Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jason Gets It Together (Sort Of)

It’s 12:53 a.m. as I type this. Apparently, I made it home in one piece. Upon unpacking, I can’t say the same about a few of the toys I picked up. In other news, there’s a lot I’ll need to tackle in the coming days. For one thing, I got a laptop that might be on its last legs. Being home doesn’t help, so I can’t get online until I hit the libraries, meaning I still have to write this out in Safe Mode, save it to the flash drive, then upload it when I can get the chance. That means I’ll have to see a repair guy to figure out my next move . . . either get my laptop fixed, or pick up a slightly-used model, which is what the guy suggested the last time I got grief from the laptop.

My big adventure has been fraught with mishaps, and today wasn’t much different. I cleared out the hotel room (or I think I did . . . once again, I might be missing toy parts), took the bus to the airport, and had trouble finding the right gate. Apparently, I got off the bus too early, so I needed to take the monorail to the right terminal. I found the line for Continental, and I waited. And waited. And waited. I figured out that I was running late, and my leg started to shake. I started making the “what the fucking fuck?!?” gestures towards the few people working the lines. I know it was a shitty move, but I had this image of being told that I missed the cutoff point, that my luggage couldn’t make it on the plane, and that I’d have to stay in Toronto for one more night. I did not want that. Dear Lord, I could not take being away from home for this long. By my memory, this had been my longest trip since going to Chicago for six nights some ten years ago. Thanks to the extra night’s stay, the Internet fees (including failing to get to my favorite sites . . . no clue why that happened) and the exchange rate, this was probably my most expensive solo trip. I needed to get the hell home.

Thankfully, I got guided through the procedure and I made it to customs. The bad news? I thought that I was running out of time, so I spent about two minutes in a duty-free shop before legging it towards the long corridor. At Newark Liberty, the gates aren’t isolated from the shops and the restaurants. Pearson is another story . . . because I was convinced that the plane would start boarding soon, and because I didn’t check the damn departure board, I wound up having to pay $10 for a turkey sandwich with Doritos and soda. Also, not only I couldn’t pick up a t-shirt for myself, I failed to buy a cap for my grandfather. In my defense, when I was at the duty-free shop, I couldn’t find anything with “Toronto” on it. “Canada,” sure, but not “Toronto.” The only bright side is that Grandpa probably won’t remember that I told him I’d pick up something.

The plane ride was a little nerve-racking. I know it sounds silly, but I was thinking something bad would happen between the airport and home. Not like I kept seeing a pale man arguing with a security guard about checking in a scythe, but I was on guard. It was weird to go between paranoia and napping. I kept seeing a light in the reflection of the window across from me, and I was convinced something was in the overheard compartment. Turns out that it was on the wing outside, and I couldn’t tell the difference. I wound up landing later than I had figured, but I wasn’t ready to rest yet. I almost went out of my way to exchange my currency, until I found out that the booth was near the baggage claim area, which means the guy I asked was probably full of crap.

And now I’m home. I got a laptop to get examined. I got a temp agency guy to call and let know that I’m home. I got recorded stuff to watch. I checked out the Rivals finale, and I was right . . . nice guys don’t win on The Challenge. The douchebag team of Johnny & Tyler beat the douchebag team of Kenny & Wes. Also, Paula finally won a Challenge, but she needed to hook her wagon to a fug athlete like Evelyn to pull it off, so you gotta put an asterisk on that. I forgot to set up for a few programs at home, but they’re no big loss. I also missed the premiere of Ridiculousness, the new video clip show featuring MTV personality Rob Dyrdek. On the bright side, I can record it while I’m out tomorrow. Rob is better than any Guido, teen mother or any other idiot on MTV’s primetime, so I need to see it ASAP.

To sum up: I had fun. I got slammed around by petty misfortune, and my sanity got a little shredded, but I managed to get through it. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to see, so I have incentive to go back in the future. For anybody who’s put off by the ever-expanding Comic-Con International in San Diego or can’t fly out there for any reason, Fan Expo Canada is probably the way to go. As for me, I gotta get my ass in gear and look for a life of my own . . . at least until October, when New York Comic Con invades the Javits Center in Manhattan. It’ll be good to have home-field advantage this time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jason Vs. The Crappy Hotline

I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.

Had I committed some sort of heinous wrong to be punished? If I had sinned, it was probably just a recreational sin. All I knew was that anytime I thought my trip to Toronto was going well, something would punch me in the teeth and kick my ass. I started thinking maybe it’s the CN Tower. In 2005, I stayed with Stephen way out in Scarborough, and things went well enough. Two years later, I stayed at a hotel. I don’t remember where I went, but I’m thinking it was closer to Toronto proper, and that’s when I lost my camcorder and sketchbook. Now, my laptop went bust, I missed out on attractions, and then there was this morning.

I woke up around 9:30, watched the news, and then slipped back into sleep. Such is the life of a person who does not have a convention to visit anymore. I talked to my mother, and she dropped another bomb on me. The flight that I was supposed to take today . . . the one I had assumed would be canceled due to the damage Irene dished out . . . the one that an employee at Pearson Airport told me would probably dump me off in parts unknown should I take it . . . the flight was on as scheduled.

To say that I did not take it well was an understatement. I kept calling Continental, but thanks to high call volume, I wasn’t going to get any information from them. I went online in the business center. First of all, there was a confirmation e-mail that was sent to me last night. Why didn’t I know about it? Because my laptop went bust at the worst possible time, and the fucking business center shut down last night at 6 p.m. I tried to see what a one-way trip to Newark would cost. The answer: a lot. Over $500, in fact. I went with a new plan . . . hitting Expedia for their rates. Expedia wouldn’t fuck me, right? Yes, they would . . . over a grand for one-way service, AND I’d have to make at least one stop along the way. Honestly, I’m lucky my head didn’t explode from the rage. Some of the misfortunes could be tracked back to me, but the rest was out of my control. Unfortunately, I wasn’t handling it very well at all. I didn’t even get to have breakfast until after noon . . .and they wound up being Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts sold as “Timbits” from Tim Horton’s. So much for getting something unusual, though I did like the apple fritter flavor.

