Chicago in 3 dots (or Barfleet, Coffee and Furries Oh My!)

Chicago, the windy city, home to the Billy Goat Tavern and Wrigley Field.  Two disparate locations – one well-lit, the other down in a hole –  linked by a single curse.  Lambchop and I were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention.    At least 3 of you are now smirking derisively, but that’s ok.  We had a wonderful time.  Everyone knows about Chicago Style Pizza, christened pretender pie at the con, but perhaps I might add some new insights after my time there…

Lambchop met her twin in a hobbit from down under. Actually they met as the hobbits journeyed from the Shire to Chitown, stopping in San Francisco.  I fear the havoc the two of them will cause in the coming years, especially if they realize what that ring can do.  Could be I’ll be voted off the island…  I never expected the replacement for the Mudshark in my lexicon to be Trebla, but seeing the girls now swoon for him, I must admit its inner truth.

John Picacio finally won a well deserved Hugo in addition to his Chesley award.  I am pretty sure he’s going to need a bigger trophy case soon.  It will be interesting to see how he fares on his home turf in San Antonio next year…I found the art show terribly disappointing, but I found a gem in an older Don Maitz painted sketch, which hangs proudly in the entry to my office…. now if I only liked The Book of the New Sun.  Perhaps I’ll reread them with older, wiser eyes…

It seems that Chicago is a Pepsi town.  By my count it was 3:1, Pepsi over Coke.  One of the few things the town got wrong… On the other hand Arlington Bill provided more beer than any one man had a right to have in his hotel room…There are signs everywhere declaring it illegal to put ketchup on a  hot dog in Chicago. I don’t know, I might have put more effort in to helping the sad panhandlers shaking their cups of coins.

We were stalked, or so it seemed, through out Chicago by Ron Donachie, aka Ser Rodrik Cassel in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  He and his wife are two wonderfully nice folks, going so far as to walk over and say hello in restaurant after he’d met several of us at a party…those of you that don’t get Star Trek, would surely have missed Barfleet and that would have been a shame.  They won the award for most creative use of  a Kiss song,  “Detroit Rock City,” but I seemed to be the only one to notice. But we did miss the Klingons shouting, “Revenge is a dish.. BEST SERVED COLD!!” … Cam was giving out schmoozing lessons nightly.  I should have paid more attention.

If you are reading this you probably already know Peadar Ó Guilín.  If you don’t, I would suggest you look for him and read his book, The Inferior.  Of course he’s a friend, but I really like what I’ve heard him read.  Needless to say his two books are near the top of my reading stack and I am eagerly awaiting The Shatter…I will be hiring X-Ray (the Enforcer)  and Mr. X to run my next party.  They run a tight ship and really went above and beyond this year…

The programming at the con  was a bit disappointing.  Last year there were so many panels, talks and readings that I couldn’t attend then all.  This year there were few that called to me and inevitably they conflicted…Clearly the organizers did a very good job overall, but how could they not give George R.R. Martin their largest room for his reading and interview?  Those chosen were too small… And Patrick Rothfuss was scheduled to read in a room with 20 chairs?  Even I know he’s a huge draw….but the food in the con suite was great and the midnight pizza after the Hugos, sheer genius.

I never realized how close John Belushi’s “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Chip! Chip!  No Coke, Pepsi” was to reality at the Billy Goat Tavern.  Great atmosphere, well priced and solid, if unremarkable, grub. Its one of those things everyone should do at least once… Remarkable might be an understatement for Intelligensia coffee.  I am now a huge fan, but please reconsider your baristas.  Those cute boys in skinny jeans and skinny ties pushed the cool environment towards hipster doofusville.  It just seemed wrong…There are not enough superlatives to shower on Frontera Grill.  Rick Bayless is a genius…And Trebla is sex symbol.  What next, dogs and cats living together?

One panel was called “The Secret History of Science Fiction” where George R.R. Martin, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman and Gardner Dozois, who arrived 30 minutes late,  told stories of cons past.  The room was overflowing with bodies and laughter.  Entering the room as the panel started, I was relegated to stand in the back.  500+ seats were not enough. While I enjoyed this to no end, laughing for the better part of that  hour, I still don’t understand why the guy behind me was wearing stilts…The gumbo at Heaven on 7 was really special, in a foodgasm sort of way.

I don’t really have a bucket list, but one day I need to help Chataya organize a real Furry hunt… Not only was there a complete absence of alcohol at the Hogwarts party, those bathhouse pin-ups of Malfoy combined with the Harry/Snape cuddle pictures crossed the creepy line.  Had Lambchop not been bonding with the Kiwi who did the elf ears in LOTR, we would have left much sooner.

