Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TimeGate 2012 Recap - Part 2


If you haven't already, check out Part 1 from yesterday - it's great! Not as great as today's entry, though. Part 2 features
DINNER IN HELL

SATURDAY
Unsurprisingly, I woke up late. Not later than I had planned to, I just didn’t allow enough time for all of the things that needed to happen before we left.
But we got everything together and made pretty good time getting back to the Holiday Inn Chambodia. I had wanted to be there by noon and it was about 12:30 when we arrived. I would be manning the ESO/ESW table while the Mikes did a panel. I was ready. I had never sat at a con table before any more than I had been on a panel, and new experiences = blog posts. We got there in time to go up to the Con Suite with Mike F.’s son and junior ESO’er William. He’s a good kid and was a pleasure to hang out with all weekend. And I don’t just say that because his dad is my nerd boss.
The Con Suite was PHENOMENAL. The ladies up there were polite and friendly, the food and beverages were stocked all weekend, and the atmosphere was just fantastic. The room had simple but fun decorations and everything we ate was great, from sandwiches to chips and dip to dessert. There was always some good sci-fi on the TV. There was even a K-9:
I can’t say enough nice things about the Con Suite and the folks who were running it. We ate there several times over the weekend and it was by far the best dining experience we had the whole time. BY FAR (foreshadowing… dun-dun-DUUUUN).
We chatted briefly for the podcast before the panel, but there just wasn’t whole heck of a lot to talk about yet. The Mikes got up and left and me and the missus manned the table. Well, I manned the table. She wandered off to see what was going on.
There was this bowl of candy on the Official Earth Station One Convention Table. The bowl of candy was extremely popular with the con-goers. Much more popular than, say, the ESO crew. Everybody that walked by stuck their hand in and grabbed a peanut butter cup or a mini Snickers bar or a pack of Whoppers. I’m just kidding – nobody took the Whoppers because Whoppers taste like shit. It got to the point where I felt people were being a bit rude to not even stop and pretend to look at our setup – they would just cruise by without even glancing. A drive-by candy snatch. So I started telling everybody to take a business card so they could check out the podcast with the best candy.
A few folks did stop and actually chat for a bit. Everybody I talked to was nice and had the appropriate level of chattiness – enough to be friendly, not enough to make you want to drive a screwdriver through your eye. All in all I enjoyed it and by the time the Mikes got back was having a pretty good time. If I had remembered to bring a sketch pad to do crappy free sketches I would have had more fun.
Speaking of my own personal wares, I did bring along some stuff to promote Needless Things (over 300,000 served!). I had my usual supply of business cards, as well as a little 8x10 sign I had put together the night before because my middle name is not “preparation”. Apparently I don’t even have a middle name.
So I had my little framed sign propped up behind a stack of business cards and this dude with a tripod on a camera walks up and sets up his tripod and just shoves my stuff off of the corner of OUR table without a word. And these other two dudes with him crowd all up in my grill and don’t say a thing to me. They are setting up to do an interview with the folks at the table adjacent to me – The Ken Spivey Band. I don’t know who these inconsiderate douches are, but they are super-pissing me off.
But there is a problem. This is not my table. This is Earth Station One’s table. Anything I say to these assclowns is as a representative of Earth Station One. And I don’t really know Con etiquette. As far as I know it’s totally okay for camera crews to straight-up jack your table space without asking. They didn’t seem to give a shit that they were totally blocking access to and from Caitlin Blackwood’s Q&A as well, so maybe these guys were some kind of Hot Shit that I shouldn’t mess with. I just didn’t feel that I should act as I normally would in such a situation, which would be to pick up the dude’s camera and move it across the fucking floor while telling him to kindly not block my table.
So I sat there and dealt with it and directed the poor, confused con-goers who were trying to get to Ms. Blackwood’s panel to just walk in front of the camera.
Just to be clear – I don’t hold Mr. Spivey and his people responsible at all. He was just doing an interview. I was even considerate enough to pause the video we had running during his interview. Mrs. Troublemaker came back at one point. She is extremely perceptive of rudeness and immediately picked up on the camera crew situation. She loudly began to describe the Winterfell Wolves baseball jersey she’d just bought, along with pretty much everything else in the Dealers Room. That’s my Yankee Rose. She said the artists she’d bought the shirt from had a bunch of really cool stuff and she was right. I got a matching shirt and print for a measly twenty bucks (because if there’s one thing I need it’s a thousandth t-shirt):
Do yourself a favor and go check out their site, GeekCetera. They’ve got a lot of cool designs.