My mother’s plan for me to get home: go to the airport early tomorrow morning and fly standby. The front desk guy’s plan: take a 12-hour bus ride back to the New York area. I went with my own plan, the only plan that made any sense in my slowly boiling brain: go to the airport, talk to a human being. Simple. I got a round-trip bus ticket and silently hoped for the best. It took me a while to find the counter . . . at one point, I saw a bunch of machines, and I thought that talking to anybody was never going to happen. But I went further and told my story in detail, sparing her the four-part harmony. I walked away with a ticket to fly out tomorrow after 5 p.m. It was a victory. As I type this, I’m not about to exhale just yet. Between Toronto and Staten Island, there are still so many misfortunes that could happen to me, in all sorts of degrees. Most of the time, I can’t blame one person for my woes and smash their car with a hammer, yelling about the dangers of fucking a stranger in the ass. Okay, I’m not that rabid, but I do feel like John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski, minus the delusions of Vietnam.

The bad news was that thanks to all the time I wasted brooding, raging and settling, Casa Loma was out of the question. I had a few alternative plans, but I wound up going to the CN Tower. It had been six years since I last gone up there, but I figured that it was nearby, and that I should go. My brain conjured up a bizarre theory that it was the source of my misfortune, that as I stayed closer and closer to it in my trips up north, it was broadcasting bad luck that I could receive. It’s the same stupid superstitious crap that prevents me from putting on Pearl Jam in my car, because I skidded on a wet road once and messed my car up as “Jeremy” was playing. I know A and B aren’t related, and I should know better, but my brain is stuck.

I don’t think the CN Tower has changed much. The new thing is that you can pay $175 to take a trip on top of the pod, way the hell in the air. I’m not squeamish about stepping on the reinforced-to-hell glass-bottom floors, but I’m not that brave. Should The Amazing Race return to the Tower in the future (three teams in Family Edition went up there in the final leg), I’m betting dangling on harnesses will be involved, as the contestants search for a part of the city with the show’s traditional colors. I got the full value ticket, good for all of the main attractions.

The first two experiences were kinda meh, to be honest. The first one revolved about the creation of “supertrees” in the year 2020, hybrids of flora from the Himalayas and the Amazon. Hence the title: “Himalamazon.” After the somewhat boring infodump, I wound up going on a simulated ride, as a log got transported between the two locations. I have to say that while I’m not the least bit into roller coasters, I do like the notion of a simulation, especially since the danger was more than minimized. The water splashing us was a nice touch. Sadly, the trip to the Maple Leaf Cinema wasn’t as fun. It was based on surfer Kelly Slater, and I was fighting the urge to nod off. It was in 3D. I hate 3D. I think that since my eyes are different kinds of messed up, the glasses needed for the experience seldom work for me. On the bright side, I save about $5 a shot anytime I go to a “regular” movie.

Next stop: the Look Out. They say you can see Niagara Falls on a clear day. It would’ve been nice if I knew where to look. A lot of my time was peering down on Rogers Centre, where the Rays/Jays game was getting started. I had thought of going there, but I had spent too much time online before I left the hotel for the Tower. With the roof retracted, I could see the field . . . and the vast emptiness several sections of the stadium. When the laptop fucked me, I had been looking up attendance stats, because I noticed a lot of empty seats the night that I went there. I actually called the ticket office to find out when the game was being played, thinking maybe I was looking down about a half-hour before game time. Nope . . . it was on schedule. This is what happens when you build a state-of-the-art stadium before the boom in retro ballparks, and your team is in the same division as the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees.

I also went to Sky Pod, which was 100 meters above the observation deck. I didn’t see much of a difference, to be honest. The cars looked like toys from 1,815 feet in the air (yes, I have the brochure in front of me), and the players on the field in Rogers Centre looked so tiny, even as I could make them out in their designated positions. The outdoor observation deck took out the view of nearby structures, but it did provide a feel for the wind that far up. And yes, they were lots of people on the glass floors, posing and styling for cameras. I swear, there was one guy dressed in monk garb, in a traditional meditation pose on the glass. “Trippy” would be my best word for it. Sylvia told me that she could never stand there. I could . . . even though I’m not into heights, I felt safe on the glass, as I took pictures of the base. I think the Tower could make a few bucks if they took a few of the $2 and $4 viewers from the observation decks, and put them on ground level, giving a good view of the people above the glass.

With time waning, I wound up having dinner on the observation deck. It’s kinda weird to walk through a restaurant and look out the windows as others are eating. I had a small pasta dish, and I paid a little too much for it. Afterward, I hit Dairy Queen in Union Station, and I got my second Oreo Blizzard of my trip. Hey, why mess with what works?

To call my trip to Toronto “eventful” would be an understatement. There are places I should have visited, but I ran out of time. Once again, I’m not going to feel safe from problems until I get home. And I was feeling blah when I got back to my room. But I found out that I can check out late, some of the bad vibes left my body, and I just discovered a show called Pick a Puppy that had to be imported into the U.S. Who the hell doesn’t love puppies? Even better, the opening credits end with a wrinkly English Bulldog puppy sliding into a spread-eagle position. So. Fucking. Adorable.

