Pensacon.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a week and a half since I’ve gotten back from Pensacola.

For those that read my blog with any sense of regularity, I tend to go to Pensacola at least once a year these days. I grew up there for a while when I was kid, and have vacationed there for years since. It’s a place of good memories for me. Something new always happens there, whether it’s a day on the beach, revisiting my childhood home, or turning 40.

This time, it was all about Pensacon.

Cons are fun for me. While I’ve worked with all sort of celebrities over the last 10+ years, it’s fun to interact with them on the fan side as well. To be able to gush unabashedly about how much I love their work, how are they doing, etc. And I don’t really get starstruck meeting said “famous” folk, but there’s a side story to that later.

Getting ready for the convention kept me busy in itself.

Jen talked me into dressing up this ear, which I don’t really do. I was going to go as the Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who as I had the long coat from an earlier Christmas gift that Jen had given to me a year or so back. So I ordered the matching suit…. Which wouldn’t be delivered until I got back. So I opted to go as Mork from Ork to pay homage to Robin Williams. Not too bad….

Nanu nanu!

Nanu nanu!

I even had the buttons ordered with “guaranteed delivery” before we flew out…. But some mix-up had them shipped out the day that I was supposed to get them in. So I had two incomplete costumes , with “Mork” being the more complete of the two.

As the days passed to the trip, I went to meet a friend to see an early screening of Deadpool. On the way to the theater, I happened to duck into this little Disney art gallery at the shopping center, and by pure coincidence (for me) Paige O’Hara (“Belle” from Beauty and the Beast) was there. No lie: I crushed on Belle in my youth, as the bookish, independent girl was my idea of the “perfect” girl that I wanted to date, so admittedly I got a little giddy hearing that voice talk to me, and she was just an incredibly sweet lady.

One crush down....

One crush down….

Finally, the time had come to go to Pensacon. I have to give Pensacola full credit: The whole town gets into it, from the airport, to restaurants, to the entirety of Downtown. It all turns into one giant geeky lovefest. We ended up staying at the hotel we had stayed at last time, in the room right next door to where we had stayed last time. The manager even recognized us from last time. This is why I love small towns, to be honest. Well, that and the seafood.

When not at the beach, we were at the convention. The first day was rough, as we ended up getting there late, and we were supposed to have a photo op with Bruce Boxleitner (Tron). In trying to get to the photo area, no less than six volunteers told us no less than six places where the photo area supposedly was, and none of them were correct. We missed the photo I had scheduled. The last place put us in the place where the convention headliners were, so we did meet Bruce, and after hearing our story, agreed to do an informal picture with us. We also talked Tron for a while, so it was good experience all things considered.

Later that night, we went to Downtown Pensacola’s Gallery Night, which is a big art festival that they do Downtown, similar to Vegas’ First Friday, but larger in scale. The mood was lively, and we were supposed to attend a screening of Mallrats, but again, the Friday gods were not on our side. Friday had some rough spots.

Saturday turned out better. Heard David Prowse (Darth Vader) do a Q&A, attended some writing workshops, and we did have a photo op with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and the original Davros (Terry Molloy). “You’re my first regeneration”, I told Peter, to which he chuckled, and noted my Mork suspenders. To fully give a shout out, I have to commend Wolf Studios Photography. I told them about the previous day’s photo clustermess, and how everyone had led us on a wild photo goosechase. As it so happened, Bruce was doing another shoot at that time, so they let us jump in to make up for the confusion of the day before.

What was really weird for me was that while we were waiting, a guy dressed as Jack Sparrow nodded towards my direction, and I nodded back. “You look familiar”, he finally said. “He was in the second Pirates“, Jen replied back, to which his eyes went wide. “Hold on a sec”, I said as I fished out my phone and tried to summon the Facebook fairies. “The wi-fi here is shitty, but let’s see if I can call up my photos”. I found my Black Pearl/Flying Dutchman shots, and showed him “I thought I recognized you”, he said. “I was a little hairier back then”, I chuckled. He got his girlfriend, and introduced her to me, and I and Jen in return. We had a nice talk until my photo op was called. I don’t really get recognized like I used to, but it’s always nice to be remembered, and I do love talking to people and seeing them get excited.

