Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time again! This weekend my wife and I made another journey up to Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we found ample enjoyment and new purchases alongside peers and aficionados of comics and genre entertainment. A few guest cancellations dampened our spirits somewhat, but we persevered and enjoyed our couple’s outing anyway…
…especially after a last-minute major addition to the guest list spawned an entire additional programming track. For the Ghostbusters fans out there, Ernie Hudson — a.k.a. Winston Zedmore, “the black one” — had been scheduled to attend for a while. One week before showtime, another name popped up on the guest schedule: Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman himself. Hollywood directors are a rarity on the WWC roster (e.g. John Carpenter, Robert Rodriguez, actor/directors like Jonathan Frakes) and I wish we had opportunities to meet more of them.
Back in 1984 Ghostbusters was the very first movie I ever saw in an officially sold-out theater, alongside hundreds of other Hoosiers crammed into one of the two General Cinemas screens inside Lafayette Square Mall. I grew up in a strictly drive-in family that had had to adapt after our nearby Westlake Drive-In was shuttered in 1982. Even when we got used to indoor theaters, we tended to go at weird times with maybe a few dozen others in the audience at any given time, at most. Ghostbusters gave me my first real experience enjoying awesome comedy as a shared experience with a massive group.
It left a mark on my brain. I braked for it whenever I flipped channels. I became one of those fans who bought a new copy whenever it was re-released in a new, higher-quality medium. Longtime internet friends still remember when I used to reference the movie way too often. My enthusiasm for this year’s WWC had been increasingly dimming in the weeks leading up to it, but the Reitman announcement escalated my low-key anticipation into genuine excitement.
Not everything about the Ghostbusters experience went smoothly, but we pulled off the most difficult aspect of it thanks entirely to one integral component from my mental toolbox: social awkwardness.
Saturday would be the grand occasion, Reitman’s only day at the show. Ghostbusters fan clubs were in the house, gathering and confabbing and performing their Ghostbusting outreach as always, this time bringing along the props shown above. Hudson was also there Friday through Sunday, but to be honest, Anne and I had already met him at C2E2 in 2014.
We did make a point of attending one relevant Friday panel: a Q&A with Violet Ramis Stiel, author of the recently released memoir Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis. The title recaps the salient points of her bio as her book recounts the story of her close relationship with her father the actor/director/book-smart Ghostbuster, who passed away far too soon in 2014. She often traveled with him to his various film sets, knew his friends and coworkers to varying degrees, and had a lot of stories to tell.
Nothing said at the Q&A implied any shocking revelations or seedy behind-the-scenes scandals, unless you count that one time she and Harold once stole a Christmas tree even though they were Jewish. (I’m aware of a secret that came up during pre-release articles from last spring, but no one brought it up this weekend.)
She was charming, humble, and amenable to answering any question lobbed at her to the best of her recollection. No one went for the throat in some brutal display of gotcha journalism, which was fine by us. She also had a table in Artists Alley, but we never saw any copies of her book around. Either they sold out within minutes, or weren’t shipped out in time, or something. I was prepared to buy a copy and would’ve loved an autograph, but it wasn’t meant to be this weekend.
Friday night, Anne and I hung out in our hotel room, our usual post-convention ritual because we don’t drink, party, or get invited to drink at parties. She, ever the chipper morning person, was exhausted and fell asleep in minutes. I, the eternal night-owl, was restlessly whiling away the minutes with my nightly internet free time. I was blowing off steam after being informed that our favorite Rosemont hotel had begun charging for parking effective this year — not the sort of thing you want to find out as you’re checking in — and I was anxious because Wizard World had been waffling on the details of Reitman’s Saturday itinerary. We’d been told in advance that he would be doing a dual photo-op with Ernie Hudson (for which I bought my ticket literally seconds after hearing), and that he would be signing free (!) autographs, limit one per person…uh, like, sometime. After a “TBA” placeholder listing for a day or two, his signing was slotted at 1 p.m. Then it went “TBA” for another day. Then it was moved to 11:30 a.m. Their photo op likewise moved around on the schedule, but was finally nailed down at 10:45 a.m.
Whenever Reitman’s signing would be, though, it sounded too good to be true. I wanted more details. I wanted to know what the catch was.
As hundreds of other con-goers spent their Friday nights either attending late-night panels, checking each other out in bars, or flying their freak flags in the official WWC hotel block, I was blocks away, surfing and scrolling in silence when around 9:30 p.m. CDT, a promotional email from Wizard World brought headlines of Saturday’s bigger events and included a link for getting on the waitlist for Reitman’s free signing.
This was their first use of the word “waitlist” in conjunction with anything this entire weekend. I clicked hard, I signed myself up, then I signed Anne up while she snored lightly. We were missing out on fan camaraderie, but as far as the Reitman freebie experience, we were in. Moments later, a text informed me his signing would be at 1 p.m.
The following morning, Anne awoke and wondered why she had a weird text from Wizard World, but ignored it in favor of checking her email. She found the same WWC mailer, clicked the link, and found the waitlist full. Then I came out of the bathroom and explained what she’d missed, including the text.
Later on the scene, while in line waiting for the con to reopen, we both got another text around 8:30 confirming the Reitman signing had been rescheduled for 11:30, the same time most recently listed on their site. Whatever. Fine. At least we were kept in the loop.
Once we were allowed on the show floor at 10, we found something super fun to do for a few minutes, then went our separate ways. Anne recused herself from the Reitman/Hudson photo op because she had a high-priority autograph line scheduled to commence at 10:30, assuming the star arrived on time. Stars are almost always late. They miss their planes, they sleep in till 2 p.m., their driver is a no-show — stuff happens. We’re used to it.
