Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

PAX 2009: Holy Shit

Our plane just landed back in Cleveland a little while ago.

Businessmen and tourists have the luxury of West to East jet-lag that allows them the magical feeling of being in the future when they get home. We were not afforded such pleasures. The last five days were so solidly packed with awesome that the artificial systems of time imposed upon the rest of the world no longer hold meaning to us.

Our money is gone, our feet are blistered, our backs are crooked, our suitcases bursting with swag, and I can't be certain but I'm pretty sure we killed a man. At this point I don't know. It wouldn't surprise me. I have this general, haunting feeling that we've done horrible things that were drowned from our memories in an ocean of euphoric, unnatural joy.

That's why I have to write this now. All of it. While I still have notes. Before I forget.

Thursday - September 3rd - Plane juggling - Seattle - Fark People - The Madness Begins

We sat in Cleveland Hopkins Airport watching a little boy race imaginary enemies with his own, empty stroller in front of terminal, waiting for the employees of American Airlines to clock in and start their work day. The boy's parents exchanged exhausted looks of encouragement that gave away the Dramamine and NyQuil in their carry-on luggage. A woman wearing a light Hawaiian shirt stood outside smoking a cigarette next to a sign saying she shouldn't. She would check her watch every few moments between unnecessarily long drags of nicotine and look back at the counter as though someone watching her passive-aggressive frustration would say to themselves "gee, that woman looks like she's in a hurry. We'd better get our asses out there."

A man who wanted everyone to know he was An Experienced Traveler casually plopped his huge goddamn bag onto check-in scales before the currently motionless conveyor belt, deliberately taking note of its reading. He seemed like he approved of whatever it read.

Curious, I followed his example. The bag with our clothes was 43.9lbs. I didn't know if that was good or bad. I carefully unpacked a hoodie and put it on just in case. 43.2lbs. Good for me, I guess.

Grandma was happily munching on some Werther's hard candy we picked up from Giant Eagle the night before. She handed me one and I immediately recognized how goddamn cliche we were. Still tasty, though. I almost choked on it.

I walked to the smoker's area outside by the drop-off curb, annoyingly excited to be there. The TSA employees didn't return my disgustingly cheerful "good morning!" as I passed. I paced a little, smoking what was to be my last cigarette until Seattle and almost tripped over a girl wearing a Sbarro uniform hanging her head over a coffee looking sullen.

Back inside, the United and Delta desks became active and lively. Our American Airlines desk at the end remained empty, and Hawaiian Shirt Lady looked as though she was going to pace even faster and more angrily lest they get off their fucking ass and get over there.

"So what do you want to see first when we get there?" I asked Grandma.
-"I don't know."
"Well, do you want to do some tourist shit? Go shopping? Anything particular you don't want to miss in the city?"
-"Sure, we can explore a little."

Seattle wasn't really on her mind. PAX was. PAX didn't start until Friday, so anything else was just groovy. Ever the overly-prepared dickhead, I produced a printout of the PAX schedule from a folder in my camera bag.

"I can't read this shit," she said, making a face.
-"Why not?"
"It's too fucking small!"
-"I printed it from a .pdf so it would be on one page," I explained. But, being the overly prepared dickhead that I am, I gave her a big stack of papers from a different folder; the complete list and summaries from Penny Arcade of each panel with their time and theater.

She leafed through it.
"Which one is Tim Schafer in?"
-"I think it's Friday night at 6:00pm."
"Is it just him and Brutal Legend or what is it?"
-"I don't know."
"Is it a Q&A? Will we get to talk to him?"
-"I don't know, that's all I have right there."
"When is Annie's panel?"
-"Saturday at 10:30am."
"Who is she speaking with?"
-"I don't know! Read the thingy! That's why I printed them."
"When is Blair's thing?"
"I'm screwing with you, you know."
-"I know."

A single American Airlines employee finally came up to the counter. People we hadn't realized were waiting near us appeared from nowhere, getting in line. We didn't care. There was no hurry.

But standing there in line, every scenario I didn't want to imagine popped into my head. What if the zipper on the luggage breaks? I wondered. What if the e-ticket number doesn't work and it doesn't show us? What if the shampoo bottle leaks through the grocery bag I wrapped it with and gets on our clothes? What if some Quebec Separatist with the same name as me found his way on a no-fly list? What if we took the wrong credit card? What if we fucking crash into Lake Erie? Would we still be able to make PAX on Saturday after the FAA investigation into our water landing? How long does that shit take exactly?

The man took our bag and $15. He gave us our boarding passes and we made the long walk through security.

Grandma has always tried to rush through getting her shoes off and putting her jacket in the plastic bins. She does it too quickly out of fear of appearing inattentive to the impatience of those behind us in line. Because of this, she almost trips herself getting it done. Wearing pajamas and a t-shirt with my hoodie and slippers in the bin, I strolled through that goddamn arch of doom practically daring it to beep. When Grandma walked through, it lit up like a police dog in a bodega.

After two knee replacements and a recent heart bypass surgery where they stitched her up with piano wire and a staple gun, she tends to know the drill at airports.

I waited for her public interrogation to end sitting on a bench eying my camera bag. Probably not a good idea to whip that out right now, I thought.

We grabbed apple fritters and coffee and waited at the gate.

Grandma noticed a youngish couple sitting by themselves playing two matching DS-Lites. I noticed them too. We didn't say anything to each other. Grandma and I didn't need to. Unfortunately, perhaps, we assumed others would be as privy to the subtleties of our nonverbal communications.

