Dragon*Con 2009 Report #1 – Travel to Atlanta and DragonCon Day 1

Maggie pulled up to my house around 9:30am on Thursday and we added all my gear to the stuff she had already loaded in the car. After everything was finally stashed in the car we headed off to Saxbys to grab some ice for the cooler, stock up on free pastries for the weekend, and start the day with some caffeine. We had just gotten on the road when I realized I hadn’t asked Maggie to grab the orange sweater I was borrowing from LeeAnn. I’d meant to call her before she left her house but quite obviously forgot. Since we had to head past the house anyway we stopped in real quick and I grabbed the sweater. Good thing. Can’t dress as Velma without an orange sweater.

The trip down was pretty uneventful, as our vacations tend to go. Usually when it’s just Maggie and I traveling somewhere together all kinds of interesting stuff happens. This trip was a bit different.
Of course, there were a few things that made us giggle along the way. The first was a sign for “Squirrel Level Road.” We both saw the sign and immediately had visions of bands of squirrels wearing tiny yellow hard hats and carrying little squirrel-sized levels, trying to make sure the road was level and getting squished in the process. I don’t know about Maggie but I was also picturing them in little reflective vests.

The second thing that happened along the way didn’t inspire giggles so much as a creepy feeling. Since we were traveling with the windows rolled down in lieu of having the AC on full blast, Maggie and I had tied our hair back with bandannas. Believe me, if I hadn’t done that my hair would’ve whipped me to death and I’d never be able to get a brush through it ever again. Anyway, there we were driving along and an older gent pulled up to the side of the car. And when I saw “older gent” I’m not talking about someone in their 30s or 40s. I mean someone who was probably mid-60s. And very definitely a biker. He kept trying to shout something and motioned back. I rolled down the window, thinking he was telling us that the tire was flat or something similar. Finally, I realized what he was saying. He pointed to the back of his bike and asked if I wanted to hop on.

Ew. Just ew. Ew ew ew. No thank you.

He just smiled and headed off when I shook my head.

We got to Atlanta without anything extremely strange happening. I believe we made the trip down in about 9 hours, whereas it’s supposed to take around 10 1/2. The hotel we had booked on Hotels.com was located a short drive from the host hotels. When we pulled off at our exit we ended up in kind of a swanky end of town. Many of the apartments and houses we passed were inside little gated communities. I had seen pictures of the hotel where we would be staying – the Buckhead Hotel – and it looked pretty nice. When we pulled up to it, I noticed it didn’t look exactly like its picture.

Turns out the hotel was undergoing a pretty big renovation. We were worried that, due to the renovation, our stay was going to be filled with lots of construction noise. That wasn’t really the big problem. Well, apart from the piledriver that started banging away around 8am on our last day there. The big problem with the hotel came from the guests. One night the halls were filled with undergrad-age college students who were clearly gathered for a night of boozing and bad choices. The halls smelled like frat boy cologne (even the girls drenched themselves with cologne), cigerettes and alcohol. The smell even lingered on into the next morning. After the college party (which, in retrospect, probably had something to do with the big Virginia Tech – Atlanta football game that was going on that weekend), we had to contend with even more people running up and down the halls, screaming and carrying on.

After a short nap, Maggie and I woke up nice and early for our first day of DragonCon. Maggie and I brought five costumes overall for the weekend – four for wear during the regular day and a fifth costume for the masquerade. For our first day at the con we wanted something that wasn’t going to be terribly restrictive but would still fit into the spirit of the weekend. I wore my Velma costume. Maggie opted for her Rorschach costume from the Watchmen. We wanted to get downtown early enough to guarantee a good parking near the hotel and to get in line to buy our passes for the weekend. I’ve yet to be in danger of getting to a con only to find that the passes have been sold out but, if it were ever to happen, I’d put money on DragonCon as the place that changes that.
We got to the hotel around 9am. We actually ended up getting a spot in a parking lot right next to the Marriott Marquis (one of the main hotels for the convention). We were directed towards the registration area, up the street at the Sheraton.

