So where to begin? I guess I should begin with the beginning, move through the middle and stop at the end. It's logical, isn't it? Trust me, I'll deviate from the flight plan a number of times before this is over.
Thursday morning saw the arrival of Jen, sometime around 11:30ish. Roho was running late, something he had sort of expected would happen, given some situations that had come up at his place of work. His arrival at around 2:00pm made sure I had time to gather up all my travel bags and have some semblance of order for their loading into his car (No, I could not find my triple-damned Browning cap. I gave up and ordered a new one from Bass Pro Shop's online site, only to discover I could have had Jen pick one up for me on her drive down from Milwaukee) and double-check my readiness for the trip. Jen kvetched once or twice that I was being an overwhelming geek by bringing along my laptop and my Mind, but I was sort of expecting that. Yes, I am a geek, and I'm fine with that... it all worked out.
Once Roho arrived we made short work of loading up the back of his car, hopping in and heading for the road... only to decide that Jen and I needed a bite to eat before we really got rolling. This lead to a brief stop at the local KFC so that we could get a much needed meal. We made short work of our food and then hit the highway. We could tell straight away that it was definitely Labor Day Weekend. It was only 3:00pm on a Thursday and the roads were already beginning to show signs of congestion. What made things even more difficult was the immense amount of roadwork being done on some of the more traffic-prone strips of road (namely I-294). We saw copious amounts of stupidity occurring, such as people attempting to cross lanes of traffic through construction areas (I wonder how that vehicle ever made it out of there) and some wit who thought they'd beat the traffic by running down the blocked-off section of road having to back their land yacht through the orange barrels... it seems the portion of road they'd been tearing through had suddenly stopped (the barrels had slowly been merging together, presenting the driver with an obstacle they couldn't get around). Boy, did I feel vindicated by that.
Finally freed of construction, we made fairly good time. Roho and I had merged our respective travel CD collections in his six-disc changer, ensuring that we had some good, random music to listen to. This helped keep us awake, sociable and aware of our surroundings. I got to take my turn at driving the car, and was really quite impressed by it. I don't think I've been converted entirely away from my passion for American muscle but maybe, just maybe, there's a small bit of subversion going on. Very little of note happened along the trip, aside from my getting very excited about a stretch of 57 that had old glass insulators still intact next to a railroad track (Jen thinks I'm nuts). I may go down there and pilfer a few for my mother as a Christmas gift -- she collects them, and I think maybe some of the ones I grab will be new to her collection... or at least I hope they will be. Also of amusing note was the strange accosting that Roho took at a rest stop on the way down... the janitor at that rest stop was standing right behind Roho while he was attempting to relieve himself, and further unnerved the poor fennec by speaking in what can only be described as "tongues" in a low and mumbly voice. I was spared this insanity by taking a stall and hiding in there.
We pulled in to the hotel at around 10:45pm, making our trip a good 8.5 hours or so, which isn't too shabby. Registration for the con was still going and the lines were fairly short, so I felt we'd arrived at an opportune moment. I went up to the hotel desk to pick up the room keys, leaving Jen and Roho to decide what they wanted to do (get dinner, etc).
That's when the bullshit began.
After standing in line for ten or fifteen minutes (the hotel only had one clerk staffing the main desk) I had heard several gripes from the other hotel guests... and I was beginning to think this wasn't such a hot place. This suspicion was confirmed when I attempted to confirm my room and get the keys... the clerk told me that my reservation had been cancelled. "Uh, why?" I asked. I was told that since I hadn't arrived at the check-in cutoff my reservation had been scrapped. "You scrap reservations for con attendees?" was my incredulous response. Oh, no, just people who have non-guaranteed reservations. "What? You mean my reservation... isn't?" No, it was just non-guaranteed. Well, that's bull, because when I'd called three days before to inquire if they needed a credit card to hold it they'd told me no, that wasn't necessary, even if I was coming in late. Stupid me, I believed somebody who answered the phone and appeared to be in posession of a clue (Oh yes, and I should mention that by now I had noticed the hotel security staff walking around, quite visibly carring handguns -- this is far from reassuring to me). At this point I'm becoming a little frustrated. "Well, we can get you a room. Smoking or non-smoking?" I told her that either was fine. "Well, it's a handicapped room." I don't care. "You're sure?" Yes, I'm goddamn fucking sure, and I told her that I didn't care what it was so long as she just give me a room so that I had somewhere to sleep after travelling for almost 9 hours. While she was setting up the room keys I asked if the hotel did airline miles, and got a blank stare. "Airline miles. United? A company that flies silver birds into the sky with people inside them?" Vague comprehension, and a "Well, I'll find out." I never got an answer that night. In disgust I took my keys and walked back to where Jen and Roho were standing, so that we could take our place in line for registration. That was a pretty quick, painless affair. I was impressed by it, although there did seem to be some rather extraneous bantering that slowed things down... but since we were almost the only people in line and it was late on a Thursday night I don't see reason to really complain. Once our group had secured our badges we made our way to the hotel bar... which had closed.
