Rob's Pile of Transformers: BotCon '99, Friday

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: BotCon '99

It was a rush, it was mellow, it was crowded, it was sparse...more than anything, it was an absolute BLAST. I didn't get thescoop on anything this year; I don't have much info that hasn'talready been posted about a dozen times. I just had a heck ofa lot of fun, and met tons of great Transfans over the courseof three days. This is a mostly-personal account of the experience.

FRIDAY: BotCon '99 began for me at 4:20 in the morning, whenI rolled out of bed, shoveled down breakfast, and grabbed a fastshower. I hit the street by 4:45 a.m. or so, and walked abouta mile to the train station. I was hoping to catch a 5:10 trainto the airport, to have plenty of time to electronically pickup my airline tickets, which never arrived in the mail like theywere supposed to. To my surprise... there *was* no 5:10 train.They don't start running till 5:40. D'OH! I coulda slept more!...but anyway, I got to the airport in time to get the tickets andhop on the plane. Lifted off at 6:50 or so... I was on my way!

The flight to St. Louis was mercifullyshort. I was disappointed with the landing in St. Louis; I loveflying over my old home town, but between the haze and our flightpath I didn't get to see much of anything recognizable on theground below. The connecting flight was even shorter, and by 11:00am Central time I was threading my way through the Minneapolisairport. A cab ride delivered me to the Best Western (Beast Warsian?)Kelly hotel, situated on the edge of downtown St. Paul, just acrossthe highway from the tall buildings (well, I mean "tall"in a very relative way. :] As we pulled up, my attention was rivetedby a magnificent domed church building, situated on a hill topnearby. "So THAT is the Cathedral everyone's always talkingabout," I thought, since both my friend from Minneapolisand the cabby had mentioned it as worth seeing. First thing Idid was grab my camera and walk over for a tour of the insideand outside... absolutely magnificent. After that I wandered intodowntown, intending to get some pictures of whatever architecturallyinteresting buildings there were. Completely by accident, I sawsigns for the RiverCenter, and figured I might as well see wherethe 'con was taking place. Wise choice, but as it happened, itmeant the end for my touring.

I bumped into Burt Ward (a.k.a. Skyflight) on the corner, thenchatted a bit with a few dealers standing around outside the DaysInn, the official convention hotel, located just down the streetfrom the convention center (as opposed to the 15 minute walk backto BW Kelly). One of the group was a fellow named Tim Finn, whowas planning to do a documentary video of the 'con for a class.He asked if I wanted to be interviewed for it, and I said 'sure',and was promptly whisked up to his hotel room. We chatted as heset up his camera and audio equipment, then answered a few questionsas best I could, trying all the while not to lapse into job interviewmode.

After that I returned to the hotel lobby, now crowded withnew and familiar faces: Walky, Liquid Velcro!, Trixter, Megatron33,Dalmatian, Phil Zeeman, Doug Kern (a.k.a. Monacle), SwiftEagle,Thylacine2000, Stufticon (a.k.a. Steve, Walky's roommate), andseveral others... I adhered to my policy from last year, and triedto get everyone's real-life names as well as their screen names,but with so many faces to absorb at once, I inevitably forgotor confused a few of them. Alas. After getting odd looks frommany passers-by and mangling the letter board in the lobby, wewithdrew to the parking lot behind the hotel, where we milledabout for quite some time while people debated whether to go here,go there, do this, do that...

Behold... the promised land!

Finally we marched over to the RiverCenter,where more people showed up, most prominently Tengu. I promptlypulled a duplicate of my brief meeting with Simon Furman lastyear -- I couldn't think of a darn thing to say to the man! Hedidn't have the same problem, and every time I turned around somethingfunny seemed to be coming out of his mouth... I hung out for agood long while with fans at the con' center, just kinda gettingused to the relaxed atmosphere and the strange feeling of beingface-to-face with the people behind all those screen names. Ifyou've never met on-line acquaintances in person, I can't reallydescribe how odd it is. You think you know these people... andyou do, to a certain extent; and yet, you have no idea what they'relike, either. They're never exactly how you imagined them... andsometimes they're radically different. Meeting them in real lifegives you a vastly more complete picture of what they're like...and from then on I tend to picture them sitting at their keyboardwhen I read one of their posts, or even envision them saying whatthey've written.

Eventually three o'clock rolled around, and I figured I'd bettermake good on my word to Steve-o Stonebreaker that I'd be backat the hotel by 3:30 so he could check in. I made the 15 minutehike across downtown (stopping to grab a quick picture of thestate capital building along the way). Walking into the lobby,it took me about half a second to figure out that the guy withthe glasses and dark hair was Steve-o, cool dude and almightykeeper of the FAQ, and my roommate for the next three nights (alongwith Walky and Stufticon). Steve's the living picture of "laidback", quiet and real friendly. We checked into the roomand dumped our stuff off, then headed back over to the 'con (chattingabout real-world stuff on the way), where lines were forming forpre-registrant check-in. The line was LONG -- wrapping a goodhundred feet from the tables to the doorway of the main hall,then back again. To top that off, I'd forgotten to bring thatall-important admission letter with me. Oops! Steve and I endedup chatting with other fans for the duration of the wait, whichwasn't really so bad (the wait, I mean. Of COURSE talking to fanswas cool!) Especially neat was talking with a mother who was therewith her 10-year-old or so kid, and asked all sorts of questionsabout the toys and prices. IIRC the kid was after a Fort Max...Finally we got our stuff and milled about some more; I met TonyFitz in here, I believe, and also said 'hi' to Retrax (with acouple of TM2s twistie-tied to his forearms), and briefly metthe infamous Blue Jackal, who has the cutest English accent...