Right now, all I want to do is get home, relax, and then I can deal with my laptop on Wednesday and see whether it can be salvaged, or if I need a new one. I can call the temp agency to see if I can interview for the gig at Long Island City. I can see all the crap I recorded at home, happy that I got ready in case I couldn’t see it in Toronto. I can get on for my life. Right now, though, I can take the good with the bad, remember the fun I’ve had, and be happy that I was able to have so many new and unique experiences. All I have to remember is this: even at my lowest ebb, I still have it better than so many people in this world. As long as I can keep perspective, I should be fine.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jason Vs. The Unruly ATM

It’s Sunday, 11:22 p.m. as I type this. I just emerged from a mild coma. I knew it was coming . . . most of the time I’m away from home going to a con, the energy drains from me. I just missed most of the VMA’s. Then again, aside from the tribute to poor, poor Amy Winehouse, I probably didn’t miss anything. Did I see Lady Gaga pose as a guy, performing “You & I” with gusto? Check . . . and damn, who would’ve predicted she’d wear a t-shirt and jeans to open the show? Did that make “Joe Calderon” Lord Gaga for a few minutes? Also, I saw Katy Perry win Best Video honors for “Firework,” which was as predictable as Gaga winning last year for “Bad Romance.” She wore a yellow cube on her head, because she needs to be quirky 24/7, and damn it, being married to Russell Brand isn’t enough evidence of that. I still feel the VMA’s are long past their prime, and the voting is probably dodgy. For instance, I suggested to Sylvia that Britney Spears won Best Video honors a few years back on account that the voters thought she was going to die soon, and they awarded to reward her while she was still breathing. Sylvia thought that was hysterical. And there’s the logic that Beyonce can have the best overall video of the year, and yet she gets beat by Taylor Swift can beat her in the “Best Female Video” category. I should stop, lest I get derailed or worse . . . turn into friggin’ Kanye West.

In other major news, I am officially staying in Toronto for one more night. I tried calling Continental, but I didn’t get anywhere. I called Toronto Pearson . . . turns out flights are being redirected to other places, on account of the volume of people trying to get to Newark. Basically, the choice was either fly out to Cleveland (one of several cities) and possibly stay in a hotel on the airline’s dime, or stay in Toronto? No offense to Cleveland, but the latter option is less complicated, even if I might suffer post-con letdown in the process.

I kept rolling with the punches. I managed to wake up later than I had wanted, since either my phone’s alarm didn’t go off, or I slept through it. I dawdled as usual, watching coverage of Tropical Storm Irene hit the Northeast. Thankfully, my mother was okay in the end, though I wouldn’t know that until I got back to the hotel. The stores under the hotel were closed, so I had to trudge to Union Station. I was going there anyway, but I could’ve saved myself about five minutes. The good news was that my feet did not leave my body while I slept last night. The bad news was that my left foot decided it was far better vengeance to stay on and produce great pain. For half of the con, I had to go at half speed. With my body, that’s pretty damn slow. The only panel I wound up hitting was a sketch duel between Francis Manapul (whom I got a nice Barry Allen-as-Flash sketch from) and David Finch. Most of the day is a blur, as I was buying stuff and getting sketches. I wound up with seventeen sketches. It’s three short of my four-day record, but it’s impressive. It was one of the last ones that started my latest complication.

I get to Sara Richard’s table. She does kickass sketches, and I wanted her to do a color head sketch of Sarah Jane Smith, played by the late Elisabeth Sladen on Doctoe Who. Thanks to a miscommunication, she thought I wanted it on a separate page, independent from my book. We laugh about it, both of us figuring I should get glue dots and paste it into my book (this has come up twice before for me). The fee was $40. I had $15. Bad enough I was spending gobs of colored dough, but I lost track on how much I had. Oops.

I go for Plan A: use an ATM at the convention center. I figure that I can wait on line and get back into the action. So I wait for some time, and when I finally get up there . . . nothing. The machine couldn’t access my records. I try my credit card. Nothing. I’ve had bad luck in the past Up North with ATMs in the past, but I thought that I could press my luck. I ask for help, and I’m told that the machines are the worse. Super.

Plan B: get out and find a bank ATM. I wind up partnering with another con-goer on this quest. Her name was Raquel. She’s from Niagara Falls (Ontario, not New York), this is her one big convention trip for the year, and she’s carrying a picture of Bishop from Alien signed by Lance Hendriken. I want to try Simcoe Place again and hope the ATM where I got money yesterday is still working. She wants to go in the opposite direction. Because I am an idiot, and I’m still thinking about the lack of dancing and hobnobbing from the previous night, I decide to tag along with her. On the up side, I don’t think I came off as too annoying to her, and I wound up having my first experience with Orange Julius. On the down side, I waste more time, and I miss a panel for anime voice actor Vic Mignogna. This especially sucks, because I had to miss him at AnimeNEXT a few months ago.

In the end, the Canadian National Expo was a fun experience, even with the flaws that smacked me in the face. One example: at the bigger cons, I saw that there were places where you could get a massage. When I went to Wizard’s show in Philadelphia, there were girls in costume doing that. I would’ve killed for relief to my feet, but I wasn’t that lucky. I didn’t find too many deals, and I spent $15 on my third One Piece “Logbox,” only to find that it was something I got at AnimeNEXT. I spent $60 on four Logboxes, and only two worked out for me (remember, I dropped the first one). In other news, I’m grateful my digital camera was working for me, because I am the sort that needs a few thousand shots that I can delete due to any imperfection. I don’t whip it out for every cosplayer, but damn, I find a shitload of them interesting. I think the highlight of the day was seeing a guy who was obvious a huge Pokemon fan. He built a Team Rocket getaway balloon around himself, with the visage of an inflated Meowth above him. On his hands: little puppets of James and Jesse. I should have hugged the dude, because that shit was inspired. That’s what you have to love about conventions: just when you think that you’ve seen everything, somebody comes up dressed up as a character you never would have guessed.