Ken Spivey directed his attention to me at one point and made me aware of something that had never even crossed my mind.
So, um… your mask isn’t completely terrifying or anything. No chance that’ll be haunting my nightmares tonight. Ha, ha! Please don’t kill me.”
I laughed and told him not to worry or think about waking up and seeing me just standing over him in his room. But I guess he had a point. As much as wrestling and Lucha Libre are just things in my life; other people may not be aware of them. I certainly know that a lot of folks just don’t get the mask at all. It’s not like everybody has seen Champions of Justice and knows that there were once great heroes that walked about in the daylight wearing masks and killer suits. There was even this one dude at Dragon*Con that thought I was wearing a Gimp Mask. I corrected him and asked him to please take his hand off of my penis. These things happen. What matters is that the mask gets attention and people remember it.
The Mikes got back to the table after a while and we did another bit of recording. Once they were settled in, me and Mrs. Troublemaker went to go check in and take care of some business. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we went to a nearby Walmart to procure beer for the night and certain other items that often figure into out Con stories. The last time involved Tyler Mane – this one was not so exciting.
We ate at Five Guys’ Burgers – the home of the 2 lb. small order of fries – and went back to the hotel. Our room was finally ready, so we checked in and brought our stuff upstairs. The Holiday Inn Chambodia had pretty nice rooms. No feather pillows, so that was a plus for the missus. Basically, though, it was the same setup as every other con hotel I’ve been in. I never had the opportunity to check out the Wi-Fi, but it was supposed to be free and in the rooms. I think it’s damned absurd that any hotel does not provide free Wi-Fi in the rooms now (I’m looking at you, Dragon*Con host hotels).
I had been wearing what I refer to as my “douche get-up” all day and was a little uncomfortable. The Douche Get-Up is basically what The Miz used to wear when he wasn’t wrestling – douchey jeans, a button-up shirt, a vest, and a tie. Normally this is just fine, but I am about a month away from my mid-year diet and am a little bigger than I was the last time I wore the vest. Two months from now I’ll be twenty pounds or more lighter and it’ll be fine.
So anyway, I went back to the room and put on some shorts and my new Doctor vs. Daleks shirt from GeekCetera and just cruised around incognito, as it were. Mrs. Troublemaker stayed in the room to catch a nap, which is what I would have been doing if it were Dragon*Con and I weren’t “working”. I went back to the ESO table and hung out for a while. I guess con-goers were mostly at panels because there wasn’t a whole lot of action.
Which makes this a good time to talk about the Dealers Room. It was tiny. I don’t know why there were so few dealers, but the eleven I mentioned in my preview were it. Don’t get me wrong – they were all solid. I’ve just never seen such a small Dealers Room. Here’s sort of a rundown. Keep in mind, if I don’t have much to say it doesn’t mean they weren’t any good. It just means they weren’t offering anything that interested me.
Companions Corner – This was the incredibly friendly but overpriced place. Mrs. Troublemaker explained to me that they weren’t really overpriced, it was just that you can expect gross markups at specialty cons.
Starbase Atlanta – You know these guys from the left side of the Dealers Room at Dragon*Con. They have the longest table in the room with t-shirts behind it and wire grid over the tables. They had the biggest variety of merchandise.
Fantastic Visions – I’m not sure who this was.Duae Designs – This girl had a huge assortment of what were basically knitted action figures. Lil’ Troublemaker loved them and I’m really kicking myself for not buying some. Hopefully she’ll be at another con.Crescent Fawn Studios – They had some extremely weird art that looked like the kind of pictures of creepy anthropomorphic animals you see on Deviant Art.GeekCetera – Again, go check out their site. Cool stuff.Soiled Doves Mercantile – I don’t know which one this was, but the name makes me slightly uncomfortable. Possibly the same sort of discomfort my mask causes in Celtic Time Lord rock bands.Antiquity's Jewelry Box – Various bulky pieces of fancy jewelry.Crimson Castle Games – I think this one had its own room across the hall. I don’t do games, so I didn’t check it out.Comic City – I believe this was the one with the Plinko and the prize wheel. This guy was absolutely great and in my opinion the shining example of what a con dealer should be. He was friendly and outgoing without being pushy and he was realistic about con sales. On the last day, he was charging five dollars to spin the prize wheel. When it stopped, he would just grab a ton of random stuff off the shelves and hand it to you. It didn’t matter what number you got – he was just having fun and creating a great atmosphere. Towards the end of the day on Sunday he was even giving away GeekCetera’s remaining prints with his prize wheel. I couldn’t help but go and spin that wheel a couple of times. I’ll cover my swag in the Sunday portion.Exile Into Imagination – If I’m right, this was the dealer that had a ton of genre buttons/magnets/keychains. He also had some fantastically clever prints available. He had sketches and paintings of characters – most notably Doctors – that had been printed on dictionary pages and pages of sheet music. There were many different styles and images to choose from. I’ll cover the ones I bought under Sunday.
