Writer and colourist for the DMFA-inspired webcomic, 'Project Future', also composer and wannabe-musician aka 'DOUG the Eagle'
I got up around 7:30 at Manchester for the flight to JFK.
This went pretty well - JFK did a remarkable job of streamlining the usual customs and immigration headache, but after that was rather less satisfying.
JFK has a number of terminals, but doesn't seem to tell you which terminal you are in. In Terminal 8, the baggage claim is linked to departures by means of two lifts. One of these was out of service, resulting in a 15
minute queue to get in the remaining lift. This lift broke down as it reached the upper floor, the doors refusing to open more than about three inches. After several attempts, and observing that we were on the correct floor and not somewhere in betweem, we forced the doors open and escaped. I am not sure what happened to the thronging crowd below if both elevators were out of service.
After that things went smoothly, except that the Omni had again booked me under the wrong name, this time reversing my first and last name.
By this time the pounding headache which I usually get after the flight in was starting, so apologies if the greetings to my roomies were a little sparse. Eventually I curled up on the bed wishing it would just end.
At some point Gabi, Sofox and Aisha went off for pizza, which I was in no fit state to eat so I tried to sleep instead. This worked for a bit until I was woken by the hotel phone and groggily took a message for Gabi from a guy who appeared to be stalking her. Gabi was worried about the message because she had been sent a number of large packages by her family - including an entire vacuum cleaner - and was afraid it would be another one.
Eventually I just gave up and went fully to bed, waking briefly for Merlin's arrival at some point between 11pm and midnight.
As usual, the headache was completely gone by morning. I think it's sleep-related since last year I managed to get to sleep early the night before and slept a lot on the flight, and as such the effects were minimal.
The loss of the headache was a blessed relief, but it did mean that my friends were somewhat short-changed in terms of the greeting they got when I arrived. And the following day, when I was fresh and well, the moment
for greetings was past.
We got up some time around 8am and had breakfast at the Au Bon Pain. We were offered a cookie the next day in exchange for filling out a survey - most of us clean forgot, and I was slightly creeped out by the over-enthusiastic response from the staff anyway. The usual British reservedness, I suppose. Gabi had asked us to consider volunteering this year, since the convention had offered to subsidise the room one night per volunteer, or something
along those lines. So, we headed to con-ops to volunteer to help at registration, arriving around 10am. I was very nervous about this, having had a number of very terrible experiences in frontline support, which combined
with other bad things happening at the time saw me visit the hospital for depression. No problem, I can fetch and carry badges, right? I ended up getting shunted into frontline support and wanting to murder Gabi. I came close to biting her head off for that, which I feel really bad about. It did get me reinstated as a badge runner though, and after that the whole thing went extremely smoothly and was great fun.
Around 2:30, things started to calm down so we gathered ourselves back together, using Merlin's patented "Tell them we're doing it anyway and hopefully they'll follow" approach. This still took a bit of corralling at which point I wondered if it was as impossible to herd foxes as it is cats. Gabi was talking to Agent Elrond when we collected her, which was fun, but we had to get food so we headed off to the Golden Palace for a late lunch.
After that, Merlin, Sofox and myself went back to the Omni, attempting to take the stairs in a "Stairventure", which had ended in a fiasco some years before. Under Merlin's guidance we found the right door this time, and got as far as level 6 before quitting and taking the lift the rest of the way. After that we hung around in the hotel for a bit before Merlin and I suited up as Peony and Daryil respectively.
We went to the Zoo in the Westin first, but it was rather empty, so we headed back to the registration area since fursuiters often seem to congregate around there. This worked quite well and we had a number of people take our photos. Afterwards, we went back to the Zoo to cool down for a bit, and then around 5:30, finally suited up again to walk back to the Omni to get there in time for the Tea Party.
The Tea Party started around 6pm. Sunblink brought an impressive selection of teas flavoured with bits of whole popcorn and various other unlikely items of food - while impressive these were a bit too heavily flavoured for my taste. To assist in making it she had also brough a very large and complex tea maker which looked like Mr. Fusion and had instructions no-one could comprehend. Brady and Lucheek arrived with a large ice-cream in the shape of a birthday cake, to celebrate Lucheek's birthday and graduation, if I remember correctly. This idea was marred by the fact that we only had a plastic knife to cut it and the ice-cream was very, very frozen.