In a stunning turn of events, her actor arrived at 10:20. He wasn’t the only guest to arrive early, either. In this sense, at least, Wizard World Chicago 2018 could lay claim to a few miracles.
We agreed to reunite later in Reitman’s line, assuming she could get there in time. Meanwhile, I’d get my picture taken with the guys, then probably get to Reitman’s line before her. We had a plan.
And then I had a monkey wrench thrown at me the size of ancient Scotland.
The WWC photo op area was a catastrophe. Someone in charge thought it was a brilliant idea to schedule ops first thing with cast members from Outlander and The X-Files all at the same time, in addition to ops with slightly smaller fan bases — e.g., Reitman/Hudson, apparently. Outlander in particular was a nonstop avalanche all weekend long as thousands of fans of the Showtime series and the original Diana Gabaldon novels flocked to Rosemont to see and/or meet several main cast members as well as Ms. Gabaldon herself. Many of them were brand new to the world of geek conventions and gave a Saturn V-sized adrenalin shot to WWC’s attendance figures. Their dedicated and mighty population overwhelmed the two or three volunteers in charge of photo-op ticket-taking.
The Powers That Be thought hundreds and hundreds of fans could be checked in for ops a mere 30-40 minutes after opening by a virtual skeleton crew. The Powers That Be were supremely poor planners.
At 10:20 I walked into pure pandemonium. I joined the multi-pronged line, several hundreds of fans deep, leading to an unruly crowd that ostensibly led in turn to those vastly outnumbered gatekeepers to my Reitman/Hudson experience. Beyond their checkpoint lay the actual lines for each respective photo op. It wasn’t hard to deduce mine was the one with the most Ghostbuster costumes standing in it. Every so often, a volunteer would shout instructions audible only to the five or ten people standing next to them. No reader boards with handy updates like C2E2 had. No microphones, no megaphones, no magazines to roll up into megaphones. Their notification efforts were drowned out by the teeming masses and their breath was wasted.
The overlong line to get to my line crept and crept and crept. By 10:50 the Ghostbusters line hadn’t moved. I figured I was safe, trapped as I was behind hopeful hordes of Outlanderers and X-Philes and a sizable batch of Ian Somerhalder followers, who soon learned he’d be hours late due to air travel issues. I tried to stay calm.
A few minutes before 11, the Ghostbusters began to file forward. I panicked.
At that moment, an Outlander fan plowed past me and through the throngs on a torpedo-like collision course for the gatekeepers. She wasn’t quite as wide as me, but left a wake large enough for me to follow. Thanks to her own panic, I reached the ticketing bottleneck at last. Meanwhile, at least half the Ghostbusters had now passed through the curtain to meet their idols.
I tried eschewing protocol, dodged around the volunteers and headed directly for the curtain. The volunteers at that station welcomed me and would’ve been happy to let me pass under the circumstances (one of them took a second to compliment my shirt, which, y’know, was nice), but the photography crew insisted the ticket had to be scanned in. I flew back to the bottleneck, tried to wheedle my way into anyone’s attention without elbowing, and kept repeating “Ghostbusters dual op Ghostbusters dual op Ghostbusters dual op” till one of them realized I was talking and had a problem.
They scanned my ticket and I ran back to the booth. The volunteers saw me coming and yelled “ONE MORE!” to the photogs, who by this time were taking snapshots of the two celebs with other WWC volunteers, always the last step before a photo op is officially over. For some reason they were taking many shots of the same volunteer, while I stood there patiently and out of breath.
Eventually I was noticed, and permitted to step up, and got what I paid for, the wish granted.
On my way out, the multi-photographed volunteer complimented the buttons on my convention bag, which, y’know, was nice.
I picked up my photo seconds later, happy but ticked off. A fun fan experience shouldn’t be this stressful and shouldn’t require me to act like a jerk to overcome the convention’s shortcomings.
I sped over to Reitman’s autograph line around 11:10, and was cheerfully escorted to the “waitlist” part of the line, ahead of other disgruntled fans who hadn’t gotten the email in time, but who were permitted to stick around and keep their fingers crossed that Reitman might keep signing beyond the waitlist. Based on later bitter comments online, I don’t think he stayed over much.
The person in front of me in the waitlist line…was, lo and behold, Anne.
At last I could relax for a bit and let my temper subside. Thankfully the Ghostbusters fan clubs were happy to make that happen. They entertained, they brought props, and they even brought pups.
Reitman was in place promptly at 11:30, and the line commenced as any such line would. A guy with a laptop made sure we were on the waitlist and ushered us toward comedy greatness. The acclaimed director of such films as Meatballs, Stripes, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Dave, and Junior (the one with a pregnant Schwarzenegger) was rather gracious to Anne, who was in charge of asking him to sign a Ghostbusters poster on behalf of a coworker of mine who now owes me a tremendous favor. Anne also asked politely if he would mind her taking a photo, if it wasn’t against the rules.
Reitman replied, “There are no rules.”
I got my turn as well, was gifted with an autograph, and we went on our way. We love it when a plan comes together.
Next step in that plan: go back to the car, drop off the poster so we wouldn’t lose or damage it, then go grab anything besides convention center food for lunch.
Reitman and Hudson were next scheduled for a panel at 2:45. I’d love to post photos and a recap here, but the truth is we had to opt out. The two of us had another, unrelated photo op confirmed at 4:00. Ostensibly their panel would’ve ended around 3:30, leaving a narrow margin between the two events, plenty of time under normal circumstances. After the way my morning photo op had gone, we couldn’t risk casually returning to the photo booths in that sort of disaster state. We needed to get there early, which meant sacrificing some of our planned Ghostbusters entertainment.
But, harried though it was, at least I got my photo op with them, which was nice.
To be continued! Other chapters in this special MCC miniseries: