You know what snuck up on me?
I really enjoyed my first trip to Wheeling for the 2009 show, so I happily accepted the invitation to share some more Collect All 21! memories this fall – and check THIS out: Former Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons – “The Man Who Shot Luke Skywalker” – is not only coming back to this year’s JediCon, he designed this amazing toy-populated Empire Strikes Back-inspired poster as a commemorative bonus:
I mean, come ON – that’ s just Too. Freaking. Cool.
Kim will be giving another retrospective on his Kenner years, and Star Wars animator Jon Seay is expected to attend with some pieces of the original Death Star to show off. Besides, how much of an excuse do you need, really, to spend a fall day hanging out with some fellow Star Wars fans in a fun and truly nostalgia-inducing atmosphere?
I was glad that JediCon WV was on my calendar Saturday, not just for the whole spend-a-day-with-other-Star-Wars-fans thing, but also because I figured it would prevent me from basically pacing around the house and worrying about running my first marathon the next day.
Up at six o’clock, then, intent on leaving by seven for the two-hour drive to Wheeling, West Virginia.
JediCon, though it was a small event, was a milestone for me: It was the first show to which I’d been invited as a guest by the organizers, who got in touch with me shortly after I relaunched “Collect All 21″ back in April. And just a few weeks back, they asked if I’d like to do a presentation/reading from the book – another first for me.
I’m a huge fan of road trips: I love checking out different routes and figuring out how to see places I’ve never been without going too far out of my way. I love stocking the car with maps and music and audiobooks. I love that feeling of pulling out of the driveway before sunup knowing that daylight will illuminate things I’ve never seen.
This was also the first Saturday in 18 weeks that I wouldn’t be running.
For the drive to Wheeling, I’d chosen a route mostly clear of the main freeways: U.S. Route 250, running forty miles shorter than the trip by interstates 77 and 70, but comparable in terms of estimated travel time. I had, in fact traveled a small part of this road before: An Arby’s at a rural intersection struck me as familiar, and I remembered it was where Jenn and I had stopped for lunch a few years ago after dropping Kelsey off for a week at the YMCA’s Camp Tippecanoe. It was her first time away from home not being spent with family, and it was the same camp where I’d spent a few weeks over a couple summers when I was a kid. It was a quiet lunch that day, and a little sad.
Beyond that, I was mostly on a two-lane road I’d never driven, and it was a beautiful morning for the trip, with a low, gray sky, hills all around, and the woods nearing their seasonal-change color peak. To keep myself in a nostalgic mood fitting for my reading and a day around Star Wars, I listened to Wil Wheaton’s “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.”
I reached the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum just after 9 a.m., and saw a couple guys unloading a life-sized Darth Vader statue built from Legos. The convention was in the museum’s basement, in a room much smaller than I’d expected. A few of the vendors and fan organizations were no-shows, and one of the other guests – a guy who’d worked on the original Star Wars and was supposed to bring pieces of the original Death Star to display – had canceled the day before.
Still, I was here, as was Kim Simmons, a photographer who had worked for Kenner and shot many of the original packaging photos and action-figure setups, and spending a day with fellow Star Wars fans has, to me, never failed to be fun.
Kim sat down at my table, recognizing me and my book from the OSWCC Summer Social in 2008, right after I’d launched the first edition, and we wound up talking for a half-hour or so. A super-nice guy, he was going to buy a copy, but instead we settled on a trade for a signed print of the old Dewback box scene he’d created.
He also said he’d let me use his laptop and projector for my reading, since I’d brought along a slideshow of childhood pictures to accompany some of my memories. My reading started a little later than the 11 a.m. scheduled time, due to a slight technical glitch with the projector, but when it started, there were probably about a dozen people in the room, and a handful of others arrived after I’d begun. I had fun, and it seemed like I got laughs at the right moments, and I think I saw smiles of recognized shared nostalgia while I read and clicked through the slides.
Over the eight hours I was there, even though this was easily the smallest convention I’ve ever attended, I sold more copies of “Collect All 21!” than I ever have before, probably because it was aimed directly at Star Wars fans, and I had something in common with every visitor who walked in.
In the silent auction for charity, I wound up the high bidder for a sweet DVD packed with a hundred and ten 1970s and 80s Kenner Star Wars commercials. (Wampaaa! Wampaaaaaaaa!)
Spent some time talking Legos with a very friendly builder from the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum (practically right across the river in Bellaire, Ohio, and if I’d had more time, I’d have tried to work a stop there into the trip, because she made it sound awfully neat).
I left for home just before 5 p.m., my boxes of books a bit lighter, my spirits high, my nerves about the race still at bay, and the sun just starting to turn the hills to fire and rust.