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For as many conventions I have been to, almost all of them are either in Wisconsin or an adjacent state. There are two exceptions to this rule- the two trips to Baltimore for Otakon in '03 and '04. The 2003 version involved two people driving halfway across the country in a vehicle with manual transmission. I did not, and still do not, know how to drive a stick shift. I took the mind-numbing stretch between Lafayette, Indiana and Wheeling, West Virginia- which includes Indianapolis, Columbus and nothing else. Somehow 2004 was worse- a caravan of two cars, a total of seven passengers, and no regard for established plans or even time itself. Four scheduled stops became seven and "North I-95" is now synonymous with "what the f*@# are they doing?!" There's a reason I haven't returned.

Some time in November, I had been asked several times by several people to accompany the Green Bay group to Ohayocon in Columbus, Ohio the first week of January. My only experience with Columbus was speeding through it at 3 am on the 2003 trip and all opinions of Ohayocon were inconclusive. Think ACen Lite... which either means "great taste, less filing" or "flat, bitter and disorienting." But it's a long gap between Geek.kon in October and No Brand in March, with the only nearby cons being Reactor in November and Detour in March, neither of which seem worth it. Plus I get two extra vacation days in 2008. Then December brought this:

Near-record December snowfall. My fingers froze off just going out to take these pictures. To hell with that. I needed to go somewhere warmer, somewhere that wasn't buried under a foot of snow. Since AWA isn't until September and nobody I know is going, I had to settle for Ohayocon.

From Columbus to Columbus
Cutting Up Indiana in the Process

But wait! Last time I traveled that far with friends, it ended up being a complete mess. And that was two cars and seven. This is four cars and fifteen- no way this would work, right? Turns out Green Bay has two assets. 1) Cassie and Anthony (the Maestro) have superb organizational skills and possibly psychic powers. They had directions, call lists, and room and car assignments printed well in advance. 2) Nick's not involved.

Since I had a working vehicle in great condition, Aurus was selected as one of the four cars. The original incarnation of the seating chart had me alone with Richard- a bad thing. Given my propensity for the "driver-copilot" system during overnight trips, this began the first of my many, many suggestions over the weeks leading up to the event- an extra passenger. I received Matt, who has appeared in a few convention photos but hasn't gotten much screen time. My other tips covered the Chicago leg, seeing as how I have a Chicago-born parent, have access to an I-Pass, and have ridden through it a couple times. Yes, this made me qualified, even if I hadn't actually driven any of it.

Somewhere in the final week, one person dropped out. Somehow, this also resulted in one vehicle dropping out as well and Eric being added to my car. Fair enough; more sleep time... or in my case, more time to write MST on my laptop.

Armed with spending cash (most of which courtesy of Christmas cards), the I-Pass, and the digital camera which my Dad bought me so I'd stop stealing his, I left Columbus, Wisconsin Thursday night. Even with the New Year's-induced short week, it was a hellish two days, so much that the other co-workers thought they were screwed without me Friday (they were more or less right). Which made me want to leave even more. I got to Green Bay a half hour ahead of the 9:00 departure time, where everybody met outside in a campus parking lot. It was 15 degrees out and none of us wanted to burn our full gas tanks (another of Cassie's plans) to warm up. We settled for huddling up and making a tent out of a blanket.

The full crew arrived just ahead of nine... pretty sad that I beat them by twenty minutes despite a two-hour car trip and getting off work just 2.5 hours prior. My picture of a three-car convoy burst when we learned that two of the cars needed to stop in Milwaukee to pick up additional passengers. Hence the need for everybody to have directions. Instead of a caravan, it was now a road race. And Car #3 Aurus was armed with a fast forward and could skip all detours!

As I was the designated Chicago specialist, Eric volunteered for the first leg, with me using my laptop to navigate write MST taunt Car #2. Not long after leaving Green Bay, we discovered that Eric had a few idiosyncrasies with his driving. For starters, he was a bit swervy. Not enough to get rumble strips or other lanes involved, but enough to make us, and any car behind us (namely Cassie's), nervous. But that was boring compared to quirk #2- his speed fluctuated based on the tempo of the song playing on my anime mix. The fast-paced opening third of the CD got Eric up to about ninety. We caught up to Cassie right about when the Gundam Seed song came up, swapped positions throughout the Haruhi opening, and fell back when the FMP: Fumoffu opening came on. I warned him then and there that the last song was the opening to Fruits Basket and there was a twelve-pack of Dr. Pepper on hand to keep him awake. When that was done, I put on my Fratellis album to keep things steady between Milwaukee and Chicago... and rip Richard further for having never seen The Goonies.

