In February 2006, I was staying with my friends Ivan and Alexa while on assignment to cover Toy Fair in New York. The Saturday night before the show’s opening day, while a snowstorm dumped a couple feet on the whole region, Ivan showed me to the spare bedroom and also pointed out a stack of books he figured I might like. They were the first three volumes of Player vs. Player, and reading page after page after page of 1980s pop-culture references and nerd jokes and geek-tuned humor, I was totally hooked.
So it was very cool meeting PvP creator Scott Kurtz at PAX East on Saturday morning, pretty much just a few minutes after getting Wil Wheaton’s autograph. Scott drew a picture of Scratch Fury: Destroyer of Worlds on the title page of the PvP collection I bought from his table, and when I mentioned that my wife and I happen to share a wedding anniversary with Brent Sienna and Jade Fontaine, he actually knuckled up for a fist bump. (Yes, I know May 4 is also the birthday of PvP itself, and that’s why he made it their wedding day. It’s still cool, like having 1138 as a street address would be.)
And right next to him was Bill Amend of FoxTrot, who helped me complete an awfully neat trifecta that morning, signing both a really worn-out book I brought along, and a print of his own Penny Arcade/FoxTrot mashup.
Both of these guys were very generous with their time and I really enjoyed meeting them and getting the chance to tell them in person how much I like their work.
Paul & Wendy and I had spent this whole morning together, and while they were at Paul and Storm‘s table talking about the upcoming concert that night, I saw a T-shirt I wanted, despite having only a little familiarity with the duo’s musical stylings. It just says “cheese” in sign language, semaphor, and French. Nothing else. And I do like me some cheese. And the shirt was on super-sale, so, Bonus.
After a lunch in the food court, Paul & Wendy and I took a stroll through the Expo Hall for awhile, and then decided to hit the Classic Arcade for a couple rounds before I needed to drive back to Rhode Island. Lessons learned: Free-play games are awesome, even when they suck, so I enjoyed the sit-down version of Buck Rogers – Planet of Zoom despite the fact that the game itself was far lamer than I remembered.
We played some Food Fight, and then Paul and I teamed up for a good round of Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest, even if we couldn’t figure out what the hell good transforming into a Pegasus was. (Turns out you’re heavier and can drop quicker for attack purposes. I looked it up for the next time I’m time traveling to the arcade at Twin Pines Mall.) With the ’80s music playing and my fingers mashing the “fly” button and my desperate attempts to avoid enemies and scoop up giant eggs, I could practically hear the whine of a DeLorean revving in the distance, and it seemed as good a way as any to finish up my time at PAX East.
So, while my first day at PAX East had centered on the Bringing Up the Next Generation of Geeks panel and catching Wil Wheaton’s keynote – which I covered in this post for GeekDad – Saturday morning’s sunrise illuminated Me On A Quest.
Because over the past year, my daughter Kelsey has become a major Wil Wheaton fan. It started just before Penguicon 7.0 last May, when we watched video online of him playing Rock Band at a convention, and she has since enjoyed both The Happiest Days of Our Lives and Just A Geek. She was excited to see him show up on The Big Bang Theory and can’t wait for Evil Wil’s return to the show next month.
I was planning my PAX trip right around the time we were listening to the Happiest Days audiobook in the car, and while there’s a lot of stuff in that book she loves, nothing cracks her up like the story “Blue Light Special,” in which Wil relates a childhood trip to K-Mart and his moments of agony and indecision in the Star Wars figures aisle. Of course, what absolutely kills her is this bit of frustration internally voiced by young Wil upon finding a glut of Cloud City figures: “Lando Calrissian? He was a dick in the movie. There’s no way I’m getting him.”
When Kelsey heard Wil was going to be at PAX, she asked if I could get him to sign something cool, and we came up with what we thought he might think was a pretty funny idea: a vintage Kenner Lando Calrissian action figure cardback. A friend in the Rebelscum forums hooked me up with one in a flash, and the task was set. Adding to the pressure on me was the fact that Kelsey had just turned 13 on Friday, and I was really aiming to bring home a one-of-a-kind present from my trip to Boston and garner some bankable Dad Points with my newly-minted teenager.
All the way into Boston, I wrestled with a decision over how to begin my day. Cartoonist Bill Amend was scheduled for an hour-long 10 a.m. presentation on celebrating geekdom in FoxTrot – of which Kelsey and I are also big fans – and I desperately wanted to attend. Problem: Wil had tweeted the night before that he’d be at his signing table from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and I just knew that if I made it into Bill’s panel, that by the time I got out, there’d likely be an awfully long line for Wil’s signature, and maybe even a significant risk of not getting one. (I was planning to leave midafternoon in order to get a chance to spend the evening with my friends in Pawtucket, who graciously let me use their house as a base of operations over the weekend.)
