Part 1: A View to a Con
Anime Expo and I have a very strange relationship. On the one hand, it's a massive, faceless corporate entity that's approaching E3 in size and scope (at least 30,000 people attended AX, and some reports say 40k). On the other hand, at least two entire departments (karaoke and press) are staffed entirely by close personal friends of mine, so I can't exactly call it faceless.
I've also done pretty much everything possible for AX besides being a guest (which almost happened one year, but that's another story). I mean, I've been press, assisted press, staffed, I've cosplayed, I've helped run the masquerade, I've waited in autograph lines, I've signed autographs--it's just nuts.
This year, I went into AX with no expectations. I brought some things I wanted Koge Donbo to autograph, and I brought cash. That's about all I prepared (other than clothes and stuff), since I had no idea what I was going to be doing at the con.
So, given my usual activity level at AX, imagine what happened when I arrived on Friday morning and checked into the hotel, a full 24 hours before the convention was scheduled to start. That's right, I sat in the hotel room and did nothing. I watched the World Cup match for the day, and after I nodded off (a 5 AM start to your day will do that), I woke up and realized I was watching the World Domino Championships.
So, shaking off my boredom and lethargy, I decided to wander the area and see what I could see. My first investigation was of the Marriott hotel, since it wasn't an AX convention hotel that year and I wanted to know why. I got my first clue on the elevator ride down, when I saw quite a few men wearing square dancing T-shirts.
Now, before I continue this story, a note about sharing convention space: due to sheer numbers, anime conventions often share space with Christian conventions. At least 10 anime conventions that I can remember have shared their space with a gathering of Christians of some denomination or other, and quite often, the Christian groups spend a lot of time looking disapprovingly at the costumed pageantry and general foolishness of anime con attendees.
So imagine my surprise when I see several of these square dancers wearing rainbow pins t-shirts saying things like "Hotlanta Squares" in rainbow fonts.
That's right, these people were about as far from being evangelical Christians as you can get. We were sharing space with the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs. And they were GREAT neighbors. Being a gay square dancer teaches you something about tolerance, and as opposed to, say, Otakon's usual gaggle of drunken baseball fans, they left us alone for the most part, except to make pleasant conversation in the elevator and make jokes without being obnoxious. It was wonderful.
That first night, I also heard what I think is the quote of the convention: "It's not often that a gay square dancer gets to look at someone odder than he is."
Part 2: Press ganged
Since the Anaheim Convention Center wasn't really hosting anything yet, my next stop was the Hilton, where I knew the Press department was. I'm not sure what I was expecting to do, but given that every single member of the AX Press staff was a member of my college anime club, I figured I could kill a few hours talking to them and catching up with a few of them who've moved out of the area (Eric, you punk, move back to the states!).
So I arrived to see them desperately stuffing registration packets and turning away most of the press (note that I technically count as press for most conventions, it's what I default to when I'm not a guest/staffer) because they weren't ready to hand out badges yet.
So, what did I end up doing? Well, after telling them my tale of woe and watching the World Series of Dominos, they... well, they just sort of nodded at me in that "uh-huh, keep talking, I don't mind but I'm busy" way that assembly line workers often get.
So, attempt #1 at relieving my boredom failed.
Attempt #2 had me walk behind the press desk and start helping them out, since there really was nothing better to do. I mean, I could've gone to Disneyland, I guess, but it was hot out and the Hilton was air conditioned. So there was less sweating involved.
About an hour into it, after I volunteered to transport a cubic meter or two of bottled water from the convention center back to the Hilton, I realized that I'd made two huge blunders. Maybe even three. First, I was sweating just as much lugging around a dolly full of water bottles as I would've been running around Disneyland surrounded by tourists, except I was talking to friends instead of getting in two-hour lines for rides. Second, I'd taken a day off of work so I could... work. And third, well, I was wearing a black shirt on a sunny day in Anaheim. Which, lemme tell you, isn't always the best thing to do unless you reside solely in climate-controlled areas. And, while it had been my intention to stay in said climate-controlled areas for as long as possible, it turns out that Southern California hasn't gone to New England's lengths and has not built tunnels connecting its major buildings. I guess the fact that it never snows and barely rains enough to make life uncomfortable means that they'll never make little habitrails for us, dooming us poor Californians to walking around in 85-degree fahrenheit weather and complaining about the heat.
Anyway, despite all of my grumbling, it was fun back there--there's a point of being part of an assembly line where your hands start moving on their own and your mouths start working overtime, and honestly, aside from the labor, my time behind the press desk was what conventions are really about--the opportunity to take a weekend out of your schedule, run away from everything, and shoot the breeze with friends you haven't spent nearly enough time with.
And hey, I got a free dinner out of it.
Chapter 3: Talking with my mouth full
See, after Eric decided that we'd all done enough for the night and tried to commandeer a staff dinner for us, he found out that there were more extra layers of bureaucracy to go through than it was worth. So, he and the press director sent us grunts off to dinner, telling us that with a receipt, they'd reimburse us after the convention was done.
So, after wrangling everyone back together and essentially telling them where to go, we headed off to dinner at Baker's Square, where we would kick back, relax, and... well, do the exact same things that we'd done behind the press desk, but this time our hands would be busy stuffing our faces instead of stuffing registration bags for the press.
I wish I could relate to you all the strange things that happened at this dinner--I just remember a lot of people saying that they needed tape recorders around to record the strange things that come out of my mouth on a regular basis, and I remember a lot of the girls recoiling from me and throwing objects in my direction, but I can barely for the life of me remember what it is I said that caused revulsion and laughter in equal amounts.
Let me let you in on a secret: unless I write it down or someone reminds me, I barely remember half of what I say. There are just too many random things that come out of my mouth on a daily basis for me to remember any of it clearly, and the way my mind works, I'm always looking for the next joke rather than seeing if the last one worked. If it weren't for Cliff, I wouldn't remember my seemingly-famous proclamation that "we of the hairless folk come pre-lubed!" I wouldn't remember much about my proclamations regarding the vibrating sheep of doom, but not only did write that one down, it's immortalized in print.
This is what I do remember about the dinner: I was sitting at the edge of the table, so people at the other end of the table missed half of what I said. And apparently, heard out of context or half-heard, the crap that comes out of my mouth is even stranger and funnier than it is to people who actually hear the whole thing. Who knew?
I also remember that at one point, about 3 or 4 of us guys independently stood up, excused ourselves, and went toward the bathroom... for about 4 steps before we looked at each other uncomfortably, looked back at the girls (who were eyeing us suspiciously) and went back to exchanging disquieted looks. Then we decided to run with it, walked into the bathroom with our heads held high, and sauntered back to the table as if nothing had ever happened. Or maybe I made a lot of effeminate jokes, influenced by the gay square dancers down the street.
Coming next time: The con actually starts.