Monday, September 12, 2016

Phantom at Dragon Con 2016 – Day 1

77,000 human beings - the final official attendance number for this year’s Dragon Con. That’s just crazypants. And yet, it didn’t seem quite as crowded or hectic as it usually does. I discussed this with Mike Gordon on the last Needless Things Podcast, and I’ll be taking a look at it here, as well.

But I’m not here just to talk about numbers and statistics. I never want to talk about numbers and statistics. I want to talk about fun and hard work and living the dream of entertaining people at the greatest science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture convention known to man!

It’s time for my annual recap of what went down at Dragon Con.

This year was very different for me in a lot of ways, but, as is always the case, was even better than last year.

I got as early a start as I ever have Thursday morning and managed to arrive at the Hilton around 10 AM. I love the Hilton. The staff there has always been fantastic, the rooms are spacious and nice, and the hotel itself is pleasant to be in. The elevator situation doesn’t seem quite as bad as the Marriott or the Hyatt and the floor layout makes sense to me. Convenience-wise it isn’t exactly in the middle of the convention, but it’s easy enough to get to the other hotels or the Peachtree Mall food court.

If only they’d build a sky bridge from the Hilton to the Courtland Parking Garage, all of my dreams could be reality.

I had no problems checking in and getting my suitcase to the room. I had a ton of other stuff and had resigned myself to making several trips to the car rather than loading up and struggling with all of my bags and tubs of props and whatnot.

I suppose I should provide a little backstory here.

While filming promotional stuff for this year’s Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show I threw my back out. BAD. You see, years ago I fell off of the roof of our old house. I didn’t break anything and wasn’t even seriously injured, but I did have to use a cane to get around for a couple of weeks and was in considerable pain. It also left me with a dodgy back that will sometimes seize up due to minor movements in the wrong direction or even for seemingly no reason at all. It doesn’t happen often and is much more likely when I’m at my maximum heft, which I am currently not.

But after jumping around like a nincompoop I was left with the worst back situation I have had since the roof fall. I literally could not stand up straight and had a lot of trouble walking around. Being at work in a chair for twelve hours was even more miserable than usual and wasn’t helping me to recover. Normally I’m okay after two or three days, but after a week I still wasn’t back to normal. I went to see the doctor the Monday before Con and he prescribed a very mild muscle relaxer. I took it as directed for two days, then doubled up on Thursday morning before heading down to Con with the intention of that being my final dose.

I’m pleased to report that the Thursday morning dose was, indeed my final. The worst I experienced all weekend was a little tightness, and even that wasn’t as bad as I usually get during Con. I tend to wear unusual shoes that aren’t the best, but this year I put insoles in everything.

Anyway, there’s the backstory.

BACKstory. HA!

Given all of that, I planned to take it easy loading all of my various costumes and props and whatever into the room. Four trips if necessary.

It seems that fortune was smiling upon me, though, because on the way back down from my room the first time I ran into a hotel employee hauling two of those big luggage cart things. I asked if I could use one and she handed one over with a smile. It was truly a Dragon Con miracle.

In all the years that I have been staying at Dragon Con, I have never managed to get one of those carts. I practically danced down to my car and experienced pure joy with each item that I loaded onto the cart. Once I was done, I had to share my good fortune with the world:

Seriously, you guys – I know this might seem ridiculous, but I can’t even tell you how joyous I was over this. Knowing that I was going to be able to get all of that junk up to my room in one easy trip was the best possible start to what promised to be a great and memorable weekend.

Once everything was unloaded I had to endure probably the most unpleasant event of the whole weekend – securing my room for 2017. The Hilton has a voucher system that allows you to book a room for next year if you are a guest for the current year. It’s great and saves a lot of hassle and stress, but it also sucks because you have to take the voucher and go stand in a line for anywhere from one to three hours. At the Hyatt, they simply ask if you want to go ahead and book your room for the next year and do it with the press of a button when you check in.

When I got back to the lobby the voucher line looked like one of the three hour variety, so I passed it and headed to the Marriott to pick up my badge. I doubted it would get too much worse and it was almost lunchtime, so people might be otherwise occupied soon.

Badge pickup was, as always, easy. Kudos to Dragon Con for making it as simple as possible for Guests and Pros. I heard the Attendee badge situation was not so great this year. If you guys had some experience with that, I’d love to hear about it.

Back at the Hilton the voucher line was considerably shorter, so I got in and after about an hour I had my 2017 room booked. Nice.

The only event on my schedule was wrestling and I have to say that I am now ONE  HUNDRED PERCENT in favor of DCW taking place on Thursday night. More on that in a minute.

Once I was all costumed up I headed over to the Hyatt. There’s a good bit of pre-show prep for DCW, so I wanted to get there as soon as I could. It’s nice to have plenty of time to talk to the folks that run the show and as many of the boys as I can. After checking in there I met up with Rad Ranger and we headed over to the Regency V ballroom to scope out the space where we would be performing the game show. There were some Tech Ops guys in there and they were awesome. We talked to them about what we needed and they explained what kind of equipment they had and what the room would be set up for on Saturday night. All weekend long those guys were helpful and informative. I found finally getting to work directly with them to be a great experience.

