Saturday, July 21, 2012

I'm on a Train

Okay, so I've been on a train before. A few times, in fact.  And at least one overnight excursion.  But this was my first business trip taking almost two full days and crossing three states.  That's right.  Landon and I took the Coast Starlight to San Diego Comic Con.

What better train to take to a comic convention?
  Some observations on taking the train:
  • It's far more civilized than the circus air travel has become.
  • There is no TSA to frisk you when you get on board; no cancer-causing backscatter machines, no invasive pat-downs.  Instead of being treated like a criminal, the passenger is treated like a paying customer and guest.
  • The carbon footprint for rail is similar to or lower than air, depending on the trip.
  • Our sleeper tickets (first class) were comparable in cost to coach air tickets, and afforded us a shared private cabin which converted to dual bunks.  Plus all of our meals were included.
  • The seating is far more comfortable than coach air seating, and the overstuffed swivel armchairs in the parlor car puts even first class air seating to shame.
  • Complimentary champagne upon embarking.
  • Unlimited access to luggage.
  • A dedicated steward to administer each car.
  • Free WiFi - which was spotty at times but allowed us to work from the luxurious parlor car.
  • Said parlor car has a dedicated steward who offers full bar service as well as meal service with selected menu items.  And while the dining car accommodates all passengers, the parlor car is only for sleeper passengers and therefore is less crowded and generally more comfortable to take meals in.
  • Showers.
  • A movie theater.
  • An arcade.
  • A pretty impressive menu of excellent food.
  • Reasonably unrestricted movement about the cars to stretch one's legs or whatever.
  • Amazing scenery.
  • Meeting and talking to fellow passengers.
  • Wine and cheese tasting.
Parlor car is the shizzlepants
 The only advantage air travel has over rail is speed.  So if you have the time, and slowing down a bit seems like a nice change, I highly recommend rail.  As a nation, I think we should do more of it, and should invest in updated, more modern trains (like Europe and Japan).  That would make it more energy efficient AND reduce some of the time factor.

Work proceeds in the sleeper cabin
So yes.  I'm a fan of the train.

The end of the line was at Union Station in Los Angeles.  From there, we took the Surfliner (commuter train) to San Diego.  We got in at almost 1AM to discover the hotel had mis-booked our reservation as starting the following day, but they found us a room at a local HoJo*.  It was clean and quiet, and a little more comfortable than a sleeper bunk.

In the morning, we set out for the trolley, headed over to the Convention Center, and there we encountered 140,000 geeks.  It was packed, both inside the center and within a six-block radius outside.  We killed time waiting for our new hotel room to be ready by wandering up the streets and locating the U.S. Grant Hotel, where my great-great aunts set up shop as public stenographers in 1915-1916.  We talked to a very enthusiastic concierge, took some photos, then headed back to the con to meet up with our contact, the guy who does the film programming.  We secured our passes and headed to the hotel to drop off our luggage, then took the free shuttle back to the con.

San Diego Convention Center
Ended up at the information booth standing right next to high school buddy and fellow filmmaker Mark Allen, and we made plans to meet up for dinner.

A place of honor: following The Princess Bride and leading into JourneyQuest
The Collectibles screening had a small but enthusiastic audience, and the season looked really nice on the big screen in 1080p.

The Collectibles full season screening
We spent the next day walking the main floor, catching up with friends or making new contacts.  By the end of it, however, I was ready to be away from people.  We met up with one of Landon's film friends who now lives in San Diego and she took us out for drinks before dropping us back at the hotel, where Landon and I proceeded to close down the hotel bar.

Inside the Convention Center
View from the Hilton restaurant
Needless to say I felt like crap the next morning, and decided my last day in San Diego was going to be an actual vacation day.  I slept and lounged by the pool while Landon took in the con for one more afternoon.  We left early the next morning and repeated the train trip in reverse.  When all was said and done, Landon and I arrived home safely having spent an entire week together without wanting to kill each other.  That's the kind of camaraderie long film shoots under hot lights creates.

Union Station/Santa Fe Depot, San Diego
I've now been to Wonder Con, Dragon*Con, Dragonflight, GeoCon, Gen Con, Comic Con International, every Jet City Comic Show, every Emerald City Comicon, and the first two E3 shows.  At 44, I'm pretty much done with long lines, sensory overload, huge crowds of people and the smells that accompany same, especially in high heat and humidity.  I love visiting conventions and trade shows as a professional and enjoy making contact with fans like at The Collectibles world premiere at ECCC.  But this trip reinforced the fact that I'm really not the hardcore fanboy I once was.

By the power of Grayskull!
And that's probably okay.

*HoJo = this, not this.