Ah. The Sheraton. I kind of felt sorry for that hotel. As I believe I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, DragonCon takes place throughout four hotels in downtown Atlanta. Now, all four hotels are relatively close, but three of them are located more centrally than the fourth. These would be the Marriott Marquis (what I would say is really THE main hotel), the Hyatt Regency Atlanta and the Hilton Atlanta. These three hotels are actually connected to each other. Well, the Marquis is connected to both of them. I don’t actually remember a way to get to the Hyatt directly from the Hilton without going outside and down the block. I don’t remember a little walkway connecting the two of them. Instead, you could travel to one or the other by way of the Marquis.

The Sheraton Atlanta, however, is not connected to any of these hotels by anything other than a long uphill climb on a sidewalk. I’m almost sorry to say that this is the main reason we didn’t voluntarily spend time in the Sheraton. We only went into that hotel to purchase our con badges. As soon as that was done we abandoned it for the other three hotels. In fact, I recall a point in our weekend when we were planning on going to an event until we found out it was being held in the Sheraton. Rather than trek up the hill to the other hotel, we opted to find a different evet.

Anyway. Back to registration. As I mentioned, we got to the hotel around 9am. We then proceeded to wait in a huge, long line. Now, anyone who’s been to a convention before can tell you that waiting in a queue is part of con life. It’s just something you do. Usually I don’t complain, either. You get to check out people’s costumes, it’s fun to listen to the conversations people are having all around you, and sometimes you can make new friends while you wait.

The way they set things up was kind of wonky, though. You came in, waited in line to get the registration papers, filled those out and went to stand in the line to pay. They had things divided so you could pay either cash or credit, but the line divide for the payment options didn’t happen until the last 50 feet of that particular line. People who didn’t necessarily have to wait for the pain-in-the-ass credit card machines still had to wait because they couldn’t get past to go to the cash line. After we paid, we got to wait in another line. This one was the queue for the data entry part of the con. We were supposed to take our little registration slip (stamped with the message that we had already paid) to the data entry place. Here, someone would type in our information – address, contact phone number, our primary interest in the con, etc. We wouldn’t get our badges there, though. Oh no. That would be too easy. After we finally got through data entry, we were directed to walk down another path to the side of the huge crowd waiting to pay, to a small section at the back of the room (right were we had come into the room in the first place). There was no line here, though. Nope. This time we milled about aimlessly as they called the names of people whose badge information had printed out. It was hard to hear the exact names they were calling, and it was kind of just a little mob standing around.

After two hours of standing in line Maggie and I got our badges. Near the end of our long wait people finally started to realize who I was supposed to be. We grabbed some pocket schedules and headed outside to see if we could get our bearings. Since we had traveled to DragonCon with the intention of competing in the Masquerade we knew we needed to register for that event as well. Luckily, masquerade registration was in one of the three main hotels. We headed back out into the smelly Atlanta air (I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Atlanta, but it really does smell. Quite literally. Like raw sewage), down the street, and up the poorly planned staircase of the Hyatt. Somewhere around there Maggie lost one of her gloves.

It didn’t actually take us very long to register for the masquerade. There were two little forms to fill out and we had to hand over the cd with our sound on it. Unlike the other masquerades we’ve been to, the sound files for entries into the DragonCon masq have to be screened prior to being allowed in. They check it mainly for language. Who knows if they actually check it for length. Lord knows there were a couple of groups that went over their alloted time on the day of the masq.
After we finished all of our registration tasks we stepped to the other side of the Hyatt lobby. Maggie took a couple of photos of our respective costumes. While I was sitting down a young girl and her even younger brother came over to take pictures. She wanted a picture of the person sitting next to me – I couldn’t recognize the costume – but he seemed in awe of me. He came up to me and whispered “I know how the mystery begins,” referring to the new live action Scooby-Doo movie that’s coming out soon on Cartoon Network. His sister held up the camera to take a picture and I asked if he wanted to hold the magnifying glass. The whole thing made the costume worth-while.