Gabi contrived a plan to heat up the knife in a cup of hot water, and this, combined with it starting to thaw in general, made things a lot easier. Each successful slice increased my hubris until the plastic knife snapped while cutting Lucheek's own portion and embedded itself in the cake. I managed to retrieve the blade, but without a handle further slicing was rather difficult.
After that Sunblink got us watching Battlebots which was fun but had even more excessive pomp and presentation than Robotwars, which was (to me) its worst trait. After that a game of munchkin took place but my brain was too
foggy to handle it properly so I pulled out early and lay down on my bed. Apparently I was more tired than I thought because I crashed out hard, suddenly waking with a grunt to find that everyone had gone except Merlin - the others were helping move Sunblink's nuclear tea machine back to her room. This was not completely successful since we kept finding pieces of it throughout the room for the next day or so.
We got up around 9am, and went to try and get breakfast. The Au Bon Pain's cookie offer seemed to turn people off so we went instead to try and get breakfast at a cafe in the back of the Westin, which I remember going to with Gabi to get a delicious but overly large breakfast of oats and yoghurt. Unfortunately these hopes were dashed because the cafe was gone. The Cafe Mocha was still there so we went for that instead, but the selection of food was not quite what I'd hoped for.
After that, we went to the opening ceremony, and afterwards queued for the Dealer's Den. As sponsors and supersponsors, we got in about 15 minutes early. I immediately bumbled into Agent Elrond's table and was hailed by her.
This was fun but took so long that by the time I was done, Tartii, who I had also wanted to see, had closed for commissions and would not re-open for the rest of the convention.
At some point Merlin and I lost Aisha, Aaron and finally Sofox. We did however, notice someone walking around with a dead stuffed fox on their shoulder. I failed to find most of the dealers I was looking for, which was a bit of a let-down. Unable to find them even on the list of dealers, I assumed they were all absent this year, though as it happened I did manage to find some of them by sheer accident. Sandy Schrieber, however, I didn't find at all and only learned she had a table Sunday evening.
Getting hungry, we went to get food. Merlin suggested pulling Gabi from registration, which we did. Gabi then wanted to find the others so we did a sweep of the Den. Gabi found Aisha and Aaron, and also Alondro, but nobody could find Sofox at all. We decided to go to the Crystal Penn since it was great last year.
Since a lot of things had moved around or closed we looked it up on the map and found it was the other side of the Westin, about four blocks away. When we got there it wasn't around and we realsed we'd got the wrong code on the map. After walking all the way back again finally found the right location and the food was just as excellent as the year before. Once again, I resolved to try the baklawas, but was too full by the time I'd finished the main course.
Afterwards we went back to the room for a bit. I had a chat with Aisha about a story she is writing for me, and then Merlin and I and suited up to try and get fursuiter badges. This did not work out, since they had stopped issuing them at con-ops and wouldn't do so again until after the parade, but we did have fun in the process. We went back to the room afterwards to cool down and eventually Sofox came back. By this time it was evening and we needed to find yet another place to eat. This didn't work out quite so well since there was a very long wait for tables everywhere we tried to go. Eventually we got a bar place at August Henry's and had some amazing fish. Merlin had fish too, which surprised me since she is usually vegetarian. it turns out she makes an exception for fish.
After that we went back to the Omni, and explored the stairs again before going out for some late-night fursuiting. We managed to catch the fursuit photography room, despite the late hour, and then went back to the room. Getting back was not fun since it was very dark and I couldn't see. I lost track of Sofox a lot during the walk back and became frustrated and cranky, though I was able to find him by following the camera flashes. It made for some great photos though so it was well worth the frustration.
Gabi had yet another message from reception. Rather than a vacuum cleaner or more Amazon packages this turned out to be an envelope with a card game in it, sent from someone who she didn't recognise but who clearly knew her name and that she was staying at the Omni at that time.
After recriminations over snoring, we left around 9am to get breakfast, which was, again, at the Cafe Mocha. I left the first set of my CDs on freebie table, then we went on to the Dealer's Den as quickly as we could. I got another commission from Elrond started, this time of my robo-wolf character, R-ALF. This was a little more expensive than I'd planned, but she was really excited about the project so I wanted it to be as awesome as possible.