Well, shit. So much for a relaxing, much-needed drink.
We struck out for parts unknown, searching for our room, following instructions that originally didn't make much sense. We quickly discovered that the layout of this hotel was a little odd, which shed some light on why we had been given such strange directions to our room. Once we got to the ground floor, where our room was, we were greeted by the ever-so-lovely presence of one big ass cockroach, which I quickly dispatched. This whole thing was leaving me with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
The hotel room itself was not too shabby -- two full-sized beds, an air conditioner which was enthusiastically lowering the room temperature to a chilly 62 degrees, an entertainment center of sorts, and a recliner couch that was mighty tempting. Roho and I took a quick peek at the TV and discovered that they'd made it "tamper proof" by adding a form of collar around the coax cable so that you couldn't remove it. We decided we'd deal with it in the morning, since Roho's PS2 didn't have the prerequisite parts to hook into a TV with anything less than RCA cables at this point. Jen, Roho and I crashed out in short order and slept fairly well. It was the next morning that I awoke, somewhat, to the sounds of Roho getting out of bed and fumbling around by the sink and the bathroom (The door to the bathroom was warped and wouldn't close without excessive force, and the switch for the bathroom light was on the OUTSIDE of the bathroom, not inside. Oh, and I should mention that there was NO exhaust fan to speak of inside there... this will come back to haunt us later). A few moments of silence, then the sound of running water... and then a yelp of dismay that I had no idea Roho could give voice to. Water ran for another few minutes, then the shower came on and I dozed back off. I woke up again when Roho emerged from the bathroom, sputtering a little and toweling off his hair. "Guys, I don't mean to alarm you... but the water that came out of the spigot was the color of a fine merlot." Well, there's a line to wake you up. It didn't do much to make me feel better about the hotel room, knowing that our bathroom was acting out scenes from The Shining. Fortunately, Jen and I were able to take our respective showers without too much going awry. I did come to hate that lack of an exhaust fan, though -- every time I stepped out of the shower it was visibility of zero feet because of all the steam trapped in there. Not to mention the tiles were very flat and very smooth, lending themselves to a slipperiness when wet that could only have been improved by adding a few quarts of Quaker State. Hilarity ensues....
Most of Friday was spent wandering the hotel and attempting to discern the schedule and layout, or driving around the greater Memphis area. Roho, Jen and I were out searching for PS2 parts (found a Toys 'R' Us that had what we needed later in the day, thanks to a helpful lady at the hotel desk), crossing state lines to buy booze (honest, officer, it was a mistake), dining at Denny's, buying pens, buying bandages and aspiring and attempting to find shampoo bottles that don't suck (it's just better if you don't ask... or better yet, ask Roho). Friday evening found us lounging in the hotel lobby, awaiting the arrival of the illustrious Koz and Aureth. The hotel lobby was an interesting open space in the middle of the building, with some pseudo-Roman architecture in there that would have been fascinating if I hadn't been so distracted by the floor of the lobby bouncing very noticeably for no apparent reason every five minutes or so. Sometimes it could be linked to very heavy-set people moving across the lounge, but other times it just happened spontaneously. Very eerie. Any ways... Koz showed up around 8:30pm or so, and it was pretty interesting to meet him in person. He was both what I expected and not what I expected at the same time. Regardless, the man is (even when tired from long drives, it seems) quite a bundle of energy... and rather fun to talk to and be around. He snuck up on Roho and managed to give him a good shock as a way of saying "hello." After he'd settled in to a chair across from Jen and myself the four of us shot the breeze for some time. Occasionally Koz passed a sketch book around, which afforded me the opportunity to see some material (mostly sketches, but the occasional completed drawing was in there) I'd never seen before, as well as the originals to several of the classics that I've seen or been part of (Damn you again, Roho, for that assless chaps remark). After we'd talked for a while we headed down to the general lounge/gaming area outside of the Dealer's Room, where I was introduced to the game of "Acquire" by Koz. Jen, Roho and I had our heads handed to us, which was little surprise. What was amusing was that a friend of Koz and Roho by the alias of FuzzyFox had appeared, and watched us for a good portion of the game, doing the occasional sketch and inserting some witty comments throughout the game. It was