Although I didn’t land on any panels or have a booth at Star Wars Celebration V, I did have a lot of fun sharing Collect All 21! last week, even if my daughter and I had to lug my 10 copies in our carry-on bags because they pushed our shared suitcase just over the airline’s 50-pound limit.
For starters, the day we flew out of Akron-Canton, I spent the morning getting some new promotional postcards printed up for the book, since Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, had just written this incredibly nice blurb:
“Collect All 21!” is a deliciously warped nostalgia trip through Star Wars fandom. From collecting Kenner action figures to eating Star Wars birthday cakes to scribbling fan letters to Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, Booth shamelessly flaunts his lifelong lust for all things Star Wars. Like a tractor beam, this endearing account draws us in, and makes us reminisce about our own geeky obsessions.
A couple days later, on Aug. 11, I spent the afternoon in Clermont, Fla., hanging out at Heroes Landing and talking comics and Star Wars with Adam, The Force Among Us creator Cris Macht, and Korgi author/illustrator Christian Slade. A steady stream of customers to the store led to some book sales and a lot of Celebration V chatter, and I traded a copy of my book for Cris’ DVD, which I couldn’t pass up after noticing, “Hey, those are my OSWCC friends in that movie!”
I was also introduced to Felix Albuerne of the Prime Time Geek program, which proved to be an awfully timely meet-up, since he called me four days later for a fun interview about my book, which he worked into this post-Star Wars Celebration edition of the show.
I already wrote an overview of Celebration Day One, but I want to stress here again how fun it was to finally meet Steve Sansweet – not because of his status as a megacollector and Lucasfilm fan liaison, but because of what his first Star Wars-related book meant to me. This is from the Collect All 21! chapter called “The Dark Times”:
Then Steve Sansweet’s “ Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible” book came out. This thing came at me out of nowhere one afternoon in a mall bookstore, and I absolutely devoured it: page after page of the toys I’d had, the toys I’d craved, and sweet God, the toys I’d never even known existed but now wanted to see. And for just the second time in my life, my eyes fell upon the image of a Blue Snaggletooth. This single picture and one-paragraph explanation of the figure’s existence, maybe more than anything else in that book, put the scent of Star Wars collecting back in my nostrils. “Collecting” even seems too antiseptic and grown-up. This nostalgia was like being little again and feeling that bone-deep desire to Collect All 21!
So, yes, it was amazingly neat watching him sign that same now-well-worn copy of his book most of two decades later. We talked for a couple minutes about journalism (he’s a former Wall Street Journal writer, and I always appreciated the interviews and research that went into Concept to Collectible, as well as Sansweet’s ability to tell the Kenner story) and about my own writing, and when he asked me to sign the copy of Collect All 21! I gave him, that was a great moment, too.
On Friday, I met up with another fellow writer and fan, Tony Pacitti, whose My Best Friend is a Wookiee – One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy memoir is set for a Sept. 18 release. Tony’s book came to me through two near-simultaneous recommendations: GeekDad Jonathan Liu sent me a personalized, signed ARC he’d picked up during his coverage of the San Diego Comic Con, and while it was in the mail, Ethan Gilsdorf sent me a link to Pacitti’s book asking if I’d seen it.
After online introductions and back-and-forth messaging, Tony and I met face-to-face:
I gave him a copy of my own book, and he plowed through it after the convention and wrote up some cool reactions here. Even though we’re fans of different generations – he watched the original trilogy on VHS and came of age during the prequel era – I enjoyed his book and it’s deserving of its own dedicated review post rather than a paragraph shoehorned into this entry.
The last panel I attended on Friday was titled “Why We Love the Prequels,” and while I’ll admit I enjoyed it probably more than I was prepared to, I really went because Fanboys director Kyle Newman was there. See, awhile back, after I’d created the Collect All 21! Facebook page, I noticed one day that he was among the new “likes” – and it just sort of floored me. So just before heading to Celebration V, I sent him a note thanking him for the support and offering him a copy of the book. He had responded with a thumbs-up, so just before the panel started, while he was hanging out near the door to the room, I introduced myself, and we talked about the book for just a minute or so. (Neat moment: He said he really liked the title, and identified with it, since he’d once considered starting a company called “12 back.”) When I told him that Jim and I had stayed up late and watched Fanboys the night before the convention kicked off – mentioning one quote from the movie in particular – Kyle nodded and said something to the effect of, “Yeah. That’s it.”
The quote? “It was never about the movie. It was about all of us.”
That line came to mind a lot during Celebration V.
Five thousand, four hundred forty-nine-point-nine miles later, I’m home, and sitting at my own desk again, looking out the window at trees and houses and a particular color of morning that’s practically part of my DNA.
