Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’ve been in Atlanta, but we hadn’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…
…though we weren’t sure how easy it would be to transition from one mode to the other. Thankfully we found D*C has the best head-start program for newcomers that we’ve ever seen at a convention.
We arrived in Atlanta Sunday night and spent Monday through Wednesday on our tourist-attraction to-do list. Through much planning, effort, and grace of God we checked off every major sight Anne had wanted to see most. Typical of our annual road trips, all we had to do to accomplish our goals was stay on the move and get very little rest. We anticipated doing that to ourselves and planned ahead for Thursday to be a pivot point in our week. Plan A was to spend the first half of the day resting, then jump aboard the D*C Newbies track in the afternoon.
Things didn’t quite work out that way. We awoke Thursday with one want as yet unrequited. We fetched breakfast, did the thing, got drenched in sweat for like our fifth or sixth time that week, then returned to our hotel for a while to cool down and force ourselves to rest at least a little. Self-care can be a drag, but we didn’t want to risk travel burnout in the middle of the convention.
Our hotel was a couple blocks away from D*C’s core. We left ’round noon and headed toward the festivities. Good omens began to appear around the cityscape. Folks dressed like us soon outnumbered businesspeople and panhandlers. Atlanta proprietors decorated for the occasion, much like our businesses back in Indianapolis roll out their red carpets for Gen Con. It’s always cool to see cities taking pride in their signature conventions.
We fetched lunch from Peachtree Center, the primary food court connected to the main hotels hosting D*C. We got to know its layout pretty well over the next three days. Roaming the halls for a free table was not my favorite part. I had flashbacks to our old high school cafeteria, where as a introverted teen misfit I used to skip lunch rather than have to plead with standoffish strangers for a seat. But at least I can say we never had a bad meal at Peachtree.
The registration desk and badge pickup kiosks were stationed at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, one block south and one block east of Peachtree Center. Crowds thickened as we approached. Costumes walked side-by-side with intellectual-property T-shirts, whether as groups, duos, or loners. The first few minutes didn’t go well. A dude assigned to the role of town crier stood at the northwest corner of the block and bellowed poorly enunciated instructions no one could discern. At first we went inside, where our meager question of “Where do we pick up badges?” stumped two different people at desks.
Several of us stymied, would-be attendees exited the Sheraton as an accidental group and somehow found our way to the end of the correct line. During the 1pm-2pm hour it ran three of the block’s four sides. We passed the time with a delightful line chat and realized the line was long but briskly paced, rarely stopping for more than a minute. As we got 100 feet or so from the designated side door, we noticed a strip of blue tape on the ground that only reached from the doorway to the nearest sidewalk. This finally made sense, because “blue” was one of the few words we could make out from the town crier’s well-intentioned ravings. But it was far too short and easily obscured by the masses of excitable bodies everywhere.
The line continued inside into a ballroom labyrinth, speeding up as we neared the goal. Line-chatting is hard when you can’t stand still. We tried to find a happy medium between the two.
(I wish I’d remembered to bring our longer lanyards from home. But these did the job.)
While the Sheraton hosts registration and a few select events, the bulk of D*C programming takes place in a trio of hotels sitting in a row to the north — the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, and the Hilton Atlanta. All three are connected by habitrails, skybridges, hamster tunnels, covered walkways, or whatever you call them back home. Because downtown Atlanta was built on a steep hill, none of the hotels sit at the same levels. The second floor of the Hilton has two floors beneath it, but is connected to the second floor of the Marriott, which only has one floor beneath it, which is at street level. The fourth floor of the Marriott connects to the lobby of the Hyatt, which has three floors beneath it but is at street level. The fourth floor of the Marriott also connects to Peachtree Center, which has one floor and a garage beneath it at street level on its east end, but its west end is one floor below street level, but it also connects to the Hyatt lobby, which, as I just said, is at street level.
If you’re thinking the preceding paragraph makes no sense unless wormholes are involved, now you know why Dragon Con graciously offers walking tours to first-timers.