when we were about 3/4 of the way through the game that Aureth arrived at the hotel. He'd procured his room key (remember this, kids, we'll come back to it later) from the front desk, dropped his stuff in the room and been able to sniff us out in relatively short time. He sat by, idly bantering with Koz while we wrapped up the game. Once that was done we all went our respective ways, with Roho, Jen and I heading back to the room to ready for bed -- only to find our keys didn't work in the door anymore! Woohooo! We end up trooping BACK to the front desk, where I toss my key on the counter. "Okay, first you munge up my room reservation, and now my key doesn't work. Can you please fix this?" "Well, sir, if you rub these cards against metal or leave them next to your credit cards they'll get erased." Oh my, yes. Credit cards always spontaneously erase one another, so they're going to erase these magnetically encoded room keys too, right? I mean, everybody knows about the erasing-effect that credit cards have. I can put my AmEx next to your TV screen and watch it pull the color guns out of alignment! Watch my Discover card blank your floppy disks! Yes! Yes! Behold the power! Give me a break, lady. You botched our cards when you encoded Aureth's. I don't expect you to be sorry, but I do expect you to fix your mistakes and not try to blame them on me, especially since I kept the damned key in my shirt's breast pocket (Oh, wait, I forgot that denim shirts erase card keys too....). Any ways, my card got reset... and Roho's too, after I had to explain to her that he was also a guest in that room. When our group got back to the room I found that while Roho's card worked, as did mine, Aureth's and Jen's did not. Yay for the limitations of hotel card key systems. But what do you want from a box that reads a fifty-cent piece of plastic? We got them fixed the next day, any ways.
We woke up Saturday to the sound of an ear-splitting buzz, that went on for five minutes or so and then turned off. Ten minutes of blessed silence followed, which was broken by a fifteen to twenty-minute repeat of the fire alarm going off for no discernable reason (I later found out thanks to Koz that the hotel had announced to the dealers that they'd be testing the fire alarm system and not to be alarmed. Nice of them to inform the rest of the staff and guests). Later that day found me milling about the dealer's room. I bought some prints and portfolios from Koz. I perused the wares of the other dealers. I was idly considering getting a badge done but nobody there really caught my fancy. Later in the day, Roho, Jen, Aureth and I attended the charity auction for Tiger Haven, a big cat rescue and rehabilitation center, something I find to be very impressive and highly worthwhile. I didn't buy anything at the auction (although I donated to Tiger Haven later on by sponsoring a black leopard named Bagheera and buying a T-shirt with a lovely picture of a puma on it), and really wasn't impressed by how it was handled. They had a lot of merchandise for auction, a limited amount of time to sell it in and went about it at a snail's pace. The auctioneers were inexperienced, which was the biggest problem. That's not something I hold against them, because it's a hard job and takes practice. What did amaze and annoy me was the material that was presented. Some of it was really cool and should have gone for high prices -- and didn't. $60 or so was about the average price. Things that I couldn't see going for a very high price went nuts in bidding -- a skunk tail (tails are very popular to wear at furry conventions) that retails for $140 went for over $500. I'm a little at a loss to explain the difference in price between a piece of woodwork done by scroll saw (must have taken hours and hours of very meticulous work to complete) going for $50 and a skunk tail selling for ten times that. I dunno, and I don't think anybody can explain it to me. This difference in value just goes to further my very skewed opinion of Furry, with the saving grace being that all the proceeds of the auction went to help a worthy cause, so I won't complain too bitterly ($500 was about 1/6 of what the auction brought in at closing, so it helped a lot). Ah yes, getting back on topic... the other thing, beside the glacial pace set by the auctioneers (and how payment was immediate, often slowing the auction further) was the stuff that was for donated... half of it was stuff that had obvious retail value or sentimental value, and was cool with me. The other half, well, it was like the people who donated it thought it was more of a rummage sale. Occasionally an item that was donated by the auctioneers was brought up with a lead in like "Boy, am I glad to get rid of this..." I think they were searching for laughs, but it just made me think of "wow, a chance to unload something I don't want anymore! Here, buy it!" Again, I shouldn't bitch too heartily, as all the proceeds went to a worthy charity... but who in their right minds wants somebody's scraps? Ah well....