Sofox had got himself some claws the previous day, and because they looked so good on him, I decided I should get some of my own. However, we were in a rush because Merlin and I wanted to do the fursuit parade.
The parade photoshoot started at 1pm, which meant that we had to eat around 11 to be sure of getting it organised and still having enough time to suit up and make it back to the Westin for the photoshoot.
So we had lunch at Jimmy John's, a baguette place just down from the Westin, and at this point I realised I didn't know how to strap up the claws properly. The early lunch gave me enough time to quickly go back to the Den to ask how it was done, before I headed on quickly to the room to change. We got back to find that Gabi's small plush dog had again been moved to a different location by housekeeping, the location being more and more creative every time.
The parade required us to have at least one drink before it began, so there was a long wait while people did this. Merlin and I spent a lot of time with the costume head off, to keep cool until the last moment. This time was spent standing in a roughly trapezoidal area for about 30 minutes until the photo was finally taken, which took about a minute of staying very still since the photo was shot over multiple frames. Then we did the parade itself which was fun but very draining.
Afterwards we finally managed to get fursuit badges (0763 and 0764) and went back to the hotel to recover. Gabi had yet another message from reception which was a garbled and bizarre voicemail from 'Roger' who was starting to get a little stalky by now. At this point I was finally able to try on the claws properly and discovered that they were both the same hand. I quickly went back to the Den to get them changed, but everyene else had gone on Gabi's "Drugventure" by the time I'd got back. Apparently she had literally told Sunblink that they were "going to buy some drugs" and were rewarded with a priceless expression of mortification before they explained that they were going to get over-the-counter medicines which were too expensive in Gabi's home country.
Once they returned to the hotel, we went off for food. Aisha, Aaron and Gabi went to Fernando's since they wanted to see Kage's Story hour, but Merlin, Sofox and myself went to get pizza.
On the way, a strange event occurred. Sofox casually read a distant shop sign out loud: "Pittsburgh Tobacco." At this, the person walking towards us froze, turned around and fled into the tobacco shop.
The pizza was OK, but I felt rather disappointed by it all, partly because the voucher didn 't include the chicken bbq pizza, which had been my whole rationale for going there in the first place. Next year, I guess.
Afterwards we went back to the hotel to relax and draw comics.
Gabi went to bed early since she had had a few bad nights, but this plan was thwarted when Sofox came into the room saying that Sunblink and Para were coming down to do a movie night. This did not go down well with Gabi, but since Lucheek was sick in her own room, we compromised and agreed to just do one film as quietly as we could and then get to bed. So we watched "Cats Don't Dance" and called it a night. Curiously, although I didn't enjoy watching the film at the time, it left a very deep impression on me because I kept thinking back over it and remembering scenes from it for the following week.
After a night mercifully free of snoring, we started out around 9am, went for breakfast. This time Aisha wanted to try the Penn Grill, so we went there instead. I was feeling queasy, apparently having contracted a low-level form of Lucheek's sickness. It was not helped by the menu being higher class than I'm used to and that is usually a problem for me.
I had some oatmeal, which I couldn't really finish and afterwards we went to the Dealer's Den, dropping off the second set of CDs on the way.
We spent much of the day there. I collected the robo-wolf commission from Agent Elrond and bought various Lemon Brat accessories including fingerless paw gloves: a Jakob-like set and also a black set to go with the claws.
Merlin went to the Art Show and bid on some of Lucheek's art, but I stayed behind, unwilling to surrender my passport and money just to look at some pictures.
Eventually we headed off for lunch. This was awkward since there weren't many places open on the Sunday, but we found an Italian place which turned out to specialise in meatballs, which I'd never had before but was rather nice. After that we went to the Exchange to see what games and vinyl they had. Merlin purchased an album by Kansas which she felt I would enjoy (and I did - thanks again for that!), and then finally we went to collect Merlin's winnings from the Dealer's Den. This took forever since there was an extensive queue for the Art Show and I was worried the Den would close and we'd be kicked out before she was able to claim her prize.