Saturday was far better a day of adventure, which followed up with Fallout and Tron themed parties.

Meeting "Matt"....

Meeting “Matt”….

I also got a migraine that night, but that’s on me for mixing my drinks.

While Sunday was the final lap of the convention, I had one last photo scheduled….

Joey Lauren Adams.

This girl was the very definition of my ’90′s crushes, and I was enamored with her in Chasing Amy. From her cutesy, raspy voice to her big friendly smile, she had basically kidnapped my 20-something heart in the late 1990′s.

And I admit that I was good. I was looking forward to saying “Hello”, and getting the photo to have as the movie once put: “A shared moment”.

And then the curtain parted, and I heard her talking to the person that had been in line before me in that cutesy, raspy voice, and saw her big friendly smile.

All that boisterous “I don’t get starstruck” grandstanding that I had delivered earlier in this entry? Yeah, that failed. After years of Chasing Amy, she was standing right in front of me.

My heart started speeding up in my chest, and I felt that dopey, awkward 20-something twitterpation reemerge in meeting her. To credit, she was very sweet, and I kept myself collected well enough, but damn it all if I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for a while. Jen definitely had fun teasing me about that.

I have a good woman.

Photo ops from Pensacon.

Photo ops from Pensacon.

The rest of the time was eating, packing, shell collecting…. That mental preparation in saying good-bye, which is always hard for me. It was a nice event. Downtown was fun. People were nice. I even saw a few props from Star Trek: The Experience at one of the restaurants, so it was another homecoming of sorts for me.

And then we flew home….

Into the air....

Into the air….

The ride back was rough. A delay caused an extra stopover in our flight home, where some mouth breather coughed and sneezed all the way home, so guess who went all “Outbreak Monkey” after a few days? Nevertheless, I recovered, and I have been inspired to pursue some of my writing ideas again. Likely inspired by the convention, I ended up watching Kevin Smith’s “View Askewniverse” films, where the “Then Vs. Now” changes really hit me about video stores, malls being the primary source of commerce, and even something as simple as being able to greet someone at the airport without it being an issue. Things that are mostly gone. I saw Wes Craven’s cameo in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and I felt compelled to say a quiet “good bye” to him. He was, after all, one of the first people to give me a chance with my acting career by doing Red Eye, and I felt a rush of sadness mixed with gratitude seeing his face again.

It may be time to write my own stories. To get back into the writing that I excel at. What I do best. And that’s telling stories.

The future’s a funny place. It will be interesting to see where I end up.

40.

I know, I know: “All the best pics are on Instagram, follow the link, etc.”

(But truth be told, they are.)

So I had my birthday about a week ago. My 40th, as a matter of fact. I suppose that I could have done it in Las Vegas. Then again, I wanted to avoid any police boat situations again. So I chose to go back to Texas for this one.

I’ve learned a few things from my trip, about myself, and travel in general, and wanted to share them with you, o’ gentle reader.

Travelocity sucks. Booked a car for the week for $250, and once we reached the airport and waited a stupidly long line to speak to a representative, I was gobsmacked to find that Dollar wanted a $537 deposit on the car… something that Travelocity neglected to mention. You know, you book something on line, pay the taxes and fees, you kind of expect that to be it. So I called Travelocity, and told them to cancel, which they refused. They wanted to speak to a manager and get a full explanation before they would even consider a refund. Even with the Dollar representative, they needed a full explanation of why I wanted to cancel, and as this went back and forth fighting with both of us, I realized that I was still going to need a car, and told them to hold on a minute until I get this sorted out. To that, they put me on hold, and suddenly had no problem cancelling the car. Better yet, they couldn’t book me a new car as their customer service was based in India, and they were a day ahead of us. So in leaving me with nothing, they wished me best of luck in finding a new car and promptly hung up.