Jen and I left the auction after a span of time so long I can't bring myself to bear thinking about it. I was, at that point, feeling rather frustrated, anti-social and ill. We retired to the hotel room, where I napped on and off for a few hours. Jen slipped out to go socialize with the boys (Koz/Aureth/Roho/et all) and see the masquerade. I settled in to watch a movie and try to improve my mood, something that met with little to no success. She came back a while later, letting me know that Koz and Roho had gone off to get chow at the popular BBQ joint, and that Aureth was off doing... something. I don't recall exactly what. Once Jen had picked up the bottle of Skyy vodka I'd procured across the state line and slipped out again I tried to nap more and found I couldn't; instead I was just sitting in bed, fuming at the con, at the hotel, and at myself. As time ground on I ended up just getting more and more frustrated, so I slipped out of bed, tossed on a quick change of clothes, and stepped out for a breath of fresh air. That was around 10:00pm or so Saturday night... I didn't come back to the hotel room until 4:30 Sunday morning. Evidentially my absence was noted, because Jen had Koz and other folks combing the con for me, and she was quite upset I was absent without warning or note. I feel bad for upsetting her, as well as for making people who had better things that they wanted to do go looking for me, but at the same time I'm damned glad I snuck out of there. It was a much-needed breather and provided me distance from people who are generally annoying to me. This little jaunt gave me time to reset and get back to being somewhat normal in temperment, rather than the super-grumbly state I was in earlier that day.
Sunday passed without much event, aside from the fire alarm going off three more times (twice in the early morning, once in the afternoon -- at this point it had gone from mildly annoying to patently fucking ridiculous). I ran into Eli and his GF while wandering the halls with Jen, and spent some time talking with them. I later stopped by the dealer's room, bought my shirt from Tiger Haven and put in my sponsorship payment and paperwork. I got to see that Koz had taken a moment to celebrate my crabbiness on Saturday by drawing me as a crustacean in his sketchbook, which gave me a small chuckle. In the afternoon Eli and Kaylo joined Roho, Jen and myself in our hotel room, engaging in a "Fluff Match" on the PS2, a sort of free-for-all deathmatch battle that Roho's new game, dubbed "Fur Fighters," supported. It was rather amusing, especially since Eli picked up rather quickly on the controls and nuances of the game and became a formidable opponent. At 3pm Sunday afternoon, Eli and Kaylo called it quits and went back to the Dealer's Room to collect Koz for the drive home. Aureth, Roho, Jen and I retired back to the hotel room, where we played some Gran Turismo 3, which I had picked up in a fit of "Wow, a racing game that looks cool!" while we were at Toys 'R' Us. I'm very impressed with that game. The handling is excellent, the cars are most lovingly rendered, and it's just a lot of fun to play. I'm sure I'll be chewing up plenty of time on my PS2 here in the apartment playing that.
Oh yeah, did I mention that on Saturday morning Roho was the first person in the shower again, and that he once again was treated to a scary color of water coming from the pipes? He described it, I believe, as something like a "mellow iced tea." Bleah.
Sunday night we hauled over to Corky's, since the "Closing Ceremonies" of the con were crowded, slow to get anywhere near ready to start, and I was ready to tear the throat out of the next person who made a high-pitched "whee!" in the room. Yes, it's good to see that most Furries are about as socially inept in terms of tact and good sense as Trekkies and other Fandom-geeks are known to be. I'm told there was some sort of inside Furry joke behind that obnoxious noise, a joke which quickly lost its charm with me the first two thousand times I heard it Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, after the sixteen-thousandth time I heard that sound in that room alone it was just plain fucking annoying. Think Chinese Water Torture if you want to know how I felt right around that point. Here's a hint to the clueless: a joke is only funny until you pile-drive that motherfucker into the ground. Did you find "All Your Base" annoying after the millionth time you heard it? Well, this is the same thing, people. Any ways... after bailing from the closing ceremonies room we went over to Corky's Barbe-Q, which was a neat place to go. It was terribly crowded and we had to walk a block or so from where we parked to get there. The wait was something like 45 minutes or more, which was punctuated by watching people driving like idiots in/around the Corky's parking lot and lots of loud, annoying "classic oldies" in the speaker. I quite honestly would have cut the wires to that speaker with Roho's Leatherman tool if Jen hadn't made it abundantly clear she'd kick my ass for doing so. It turned out just as well that I didn't cut the wires, as that was also the speaker that the seating announcements were made from. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was a lot nicer, I must say. The music was nowhere near as loud, the food was good, the waiter very pleasant and outgoing. The BBQ ribs were great and the beer I had was a perfect compliment to the BBQ sauce. Their biscuits were a little off-tasting to me, but overall the meal was very enjoyable. We all consumed far too much food (Jen ended up paying for hers with lots of unpleasantness on Monday) and eventually waddled back to the car. Once at the hotel room, Roho and Aureth went off to some drinking/smoking/planning MFF meeting while Jen and I stayed in the room and watched the new "Adult Swim" show on Cartoon Network, which was a laugh riot. They had two new shows, called "Harvey Birdman" and "Sea Lab 2021," which were a hoot to watch. They also had a new "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast" which was incredibly funny and also terribly strange... in other words, classic SG:C2C material. After that was over we were both pretty tired, so we hit the hay and snoozed off...