Yesterday’s drive home began at 4:50 a.m., after packing up camp by the glow of my battery-powered lamp/flashlight and taking a shower. (I was pleased to remember from my first stop at this campground that to get the hot water running, you have to turn the dial in the opposite direction from what the labeling would seem to indicate. Two weeks ago, this was a lesson learned while I waited 10 minutes for the shower to warm up, when a simple shift of the dial was all that was needed for almost instant-hot water.)
When I pulled onto Interstate 44 eastbound, sunup was still a ways off, and this was the first “dark” highway driving I’d done since day one. It wouldn’t last long, but as I sipped my Circle K coffee and ate my morning breakfast bar, for a moment it felt like one of our straight-through overnight drives to or from Florida.
The sky slowly brightened as I passed St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. I listened to Morning Edition for awhile, and then another This American Life podcast.
When I reached Indiana right around 8 a.m., the Time Gods of Traveling Westward took back the last hour they’d loaned me, and though I was sad to see it go, it at least meant that I’d be hitting Indianapolis at 10 a.m. rather than during the morning rush hour.
Two Star Wars Celebrations have earned Indianapolis a special place in my heart, so while seeing the downtown skyline this trip struck nostalgic chords both times through, I was thrown a bit by the sight of Lucas Oil Stadium, which replaced the RCA Dome and actually occupies the former spot of the hotel where Jim and I stayed to cover Celebration III. I get that the new building is a throwback fieldhouse-style architecture, but there’s something odd about the way it looks against the skyline: Because it’s a gigantic structure but isn’t built to look like a massive stadium, it seem out of proportion with the rest of the city, like someone took a one-quarter-scale model and placed it in a one-tenth-scale skyline. I’m sure I’d get used to it if I saw it regularly, but it was jarring this time around.
The remaining five hours home were filled with some radio listening, a phone conversation with my brother Nick, and reflections on this two-week odyssey and settling back into work and life at home. My mom met me at the rental car agency in Canton, where we unloaded Serenity - in all seriousness, this Versa was an excellent car for this trip, and I will miss her and hope she’s treated to an oil change and a good bath to remove 5,400-plus miles worth of bug goo from her front bumper and side mirrors – and not long after, I was back in my own driveway and Kelsey and Jenn were coming out the front door, and one of our cats escaped into the bushes, and things were just the way they should be.
There remain a lot of small moments and other things from the trip that I’ve been saving in note form, and I took more than 300 pictures, and all of these will take some complete narrative shape eventually, although this is my last dedicated vacation blog post for now.
Many sincere thanks yet again to the several new friends I met for the first time in real life, and in particular to the fantastic people who helped me along and shared their homes and company and friendship: Kirk Demarais, Jim Rafferty, Ramona Nash, George Krstic, Jenny Williams, and Jonathan Liu and their families are all just plain super-nice and generous people and the universe is a better place for their presence in it.
I’ve been inspired and refreshed and energized in many ways, and while I’m almost overwhelmed right now with things I need and want to accomplish, this trip was absolutely worth the time and effort and planning and budgeting in every way, and I’m so glad I did it.
My parents, Pam & Jeff Caldwell, get their own thank-you for all their support and for coming all the way to San Diego to cheer Kelsey on and share a few great days together in southern California. And my brother Adam never hesitates to keep an eye on the house and our pets while we’re gone, which, since he’s got a super-busy family and home of his own, is greatly appreciated.
And to my wife Jenn and daughter Kelsey, who supported me in this whole effort in every way and never stopped encouraging me even if you thought I was a little bit off my rocker; you also never failed to understand why I did it and how much it meant to me: You two are always my home, wherever we are.
And it’s good to be home.
I’m about 6 hours into what’s going to be an 11-plus-hour driving day, so I’m allowing myself a long, shady lunch here along I-70 just west of Topeka, at a rest stop with a great breeze, nice-smelling trees, and free wi-fi that reaches this very pleasant corner of the picnic area.
I also wanted to make sure I shared some things that weren’t in yesterday’s post, which I kind of rushed because it was late and I needed to get some sleep.
First, for my fellow Star Wars fans, feast your eyes on this:
My Kansas host and friend Jonathan Liu did this from an illustration in The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook while we sat at his kitchen table talking. It took him all of about 15 minutes. 20, tops. I’ve seen Jonathan’s work on GeekDad and elsewhere, of course, but to see him in action, this thing coming to life on the screen while we sat there and chatted, was just mind-blowing.
So, yeah, WAY COOL.
I also owe Jonathan for two recommendations of “This American Life” episodes. The first, “House on Loon Lake,” came up when we were talking about abandoned cars and empty towns along the highways. I had actually passed a place where an old house had lost a wall, and the interior cabinets and appliances and some furniture were all visible from the road. In Arizona, I’d see clusters of three or four cars, usually from the 40s or 50s by their look, just sitting out in the desert, with no buildings or paths or anything else nearby.
