My first time was in 1999 when a number of friends I knew for years from the Clobberin' Times APA managed to convince me that I needed to join them for the show (they were celebrating ten years of hitting the Con which is where the APA idea came together in 1989). I had been to San Diego once before (with my wife in 1991) but this was a totally different vacation. Even though I was spending four days in the downtown area by the convention center, the time seemed to fly. Between panel discussions, scouring the many aisles of the exhibit hall, meeting comic creators to get autographs or sketches, and just people-watching (so many folks come in costumes), it seemed like a challenge to take everything in that I wanted to. But I gave it my best effort.
I bonded so well with my friends that first trip that they left me an open invitation to stay with them at their apartment for future Cons. I first took them up on that offer in 2001 when I came back for the show. That year I even volunteered to run one of the group's annual Champions gaming sessions which was loads of fun. I came back again for the show in 2002 and 2003 as well. These trips were very much a recharge time for me as well. It was a chance to step away from the daily routine and just go with the flow. This was time to just hang with the guys, fellow hobby enthusiasts with whom I had a lot in common. We've read the same books, knew the same character histories, could quote the same lines from movies. It was our geek-time. And sure, we had our traditions: a lunch at Hooters, a meal at Kansas City Barbeque, a film the day before the show ramped up at Horton Plaza, a meal at Dick's Last Resort, one or two evenings of Champions gaming, etc. Great times.
Last year, we did things up a bit differently. With a new job and less vacation than before, my wife and I decided to make a family trip out of Con week. So, while my wife was able to leisurely site-see in the town she was born in, I was able to take my ten year old son to the show (he had been asking for years so I finally got to have him come along). This really was a different way to enjoy the show: experiencing it all through his eyes. He was blown away by the various video-game presenters (we spent a good bit of time at the demo booth trying upcoming games). I enjoyed watching him try his hand at the various collectible-card-game challenges. We both enjoyed a number of panels dealing with animation and voice talents of shows we watched together. And we scoured the ever-growing number of aisles on the exhibit floor to find just the right stuff we wanted to spend money on. Sure, I did get to hang with the guys some and I managed to fit in a few of the traditions (all our favorite eating places) between family time activities like a tour of the San Diego Harbor and the US Naval ship.
This year's show seems to have already sold out, especially for Saturday, in advance. That means huge crowds again. Maybe a bit too crowded, at least for my taste. You really couldn't move around the floor well during the weekend last year, and many of the popular panels had huge lines that required arriving in advance and waiting in order to get a seat. I know that only some of the gang is making the show this year, due to other committments and such. Still, I'll get the low-down from Mike in his wonderful narrative style, and I have some friends scouting out freebie items from the exhibit floor I'm interested in (man, sorting through the freebie bag at the end of the show is always fun - I still have a lot of stuff left from last year on top my filing cabinet). I can hit sites like Newsarama to get the high-lights of some of the key panels as well. So, I'll get a taste of the Con even though I'm thousands of miles away. Still, I wish I was there. Maybe in 2009; I can't go next summer as that's tagged for going back North to where I grew up for my 25th high school reunion.