It goes something like this:

When we saw somebody we suspected of being on their way to PAX, we we both too much of a pussy to just ask. We both developed some kind of knowing stare that retrospectively probably came off as just creepy and weird. We would wait for eye contact, look down at the DS quickly, back up at their eyes, and wait- interrogatively, as if this motion was enough to ask in a single telepathic syllable: PAX?

I suppose we expected such people to return a smile. PAX.
From which we would return a nod. Us too.
And they would return a nod. Cool.
Then maybe a long distance fist-bump of acceptance and we would go our merry way.

This did not happen.

They sheepishly avoided eye-contact and whispered awkwardly and we slunked down into our seats and gazed upwards as though we were just admiring the ceiling the whole time.

In clear weather at 30,000 feet, you can see the lights of Windsor and Detroit from the skies above Cleveland. Today was such a day. We followed the sunrise West to Chicago and landed at O'Hare International; the perfect rows of Illinois suburbs all pointing to the skyline in the distance. American Eagle is American Airlines regional service, so it was a relatively tiny plane that shook and creaked when the landing gear moved beneath us.

Like magic, the sun rose for the second time that morning. We were exactly an hour away from Chicago by air, so it made sense, but it was weird seeing it happen. Seeing the orange sunlight bounce off the freshly waxed floors in the terminals casting strange shadows onto everything reminded me of the scene in Blade Runner when Deckard first meets Rachael in Tyrell's office.

It also reminded me just how goddamn geeky my brain is sometimes.

Without anything cool too look at, Grandma started reading her book: Robin Cook's Foreign Body. I started Reading mine: Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. I had read it before, but it was a good read for travel. I have no idea why Grandma chose her particular paperback.

Our DS friends from Cleveland apparently were not going to PAX. They got off the plane and disappeared into a parking garage. They were replaced, however, by two more DS people. They sat close, so I skipped the nonverbal banter and just came right out with it.

"If I had to guess, I'd say you were going to PAX."
-"PAX? No."
-"We are going to Seattle, though."
"You're really not going?" I asked, like their love of portable Nintendo gaming devices meant they must be attending.
-"We know some people who are going to PAX, but we're not."

For some reason, I was perplexed by this.

Grandma bought us some McDonald's breakfast and we wolfed down a couple McMuffins, which were neither Scottish nor muffins, and boarded the plane to Seattle.

They fed us Coca Cola and ice and we watched the earth spin below us in various checkered shades of brown. The Badlands appeared and just as quickly faded back into boring ranches. If there was a screaming baby on that plane, I wouldn't have known it. Our focus was on the hazy horizon, looking for the first signs of Montana mountains. Black rivers sat quietly between impressive hills and peaks, reflecting the sky back at us. Brown hills turned into green hills and we were in Idaho for a moment or two. Western Washington reminded me of New Mexico or Colorado with circular irrigation patterns and empty space. Just before the green returned, the clouds took over. We would see nothing until the airport.

Our first look at the Pacific Northwest was a line of conifers in every direction around the tarmac. Inside SeaTac we passed no fewer than ten coffee shops and a skinny dude wearing a Fleet Foxes t-shirt.

We had arrived.

We found the shuttle to the Sheraton and got in another line.

We found the lines to be excellent practice for the lines at PAX. We were going to be fucking line PROS by the time we got there. Everyone else would be blown away by our queue skills. They would post on Twitter about the amazing people they saw at PAX and write stories about us, telling their friends "see? THAT'S how you do that. Look at them. Goddamn."

On the shuttle, we gawked at the amazing wonders of the I-5 corridor. The peripheral license plates of Ohio were New York and Pennsylvania. Here they were Alaska, Oregon, British Colombia and Idaho. Amazing! We marveled at the number of self-storage companies. Hey! Look at that! They have 7-11's here? Astounding. And just look at the price of gas. $2.91 for regular unleaded. Jesus.

I texted all the appropriate contacts on Grandma's cell phone, mindful of time zones. We arrived at the hotel and picked up something I ordered earlier in the week at the bell desk. Something special for this trip. Something necessary that would also change the tone of the trip entirely.

A travel chair.

Not a wheelchair, mind you, a travel chair. A wheelchair has big ol' wheels one can use to propel oneself through the world. A travel chair is lighter and has little bitty wheels on the back, so the person pushing has an easier time. I anticipated a lot of pushing. It was red-plaid fabric which I found appropriate for Seattle.

How very grunge.

Attached was a receipt from the rental agency. When I ordered it, I spoke with a woman named Joyce, herself a Youngstown transplant to the area.

"Ah, so you escaped.." my standard line for such discoveries.
-"Oh, yes," laughed Joyce. "This is certainly the place to do it."

We wheeled all our shit to the elevators and anticipated our 20th floor view of the surrounding environment. When we got there, however, Grandma couldn't help but voice her disappointment.

"Awww.... I'd hoped we could see the mountains," she sighed.
-"Yeah, me too."

The view could have been from the inside of any major city, really. Lots of buildings and lots of traffic. But we didn't care all that much. We were just relieved to be there without problems and without incidental costs.

We decided to get some lunch and explore a bit.

We changed clothes and decided to give the grunge chair a spin. It was a pleasant, sunny day in Seattle. After three or four blocks of Nordstrom and American Apparel, two things were clear: first- we were in the wrong place for our socio-economic caste level. Second- I was going to die of heatstroke before PAX even started. I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans with an open longsleeve shirt layered over. Grandma was bundled up in her soft hoodie and a sweater.

"Aren't you cold?" she asked, visibly uncomfortale.
-"No, I'm good" I wheezed, pushing her up a fascinatingly steep sidewalk.