Leigh Bardugo can write — that’s not news.  What is news is that with charm, wit and humor she single-handedly took over a panel that could have flopped, offsetting a few others who were didn’t realize they were sinking.  One day, she’ll be on Kimmel or Leno and she’ll blow up.  Huge.   In the meantime, read Shadow and Bone.  You’ll feel better…I don’t understand the position of the con having a few Young Adult (YA) panels, but refusing the consider the category for a Hugo.  Based on the stories I heard, the passion level on the “no way” side seems over the top for my sensibilities.

And yes, a few too many con-goers did look like they escaped from their mother’s basement.  Other than the 3 or 4 that interrupted panels or were simply clueless in regards to social cues, who cares?  It was a 5 day celebration of shared joy and fandom — much love and thanks to everyone I drank, laughed, talked and debated with… Next year in San Antonio can’t come soon enough.

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Chicago: Day 1

As we flew into Chicago’s Midway Airport, I noticed the landscape was very different from home.  Green open spaces and small forests, covered with trees unfit for lumber filled my view.  Then houses and more spaces.  But no real hills or mountains.  I thought it odd that the genie in my iPhone didn’t jump to Liz Phair’s “Stratford-On-Guy”

In 27-D, I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out like credits on a screen

</required song quote> Of course I was in 22-C, so there was some logic to the Genie’s decision.  Looking across the row out the window by Lambchop, the description was apt.

A friend had recommended we take the L into town rather than a cab.  A $4.50 train ride beats a $40 cab ride most of the time.  We had two large rolling bags, a duffel bag, a computer and my murse.  I know it’s a messenger bag, but since my niece named it, I always hear her voice when I think of it.  Had we been on a Sunday stroll, it would have been a nice walk. It went on.  And on.  There were elevators and hallways.  Ups and downs.  Lambchop was a trooper and didn’t complain, but I knew she would have been happier in a cab in traffic. Take a  cab on the way back

A few years ago, they added an extension to BART that ran to SFO.  My current position allows me to commute on the train (but of course by now you know this.)  About half the trains I take to work end at SFO and half I take home come from there.  The amount of luggage and neophytes on those cars  make the journey harder than it used to be. Somewhere along the way people decided their luggage should block the aisle and empty seats. Commuting etiquette has gone the way of the dodo. As we wheeled our luggage into the L  and looked for ways to be out of others way, I realized the cost of cab ride made me “that guy.”  I guess everyone does have a price.

As we rode into town, I saw what a different place Chicago is from San Francisco or Oakland, my local urban references.  Flat.  Lots of brick.  Houses, then industrial areas, followed by more houses.  And then, looming to the right, a large skyline.  As much as I love San Francisco’s skyline, it is just a cute puppy compared to Chicago’s Polyphemus – awe-inspiring and, perhaps, partially designed by gods.   We were speechless.  As we drew closer on the train, I think we both noticed each other’s smiles broadening.

Finally getting to our hotel, we quickly checked in and kidnapped our Aussie friend Neal for some <food!> Chicago Style Pizza </FOOD!>and to begin drinking. There was a larger group going out later, but evil forces had scheduled a fantasy football draft at 8pm local time and it was 6pm.  We really hadn’t eaten other than the crackers and pretzels on the plane.  Football and famine demanded a meal then and there.

Dining alfresco was fun, but the humidity did take some getting used to.  We caught up on the last year and enjoyed the cocktails and beers.  I had a chocolate stout that just blew my socks off.   The pizza was pretty good too.  The final crescendo to the meal was our waitress; explaining we were in town for a convention, I asked her for some recommendations.  She came back with a 3 page hand written list that looked like it came from a laser printer.  Such penmanship must delight the kitchen staff.   Mine isn’t good enough to be a doctor.  My favorite Chicago spots were on that list including 1 I had not heard of yet. But one I was to learn to love.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and my football draft.  Later, we headed down to the bar where we knew our friends would be.  There they were, in the bar almost, but not quite, waiting for us.   We squeezed in to hang out with our friends.  New friends were made and there were copious drinks all around.  Then, there was more drinking.  I had a few cocktails and discussed the “Cheezborger! Cheezeborger! Chip! Chip!” SNL skit  with the guy  that wrote The Song of Ice and Fire books.  Did I neglect to mention we were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention and that is basically the only sectioned event for the Brotherhood without Banners, the George R.R. Martin Fan Club?  I may be a Knighted Ser of that group, but I learned early on that I couldn’t drink like Jebus or schmooze like Ser Cam.

It was a great start to what was about to become a most excellent week.