Road Trip Day 3: Chicago!

When I was a little kid, Chicago held a certain allure in my mind. I’m not sure why; maybe it was the Sears Tower, maybe it was the mystique of Wrigley Field, maybe it was just the sound of the name. But whatever it was, for several years, if anyone asked me where I would go if I could go anywhere in the world, I would have said “Chicago.”

Today, for the first time, on a warm fall day in October, I finally got to see it. After a white-knuckled approach that alternated between “oh my god this road is terrifying” and “oh my god another tollbooth?”, I arrived in the heart of downtown Chicago. Naturally, the first thing I did was walk to the Sears (now Willis) Tower and ride the elevator to the top of the observation deck.

After walking onto the glass-bottomed observation platform, being appropriately terrified, and snapping two dozen pictures of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan, I headed back down and did what I always do in strange cities: go for a walk.

My feet took me out to the shore of Lake Michigan and North, walking along the lake until I reached the Navy Pier, which appears to be Chicago’s upscale answer to Coney Island. After that, I walked back into the city with a goal of finding pizza. I mean, it’s Chicago, right? Gotta have pizza, right?

Thus I found myself eating chorizo-and-egg pizza at a little place called Pompei Bakery. It wasn’t quite the deep dish style that Chicago is famous for, but it was nevertheless delicious. After finishing I still wasn’t sure what “chorizo” was, except that it was some sort of meat. (Answer found out later: it’s Mexican pork sausage.)

After dinner, I took another meandering route back to the car, and headed out of town. I’m trying to avoid staying in any big cities, in order to keep down hotel costs. Last night I drove around 45 minutes out of Cincinnati to Batesville, Indiana; tonight I’m driving about 45 minutes to Waukegan, Illinois.

My evenings have become a routine of downloading photos from the camera, catching up on e-mail, and searching for Seattle apartments. Last night I didn’t even blog, although that was partly because there wasn’t much to blog about, except for raving how awesome Cincinnati-style chili is or doing a dissertation on the mining industry in West Virginia.

So I’ll leave it at this: if you ever get a chance to drive along the New River Gorge in West Virginia, do it. It takes you through the heart of the West Virginia coal industry, and the way of life that’s grown up around it. It also takes you through some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in Appalachia. It’s an odd yet fascinating mix of heavy industry and isolated nature.

And if you ever find yourself in or near Cincinnati, eat at Skyline chili. Wear a bib.

Good night!

I’m Dreaming of a White… er… Groundhog’s Day?

It’s not often that you get snowed in in North Carolina, but here I am. At least I’ve got Internet, power, and water… and as long as the leftover pizza holds out, I should be okay. At least it gives me an excuse to catch up on the blog.

By the way, if anyone from the Northern climes reads this, and laughs about how six inches of snow = “snowed in”… yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before. I’ll post another pic in March when Spring comes, so you’ll have some green trees to admire well ahead of schedule. 😉

Dragon*Con Report

I got back on Monday evening from my first Dragon*Con, and it was quite a weekend. In order to see and do everything, you’d need to be able to be in… oh, I’d say 30 places at once. Saturday I was at the con from 8 am to past midnight, Sunday I was there from 11 am to way past midnight, and Monday was a short day, 10 am to about 2 pm, when I finally had to drive the 6 hours back to Raleigh.

In that time I mostly lived off granola bars and peanut butter crackers (snacks which luckily I thought to bring), hamburgers from the food stands that had been set up around the Hyatt, and one meal that was consumed sitting on the floor of the central food court (since all the tables were taken). After all, when you’re rushing between panels, standing in line to see celebrities, checking out the art galleries, spending money at the dealers’ room, or just watching the myriad of costumes walk by, who has time to eat?

The picture below is of the crowd in the lobby at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, but it seems woefully inadequate for conveying the number of people there. The lobby basically looked like this 24 hours a day for all four days of the convention, and keep in mind that there were three other equally-crowded hotels:

Marriott lobby

When you gather this many people in one place, it’s inevitable that there are going to be long lines. It took me about 2 hours to get through the registration line on Saturday morning, which I believe was the second-longest line I’ve ever stood in (first prize goes to the line for an Obama rally last year, which wound its way around several city blocks). There were also long lines for the celebrity panels, particularly William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Patrick Stewart, so I avoided those. I did, however, stand in line twice to see Adam Savage. The picture below is from a panel on the Skeptics track, which was a great discussion about ways to promote science and critical thinking in popular culture.

Skeptics Panel

From left to right: Phil Plait (writer of the blog Bad Astronomy), Adam Savage, Scott Siegler (horror/sci-fi author who uses a lot of hard science in his books), Rebecca Watson (runs a podcast called Skepchick), Melissa Kaercher (comic relief, in a good way).

Most of the panels I did were on the Writers’ Track, although I only did a few of the couple dozen that were available. In addition to having a Writers’ Track, there were also several Science Fiction and Fantasy literature tracks and a Youth Literature track which had panels useful to writers. So… much… to… do….

Here’s one of the Writers’ Track panels. This one didn’t have any writers on it, though. It was actors talking about what draws them to certain roles, and what actors look for in the characters they play.

Writing Panel

From left to right: Eric Roberts (aka Salvatore Maroni from The Dark Knight); Bruce Davidson (aka Senator Kelly from the X-Men movies); Jennifer Blanc (aka Kendra from the Dark Angel series); Nancy (not actually an actress, just the moderator); Doug Jones (aka Abe from Hellboy, the Silver Surfer, and the fawn from Pan’s Labyrinth); Richard Kiel (aka Jaws from multiple Bond movies); and Ron Glass (aka Shepherd Book from Firefly and Serenity).

I wish I had gotten to do more, but I really sort of did the Dragon*Con Sampler Platter this year, doing events, wandering around, seeing everything I could…. maybe next year I’ll focus more on writing stuff. I enjoyed the ones I attended, though… some of the best-known authors there were Gene Wolfe, Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, and Peter Beagle. It was nice just to listen to professional authors share what they’ve learned about how to make a living writing (a lot of lessons carry over from other fields, particularly in regards to networking, behaving like a professional, that sort of thing). Peter Beagle regaled us with true stories of how he learned how to be a professional writer from shoplifting (although he did not actually recommend that anyone else follow the same path).

Chances are good that I will be back at Dragon*Con next year, and apply the following lessons:

-Don’t stand in line to see celebrities. There’s plenty to do at the con that does not involve standing in line for an hour.
-Plan ahead for the Writers’ Panels, and think of questions to ask ahead of time.
-If you get there Saturday morning, buy tickets through TicketMaster first. The line is way the heck shorter.
-Bring snacks, so you don’t starve rushing between events.
-Set a reasonable limit on the amount of money you spend in the Dealers’ Room. (Ha ha, yeah right.)

In two days I leave for Australia. Time to start packing again…