Even though I'm an overly prepared dickhead, my pre-trip Google Earth exploration of the city didn't account for Grandma-pushing induced hallucination. I couldn't find a Quizno's or a Chipotle, and the McDonalds in the distance was telling me to go fuck myself by being up three or four blocks of hill. We descended back towards Pike and 6th.

Grandma noticed a sign for a steakhouse down near the Sheraton, which I had quickly come to know as simply: "base camp." Morton's Steakhouse had a handy dandy menu outside and I rolled Grandma up to read it. When you are poor like us, you know something about menus like this. If it doesn't have prices, you have to go inside to find out. If you have to find out, you can't afford it. Morton's was easily passed up.

Then we noticed Taphouse Grill more or less directly across the street. We had never heard of it, we didn't know anything about it, all that we knew is that it had "grill" in the name and there wasn't a menu out front. Inside was what seemed like a huge goddamn staircase with a sign that read something like "please see a server at the bottom of the stairs to seat you." I looked at Grandma.

"Fuck it, I'm hungry," was her response.

She got out of the grunge chair and very slowly began walking down the stairs. We were passed a few times. Just before the bottom, a hostess asked "Hi, how are you?"
-"Yes please."
"Okay!" And she grabbed some menus. "Just so you guys know, next time, there's an elevator like.. right there."

Grandma gave me a look. Mother. Fucker.

I ate the calamari and the halibut fish and chips with a beer. Baron Pilsner. It was REALLY good. I asked the server "so is it spelled BARREN as in.. a woman who can't conceive?"
-"No, no. BARON. Like the Red Baron."

And I was suddenly embarrassed.

Grandma had a Diet Coke and was eating something spicy. I begged her to try the calamari, but she just made a face and adamantly refused. "I fucking hate seafood."
-"But it tastes so goooood! I doesn't even taste fishy or like lobster or anything- it's like chicken or onion rings."
"Alright; your loss."
"....but it is REALLY good."

When I'm not looking for a job, I'm usually on TotalFark bitching about not being able to find a job. The threads are always amusing and the people are groovy. It wasn't difficult, then, when I found out a TotalFarker was going to be at PAX to agree to try and meet up with as many of them as possible during the trip. Fark and TotalFark are filled with the kind of people who you know are going to be great conversation. SomethingAwful Goons share this trait. If you want to have some drinks and dick around a new city for awhile, seek out either of them and you won't be disappointed. They're good people.

A guy I've known for a long time only by the name el_dudarino was to be a volunteer at Jonathon Coulton's booth selling tshirts and CDs and the like at PAX for the duration of the convention. He submitted a Fark thread to get some like-minded folks drinking the night before the convention. While Grandma and I were eating lunch at Taphouse, he texted us "Hey, it's David. How's six at The Taphouse sound to y'all?"

Shit, that was easy.

We decided to do stupid tourist shit in the meantime. And when it comes to stupid tourist shit, Seattle has a cornucopia of choices. Of course, one stands out.

The motherfucking Space Needle.

The Space Needle is at Seattle Center, which, if I had been paying attention to local media the week before, I'd know was currently being prepped for a huge goddamn concert/art festival/mud-orgy known as Bumbershoot. All I knew was that it wasn't very far and goddamn if we're going to waste money on a cab when I can fucking see the thing looking down 5th Ave. So I decided to hoof it, pushing Grandma in the grunge chair.

After more than a few blocks, I noticed the Space Needle wasn't really getting any larger. It turns out it's quite tall, in fact. When you march up hill pushing your Grandma, who is laughing at you, carrying a camera bag, it's really not the short jaunt you think it is. The grunge chair revealed its one major flaw: the front wheels. Each curb between streets has a little ramp via ADA rules so wheelchairs and scooters can cross the road. But these ramps in Seattle still have tiny cliffs and rough-asphalt obstacles to conquer. After five or six times of trying to just ram the goddamn thing up onto the next sidewalk, nearly catapulting Grandma onto unfortunate pedestrians when it came to a stop, she opted to get out of the chair and walk with me.

She got back in when there weren't hills anymore. Which is right at the base of the thing.

Annie had warned us about The Space Needle in an email before we got here. She said it costs a ton of money to get up the thing and for the love of Christ don't eat at the goddamn restaurant. A quick look at the menu online confirmed all this. $59 steak. $20 appetizers. Sure, we love a good restaurant if we could afford it but we knew a tourist trap when we saw one. So the restaurant was out. The gift shop downstairs had all manner of "I Climbed the Space Needle!" t-shirts and Space Needle shot glasses for when you want to drink your Space Needle liquor sitting on your Space Needle snuggie watching a DVD about the Space Needle.

Hell, they might have even had a BluRay version. I don't know.

But we were going up that goddamn tower if it killed us. Grandma had fastidiously budgeted for stupid tourist shit and this was really going to be the only day to do it. Not to mention: we climbed up a goddamn mountain to get here so we might as well summit the bitch. (This was my primary reason.)

And to be honest, we were kind of curious. The view from the hotel was bad and we couldn't see much flying in because of cloud cover. The weather was pretty good now so this might be our only real chance to see some honest to god fucking mountains during this trip. When Grandma told people she was going to Seattle they'd all say "Oh, it's so pretty up there" and "you'll just love the mountains." So we had to.

We didn't have to worry about the stigma of being ridiculous tourists looking at tourist stuff because upon arriving at Seattle center, we were saturated in it. The common insult "pfft... TOURISTS" is dissipated a great deal when you're in a crowd.

So we were in the middle of people taking pictures of their kids by its foundation and pointing their cameras upwards like crazy people.

Shit, I did it too.

It was here we should have learned a valuable rule that would have aided us at PAX in the coming days.