At least I got my money back….

My sister’s house was a much better experience. Hung out with the kids, “educated” my nephew on the fineries of classic video gaming, caught up with my sister…. The next day, we went to the Dallas World Aquarium, one of my old favorite places, and significantly expanded out since last visit. It’s perhaps one of the most impressive aquariums that I have ever been to. So in killing a few hours there, it was time for a brief stop to Northpark Mall to reminisce, and then on route to Corsicana.

Hard to believe it was almost exactly a year since my last visit. I of course had to sample to regional foods of Collin Street Bakery and Old Mexican Inn with a dinner in mind (orange dip courses through my veins), and then a trip to the cemetery to visit my parents. I handled that better… or as well as one can, wanting to visit my parents and grandparents before my birthday. After a few moments, we drove around town.

I found myself at Navarro College where my Dad taught. The main building hasn’t changed since I was a kid, and Jen and I walked around campus. The night was beautiful, and I shared stories of growing up on campus, my own college hijinks, and remembering Dad. For the first time, I felt at home with my little town again. The town is small and a little different, and I’ll never understand the logic of turning Cinema IV into a church (but I guess that goes in line with the first Taco Shop, Fullerton’s Grocery Store, and the original K-Mart), but I spent my time more fondly. I had been, overall, happy there. My family and friends, my first venture into the world of video gaming, too many pranks enacted, and movies watched. The time has passed, but the time was mine.

We drove by Dad’s, then went back to the Dallas area.

The next day was my birthday party. I usually plan these things every year, but outside of the invites and the venue, I let Jen and my sister handle everything. I wanted to be as hands off as possible.

When I pulled into the restaurant, I was a greeted by a lot of friendly faces….

Reunited.

Reunited.

There were a lot of faces, a lot of hugs and laughter, a Star Wars themed birthday party, and to say that I was touched by everyone being there was an understatement. The thing is with that group of friends is that no matter how much time has passed, it all feels the same. We lock into our very comfortable places, and go on like we saw each other the day before.

Gifts....

Gifts….

Reflecting....

Reflecting….

And I needed that.

I looked around the table and couldn’t have asked for a better gift. The sister and missus had outdone themselves. Even my friends went above and beyone. Danny dressed as 2015-era Marty McFly and gave me the Lego Dimensions Back to the Future set. But the presents and the showmanship were fun, though my favorite gift was simply this:

Family....

Family….

A few of us decided to meet in Deep Ellum, as I wanted to relive some of our early hoodlum days. We sat at a little bar, ordered drinks, and just caught up. The in-bar radio played a medley of 1990-era music. It was like we never left.

The old gang.

The old gang.

Jen and I walked around Deep Ellum as the group dispersed. Everything felt… natural. I felt more “me” than I have in a long time, and that’s had me thinking about larger things. During the walk, Jen went back to the car, and as I snapped a picture, a homeless guy came up to me, wanting to give me a shirt he had as it matched my shoes. And so, Cedric the homeless guy wandered off as quickly as he appeared, leaving me more amused than anything that, as far as random goes, I still haven’t lost my touch.

Cedric's Gift

Cedric’s Gift

The next day, Jen and I began our drive to Pensacola. I wish there were epic tales to be told, but the truth is that it was just a long drive. However, if you ever find yourself passing through Natchitoches, Louisiana, I highly recommend Lasyone’s meat pies. It probably explains the church across the street, as those pies were sinful.

But we made it to Florida that night, and after a meal at Flounder’s and a brief walk on the beach, we got ready for the next day.

My birthday was here.

We got up, went to Toys R Us (What… I had gift cards)….

I ran with the birthday theme.

I ran with the birthday theme.

Had oysters for breakfast, went back to the beach, and Jen dropped her other gift on me.

Parasailing.

I believe I can fly....

I believe I can fly….

So I took to the air, and soared over the bay. They dunked us in the water at the end, and that was awesome.