Monday morning was pretty short-lived. We packed our things, tossed our bags in the car, and checked out of the room (FINALLY.. although it was at this point I asked again if they did airline miles, and this time I got a very solid "No" as an answer. I couldn't believe it. $420 on my AmEx, and they don't do airline miles? I told them point blank that it was rather ironic that they didn't do airline miles, especially since they're a hotel located RIGHT ACROSS THE FUCKING STREET from an airport. This sealed my opinion of the place as utterly clueless). Aureth, Roho and Jen said goodbye to some of the folks that were lingering in the lobby and then we headed for the parking lot -- with Aureth in tow, since he'd decided to ride back with us (nobody was going to go out and about in Memphis during the afternoon, which is what he'd wanted to do... and he didn't want to sit around the lobby until 8:00pm, when his flight was due to leave). We got on the road at approximately 11:30am and, despite Labor Day traffic, got out of the state in short order. We made fairly decent time back, with Roho and Aureth taking turns driving. We had Sonic for lunch on our way out, which was interesting, since I've never eaten there. It's okay food, not great, not bad. Typicalish fast-food fare, I guess. I spent a vast portion of the drive either staring out the windows and nestling against Jen or sleeping, both of which made the drive quite tolerable (it's easy to get bored if you're not driving, and I can't read in a moving car without being violently ill to my stomach). We made it to the Chicago suburbs in fairly good time, around 8:30pm or so. Once we'd dropped Aureth off at O' hare so he could reclaim his car, Roho and I got turned around on the back roads and ended up getting lost for a short while. Eventually we found our way back to my apartment. I unpacked my bags, got Jen situated with her luggage, and saw Roho off. Jen and I were both starving so we took a quick drive down to Denny's and got a bite to eat. She'd decided to stay the night because of the lightning over head, which promised lots of rain, and the fact she still wasn't feeling well and it was getting late for her to drive back to Wisconsin (it was 10:30ish by the time we got done at Denny's).
So that's it, those are the moderately-detailed chronicles of the exciting five days and nights that comprised the majority of my vacation this month. To be honest I'm not sure what to think. I suspect that given my temperament and general attitude towards Furry as a whole right now that Aureth and Roho would rather I'd not gone along at all, and that's fine. All told, the con as a whole did not impress me. I felt it was badly organized (The con book had next to nothing for details on events, and it was all just horribly documented) and it just this undertone of being scattered, hurried and very "seat of the pants." The Con Suite was well-intended but spartan in terms of foodstuffs (had lots of beverages, though, from Coke and Sprite to Barqs and Hawaiian Punch)... I guess I'm spoiled by the hospitality suites that Duckon and MFF had. What panels were there were badly labeled and the schedule non-existent. I didn't know what was going on where, or when. When I did find out what was going on I wasn't interested by it in the least. The hotel was a farce -- besides all the fun I got to experience with the hotel room, I found out that half the con space had been rearranged THURSDAY MORNING because the hotel had double-booked public function space. Their excuse? Oh, a lightning strike had corrupted their reservations database, thus removing all traces of MFM reservations. Excuse me, but what fucking hotel on this planet DOESN'T do a nightly back-up of their computer systems, if only the room and function space databases? Gah, total incompetence... Amidst all this annoyance, there were some good things: It was nice to see Eli again, and to finally meet Koz in person. I also got to run into a few other people I haven't seen in some time, which provided a bright spot now and then. However, in summary, I just didn't enjoy myself. Even if I hadn't ditched the Fandom I wouldn't go back to MFM, I don't think... the fun-to-dollar ratio just wasn't there for me.
I guess we're all going to be what we're going to be