The grunge travel chair gave Grandma special powers.

She didn't have to spend $17 to get up to the top. She only had to spend $14.

She didn't have to wait in line to ride the yellow elevator up, she got to ride the blue elevator. Which had no line.

Her bypass surgery may have weakened her, but she was, in many ways, stronger than all these other folks.

The only thing I had going for me was that, as an ex-journalist, my camera far exceeded necessity.

Even tourists with mid-level DSLRs chimped a little lower profile around me when usually they would be bragging up their new lens purchase to all those around them. To augment my high status here, I took pictures of them looking at their pictures as they wondered if they were anything like mine. (A special note: it's all the same shit, really. Unless you're in difficult lighting, then yes- my pictures will blow your goddamn mind.)

The view from the top is quite spectacular, really.

Grandma got to see mountains.

We found our way back to the road, and quickly decided against a forced march back to the hotel in favor of a quick cab ride and a bruised ego.

I approached a parked Yellow Cab with Grandma in the chair.
"Can we get to Pike and 6th?" His face sunk in a very obvious way. We were a low fare. A shit fare. Why would he take us to 6th and Pike while some other cab got that nice chunk of change driving tourists back to the Airport Marriot.
"Look, if you can't do it-"
-"No, just... um....."
"So, no then?"
-"No. Okay." He got out of the cab to help Grandma the same way drunks exit cars to submit to sobriety tests. Reluctantly.

He drove us into traffic which we couldn't find walking and sat for awhile. He fucked around with the meter a few times. First our fare was $4.00, then $941.00, then nothing.

-"Wait, 6th and Pike or 6th and PINE?" he asked.
"6th and Pike. The Sheraton. Look it's right there, this is fine right where we are, okay? We'll get out here."

He opened the door for Grandma (gee, thanks) and I retrieved the grunge chair from the trunk.

"How much do I owe you?"
-"Ten dollar."
"Okay." I handed him a twenty. "Can I get five back?" I asked, almost pleading.
-"Okay.... um.... I only have three, so...."

I took the three dollars. He took my dignity.

$17 for six goddamn blocks.

That's what I get for being lazy, I suppose. But still. Fuck you, Yellow Cab.

We dropped off our stuff at the hotel and walked back to Taphouse. Grandma was clearly still on Eastern Standard Time and trying desperately to stay awake. She also brought up a good point as we stood outside.

"Do you know what these people look like?"
"Well... how are we going to recognize them?"

I texted Dave who was almost at the restaurant. He replied he'd be the one wearing a green shirt with a zombie. At that moment, a bunch of obvious PAXers walked passed us wearing Left 4 Dead t-shirts. That narrows it down. Miraculously, we all found each other. I liked them immediately.

As all of us sat around the table, drinking our alcohol of choice and munching on appetizers (calamari again, for me. It's really fucking good, I'm not even kidding) I began to feel really bad that Grandma had no reference to our conversations. We were internet people talking about internet shit because- how often does one get to do that in life? I don't mean that we were talking about memes, shit- Grandma would have gotten Keyboard Cat references- Grandma just didn't know who the hell Kitwilly is. Do you? Either way, you know what I'm talking about.

It didn't matter much, as Grandma decided to head back to the hotel and crash anyway. She wanted to get up early to queue for the Expo (I told you, we were line pros) and it was already late in the day in her East Coast head. I remained at the bar and we shot the shit for awhile before deciding to move to another place.

Having been fucked over by cabs, I didn't hesitate when they suggested taking a bus up to Capitol Hill.

From the bus ride, to the bar, after a pitcher of beer (thanks, Dave), and the long walk back downtown- I listened with genuine interest as we talked about internet marketing, technology advisement in law, local Seattle politics, Netflixing the movie Battle for Seattle, and the shitty qualities of Florida. They politely listened to my bullshit about Ohio and Cleveland and the joys of being ex-media looking for a job in a recession. We had a ball. The night seemed to go on for hours.

Back at the hotel, Grandma woke up as I walked in. The bookmark in her paperback was a little further in. I collapsed on the bed and looked at the alarm clock.

It was only 9:30pm.

Friday - September 4th - PAX Queue - The Expo - Jonathan Coulton - The Great Schafer Hunt - Friday Concerts

We arrived a little before 8:00am. We already had our badges, so we didn't have to deal with the madness of Will Call. We found our way to the Queue Room on the 4th level next to the expo hall and wheeled our way into a line already a couple columns deep. They gave us some swag bags and lanyards for our badges. We were READY.

This brings me to The Enforcers. Enforcers are volunteers at PAX that have to put up with a lot of bullshit. They guide you to where you'd like to go. They hand out the swag bags. They give you the sad news that you can't bring your Sprite into the theater during the concert. They give you your concert bracelet. They organize the lines for the panels. They know the answers to your questions that (and I'm not being disrespectful to Convention Center employees, they are awesome in ways I'll talk about later) nobody else can really answer. They set up the mics for the Q&A's and so much more. Some of them wear kilts.

Because Jerry and Mike at Penny Arcade are not douchebags, this is not a thankless job, thank Christ- they make sure their Enforcers are taken care of, but they deserve a lot of credit for making PAX work.

Just remember: Don't call it a kilt to their face.

Grandma didn't meet an Enforcer she didn't like.

There was a snarky and hilarious game to play via text messaging in the queue room. Sometimes it was merely voting which internet video to play to pass the time, sometimes it was trivia, but it was always entertaining to watch, which made the line seem to go a bit faster. It also afforded us the opportunity to hear other people say, out loud, things you don't typically hear people discuss. Things like Caramelldansen. (Now it's stuck in YOUR head, too. I regret nothing.)