In the end, I opted – hoping that Bill Amend would understand a Geek Dad’s dilemma – to aim for an early spot in Wil’s line, and I wound up among the first dozen people or so, along with my friends Paul & Wendy, who showed up not long after I did.
Wil arrived shortly after 11 a.m. – by which point the line had in fact become pretty sizable – and the reality that the Quest’s End was in sight settled over my shoulders.
Paul & Wendy were in front of me, and they have their own superfantasticool Meeting Wil story which they deserve to share themselves if they so choose, and then I was stepping up to the table.
Wil was incredibly kind and enthusiastic and friendly as I thanked him first for inspiring my daughter and me to attend Penguicon last year, and then briefly related Kelsey’s enthusiasm for “Blue Light Special,” handing him the Lando card and explaining that we thought it would be funny and then – “Ohmygod!” he interjected, just grinning and looking at this card and saying how cool it was and he hadn’t seen one in years. Suddenly I felt a little bad because I wished I’d brought an extra one for him to keep, even as he neatly printed “Happy Birthday Kelsey!” and then added his signature, reminding me that I should let it dry for a few minutes to keep the ink from smearing on the glossy card.
He signed a copy of Happiest Days for me, then, and the last thing I did was give him a copy of Collect All 21! His first reaction was to look at the cover and say thank you, and then he flipped it open for just a second, but it was long enough for him to smile and roll his eyes and say, “Of course I open right to the page where you get the Death Star.” (See his story “The Trade” for why this is a bit of a sore spot.)
The whole thing took maybe two minutes, tops, but it was awfully neat.
When I talked to Kelsey the night I got home to Ohio, I wouldn’t tell her whether or not I’d managed to fulfill her request. When my mom brought her back to our house this afternoon, I was greeted with a massive heart-crushing hug (yes, even before I brought out the gifts) and then I threw all my planned teasing delays out the window and just said, “Well, we did it,” and I handed her the Lando card. Moment of Awesome Achieved. (Thanks again, Wil!)
“Well,” as a certain hobbit once said, “I’m back.”
Total trip time, from leaving the bank on Thursday morning to pulling into our driveway last night: 84.5 hours, with more than a quarter of that time – 22 hours between Canton, Ohio and Pawtucket, R.I., and another 4.5 spent going to and from Boston on Friday and Saturday – spent sitting behind the steering wheel. Total mileage: 1,490.
And completely worth every highway minute and every white-lined mile.
After a late Thursday night hanging out with my friends and gracious hosts Aaron and Jessica, I headed into Boston late Friday morning and – after a maybe 45-minute extended detour due to my missing a massive sign reading, in effect, “BOSTON – THIS WAY” – I got to the Hynes Convention Center just after 1 p.m. and found a hugehugeHUGE entrance queue. (You will undoubtedly read elsewhere about the crowds and lines at the center – honestly, I come to expect them at things like this, so I adjust my expectations accordingly. Also, I know that a lot of people work extremely hard to organize these conventions, and they’re supposed to be fun after all.) Doors were set to open at 2 p.m.
I honestly didn’t expect that by the time I made my way up to the doors of the Main Hall that Wil Wheaton’s keynote speech venue would already be at capacity. I mean, I knew that people would go straight there even though it wasn’t scheduled to start until 3 p.m., but I also figured maybe at some point, since they had divided the queue into “Expo Hall” and “Main Hall” lines, that someone would have established a cut-off point.
So, yeah, I was pretty disappointed, but I didn’t want to let it ruin my weekend, and besides, that’s when I ran into fellow GeekDad writer and panelist Dave Banks. While we were chatting and working our way over to the main expo hall, we caught up with two other contributors, Matt Blum and Doug Cornelius, who had also missed the keynote cut. Just after three o’clock, though, doing a little more wandering, we were passing the Main Hall doors and saw they were letting people in again, so we hopped in line. (Sadly, only Dave and I made it in, since they cut things off again right behind us.)
Wil was only about five minutes into his speech, so we got to take in most of it from our spots standing against the back wall, and while parts of it drew from stories he has told elsewhere, the keynote was by turns hilarious and nostalgic and heartfelt and inspiring.
