Anime Central 2008

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The highlight of ACen the last two years was seeing online friends. Star, Artful and Zach in 2006, with Chromus subbing for Zach in 2007. With no international visitors expected in this year, it was hard to get excited for this con. It was still a gigantic, disorganized mess, driven to a point where they were so desperate they took on Nick as a full-fledged staffer. Thankfully he was in panel ops and not registration. So it raised the question- what were they offering that was incentive enough to drag me through the ringer again? The guest list wasn't that great: while meeting Gunsmith Cats creator Kenichi Sonoda might be fun, their emphasis on collecting former Power Rangers was a bit of a joke, especially when they neglected to sign popular voice actor Johnny Yong Bosch because he was the only one who did *not* charge an appearance fee. Yes, you read that correctly: they didn't get him because they didn't have to pay him.

So what finally convinced me to enter the chaos again?

Simple- for the first time since I've been going to conventions, the Cubs were at home ACen weekend. Fellow baseball fan Nick was interested, so I bought us tickets for the Thursday afternoon game. The game was on.

Leading Off
Chicago, where 40,000 < 500 and 3 = 14

It was strange packing Tuesday night for a weekend convention, but as usual I headed to Whitewater the night before. The game turned the Thursday night drive into a Wednesday night drive, and since my workplace is closer to Whitewater, it meant that Wednesday morning was the last time I'd see the apartment.

Although Tiffany Grant was not expected at the con, I did have one other stalker to worry about- Johnny Depp. Earlier in the year, he was in downtown Columbus filming a movie. Not a problem, since he was downtown and out of my way. But he and his Hollywood crew had the audacity to return this week. Not only in Columbus, but also in the very city where I live, on a street that's on my morning commute! Which was naturally blocked off that week, which forced me to make two of many, many detours throughout the trip- one to get to work, and a second because my path from work to Whitewater does go through downtown. That entire film crew is on notice.

Now lately I have been referring to Nick as Whitewater Nick, to avoid confusing with No Brand Nick, who provided me with a hotel room in ACen '06 and opened his doors this year as well. Neither moniker, sadly, is accurate. No Brand Nick is inaccurate because he attends just about every convention I go to, not just No Brand. Henceforth, he will be Nick K. As for Whitewater Nick (now Nick F.), I had found out a week earlier that he was moving to Madison... and his lease was up Thursday. Since he'd have to be all moved out when we left, he proposed crashing with Scott, who now lived in Janesville, Wednesday night. No problem, right?

You didn't fall for that, did you? I had assumed Nick was almost finished packing. While I was driving down, Scott called wondering why I would assume such a foolish thing, and hoped that we'd be get to his place before he left for work at nine. From when I get off work, driving to Whitewater, picking up Nick, driving to Janesville and getting food somewhere along the line would mean pulling in at around eight.

We got to his place at midnight. And only barely as Nick did not actually know where Scott lived. Scott gave me directions over the phone, which I had to write on a paper towel because all of Nick's stationary was packed. The paper towel became our sacred parchment.

Thankfully, from there I was in charge. We woke up on time, grabbed some McDonald's, and drove down to Chicago. I had already allowed for a stop at Mitsuwa to stock up on Pocky and melon pan (and check out the manga shelves before the other congoers ravaged it). From there, it was a short drive to the Rosemont CTA parking lot- this time for its intended purpose. Following directions recalled from my childhood days of going to Wrigley with my grandparents, we hopped the blue line train to Addison and caught a bus to Clark.

Ah, the obligatory marquee picture. Funny how 40,000 attend every game and the staff can shuffle them in with no hassle. Nick and I were in in five minutes. Too bad ACen's coming up because I could get used to that efficiency.

We didn't sit on the upper deck, but I headed up midway through the game to get a grand view of the whole park. If you squint, you'll see Japanese phenom Kosuke Fukudome at the plate. I'm the only one in my family who can pronounce his name.

Although Nick and I wore long sleeve shirts, it wasn't nearly enough to protect us from the strong wind coming off Lake Michigan. That wind also knocked down any would-be home runs... and had other effects which would come into play later.

There was one ACen-relevant event at the park, however!

I knew Megan from the ONY forums was a vendor at Wrigley, but I didn't think much of it. After all, it's a big stadium and there are hundreds of vendors so what are the odds that... holy cow there she is!

To keep the baseball part brief, it was a good day. The Cubs won 4-0 and Ryan Dempster, a pitcher known more for his Harry Carey impersonation than his  pitching, threw 12 strikeouts in 8+ innings. Nick and I followed the Brewers game closely on the timeless out-of-town scoreboard in center. When the Dodgers broke a scoreless tie open with 6 runs late in the game, I remembered that my bosses were at that game in Milwaukee. I left them a nice taunting voicemail.

After the game, we made the return trip to Rosemont. Nick grabbed his bags and I grabbed my registration confirmation- for the first time ever, I was picking up my badge on Thursday night! We made the short, familiar hike to the Hyatt and found Lynn in panel ops, Nick's home for the weekend.

I've mentioned Lynn briefly in other reports as a serious go-getter with major organizational skills that treats running conventions like a hobby, like Maki from Comic Party. In other words, Nick's polar opposite. She crashed with Nick for a brief period in Whitewater and is well aware of his... well, you're aware of it too. So Wednesday night she compelled me to make sure Nick got to the Hyatt at a decent hour Thursday and compelled the rest of the staffers to make sure Nick was always engaged in something, preferably something that didn't involve bringing time-sensitive materials from Point A to Point B.

I was busy repeating last year's feat of stealing convention goodie bags and copy that may or may not have been intended for regular congoers.

From there, our paths parted. Nick was on staff and had a room at the Hyatt Thursday night. After getting my badge, I would be heading off to grandma's house in Niles to spend the night and get the "spoiled grandchild" treatment. We're never too old for that.

Oh, silly me, I forgot that it's ACen! They make you earn your badge.

Rather than subject myself through the mailing debacle again, I subjected myself to this, knowing the line Thursday would be far better than the line Friday. Sadly, I was right- despite the length of the line, they divided us by last name to improve efficiency. Just one problem...

Can anyone spot the bottleneck here?

(Answer- A-C = 3 letters, D-G = 4 letters, H-L = 5 letters, M-Z = 14 letters)

Us M-Z folk were ready to riot, especially at one point when we were filtered backwards in the line because our section was longer than the first three combined. Our side being longer surprised the staffers, but not anyone who knew basic arithmetic, which unfortunately included the security guys who could only look at us, shrug, and assure us that a fix was imminent. It was, two hours later, when the first three registers finally took pity on us and took some of us in.

Grandma called me twice, wondering where I was. ACen made my grandparents wait on dinner. Curse them.

After hours of cursing, sulking, and making sure the staffers realized that this really won't fly Friday, I finally got my badge from the H-L line. Wisely, I also grabbed a ticket for the Masquerade on Saturday. What's that you say? Me going to the ACen Masquerade? Stay tuned...