Grandma returned from the women's restroom and showed me a piece of (unused) toilet paper. It was screened with ads for No More Heroes 2. We laughed. She put the toilet paper in her swag bag as a souvenir. Anyone else might think we were weird.

It was during this slow squeeze closer and closer to the expo hall where we first really noticed it.

It began as others watching us, curiously, and snapping a quick picture of Grandma with their cell phone. Then, as the noise around us increased, the looks became comments- not to us yet, but to each other.

"Hey! Grandma's here!"

"Dude, I'm standing in front of the screen and Gaming Grandma is like... right next to us. You'll probably pass her pretty soon from where you are."

"No, it was a video of her playing Resistance: Fall of Man. She's awesome."

"Who brings their grandma to PAX?"
-"No, man- that's Grandma. You know, the Gaming Grandma lady?"
-"She actually plays."
-"You've never seen that?"

Keep in mind, we're standing in fairly close proximity to these conversations. Sound travels, you know. We've never been somewhere like this when such a high concentration of people have either read the blog or read about her from somewhere else like Kotaku or Destructoid. It felt weird and cool simultaneously.

Then it became more direct.

"Hi, Grandma! I love you!"

"You kick ass, Grandma. It's so fucking cool you came."

"Graaaaanmaaaa haaaardcooooore!"

"Hi!" she would respond, smiling.

And after we moved on, after every instance of this amazing phenomenon, Grandma would arch her head around to look up at me with a recognizable emotion: That was cool! Many times people spoke to me instead of Grandma, and we would talk a little bit. Grandma couldn't hear. So after she'd ask "do you know that person?"
"Who were they?"
-"That was one of your friends from the blog!"
"Oh! You were talking like you knew each other."
-"Well, we do know each other, kinda. Remember a comment a looong time ago from someone whose brother had MS?"
"....Yeah! I think I do! That was her?"
-"That was her."

It was incredible :)

Grandma leafed through her swag bag to find all manner of goodies, fliers and ads. We now have two full versions of Lord of the Rings Online that we're not quite sure what to do with. And buttons! O, the buttons. Grandma has many buttons. She read a bit about EVE Online and a magazine about making it in the games industry. Enforcers handed us our concert bracelets for the evening, the line lurched forward and the madness began.

We didn't so much casually stroll the convention floor, we assaulted it. The speed of the grunge chair on flat surfaces is only limited to the one doing the pushing, and I can push pretty fast it turns out. We ran like children from booth to booth, searching for flashing, hypnotizing stimuli to entertain and educate us. BioShock 2! Brutal Legend! Mass Effect 2! Halo 3: ODST! God of War III! We began scouting empty controllers to play. Any game will do. Just show us something cool. The PAX 10 were well chosen. A new Splinter Cell? Hooray! Bethesda is making something new? Yes! A new Ratchet and Clank? Don't mind if I do!

We engorged ourselves. Grandma and I sped through the convention like it would all disappear if we didn't tag each booth.

Hothead Games was showcasing a game called Deathspank that looked damned hilarious. We couldn't quite tell if it was a brick and mortar game or if it was XBLA. The fact that we couldn't tell was a credit to the game. After the demonstration, a dude approached us.

"Man, I just want to say- I love your blog."
-"Thank you!" People are cool. We talked about what we had just seen a bit and Grandma was trying to come up with a comparative title. It looked like something she had seen in the past, she just couldn't put her finger on it.

The dude left and we felt ten feet tall.

Exhausted and happy, we bought a couple PAX 09' shirts and added them to the wardrobe of free shirts we just liberated from the expo.

"I wonder if all this is going to make our bags too heavy when we go back" Grandma thought aloud.
-"I'll just wear all the t-shirts at once." I was only half-kidding.

The Washington Convention Center has a neat little area just outside the 4th level so smokers can do their thing without going all the way back downstairs. We bought some Subway sandwiches and headed out. Some excellent Team Fortress 2 fans allowed me to take a quick picture of Grandma among them. Later in the convention, I would accidentally run into The Heavy's ankles with the travel chair. (I am sorry about that by the way. Please don't kill me.)

It was almost 1:00pm, and the convention was now flowing nicely. Everyone had scurried off to lines for different panels or were standing in line for game demos or were standing in line to meet Wil Wheaton or standing in line at Subway or standing in line to board the elevators.. Everyone had their place in line, and it was time we entered ours.

The panel was titled "SPIKE SNEAK PEEKS." At first glance, that sounds stupid as hell. It was scheduled to run at the same time as the live Co-Op taping and the Strategic Game Design panels, not to mention the queue for the Left 4 Dead tournament. At PAX, you have to choose your panels carefully; weighing their priorities against each before picking one, mindful of queue times taking up the space of whole panels themselves. And that's okay. You can't possibly see everything, but you can come close.

Spike Sneak Peeks had one thing that took priority against all else: Tim Schafer.

We wanted to see Tim Schafer. In fact, we were greedy. If there was an opportunity for a Q&A, then we would be first on that motherfucking microphone. Whatever it took. We'd murder your enemies if it meant 45 seconds at a microphone to say thank you to Tim and DoubleFine. That's all we wanted.

But we didn't need to kill anyone to make this possible at PAX. All we needed were our awesomely powerful queue skills. This was the moment when they would be tested.

This was The Great Schafer hunt.

Spike Sneak Peeks was scheduled in the Main Theater adjacent to the Queue Room at 5:30pm. That meant if we got in line at 2:00pm, we'd have a shot at getting what we wanted.

