As discussed previously, Dragon Con is my first major foray into all things Geek, both a hazing and an initiation, if you will. This ongoing multi-part journal recounts my experience and that of my two younger sisters (also first-timers).
Day One, Part One
Dragon Con takes place from Friday – Monday of Labor Day weekend, which makes it a 4-day event for you math-challenged out there (which is the number between 3 and 5, for you REALLY math-challenged out there). We opted not to pay for a hotel Thursday night since we lived 3 hours away and the hotel was already the bulk of the cost.
Our adventure begins Friday, then, awakening at 4am to make the drive. The youngest sister and I picked up the other sister in Birmingham on the way. As I had lived in Atlanta in the past (and my 5 hours of sleep made me the most well-rested), I was driving. We were excited and a bit loopy from fatigue, in that place where everything is funny–especially when it isn’t–which made the drive pleasantly tolerable.
We arrived too early to check into our hotel, but they were cool about letting us go ahead and park, very nice of them. Our next-door neighbor is this lovely place:
…which instantly causes misgivings about the neighborhood we’re in, considering we’ll be walking back this way in the wee hours of the morning for the next few nights. Much ado about nothing, though, it turns out, and I ignore its advice concerning my sexy.
As we’re staying remotely we had to take Atlanta’s public transit system, called the MARTA, which conveniently has a station right in the thick of Dragon Con’s footprint. Now despite living in Atlanta for 3.5 years, this would actually be my first time riding it, and though I’d always heard horror stories it seemed like smooth sailing.
We were not alone in staying in remote hotels and we soon had the surreal experience of riding a subway with costumed folks. Costumes are their own curiosity, but when cosplayers are doing very mundane things it somehow makes it so much more odd. I’m fairly sure Atlanteans are used to Dragon Con and its attendant, ah, idiosyncracies, but it’s also a city with a fairly transient population. So you know that somewhere in the city someone unaware got on the train that morning, found it full of Spider-Men and winged fairies and anthropomorphic food, and decided to turn right back around, swearing off the hard stuff for good.
Indeed, there are so many other con-attendees getting off at our stop that the transit authority folks are pleading with us to form a single-file-only line when we get on the escalator. Seems extreme, but okay, it is like 6 stories tall. Are they just assuming we’re all a bunch of fatso convention folks, and their transit system–for a city of 5 million, mind you–can’t handle a little extra weight? I feel like I should be offended.
Of course, about 2/3rds of the way up, the escalator does, in fact, grind to a halt under the weight. Well poop. There’s this stunned beat where everyone is bewildered, and then cries of ‘Go! Go! Go!’
As the old Mitch Hedburg joke goes:
An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the Convenience.
The urge to rush is understandable, however. We only just parked our car at the hotel around 10:15 or so, and the first panels are already going so time is of the essence. We wanted to see a panel starring several voice actors from Futurama, and that’s at 11:30, so we’re doing well. I think. Veterans of this event are no doubt already chuckling at my naivete.
All we have to do is pick up our weekend pass for the event. We pre-registered and paid a couple months ago, so this should be a fast and smooth process! The building for pre-registration is the Sheraton, which is away from the “main” 3 hotels. We thought this odd at first. Soon we came to understand.
See, Dragon Con has a lot of traditions. And the first one you experience is the lines. Oh so many lines.
That picture above? That’s about 1/10th of the line at the time we joined it. No hyperbole.
It turns out EVERYONE pre-registered, thus eliminating the advantage completely. Indeed, it’s probably a drawback; there’s no way the pay-at-the-door line was slower as I never even saw it materialize into anything noticeable. The extra $20 or whatever it is might be worth it.
Or, you know, coming an entire day early JUST to pick up your pass, like some people do. Good plan right? Oh, except those people also had to wait in such a massive line that they eventually cut it off and sent them home at 9pm the night before.
It was mercifully cloudy, but this is still August in Georgia, in which your two options usually are 100-degree heat or violent thunderstorms, both of which come with a side of ALL THE HUMIDITY. Next time I intend to cosplay as an Olympic swimmer just for the ticket line.
Once you finally get inside (after circling the entire block the Sheraton is on, twice), there’s an entire ballroom that’s all line, with booths at one end where you can change your little postcard into the keys to the kingdom. But it’s air-conditioned, and suddenly you don’t care about more lines because it’s such an improvement. Air-conditioning might be the very pinnacle of civilization.
We, like idiots, forgot the one essential piece of equipment — lanyards. Your 4-day pass comes with just a little bit of plastic and an alligator clip, and you are supposed to wear it on your person at all times. Considering the crush of people, and whatever else you might get up to in an awareness-altering way (lack of sleep is a good start), the idea of having your $115 pass a casual brush away from being lost at all times is a real killjoy.
Luckily they were selling them in the Dragon Con store right there at the ticketing exit, for a reasonable $5. They’re even branded. You just have to wait in line…
By the time we were able to get into anything, it was 12:50, with the next panels starting at 1:00, and us several blocks away from the main 3 hotels. Tired and stressed and without even knowing yet what we were getting into, we picked a 2:30 panel to attend together and decided to slowly make our way there and try to make sense of it all.
Now, Dragon Con currently occupies the convention space of 5 hotels: The Marriott Marquis, Hyatt Regency, Hilton Atlanta, Westin Peachtree, and Sheraton. In addition, all of the shops/exhibitors are in the AmericasMart building, which sits near the MARTA station as well as a food court of sorts.
Programming is mixed between the hotels, but the ‘main three’ are the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton, which are not only huge and adjacent to one-another, they’re actually all three connected by skywalks. This really makes them like one giant convention space connected by two long hallways, and this keeps the bulk of the crowd inside them unless they have a specific need at the other hotels or the shops/MARTA/food.
Our panel will be in the Marriott, the central of the main hotels, and both the biggest and most unique architecturally. We headed for the Hilton, the closest of the Big Three.
The Hilton doesn’t have as open a floor-plan as the other two, and so our first impression of the inside of the convention proper was…underwhelming. It was just a hotel lobby ringed by a balcony where we could see some traffic, and the impression of other rooms leading off ahead and to the right of us. There were random people in costume or bearing passes, but they all seemed to be on the way somewhere else, not milling about. Was this really what the convention was like? What happened to all those people from the Line of Lines?
We found the skywalk to the Marriott (right above us), and headed that way.
So far our scorecard was: 9.5 hours travel and wait, 0 panels attended.
Then we crossed into the Marriott.
Next Time: Day One, Part Two