A note on the convention offerings: Not being there for the video game industry displays and pre-release teasing and craziness, I was much more interested in the panels and kind off lower-key attractions like the old-school console gaming room – a working, playable Vectrex? are you KIDDING ME?!? and I wonder if anyone who sat down at the Atari 2600 actually put that E.T. cartridge in – and the American Classic Arcade Museum‘s free-play collection of games.
After the keynote, I met with my Ohio friends Paul and Wendy, and then it was time to go to dinner and establish what we believe to be the largest real-world gathering of GeekDad writers to date: With Michael Harrison and Natania Barron joining Matt and Dave and Doug and me, the bar is now set at a nice even half-dozen. I mentioned in an email to everyone this morning that it felt very much like we all had met before, even though most of us have only interacted through emails and podcasts.
We talked about a general framework for our 7 p.m. panel and wondered if anyone would show up other than to simply get off their feet for an hour. (A couple of us had peeked into the panel room earlier, and honestly, it looked awful big and seemed to have a great potential to be scarily empty.)
The six of us arrived back at that room at about 6:40 p.m., and figured the crowd in the hallway outside was lined up for something else. Ten minutes later, that line was gone, and we were looking at a fully-packed room of around 250-plus . Truthfully, this was nothing short of stunning, and I’m sure that words will utterly fail in describing how encouraging and wonderful it was, and though I know the odds are against it, if anyone who was in that audience stumbles across this blog: THANK YOU SO FREAKING MUCH!!!! Seriously – we each did a little introduction and talked about our kids and our geeklikes, and then as we started just generally talking about parenting and video games and movies and books and everything, people started raising their hands and asking questions and contributing their own experiences, and it was just a ton of fun. (Matt did a write-up at GeekDad, and Doug wrote a post for his blog, too, and both of them took photos so we know it was real.
Even with 70 minutes to fill – we had started early, since everyone was in the room anyway – the time just flew by, and there were still several hands up when we had to call it quits. Outside the room, a couple people came up to me to talk some more, and I saw other GeekDad writers having similar conversations. It’s almost three full days later and remembering it still makes me a little giddy.
Paul & Wendy had managed to get in, and they joined all of us for a post-panel trek for drinks, as did Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who, if I recall correctly, is a friend of Michael & Natania. His book has been on my to-read list for awhile, and even though it’s coming out in paperback this fall, after talking to him for awhile about writing, I couldn’t wait that long, so I ordered a copy this morning. He also bought a copy of Collect All 21!, which was an awfully nice thing to do.
We all went our separate ways once back at the convention center, since it was getting late, and while I was on my way out, I ran into Penny Arcade co-creator and PAX co-founder Mike Krahulik, capping a pretty damn fine day.
I’ll be spending most of my waking hours today on the road back to Ohio after a flew-by-way-too-fast sixty-some hours here in Providence and Boston.
Day Two of PAX East, though it was a shorter day for me, was another treasure chest of Hyrulean Silver Rupees, but I don’t have time to list all the reasons why right now
It has been an awfully fun visit for many reasons, and while I wish it wasn’t coming to an end, it’s also been so exciting and energizing that I’m glad for the road time ahead which will allow me to organize the memories and ideas and inspirations I spent the weekend cramming into the Mental Backpack until I can get home and figure out what to do with them all.
Safe travels today, everyone, wherever you’re going.
Meeting five of my fellow GeekDad writers, thus setting a new record for largest real-world gathering to date.
Wil Wheaton’s keynote.
Standing room only in the GeekDad “Bringing Up the Next Generation of Geeks” panel. (More on this when the weekend is over, but heartfelt thanks to everybody who came, because YOU MADE IT AWESOME.)
Running into Penny Arcade co-creator Mike Krahulik and getting a “special” snapshot for a friend back home.
Meeting and talking writing with Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf.
When I worked at the Orlando Sentinel, one of my office neighbors challenged me to build a device capable of launching his stuffed Pointy Haired Boss toy from my desktop all the way over the high cabinets between our cubicles and into his work area. I was limited to using only materials in my workspace.
Within a couple days I had built a catapult using two metal rulers, some note cards, paper clips, and a tape dispenser. Crude, but effective.
Last night, I met and chatted with a guy named John Austin, who’s designed crossbows to be made from pencils, pens and rubber bands. Very nice guy. And now I’m dead-set on getting my hands on this book he wrote, “Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction,” even though I work at home.
Purely as a defensive measure, of course.
As I’m hitting the road for a weekend defined by gaming, it seems appropriate to share this bit of nostalgia found in an empty box.
Without my mom’s wonderfully labeled and sorted volumes of family photos in front of me, I can’t say for sure what Christmas I got this, but I really can remember the feel of the box beneath my hands as I peeled back the wrapping paper and let out a whoop of unparalleled joy upon seeing it:
I don’t know why the box got saved – the system is, of course, long since dead or handed down to a cousin or garage saled or something – but holding it and running my gaze over that font and the images take me back almost more effectively than even playing the recreated games themselves on my Atari Flashback.
And check out the back: Combat in all its glory.
There was, in fact, one game cartridge and one controller stuck inside this box in the attic for years -along with the now-ridiculous-looking plastic shell that once served as a “dome” above the plastic-woodgrain case where the console itself sat, revered and protected.
An Atari game was super special if it came in a really fat box, because you knew that meant it had a special controller in it, like the Indy 500 game we got for dad thathad a set of special driving “paddles,” or, in this case, that keypad which at one time had an overlay labeling buttons for warp speed and coordinates and stuff like that. Honestly, I don’t remember the game mechanics so much as I remember really thinking it was kind of like hunting TIEs alongside Red Five and the gang, and if I looked over my shoulder there in the basement, I’d see R2 in his socket, and the starfield receding behind him.
I have extremely fond memories of family drives to Florida when I was a kid, sitting in the back of our van with a friend, each of us wearing Princess Leia hair bun-sized headphones which we plugged into boom boxes, in and out of which we shuffled tape after tape after tape which we’d bought at the local Camelot or Quonset Hut or blanks that we’d filled with songs recorded from the radio or MTV.
And while I do loves me some driving around and singing horrifically off-key, for the long road trips, I have spent most of the last 20 years preferring non-musical audio accompaniment for the journey. Not surprisingly, I can easily trace this back to the early 1990s, when the Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back radio dramas were released on cassette and I fell in love with them immediately.
Then I started checking out old horror, mystery and science fiction radio broadcasts like Dimension X and Suspense! and The Shadow.
Not long after Jenn and Kelsey and I moved to Ohio and I took a job an hour from home which required a drive through East Rural NoRadioLand, I got hooked on audiobooks. And I mean really hooked: I had a library request in for the cassette edition of Green Mars well before the book’s release date, and as I listened to these, I even started checking out titles based almost as much on the performer – George Guidall in particular – as the author.
Today, I’m packing up the mp3 files for the drive to PAX East.
The Star Wars dramas are still a favorite, and they’re great for the longest trips, lasting close to 15 hours if you include the much later Return of the Jedi addition to the series. But I can only listen to them once, maybe twice a year, really, and since Star Wars Celebration V is coming up in August, I’m holding off on them for now.
Wil Wheaton’s The Happiest Days of Our Lives audiobook would seem an obvious pre-convention psyche-up, and it’s a favorite, too, but my daughter and I just finished listening to it together within the last couple weeks, so I’m not ready to enjoy it again quite yet. Instead, I’ve grabbed a few Radio Free Burritos.
Being a fan of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War universe, I’ve also downloaded The Sagan Diary, which I’ve never read, and which comes with the bonus of being performed by some remarkably talented women, including Mary Robinette Kowal, whose own short story Evil Robot Monkey will also be making the road trip with me. Other pieces include an old Tor.com podcast and a reading of Jay Lake’s Metatropolis chapter, both of which I downloaded awhile back and never got around to listening to.
Finally, I’ve piled on some podcasts from The Retroist – I’ve already listened to the shows on E.T., New Coke, Asteroids, Vectrex and Tales of the Gold Monkey and as a former 1980s kid, every single one of them has been a blast.
Among those I selected for this trip is the episode about Thundarr the Barbarian, which means I can appropriately close this entry with: “Ariel! Ookla! We ride!”
My calendar checked itself out this morning and honestly seemed a little surprised: “You know,” it said, “I don’t look half-bad the next eight weekends.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” I said. “Four of those weekends look fantastic.” I did my best Peter Venkman (which isn’t very good) and added, “I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it! Let’s do it!”
First, there’s this coming weekend, which begins for me on Thursday with a road trip to kick off PAX East, and while there’s no direct Collect All 21! tie-in, the topic of growing up on Star Wars and sharing it with the next generation seems awfully likely to come up on the GeekDad panel (Friday night – 7 p.m.!) which I’m lucky enough to be a part of. To say nothing of the rest of the weekend. Can you tell I’m a wee bit thrilled about all this?