So all in all the Dealers Room wasn’t bad, it was just sparse.
After hanging out at the ESO table a little longer I told the guys I needed to take a shower and get into my next costume – the one I was wearing for the panel. Mike F. said to be back by 6 or 6:30 so we could go over what we were going to talk about. Good enough.
I wore two costumes at Time Gate. The first was the Fourth Doctor costume I mentioned above. The second… well, the second might be my favorite. I’m not sure. I love them both. The deciding factor might be how much more comfortable the second costume was. There was no sweater vest, no scarf, and no hat. That hat, man. I’m used to wearing wrestling masks, but putting a hat on top of it was murder. It looked great, but it was so damn hot. The other costume was hot, but in a completely different way:
Ooh, yeah. That’s some Doctor Sexy Jon Pertwee action, right there. And yeah, it was actually hot in pretty much the same way, too. Just not as hot.
I’m very proud of that costume, and it’s a milestone because it got me through my very first panel ever. But we’ll get to that.
When I got back to the ESO table we sat down and discussed our game plan. I don’t remember exactly when we met Rebecca, but she is a regular on Earth Station One. Mike F. had invited her to be on the Earth Station Who panel along with myself, Mike G., and Dr. Scott, who is a scary genius-type. Dr. Scott has, like, ten PhDs and what is apparently a photographic memory and could probably take over the world and enslave us all if he put his mind to it. But he seems like a pretty swell guy and probably wouldn’t ever do such a thing. Probably. He also has a totally awesome Seventh doctor sweater vest.
I can’t go into detail on the process of planning out an ESO panel. It is rightfully well-guarded proprietary information and I would hate for any of our competitors to be let in on our methods. Suffice it to say the ideas are produced and refined in a thorough and lightning-quick process that leaves little room for error. When the ESO staffers sit down for business, it’s like Voltron forming. Only rather than a blazing sword, we have a fiery, white-hot wit.
Ahem.
7:00 PM finally rolled around and it was time. Time to see if I had what it takes to perform in front of a live audience. Time to see if I could hang with a couple of long-time podcast hosts and a James Bond villain-level genius. Could I hang? Would I have the tools? Would I have the talent?
Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I was great.
Seriously, though – it was a good time. We had a pretty small audience. Maybe ten people. But they all seemed to enjoy us and most importantly we did a good job. All five of us (remember Voltron?) – Mike F., Mike G., Rebecca, Dr. Scott, and me – rocked and rolled. We discussed Earth Station Who and what we do and what we’ve done. We talked about the classic series and the new series and the upcoming fiftieth anniversary. I’m not sure when Mike is posting it, but you should definitely check it out. I think it’s my favorite ESW episode yet.
After it was over we went out to eat and that, my friends, was an adventure.
Mike F. chose the place. It is called Little Szechuan and it is on Buford Highway. It provided what is easily the most ridiculous dining experience I have ever had and was just absolutely amazing.
To a certain extent Needless Things has changed my life. There are things that happen to me now that would have once made me furious or frustrated or horribly uncomfortable. But now I have this serene state that comes over me sometimes. I’m not trying to say that I don’t ever get angry anymore, but when ridiculous things happen I develop this awareness that what’s going on is going to make a fantastic blog post and I just sort of step outside of myself and watch. It’s very interesting for me, but it probably drives Mrs. Troublemaker crazy. And the last thing she needed at Little Szechuan was more crazy.
We were under the impression that this was an Earth Station One dinner. Pretty much the same folks that were on the panel, plus Dr. Scott’s wife, Mrs. Troublemaker, and William. A small crowd of folks we knew. But when we got to the restaurant this whole cadre of strangers piled out of a car. Neither me nor my wife are the sort of people who just go out to eat with strangers. That’s just a weird, awkward scene. Not to say any of these folks were bad at all, just that we didn’t know them and it’s weird to share moo-goo-gai-pan with somebody you don’t know.
I don’t even know what the heck moo-goo-gai-pan is, or even if it’s Chinese, but you get my drift.
So we get inside Little Szechuan and things look promising:
I dig that. How could you not?
