Dragon*Con is one of the largest pop-culture conventions in the world, with four days of events broken up into "tracks" of interest covering everything from science fiction, fantasy, gaming, film, literature, and art to music, robotics, engineering, space exploration, and paranormal investigation. Held annually over Labor Day weekend in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, programing includes celebrity panels, autograph sessions, workshops, screenings, concerts, art shows, contests, beauty pageants, a film festival, blood drive, and attempts to enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Dragon*Con experience is equatable to a Mardi Gras For Nerds; costumed parades winding through the city, booze free-flowing in public, high-profile guests mingling with the crowds. The convention's guest list was as impressive as it was extensive; personal favorites included Star Trek's Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Kate Mulgrew, The X-Files' Dean Haglund, and Mythbusters' Adam Savage. There was even an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people doing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance simultaneously. With so much going on, however, attendees must carefully select which events to attend and the lines for the popular events were long and required waiting an hour or more for a guaranteed seat. The con's organizers tried to alleviate this somewhat with popular guests hosting their panels multiple times and with events broadcast live on closed circuit television channels which could be accessed in the official hotels' rooms. Also, the spread-out multi-building nature of the con was intimidating at first, but after getting our bearings it was enjoyable to have lots of places to explore.
For my first Dragon*Con, Sketch, PatD, Lo, and I decided to drive rather than fly, and after being on the road all day Wednesday, we arrived in downtown Atlanta by Thursday afternoon. We met up with roommates EllyStar, Iceman, and CrazyFlower, and got in line to pick up our badges. As we readied ourselves for a long wait, a con vendor came around selling beer, chicken fingers, pizza, sodas, and other snacks to the people in line. We get to drink while we WAIT IN LINE? FANTASTIC! Our good mood faded as we were herded into a large ballroom where we inched our way through line for over two hours to reach booths where our names were looked up by hand in three ring binders. Badges obtained, we headed to the Metro Café Diner for dinner, which had groups of half-drunk teenagers singing pop songs at the karaoke bar and mouthwatering seven-layer cakes on display in glass cases.
Friday I wore my Arwen Coronation Gown from Lord of the Rings and we set out to explore the host hotels. At the Sheraton, we found a replica TARDIS brought all the way from Colorado by its creators. Sketch and PatD chatted them up about construction techniques while the girls and I headed to the Disney photoshoot. The meetup had a large group of diverse characters, including several adorable Tinkerbells, a frighteningly accurate Queen from Snow White, and a drop-dead gorgeous Jafar from Aladdin. That afternoon I wore my Peppermint Crunch costume to the My Little Pony shoot; it was hard to miss the brightly-colored Pony girls with wings, ears, horns, and tails. We then attended the Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog stage show, which was similar to Rocky Horror with the film was shown on giant screens while simultaneously being acted out by live performers on stage. The audience sang along to the songs, shouted out their favorite lines, and had a great time. For dinner we decided it would be hilarious to go to Hooters dressed as My Little Ponies and we were a huge hit; football fans chatted and took photos with us, and others bought us pitchers of beer. Another group were dressed as Smurfs and they also got beer as the patrons chanted "Smur-urfs! Smur-urfs!" It shocked us just how positively the public in Atlanta reacted to our costumes and the convention as a whole, very different than what we're used to in the Northeast.
Saturday we got a great spot to watch the Dragon*Con parade; I had expected a lot of costumed marchers, but didn’t realize that the event would also include bands, celebrity guests waiving from cars, Stormtroopers in kilts, fully functional replicas of the campy 1960s Batmobile and 1980s Ghostbusters’ car, and elaborate floats which included pirate ships and castles! Wow! That afternoon, Sketch and I changed into our Mulder and Scully costumes from The X-Files. We were surprised at the reaction to our simplistic, relatively old-school cosplay; people started jumping out of lines – literally losing their spots – to take pictures of us, and yelled “Mulder!” and “Scully!” as we made our way down the street. PatD joined us for Adam Savage's panel; the Mythbuster shared his personal wish list for life as part of the panel, which was both entertaining and touching. Afterwards, Sketch and I checked out the art show, which was huge and full of interesting and unique artwork by a slew of very talented people. Unlike most con artist's alleys, the majority of the art was original as opposed to fan work and prices ranged from $5 to $50,000. That night we hit the town; Sketch’s Facebook status summed up the outing pretty well: “Enjoying watching Shiva dance to bad karaoke, burgers, beer, and good times.”
Sunday morning I wore my brand new Deanna Troi costume from Star Trek: The Next Generation and got near the front of the line to see one of my all-time favorite actors, Patrick Stewart. As we waited, I was entertained by how many Trekkies addressed me, quite seriously, as “Commander." Stewart came out to a standing ovation, and his talk was hilarious in a befuddled humble old man way. I was impressed with how much he did manage to remember from his time on TNG given that its been over 15 since it ended, and was not surprised to hear funny stories from the famously close and well-humored ensemble. After the panel I did a Little Mermaid photoshoot for Crazy Flower and Lo and got some great shots. That evening we ordered Chinese take out and watched the masquerade on the hotel’s closed circuit TV channel. The food was questionable and the masquerade was terrible, but we were glad we were comfy and hadn’t bothered standing in line to see the show live. That night we walked back to the Marriott for delicious White Russians at the sailboat shaped bar and people watching. We met many interesting cosplayers and were enjoying chatting with a crowd we don’t usually see. There was even a group of guys dressed as the cast of King of the Hill who had set up a fake fence in the lobby and stood in front of it all evening drinking beers from their cooler - a perfect summation of the night!
Monday morning we packed up the car and visited the Walk of Fame, where we saw Felicia Day, Garrett Wang, and Dean Haglund before checking out the huge dealer's rooms, grabbing lunch and starting our long drive home. The trip took two days, which consisted of a stop in South Carolina at Crazy Steve's Fireworks, a ridiculously hysterical dinner at a Denny's in West Virginia, and a night sleeping outside on the ground at a truck stop in Pennsylvania. This was one memorable trip that I'll never forget, and I'll definitely be back next year!