For four days over Labor Day weekend every year, I go to Atlanta and get my nerd on.
If you haven't heard of DragonCon, thousands of the nerd-inclined descend upon five hotels to see panels, meet celebrities, game into the night and drink until Monday morning. It's one big party that doesn't stop even if you do because, you know, sleep.
This was my seventh year. I was in the parade Saturday morning -- I was one of two Jubilees (from X-Men).
If you can think of a fandom, it's represented, including Star both Wars and Trek, Ghostbusters, Disney, horror, and YA fiction (particularly the heroines). The streets are packed with spectators from curb to building and even more line up on higher levels of parking garages and restaurants.
There's something for everyone at DragonCon, and usually so many somethings that you can't do everything you set out to do. For example, I had to bail on Patrick Stewart's panel as the line was wrapped around the Marriott worse than I'd ever seen it. I also had to pass up the Zombie Walk down the streets of Atlanta and Zombie Prom due to already being mostly dead by Sunday night.
For "Doctor Who" fans, some amazing person always sets up a full scale TARDIS outside the Grand ballroom in the Sheraton. It's a photo op in its own right and I took an inebriated selfie or four with it this year.
One night, an impromptu singalong of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" broke out in the Sheraton lobby. I jumped in with other complete strangers. There were about twenty of us, including an almost dead ringer for Jon Snow from "Game of Thrones." A man dressed as Captain Sisko from "Deep Space Nine" directed us and dragged Jon Snow into the center.
More than anything else this year, I wanted to see both of James and Sean Gunn's panels and meet them.
James Gunn is the writer and director of "Guardians of the Galaxy," which is now the highest grossing film of 2014. His brother, Sean, was Kraglin, Yondu's right hand man in Guardians and the on-set Rocket.
You also probably know him as the slightly odd and totally loveable Kirk from "Gilmore Girls."
James was doing a free signing from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday. Around noon, the line was already capped. Word spread fast that people had lined up at at least 10 a.m., with some saying the first people got there at 7:30 a.m.
This is notable because DragonCon isn't like Comic Con where you line up for more than two hours to do anything.
I decided to wait for a chance just in case, along with my new con friends who were as determined as I was: a man dressed as The Strobe from James' movie The Specials, a Star-Lord from Guardians, and a woman with a Supernatural lanyard who I referred to as my Winchester sister. For the next hour and a half, we stood steady near the end of the cut off line, faking walking away when a surly volunteer tried to make us leave and pretending we were getting complimentary water when an actual cop told us we had to disperse.
Major kudos to my Winchester sister for downing water like her life depended on it to keep the "oh, I'm just refilling my bottle" act going.
Eventually, Star-Lord and The Strobe convinced Surly Volunteer that no one in the growing crowd was leaving and if they really wanted to obey all fire regulations and clear the exit doors, they should hand out numbers for overflow people. My crew got numbers one through four -- and while we did disperse, we only moved about five feet to the right.
By the time we got close to James, it was 3 p.m., well within his signing time. While we waited, we took group selfies. I snapped a photo with an extremely well crafted Groot, made and worn by Lee Hurley of Hurley FX.
I don't even remember what I said to James when it was my turn. I'm sure I thanked him, asked him to sign my poster and for a photo with him. He was as lovely and friendly as I'd hoped he would be and it was well worth all the trouble. Sean seemed surprised I wanted him to sign anywhere on my poster and not in the far bottom corner. I told him I was a longtime fan from Gilmore Girls and other projects, like Sparky and Mikaela.
Yeah, Sean. You're awesome.
My ragtag group of rebels took a last photo together and went our separate ways. There were panels to go to, friends to meet up with, other autographs to acquire. Now that it's over, even though a lot of it was a total exercise in anxiety, the line experience was the best part. Thanks for the great time, my fellow Guardians of the Line.
Part of the reason DragonCon rocks is there are dozens of panels going on at any given moment during the day. My friend is a "Once Upon a Time" fan and I went with her to the panel on Saturday. It was big lineup: Rebecca Mader (Zelena/Wicked Witch), Sean Maguire (Robin Hood), Robbie Kay (Peter Pan), Giancarlo Esposito (Magic Mirror on OUAT, Gus Fring on "Breaking Bad"), Beverley Elliott (Granny) and Lee Arenberg (Grumpy).
Women and girls in the audience were especially screamy for Robbie Kay, while Sean Maguire was very funny and charming. Someone asked the cast if they'd be open to a musical episode and Rebecca sang a few lines from the megahit "Let It Go" ("Frozen"), proving she can sing. The cast has a great rapport with each other, making the panel fun even though I don't watch the show.
It also alleviated some fears I had about meeting Giancarlo Esposito. I had seen a photo online of Giancarlo holding a box cutter to a fan’s throat at a convention and I wanted that for my own photo with him.
I doubt con security would have understood that my "Breaking Bad" fangirlness needed to bring a box cutter with me.
Luckily, Giancarlo must get this request all the time as he had a box of green box cutters right on his table available for autographs. From the looks of the mostly empty box, a lot of people took him up on that. I didn't know how to say to his handler "Please, can he hold this sharp instrument against my throat?" -- but thankfully, the guy in front of me asked for it first.
The blade stayed in the green case, of course.
When it was my turn, Giancarlo, who is beyond kind and exuberant, gladly granted my request. He spun the box cutter as I walked over and switched to his Gus Fring face as he put his arm around my neck. Afterwards, his huge grin returned and we hugged.
Cary Elwes of "The Princess Bride" and "Men in Tights" fame can charm anybody into anything. He convinced about a third of the audience at his second panel to sign onto Amazon right then and pre-order his book, As You Wish, about the making of "The Princess Bride." He also did this when I met him earlier that day but he's so charismatic that you don't mind the sales pitch.
In science news, Beakman of "Beakman's World" did an entire panel in character.
No offense to Bill Nye but when I was a kid, Beakman (Paul Zaloom) was totally my science guy. There weren't any sidekicks (RIP, Lester) but he brought volunteers up to the stage. Not only was I entertained by experiments and facts on bats, center of gravity, and air pressure but so were the kids in the room.
There were five little girls who didn't know each other sitting in the aisle next to me, hypnotized by the show onstage. They stretched out on the floor just like I had done decades ago watching Beakman on TV. Zaloom ended it with a demonstration on how air pressure can shoot a roll of toilet paper across the room like streamers. I wish he'd done a brief Q&A after but considering I had time traveled back to my childhood, I really can't complain.
Everything went so fast. The dealer rooms were packed, even on Monday afternoon, when most people go home. (I walked away with only a pair of socks from the SockDreams booth, a miracle by usual con standards.)
I went to say goodbye to the TARDIS but it was already gone, like it had never even been there. I'll see it next year though. I've already got my room booked.