This done, Merlin and I dropped off our goodies in the room and then went suiting. On the way out, we stopped by Sunblink to deliver the final lingering pieces of the nuclear teasmaid. It turned out that she was now also sick with the Lucheek Plague, and lying in bed, said that being visited by her friends in fursuits made her feel "like a Make-A-Wish kid". This was our final day suiting so we made the most of it, finally calling it a night around 8pm while it was still vaguely light. After that, we went back to the room to recover, got some subs from Ferndando's then returned to the room to film the All-Purpose Fox video.
I was left in a bit of a quandary since I still had a couple of CDs left which I wanted to put on the table outside the Zoo. But I also needed to suit up as Daryil for the video. Ideally I wanted to do both - delivering the CDs in suit - but that would need a handler since it was dark, and I would run the risk of delaying or missing the video shoot
so Merlin went off to deliver them, followed swiftly by Sofox, despite my protestations that Merlin was a grown up girl and didn't need help. When they returned, they put a bundle of dollars on the desk claiming they'd sold them, which was improbable so I ignored it.
Last year, packing to leave the room was a fiasco since Chaosmage had apparently brought half his house with him and was not easily convinced of the urgency of leaving before the 11am deadline.
Perhaps because of this, I had made sure to pack as much as I could the night before, and I guess everyone else did too because the packing went like clockwork, notwithstanding that Gabi had a bit of difficulty fitting the vacuum cleaner into her luggage.
Checking out around 10am, we checked our luggage in at the hotel, which was a little confused because there were 8 items, and we didn't have a single surname to store them under. When I got the ticket stub we realised it was simply called "Furry".
We got breakfast at the bagel place behind the Omni, and then went for a stroll around Pittsburgh. Last year there was another fiasco, where we spent so long trying to find a place to eat that I nearly missed my flight. As it got closer to 12 I asked that we could call a halt - just in case - and so we made our way back to the Omni, with about 15 minutes to spare. At this point my paranoid fears were realised since I was informed it would take 22 minutes to get our luggage back.
This turned out to be a half-truth since it would take 22 minutes to summon someone to take the luggage outside - so I asked for all the luggage to be returned and we'd try and figure out our own way of getting them through the revolving door. Which we did, though it wasn't easy.
Merlin wanted to take a taxi to the airport, and offered to front the cost for it which was generous of her and much appreciated. We managed to get one that would take the four of us - Aisha and Aaron travelling back by road - which made the usual "where are you from?" question fun since there were four of us, each of a different nationality.
At the airport, Merlin, Gabi and I checked in and went through security, but Sofox couldn't because his flight was significantly later. Gabi's flight was first and Merlin and I headed to the gate with her. I remember smelling something cinnamon, sniffing the air, and then going "Oh my god... a cinnabon place!" The thought of cinnabons distracted me for much of the time, but we saw Gabi off, and then found that Merlin's flight was delayed for an hour so we wandered around the airport, with Merlin trying to buy books and me trying to find long boots for Daryil.
Finally Merlin headed off too, and I went to drown my sorrows in cinnabon, which didn't help the fact I was still a little queasy but was worth the risk.
Once I had finished, I waited by my own gate, charging my laptop while I waited for Sofox to arrive. Once he did show up, I got a message from Sunblink telling me her gate number, but I couldn't go to see her because he had left me to guard his luggage for "half an hour" while he ate. 45 minutes later I was starting to get worried, and resigned myself to having to abandon his luggage in order to catch my own flight, thus resulting in its destruction at the hands of airport security.
Fortunately it didn't quite come to that, but he did take so long that we only just managed to catch Sunblink right as she was boarding the plane. Afterwards we found an art exhibit in the form of a robot repair shop, filled with real and fake 1950s-style technology and robots.
After that we headed back to my gate and I said goodbye. I then had hours to kill at Chicago and another headache starting. I again failed to find Daryil Boots, even at Harley Davidson's, which was a bit of a disappointment.
The flight back to Manchester was a 787 Dreamliner which I'd never flown on before. Besides the slightly futuristic decor, the most surprising thing was the windows, which had no shutters but used LCD or a similar technology to shade the windows electronically. I'm kind of curious how much power it takes to keep them 'shut'.
(Photos to follow in a few days)