Dallas Fan Angst

Yesterday morning I was all fired up to do a week-series of calumnious missives about how the folks who run the Dallas FanExpo should go stand in the street in front of the Book Depository. This morning, however, I spent an hour attempting to get a detailed receipt from the Omni Hotel, and that has a way of withering one’s wiener. The valet parking was pretty affordable, but it’s not so cheap that I’d like to pay it twice.

If you yearn for vituperation, check out every post on FanExpo’s Facebook page (like, heart, angry face) and revel in the horror stories. While Gina, Willie, and I occasionally had a bad time, a lot of folks had their hopes and dreams crushed. I can’t say I’m one of them. I’m experiencing the same level of glass-is-half-empty dysthymic angst I did before, but now I’m a little deeper in debt and I have a few more star-chasing stories to tell. I’m going to call it a draw.

It’s weird to get back into the world and see everyone else grinding away about politics. There’s always this shock, like we’ve arrived back from another planet, but at least someone didn’t die this time. In 2016 it was David Bowie and Prince while we were at Wizard World in New Orleans and WhoFest in Irving, Texas, respectively, but now that I think of it, one of the founders of WhoFest died last year at the con, in his hotel room.

There was no general announcement, although I’m sure most of the core convention group was aware. I’d volunteered to help clean up that Sunday afternoon, and in hindsight I can tell who didn’t get the news. There were guys marching around in a fugue like, well, like one of their friends had just died, and there was a guy making stupid jokes about how certain pieces of equipment looked like a prop from Fourth Doctor episode “The Pirate Planet.”

I know everyone grieves differently, and I didn’t know anything at the time, but when no one laughed or even spoke in reply to this dude’s spur-of-the-moment comedy routine, I looked at him and said, “Dude, I think maybe the time for jokes is over.”

The cloud was so obvious that some part of my subconscious picked up on it, but I still didn’t get it. When I was invited upstairs to the pizza party afterward, I walked into a small hotel room full of forty or fifty volunteers packed in, butts on every surface. Peter Pixie, the master of ceremonies, practically sat on the lap of Frazer Hines, and they were in intense, quiet conversation. Everyone spoke in hushed murmurs, and I said to the guy nearest me, “Yeah, we just got done unloading the truck in Richardson.”

He nodded and said nothing. I left the room roughly 45 seconds after I’d entered and went downstairs to apologize to my wife for bailing on her during her nap in an attempt to get some celebrity face time. It went okay.

We left Texas the next morning and reminisced about Wendy Padbury and Richard Franklin the entire way home. I ranted about how much Prince had reportedly given to charity over the years. “He was a weird dude but wasn’t he some kind of superhero?” I did mention the strange atmosphere to Gina, but we chalked it up to Whovians being Whovians. It wasn’t until we got home that she found the obituary online while searching to see if WhoFest had anything planned for 2017.

“Holy shit.”

Not to be indelicate, but Doctor Who actors have a sort of history of dying at or around conventions. Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, died at the Magnum Opus Con II science fiction convention in Columbus, Georgia, on Saturday, March 27, 1987 (source: Wikipedia), after his doctors told him not to leave the UK because of his heart condition. At 7:25 am, he died of a massive heart attack just after ordering breakfast. He had celebrated his 67th birthday two days prior, and the convention goers had planned a party that night in his honor.

Jon Pertwee died in Connecticut on May 20, 1996 at age 76. He was often on the convention circuit, and while the kiddies always talk about Tom, Jon was the Doctor who brought the show into the modern era. His first episode was filmed in color, and he threw a bit of James Bond into the space wizard mixture (they name-dropped Bond at least three times I can remember during Pertwee’s run). He was flamboyant, fun, and loved attention like all great folks do. He also appreciated the hell out of his fans, and if he’s not the reason, he’s at least in the top five reasons the show had, and has, such a big following.

After all this, Tom Baker said he wasn’t going to America anymore because it was killing Doctors (source: my ass), and it must have been effective. He’s still kicking at age 83, and if you want to meet him, you’re going to have to do the flying.

I won’t pull out that old “dying doing something you love” turkey. Most folks don’t want to die no matter what they’re doing. There’s no last meal equivalent of a treat that can silver-lining getting your thinker snapped off. Had fun yesterday plus dead today equals nil. Nada. Zilch.