After standing around for about ten or so minutes, we were escorted back to a room that looks like the sort of room that Chinese gangsters would smoke cigarettes, play poker, and cut each other’s fingers off in. There might even be opium involved. I don’t know. But we were seated at a large, circular table with a lazy Susan in the middle (I have no idea what the Chinese term for lazy Susan is) and basically left to our own devices a for a while. After perusing the menu for exactly one second I determined that this place was out of our usual price range. Fifteen dollars for General Tso’s chicken seemed like utter madness to me. It’s not like we were in Walt Disney World or something. Lord knows it wasn’t Walt Disney World.
After half an hour or so, this tiny Chinese woman came out and yelled at us for our orders. Some of our party ordered a couple of soups – two soups, to be exact - Wonton and Sizzling Rice. Remember this. It is important for later. I ordered the same thing I always order – General Tso’s chicken. We were in what I consider to be a weird environment and I didn’t want to get any crazier than I had to. Rebecca even voiced something I often experience – that she always thinks that she should try something different and never does.
So a anyway, the tiny yelling woman took our orders and left us alone in the opium den. I very badly wanted to offer somebody a large gem in exchange for an antidote, but there was no floor show.
There were, however, these plates of oddness that I was not familiar with:
I didn't know exactly what these were and I wasn't too sure if we were supposed to eat it or look at it. Eventually somebody clarified that it was Kim Chee and I was terribly upset by the suggestion. I don't want to be eating diced-up portions of Kamala's old manager. But ti turned out Kim Chee is a food - pretty much just a spicy cole slaw. Just as I was deciding I kind of liked it and wanted more, the damned Chinese lazy Susan spun it away from me.
Mrs. Troublemaker and I mostly talked to Rebecca and Mike G. while the performers with us held court at the other end of the table. They didn’t bug me or anything – they were just doing what such people do. They were entertaining and I certainly wish them all the best, but I probably won’t ever eat dinner with them again. There was also this really nice couple that had been at the panel. They had lanyards that looked like the Fourth Doctor’s scarf and I really liked them (the people, not the lanyards – I mean, I liked the lanyards, too).
Yelling Lady eventually came back with a gigantic bowl of urine, leaves, and tiny brains. I would have panicked, but I was in Writer Mode. It turned out the bowl was full of Wonton soup. I’m not saying it wasn’t urine, leaves, and monkey brains; I’m just putting a name on it. Yelling Lady yelled, “WHO WANT SOUP?” and started sloshing brains, leaves, and yellow fluid into smaller bowls like a pirate bailing out a leaky rowboat. I had zero interest in this foul-looking concoction and kept my mouth shut lest she misinterpret the movement of my lips and sling one of those bowls of nastiness at me. I watched with relief as the main bowl emptied out, but my horror returned when Yelling Lady yelled, “I BRING MORE SO ALL CAN HAVE SOUP.” She followed through on her threat and despite my very vocal protestations I ended up with a bowl of that swill in front of me.
Somebody had paid for this soup. And obviously this person did not mind sharing this soup with eleven (or so) other people. A bowl had been forced upon me and I felt obligated to at least try it. My only other option was to wait for Mike G., who was sitting beside me, to look away and dump mine into his bowl. But I was afraid that too large a dose might be enough to kill and I really like Mike. So I took the ceramic ladle they had given me – because you don’t want to miss out on any of that leafy pee-brain goodness! – and went for it. And by “went for it” I mean I fished the brain directly out of the bowl – mercifully I only had one brain – and stuck the whole nasty thing in my mouth. It wasn’t bad, but Lord, it wasn’t good. And I’m still not convinced I’m wrong about the ingredients.
Next Yelling Lady brought out the Sizzling Rice soup, the contents of which were so disturbing they had to cover it up with a layer of rice.
When Yelling Lady finally brought our food out I understood why everything was so fucking expensive. Each order was on a platter large enough to feed a family of four and – much to my horror – was being placed in the middle of the table on the lazy Susan (or whatever). Everybody was just snatching these huge spoonfuls of food off of everybody else’s plates. I immediately hatched a plan to have Yelling Lady just put my plate in front of me on the regular, non-rotary table. I took the little plate they had given me when we sat down – Lord knows what that was for; probably to rest your finger on before it got cut off – and started to put it on another table. Yelling Lady saw through my ruse and yelled, “I TAKE THAT. YOU WANT ‘NOTHER?”
I said I did not and she promptly brought me another small plate and yelled, “THERE YOU GO,” while giving me a look that suggested she knew exactly what I was up to and she’d die on the end of a British bayonet before she let me out of sharing my fifteen dollar General Tso’s chicken with a bunch of strangers.