We had about 40 minutes before our self-imposed line commencement. Outside the queue room a huge goddamn line formed for Wil Wheaton. Next to him, with a rather short contrasting line, was the one and only Jonathan Coulton.

"Holy shit! We can meet JoCo!" I exclaimed.
-"Who?" asked Grandma.
"....I tell you when we meet him, okay?"

I didn't see Dave, but the table had a couple people running through the line giving people their change and merchandise.

"Hi! Grandma, this is Jonathon Coulton, who wrote Still Alive from Portal."
-"Oh!!! Hello!" Now she knew who he was and was instantly a fan.

I took their picture.

Grandma bought me the Ultimate Flash Drive which had all his music in the history of ever for $60, and came with The Best Concert Ever DVD. I don't need to tell you that my Grandma is awesome :)

Loaded down with t-shirts and swag, we opted to race back to the hotel room and unload some stuff before beginning the hunt.

We also figured out that it was impossible to carry both the huge ass still camera AND the huge ass video camera. As it was, I couldn't take many pictures when I was with Grandma because my hands were busy steering the grunge chair. We left the video camera back at the hotel and set off again. I was becoming pretty adept at pushing the thing, so I was in full gallop running to the elevators to the 4th level, skillfully avoiding the ankles of many.

We reached the queue room at 2:00pm right on the money. A very large line was emptying into the main theater for the first Penny Arcade Q&A with Jerry and Mike. We knew we couldn't do both, so we would try to see the next on Sunday. An enforcer told us where we could sit to begin the Spike Sneak Peek line.

That's right, bitches.

We were first.

We were also alone.

Grandma and I sat by ourselves in the queue room for the entire first Penny Arcade Q&A. We watched Enforcers do the regrettable business of telling folks it was full and they'd have to come back for the next one. We watched husbands and boyfriends stand awkwardly outside the women's restroom waiting for their better half to emerge refreshed. We watched a few EMS paramedics run somewhere with a gurney and a purpose. We watched Enforcers sort through the swag bags in bins for the next day. And we talked about how cool Jonathan Coulton had been.

Nobody got in line behind us. Not for a long time. But still we sat. Stoically. People would ask "what's this for?"
-"Spike Sneak Peeks."
-"It's got Tim Schafer."
"Oh!" Then they'd text someone quickly and run away, presumably to go get them.

We were fucking queue PROS. We were shining.

It wasn't until the Q&A was over that some folks sat behind us. A father and son from L.A.,. They were cool. The dude was heavy into Magic Cards, so I gave him my booster pack from an earlier swag bag. I didn't have any use for them and he did. His dad and I talked a bit about the book I was reading. As we talked, the son slowly realized something.

"Wait... are you THAT Grandma? Like THE Grandma?"
"Hey, Dad! We're sitting next to an internet celebrity!"
-"Oh god. No. No, no no. I'm not a celebrity. Celebrities get money," she smiled.
"You played Resistance, right?"
"Yeah! I saw that!" And suddenly he was more relaxed; more comfortable. He was just among gamers, not a gamer and his grandmother.

Slowly at first, then like a flash mob, the queue room began to fill behind us. A couple guys, confused as to where the line began and ended, sat directly in front of us. They started to get dirty looks from the people behind us. I didn't want to be the asshole that tells them to move, so I used strategy.

"Guys, those people back there are giving you the evil eye."
"The line behind us. They're looking at you funny."
-"The line behind you?"
-"Oh! This is the front!" They quickly got up and moved. Easy mistake. They didn't do it on purpose.

Nevertheless, Grandma and I exchanged a congratulatory fist bump.

After a few more hours, The Enforcers unleashed us upon the main theater. We made a beeline for the front row. Our hunt was on.

Some dude from Spike TV was on stage with nobody else. It didn't look like this would be a Q&A format. Disappointing, but there were still options. I started studying the stage for weaknesses should I have to bring the fucker down using nothing more than an empty swag bag and a bit of rope. Maybe I could employ a diversion; somebody could have a fake seizure, maybe- then I kidnap the man and hold him in a custodial closet I noticed in the back until I said what I came to say.

He was the first panelist.

Even if it wasn't DoubleFine, even if it wasn't Tim Schafer's work, Grandma and I would be all over Brutal Legend like shit on rice or however the saying goes. It looks like ridiculous fun. We love the idea of metal covers as a game universe. And fuck the haters, Jack Black is goddamn hilarious. They showed the opening cutscene of the game on the large screens bordering the stage. It was everything we wanted it to be.

Spike TV dude asked some soft questions, including the painful "what's it like working with Jack Black? You must have stories..." before he opened the mic for questions. There were mics?! Questions?! Oh no! I bolted back to the closest mic on the theater floor, but there were already three guys in front of me and an equally impossible line on the right.

It also suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what to say.

"Hi, you were really awesome to my Grandma and I think you are great" is just the sort of microphone banter that elicits groans from everyone. Also: this was a Q&A. It was like Jeopardy. If it ain't in the form of a question, you lose. This was a savvy audience, they weren't going to fall for such a trick as "how did you get so awesome?" That was too shallow. I had to think of something and think fast.

Before the first question began, a warning came from the moderator. "Let's make sure these are questions for Tim." Shit. Shit shit shit. Question asked and answered. Spike TV guy motioned to the other microphone and said "okay, I think this is going to be our last question." The guy in front of me let out an audible whine. We sat down. Tim left. We missed him.


The Naughty Dog panelist suffered even a worse fate. Spike TV guy, I swear to god, actually checked his watch and shuffled uncomfortably in his seat as she talked about Uncharted 2. As they were projected on the large screens, his impatient body language was magnified into 20 foot tall awkward video.