Still, while there aren’t better ways to go, there are definitely worse ones (source: The Bob Talbot Experience), so maybe there’s something to looking forward to a nice Saturday and hey what-

Sometimes you don’t even get a last breakfast, and I can’t even say it would help. I haven’t done it myself and when I do, you won’t get a trip report. Last time I checked, Harry Houdini hasn’t called back, either.

What I do know is that I’m going to enjoy the good times I had last weekend with Gina and Willie, and for that matter, John, Alex, Billy, Catherine, Katee, and all the Whovians and science fiction fans we chatted with all weekend. We made some connections in those mashed, sweltering crowds, and we got so much love from so many people who just wanted our photograph.

If you’re looking for any more Dallas FanExpo opprobrium, it’s going to have to wait until October when Matt Smith, who they’ve booked for the second time (he didn’t show in 2015), inevitably cancels after we’ve risked life, limb, and bank account on our third attempt to meet him (he also cancelled on us in New Orleans).

As we prepared to walk out of our hotel room yesterday morning, I fumbled with the door handle with my left hand. I had three bags in my right, and the rolling suitcase was propped against my left leg. Gina was behind me with Willie, his stroller, and two more bags.

“That’s life, Willie,” I said, “It’s a bunch of bullshit but you’ll find there are a few diamonds-”

“Bob,” Gina said, “did you remember to check out?”

“Oh shit,” I said. “Heh, yeah, I’d better do that.”

I sat down my pile, walked around it, picked up the room phone, and dialed “*-3-4.” It was finished.

Today I’ll do a few of the things I’ve been putting off. I’ll also check my email obsessively until the Omni gets back to me about my room charges.
Until that’s through, I’ll think about adventures past and future, and I’ll look to here, now, for what’s important.

As far as the FanExpo goes, any convention you live through can’t be that bad, can it?

Worth every penny.

The Dallas Fan Existential Crisis

Friday morning we loaded up and headed to Dallas. We had a date with Alex Kingston, and we weren’t about to miss it.

Willie weathered eight hours in a car as well as a five-month-old possibly could, which is to say he was amazing. It’s not spoiling anything to tell you he was rad through the entire weekend, teething pains and all. They say to show not tell, so I’m supposed to intersperse him being the coolest baby ever all throughout this narrative so you come to the conclusion on your own that he’s amazing without me telling you he’s amazing, but fuck that. Hear me now and believe me later, he was amazing.

We checked into the Omni and were greeted with champagne, which was a new experience. I’m an easy lay so the Omni totally had me at hello with that bullshit maneuver. They could have tossed a Bud Ice at me after that drive and I’d have been ready to pull out the credit card for all those incidentals, baby.

We threw our shit into the room and hoofed it down to the FanExpo, which was a five minute walk down a hall and a twenty minute wait in another line just to get a wristband for a ticket I’d already purchased online. This is the harbinger part. I’m breaking all the rules tonight, baby.

No retakes on these bad boys. If you have stoner face you’re going to have to live with that shit forever. Get a nice frame at Hobby Lobby.

We finally gained access and wandered around the floor for a bit before our photo op. If you’ve never done one, they’re always rushed affairs, and there’s no real face time involved. I’ve seen people get online and throw fits over this and let me tell you guys and gals, if you go into this expecting anything more than wham, bam, thank you ma’am, you’ve entered the land of expectations.

We did stop by Alex Kingston’s autograph table afterward to get her signature on the photo, and that’s where the magic actually happened. She cooed at Willie and said, “Hello, gorgeous!” She showed him her big-ass ring, which looked like a rose with diamonds set into it, and said, “You’re going to have to buy your girlfriend a ring like this in, oh, sixteen years.”

I fucking hope not.

She was absolutely stellar, though, and we thanked her and went on our way over to John Barrowman’s domain.

The John Barrowman Experience

John got it into his head that he wanted this kid to give him pink belly. I shit you not, he pulled up his shirt and this little boy slapped him while a FanExpo employee down the table gave the most epic side eye that went on for so long I was able to point it out to multiple people.

