We were headed to the suburbs to meet Lore, then go to Gameworks with Kevin and Adam. Noel had printed out directions to Kevin’s place, but looking over them they made no sense (the maps didn’t match the turn by turn directions) and we had our GPS, so I had left it in the room. I made the assumption Noel or Igor would know Kevin’s address, but they didn’t, and well, Igor described it all well in his log of Day 2 but let’s just say it was a study in failure for a while there. Jak was the one driving, not me, but I was still stressed out until we finally arrived.
Here’s the part where I admit I’m an idiot. We got to Kevin’s place and Lore was sitting on the opposite side of the room. Now granted it was a small room and there were a lot of us in it, but I probably shouldn’t have just hung back and waved at her. We’ve had some great twitter conversations after all. But instead my stupid internal self goes “Oh well, I guess that’s it” while meanwhile she didn’t even realize I was who I was, so no connection was made. It was my own personal fail for the night.
We probably should have had a group discussion about how long we planned to stay and how much gaming we were going to do at Gameworks, but we didn’t, and when we got there we all bought our cards separately. Jak and I shared ours, and we got a fairly high number assuming we would be there for a while (they didn’t close until 2 am, we arrived around 9). Well apparently we were the only ones who were all that interested in gaming. The difference between Gameworks’ and Galloping Ghost’s selection was huge – the “classic section” was three arcade machines. It was primarily shooters, racing games, fighting games, and midway games like skeeball and air hockey. So as I feared, it was basically a Dave & Busters, which similarly disappointed us when we went to one near Atlanta.
We were making the best of it though, and the racing games actually proved the most fun, just because of the sheer variety of them. There was one that took your picture before the race began, so that you could see exactly which car your friends were in. Another one had vehicles with two steering wheels where you would trade who was in control every time you hit a bump. Yet another was a tron-esque motorcycle game that had you lying on your back while you drove through tubes. There was a 3D “interactive” House of the Dead game, where you were supposed to go inside and it would blow wind and such on you, but Jak wasn’t willing to try it with me and I was too chicken to do it alone.
Anyway, we played until 11 when everyone else was ready to go. It sucked because we had credits left still, but we weren’t going to make everyone sit around longer while we used them up.
Saturday there were no particular panels Jak or I were interested in, so we took our time getting ready before walking to the con around lunchtime. This time Jak brought his backpack and we were able to be more comfortable – but man was the con crowded. People were pushing and shoving all around the show floor. Others created traffic jams just to take pictures of cosplayers. We hadn’t checked out artist alley at all the day before, so we did that this time. I was hoping to maybe go to Jill Thompson’s booth and get an issue or two of Beasts of Burden, a comic she did with Evan Dorkin that sounds right up my alley. Her line was pretty long though, so we passed her up.
We decided to attempt to get something close to a true Chicago hot dog for lunch via the food court. They had most of the toppings readily available so we loaded up the dogs as best we could. Probably not as good as if we had gone to a proper vendor but it worked in a pinch. Because it was so crowded we shared our table with a large group of friends who were teasing each other about the proper way to open a bag of chips. One guy had just neatly opened one end of the bag while the other practically tore his into two pieces. Definitely a “had to be there” kind of thing but it was amusing, and the closest we got to friendly interactions with fellow conventioneers on the trip.
We walked around the panel area a little and checked out the cosplayers from above for a little while.
Apparently the only picture I took was of this Bebop and Rocksteady.
It didn’t take us long before we were ready to head back to the hotel, and we relaxed there until everyone else trickled back in. JD returned with an Alien Funko toy he had gotten me from the con floor, which was awesome. We decided to walk to Ricobene’s again for dinner, mostly to save time as we were expecting company. This time Jak and I got the “pan” pizza, which obviously was not as good as the deep dish, but not bad.
Kevin, Adam, and Tessa arrived not long after and Kevin proved himself a man after my own heart by bringing lots of booze to share. He had hard root beer and a few varieties of hard cider. I immediately claimed a blueberry Woodchuck which was amazing, and later shared a candied pecan version (not Woodchuck, the name is escaping me) with Tessa that tasted just like apple pie. I had also brought my Chocolate Shop chocolate and strawberry red wine, which I shared with Kevin and JD. Yes, I was sloshed. I think at least Jak and JD also got drunk, so at least I wasn’t alone. But I was probably the loudest.