The Promised Land had a heck of a waiting list...

Around 5:30 pre-reg closed, and we allgot booted out of the convention center since the pizza partydidn't start up for another hour or three. A contingent of ussettled for getting food at the Subway's down the street fromthe RiverCenter. Yeesh. Subway's. I lived on the stuff in highschool, but since then I've gained something of an aversion tofast food, even good fast food... nevertheless I got in the line.No sooner had I done so than a voice from behind me said somethingalong the lines of "You wanted to meet me, didn't you?"I turned around to shake the hand of Chris Meadows, a tall, thin,lanky, bespectacled fellow. I had the pleasure of chatting aboutshow reviews and the recently completed Beast Wars show for awhile.

With our stomachs sated, the lot of us paraded outside, andmilled aboutstill further. Some folks departed for the Mall ofAmerica; as for me, I hung around with a small group that eventuallytrooped into a bizarre store by the hotel (the kind of place thatsells bongs and capes and gargoyles and Phish bumper stickers),which had a new comic/action figure shop opening up in an adjoiningspace. We walked in, saw nothing, walked out, then walked backin to actually _ask_ if the place was open (I think Trixter hadto persuade us to do this. What a bunch of *guys*!) We got tolook around, though mostly they had bunches of strange Star Warsstuff like life-size Darth Vader figures.

Mr. Byrnes, embarrassed by all the attention, no doubt.

Back to the RiverCenter after that; after much waiting in lineand standing around (during which time I met EmarZero; not tillSunday did I finally learn that he and Hooper_X are one and thesame!), I acquired a couple of slices of pizza for dinner at thepre-party. Crowd control was definitely lacking this year; theevent suffered from taking place in a large hall rather than aconventional room like last year. Finally we gathered in a bigsemi-circle around Jon, Glenn and Karl for the welcome announcements.

"The toy exclusives we originally planned were gonna be this big!!"

The two voice actor guests were introduced; the photomosaic postersof Optimus Prime and Megatron were unveiled, to much applause;the toy exclusives were displayed and walked around the room foreveryone to get a distant gander at; and the prize posters forthe trivia contest winners were shown. I meant to get a good lookat the trivia posters, but never did -- from afar, they lookedgorgeous, full renderings of the Season 3 Beast Wars cast. Thehighlight of the announcements, of course, was the news that thefirst episode of Beast Machines would be shown Saturday; likejust about everything, this news was met with much applause. OverallI'd describe the vibe in the room as very positive, though theHartmans were obviously frazzled. No wonder! These guys work damnhard to pull the whole thing together (as we learned Sunday),and this year's 'con was the biggest yet attendance-wise.

Thylacine, Dalmatian, Steve-o, Windy, Walky, and Perceptor

After the announcements ended, fans hungaround for another hour or so. The voice actors were mobbed; Itook one look at a big cluster of people and knew instinctivelythat Scott McNeil was in the center of it. I decided it wasn'tworth the effort, at the moment at least; instead I resumed beingsocial with other fans. A group of us ended up sitting in a circlenearby, chatting about this and that. Perceptor (the one withOUTthe TFWW) joined us for a bit and chatted enthusiastically tillhe was dragged away by his curfew (ah, to be seventeen again...NOT!) The Hartmans announced that the Rivercenter closed at 10,so we headed out -- but I made sure to give them a quick "thanksfor everything!" before we did.

Hooper/Emar shared his Scott McNeil tape with us outside; thenwe trudged back to the Days Inn. Wandering randomly, a few ofus including me, Steve-o and Dalmatian ended up dropping by Raksha'sroom to say 'hi' to Avatar (and to disturb poor Vulcana as shesettled in for the evening). I got to hold her for moment, thoughshe didn't seem too relaxed (though I'm not exactly experiencedin judging the moods of a snake!) I still find Avatar to be anabsolutely beautiful animal... though I'm not sure I could handlefeeding her a couple dozen live mice at a time.

Buncha folks, including but not limited to Thylacine 2000, Liquid Velcro!, Trixter, Steve-o, EmarZero, and Windy.

We met up with more folks back in the lobby, and were kindlyasked to move to the back room of the hotel if we wanted to hangout. This we did... and had a blast. Me, LV, Steve-o, Trixter,Walky, Windchaser, Dave Connell (the fellow with Brainstorm'stech spec quote in his .sig), and a few other folks -- about adozen total -- ended up sitting around and blabbing about this,that, and the other till 3 am. We turned a large drawing pad onan easel into a bizarre mural of amateur Transformer art, thehighlight of which was Megatron as drawn by Manny Galan -- wireseverywhere, gumline up to his eyes, and of course a big nasty-lookingtongue. Dave also told me about a possible deal in the works torelease the original Transformer cartoon soundtrack music on CD;anyone who's been to my web site can imagine how I reacted tothis -- I just about flipped. For me, that was bigger news thanthe airing of Beast Machines!

Stufticon, Dave Connell, Walky, Emar/Hooper, Windchaser, LV!, Trixter... and two people whose identity is lost to the vagaries of time, memory, and blurry photography.

LV said something that pretty muchsummed up the spirit of it all for me, something along the linesof, "BotCon's not about buying toys; it's about hanging outfor three days with a bunch of people who actually know what theheck you're talking about." He also entertained us with talesof "Goth Wheelie" from the Japanese cartoons: "It'sTOO LATE for apologies!" Various people finally began filteringback to their rooms, and we finally trudged home to our hotelaround 3 am (or did Stufticon drive us?? I can't remember!) deadtired, quite happy, and psyched for the next two days.

On to Saturday, or,
Back to Rob's Pile of Ramblings.