Monday, September 19, 2016

Phantom at Dragon Con 2016 – Day 2

If you haven’t read Day 1 – Thursday yet, it’s right here!

It is, unfortunately, inevitable that every year I will start at least one of these recaps by saying I didn’t feel very good in the morning. To one degree or another.

I didn’t feel very good Friday morning. As I detailed in the last installment, I didn’t drink all day on Thursday and tried to make up for it after wrestling was done at night. Fortunately I wasn’t too successful quantity-wise and only felt mildly shitty the next morning rather than having a full-on, chunk-blowing hangover. As has happened in previous years.

Also fortunately, our pal Beth V was meeting Oz (also known as Popeye the Sailor Moon) in my room so that she could curl his hair.

What? It’s Dragon Con.

Beth hooked me up with some Emergen C, which replenished my body’s vital blah blah blah and helped me to feel better. Shortly after imbibing that not-quite-miracle cure I was up and about and took a shower, which helped more than anything else to make me feel human. Pro-tip, kids – when you feel shitty, take a shower. It might not be a miracle cure, but it sure does help.

Speaking of things that help, there is a place in the Peachtree Mall food court called The Farmer’s Basket. They have a bunch of fried food and Chinese stuff, but they also have some halfway healthy offerings. This is the second year that I have eaten there as a form of recovery and it works well. I like to get their grilled chicken with fried rice, fried okra, and a piece of cornbread. The grilled chicken is moist and delicious and seasoned with something tasty. The fried stuff obviously isn’t the best for you, but it’s lightly done and not too greasy. The fried rice almost seems healthy. Their cornbread is so good it’s like dessert. One order lasts me two meals, so I consider this place a bargain.

By the time I was done eating I was good to go. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have the pre-panel nervousness that I sometimes get.

Actually, “nervous” isn’t even the right word. It’s more about being in the groove. There are many different factors that affect how “on” I am for panels. I don’t get nervous, but I do fall into this thing where I might not be as excited. But on Friday I had two panels – Toy Stories and The Shining vs. The Shining – and I was revved up for both of them. Actually, I was pretty darn excited for everything I had going on this year, as you know if you’ve been listening to the Needless Things Podcast.

Normally I try to wear different gear for each panel, but Friday’s were close enough together temporally and far enough apart geographically that a costume change wasn’t practical. A mask change and a switch of lapel pins – from Inhumanoid Tendril to Room 237 carpet pattern – was as good as I was going to be able to manage.

If you attended any of my panels this year you might have noticed that I didn’t give anything away like I usually do. There are two reasons for this – I lug enough stuff down to Con as it is and that stuff costs money. I have a very limited budget for my Phantom-related activities and this year in particular I have had to cut some corners, despite starting I do my best to make my panels as interactive as possible, so that’s going to have to be its own reward. Besides, does anyone really need Dollar Tree figures and Bigfoot whistles?

Since I didn’t have Phantom’s big, purple bucket of goodies, all I had to carry was my toys, my voice recorder, and my water bottle. Plus the messenger bag full of crap I keep with me just in case. Business cards, tape, pins, mints, backup battery – that kind of stuff. Yeah, I’m never more than twenty minutes from my room, but you never know. As I learned in the Boy Scouts – double knot your belt at night.

No, wait – be prepared. That’s what I learned. The belt thing is just a subcategory of that.
The American Sci-Fi Classics Track was in a bigger room this year with a far, far better design. Unfortunately it was also located down what appeared to be a service corridor. The first time I visited I felt like I was venturing into a part of the Marriott where I should not be. It was a little odd and hard to find and I’m going to blame that for the fact that there were only twelve people at the Toy Stories panel.


After a reasonably full room and tons of positive feedback last year, it was extremely disheartening to see such a low attendance level. I have to tell you – when I sat at the table and looked at the room, I didn’t even want to do the panel anymore. Obviously that wasn’t an option. Plus, Rebeccah, Noel, Sean, and Gary were all there, so at the very least I was going to get a fun podcast episode out of it (which you can listen to here).