“Oh wow, she doesn’t get it at all. Look at that side eye! Holy shit she’s still doing it!”

When we got to the table, John spent at least a minute rubbing Willie’s head.

“I love rubbing baby heads,” he said. “They’re so soft. I love to kiss them.”

Unfortunately he didn’t kiss him, but it would have been okay, although it might have prompted more side eye.

He then proceeded to take Gina’s camera and crank out a few selfies. He’s an expert at this, so they all turned out amazing.

Petition to make this John Barrowman’s profile pic.

On our way out we noticed Billy West, the voice of Fry from Futurama among others (you might know him as Doug Funny or Bugs Bunny from Space Jam or Ren AND Stimpy) had shown up. He’d been running late and they sent his line away, but he was there now and man we were aching to say hi after seeing him last year in Richardson, Texas.

When we got to the table we expressed our love for his podcast, which is fucking excellent by the way. I performed a short rendition of the Stingray theme song and we talked about zany marionette shows for a couple of minutes. We introduced Willie, and Billy decided to come around the table for a photo.

Willie is more interested in Billy’s con badge.

“Welcome to Earth, kid,” he said. “You took a wrong turn.”

Completely satisfied with all our life decisions up to that point, we returned to the room for some rest after the best day ever. As I drifted off, I told Gina, “Wow, that was the most amazing day. It was so perfect. Oh my God, I forgot my army shirt.”

Like Buckaroo Banzai said, revelations always come in the three B’s: the bed, the bath, and the bus. I’d checked and rechecked the luggage, and I’d forgotten something as simple as my goddamned shirt. Oh well. I groaned and gnashed my teeth while Gina Googled a solution. There was an army surplus store about eight miles away. I would have to make a run in the morning.

I woke up at 7 am, unable to take it anymore, and fired up the shitty hotel Keurig for some diarrhea water. I threw that down my throat, left the fam at the hotel, and went down to the valet to get the car. I had a mission.

Dallas highways are a spaghetti pile of drunken engineering. The GPS yelled at me and I thanked Odin I’d suffered through the twitch game parts of Grand Theft Auto. I hate that Dance Dance Revolution bullshit but if I hadn’t become begrudgingly adept I never would have made it to the surplus store where an old dude awaited to try to sell me $20 Dickey shirts.

“Where’s the surplus, man. I can rip the patches off, I don’t care.”

Eight dollars and sixty-one cents later, I was the owner of a brand new slightly used Marine Corps khaki shirt.

I raced back to the Omni, threw a couple more bucks at the valet (they say not to tip when you drop off but you know you’re paying for them to not fuck your car up, right?) and headed up to the room to get into cosplay. It was TIME.

We headed down the hall past the Roberta Flack quote emblazoned on the wall, which always makes me start hollering “Killing Me Softly,” and stood in line thirty minutes to get armbands for tickets we’d already purchased online. Then, we entered Pandemonium.

It was bodies wall-to-wall, straight up worse-than-Disney foot traffic. I’ve ranted about this situation many times before but the Dallas FanExpo keeps growing and their floor engineering remains a libertarian mess of “Oh yeah I guess this can go over here.” The autograph lines are about one foot wide taped off. The photo op lines are hemmed in by booths and convenience stands. People started behaving like cattle then like water. I’ve read before that when you’re in a crowd like that, it’s best to get the fuck out or risk death. If there’d been any reason to spook us, it would have been a global-news-making disaster.

I’ve been to Wizard World. They stanchion that shit off and everything takes place in an orderly fashion. We were caught, hot, in the middle of a crowd of people to see Catherine Tate, who maybe had a hundred tickets sold, but because the con workers didn’t line up the adjacent ticket holders properly, we were trapped in a scrum for 45 minutes while foot traffic from the vendors and autograph lines tried to squeeze through two feet of walkway. It was a nightmare.

There’s tape two feet from that green backdrop that marks the photo op lines. I got yelled at for stepping one foot over that tape, at which point I yelled at some guy and went outside and made a very embarrassing Facebook live video, which I deleted ten minutes later. It was cathartic, at least.

I had ample time to let loose one of my epic tweetstorms at Dallas FanExpo. They actually replied and said they’d get right on it, but I didn’t witness anything you’d call a response.

