Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
Last year we traveled through Ohio, northern upstate New York, and Pennsylvania as a grand tour of Presidential burial sites. To cover as much ground as possible we stayed in a different city every night. The sights were many and fascinating, but being on the move nonstop was increasingly grueling and left us drained by the end of the tour. This year’s approach will therefore be rather opposite and in its own way commemorative.
2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of our favorite annual tradition. It all began in 1999 with our very first Wizard World Chicago. As newcomers to the concept of road trips, it was a big accomplishment for us. Apropos of our history, in 2019 we’ll be honoring the occasion by combining two of our favorite shared pastimes: vacation and convention.
For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d do Dragon Con someday. It’s one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York, a multi-site nexus of awesomeness for fans of fantasy, science fiction, comics, science, actors, gaming, wrestling, bot-building, and other fandoms. With attendance up to 80,000+ annually, it’s larger than any of our regular Midwest conventions, bigger even than the mighty Gen Con back in Indy. We gathered if one can’t find anything fun to do there, either one isn’t trying, one is being a stubborn contrarian on purpose, or one is dead.
A few logistical issues stymied us for years, chiefly in terms of timing. Dragon Con has staked a claim on every Labor Day weekend since 2001. Travel in August and/or September was a problem during the phase of our lives when we had a kid in school. Calling dibs on days before or after holiday weekends is always tricky at my workplace, where for ages I was traditionally the one guy who volunteered to hold down the fort while everyone else signed off for extended holiday getaways. Also, we were simply stuck on the idea of taking our annual road trips in the middle of each summer. We staked our own claim on the week after Fourth of July as our personal, dedicated downtime. We rarely had conflicts with coworkers over that time frame. We do like easy wins.
I think I was the first one to suggest we break the pattern for our 20th road-tripping anniversary. Dragon Con seemed an ideal candidate. We’d driven through Atlanta once before on our 2007 road trip, whose primary objective was Orlando. Atlanta was a pleasant but short stopover — we took my son to Zoo Atlanta (with special temporary guests: pandas!), we saw the Big Chicken in Marietta, and we had dinner with internet friends while in a nearby banquet room some creepy businessmen in Hawaiian shirts appeared to be bidding on ladies paraded before them on a stage. I’ve also retained a vivid mental image of Sunday morning traffic on I-75, where a sudden brigade of cars coming downhill from the opposite direction resembled a shiny metal tsunami. There endeth our Atlanta experience to date.
So we’ve been in Atlanta, but we haven’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we’re aiming for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness. We’re looking at eight days away, bookended with the 8½-hour drive there and back again on the first and final days. Ironically, this arrangement means we’re missing Wizard World Chicago as I type this (sadly breaking a nine-year streak), and next weekend we’ll be missing our city’s sixth annual Indiana Comic Con. Those two cons tend to be among this site’s biggest traffic boosters every year. It’s a shame, but sometimes conflicts happen and sacrifices are necessary. Here’s hoping D*C attendees super-love cosplay photos as much as those two cons’ cosplayers always do.
Today was spent preparing with last-minute errands, consolidating and narrowing our to-do lists, and final packing of the necessaries, by which I mean con gear. Want lists. Photo-op tickets. Badge pickup cards. Comics to be autographed. Bottled waters. And yes, T-shirts. As a pair of pear-shaped, lightly graying fogies venturing into new territory, we have to do something to look presentable, blend in, and, Lord willing, eventually feel right at home.