Then I’ve got three weekends off to get ready for April 23-25 and the Pittsburgh Comicon, where I’m doing two panels thanks to the members of the Science Fiction Alliance of Pittsburgh: First up is a Collect All 21! presentation/reading, Super Deluxe Special But-Han-Still-Shoots-First Extended Edition, and that’s followed by a publishing panel which also includes my friend and Deus Ex Comica author Adam Besenyodi, and writer Paul Anderson, too.
Bonus Points: Adam went to last fall’s Pittsburgh con and met Stan Lee, so for me, the incredible thing about this edition of the con is that Roy Thomas is going to be there – and while I didn’t grow up a comic-book addict, I most certainly did read and re-read and re-re-read the early-run Marvel Star Wars comics. (And I don’t care what anybody says, Roy, JAXXON RULES!)
The weekend after that includes Saturday, May 1, which is Free Comic Book Day, and I should be spending the day alongside Stormtroopers and the Batmobile and a bunch of other pop-culture coolness at The Toys Time Forgot in Canal Fulton, Ohio.
Finally, on May 15 I’ll be at the Fairlawn-Bath branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back with a 1 p.m. presentation, “Memories of an Empire: Reminiscing and Readings from Collect All 21!“
So, to sum up: Eight weeks. Four weekends of gaming, comics, toys and Star Wars. I like those numbers.
I was a full-time news reporter for about 10 years before becoming a full-time freelance writer last spring, and for four of those years, my beat covered retail, marketing, advertising, public relations and entertainment. This means I’ve read a lot of press releases and media kits, and even written a few myself as a consultant. And I’m a huge fan of the online press room and the electronic media kit for convenience and round-the-clock access.
Still, it can be done wrong, hence my Seven Online Press Material No-Nos listed below, compiled over the last year and directed at no agency or corporation in particular. They’re not the Deadly Sins, but I think they can make things go a little more smoothly.
(Please let me sincerely reassure my many talented friends in the media relations business that I do, in fact, know you’re dealing with endlessly-demanding clients and deadlines and gruff journalists and that many things are beyond your control. Most of you are fantastic and patient people, so, where appropriate, consider these complaints aimed at the clients who insist on making your life more difficult.)
Hard-to-find or nonexistent contact information: If you’re big enough to have a PR agency or even someone in your company who takes media calls, you’re big enough to put your press contact button right there on the front page of your site, with at least a name and an email address. No one should have to wade through your Babel Fish Puzzle to follow up about the press release that you sent out. Automatic contact forms that provide no helpful information to the seeker are inadequate and frustrating.
Flash-driven or other “super nifty” interactive web pages. Look, I get it if the landing page is all Sparkles and Wow, and if I absolutely have to go there first and then click on a “press information” or “media” link, that’s fine. But you can lose all that whizbang once I’m on the media page: If I’m there, I’m working. And if I’m working, I’m likely on a deadline, and if I’m on a deadline, then all that carefully-crafted eye-popping stuff is just getting in my way.
That also goes for putting press photos into embedded photo slideshows or otherwise disabling the handy right-click “save as” ability that makes for the quickest and easiest way to download those pictures that you want everybody to see and share. (Because that’s why they’re there, right?)
And don’t go forgetting the photo captions, because even though you think it’s perfectly obvious who’s in that picture and where it was taken and what model that machine is, you’ll save yourself an exasperated follow-up call seeking the details. Captions for a whole set of photos gathered in a separately downloadable file is a pain. My personal preference: Thumbnail previews and downloadable ZIP files that include captions with each picture.
Requiring registration: I know that in most cases, you’re email farming so you can tell who’s accessing your press material, and I’ll even grant you that that’s not entirely unreasonable. What bugs me are the “fill this out and we’ll email you back when it’s approved” forms. Really? It’s not like I’m asking to for free admission to a conference you’re sponsoring or a ticketed event here: Who’s trying to “sneak” into your virtual press room? And while we’re on it,
password logins for media/press pages are ridiculous, especially when they lead to URLs which can later be directly accessed. There’s no better way to tell someone, “See, we just wasted your time.”
Last gripe: No archived press releases. Maybe I don’t cover your company all the time, or maybe it’s been awhile since we’ve touched base. I’ll be able to do my job better and you’ll find my requests less frustrating if I can do as much homework as possible ahead of time and read all about that preceding product release/line cancellation/relocation/new vice-president that you announced last month. If you’ve put the news out there, keep it around for reference and you’ll save yourself some headaches.