DragonCon has become an annual tradition. This year marks my sixth trek to Atlanta, Georgia to experience the unparalleled geekdom of the largest pop culture convention in the United States. It’s crazy to think of how much has changed (and HASN’T changed) in that time. Although I was not the first in my friend group to experience the Con, I have become the most consistent Tulsa traveler. Some years I’ve stayed in a room all by myself and others I’ve shared the space with a small crowd. I have developed a Con family; friends that I see once a year with whom I share a connection to some slice of nerdery. The whole thing is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. This year, I was honored to introduce Samantha to that family and the culture of the Con, too!
A few days before our flight, my friend Adam in Atlanta reached out to me and asked if we needed a ride from the airport. I met Adam in 2012 when we were both walking in the DragonCon Parade as part of the Back to the Future group. I was Marty, of course, and he was a hastily-assembled-yet-recognizable George McFly. Halfway through the parade, the DeLorean that served as our centerpiece blew its radiator; we had to push it across the finish line. It was quite a bonding experience; every year we do our best to meet up for a bit. When Samantha and I de-planed on Thursday, he and his lady were waiting for us with lovingly-created signs welcoming us. We had a very enjoyable ride to downtown, chatting with them about the past year and our hopes for the Con ahead. For all it’s commonality, the Con has always had a huge element of unpredictability in the meeting of friends. There are so many people that attend (which also places a huge strain on the cell towers; goodbye data service!) that it’s difficult for me to coordinate meet-ups. I don’t see some of my friends at all, and often I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t make it that year or if we just missed each other. Although we all had the best intentions for the weekend, we didn’t see Adam or Heather again after they dropped us off. It made me all the more thankful for the time we had together on the way in.
There are five ‘Host Hotels’ that the Con calls home; I’ve stayed at two of them over the last five years. Reserving a room is always a challenge; you have to get your room about a year in advance and are battling tens of thousands of other people at the same time through a notoriously unreliable online portal. Thankfully, I was able to score a room at the Hyatt, a new one for me. Furthermore, the room I was able to snag was in a secondary tower of the hotel, meaning the traditional wait for the elevator and the ‘You must go up to go down’ rule didn’t apply. It was a priceless benefit; we didn’t have to wait more than 3 minutes for an elevator all weekend and NEVER had to hold off because an elevator was full. To top if off, the hotel gave us the option to renew the SAME room for next year at check-in. Yes please! Funnily enough, we were on the second floor room 66. It felt pre-destined.
The lobbies of the host hotels were already pretty full on Thursday night, even though the Con hadn’t officially started yet. We enjoyed a lovely dinner with my friend Rose and her brother, who shared the label of First Time Con Goer with Sam. Similar to our ride in with Adam and Heather, it was a delightfully extended time with a friend that I normally see in passing. Rose is the first member of my Con family; I met her in 2010 as I milled around “The Spot” (a place her and her friends occupy most of the Con outside the Marriott). Interestingly, although I don’t smoke and the rest of my friends did, it was her and I that made a connection. We’ve made a point to hang out every year since; we even roomed together last year. She is a delightful person, full of cheerful energy and a great ambassador for the Con. We only bumped into her once more over the course of the weekend, but as mentioned earlier…the ebb and flow of the population has a mind of its own.
Over the next three days, I did my best to ensure Sam experienced a little bit of everything DragonCon has to offer. We went to a panel (for a show Sam really likes called, ‘Lost Girl’), wandered the Marriott Atrium level (the best costume-viewing spot), watched the parade, stopped by my buddy Brian’s photo booth (now the official DragonCon photographer, though we met in 2011 in line to see Christopher Lloyd), and spent time touring the Vendor Hall and Artist’s Alley. Since Sam is a crafter, it was particularly fascinating to go through these familiar spaces and view them through her eyes. She was enamored with a felt hat vendor and another lady that made geeky tote bags. We both equally enjoyed the Art Bazaar on the lower level of the Hyatt, as it was full of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and other handmade items. As we wandered the hallways and lobbies throughout the weekend, I bumped into many old acquaintances. Everybody was excited to hear it was Samantha’s first time and was immediately invested in ensuring she was enjoying herself.
Our favorite event of DragonCon 2015, though, was the dance party. There are dozens of official parties (and hundreds of unofficial ones) scattered throughout the Con at all hours of the day and night. Saturday night we met up with my friends Wes & Ashlie and went to the Heroes and Villains Ball together. I met Wes a few years ago as I was wandering the Marriott with my camera, my usual Con activity even when I’m in costume. We were both wearing identical uniforms from the 2009 film ‘Moon’ and geeked out over our mutual love of the cult classic film. The four of us ventured to the Sheraton just after 10:00 PM. Out of the many parties going on that night (including the large ‘Last Night on Alderaan’ party) it seemed the least likely to have a smaller line. Although we DID have a bit of a wait to get in, at DragonCon it’s no big deal. You get to have great conversations with like-minded people and see tons of great costumes along the way. After a spell, you get to witness those same people shakin’ it up on the dance floor. We were hosted by a DJ dressed as Wonder Woman and treated to a conga line of Deadpools as we drank and danced until 2:00 AM.
For all the fun and frivolity the weekend brings me each year, I have yet to escape a period of sadness/anxiety. It’s happened at some point every year. I just start feeling off. Sometimes, it’s sadness that I’m not getting to spend enough time with my friends from home (this year, only Nikki made it from that group…so it was less of an emotional weight). Other times, like this year, it’s a feeling of exasperation. I was anxious about all the things we were missing. At the Con, there is SO MUCH going on at ALL times, you’ll NEVER get to see/do everything you want to. For every decision you make, there are a dozen other things that you’ll miss out on. It’s not a negative, really; it’s just part of the deal. Since I was focused on trying to show Samantha everything, it heightened that emotional slump. Additionally, my new camera lens wasn’t working out quite like I’d wanted it to. The photos I’d been taking were coming out really clear, but the lack of zoom was a hindrance to my normal shooting style. The 35mm lens was framed a little closer than I had expected, so many of my photos are cropped too much due to the lack of space in the cosplay-heavy areas. Much like on our recent trip to Chicago, these things all coalesced into a malaise that hit me on Sunday afternoon. Sam, bless her, helped me identify what I was feeling and suggested I wander by myself for a little bit. She needed a break from the crowds and it would give me the opportunity to experience the Con as I had over the last few years.
As usual, she was totally right. I spent hours walking back-and-forth between the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton with my camera. I was getting more time to capture the cosplayers and talk to them about their passions. I was able to re-connect with a few people I’d missed the rest of the weekend and was even recognized for my Marty McFly costume when I wasn’t wearing it. That felt pretty good! Sam re-joined me later in the evening and we people-watched as the last night of the Con spun up to full force. By the time we dragged ourselves back to our room, I was exhausted but satisfied. Sam and I both collapsed that night with sore feet, but full hearts. We were already talking about what we want to do next year!
I selected a few of my favorite photos for this post, but if you would like to see all of my photos from DragonCon 2015, follow my Flickr link below! There were some truly AMAZING and inventive costumes this year and they all deserve to be seen and appreciated.