After trudging around Rogers Centre and having dinner at Wayne Gretzky’s (hey, it was in the official Toronto guide), I managed to crash and burn in my room. With no convention to hit anymore, I can wake up sometime after 9 a.m. this time (on purpose, I mean) and figure out my plan of attack. Casa Loma and Sneaky Dee’s are on the table, as is Rogers Centre, since the Blue Jays will still be there tomorrow night. When I get back home, I’ll probably either check my laptop checked out right away, or I’ll plop on the couch and stay there for at least twelve hours. As fun as Toronto has been, and as nice as it has been to have kept my wits as I kept getting smacked in the face, it will be good to get home.

Update: Monday, 1:08 p.m.

Guess what? The flight that I thought would be cancelled or rerouted? IT WAS STILL SCHEDULED TO LEAVE ON TIME, TOWARDS NEWARK. Even better, I can't fucking get through to the airline to reschedule my flight, or to find out far up the ass I'm going to pay for doing that. If I don't assault somebody by the time I get home, I'm calling it a victory.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jason Vs. Poor Planning

Written Saturday Night/Sunday Morning

New day, new problem. I’m making myself run late because I got in the mood to stay in bed while my cell phone’s alarm kept going off. I figure that I’d go into the business center for online time . . . but now they’re open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. How is that convenient for guests? So I wait a few minutes, get online for as short a time as I can (especially because the guy at the desk is now charging me), troop down to Union Station, wait several minutes on line to satisfy a muffin craving (where I could’ve just gone under the hotel for a quick trip to Tim Horton’s), and then I head off to the con. One of my biggest flaws is my ability to do stuff that goes against me, where I have the ability to use common sense.

I’m still trying to have fun, going with the flow when I can. I get shut out of the panel for DC Comics’ 52-book relaunch? Well, the panel for Dragonball Z voice actors has some open seats. I haven’t seen the series since Dragonball GT wrapped up in the States. The abbreviated version of DBZ -- Dragonball Z Kai doesn’t interest me, but I am a fan of “Dragonball Z Abridged.” This is a group of YouTube folks who squeeze several episodes of the series in neat packages at or around ten minutes. Also, it’s funny as all hell. Naturally, I’m not the only fan of that series, because the talent – Chris Sabat, Colin Clinkenbeard and Mike McFarland – is inundated with “Abridged” questions. They do try to play along as much as possible . . . I’d go into it, but it requires lots of context, so stuff like “Are you a Yoshi?” and “Naaaaaaaaiiiilll!!!” should be researched by going to or

Aside from the “Abridged” stuff, the fan questions can get wacky. One person asked what male characters the actors would involve in yaoi . . . guy-on-guy romance. MacFarlane suggests two characters – Vegeta and Piccolo – for some sweet Sabat-on-Sabat action. A few of the actos have met their counterparts in Japan, and it turns out the character of Chi Chi was renamed “Milk” in Mexico, because “Chi Chi” means “Boob” in Spanish. It was a good panel, and I wasn’t that bummed I missed the DC panel.

I continue wandering the aisles aimlessly, acquiring sketches whenever I can. I wind up getting my “ROM at ROM” sketch from Greg Hyaland. I wound up paying $3 for an issue of Power Man & Iron Fist with ROM in it. I probably could’ve gotten a cheaper issue of ROM’s title, but it’s an issue where ROM blows away a bunch of Dire Wraiths (his enemy) posing as New Yorkers, including one resembling a prostitute. Hilarity follows. I mean it . . . it’s from 1981, and the vengeful pimp looks like a total stereotype of a pimp.

Anyway, I started running out of money, so I sought out an ATM and a place to eat. I’m desperate enough to actually think of getting overpriced food. But the lines for food and money are long no matter where I go. I wind up going to Simcoe Place – a mall of sorts that I’ve hit both other times I’ve been in Toronto – to get filled up.

Really, I can’t think of a standout moment from today. I wound up acquiring five sketches, running my total to twelve after three days. I don’t think I’ll reach my four-day record of 20 (Comic-Con International, 2009), but it won’t be for lack of trying. I also had to leave again, this time to head back to the hotel to squeeze in some computer time. Yes, I am an addict, but at least it’s cheaper than drugs. Happily, I manage to catch the latest episode of DBZA, and it was some fun stuff as usual.

After a long day of walking, I had another box from the Scott Pilgrim books to check off: Sneaky Dee’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant, that’s frequently visited in the fourth book (Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together). In my morning online session, I loaded the relevant info into Google Maps, and I wrote down directions. Turns out I could have done a better job. I got off the train around Carlton Street, and I was assured that it was the same as College Street. So I walked. And walked. And walked. I had gotten a transfer at the train station, thinking I could use it on the streetcar. It turned out that I couldn’t. Eventually, I got lost. And lost. And even more lost. In one stretch of time, I passed by a cemetery as the light dimmed; in other, I was walking in almost total darkness through a residential neighborhood. I kept thinking that I was going to pull the plug, but then I would figure that I was on the right track. If I had infinite endurance, I would have wound up either at the US/Canada border, or in the Arctic Circle. Eventually, I gave up and plopped myself down at a random restaurant. Conceding total defeat, I followed that up by taking a cab back to the hotel. Expensive option, I know, but I wanted to get back before dawn, and I was damn tired. I will not be surprised if I wake up to find my feet missing with a crudely scrawled note reading “FUCK YOU!!!!!”

