Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
In 2019 my wife Anne and I attended our very first Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia. We returned home to Indianapolis with a plethora of new memories, hundreds and hundreds of photos, and a shared suspicion that we’d return someday. Not every year, but someday. In the year of our grand pandemic 2020 we attended exactly zero conventions for easily guessed reasons. In 2021 several cons made their comeback plans, but Dragon Con stepped up hardest and made us some offers we couldn’t refuse. We didn’t have to think long or hard before accepting the special rules under which this pandemic-era show would be held…
It all comes down to this: Saturday, September 4th, our final day at Dragon Con 2021 before we spent all of Sunday driving home. Well, not all of Sunday — Labor Day Eve traffic was so light and unsupervised that, after adjusting for pit stops, we made it from Atlanta to Indianapolis in less than eight hours. We actually had extra time to ourselves when we got home, which was nice. But that was the next day. This is the day.
September 4th was also the week before the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, which has no relevance here whatsoever but very nearly counts as fun trivia, except it isn’t.
We’ve covered a large chunk of our Saturday activities already. I promise this installment won’t take nearly as many words as the last one. Thanks to the amazing colossal Dragon Con app, which includes an archive of your past shows, this one was easy to organize by time stamp.
9 a.m.: After grabbing breakfast at a nearby Dunkin (our Plan B due to hotel amenity failure), we headed over to the Dragon Con parade route and secured looky-loo spots in front of the Marriott Marquis minutes before the Atlanta PD began closing downtown roads with their prized barricade collection that tripped up dozens of D*C attendees who got indignant that their walking paths from Point A to B were now cut off for the next 2½ hours. The stymied would-be passersby seemed oblivious to the fact that the Atlanta PD does this every single year. I suppose it’s possible those pedestrians were all D*C newbies. That means next time they’ll be seasoned, second-time veterans like us and it’ll be their turn to feel good about themselves from one (1) rung higher up the ladder.
The police granted exceptions to a few folks, not to everyone. Marriott employees were allowed through, as were parade cosplayers, the occasional random pleader if they caught an officer in just the right whimsical moment, and at one point Tricia Helfer and her escorts.
11:30 a.m.: The parade ended with just enough minutes left for us to get to the Hyatt and grab just-okay seats for a Q&A with the cast of Shazam!, who were in the middle of filming the sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods in Georgia. On hand were Jack Dylan Grazer, who played Billy Batson’s best pal/foster brother Freddy Freeman; D.J. Cotrona, who played the adult-superhero version of foster brother Pedro at the end of the first one; and star Zachary Levi, who’s been at a few of our past cons and yet our paths had never crossed till now. Halfway through the Q&A, a surprise fourth guest popped up at one of the audience mics and then was welcomed onto the stage: Cooper Andrews, who played the kids’ big-hearted foster father Victor in the film.
Cast and audience alike had a rollicking good time, but three weeks after the fact, no one really cares what questions were asked and in the moment transcribing is a boring distraction. No major details about Fury of the Gods were provided except the actors once again have leeway to improv here and there in between scripted lines. (The first film’s “You’re welcome for not being robbed!” was one such ad lib that made the cut.) The subject of Levi’s short stint as the replacement warrior Fandral in the MCU’s Thor series was brought up again, though his response was much shorter than the version he gave at a Friday Q&A. His Friday became clickbait headline news when multiple sites yelled “STOP THE PRESSES!” and milked it for 500-word sidebars masquerading as articles. (Remember when the same thing happened that time we saw the same thing happen to Nathan Fillion? Good times.)
The best audience question was: if Shazam! had been a musical, what would’ve been your signature musical number? Levi begged off because for him, impromptu singing requires warmup. Grazer, a hyper ball of living electrical energy throughout the panel, rambled at entertaining length and, as I barely recall, finally settled on an answer that would only work as a song title for Fall Out Boy. Andrews gamely made up a song on the spot and therefore won the question. (“Why is there lightning everywhere / In my house?…”)
1:00 p.m.: After the Shazam! panel wrapped up, the ballroom was cleared per con procedure. We exited the Hyatt, joined an epic-length line on the sidewalk outside, then filed back inside the Hyatt and the exact same ballroom as before, but five rows closer to the front. Still not close to the front, but slightly less disadvantageous. Our next round of guests: seven cast members from Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica, who would also later costar in a very special photo op that same afternoon.
Two additional panelists not pictured above: Tahmoh Penikett, whom I also saw on Dollhouse; and Academy Award Nominee Edward James Olmos, who, according to Anne, simply would not stop fidgeting at the far end of the table. Halfway through the Q&A, a surprise eighth guest popped up at one of the audience mics and then was welcomed onto the stage: Sam Witwer, the short-lived jerk pilot Crashdown who would go on to play villains in all the things.
I have no idea if any of the questions were oldies from past cons. Galactica was among my 2020 binges, so this was my first chance to catch them live after watching the show for myself. The most memorable moment came at the end, when Olmos brought out his phone and galvanized everyone in the room to join together for one massive get-well-soon video for castmate Michael Hogan, who was still in the hospital as of this weekend, as effects persist from his February 2020 brain injury at, of all things, a Galactica con. It was hard not to get emotional as Olmos led everyone in a hearty chant of “SO SAY WE ALL!”
2:00 p.m.: Lunchtime at the pay-by-the-pound Asian eatery inside the Peachtree food court, then back to the Marriott to chill out in a walkway and/or take occasional cosplay photos for a while. Sometimes midday decompression helps.
