I am just about the epitome of a convention virgin. Maybe I hung around the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society’s annual “Loscon” once, but Loscon is held in an airport Marriott basement. Very manageable, as far as cons go.
But over the weekend, I drove down to Anaheim for Disney’s D23 Expo, in all its mouse-eared glory. It’s so much bigger than a Marriott basement. (have you seen our D23 Expo coverage? “Ultimate D23 EXPO 2015 Survival Guide.” I followed every step within. I was a D23 Expo-going force to be reckoned with.
And then I got there. And the all-engulfing sensory overload blew every reasonable thought from my brain and pushed me into a weekend of boneheaded decisions that even today, I still haven’t quite recovered from. If you’ve never been to a major convention before, consider this a guide to all the dumb newbie mistakes I’ve made and that you shouldn’t. Or just something to laugh at. That’s cool too.
1. If You’d Like To Eat on a Regular Basis, Bring Snacks From Home
As written in the email confirming my D23 press pass: “Press seating for presentations… will be extremely limited.” It’s true. And, sad to say, I didn’t make the cut for a seat in the press are of the expo’s two biggest presentations, Friday’s Disney Animation/Pixar event, and Saturday’s Marvel/Star Wars/Everything Else event.
But no worries. Waiting in giant lines is a convention right of passage (probably) that I’m happy to experience. Plus, it’s not like that little red “MEDIA” badge doesn’t have its perks. I was hopping over velvet ropes all weekend (and as one security guy yelled at me through a glass window- “You can just cut in front of everybody!”).
So at about noonish on Friday, I got in line for the Disney Animation/Pixar presentation. It didn’t start until three, but I’m a patient guy and I have Twitter. I’m all confidence.
And then it dawns on me: I have no food or water. The last thing I ate was a piece of toast at about 6:30 in the morning, and I’ll be in line (and then sitting in the expo hall) for at least six hours into the future. Also, my water bottle (per D23 Expo Survival Guide Rule #6- “Hydrate”) is sitting in my car. In the hotel parking lot.
From that piece of early-morning toast to leaving the presentation a little after six, I went just about twelve hours without food or water. Men’s Fitness calls the 12-hour fast a “miracle.” I call it “a tiny asterisk of white-hot headache lightning, searing its way into my forehead and also my stomach.”
2. Pen and Paper are Absolutely Essential
This one’s a little more specific to press coverage, but it’s an important “dumb thing I forgot” nonetheless. Watching presentations among the non-press crowds is very different from sitting with the press. As press, you’re allowed to have your phones and laptops out, to get that breaking news online ASAP. In the civilian sections, they give you these little grey bags, in which you must place all electronics. The bags make an extraordinarily loud crinkling sound at the slightest touch, so if any potential pirates reach for their phones, every security guard in the expo hall will hear CRSHCRSHCRNKLR and shut that pirate down, hard.
But that’s not a problem, because I can just take old-fashioned notes on the little notepad/pen-holder combo I always bring to press events. Which… I’ve left at home (that head-slapping So I must improvise. And in the press kit I’ve been given, there’s a several-page handout on all of this weekend’s can’t-miss presentations. It’s white printer paper, printed on only one side. Flip it around and I’ve now got a good six pages of blank paper.
And by process of elimination, I discover the spare key to my sister’s apartment leaves a smudgey grey indent when you dig it into paper hard enough. Thus, I am left with this:
You can’t really tell in photo form, but it was actually legible once I stared at it for a minute or two. And I’m extremely proud to say all those tiny key-smudges became a real, non-terrible news piece.
3. Starving? Don’t Just Eat the First Thing That Presents Itself as Food
Having left the Disney/Pixar presentation, I had two goals: transfer my key-smudge notes into my computer while they were still fresh in my mind, and get some kind of nourishment into my body before I pass out. And upon leaving the expo hall, I saw it. A tiny little food court area; mostly empty, save for maybe six or seven people.