I would’ve gone back to my room and lapsed into a mild coma, but there was one more event I wanted to see. Turns out the Fairmont Royal York was playing host to “Ultimate Fan Expo Canada Party.” Basically, it had a DJ dressed as a Highlander, a cash bar, and enough people dancing and having a good ol time. I’m serious . . . off the top of my head, I can’t remember the last time I saw so many geeks – many of whom were still cosplaying – getting down so hard and funky. I didn’t really interact much, and I don’t dance, since I’m still a little too neurotic for my own damn good. I’m more into taking pictures, especially if the costumes are interesting (“Holy shit, is he dressed as Captain N the Game Master?!?”) I kept mostly to myself, save for when I convinced myself to play a few hands of a card game that involved trying to trade cards to other players to get a hand of all of the same kind. I wound up lucking into winning once, and I got a set of Star Wars action figures. I mentioned that a. I haven’t collected that stuff since around the time Return Of The Jedi was in theaters, and b. I actually saw the Ewok Village playset on sale at one booth, which was something I had as a kid. Before I knew it, one guy at the table was telling me that he had that as a kid as well, and I showed him the picture I took with my digital camera. I wish that it was easier for me to interact with people like that on a regular basis.

What am I forgetting? Oh, right . . . fucking Irene. My mother told me that it’s on the way, hitting the area on Sunday. Before hitting the party, I called the front desk. Turns out staying one more night here at the relatively cheaper convention rate wouldn’t be out of the question. Where I hate the idea of paying for an extra night, I’d rather not comparison shop with places near the airport. Plus, if my feet haven’t revolted, I can try and make up places I didn’t have time to see. The main problem is that I tend to suffer letdowns once a convention ends, and I try to get the heck out of town the following day. But with a cosmopolitan city at my disposal, maybe it won’t be such a bad thing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jason Vs. Irene

Last year, there was an episode on South Park titled “Poor and Stupid.” In it, Eric Cartman (the show’s go-to teen-year-old asshole) gets it into his head that he wants to be a NASCAR driver. He winds up going to a race, commanding a vehicle, and immediately crash it. As he’s airborne, he exclaims, “Well fuck my ass!” Eventually, he managed to get his own car and race for real. Just as he’s about to win (after committing a few acts of vehicular manslaughter along the way), he gets bumped and thrown into the air. His final words before hitting pavement? “Well fuck my ass again!”

It’s early afternoon at the Metro Centre. I’m waiting on line to ask Ty Templeton if he could sketch on a blank cover of Daredevil #1. Thinking myself clever, my idea revolves around Daredevil (known as “The Man Without Fear”) riding on top of Man-Thing (tagline: “Those that know fear BURN at the Man-Thing’s touch!”) I get a call from my mother. We exchange words, and then she hits me with the news. Apparently, Hurricane Irene might be heading for the New York area on Sunday. Turns out that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is shutting down the transit system, and the city is getting ready for the worst. That means that there’s a good chance that the airport in Newark might be shut down on Monday. That’s the day I’m supposed to fly back home.

Well fuck my ass again.

I can’t believe it. New York City isn’t a magnet for hurricanes. They’re not as rare as earthquakes, but if one swings by the area, it’s usually classified as a tropical depression. Aside from hoping my mother and grandfather will be okay, I face the grim prospect of having to spend at least one more night in Toronto. Granted, there are worse places to stay, but out of all the possible outcomes, three bad ones keep popping up in my head.

1. I wind up staying at the Fairmont Royal York, but they decide to charge me the full rate for the extra night, as opposed to the affordable-by-comparison convention price I have right now.

2. I call Continental Airlines, and I wind up having to pay full price for a hotel room near the airport. Even if I get a discounted rate, there’s no real tourist stuff I could do without throwing in a long bus trip into the city.

3. Here’s the worst scenario I can think of happening within reason . . . after getting stiffed by the hotel and airline, I wind up being forced to stay at least one night in the airport. Alone. I can nap while sitting down, but I can’t imagine sleeping overnight. I don’t even camp out for real. Would I have to use my full backpack as a pillow, or should I swipe some from the hotel before checking out?

I know that there’s a chance that everything might work out all right, and that I’ll get home to an undamaged house and uninjured mother, but I tend to make mountains out of molehills . . . . then the enlarged moles go in for the kill.

The Mixed Bag Project continued apace, as I wound up paying a little too much for waffles and orange juice at one of the hotel’s restaurants. On the bright side, the OJ didn’t cost $7, or whatever the price of that was at the place I stayed in San Diego two years ago. The convention experience went okay today, though I did do some aimless wandering later in the day. I wound up going to just one panel, centering around DC Comics’ Flashpoint miniseries. I also hit what I thought would be a panel for Supernatural: The Anime Series, but it turned out they were just showing episodes from the DVD without any back-and-forth, and I already saw those episodes. On the sketch front, I got the Daredevil/Man-Thing concept fulfilled by Ty Templeton. I also got sketches of the Face of Boe and Lady Cassandra (from Doctor Who) by Katie Cook, Hawkeye by Valentine DeLandro, Captain Britain by Leonard Kirk (who drew the character in the short-lived/critically acclaimed Captain Britain & MI:13, and Matthew Patel (Ramona Flowers’ first evil ex) by Adrian Alphona (best known for his work on Runaways). Truth be told, a lot of today was a blur. I do remember coming within three seconds of running smack into Nichelle Nichols. In the second I saw her, I recognized “Uhura” by her hair and what I think was a Starfleet insignia necklace.

I did hit one snag, sketch-wise. I came to Greg Hyland (creator of Lethargic Lad) with the concept of the Spaceknight known as ROM in front of the Royal Ontario Museum. In other words, ROM at ROM. Hyland didn’t know what ROM (the character) looked like, but I had the reference ready . . . or I thought I did. Two minutes of rustling in my backpack and totebag (newly acquired for $3, with the Fan Expo logo on it), later, I had to bail. It’s either in my room, I missed it in my bags, or I lost it. Worst case, I’ll find a cheap back issue, and Hyland could work with that.