We got our Catherine Tate photo, wheeled back around to get into Barrowman’s line, and waited another hour. My feet were on fire. and Gina breastfed Willie in line like the hero she is.

Worth it.

We had some time to burn before we could get the photos signed, so we caught Katee Sackhoff at her booth. I wasn’t aware she was a Whovian until I checked out her Twitter and saw that her profile pic is her face pasted on the Fourth Doctor. She was bonkers over Willie. She called him the best thing she’d seen since the woman at Dragon Con with the painted belly who was due to drop her baby any second and the doctor only let her attend because the con was closer to the hospital than her house. We got three selfies with her and I have my eyes shut in two of them. In the third one, her head is down. If anyone wants to Photoshop my open eyes onto one of the good ones hit me up. I’ll get you a $5 Starbucks (pun intended) card or give you a handy.

I need to reiterate how great Willie was during all this. He kept doing his baby things, you know, slobbering, puking, occasionally crying, but he weathered it all like a champ and we kept getting stopped for photos every five minutes. I lost count of how many people got our pics but our classic Doctor Who cosplay was obviously off the chain.

We got through Catherine Tate autograph line first and she laughed when I told my terrible Michael Scott joke, which goes, “Gina says I’m her Jim but I’m definitely more of a Michael Scott.” I also thanked her for being so real in Doctor Who. She really was the most human companion, and that’s the companion’s job. You can’t identify with a fucking space wizard. The people around him are supposed to be YOU.

I am the luckiest man on Earth.

We wrapped it up waiting an hour for John Barrowman to make his final appearance. In the meantime, Mark Hamill’s handlers had whisked him away and he still had thirty people in line. The fans proceeded to mutiny and wouldn’t stop threatening the staff with lawsuits until they went and dragged him back. It actually worked, which was one of the few fan victories this weekend. Norman Reedus and Jeffrey Dean Morgan ended up showing for only a couple of hours because of some scheduling mishap. There were hundreds of people who had to be issued refunds and they are pissed. Just check the Facebook page.

Our third meetup with John Barrowman was worth the wait. He said hello to Willie again, and he complimented our costumes. He actually apologized for misidentifying Gina’s outfit earlier at the photo op, and he and I compared watches. He’s a class act.

I keep saying I’m not coming back to Fan Expo. They are notorious for booking people who cancel at the last minute, overbooking celebrities who cannot possibly work through the number of tickets sold, and bad line management. I love small hotel cons where you actually get face time with people and make real connections. Everyone knows large cons are Disneyland but FanExpo can’t even get that shit straight. They aren’t Six Flags. They’re a carnival full of meth heads and rusty Tilt-A-Whirls with diesel smoke belching out the top and they’re in way over their heads.

This is the fifth annual event they’ve held and the third I’ve attended. The crowd management issues have increased exponentially and I’m not sure what it would take to get me back, except maybe Matt Smith, who they’re having at their secondary event, Fan Days, in October. You motherfuckers. I wish I could quit you.

In any case, we’ll be doing Friday and going home Saturday. This one was hell, and it was worth it, but I can’t endanger my child and exhaust my wife battling overcapacity crowds and unmanageable lines. Get your shit together, Dallas FanExpo.

We’ll be headed to WhoFest 4 in May and we’ll spend a weekend with Peter Davision and a few dozen other hardcore Whovians. Well also swing by Texas Frightmare to meet Malcolm McDowell. Small cons like those are where the magic happens, and that’s where I keep saying I’m going to spend my time, but this goddamned FanExpo keeps dragging me back for more punishment.

I’ll skip the angry email this year. They obviously didn’t read mine last year when I described the stunning innovations of roped-off areas and better space management. Maybe they’ve outgrown the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center but I’m not sure where they could go from there. If this is all the fourth biggest city in the United States can offer, well, maybe it’s all we deserve.

I’ll see you bastards again in October when Matt Smith inevitably cancels at the last minute like he’s done on us two times before. I’m starting to believe they’d never booked him in the first place and it was a charade meant to sell more tickets. I mean, The Crown is a great show, but Matt can’t really be up to all that much, can he?