We played Cards Against Humanity, which I took an early lead in before being left behind by nearly everyone else – the alcohol may have had something to do with that, but winning is never the most important part of that game. I just love watching people react to the cards. Promises were made to play an online version some time in the future and I hope we end up doing that.
Somewhere in the middle of this I tweeted about the game and Lore made the connection that I was there the day before, and she apologized and I apologized and there were online hugs exchanged. I also chatted a bit with Bethany and Dayna who had both hoped to come to this meetup but couldn’t. Because apparently even when I’m finally hanging out with my internet friends in person, I still have to go online and talk to other people. Hello, my name is Angie, and I have a twitter addiction.
Noel, Jak, and Igor, taken during my twitter exchanges. Only the middle one is drunk, but they are all very happy.
Once that was done we played Clue, which excited me both because it meant I got to use the neat “classic edition” I had recently purchased and because Noel and Igor had never played before. My logic skills were inhibited by the alcohol – I’m usually pretty good at paying attention to see if people are revealing things to others maybe I haven’t seen yet, but after a while I gave up on trying that and literally just went with whatever person/weapon/room was at the top of my list that hadn’t been eliminated yet. And I won. They have since referred to me as “Sherlock while drunk” though, so let’s all pretend that I was actually going to my mind palace to figure it all out.
When the game was done it was about time for Kevin, Adam, and Tessa to head back, so we said our goodbyes to them and took a picture.
Kevin, Tessa, 1/2 of JD’s head, Jak, me, Noel, and Adam. There was another version of this where Adam swapped with Igor, and I really hope that version has JD actually visible.
Sunday Jak, JD and myself got up semi-early to go to the Let’s Play panel. This was actually the one panel I wanted to see the most, because it was hosted by a bunch of Something Awful/Youtube personalities that I follow pretty regularly, both through their Let’s Plays and appearances on the Retsutalk podcast.
Not picture is Kamoc, who was actually standing right in front of us recording the panel. If I was the more annoying sort, I would have asked him to give me his best “wa-ha!” He’s been doing an LP with Voidburger where she’s playing the Nightmare before Christmas game and Jack Skellington says that every other hit he lands (the rest of the time he says “Soul Robber!” which is his weapon – it’s as annoying as it sounds) and Kamoc does a really good impression of Jack. But I am a shy nerd and I couldn’t talk to him.
Ironicus and Chip are sort of the backup duo behind Retsupurae, a kind of MST3K for Let’s Play that points out things you shouldn’t do, so there was lots of talk about what not to do in your Let’s Play as well as a few tips on what to do and discussion on how they all started. Geop was super quiet and looked unhappy up there, but I found out later he was actually really sick, so he was being quite the trooper just showing up at all.
At one point they could only show us a screenshot of a video they had hoped to load via wifi but couldn’t. Kamoc had ripped the first 50 results for “Super Mario World Let’s Play” off of Youtube and put them together into one big massive screen, the point being that you should do something original with your Let’s Play rather than what everyone else was doing. One of them on the panel asked “Do I see scarecams on there?” which means including a video of yourself in the corner of your video game video. Obviously the screen was too small to see, but there was at least a slight chance one of those was me. To which all I can say is that I did that to hang out and create something with my brother, not to make a good Let’s Play. :) (Having now seen the video, I’m not in it! Yay!)
At the end Chip pulled up a video from The Wonderful 101 that they are currently working on (they’re still posting Uncharted 3 right now, I assume this game will be next) and we all did a live commentary on the video together. Obviously it was mostly just the panelists commenting, but you’ll hear some of our laughter and cheers at least. The one problem with that was that Chip and Ironicus ended up sharing a microphone, which made it really hard for us to hear them. It was also part 8 of the game, the first boss fight, and therefore a little harder to follow what was going on. But it was a neat idea to try anyway.
After that we wandered the con floor again, but by that point Jak was so incredibly sick of comics and JD and I were suffering from overload too that we headed back to the hotel. We ate lunch in the sports bar there, where I had probably the best turkey burger I’ve had in a long time, as well as a watermelon martini that the bartender went out of her way to figure out how to make and gave me more than a full glass’ worth of. Igor joined up with us briefly with his lunch, and we said our goodbyes to him.
We recorded the bonus episode of the Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange, and then played a game of Ticket to Ride. Despite Jak saying “you lose friends with that game” it was actually a pretty peaceful game all things considered. Though I did trounce them. Just saying.