Next it was time to grab some food. We headed over to the Marquis – spotting Waldo along the way – and tried to get our bearings. There were two restaurants inside the Marquis – one was a sports bar (High Velocity), the other a regular sit-down restaurant (Sear). There was also a pretty cool bar (Pulse) in the middle of the open space on one of the lobby floors. Yes, the lobby essentially had three floors. In addition to the two restaurants in the Marquis there were also walkways to two different food courts. Originally we planned to grab stuff at the food court but, unfortunately, everyone else seemed to have that idea as well. The place was completely packed. Instead of waiting in yet another long line and then still having to look around for a place to sit down to eat, we opted to go back and try the food at Sear.

The food was alright but wasn’t really worth the price. Luckily, the waitress was pretty good about making sure our water glasses were filled. We had only been at the con for a few hours and were already parched.

By the way, want to know my #1 piece of advice to newcomers to the con scene? Drink LOTS of water. Even if you’re usually pretty good about keeping hydrated, you probably need to drink even more. Despite the heavy AC that most hotels tend to blast during large events like conventions the place tends to get pretty warm.

After lunch we headed downstairs to check out the dealers room. In addition to the main dealer’s room in the bottom of the Marquis there were a couple of rooms off to the side of one of the floors that were originally listed as exhibitor halls. I thought the exhibitor halls would be more along the lines of fan tables and such. Nope. They were selling lots of merchandise in those rooms as well. I was actually kind of surprised (pleasantly, of course) by how many Firefly-centered dealers there were. I had come across one or two of the vendors before, at Polaris, but that’s usually it as far as solely Firefly vendors tend to go. In contrast, there had to be at least five or six at DragonCon.

After checking out the dealers and exhibitors we headed over to the Hilton. According to our pocket guides that’s where the “Walk of Fame” was located.

What is the Walk of Fame, you ask? Simple. It’s where all the film and tv guests who were booked to come to DragonCon sit and hang out. They’ve each got a table or two and folks can line up for autographs. Now, most of the guests at DragonCon were located inside the Walk of Fame but there were a couple of specialized lines out in the hall for the biggest names. For instance, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and Kate Mulgrew all had lines that queued up outside of the Walk of Fame room. I think it was mainly because DragonCon staff realized that their lines would have taken up all the free space inside the Walk of Fame.

I want to take a moment here to say a little something about the Walk of Fame at DragonCon. In short, it was fantastic. I’ve been to three other con locations before (FanExpo, Polaris, and Shore Leave) and the way DragonCon was set up is, hands down, the best out of all these in terms of autographs. There were no long waits, where the lines block dealer booths and cross into other autograph line territory (FanExpo). There were no confusing maps of how the lines need to move forward (sorry, Polaris, but those lanes aren’t always necessarily user friendly). And, most of important, I didn’t have to worry about having to listen for my badge number to be called before I could even line up for an autograph, and risk not getting one at all (Shore Leave, you know I’m talking about you). Despite the fact that DragonCon sees several thousand people every day, my wait for an autograph was really short. I was also able to walk around the rest of the room and just enjoy the environment without worrying about getting in the way of other people. The vibe in the room was really laid back.

So. I can hear you asking “Who’d you get an autograph from?”

It’s a valid question. After all, there were a bunch of guests at DragonCon that I was excited to see. Was it Felicia Day? Malcolm MacDowell (who, incidentally, didn’t have a long line at all)? Gareth David-Lloyd? (::sigh::) Joe Flanigan? John Billingsley? Karen Allen?

Nope.

I knew I was only going to get one autograph since I was on a fairly limited budget this con go-around. Most autographs tend to run about $20, with the picture included in the price. I really didn’t forsee getting any other type of souvenier while I was at the con – although there were a number of really awesome t-shirts that I really wanted. I ended up parting with another $1.50 for a funny pin later on, but kept to my self-imposed one autograph rule. With that in mind, there was only one choice…

Paul McGillion.

Did you just say “who’s that?” For shame! He was only the best character on Stargate: Atlantis. I’d actually met him briefly during my very first convention, up in Toronto. When Mag, Mel and I went to FanExpo Maggie lined up for an autograph. She also got a picture with him. He commented on our horns at the time and later, in the Q&A session, he mentioned them again. It was the first time I ever saw Maggie melt into a puddle. It was actually his behaviour at FanExpo that got me watching Atlantis. The show was already into its second season, with a bit of a delay between when it aired in Canada and when it aired in the U.S.