As we got ready for the next adventure, the “neighbors” in the hotel noted that I looked happy, and wished me happy birthday. I told them about my time growing up in Pensacola, and how I loved this town. “You know, if you come here enough, you one day find that you’ll never want to leave again.”

I paused for a moment, taking the comment in. Other thoughts have been contemplating. And while this is not saying that I’m doing anything either way, I do find that in time, I tend to go where my feet take me.

For dinner, my sister’s other gift was used: Dinner at the Fish House. I’ve watched an Emeril special where he went on and on about the place’s grits a ya ya, and those things are stupidly good. I ruined that plate, with a key lime pie for dessert.

As the sun set, we returned to the beach. Jen and I walked hand in hand watching the sun go down as the clock turned me 40. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more perfect day. We went Downtown for a while, and then went to bed early to watch the sun rise.

Morning in Pensacola.

Morning in Pensacola.

No filter needed.

No filter needed.

We explored Fort Pickens, ate at McGuire’s Irish Pub (where you can staple a dollar to the ceiling to add to the already over a million dollars stuck there), and then on to New Orleans.

We wandered Bourbon Street, drank absinthe in a pirate bar, and watched street performers. As October was looming, Halloween items were already filling the streets, and mini parades were throwing all sorts of goodies onto the streets.

The next day was shopping, eating, going to this amazing place called Dooky Chase’s for fried chicken (go ahead and chuckle at the name. Their chicken and gumbo are to die for). All I can say is “Damn”.

As night drew near, we booked a vampire tour. While Interview With the Vampire is mentioned, the tour focuses on the real bloodsuckers and psychopaths of New Orleans: Some crazy, dark stories are covered.

IMG_5553

Including this place:

Ursuline Convent.

Ursuline Convent.

The Ursuline Convent. This gave the most relatable story that I heard (minus the author’s personal side story at the bottom), but holy crap, that’s a story to get your skin crawling and the imagination flowing.

Fun tour, though. And our guide was fantastic.

Our vampire storytelling guide.

Our vampire storytelling guide.

The next day led us deep into the bayous and swamps of Louisiana. The bus ride had some issues, as these European (German, from what I could make of the accents) were incredibly rude and talking over the tour guide as we made our way to the docks. When we got there (after a 45 minute drive), they were furious once they realized that they got on the bus for the wrong tour, and couldn’t go. I nearly fell off the boat laughing so hard, as karma is fun!

But we cruised out for adventure.

No Bayou Billy in sight.

No Bayou Billy in sight.

And those swamps had a few gators lurking about, trolling for food.

They apparently like squeak toys.

They apparently like squeak toys.

I even got to hold one of the little ones.

Rollergator in training.

Rollergator in training.

The rest of the day was spent shopping, eating and drinking. I ate some gator for dinner. Does that make me a bad person?

In any case, it was time to drive back to Texas the next day, where we joined my sister’s family and Toby for some Texas barbecue, and then a trip to a specialty Gamestop.

With the last day having arrived, we cleaned our rental car, and after our good-byes, made our way to the airport. Another travel tip: Don’t ever trust MapQuest’s mobile app. It decided that the car rental place was in a residential neighborhood, and after correcting that hot mess, we made it to our plane with 10 minutes to spare.

So, back in Vegas, and all that comes with it. I’m still unpacking. I’m still sorting out travel stuff, and I have a few new stories that I want to write. This trip was very creatively inspiring to me, so I want to actually sit down and write something a little unique. I was very grateful for my family and friends and Jen. They put on the best birthday that I have honestly ever had. When I hit 40, I wanted to define what it was going to mean for me, and I wanted to do it on my terms. “Set the tone”, as it were. And maybe I expect a lot from my travel plans, but the results are never disappointing. I feel better than I have in a long time, and I have a lot of people to thank for that.

So… “Thank you”. I am truly grateful.

A Month of Reconnection.

When I wrote my last post, I had made the declaration that I was going to seek out what makes me happy. And now that August has come to an end, I think I had a pretty high success rate overall. It ranged from little things such as seeing shows like Rock of Ages at the Venetian, to larger things like finally paying off my car once and for all.