The panel was a bust. We did get to see a live demo of Left 4 Dead 2, though. We stuck around for a few minutes afterward hopeful that he might come back out on stage to.. hang out or something.. but he didn't.

At least we got to see him. We were disappointed we didn't get to say hello and thank you, but we still had all of PAX to explore and experience. It was only Friday. Grandma wasn't about to let this get her down.

We rushed down to the EA booth where they were showing demos of Brutal Legend and ordered a copy so we wouldn't have to wait on release day. (I know, I know, but we wanted to be sure.) He wasn't there, either. But we did hear some good news. He would be back tomorrow to sign some stuff. At 10:30am. The same time as Annie's panel.

Prioritizing events at PAX had never been so easy to choose.

As luck would have it, we ran to Annie and Brian outside the Expo. Hugs for everyone followed. Grandma has always thought the world of Annie, so she got a big kick out of seeing her again- especially here, especially seeing her busy, especially seeing her doing well and doing what she's good at.

"Are you guys going to be able to see the panel tomorrow?"
-"Of course!" We were planning on seeing her panel before we even left for the airport.
"Cool! I'm kind of nervous. I just hope I don't.. you know, choke the life out of somebody."

I have a tendency to say things that get me in trouble later. This was about to be one of those moments.

-"Hey! Do you want me to tape your panel for you? I have a camera."
"Would you?! That'd be cool!"
-"Sure! Hell, if they have an XLR mult-box I can just tap in and get audio from all the mics and make it really cool for you."

Okay. Yes, I do have a really nice video camera that can do that. And I have seen mult-boxes during other panels so that wouldn't be a problem. But I didn't have a tripod. For the love of god, I didn't have a tripod. Or a second tape. And I'm pretty sure my batteries were low. But here I was, promising something cool, and I had no idea if I could deliver.

Shit shit shit shit.

"We'll see you later!" I said, already realizing the logistics of this promise were going to bite me on the ass and never let go.

Things were winding down, so Grandma and I left the expo to grab some dinner and explore a bit more of Seattle. We walked the same circles around downtown we had walked before and decided to just order a pizza. The concierge at the hotel asked what type of pizza we liked. We replied New York style. She recommended Pagliacci's and gave us a little menu with the number. Back in the room, Grandma scoffed at the prices.

-"What, it's just like Ohio. Pizza's expensive, man."
"Let's just get Papa John's or something."

Papa John's of Seattle doesn't deliver downtown. We tried Pizza Hut. They gave me an alternate number. Neither place delivered downtown. I wasn't about to call Dominoes', we were on goddamn vacation. How was it that we were in a pizza-free zone?! Shit, we lived in the middle of fucking nowhere in Ohio and had some decent choices. We relented and ordered from Pagliacci's.

It was awesome. And quick, too! We ate ourselves sleepy.

Grandma decided not to go to the Friday Night concerts.

"Really? Why not?"
-"It's going to be hot in there and long and honestly I think I'll fall asleep."
"But... Metroid Metal!"
-"Yeah, I know. I just want to crash right now. You want to go, you go ahead."
"But I'll feel bad if I go by myself. Shit, I felt bad last night when you crashed early."
-"It's eleven o'clock already and we have a long day tomorrow. The concert is going to last forever, Tim, I'm telling you."
"It's 8:00pm."
-"Not according to my watch."
"Ah. Do you want to see a movie instead? We could go out and do something if you're not up for the concert."
-"It's not even that- I just want to sleep."
"You sure?"
-"Very sure."

She relaxed on her bed, pulled the covers up and turned down the television. KOMO was reporting a cougar sighting in a nearby park and something about a teacher strike in Kent. Grandma looked happy; content, so I didn't argue or press anything. If she was happy sleeping, that's what she'll do. No worries.

I still wanted to go. I changed clothes and headed out, emptying my camera bag of all but the essentials.

A line outside the Cheesecake Factory circled around the block. A busker with a drum jammed in front of a hat full of change. The air was cool and the breeze refreshing. The lights of the traffic trickled off the skyline like water.

Inside the convention center, I followed the line already going up the escalator, a novelty I hadn't experienced with Grandma and the grunge chair. It felt weird being inside without her, like I was missing a limb. I exchanged nods with people I had met that day, and met some new ones. "I love your blog, dude. Grandma rocks." How did they know? How did they know what I even looked like? Who the fuck am I? The concert line was pretty short yet. A mass of people on the other side of the queue room were busily trying to break the DS World Record.

I was happy I got to see it. I noticed a couple guys talking video cameras next to me in line. Holy shit, Annie's panel. I dug into my pocket and quietly counted what I had.

"Excuse me," I interrupted. "Are you guys shooting MiniDV?"
-"He is. I'm shooting onto a harddrive."
"Ah! Listen, if you can't do it- I completely understand- you won't hurt my feelings, but is there ANY way I can buy a MiniDV tape off you for... ...eight dollars?"
--"Eight dollars? Well, let's see how many I have..."

Amazingly, he agreed. It was a JVC tape, I had been shooting with a Panasonic brand, but if you clean the heads of the DVX series it will shoot on damn near anything. I was ecstatic. "Thank you!! You don't know how much this saves my ass."

I talked with them further about equipment and photography, which is always an easy thing to talk about because I don't have to fake it. It turns out one of them was Daniel Borders, shooting video for the PAX Photo Patrol. As he explained it, everybody can submit their photos of PAX and they can document the whole convention in such ways. I thought it sounded brilliant, if not server taxing. He gave me his card.

"Submit your photos, man. We need all we can get."
-"I will!" I promised.