Money in hand, I stood in a rather short line at Paul’s table. There were a bunch of pictures laid out on top of the drape. Most of them were of him in Stargate costume. One was the same as the one Maggie had. There was actually a really good one showing off his bright blue eyes, but I opted for one that was kind of a candid shot. The guy who was handling the photo section of the table liked that one.

Paul chatted a bit with the fan in front of me and then it was my turn. He shook my hand and made sure he had the spelling right for my name. I usually have them make it out to my nickname, rather than have them spell the whole name. There are so many alternate versions of the spelling of my name that people would be bound to get it wrong. He liked that it was an easy one to remember and complimented my sweater. I thought that was interesting, as I don’t think orange looks good on me, but I pointed out that the sweater was a necessity when paired with the socks. As soon as he saw the socks he figured out I was wearing a costume.

While he made out the autograph, I let him know that he was the reason I started watching the show. In particular, it was because I was impressed with the way he interacted with fans when I first met him up in Toronto. I’ve had experiences with people before that were less than pleasant, but he was very gracious and friendly with everyone there. I mentioned that Maggie and I were the ones who had been wearing the horns (he still remembered!). He seemed very touched by what I said. We chatted for a little bit longer – I won’t bore you with the details – and he shook my hand again before I left. He is still the nicest actor I’ve ever met.

After I got the autograph Maggie and I wandered through the rest of the room. The guys from Ghost Hunters were over at their booth. Neither Maggie nor I could afford to buy anything at the table but she wanted to know if we could take a picture. Unfortunately, her shyness started to get the better of her so I had to ask. I went up to the table where Steve and Tango were sitting and asked Tango if I could take a picture. He said sure and even agreed to hold my Velma magnifying glass. Unfortunately, you can’t really see it in the picture. I also don’t think he realized who I was supposed to be. Of the two, Tango is definitely the more outgoing when in a crowd. You can tell that Steve isn’t really comfortable with all the attention.
We left the Walk of Fame and headed outside to see about lining up for the TAPS panel that evening. We had to head back over to the Hyatt and learned that, at 6:30pm, the line had already started for the 7:30 panel. It started at the doors to the Hyatt and went across the little plaza, stretching towards the stairs. For safety reasons, the line broke off there and started back up again at the base of the staircase. The woman at the doors to the Regency ballroom (where the panel was scheduled to be held) said the line was already stretching around the corner of the building. When we went downstairs, though, we saw that it hadn’t actually gotten that long yet. We figured we had a pretty good chance at getting a good spot inside the panel.

The people running the con had clearly thought that the room would fill up completely when they let us in at 7:30. In fact, there turned out to be a LOT of room left. Maggie and I ended up sitting in the front row, off to the side of one end of the table. We were on the end closest to Dustin and Joe Chin. I took a little video (which probably won’t be up online for quite some time) and Maggie hauled out the papperazzi flash for her photos. I ended up sitting next to a woman who had a very rum-filled Rum and Coke, which made for an…interesting experience. She was rather giggly, though I’m not sure if this was due to the alcohol or the presence of the TAPS guys.
Again, Steve wasn’t all that talkative during the panel, but Dustin really seemed to come to life. He was funny without dominating the entire panel, which can sometimes be a problem. There were a bunch of cameramen walking around during the panel. Some of them were filming for the DCTV stuff – taped panels that air over a special channel in the four convention hotels, in case you wanted to go to an event but couldn’t get in. The other cameramen were filming for the show. I’m looking forward to seeing all the DragonCon stuff on the actual show.

Throughout the day Maggie’s big goal was to search out all the characters from the Watchmen. She actually did a pretty good job. The first we came across was a woman dressed as Silk Spectre I. I saw one or two more over the course of the weekend, but this one had the best presentation of the costume. There were a couple of Rorschach’s walking around that day, which was kind of interesting. Ever seen the Pierce Brosnan version of The Thomas Crowne Affair? You know the scene near the end where all the guys in suits and bowler hats are walking around? That’s kind of what it was like from time to time. Of course, I was with the only Rorschach who could actually see where she was going when she had her mask on. I believe I was also with the only female Rorschach walking around that day – there was another woman later that weekend with a Rorschach costume, but not on the first day. Apparently the other Rorschach’s were all having difficulties seeing through their masks. Maggie and I, however, already have plenty of experience with vision-limiting masks, so she knew to make it so she could see out of hers.

