Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: for the past several years my wife Anne and I have made a tradition of going somewhere — anywhere but home — for each of our birthdays. One-day road trips and events, such as last year’s tour of the Art Institute of Chicago, give me the gift of new experiences and distract me from the physical decay at hand. It was a nice tradition while it lasted.
For my 48th birthday we had hoped this weekend would see us returning to Motor City Comic Con up near Detroit. Our first trip to Motor City in 2017 was a fantastic experience, and this year’s guest list had a few larger-than-life personalities we would’ve loved to meet. Then, much as has happened to You, The Viewers at Home, our best-laid plans gang agley. In the wake of COVID-19, businesses closed or severely restricted their services, workplaces were scuttled, my employers enacted strict rules about out-of-state travel, and any and all events involving two or more people were canceled. All one-man events, such as the worst YouTube channels ever, were allowed to continue on schedule. I haven’t had a birthday party in years, but the state of the world has derailed our road-trip tradition for my big day. Whether we can resume our practice on Anne’s birthday in October will hinge on a number of variables, none of them within my personal control, though I’d totally be on top of that for her sake if I had Dr. Manhattan’s powers.
Anne and I were determined to line up an enjoyable weekend for ourselves anyway. Between the two of us we made the most of these past two days with the resources safely available. We found a way to recreate ten (10) commonalities we’ve encountered at various entertainment conventions over the past several years. Welcome to what I nicknamed “TakeoutCon 2020”, which included the following comic-con-esque features:
1. Celebrating the works of major corporations! Every large-scale comic con extols the virtues of Marvel and DC Comics, the two largest and most affluent publishers in the biz, as well as the gargantuan movie and TV studios that produce their favorite works and, by extension, employ all their favorite actors. We skewed our approach to corporate idolatry toward a different angle: on Friday all our meals were takeout from national restaurant chains. Over the past two months we’ve already given money and love to the local mom-and-pop establishments near our house, but now it was time to pay tribute to bigger companies with CEOs and shareholders and standardized products and so on.
2. Walking and walking! Cons are great exercise opportunities for our health. For lack of those, Anne and I have made nominal efforts to take long walks around our subdivision instead. She’s done much better about it than I have. Walks are much more enticing when there’s a tangible goal at the end to distract you from all the sweating and the foot-ache. We’re prone to ignoring our pains when we’re too busy gawping at colorful booths lining either side of our path. In fact, our sidewalks would be much more fun if neighbors would set up stands all around selling Funko Pops, manga, bootleg DVDs, Silver Age comics, stickers, hand-drawn prints, and sugar gliders, but our HOA covenant has strict rules about all of the above when it isn’t time for our annual under-attended community garage sale. Despite the lack of eye candy, and the rains that made Friday a total washout, on Saturday we did our best to burn calories at a level comparable to a typical con-walk. We fell short, but we tried.
3. Long lines! We didn’t stand in any because it’s our understanding other people could be the death of us, but whenever Anne went to pick up our food, many restaurants had cars lined up out to the streets, each of them waiting and hoping and excited for that treasured change from their current routines, probably heretofore spent at home for weeks on end with only meat stockpiles and forts made of toilet paper as their stalwart companions. It’s hard to blame them, yet ridiculous to watch in slow motion.
4. Famous actor sightings! Not a single celebrity would return our calls or defy their local lockdowns just to meet little old us, so we lowered our expectations to a more manageable level, and by “lowered” I mean “erased”. Motor City may have been a no-go, but lucky timing brought an unexpected favor: another of our cable company’s regular “Watchathon” programming events, during which subscribers are allowed to watch movies and shows on some of the premium channels not included in our monthly subscription. Old-fashioned cord-lovers that we are, we’ve come to appreciate this infrequent perk. As usual our focus was on HBO, which has become a more attractive outlet in recent times. We’re roughly 19 years behind on their back catalog, but really only interested in maybe 5% of it. That’s more than I can say for Cinemax, Starz, Epix, or whatever “Hitz” is.
In our household this week’s Watchathon special presentation was the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, based on the book by Stephen Ambrose about Easy Company paratroopers in Europe in World War 2. Anne is a major history buff with a specialization in the WWII European theater, and I’m a fan of well-executed productions employing actors I recognize from other good works. In the nineteen years that have passed since Band of Brothers first aired, many of its cast members have gone on to bigger, bolder careers. You might remember such guys as…
…James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg, Donnie Wahlberg, Colin Hanks, Jimmy Fallon, Damian Lewis (Homeland), Ron Livingston (Office Space), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica), Kirk Acevedo (Fringe, Arrow, Oz), actual military advisor/actor Dale Dye (Falling Skies), Neal McDonough (Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Star Trek: First Contact), Michael Cudlitz (The Walking Dead), Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Black Mirror), Scott Grimes (The Orville), Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova, DC’s animated-DVD Batman), Eion Bailey (Once Upon a Time‘s Pinocchio), Rick Gomez (Final Fantasy‘s Zack Fair), Dexter Fletcher (director of Rocketman), Matthew Settle (Gossip Girl), Wolf Kahler (Raiders of the Lost Ark), a barely detectable Dominic Cooper (Preacher, Agent Carter), and more more more.