After getting lost trying to get to the hotel (the Skywalk shuts down at night, which complicates matters), I got to go online in the business center and post my first two blog entries from my flash drive, as well as pictures of the sketched I acquired so far. Going out, I got turned off at the prospect of paying out the butt for dinner. After two restaurants displayed high prices, I wound up wandering to Union Station, where I committed what I believed to be a sin: going to McDonald’s. I mean, I’m in another country, and I’m going for a fast food joint that’s commonplace back home. Granted, going to McDonald’s in Canada isn’t as sad as, say, hitting one in Italy, but I should know better. Worse, I was prepared to get Chicken McNuggets and fries, one night after I had chicken wings and fries at a sports bar. But then I saw that they had the McRib sandwich, and I got that meal instead. I don’t know if that made things better or worse.

I can’t believe it’s after 11 p.m. now, and I’m getting ready to shut down the computer. I didn’t get any calls from Sylvia, though from my brief time online, I saw that she understood why I dropped my would-be rescue plan without telling her first. Between the laptop and the impending hurricane, I’m pretty sure I can’t take much more. Still, I should have a good time in the second half of the convention . . . and here’s hoping that statement doesn’t bite me in the ass.

PS: It's Saturdy morning, and I found out that the damn business center is open from 10-6 . . . meaning if I want optimal online time, I'd have to bail out of the convention and beat feet back to the hotel. In other news, I should probably check myself for bleeding in really inconvient areas.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jason Vs. The Laptop

Written on Thursday, August 26. Saved on a flash drive and posted from a hotel computer the following day.

This is Night Two in Toronto. I think the running theme so far is “Mixed Bag.” Right now, I am not typing this in my Blogger account, but rather on my laptop’s Microsoft Word program. Why? Funny story . . . yesterday, I was in my room, tapping away about yesterday. As I’m starting the part about the Blue Jays, the Rogers Centre and how it ain’t what it used to be, I get a blue screen with writing on it. A fraction of a second later, it reboots . . . and then I get the blue screen.

Oh. Fuck.

I had this problem before. I think I managed to wave it away by using System Restore, but now it’s back with a vengeance. As a result, I can’t get online anymore. Oh, I can go on the Net from somewhere in the hotel lobby, but I only found out tonight after it shut down. The good news is that by tapping F5, I can get into Safe Mode. The bad news: I can’t get online. I don’t know if it’s not possible to do that in Safe Mode, or if I haven’t checked the right boxes in terms of Firefox and proxy services. Last time that happened, I went to the library, got online, and did all sorts of searches for over an hour. I can probably get about 30 minutes in the hotel . . . and even if I can get on for longer periods, there is a matter of a comic book convention happening nearby. You know, the one I decided to hit as part of my yearly big solo trip.

Also, I can’t seem to get the DVD player to work. Check that . . . EVERY player doesn’t work. The gameplan heading north was that I’d bring one movie I got from the library (Black Dynamite . . . gotta see that before I go to Adult Swim’s website to check out the animated pilot), and a DVD I never got to watching at home (Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks). But I can’t see either one. Sure, there’s a TV set in my room, but there aren’t channels that I would really want to see. For instance, without MTV Canada, I can’t find out who won The Challenge: Rivals (my guess . . . not Leroy & Mike, because they’re good people, and good people don’t win on that show). No Space means that I have no chance to see the midseason opener for Doctor Who. One bright side is that I’m recording lots of stuff at home that I might miss up there (including the new episodes of Children’s Hospital and NTSF:SD:SUV that are airing on Adult Swim now, which I reckon might pop up on Teletoon, another station I can’t get here). Also, if I’m in my room on Sunday night, I can watch the MTV Video Music Awards, which air on MuchMusic. I actually caught most of that when I was staying with Stephen way back in ’05. Yeah, it would be nice if I gave as big a crap about it as I did in the seemingly-distant past, but it’s a good way to kill three hours. I forget all of the nominees for Best Video, but I’m thinking Katy “Lookit Me, I’m Pretending My High Heel Is a Phone In My Proactiv Commercial!” Perry gets the honor for “Firework.” To beat out “Born This Way” (Lady Gaga) and “Raise Your Glass” (Pink) in the Best Video About How Things Really Do Get Better is a pretty big achievement.

I’m thinking that when I get online tomorrow morning, I’m just going to post whatever was saved on my blog at the time, explain the massive fuck-up, then finish it up with details about Wedneday – the Royals/Blue Jays game, the massive storm that awaited me as I left the Rogers Centre, the lightning hitting the top of the CN Tower at least twice to the awe of onlookers, the fucking honor bar where I’m expected to pay $5.50 if I open a damn bottle of Evian – when I get the time. Right now, I want to talk about today. Once again: Mixed Bag. For instance, I decided not to get an all-day pass, opting for tokens instead. Now I know how the government gets most of their money . . . they cost $3 per, and they are friggin’ teeny and look easy to lose.

I wound up getting to the Royal Ontario Museum. I actually bought a discount ticket from Expedia back in ’07, but dummy that I was, I left it in my hotel room (I just remembered that . . . I told Sylvia that I couldn’t find it, but I remembered the lobby). I wound up paying extra for their big exhibit about . . . water. Yes, for real. They said live animals were involved, and I basically decided that was enough for me. Yes, I am a dope. Worse, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so I can’t scan through my camera to jog memories. There were a lot of interactive exhibits, though most of them had kids from camp frantically fooling around with them. It’s not their fault, but that gets annoying fast, especially when you’re grumpy already.