Speaking of stabbing, it’s worth noting that this place provided chopsticks to each diner. I mention it because I had to keep taking Mrs. Troublemaker’s away from her so she wouldn’t stab Yelling Lady in the eye with one. You see, Yelling Lady had decided that a certain spot was her point of access to our table. The problem was that Mrs. Troublemaker was sitting in that spot. So every time Yelling Lady came barging into the room with a platter of some new horror to unleash upon us, she elbowed my wife out of the way to get to the lazy Susan (or whatever). It’s one of the rudest things I’ve ever seen in my life and I find it incomprehensible that this awful little woman managed to top it before the night was over. So I took away my wife’s chopsticks and kept a close eye on her fork.
It was about this time we decided to order beer. I did not care how much the beer cost in this miserable little corner of Hell, I just needed myself and my wife a little more relaxed.
Mike G. and I both ordered General Tso’s and our food came out last, proving that the Big Guy upstairs likes me. Because by that time the lazy Susan (or whatever) was full of platters and Yelling Lady had no choice other than to follow my directive and put the plate of spicy fried chicken parts in front of me. WIN.
Still, this was a shitload of food and I wasn’t sure I could get it all down. But whatever. I decided to skip the rice and just focus on the chicken. I managed. My whole issue with the sharing was that I like exactly one Chinese entrée – General Tso’s chicken. I don’t want Lo Mein or Chow Mein or Lion Mein or Tyler Mein or the Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Mein. So if I didn’t get enough of my own, personal dinner I was going to be screwed because nobody else had ordered anything I even wanted to look at, let alone eat.
Once everybody had slowed down eating enough to indicate the meal was done, a younger lady brought out plates of orange wedges. I am not a big fan of oranges anyway, but I had definitely already had enough citrus for the weekend.
You see, the hotel had been kindly supplying ice cold water all weekend via a couple of jugs in the middle of the lobby. The only problem was that they were putting lemon slices in the water. It sounds like a decent idea on paper, but I pretty much only drink water and beer. So I was drinking mostly that water all weekend to the point where it made my gums sore. Of course, later Saturday night we discovered the reason for the lemon slices, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The performers, a writer lady, and one other dude – a guy who makes TARDISes (no, seriously) – had to get back to the hotel, so they requested their bills and took off. That left me and the missus, the Mikes and William, Rebecca, and the couple with the cool lanyards. We had to specifically ask for our individual bills and repeat to the lady what we had ordered. I told her four times that ours was General Tso’s chicken, House Lo Mein, and three Miller Lites. Quite frankly the Miller Lites should have been on the house because they were the only thing standing between Yelling Lady and a messy death at the hands of Mrs. Troublemaker. I had been watching all night as the corners of her eyes scrunched more and more and the beads of sweat formed on her upper lip. By the time the meal was done, her hands were claw-like and trembling with the effort of not clawing Yelling Lady’s eyes out. I’m quite proud of my woman for the slaughter she avoided. I should buy her something nice. Maybe a gift certificate to Little Szechuan.
Yelling Lady went away for a long time to print up our bills and came back yelling, “WHO PAY FOR SOUP?” The couple had ordered the Sizzling Rice soup and one of the performers had ordered the Wonton soup. That was it. We explained this and Yelling Lady yelled, “NO. TWO WONTON SOUP. WHO PAY?”, to which I promptly responded, “Well, I’m not because I didn’t order it and neither did anybody else.” And Mike G. said, “Yeah – you said you would bring another bowl so everybody could have some, but we didn’t order more.”
Yelling Lady yelled, “TWO WONTON SOUP. WHO PAY FOR SOUP?” and kept looking in the direction of myself and my wife. I reiterated that we didn’t order it and Yelling Lady just kept going and looking at us to the point where my wife said, “Why are you looking at us? We didn’t order the soup and we’re not paying for it.”
I told her again what we had ordered and told Yelling Lady to give us our bill and that I would pay that and not one cent more, but she clutched those bills to her chest like they were tickets to Heaven. Finally good, decent Mike F. said he would pay for the extra soup that nobody fucking asked for and we all felt bad and chipped in. I’m not gonna let our host pay six dollars for urine leaf brain soup that he didn’t even order. Needless to say I did not tip Yelling Lady. We went to that restaurant in Myrtle Beach where the staff are supposed to be jerks and they weren’t as off-putting as that mean little woman.
Little Szechuan: F+ (the General Tso’s chicken was really good)
I will never go back to that place again unless a fellow writer comes into town and wants a miserable experience to inspire him.
Come back tomorrow for Part 3 - the rest of Saturday night and Sunday! It's a hoot! But maybe not as entertaining as Little Szechuan.
-Phantom

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