It was fun to imagine we weren’t seeing them on TV, but rather walking through a convention center hall where they all had autograph tables and we couldn’t afford to meet any of them, but nonetheless looked upon them from afar and thought to ourselves how cool it is that they showed up for their fans. Like video games, imagination can be a wondrous way to frolic in unrealistic environs.
5. Famous cars! Whether it’s the Optimus Prime semi, the General Lee, or Stephen King’s Christine herself, noteworthy cars in pop culture have become another staple of our cons. Pay a few bucks to sit in them or at least pose with them; sometimes for a few bucks extra their caretakers will let you tinker with their bells and whistles. We couldn’t approximate this trend with our vehicles because I can’t get anyone in Hollywood to hear out my pitch for The Italian Job 2: Kia Fortes-A-Go-Go, so I had to downshift my needs way, way, waaaaaaay down…by which I mean, I watched Fast and Furious (the fourth one, I mean), now available for streaming on Peacock.
Its retroactively notable costars include Shea Whigham (Agent Carter), John Ortiz (Ad Astra, Bumblebee), Laz Alonso (The Boys), Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder), and some beloved people from the first three films. Of the four installments I’ve seen, this effort by returning director Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond) was arguably the most watchable. As a blissfully married guy I was more comfortable beholding its fancy cars than its scandalously clad rap-video babes.
6. Shopping! Our home internet works. Yes, shopping may have occurred to coincide with TakeoutCon 2020. Let’s pretend correlation and causation were involved. Lately I’ve been poking around Amazon a lot less than the average American, but I ramped up my browsing there a tad. From another site I bought a couple of graphic-storytelling items including a recent release that’s been eluding me. I even indulged in a Kickstarter campaign run by awesome ’80s comics creator Mike Baron, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Indy Pop Con 2016.
7. Token inclusion of comic books! Speaking of which: as a 42-year fan of the medium I do try to accentuate the “comic” in “comic con” where possible. In between screenings and other activities, my weekend reading matter of choice has been Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing is Monsters, an oversize, gorgeously rendered if sometimes horrifying souvenir from last year’s aforementioned Art Institute trip, an objet d’art that’d been on my radar ever since we saw Ms. Ferris speak at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus in 2017. I’m just over the halfway point in this massive tome and can’t recommend it highly ehough. I may have no true Artists Alley to show off here, but this’ll more than do.
8. Filling in gaps of runs! Every geek has their runs, series, and other assortments that are incomplete. For comics fans, cons are a great time to dig through dusty longboxes and pick up the issues of our favorite comics that we missed years ago. For action-figure collectors, sometimes dealers will have variant figures on sale at significant mark-ups. I decided it was well past time to tend to one of my own holes.
Over two decades ago I committed to a quest to see how many Academy Award nominees for Best Picture I could watch before I die. For years I could brag, “I’ve seen every nominee from 1997 to the present!” but have been stuck in that same position because one of the 1996 nominees was never released on American DVD and never airs on any popular movie apps. As recently as February 2020 I was still complaining about this omission in my project. But because it’s my birthday, Anne granted me permission to sign up for yet another streaming service, so now we have the Criterion Channel. Thanks to them I had the sincere pleasure of watching that evasive 1996 nominee — Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, a British improv drama starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Broadchurch season 2), Brenda Blethyn (Atonement, The Wild Thornberrys Movie), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter‘s Peter Pettigrew), Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey‘s Mrs. Hughes), and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), among others. I’m relieved that I loved it, because a 20-year-quest to watch a film that sucked would’ve been the worst birthday present yet.
At long last I can say I’ve seen every Best Picture Oscar nominee from 1989 to the present. We’ll see about resuming my quest and pushing that date farther backward as time, money, and availability permit. I’m now glowering in your general direction, The Accidental Tourist.
9. Gaming! In recent times the video game industry has been carving out an increasingly colossal niche in the comic-con scene, to the extent that still calling it “niche” is an invalid label that deserves updating. Longtime MCC readers know my PS3 and I remain years behind the Kids These Days, a minor part of my weekly pop-culture consumption routines. Right now in my spare time between spare times, I’m slowly working through the intricate, sprawling world of Skyrim, and I do mean slowly. That perpetual feeling of FOMO impels me to brake for every new house, to search every nook and cranny, and to drain the town of Whiterun for every last possible side quest and hidden treasure before I move on with incidental tasks such as fighting monsters and wandering more than a mile from where the game began weeks ago. In-game, I’ve done more scavenging than fighting, but it still counts as gaming, right?
10. Weird clothes! See lead photo. It isn’t quite cosplay, but it’s as close as I generally get. You might not be surprised how very, very, very few fat four-eyed bearded characters there are in all of mass media for me to dress up as. And I am not joining the Legion of Silent Bobs.
…and that’s how my TakeoutCon 2020 has gone so far. Sunday isn’t over yet, but things tend to be quiet at most comic cons on Sunday anyway. There’s a likelihood we’ll do a sort-of “fan panel” later this evening, by which I mean our weekly Zoom check-in with Anne’s siblings. And while it’ll be days or possibly weeks before I have any of my online shopping results physically in hand, it’s still my birthday and Anne is still the sort of loving, gracious wife who buys me presents. Thanks to her generosity I can end this entry the same way I end many of our convention write-ups: with a photo of newly acquired geek loot.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just learned Fast Five is on HBO, whose Watchathon participation ends in eleven hours. Time to go close yet another viewing gap and see more pretty cars…