Photo courtesy of our pal, Ryan Cadaver!

Speaking of great experiences, wrestling was going to be different his year. For the first time ever DCW was going to be streaming live on DCTV, complete with commentary from yours truly. With 77,000 attendees, there was the opportunity for 77 times as many people as watch TNA every week to hear my voice.

A few weeks ago when I found out we’d be streaming I started campaigning for a second announcer. I know most of the boys, but I don’t know them all. And we get new talent every year. Fortunately, Lord Michael Gentry was recruited. He has worked in many promotions in every job imaginable and actually has a database of wrestlers. It’s impressive.

At 7 PM, Lord Michael and I made our way to the announce table to call the first-ever live broadcast of Dragon Con Wrestling. I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I was certainly excited and very aware of the situation. So when the mics started dropping out I knew we had to just keep going. We tried swapping them, sitting in different spots, changing channels and turning them off and back on (of course). But we couldn’t get out more than a few sentences without one of them dying.

Eventually someone from Tech Ops showed up and hooked us up with some better microphones. These sounded better in the room and on the broadcast and didn’t drop out. Once we got that sorted out I felt like me and Lord Michael had a pretty solid chemistry, especially for our first night working together. It’s hard to stay focused when your gear is failing, but faulty tech has been a factor in almost every live performance I’ve ever been a part of, so I’m used to it.

The show was very good. I think the pacing and action were both a step above a standard DCW show. It felt like everything really clicked this year. We hit ninety-five percent capacity in the ballroom and retained the audience far better than I can remember from previous years.

I love DCW. I love working it, I love watching the show, and I love the people involved. I miss doing the recaps the way that I used to do them, but it’s virtually impossible now for a variety of reasons. One thing is for sure, though – I’ll be sitting at that announce table every year for as long as they’ll have me.

After wrestling it was party time. I didn’t have anything scheduled until 4:30 on Friday. I didn’t want to get too wasted because a hangover eats up your morning, but it was nice to know that I didn’t have any responsibilities for a while.

Before I could party I had to head back to my room to get my beer bag. I have an insulated messenger-style bag that has served me well for years now. I prefer it to a backpack because it’s easier to get into and it doesn’t screw up the profile of a suit. And I’m usually wearing a suit of some kind. On the way I found some kind of crazy outdoor rave in front of the Marriott. There were a few guys with audio and lighting equipment hooked up to them as part of their costumes and they were playing KMFDM, which I will always stop for. It was kind of like Wednesday night at The Masquerade from way back when.

Inside the Marriott I found Beau Brown, Joshua Holden, Stacey Gordon, and a whole gaggle of puppeteers. Last year I observed the official start of Dragon Con at midnight with that crew, but this year I realized I had a crew of my own that I needed to find. I knew Oz and Rad Ranger were around somewhere, so I set off to find the before the fateful hour.
I didn’t find those guys at that point, but I did run into the Hooligans. The clock struck midnight, Dragon Con started, and everything was right with the world.

I did find Rad Ranger and Oz, and even Ryan Cadaver and Nicole and some combination of the resultant group headed off to look for a rave, concert, or whatever.

Special shout-out to the furry Deadpool girl with the llama. I didn't get up to too many questionable hijinx this year, but when you see furry Deadpool girl with a llama, there's no way around taking an off-color photograph. I wish I had gotten a better picture of her costume, too becasue she actually looked great beyond just having my favorite goofy look of this year's Con. It's magic like this that can push the first night of Con over the top into something truly special.

I believe I got back to my room around 3 AM after everyone else dropped out. The next morning was... not great. But I'll talk about that next time.

This was a very good night at Dragon Con. I always enjoyed the Hooligans dinner at Trader Vic’s, but it occurs to me now that I can go and eat at Trader Vic’s anytime; and with most of those same folks. DCW only comes once a year. And with it being on Thursday night, Friday ended up feeling like a whole extra day of Dragon Con. Can you think of anything better than that? Plus, I had a day in between DCW and the game show for my voice to recover!
Come back Wednesday for my rundown of the very best stuff from this month’s Previews comic shop catalog, and then next week for day two of my Dragon Con recap. In the meantime, check Needless Things every day for new and original content from Beth, Jerry, Devlin, Christina, and all of the Needless Things Irregulars!

You can follow Phantom Troublemaker on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for Dragon Con news!  

If you’re here checking out Dragon Con stuff and haven’t visited Needless Things before, thanks for coming by. Our writers post five times a week about toys, movies, music, and all manner of pop culture dorkery. The Needless Things Podcast posts once a week, usually on Friday. Come back after Dragon Con for full coverage of what went down, as well as audio recordings of our panels.

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