Sometimes I feel that I need to share stories about being a dum-dum so that you guys can laugh and feel better about your own lives. This is one of those times.

I did not bring my laptop to Dragon Con this year because I realized there wasn’t anything I would need to do that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish with my phone. One less thing to haul. Normally I charge my voice recorder by plugging it into a PC USB port. Since I didn’t have one, I had plugged it into my phone’s charger earlier in the day, assuming that would work just fine.

When the recorder is plugged in, a message pops up that says “Preparing to Charge – Press ‘OK’ to Continue”. I pressed “OK”, but it did not continue. I unplugged it and turned it on and off and did everything I could think of, but it wouldn’t start charging.

Oh, well. Supposedly it can record something like twenty hours on one charge, so I figured I’d be fine for the weekend. I just like to keep my devices charged, my gas tank full, my beer bag stocked, etc.

Once I got situated at the toy panel I pulled out my recorder, switched it on, and found that the buttons still wouldn’t respond. SHIT. Bad enough we barely had a sufficient quantity of people in the room to form a jury; I wasn’t even going to be able to record the thing for a podcast because my normally excellent voice recorder had gone kaput.

Fortunately, our pal Sean, aka Rad Ranger, had his own recorder handy (because someday he’ll record episode 3 of Radical Bear’s Ranger Red Radcast; Reformed). Be sure to thank him for episode 125 of the Needless Things Podcast when you see him.

I later discovered that I had been inadvertently sliding the power button on my own recorder into the “Lock” position. This had never been a problem before and I don’t know why it was then. But at least I don’t have to buy a new voice recorder because that would probably spell the financial end of the Needless Things Podcast.

Despite the lowest attendance for any panel I have ever been on, let alone hosted, we had fun. We drew things out in an attempt to wait for Joe Crowe to return from a Judge Reinhold panel, but unfortunately Joe didn’t make it in time to show everyone his Big Jim.

After the panel I wanted to head straight over to the Westin, where the Horror Track was located and where The Shining panel was taking place. This was my first event with the Horror Track and my first panel at the Westin. I wanted to allow plenty of time to get there. And I did.

The Shining panel was at 7 PM, but I got to the Westin before 6. I decided I had plenty of time to run over to AmericasMart and find my pal, Mike Gordon. On the way there I ran into another pal, Brian Blaze, and we proceeded into the labyrinthine structure that is the AmericasMart collection of buildings.

I’ve been wanting to talk to Blaze for a while about comics and whatnot, but usually when we’re in proximity he’s wrestling and I’m shouting things. Sometimes into a microphone, sometimes not. This was a cool opportunity to shoot the nerd shit, as it were.

My thoughts on AmericasMart:

Everything at Dragon Con needed more space. That is a fact. I truly believe that Dragon Con has utilized AmericasMart in the best way possible to increase the available space and over the course of the past couple of years get attendees used to going there. Five years from now nobody will be complaining about it anymore. Maybe three, even.

I do not like AmericasMart. It’s confusing and somehow, despite being a much larger space than either the Hyatt or Marriott rooms it has replaced, feels cramped and confined. There are also issues with capacity. I didn’t run into them myself, but I heard about them.
All of that being said, there simply weren’t any other options.

We never did find Mike Gordon. Despite his big ol’ Tiki hut table, I couldn’t track him down. Me and Blaze wandered through various artists and dealers before I had to head off to find the room that my panel was in.

As I mentioned before, I don’t really get nervous before panels anymore. But I did have some trepidation about meeting the Horror Track folks for the first time. I had talked to Derek plenty (some of which you can listen to here) and had actually run into him and John Ichabod Anderson on Thursday, but I didn’t know anyone else involved with the track. You never know how people are going to feel about newcomers; especially newcomers in goofy wrestling masks.

Fortunately, everyone was great. We had a wonderful, engaging conversation about the various versions of The Shining and I think the audience really dug what we were doing. You’ll be able to hear the full panel on an upcoming episode of the Needless Things Podcast, though it is going to take some editing. Sound levels weren’t great and I believe we were right under an air conditioning unit (which is better than not having an air conditioning unit).