Given my fascination with the bits and pieces of the past that survive and what they mean to people and the stories they carry, I LOVED this episode, which begins with a couple kids exploring a dilapidated house and wondering about who had left it behind.
I was reminded about some of the long-shuttered attractions on the Old Route 66, which runs right alongside long stretches of I-40 – a crumbled stone building with “MOUNTAIN LIONS” painted on a wall comes to mind.
Jonathan had recommended the other episode, “Road Trip,” on my day of departure two weeks ago, but I didn’t listen to it until this morning.
Both kept me company for the long stretch of I-70 across Kansas, which wasn’t nearly as grueling as I remember it from the trip Jenn & Kelsey & I took to Colorado. It’s actually been a really nice drive.
Time to have a sandwich and get back on the highway. See you south of St. Louis.
I’ll admit I had some reservations about the Raton KOA campground when I arrived in town yesterday(Saturday the 26th) around 5:30 p.m. While I did check reviews and look at satellite and street view locations of all three KOA sites I’ve visited on this trip, you still really never know what to make of a place until you’re there, you know? So I knew coming in that this one was a little different in that it’s in Raton itself, tucked into a pocket of the town close to hotels and stores and restaurants and parks and neighborhoods. Maybe it’s because there were people in town for the two-day rodeo which ended last night, but there’s definitely more of an air of the “on-the-road-stopover” to this campground as opposed to a “we’re going camping” feel.
Still, they did have an ice cream social – which, sadly, I missed – and I did get to finish the day with this sunset:
It was still warm when I fell asleep on top of my sleeping bag around 10 p.m., but I woke up about 45 minutes later to some gusty weather shaking the tent. It kept me up for a little while, but it also cooled things down nicely so I was able to comfortably settle into my sleeping bag, and I woke up this morning just before six feeling really refreshed.
I also want to note that I’ve been very pleased with the choice to bring my brothers’ old sleeping mat from their Boy Scout days: It’s only about a half-inch thick, but it’s a nice, dense foam and has provided a surprisingly nice cushion for its weight and flexibility.
After an all-you-can-eat-pancakes-for-three-bucks breakfast, I headed north on I-25 around 9 a.m. It didn’t take long to climb into the neighboring hills, and even less time to realize that I’d soon be putting the hills of the West behind me. I stopped in Trinidad, Colorado for this shot -
- and then started a few hours of mostly two-lane driving through southeastern Colorado on Route 350.
I was unprepared for the beauty and emptiness of the region. I passed even fewer cars here than I had in the Arizona deserts, and several times, I stopped to take pictures without even worrying about traffic, because mine was the only car on the road for miles. Consider this cow I encountered in the Comanche Grasslands:
Yes, you’re seeing correctly: The adult is on the OUTSIDE of the fence.
I passed through several towns which, though marked with signs, were little more than remnants, and hints of long-gone farms.
It really is beautiful country, though.
A railroad runs alongside Colorado 350 for a ways, with a variety of small trestles and culverts and concrete pipes running beneath it. At one point, one of these was a small but fairly elaborate yellow brick construct, with a neatly-mortared archway, and I wish I’d stopped to take a picture because it stood out from the rest.
I spent the afternoon and evening in western Kansas in the company of awesomely creative GeekDad writer, gamer and Etch-A-Sketch artist extraordinaire Jonathan Liu and his family, wrapping up the night with Carcassonne and The Isle of Dr. Necreaux.
I can’t recall a time when these blocks were not among my toys.
When I go back in memory, they’re there, in the wooden toy box – the one with the hinged, great-potential-for-finger-smashing lid - in the space where I played next to the kitchen of our house in Lima, Ohio, the first place I remember living.
And even when I’d outgrown them, they stayed part of the “box of blocks” that expanded through two more Booth boys and eventually filled about two-thirds of the original mailbox from the North Canton house where we all grew up.
Somewhere in my adult years, I got hold of two of these blocks and kept them around because they reminded me of being a little kid and how fascinated I was with the number of patterns it was possible to create in diamonds and triangles and stripes and zig-zags.
Within the last few months, I found three more (I don’t remember how many were in the set originally – maybe eight) drifting around the bottom of the toy box that mom keeps at her house for all her grandkids, and I reunited them with the pair I had.
A side note which I like: The tiny embossed copyright on each block reads GMFGI, which stands for General Mills Fun Group, Inc. and is also present on several of my earliest Star Wars figures.
Adding the trio of new blocks pretty quickly reawakened the memory of those patterns I made when I was little, but I’ve also found myself messing around with new arrangements, using the corners and angled views as opposed to the sort of flat, mosaic designs that use just one set of faces.
You know what would be cool? Someone with time and patience and more talent than me could do some awfully nifty stuff with a couple hundred – or thousand – of these. I wouldn’t mind having a couple more myself, but honestly, I’ve never seen another set, and I haven’t been able to find them online.
It’s probably for the best – I do have work to do.