But I wanted to go bigger. More meaningful. More personal, but with a twist of larger than life? And what better way to do the latter than meeting William Shatner?

KIickin' it with the Shat.

Kickin’ it with the Shat.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve wanted to meet William Shatner since I was a little kid, and while I have passed/missed the opportunity for years on end, I decided that this was going to be the year it was going to happen. So Jen and I went to the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, and to paraphrase that other Captain: We made it so.

As I was leaving, I told him that he was one of my heroes, which he took graciously enough. And that was true. The man has enjoyed an incredible career, and he’s still just cruising along and enjoying his life in his 80′s. I could only be as fortunate.

And in a bit of the random, we also met Will and Holly from Land of the Lost, and they too were just really nice people.

Guy, Jen, Will and Holly....

Guy, Jen, Will and Holly….

A few more days of waiting in between, and I was finally able to take a long overdue vacation and get the Hell out of Dodge. Or Vegas, in this case. Regardless, I had to escape town for a few days.

The drive over there was fraught with peril. while I can spin a good yarn with dramatic emphasis from time to time, the drive over to our first destination sucked. While still in New Mexico, we had to get the two front tires fixed as they were about to blow out. Upon hitting the state line, we hadn’t even driven in Texas for one physical minute when there were already five churches back to back, along with a sign claiming in huge letters how much they hate Obama. Welcome home indeed.

While that was more notable and amusing, the rest of the drive wasn’t. As long as I live, I shall never solely use phone GPS again to navigate cross-country. In an attempt to be “helpful”, it rerouted us every time we took a gas, food, or pee break, putting us on every possible backroad it could find. From New Mexico to Austin, Texas, we never hit one single highway. And the road itself were full of wandering deer that had no issue whatsoever stepping in front of your car. A few minutes later, a police officer pulled us over for having our brights on. As we sat and traded info., we collectively realized that GPS had added an extra four hours to our trip, thanks to these stupid back farm roads. He felt sorry for us as we explained what happened. Upon getting to Austin, we nearly lost our room as they have to have people check in at a certain time, and you guessed it: That was well over four hours ago. We told the same story, and he also felt sorry for us, giving us a room after all.

We crashed hard that night.

Austin itself was an interesting place. Among the many things we did, we visited the Cathedral of Junk:

Cathedral entrance.

Cathedral entrance.

This was a two-story Burning Man style structure made out of all kinds of trash, scrap metal, and assorted refuse… in someone’s backyard. You would never know it was there as you passed through the residential area, but expert sleuthing skills found the place, and it’s massive.

Other places of interest we found were the Salt Lick Ranch, with contestably the best barbecue I have ever eaten in my life.

A feast of meats.

A feast of meats.

Found the house of Lord British (aka Richard Garriott of Ultima fame):

Quest for the Avatar.

Quest for the Avatar.

The house has all kinds castle related things, from secret passages to observatories.

I also went on Austin’s Bat Cruise, where one bridge on Congress Street houses over a million bats that all fly out at dusk.

The Bat Signal.

The Bat Signal.

Batdance.

Batdance.

We went to 6th Street, once completed, than began to travel to New Orleans.

Bayou Country.

Bayou Country.

New Orleans is perhaps one of the most magical cities that I’ve visited in these United States. Unlike the manufactured feel of Vegas, everything feels real and alive here. The city itself is as old as it can be, founded on the stories of pirates, aristocrats, jazz, and voodoo, and it all blends perfectly here, from the neighborhoods to Bourbon Street.

The Magical City.

The Magical City.

And that goes for the food and the drink here as well. If you’re not eating, you’re drinking anything from coffee to hurricanes. Music is always playing somewhere. People are hustling. Some poor wretch is invariably in a corner somewhere for not handling his alcohol. But it makes for good times.

Jazz.

Jazz.

Steamboats.

Steamboats.

Above ground cemeteries.

Above ground cemeteries.