After the panel I headed back to my room to beer up and eat the rest of my grilled chicken. There was only a little bit of time before Bean and Bear’s SECRET SHOW.

If you don’t know Bean and Bear, they’re best friends and two of the most entertaining people I have ever seen in my life. I know that I say that a lot and that you might think that I am prone to hyperbole, but I honestly feel that I’ve just been incredibly fortunate.

On Friday night at Dragon Con, Bean and Bear put on a SECRET SHOW called Up Past Bedtime with Bean and Bear. I was hipped to the fact that it was a pajama jammy jam beforehand, so Oz and I showed up appropriately attired. Someday the world may get a full-body view of my magnificent luchador footy pajamas (that are hotter than fresh waffles), but today is not that day.

While waiting for the doors to open I got to talk to both Bean and Bear, who give what might be the best hugs I have ever received. I am well acquainted with the pair, as you might remember from last year’s Christmas Puckin’ Fuppet Show:

(Bean not pictured, as her performance was what we were watching at the time)
We also chatted with a new friend named Crystal, who loves wrestling and puppetry and was awesome enough to save us seats up front! Making friends at Dragon Con is the best. I meet more new people there than I do the whole rest of the year.

Granted, that’s because I’m basically a shut-in, but it’s still nice.

BIGGEST NEWS OF FRIDAY – I got to be a part of Bean and Bear’s show! Their dog, scraps, needed several people to jump over, so I was one of five or so that got down on our hands and knees for the stunt. Not my biggest moment (or my first time in that position), but being a part of anything that those two do is special.

I’m now realizing that Friday night was a whirlwind of fun, as right after the SECRET SHOW we headed over to the Hyatt to see Shooter Jennings.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Shooter Jennings. I had read up on him a little bit prior to Con just to try and figure out what the heck he was doing there, but didn’t listen to anything. I find I’m much more apt to dig an artist if I hear them live first, and I didn’t want any preconceptions. With as varied as his musical resume was, what if I just happened to pick the one song that wasn’t my thing?

Well, walking into the ballroom I got the complete opposite end of that spectrum of possibilities. Jennings and his band were just kicking into a song that reminded me very much of early Ministry. And I don’t mean The Land of Rape and Honey. I’m talking With Sympathy. Shooter was in the middle of the stage manning a synthesizer, decked out in a white suit and some aviator glasses. I don’t know what I expected, but this was not it. I was hooked.

From there, Jennings pulled out a guitar and plowed into a very heavy, anthemic rock song, then into a more twangy country tune. He and the band flowed into and out of genres deftly, putting together one of the more eclectic and entertaining performances I’ve ever seen.
Before I knew it, Shooter Jennings was thanking the crowd and Dragon Con and bringing the show to a close. I had just stayed through his entire set. Only two other bands have kept me for their whole show at Dragon Con – The Misfits and Calabrese. There’s just so much other stuff to do, you have to be pretty compelling to get somebody’s time.

After the show I was determined to stop by his table and pick up some music, particularly the 80s synth stuff (which I learned was mostly from Countach (For Giorgio)). I’ll get into that experience in part 4 of this recap, but suffice it to say Shooter Jennings has a new fan.

And with that, my night pretty much came to a close. I took it easy on the booze and was in bed by 2 AM. I was scheduled for the Horror Track’s panel on being a parent and a horror fan, and it was the one I was most excited about the whole weekend (I don’t think of the game show as a panel). I wanted to be sure to be rested and sober.

This was one of the best Fridays I’ve had at Con. Since wrestling was on Thursday, it felt like everything was happening on this whole extra day. It was all a bonus and it was all great, even the under-attended Toy Stories panel.

At the time, I felt like it was time to pull the plug on Toy Stories; at Dragon Con, at least. I couldn’t see any reason to continue something that had drawn so poorly. But this was the first such miserable showing for anything I’ve done and I don’t think I can give up after just one bomb. So as long as the Powers That Be allow it, I’ll be back with another Toy Stories next year.

PLEASE SHOW UP. And bring toys.

Come back next week for day three 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 all the best in dorkery!  

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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