After one wrong turn out of the Sheraton (see?), we made our way over to the Marriott and rode up to the fourth floor, where the meet-up room was mercifully right next to the escalator. We were welcomed by one of the overseers of the D*C Newbies program, podcaster and professional fan Kevin Bachelder, whom we’d previously met when he was a guest at Indy Pop Con 2015. There was no reason to bring it up, as there was no reason he would’ve remembered us, even though we were part of a very tiny panel audience and I actually spoke up at one point to a smidgen of personal embarrassment. But I remembered him. Very nice guy.
In the room, an ongoing Q&A kept folks entertained and informed while waiting for guides to come in and gather new groups every few minutes. Soon it was our turn and we made the rounds over the course of the next hour-plus. Might’ve been two hours. I lost track of time while trying to absorb critical new information.
Our group tour had one unfortunate drawback: I couldn’t hear a single thing our guide was saying. Whatsoever. We would walk and walk to the next location; he would speak to the first few attendees around him; the rest of us would catch up; our surroundings would be really loud; and then we’d walk and walk some more. He may have been unveiling the most awesome Atlanta hotel trivia in the universe and giving directions to the secret Dragon Con treasure room, but I’ll never know because he wasn’t waiting for the entire group before he spoke, wasn’t projecting his voice, and never once offered the basic courtesy of asking, “Can everyone hear me?”
Regardless, I got exactly what I needed from the tour: a much better sense of the physical layout of this entire colossal shindig. Dragon Con is possibly the largest convention we’ll ever attend in our lives unless some eccentric philanthropist reading this site wants to move heaven and Earth to make San Diego happen for us before I die. D*C gave me the best possible thing to help ease our minds and allay our fears of getting lost in its myriad halls: they let me experience it in advance and mentally chart it all in my head like an adventurer mapping a dungeon for a quest.
After the tour we even got a chance to put our newly acquired knowledge to the test, just as many video games do after you finish the initial tutorial. Without help from anyone else we managed to navigate our way from the Hilton all the way to Peachtree Center without going outside. Our reward was snacks. Anne got a Dairy Queen ice cream cone because in times of fatigue, simple pleasures are her jam. I gave my business to Caribou Coffee as my own personal award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Dragon Con Tie-In Marketing.
Other than registration and the Newbies track, D*C had very little official programming scheduled Thursday. That didn’t deter thousands of fans from gathering around the various premises and hanging out, catching up with old friends, meeting new strangers, sporting early cosplay, and generally hyped to start having fun now now NOW. I wanted fun to start ASAP too, but mingling for the sake of mingling has never been my thing and partying is not really our scene, especially if we’re invited as part of a general population rather than as specific individuals. 500 miles from home among tens of thousands, where we were even bigger nobodies than we tend to be back in our usual Midwest cons, we knew that wasn’t happening.
It’s just as well because the tour, though immensely useful, left us dead on our feet yet again. Thus the olds retreated to their lair once more and recharged their health points for the next two days’ quests.
Over these past eleven chapters we’ve already shown you much of what we saw…but not all of it yet.
To be concluded! Other chapters in this very special miniseries:
Introduction: 20 Years of Road Trips, 2 Lifetimes of Geek Culture
Part 1: The Stars Our Destination – our usual roundup of actors and jazz-hands
Part 2: Cosplay on Parade
Part 3: More Cosplay on Parade
Part 4: Still More Cosplay on Parade
Part 5: Still More Cosplay on Parade Continued
Part 6: Still More Cosplay on Parade Continued Yet Again
Part 7: Deadpool Presents the Deadpool Cosplay Parade Starring Deadpool
Part 8: Ultimate Final Cosplay-Parade Climax Endgame Finale
Part 9: No Parades, Just Cosplay
Part 10: Last Call for Cosplay
Part 12: Who Else We Saw, What Else We Did
Advance epilogue: Three Thoughts After Our First Dragon Con