Monday, November 16, 2009

Florida Trip Day Three (30-Oct-2009)

Okay, so having kicked off with a great date at WPRK, then failed in one of my primary objectives (getting our picture stash out of storage -- though I did get a wonderful haircut!) and succeeded in another (fun times with family), it was time to move on to the other reason I came down this particular weekend: a Doctor Who convention!

I’m a sucker for a great time at a nerd-fest, and I’ve been to Doctor Who conventions on two continents multiple times each. For the past 20 years, there have been primarily two DW cons in the US: some organisation putting one on in Chicago, usually over Thanksgiving weekend; and one in Los Angeles called Gallifrey One (oh, and an annual Who-themed cruise event, often tying in with one of these two conventions). Others are held throughout most of the English-speaking world, in England, Canada and Australia on a more-or-less annual basis, and there have been smaller, less exclusively Who-based events in other places in the past (Boston, Atlanta and even a few events I had a hand in waaaay back when in central and south Florida).

Suddenly, the show has started to catch on with mainstream TV SF watchers, and it (along with its spinoff Torchwood) have attracted a new generation of fans. San Diego’s ComicCon hosted some of the stars from both shows this past July, it was like seeing the Beatles hit America all over again. Consequently, a new event had been added to the North American fan’s list of Doctor Who cons: Hurricane Who, smack dab in Orlando over Halloween weekend. Couldn’t miss that, now could I? But wait, there’s more!

I set my alarm to rise early that morning (both to beat the leaf-blowers and because jet lag-slash-time shift was catching up to me) and my great pals Julia and Herby (the latter of whom had come in from San Diego for the occasion) picked me up to take me to Kissimmee, where the con was being held. I didn’t really need to be there until early afternoon for a panel I was going to be on, but I was happy to help the much-more-industrious Julia set up her information table for the Guardians of Gallifrey, a Who fan group I had been a charter member of 22 years earlier (!). It was great fun thumbing through the club’s yearbooks and seeing so much of my misspent youth captured on those pages.

Later in the day I moderated a panel for the convention that was well-attended and lively, with co-hosts Joey Reynolds and Bob Yazel providing counterpoints to the main theme, “A Classic Fan in the Brave New-Who World.” The audience were terrific, unafraid to weigh in and debate (in the usual good-natured manner) the “experts” and everyone in general had a good time.

I did also manage to attend some of the other actual con programs in addition to my usual routine of greeting old friends, checking out the dealer’s room and eating/drinking liberally. One featured two of Doctor Who’s writers, Simon Guerrier (on the left in this picture, who writes mainly for the Big Finish range of audio dramas) and Rob Shearman (on the right, who notably contributed one of the best stories of the 2005 revival, called simply “Dalek”). I believe I have most of it on videotape, but haven’t even bothered looking at the video stuff yet since returning. Eventually most of it will appear on either the Hurricane Who site or YouTube or both, I imagine ...

In any event, a program of writers interviewing each other is usually a lot funnier than you might think, with only a little useful information imparted and instead filled mostly with pub tales and various misadventures, only this time delivered by ostensibly sober participants.

Via Facebook and email and various electronic blather I had noted that my old pal Toby and his wife were in town (from Fort Collins, CO), but was surprised not to see them at the convention (as Toby is another Doctor Who fiend), but they had attended a warm-up event the night before the con started and decided to use the rest of the time visiting friends and, inevitably, theme parks. Luckily, some hasty organising by a fellow former classmate of ours named Lauren arranged to have Toby and Tracy, myself, and old friends Dave and Michelle all meet up at Valencia Community College (where many of us had met) to spring a surprise on our mutual former drama instructor, Julia Gagne, who was the director of a play (of course) performing that evening. Thanks to the kindness of strangers (so to speak) at the convention, I was able to find a convenient ride not only back in to town but all the way out to the east side where the campus was.

This had been my first time back at Valencia in many a year, though I had occasionally dropped by post-graduation, and I was pleased to see that basically nothing had changed. I skulked around the campus taking some photos of my favourite hangouts as the sun went down, met up with our party and surprised Ms. Gagne on cue. We were among the first group of students she had had as a “new” drama teacher at VCC some 24 years earlier, and amazingly she remembered us all (teachers are amazing like that). We enjoyed the show, called “Lucky Stiff,” sort of seeing our younger selves up there in the footlights. After the show we headed over to a nearby restaurant to continue our chatting, which went on for hours. I’d seen Toby just two years earlier on our trip to Canada, but Dave and I had not touched base in quite a while and Lauren I hadn’t seen except via Facebook since the great Paul Wegman had died in 2004. It was wonderful to catch up with them, reminisce about other classmates and friends and just generally catch up. None of us wanted it end, but eventually closing time forced our hand.

As I returned home to Altamonte, I reflected on the full day and wide range of great pals I had reconnected with since my return to the area. I joke and complain and generally kick Florida (the state) and Orlando (the town) around a fair bit in this blog and elsewhere, but one thing you’ll never hear me denigrate is the quality of the people I knew there. They were -- and are -- the best.