The rest of the trip wasn’t a complete waste. I haven’t been to the Museum of Natural History back home in a long time, but ROM would compare nicely. The textiles exhibit was a snore, though some of the stuff was picture-worthy. I got to see coffins made in Ghana that resembled a Mercedes-Benz and a giant fish. I saw interested work involving Buddhism, ancient Egypt and Rome (including high-quality busts) and lots of stuffed animals. I got to feel a raccoon and a beaver. Back home, seeing a raccoon would bring on a call to Animal Control. I couldn’t take pictures of an exhibit that had Bollywood posters and cards, but I liked it a little more than the one for water. And I checked out the dinosaur and extinct mammals skeletons. You know what I saw? An ancestor of moose. Only in Canada.

As I was running close to the opening of Fan Expo, I figured that I wasn’t going to have time to properly explore Casa Loma, a massive castle in the city. Going into my trip, I wanted to see at least one locale in the city related to the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Unbenowest to me at the time, Casa Loma was the place where Lucas Lee (Evil Ex Boyfriend #2, played in the movie by future Captain America star Chris Evans) beat the shit out of Scott. Scott wound up defeating him by tricking the one-time skateboarding star to grind the rails of the long staircase outside. Lucas wound up over 300 kph/hr and killed himself in the process. Yes, that did make the movie . . . but I forgot about that. What did I remember from the books? Honest Ed’s.

In a scene that didn’t make the movie, Scott and Todd Ingram (Evil Ex #3, psychic powers coming from vegan lifestyle, played in the movie by Brandon Routh, who would be considered the worst Superman ever if not for Tom Weilling) did battle at Honest Ed’s, a way-too-big discount store. Both guys were struck at the existential horror that was the overwhelming deals. The fight ended when Todd’s psychic mojo overloaded, imploding Honest Ed’s on top of them. In real life, it’s still up, and it is insane. While I only got some Gummi Life Savers, I can see how it became popular. Apparently, “Honest Ed” Mirvish was a local celebrity, given that the area in Toronto was listed on the map as Mirvish Village. Loads of pictures dotted the walls, with A-list celebrities checking the place out back in the day (one example from 1970: “To Ed, I love your Warehouse! Please come and see mine! [signed,] Liberace”) Signs dot the inside and outside, such as “DON’T JUST STAND THERE!!! BUY SOMETHING!” and “HONEST ED’S HAS HOLES IN HIS SOX! BUT HIS BARGAINS ARE DARNED GOOD!” And for the Scott Pilgrim diehards, there’s the clock hanging over a flight of stairs with a very disturbing deer head on it. I don’t know if it’s real or fake, but it was enough to scar Scott senseless in the book.

After taking a breather in my room, I set out to the Metro Convention Centre. I wound up taking a few detours along the way. On the plus side, not only did I not hit any lines, but I managed to get in before the 4 p.m. opening. I think it was because I paid for my ticket in advance. Sadly, I was too slow to jump on the deluxe package, which includes a badge (wound up getting a bracelet I’m supposed to keep on my wrist until Sunday), a deep carrying bag, use of a VIP room, and other goodies. Once again . . . I’m an idiot.

So far, it’s been a more positive convention than not. Marvel and DC Comics have presences there, meaning that they’ll have talent to sign and sketch for free, which I always like. The Warner Bros. area had the “corpse” of Abin Sur that was used in Green Lantern. As a fan of the superhero (Kyle Rayner, not Hal Jordan), I would’ve had my picture taken of the alien, but I thought that was too morbid. On the downside, the video game booths don’t have demos of Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and I managed to pay $15 for – and immediately lose -- a “logbox” from the anime One Piece. I bought three at AnimeNext a few months back . . . the deal is that you get a random set of parts that you put together to form a diorama from the show. I paid $10 for something similar involving South Park. I think I hit the jackpot . . . I wound up with a what I think is a rare figure of Butters as Professor Chaos with a smaller version of his main minion, General Disarray. Ironically, I printed references of both characters out back home, because I had been getting sketches of characters from the “Coon & Friends” arc (Cartman as The Coon, Kenny as Mysterion, and Mintberry Crunch). I wound up giving the references and figures to Agnes Garbowski, who churned out a really cute sketch in under an hour . . . with color! Before that, I got a good deal from artist Niall Eccles, who did a nice watercolor of Blue Jay (a seldom-seen knockoff of Ant-Man used by DC) with the CN Tower and Rogers Centre in the background. Yes, I thought of that weeks in advance, and I think it’s pretty clever.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention what happened not five minutes into the con for me. My cell phone rings, and I see a familiar number with a Manhattan area code. Turns out it’s the temp agency where I’m registered. The guy found a customer service gig in Long Island City. While it would be a long commute, I would stand to make the most money per hour than I’ve ever gotten. My resume is being sent, so I have that going on for me.

That’s about all for tonight. I’m a little chafed, and the laptop problem is aggravating the hell out of me, but I’m hanging in there. If I can make it without the laptop exploding in my face or getting struck by lightning, I will be in good shape. Here’s hoping, right?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jason Vs. Toronto: Day One

Today was very interesting.

After spending last night printing out too many references for sketches, I wound up getting less sleep than I should have gotten. I got up before 6 a.m. and I managed to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The flight itself wasn't eventful, though it was raining a little as I stepped off the plane outside. The first hiccup came when I picked up my luggage and was getting ready to exit the airport, when I couldn't find the document I had to fill out on the plane and show to the customs agent. Where was it? Right . . . in the men's room, inside the book I put it in.

The cab dropped me off at the Fairmont Royal York . . . or what I thought was the Fairmont Royal York. Turns out I blundered into the Toronto underground, passing the guest elevator in the process. By the time I figured that I screwed up, I had to carry my backpack, laptop bag and luggage up a flight of stairs because the escalator going up was out of service. By the time I got to check in at the lobby, I was a sweaty mess . . . and that's where I met Sylvia.

