Making CONtact - Part 1


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Everyone who attends San Diego Comic-Con returns home with their share of con war stories.  I have visited the convention a handful of times in the last five years, and while I have come to expect anything and everything to happen, my latest adventures could easily be described as the best and worst of them all.

First I should preface my story with the following: I don’t fly and I live in Massachusetts, exactly 3052 miles from the convention center.  Needless to say, this combination of personal facts forces me to sink or swim when it comes to attending SDCC, which means I tend to sink whether I choose to swim or not.  (Which is ironic because in reality, I can’t actually swim, but that is neither here nor there.)

As it turns out, this year I chose to attend San Diego Comic-Con and as my mode of cross country transportation… My car.  This is not out of the norm for someone who refuses to put himself in a position of ascending to 30,000 feet in the air, so like last year, and two years previous, this trip was going to be par for the course.   Unfortunately for me, nobody told the course.

The plan was simple.  I depart on the Sunday before the con, leaving from Massachusetts, and making a series of four stops along the way… Ohio (for the night), Oklahoma (for the night), Amarillo, TX (for a BBQ lunch where I would then pick up friend and artist Joe Eisma), and somewhere in Arizona, the actual town not as important as the mileage it took to get there.  Sunday morning came as the calendar had promised and I packed myself into the car, saying good-bye to my wife, geriatric cat, and Teddy Fox, the wonder hamster.  It was going to be a smooth ride.  After all, it always had been in the past.

As predicted, the ride was velvety smooth, at least for the first two days.  I arrived in Ohio on schedule, rented a hotel and set up camp for the night.  The next morning I hit the road again, making it to north eastern Oklahoma, where I decided to call it an early bedtime and use the good night’s rest I would receive to get an unprecedented 4:30 AM start the next morning.  I had never started out this early before, but I figured… What the hell.

4:30 came quickly as one would expect, but I picked my zombified body up nevertheless, placed it behind the wheel of my tired car, and turned the engine over.  It started with a familiar purr, and I pointed it in a western direction, driving up the ramp to the desolate highway with the sunrise still an easy hour away.  In fact, not only was it still dark, but a series of bad storms were pouring torrential rains down on me and the rest of the Oklahomans, and given the section of the country I was in, they also came paired with tornado watches and warnings.  But, what did I care… I was just going to drive right through them and return to the open Midwestern skies that lie ahead, leaving the watches and warnings in my early bird dust.

Or so I thought.

Five minutes after getting on the highway, with my speedometer reading 75 MPH (this is the speed limit in Oklahoma), my car decided to shut down.  That’s right… Just shut down.  Still half asleep and nursing the shock of the situation, I managed to turn the car towards the side of the highway before the wheels stopped spinning.  And there I sat.

“This can’t be happening,” I thought to myself.  “It will just start right back up.”

I turned the key.  It did not just start right back up.

Profanities flew from my mouth as panic began to set in.  It’s 4:30 in the morning, pitch black, pouring rain, and I am in the middle of nowhere with no one to call on for help.  In my pop culture experience, this is pretty much how every horror movie begins.

After calming myself down with a series of breathing exercises I had invented on the spot, I decided to push my car back about a half a mile to a truck stop/rest area, which in hindsight, was not the best idea given the rain, the speeding tractor trailers who refused to slow down when they saw me, and the fact that a half mile is a lot longer away when you’re pushing a car.

Once in the “safety” of the truck stop, I called AAA, who told me a tow truck would be out to get me within an hour, which was nice because it allowed me time to dry off.  After he arrived, it was decided that I have the car towed to a small (and when I say small, I mean SMALL) town where there was a mechanic he knew of that could help me.

He couldn’t.

Nothing against the man himself because he was a really nice guy, but when the first words out of your mechanic’s mouth is, “Ya got gas in er?” you tend to lose your confidence, which was a little discouraging because I was already losing my mind.  (If anyone has seen the Sean Penn movie U-Turn, it will give you a good idea of how I felt at the time.)

With hours ticking by, I was due in Amarillo that afternoon to pick up Joe Eisma (who was flying in from Dallas), but because of the breakdown, there was no way I would make it in time.  So, he had to cancel his flight.

Meanwhile, the mechanic informed me that my only chance of getting my car fixed was to have it towed to a dealership in Tulsa, which happened to be 80 miles from my current location.  With my only other choice being to become a full time resident of the small town, I agreed that Tulsa was the best approach, so the mechanic called a tow truck driver named Junior to take me the rest of the way.

80 miles is a long time to drive with a stranger.  In Junior’s defense, he really was a friendly, genuine guy, but a lifetime of horror movie consumption had me on edge and trying desperately to fit in.  So much so, that these words were actually spoken from my mouth:

“So, what kind of deer do you have around here… White tail?”  No, I don’t hunt, but diarrhea of the mouth is apparently my defense mechanism.

There was also this gem.  “Got any wild buffalos around here?”

The look on Junior’s face was priceless.

80 miles and $300.00 later I arrived at the dealership in Tulsa where I was told that they’d have a look at my car just as soon as humanly possible.  Within 45 minutes of me bringing it in, they’d have an idea of what the problem was, but if they needed a part, it could take a day or two to have it back on the road.  Needless to say, I was forsaking Comic-Con at this point.

While I waited for what I thought was the inevitable bad news, I helped myself to a free cup of banana bread coffee and had a seat in the waiting room, where I read in a local paper that the murder rate in Tulsa was skyrocketing.  (Fantastic!)  As I read the paper, a woman who also waited in the same room would break out into fits of hysterical laughter, by herself, every two or three minutes.  She wasn’t on the phone, wasn’t watching TV.  She just found something very, very funny.

I on the other hand, did NOT find any of this funny.

45 minutes later the customer service rep returned, marching towards me with a somber look on his face like a doctor who was about to deliver some bad news to his already sick patient.  I readied myself for the worst.

“It’s all set,” he said, in what suddenly sounded like the best accent I had ever heard.  “We got er all fixed up for you.”

Turns out the computer in my car had failed and they had another one in stock, so all it took was a simple take it out/put it back in switch-a-roo.  And the best part, it was all covered by my warranty.  (Well, all except for the tow.)

Having lost 8 hours already, I got right back on the road and headed west.  Joe Eisma had rescheduled his flight to arrive in Albuquerque the next morning, so I drove to the outskirts of the New Mexico city and set up shop, where we would ultimately get the trip back on track and be into San Diego slightly off schedule (we missed preview night), but in one piece.

And while this story is a memorable one that I will no doubt regurgitate every year at SDCC for people, the series of events I happened into on the way home were even better… And more terrifying.

Next Up:  Burns and the Border Patrol!  GULP!

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jul 31, 2009 at 3:14am

    'diarrhea of the mouth' LOL. I'll be watching your further adventures, Jason. Hilarious, after the fact, that is :-s

  • CA3

    CA3 Aug 23, 2009 at 1:26pm

    So far this seems like an odd endorsement of flying cross continental for conventions of these sort.

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