Like troops storming the beaches at Normandy, we descended upon the city of San Diego on July 25. Instead of armor, our bodies were covered with backpacks and plastic poster cylinders worn in the same manner as arrow quivers. Four days later, we headed to train stations and airport terminals to return to the lives and loved ones that we left behind. In our wake, we leave enough soda cans, candy wrappers and other assorted debris to keep a cleaning crew busy for days.
We are the nerds, the geeks and the countless other fans who make the annual trek to the West Coast for the San Diego Comic-Con, an event that has established itself as the place to be in July.
Docking With the Mother Ship
With an estimated 125,000 attendees, it’s advisable to make hotel reservations early because rooms disappear quickly. The official Comic-Con website contains lists of hotels that offer special convention rates and, by using an online service called Travel Planners, I booked a room at the Holiday Inn in the San Diego Zoo area.
Travel Planners isn’t foolproof, however. The friendly staff at the hotel, who already seemed fed up with Comic-Con folks on Wednesday night, said I was booked for 5 nights, not the 4 nights that it said on my Travel Planners confirmation. It took about 30 minutes of discussion with the front desk manager in order to avoid paying a $50.00 change fee. I’m thinking that it might not cost much more to book directly with the hotel instead of using a third-party to avoid problems like this in the future.
An Army of Volunteers
Keeping control of 125,000 enthusiastic attendees requires a venerable army of volunteers to coordinate badges and make sure that everyone is in the right line for the right room. Surprisingly, the staff remained fairly cheerful as the week wore on.
The Trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe
When booking a hotel for the Comic-Con, it’s good to check exactly how close your accommodations are to public transportation. On my first night, I had to cab it back and forth to the San Diego Convention Center, which turned out to be a $35.00 round-trip. On Day 2, I walked about a mile from the Holiday Inn to the Trolley, San Diego’s light-rail system. For only $5, you can ride the Trolley or city buses all day, which is what most of us ended up doing. The Transit Authority even offers special “Red Line” service for events as massive as Comic-Con.
We Do Need Those Stinking Badges
Security at the Comic-Con is tight, so tight, in fact, that it would be easier to break into the White House and steal President George W’s morning toast and jam than to get into the Comic-Con without proper credentials. Every attendee is issued a lanyard and badge, which must be visible to the volunteers working the doors. I didn’t run into anyone who had lost their badge, but I got the feeling that securing a replacement badge would require some fast talking.
Bring Your Bible
Every attendee receives a welcome pack that contains a 150-page magazine referred to affectionately as the Comic-Con Bible. This periodical has maps of the San Diego Convention Center and a day-to-day schedule of events and where celebrities will be signing autographs.
Is this the line for Ray Harryhausen’s autograph or the one for the men’s room?
Long lines are the norm, not the exception at this 4-day event. On Thursday, it was relatively easy to get into most panel discussions, but by Saturday, the line for a panel discussing the popular Sci-Fi Channel series “Eureka” stretched to infinity and beyond. I left my hotel early on Saturday morning to attend a preview showing of the new “Bionic Woman” pilot episode and, after I got there, I walked approximately 12 minutes to find the end of the line. Miraculously, seats were still available when I made it to the doors and I got to watch Jamie Somers kick some butt.
Where the Heck is Hall H?
Located within the San Diego Convention Center, the 6500-seat Hall H hosts the biggest and most popular convention events, such as Paramount Pictures sneak preview of their upcoming films (“Iron Man” “Stardust”). Unfortunately, to get to this mythical venue, one has to go outside and then join a long and winding line to get back into the part of the building where Hall H is hidden.
Hollywood, of course, has become a big part of the San Diego Comic-Con, more so than any other convention in the country. Representatives from various studios and television networks host countless panels featuring the creators and stars of their films and upcoming projects. Jon Favreau, director of the new “Iron Man” movie, gets the award for the best fan fake-out. Using the excuse that he was too busy with “Iron Man” post-production, he pre-recorded a sneak preview of the movie, which turned out to be a segment from the cheesy “Iron Man” cartoons from the 1960’s. Like the Wizard of Oz, Favreau then appeared from behind the curtain to show the real footage, which is, in a word, spectacular. “Iron Man” may make everyone forget about that guy with the webs.
Food, Glorious Food
An army of nerds travels on its collective stomach, so food is easy to find, especially Mrs. Fields cookies and Starbucks. Unfortunately, most vendors at the Convention Center take only cash, not plastic, so if you’re low on green, it means a trip to the land of automated tellers. After a few days of gulping down pretzels, cookies and chicken wings from Hooters, I would have killed for a home-cooked meal. On Saturday, I did find a shopping mall and made a beeline for Manchu Wok, which, while not home cooking, offered a sit-down meal miles away from the Comic-Con.
My Best Friend Ralph Who Doesn’t Sell Buicks
Ralph’s is a grocery store chain and has one location about 4 blocks from the Comic-Con. The deli has plenty of ready-to-eat sandwiches, wings and other goodies and, best of all, the price is right; no more paying $7.00 for a pretzel and soda. I stocked up on some basic necessities before heading back to the trolley.
After 4 days of long lines and gallons of Red Bull, burn-out is inevitable. By Saturday, the corridors of the San Diego Convention Center were littered with the semi-conscious bodies of people trying to catch a quick nap or just take a load off their feet. It’s safe to say that Comic-Con is a physically draining experience, sort of like spending 4 back-to-back days at Disneyland
While talking to other attendees, I heard repeated rumors that based on this year’s extraordinary attendance, the Comic-Con may change its home from San Diego to Anaheim or even Las Vegas. The rumors gained credence after convention organizers had to turn away people for what I understand is the first time in Comic-Con history.
My Suitcase is Heavy, but My Wallet is Light
Each day, I would cheerfully board the trolley and return to the hotel around 8 p.m. with less cash and more stuff in my bag. I had to decide if I wanted to send some things home via Fed-Ex or stuff them into my already bulging duffel bags.
See You Next Year?
The San Diego Comic-Con is, without a doubt, an event that has to be seen to be believed and, after a few months back in the real world, I may even consider going back next year.