Sylvia is a regular on the Television Without Pity forums (screenname: keeptrying). We met in the "Meet Market" in the forum devoted to [i]Heroes[/i], and we stayed in touch off the board as well. She's originally from the Pacific Northwest, and she's been in Toronto for about eight years. Her husband is originally from France. Somehow, I think they make for an ideal yet quirky Canadian couple. Anyway, she had seen enough pictures of me to know what I looked like. I managed to get to my room in time to unload a little and change shirts, because I was that sweaty. It wasn't that hot out, but I had done a lot of walking while carrying some serious weight. I'll talk about the room a little later.

We wound up doing a lot of walking and talking, where we compared life stories, views on reality television, and all sorts of other stuff. We had lunch in a market that kind of reminded me of the Reading Market in Philadelphia. I stupidly wound up with tuna sashimi with no rice and an expensive bottle of Diet Coke (gotta remember it's "pop" up here). The original plan was to hit the Royal Ontario Museum (which was on my itinerary in 2007), but I brought up the Silver Snail comic shop, and we took a detour there. By the time we arrive at the ROM, it was about 90 minutes to closing. We wound up chatting outside before walking back to the hotel, where she decided that she had to head for home. I wish we got to spend more time together, but I did enjoy her a lot. Given what would happen later, I'd say she made the smart move.

I wanted to explore Rogers Centre, but I just had to sit in the lobby and read my comics. By the time I got away from losing a game of line roulette, a lady was singing the American and Canadian national anthems. There were a lot of options for food, but I wound up paying $9.75 for a mutant foot-long hot dog cover in baked beans and crumpled bacon. Cheddar cheese was also involved, but I didn't want that. I wound up paying $46 for a front row seat . . . and when I asked the ticket lady for the best possible seat, she delivered. I wound up in the first row. I haven't been that close to the field since I went to see the Staten Island Yankees play. Granted, I paid about a fourth of what I shelled out in colorful Canadian dough, but it was a good seat. First thought: "Wow, I could get a foul ball!" Second thought: "Shit, I could get killed by a line drive!"

Rogers Centre (the complex formerly known as SkyDome) ain't as imposing as it used to be. Sure, the retractable roof set the golden standard (and shamed the hell out of Montreal's Olympic Stadium), but then came Orioles Park at Camden Yards and the other new stadiums that embraced the retro vibe. I was a little cramped in my seat, with no cupholder to put my soda. There was a narrow ledge where I could put my camera, but it was too small for the hot dog and soda. I could've put stuff on the barrier in front of me, but I think that would've been frowned upon.

Writer's Note: It's Friday. Why did I stop here? Because my damn laptop went ka-fucking-blooey, and this was what Blogspot could save. I'll write about my Rogers Centre experience once I get things straightened out at home.

Jason Vs. The Toronto: Prelude

This afternoon, there was an earthquake in central Virginia. The tremor hit 5.9 on the Richter Scale, and could actually be felt in New York, a major city that isn't used to quakes. How did I react? I didn't I left home, went to Walgreens, picked up a box of chocolate, drove to the nursing home, signed in, walked up a flight of stairs, met my grandfather, and then I heard about the quake at 2 p.m. At no point did I feel anything was up. Neither did Grandpa. Some of the residents and workers, however, did feel it, as well as my mother working in Manhattan.

Why am I talking about this? Tomorrow, I am flying out to Toronto for my annual major comic book convention trip, and I reckon that I lucked into getting the heck out of Dodge at exactly the right time. May that last sentence not bite me in the ass in the next six days.

Granted, going to Fan Expo Canada wasn't my first choice. After getting a round-trip airline voucher for my birthday, I set out to hit Geek Mecca: Comic-Con International in San Diego. Or is it San Diego Comic-Con? Anyway, getting into the show has gotten even more problematic since I last went there in 2009. Four day passes with the Wednesday "Preview Night" sold out at the convention in the previous year, so I tried to get the Thursday-Sunday package, and that ended with me staying home on a Saturday, hitting F5 over and over, trying my damnedest to get through the online traffic. Needless to say, it didn't work. It was probably for the best, because last time, my batteries died out around Saturday, and I would up wandering the aisles like a zombie on Sunday.

What were my other options? I could go back to Chicago for C2E2 for the second year in a row, but that was in March . . . too early in the year for my tastes. That also disqualified WonderCon in San Francisco, hosted by the CCI guys. I went to HeroesCon in Charlotte back in 2008, but I didn't get to do much in the city. Also, while the con strikes a good balance between big names and indie talent, it was too mellow for my tastes. Wizard has several cons scattered all over the country, including one in Chicago in August . . . but it's become more about popular media and less about comics and comic talent. The logical choice? Fan Expo.

I've been there twice. The first time, I stayed with my friend Stephen in the suburbs and wound up having a good time at the con and doing the tourism thing. I came back two years later, but I didn't do any real sightseeing. The big kicker that year came on the final day, where it dawned on me that I lost my sketchbook. A short time later, I realized that I lost my camcorder as well. I was a broken mess getting from the Metro Convention Centre back to my hotel room. I wound up getting my sketchbook back about a week later . . . lucky for me, I put my e-mail address there. I never did get my camcorder back, but that was a small price I was willing to pay.

Here's the gameplan: I'll be flying out tomorrow around 10 a.m. Sadly, that means getting up before 6 a.m. and getting car service around 6:30, since international flights require getting to the airport three hours in advance. Getting to Toronto early means playing tourist for a bit, followed by taking in a Blue Jays game. Before the con starts on Thursday (it's been extended by a day this year), I'll see some more stuff. I don't have any set schedule . . . I'm going to make it up as I go along, and I should have fun along the way. And I'll be going over the adventure here as well. Here's hoping I keep all of my stuff where I can find it this time around.

PS: Did I mention I'm wrapping this up around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday? Looks like I'm going to see if a terminal is a good place to catch a few z's.

Adventures In Toronto 2005

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four & Conclusion