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Dragon Con 2014

As I was laying in bed trying to go to sleep the day before I left for Dragon Con, I had an overwhelming sense of deja va. I felt like an eight year old on Christmas Eve trying to get to sleep.

Dragon Con is a multi-media, pop culture convention that takes place each year over Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, GA. It’s hard to get a feel for just how large the convention is without experiencing it. There are five hotels of programming and events for this years 63,000 attendees. You can listen to stories from your favorite movie and tv stars, meet with other fans to discuss your interest, learn tips you get your board game published or attract more listeners to your podcast. Almost 2,500 volunteers are needed to help with a multitude of task including crowd management, assisting with celebrated panels, and helping attendees figure out just where the grand ballroom is.

Because three days just wasn’t enough, the group that I was traveling with decided to head out of town on Thursday. That meant Wednesday night was nearly sleepless for me, because I’m like a child trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve when it comes to any kind of road trip. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it allowed me to watch some of the Every.Simpsons.Ever marathon that FFX was showing (which would become my default activity all throughout the weekend) and put some last minute items up on Ebay for additional spending money.

Arriving on Thursday was a great idea for several reasons. We had made it ahead of the bulk of people who arrive on Friday and Saturday, so small things like hotel check in and convention badge pick up where a breeze. I was able to wander the common spaces of the host hotels without being moved forward by an unending wave of people. I realized that I was underestimating the number of people there on Thursday evening however when I made my way to a panel celebrating the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters, and found people crowded around the doorway trying to listen. Given how few scheduled events were going on that night, a bigger venue would have been good for the panel.

Friday morning was all about preparing for that days big event, Patrick Stewart’s panel at the Marriott Marquis. We arrived one hour before the panel, to find that the line that wasn’t supposed to form had already extended around one side of the block. One hour later, we were listening to the man who has led the Enterprise and the X-Men. I was so awestruck that I’m hard pressed to even remember much of what he said, except that he was going to try to convince Ian McKellan to attend Dragon Con with him in the future. (WHAT!!!)

The rest of Friday was filled with more panels, including an hour with the sixth doctor, Colin Baker. When I was convinced to start watching Doctor Who in college, the local PBS station in Chattanooga was showing Colin’s Trial of a Time Lord, and Whovians will know what I mean when I say he’s always been my doctor. We spend the evening watching two episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 introduced by Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, and Frank Conniff, because, you know… Dragon Con.

Late night at Dragon Con is full of parties, raves, dances, and other drunken merriment. The parties have fun themes. There’s the zombie prom, Tolkien fans can visit the Middle Earth 70’s dance party, and from the world of Harry Potter, the Yule Ball has become a huge yearly event. I spent my time on Friday at the Last Night on Alderaan.

The thing to do on Saturday morning is line the streets for the Dragon Con parade. The parade offers con goers the best chance of seeing all the excellent cosplay that Dragon Con has to offer. If cosplay itself isn’t dedication enough, some people in the parade have gone as far as driving vehicles that replicate the Ghostbusters’ Ecto-1 and Speed Racer’s Mach 5. My advice for the parade, get their early to get a good spot! It gets crowded quickly.

Saturday afternoon was my time to visit Dragon Con’s very excellent board game room, which is actually the entire lower level of the Hilton Atlanta. For an additional $5.00, attendees can add the board game sticker to their badge that allows them to borrow board games from the well stocked board game library. Several games companies are on hand to demo their games and run sanctioned tournaments. I visited the Mayfair Games area to play in the Settlers of Catan World Qualifier. Settlers of Catan is a trading and negotiation game that has found some popularity in mainstream culture in the last few years. I tend to play it quite a bit, especially with friends whose idea of a complex board game is Monopoly. This event had me playing 3 games of Catan in 5 hours. Not only did I fail to qualify for the finals, I left feeling like I’d be okay taking a break from Catan for a while.

My big event on Saturday night was attending the showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show with a live performance by Atlanta’s own Lips Down on Dixie. Any public showing of Rocky is a great time, and the cast made this showing one of my favorites I’ve ever attended. The hall was too big to really hear any of the audience participation lines, which is unfortunate because Rocky fans are always developing new lines of dialogue to shout back at the screen, and it would be interesting to clearly hear the different quips in a group of people from different areas. I’m making a point to visit Lips Down on Dixie at the Plaza Theater next time I’m in Atlanta for the weekend.

I took time Sunday morning to visit the Walk of Fame, where the actors go for autograph sessions. If you’re into autographs, save up your cash for the Walk of Fame. Most stars charge around $30.00 to $40.00 to sign memorabilia, and some big names can charge up to $80.00. Some of the celebrities love their time at the Walk of Fame. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn couldn’t have been happier when I saw him with a mob of people waiting to talk to him. Other celebrities, who may have been out of the limelight for a while, look eager just to have someone come talk to them, in hopes of trying to make a sale. The vibes can vary greatly from person to person in the Walk of Fame.

With some down time after my Walk of Fame visit, I headed to what would be called the dealers room at most conventions, although the word room doesn’t quite fit here. The vendor’s area is located in Americas Mart Atlanta, a wholesale trade center near the host hotels. The vendors covered areas in the center that totaled the size of about three football fields. It’s the world’s largest flea market for geeks. My first trip was just to take everything in so I could decide where my money would go during my final trip on Monday morning.

My last panel of DragonCon this year was probably my favorite. It was a Q and A session with Monty Python member and Brazil director Terry Gilliam. He didn’t like sitting behind the table as people asked him questions from the audience, so he sat at the edge of the stage, and had the fans come up to him. What a guy!

Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend Labor Day weekend then a visit to Dragon Con. It’s not going to be for everyone, any there are some, uh, Con cons. It is a crowded event with long waits in line and the occasional disappointment when something is cancelled or a panel is at capacity. While the registration fees for Dragon Con are reasonable compared to other cons, food and lodging can get expensive, especially if you are fortunate enough to reserve a room at one of the host hotels. If you can handle the crowds and the cost, and you have an interest in a segment of pop culture that borders on obsessive, you’ll find you’re in the right place.