For dinner we went to Carbon, a Mexican restaurant down the street, as I had seen good reviews online and we figured it was time for something different from Ricobene’s. In retrospect, we probably should have stuck with what we knew. I got two fish tacos, and one was good but the other was burnt. The guys were all fairly lukewarm on their own selections.
As these things tend to go, we all stayed awake pretty late that night, talking and giggling and just enjoying each other’s company.
Monday we woke up early. Noel and JD had plenty of time before their flights, but as Jak and I were driving straight home, we decided to leave at 9. We figured we’d miss the rush hour traffic that way, so of course there was a large accident (it appeared to include a bus) that was blocking all the lanes and took a good forty five minutes to clear out of the way and allow us to finally leave Chicago.
I had been checking the weather the night before and in the morning before we left, and the news was not good. Basically all the way from Missouri to Mississippi, right along the Mississippi River, they were forecasting flash floods and possible tornadoes. I was driving this time, and while I got us through all of Illinois with no incident, somewhere not far into MO we ran into a thunderstorm. We’re talking hard pounding sheets of rain beating on the windshield so fast that the wipers were useless. The sun was out somewhere to the side of us, but all I could see was a sheet of water. I was pretty freaked. Once we were out of it, I was still really nervous, seeing the large amounts of water pooling in the ditches beside the interstate.
I took an exit and Jak took over. The sky was mostly clear at that point, but I was still really nervous, because looking at the radar you could see these patches of red and yellow down I-55 where we were driving. The worst by far was near Jackson, MS, which was getting hit with a nice long band that was supposed to last for hours. After a bit of freaking out, I convinced Jak that we should add more time to our route for the sake of safety. See, a lot of Mississippi on I-55 is rolling hills, and I had a feeling those low valleys were likely to flood. And my car is a Honda Fit, which sits super-low to the ground.
Looking at the interstates and highways, I devised that heading west for awhile into Pine Bluff, AR and then heading south through Louisiana rather than Mississippi would clear us away from the flash flood and tornado watches. So that’s exactly what we did. We stopped in Pine Bluff to eat, and by that point it was 8:30 pm. I asked Jak if he wanted to find a hotel for the night, but he wanted to continue the additional 6 hours. He kept driving for awhile, and I drank a five hour energy to prepare for my turn on our final haul.
The way took us through small highways rather than the interstate most of the way. Because we were kind of in the middle of nowhere and kept losing cell reception, I took screengrabs of the directions my phone was giving me (the GPS wanted us to get back to I-55, and that wouldn’t do) in case it lost connection. It did actually stay active the whole time, so that’s a positive for the Google Maps app.
In the end it was actually kind of neat getting to see the highways and the various camp houses and small towns along the way. In Natchez, MS I took over as Jak was becoming exhausted. Not long after, perhaps because we were somewhat close to the river (though to the west of all the bad weather) there was a really thick fog on the road. So even when the speed limit was 65, I had to slow down to 40 because I couldn’t see too far ahead of me. The fog lights on my car were only slightly helpful. Thankfully, no one was trying to drive like a maniac down those roads, though a few more daring souls did pass me at faster speeds.
We finally, finally got home at 4 am, after 19 hours of being on the road. Never, ever, ever will I drive that long again. I will probably also only fly to Chicago from here on out.
Overall, I’m really glad I went and I really enjoyed Chicago. It probably goes without saying I also really enjoyed seeing everyone too. I wish we could all live closer so that we could get together and share a few drinks and play a few games more often.
C2E2 I was not as impressed with. It really wasn’t all that different from Wizard World New Orleans, which I hated. Some people go to cons to buy swag, goggle at cosplayers and get autographs and pictures with celebrities, but I go to feel a sense of community with people who share my interests. While I got that in my friend interactions, the con was just a massive wall of people too busy doing their own thing. Even though I wasn’t into most of what Screwattack does, I still enjoyed SGC more because going to the game rooms guaranteed meeting some like minded people.
My goal for future cons is to attend much smaller scale ones that happen in a single hotel and have a focus on more community activities rather than celebrity appearances. Or if I go to ones like this, I will go for a single day. There’s really no need to do more than that. Our goal for future meetups is to do something outside of cons, which really just makes sense. That way we can spend more time together as friends with less schedule juggling. I have a couple ideas on things we could do, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the future.