Turns out, there were two kiosks here. One for healthy-ish stuff like salads and wraps, the other for burgers and fries. Both were more or less closed. But they were selling off the last scraps of the day; cold pre-packaged wraps, salads, two stale leftover pastries and the usual assortment of bottled sodas.
I grabbed a wrap, a bear claw and a bottle of water. All of it had stiffened from age (and the wrap was about 95% lettuce and red onion, with with a few thin slivers of what I think was meat, or maybe cheese), but my stomach was growling in minute-long contractions and I was genuinely worried I’d pass out if I didn’t consume something. I scarfed it down in about a minute and a half. Food had never tasted better.
And then I walked outside and saw about at least ten gourmet food trucks.
At least I learned this lesson early, and later in the expo I’d sustain myself on food-truck Hungarian sausages the size of a small Dachshund. There’s probably a lesson about “don’t eat Hungarian sausages the size of a small Dachshund without ample napkins” in there somewhere, but lucky for me I brought an extra change of clothes.
4. Sleeping Bags Are Your Best Friend (AKA, Don’t Sleep On Concrete. Ever).
Once I had food in me, the rest of the first day went swimmingly. I walked the floor, met cosplayers, saw Darth Vader picking through T-shirts in the gift shop. All great. And then the next challenge began.
Because, again, I had no instant press pass into Saturday’s all-important Marvel/Star Wars/Live Action panel, I’d need to get in line early. And as the signs around the convention center stated, that line would start at 10 PM the night before.
My entire reason for being here hinged around that presentation. Also, overnight line-waiting seemed like another essential con-going rite of passage. So I hatched a plan.
1. Retreat to the CVS near my hotel. Gather all essential supplies for the following day: notepad, pens, 8-pack of Chewy bars, water bottle, one of those cheapo Sudoku books to pass the time.
2. Return to hotel. Sleep from roughly 10 PM to 2 AM.
3. Awaken, walk back to the convention center and get in line.
4. Wait, mildly refreshed and armed with chocolate chip nourishment, until the presentation begins at 10:30 AM.
I lasted until about 6 AM (turns out, you can only do so many sudokus before your brain just decides to power off). Faced with four and a half hours of plodding boredom (and the same waiting-in-line cartoons I saw yesterday, on repeat), I figured I’d try and get some rest. Other people were sleeping around me unmolested, and the atmosphere seemed friendly enough that I could do the same. My backpack became a pillow. My spare pair of jeans became a cushion between my hipbone and the floor. By no means was it the worst place I’d ever slept. I set my alarm for 9:30 (plenty of time to rise and shine in time for the presentation) and nodded off.
But bear in mind, the Hall E area where the overnight lines are held looks like this:
It’s cold and sterile and the floor is concrete-hard with a slightly prickly texture. And after about twenty minutes of real sleep, I woke up. Something was wrong. I sit up and- yep, there’s that red-hot stabbing pain, right in the small of my back. It feels like a horse was wandering through the line and happened to stomp right on my spine.
I’ve actually done yoga before, and know that the “cat” and “cow” positions are pretty solid remedies for back pain. But “cat” and “cow” look like this:
And given the close proximity of the people in line, I cannot perform them without presenting my ass to the guy sitting six inches to my right. I do them anyway, for about 15 seconds, then sit back down, shamed and still very sore.
5. Why Are You Trying To Sleep on Concrete A Second Time? Stop It.
I really don’t know what I was thinking here. But it hit about 8:30 and I was still so tired and I figured I could at least give my nap another shot.
Don’t give it a shot. Don’t even give it a second thought. This was Saturday, and three days later I still can’t turn my back to look behind me without a faint twinge of what the hell were you thinking back pain.
On the plus side? The rest of the con went swimmingly. No near-starvation. No grievous injuries to my person. Wall-to-wall fun without any other horrifying mistakes.I feel genuinely prepared for any future cons that may come my way.
I live in LA, and one of these years I’ll finally head down to San Diego and experience Comic-Con. After this weekend, I think I have a real shot of making it out alive.