3:40 p.m.: The glorious pandemic-era jazz-hands photo op with the seven Galactica cast members from Chapter One, taken as usual on the bottom floor of the Marriott. It would’ve been a thousand times more fun to stand in their midst rather than at their side like I’m a theater director coaching them in a revival of Pippin. I couldn’t even see most of them except Tricia Helfer, who was adjacent to the Plexiglas on their side and very helpful in shouting “JAZZ HANDS!” to her cohort when I humbly made the request, which probably only she could hear. After the photographer shooed me away, I mouthed a silent “Thank you!” to her as if I were at a prison visitor walking away from the inmates’ booths, except in this case everyone on the other side was stuffed into the same booth.
(Any readers interested in more Galactica jazz-hands goodness may refer to our Brushes With Greatness from previous conventions — Sam Witwer and the absent Katee “Starbuck” Sackhoff at Star Wars Celebration Midwest 2019; and the esteemed Mr. Olmos himself at Indy Pop Con 2015.)
All throughout the day I’d been giving serious consideration to buying another op with the Shazam! cast. Ultimately I decided against it. Nothing against any of them, but I’m not sure how much more I care to spend on unforgettably COVID-tastic souvenirs. The Galactica gathering doubled as a one-time, super-sized, extremely special occasion and as one (1) opportunity to try a mid-pandemic photo op just so I could see what that was like and relay that experience to curious fans who’d opted out. We fully understood why we were held at a subpar remove as unclean hoi polloi, behind Plexiglas like droolers at a salad bar, despite the fact that we were just as fully vaccinated as the actors were. But we’re not wild about that divide possibly becoming the post-pandemic norm and would rather not keep encouraging it.
4:00 p.m.: We returned to the Hyatt and arrived a few minutes late at a comics-history panel about the Justice Society of America on the occasion of their 80th anniversary. It was a fun primer for fans of The CW’s Stargirl (currently my favorite of their DC series) and a refresher of the JSA facts and trivia I’d forgotten. About twenty fans showed up, the same crowd size as Friday’s turnout for The Crown.
I had only two quibbles. I was disappointed they gave such short shrift to Infinity Inc., the ’80s super-team comprising numerous inheritors of the JSA’s various mantles, from which Stargirl has drawn a lot of its heroes and villains. At one point they also forgot the current name of the co-writer of Bill Willingham’s 2009-2010 JSA run, deemed disappointing by the panel. I knew the answer but wasn’t sure I wanted to volunteer it in a disappointment-based context. Otherwise, a decent if low-key fan-panel experience.
5:30 p.m.: After the JSA panel, we were close to calling it a day. The thought of heading back to the hotel, getting that cumbersome backpack off my shoulder, and collapsing in soft furniture was tempting. But how many more chances would we get in the near future to attend an event like this again? To see famous talents speaking in one city for one low price? To engage in fun activities that had nothing to do with screens? To add one last round of cherishable memories to our D*C 2021 collection?
So we walked outside the Hyatt, joined one final line along several dozen others to reenter said Hyatt one last time, were led to a slightly different ballroom, and enjoyed the heck out of a Q&A with acclaimed SF author/blogger John Scalzi, thus further solidifying his position as an official recurring motif in this very special 12-part MCC miniseries.
I’ve been following his blog for a good eight or nine years, and not just because he’s a fellow WordPress user. As of today I’m 140 pages into Redshirts and immensely enjoying it. As of that day, I’d never opened one of his books before. A lot of book-related questions were therefore lost on me, except that he recommends Old Man’s War to Scalzi newbies, which I duly noted. After noticing that all the initial questioners at the Q&A mics were dudes, he made a point of inviting women to come up and ask questions as well, which drew a positive result.
Other topics included his ongoing predilection for grading his hate mail; Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots, which has adapted a few of his short stories; an update on a potential Hollywood adaptation presently in negotiations (which drew a diplomatic verbal response and a separately mimed response); and, the one thing I’d secretly hoped someone would ask about more than any other, how things are going with The Beast — the six-necked guitar he acquired earlier this year, largely because he could.
This event, above all others, was the funniest hour of our Dragon Con 2021. That seemed like the best possible high note on which to end a convention.
6:30 p.m.: One last meal at the Peachtree court, the most mediocre of them all. Thus concluded our Dragon Con 2021 experience on the wrong note, apropos of nothing.
Three weeks after the fact I can confirm with a relief we suffered no debilitating side effects or deaths as a result of mingling with 42,000 other masked and vaccinated attendees. I cannot, on the other hand, confirm whether that means we’re ready to return to the con scene full-time. We’ve skipped two conveniently Midwest cons held since then and aren’t feeling enthusiastic about the rest of our 2021 “maybe” calendar. Then again, we said in 2019 that it would be a while until we returned to Dragon Con, and yet here we were. We have middle-age whims! But also middle-age obligations! Anything can happen! But might not!
Looking beyond 2021, we’d definitely love a third go at D*C someday. For multiple logistical reasons we can’t return every year, but, well. Dot dot dot. Dot dot.
The End. Thanks for reading. Lord willing, we’ll see you next event, whenever or whatever that is.
Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries:
Part 1: Return of the Jazz Hands
Part 2: A Cosplay Sampler
Part 3: Some Cosplay Parade
Part 4: More Cosplay Parade
Part 5: Still More Cosplay Parade
Part 6: Cosplay Parade Stumpers
Part 7: More Cosplay Parade Stumpers
Part 8: Last Call for Parade Cosplay
Part 9: Winding Down the Parade
Part 10: Day Zero
Part 11: Day One