Anyway, she managed to get most of the main Watchmen characters. There were a couple of Comedians walking around (though she didn’t get a picture with the first one we saw, who happened to be wearing a bathrobe). The best looking Comedian was actually walking around the next day, but we took a picture anyway. The best find was when she spotted Silk Spectre 2 coming down the sidewalk while we were standing in the TAPS line. When she stopped for a photo I noticed she was carrying a beach ball with a little Dr. Manhattan figure inside it. Genius!

Maggie actually came across two Ozymandias costumes that day. The first one was in the area of the fan tables in the Hilton. The other also happened to walk down the sidewalk while we were in line for TAPS. As he walked by, he reached out and bumped Maggie on the shoulder with his fist. We both thought that was hilarious.

Originally Maggie and I had planned to hang around for the Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog event and the zombie walk that were scheduled for that night. After we got out of the TAPS panel, though, we both came to the conclusion that we were just too tuckered out from the day’s exertions. We decided to call it a night and headed back towards our hotel to change and find food.
There was a Ruby Tuesday’s right around the corner from the Buckhead and we settled down in a booth to start recuperating from the day. The place was rather quiet, which gave us an opportunity to start our little end of the day debriefing session. I had taken a few notes throughout the day, to make writing the con reports a little easier.

During our little debriefing session we mainly discussed costumes. Obviously I’m naturally going to be drawn to them in the first place, but even I was sort of overwhelmed by the costumes I had seen that day.

Just…WOW.

It’s hard to determine the ratio of costumed to non-costumed attendees, simply because there are a number of people who, upon first glance, don’t appear to be wearing a costume. I fell into this category on the first day. Although the bright orange knee socks tended to clue people into the fact that I was dressed as Velma it wasn’t as obvious as Maggie’s costume. When she had her mask down, it was quite clear that she was in costume. I think I mainly looked like a handler who made rather bold choices in regards to color.

Another thing that made it difficult to figure out how many people are in costume was the sheer number of people who were attending the convention. FanExpo was huge but it didn’t feel anywhere close to the size of DragonCon. Sweet dixie minis, there were a lot of people!

The number of costumes wasn’t the only thing that struck me on that first day. It was also the level of the costuming. Although there were a few costumes here and there that were obviously thrown together at the last minute or were constructed by less skilled hands, the majority of the costumes were mind-blowingly outstanding. The level of detail, the craftsmanship…all sorts of things.

During our evening debriefing (quit giggling, sickos) Maggie and I awarded our own little costume awards for Day 1.

Funniest: This was actually a tie between a guy who was wearing a giant costume that I simply referred to as the “Fire Chicken” and a guy wearing a hat with the Geico money stack (and eyes) on top. He had things hooked up so he could play the song “I always feel like…somebody’s watching me.” Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of either one at the moment. There wasn’t even an actual reference for the fire chicken. Someone asked the guy what he was supposed to be and he responded “I don’t know.” I thought that was hilarious.

Ballsiest: (male) Aquaman. All he was wearing was a green Speedo-like thingy and sandles with wings. (female) Aeon Flux.

Creepiest: The nurse from Silent Hill. Apparently she was in character the entire time she was in costume. She was scaring little children when this picture was taken. And me, I’ll admit. She was scaring me.

Most Common General Category: Steampunk – I think this had a great deal to do with the fact that the Time Traveler’s Ball was being held that night.

Most Common Specific Type of costume: Ghostbusters. One or two had the name Venkman or Stanz on their overalls, but most had their actual last name on their suit. And every one of them had a proton pack that lit up.

Best Worksmanship: STEAMPUNK! Hands down, no doubt about it.

Most surprising to see more than one of: Clockwork Orange costumes.
Alright. That’s it for now. It’s actually just taken me about five hours to write this up and add in the photos. All that after a long day starting out my internship downtown. I’m ready to pass out in my bed now. I must really like you guys, considering I really wanted to be in bed about halfway through this thing.
Tomorrow (hopefully): DragonCon parade
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