Our first stop was at an oasis in Illinois- one of those fancy rest areas built over the interstate with restaurants and such. Also the only tangible evidence of our highway tolls at work. We found out that both other cars were still in Wisconsin, so we sat down and enjoyed some McDonald's before getting back on the road. We were confident now, especially with a big lead and our secret weapons- my Chicago heritage and the I-Pass. I strapped myself into the seat and disobeyed the sign that said "Indiana- Keep Right." That keeps you on the exorbitant Tri-State tollway- about six dollars for non-I-Pass-wielding foreigners. Instead, we headed to the Edens Expressway- gateway to the heart of Chicago... and toll-free. As it was around midnight, we conquered the city easily.

Then the city ended and left us with only Indiana. I requested a Pepper from co-pilot Richard; after all the excitement of driving Chicago I was going to struggle to survive the second half of my leg. Matt and Eric didn't. Richard didn't want to, but had to co-pilot. However, with him driving next, and the Indiana landscape not improving much until Indianapolis, I offered to fly solo so he could get some rest.

Our second stop was in Lafayette, and unfortunately the 24-hour gas station we chose switched to drive-thru only at night. Needing someplace to sit down, warm up, use the bathroom and check on the other two cars, Adam, Richard, Matt and Eric went to White Castle.

"Somebody order something so we don't look like complete tools," I instructed. It turned into fourth meal. There, I learned from Car #2's co-pilot that Cassie had embarked on a quest. Cassie, armed with only an IV of caffeinated beverages and eschewing her four passengers, was determined to drive the entire length of the trip- both ways. If that weren't disturbing enough, they too were gassing up elsewhere in Lafayette and had no intention of meeting up with us. The race was on, and we now realized that our rival was formidable, dangerous, and on a mission from God.

And what did we have to counter this terror? Richard.

With his first move, he backed out of an angular parking lot the wrong way and ended up face-to-face with a semi. Somehow escaping that, he pulled out of White Castle and onto a divided road... the wrong side of the divided road and face-to-face with another semi. Matt, serving as co-pilot, was ready to declare Richard incapable of fulfilling the duties of pilot and take the oath of office. Eventually, we ended up back on the interstate where we only had to worry about rear-ending semis. Naturally, I wasn't going to get much sleep on this leg. I cracked open the laptop and got to work on MST as we somehow finished off Indiana.

Richard suffered one last indignity at the end of his leg when chose an off-ramp that due to construction didn't have a corresponding on-ramp to get back onto the interstate. To be fair, I did the same thing on the way to Anime Iowa last year. We laughed at him anyway and turned things over to Matt to guide us through Ohio's road construction and bring things home. Unfortunately, not only did Cassie succeed in driving the whole way, she did it a half-hour faster than we did.

She earned a nice rewarding floor nap while in line for the convention. We cut into line to join her.

Apparently there were some good ol' fashioned line problems the previous year and our group came prepared. Matt brought the game Bang! in its shiny bullet container and had a blast sorting the cards while we all did other stuff. braid Eric's hair.

Now he's pretty. Wouldn't recommend trying to fly with those though... you know, with the swerving and all.

My distraction of choice was my laptop, of course. Turns out that I wasn't the only one planning to write as a time-killer. Nicole, however, was only armed with a pen and a notebook, and in awe of my superior technology. And in awe that I was also a writer... and with booklets of my story printed and ready to distribute. With all the excitement over card sorting and hair braiding, I discovered that I was in no mood to write MST, but was eager to hear some honest feedback from someone who knew her stuff. More importantly, Donovan now has a fangirl.

Registration opened close enough to on time and the lines moved close enough to tolerable. We retrieved our badges and moved on to pick up our program books. After the line for registration, this is a formality. As I hadn't seen a schedule yet, I was eager to find out what Ohayocon had to offer.

Then we discovered... there were no programs. There was no printed schedule. There wasn't even a promotional flier for some AnimEigo series we had no interest in.


To Be Continued!