We were only able to stay one day due to our hectic schedule, and I could have easily stayed more. From ghost tours to muffalettas, it remains one of my favorite cities.

But we had to make time to drive over to Florida. And you know, that in itself is not a bad thing at all.

Home again.

Home again.

I was born and raised in Texas, but Florida retains a soft spot in my heart. I lived there in the early 1980′s. I well know the beach, the food, and a few other non-touristy and personal places. And for that reason, I found myself going home deeper than I ever could have imagined.

I still remember where my Grandmother, Mother and I lived while my Grandfather was sick. I was five years old, and despite it being a sad time with him passing away, my being so young remembered it as more than just that. I lived a life of beaches and Pac-Man, and playing in our little home. And on return trips, I’ve found myself driving past looking at the place where I once knew, yet would never know again.

And yet…

At Jen’s prompting, I found myself at the door, ringing the doorbell. A friendly looking lady answered. “Hi. Um, this is going to sound weird….” I began, relaying the story of my life in what is now her house. At the end of my story, she blinked for a moment before opening the door wider. “Why don’t you come inside”, she said.

I found myself in a home I thought I would never see again. There were changes, yes, but there was familiarity. Moreso than I expected, and a flood of memories washed over me as I walked around. My grandparent’s room, my Mother’s room….

My room.

For the first time in 32 years, I stood inside my childhood bedroom. The furniture was different, but everything else was the same. It was a gentle feeling, but I also felt the pang of loss of my Mother and Grandparents. And my Dad as well. I could feel my eyes beginning to water, but it wasn’t entirely sadness. There was a feeling of gratitude for that life lived, and for one moment, with a stranger being kind to this stranger, I got to touch it again.

Jen and I talked a little more, then wished her well, promising to send photos of my time there. We also got this photo:

The path of memories.

The path of memories.

After we left, I decided to track down my old school, Little Flower.

I graduated kindergarten in 1982 there, you know:

The old days.

The old days.

And yet, with another “Hi. Um, this is going to sound weird….”, I found myself with another reunion:

The new days.

The new days.

During our remaining time in Pensacola….

Pensacola Lighthouse.

Pensacola Lighthouse.

We climbed all 177 steps of this beast.

Fishies!

Fishies!

Ate ridiculously fresh fish every single day.

The last night.

The last night.

And watched the sunset from the beach.

After the next morning’s sunrise, we drove back into Texas to have a small family reunion with my Uncle, my sister, and her kids. It’s been since 2008-2009 since I’ve seen them, and although the trip was long, seeing them was worth it.

The drive back was about as random as it could get:

In which I really did wait a cotton picking minute.

In which I really did wait a cotton picking minute.

Still no basement in the Alamo.

Still no basement in the Alamo.

The UFO Museum of Roswell, New Mexico.

The UFO Museum of Roswell, New Mexico.

Walter White's House, I presume.

Walter White’s House, I presume.

And the roadtrip, while over perhaps too soon to properly process it all, was exactly what I needed.

I may still be on my own quest for happiness. I was on social media less, and chose to make my memories though photos. I made an effort (and did so) to meet one of my heroes. I reconnected with my past, my childhood, and the parts that I sometimes forget to in my present due to work, or something else in my constant schedule. I needed to remind myself where I began. I did new things. Went new places. Connected with people that I had never met before. I took time out to watch a sunset and a sunrise. I hadn’t done that since Burning Man. I realize that I had simply forgotten to live my life, and along the way, the jarring loss of Robin Williams reminded me that laughter is perhaps a gift that we often take for granted in our day to day lives.

I don’t suppose that every month will be like August. “Responsibility”, for all of its benefits, can also be a very ugly word in those times when it is all you are able to focus on.

With a clearer head, and a coming break from my own storms, I think it will be time to move forward again myself. That part isn’t totally clear yet, but I have a better idea of what I do want… and what I don’t.

“The Month of Happy” is going to have be extended. Indefinitely, I think, until I reach the place where I truly want to be.