Shit. These words instantly invoked the necessary neural connections in my brain that sent me straight into journalist mode. Now I just wasn't shooting for the fuck of it, I had sort of an assignment. I had fully intended to just put my camera in my pack and jump around with everybody on the dance floor like a crazy person. Now I wanted, more than anything, to shoot everyone else doing just that.

This is Daniel by the way:

I cranked up the ISO to 6400 and switched to black and white. I was in position.

I waited.

Anamanaguchi took the stage.

It was bloody awesome. I wonder if they'd be insulted if I said they were the best prog-rock I've seen in a good while.

Between sets in the concerts is probably the best time to people watch at PAX. It's dark. Everyone is a bit tired. But they're comfortable. You see them as they are. They play their DS Lites and PSPs not because they want to be seen playing something, but rather because it's just the natural thing to do. Nobody was bitching about the temperature inside the main theater. Nobody was shining laser pointers into the eyes of audio techs.

I mentioned the smoking area outside the 4th level before. The Eden. Get this- I'm not even kidding: one of the convention employees was always standing at the door during all three sets to open the door for smokers so they could get in and out easily. That's unheard of. That's phenomenal. That made the night. One could go outside into the cool night and relax if they wanted and come right back in without any hassle at all. Sure, they might ask to see your badge, but apart from that- they were very accommodating. It was a tiny luxury that didn't go unnoticed.

And outside, everyone was talkative and sociable.

"Oh, you liked the Taphouse?"
-"Yes. I had Baron Pilsner, it was wonderful."
"Then you HAVE to try the Pike Brewery."
-"I've heard that from others as well."
"Just tell them what sort of beer you like and they'll find one better."

"I love Seattle. This is amazing."
-"Where are you from?"
"Ohio. There's lots of transplants from Ohio here, I noticed."
"Oh yeah. I've met six today."
A guy passed by and interjected quickly before walking away. "Seven," he said simply, smiling.

A guy opened up a water bottle that proceeded to spray fucking everywhere. "SHIT!"
-"Oh... damn. What is that?"
"I thought it was WATER." He read the label. "Goddammit. It's sparkling water."
-"Have anything to mix it with?"
"I wish. I'm just glad it didn't get in my bag. I just bought this damn thing." He opened up a swag bag revealing a large box with an elegant and expensive looking Street Fighter controller.
-"Goddamn, that's pretty."
"It was cheaper here than at Gamestop."

Lots of little conversations in the smoking Eden.

Metroid Metal took the stage.

Fucking cool. Every single one of those songs triggers that recognition center in your brain that makes you want to rock.

If anyone wants to start the first Milon's Secret Castle metal band, count me the hell in. We could call it "MOTHERFUCKING BUBBLES."

An announcement was made.

"Ladies and gentleman, we regret to inform you that MC Frontalot will be a couple hours late. So please enjoy Wil Wheaton playing Rockband for an hour and a half."

And then MC Frontalot took the stage :)

I put away the camera and danced.

Saturday, September 5th - Annie's Panel - The Great Schafer Hunt Continues - Grandma Walks the Expo - Saturday Concerts

We set the alarm a bit later Saturday morning because the first thing on our agenda was Annie's panel, not the main floor. We still got there early enough to get concert bracelets, so coffee was a must. As I wheeled Grandma into the queue room as we had done before, an Enforcer stopped us.
"Follow me." He motioned towards the front of the line.
-"No, it's cool- we don't need to cheat. It's all good."
"That's awesome, but actually, you HAVE to go to the front of the line. It's ADA, man. One of the convention center employees said they can get sued if we don't make sure to accommodate the handicapped."
-"Yeah, but she's not like... disabled, she gets tired really fast. We're just lazy so I rented the chair," I said, following him to the front of the line anyway.
He laughed.
"These two get concert bracelets," he mentioned to... somebody.. while walking away.

If last night was any indication, Grandma wasn't going to need a concert bracelet tonight either. But they put one around her wrist and offered up some stickers.

I told you.

The grunge chair gives Grandma powers.

A dude in a wheelchair next to us explained further.

"Yeah, we can go to the front of any line. You don't even need to wait. I guess for concert bracelets and stuff you still need to be early, but everything else- you get priority." I recalled the previous day's three hour wait to get into see Tim Schafer with regret. We could have wheeled right on up to the front without waiting at all. Still, it felt better to do things "right." I don't know how to explain it, but it didn't feel fair.

Fair or not, this information was pretty useful in the coming days.

We opted to wait it out with everyone else and sprint to the EA booth to see if Tim Schafer was there early so we could thank him, give the man a hug and a fistbump then bust ass up to Annie's panel which started at 10:30am. We met a couple new friends in this 'new' line and talked about perception a bit. They let us onto the floor a minute or so before everyone else so we wouldn't be trampled, I think.

Trampled, shit. As soon as that gate pulled open we all flew like the fucking wind to where we wanted to be. Let's see the 'normies' go that fast. Don't imagine us walking rather briskly to the EA booth, no- imagine my arms bent all the way forward with my head tilted upwards just enough to see like an Olympic bobsled driver as my legs kicked into the air as I ran; the wheels on the grunge chair vibrating violently from the sheer speed. Sure, I looked goofy as hell.

But we got there.

Tim Schafer hadn't yet arrived at the booth. Or he was signing somewhere else. We didn't know and it didn't matter. We weren't waiting, it was just a hopeful hunch.

We ran over the elevator bank and made our way to the sixth level outside the Unicorn Theater, which was hosting the Girls and Games panel. Annie's panel. (To give you an idea of how fast we were going, the people in the queue room where still waiting to get into the Expo when we reached the elevators.)

We met Annie and Brian outside the theater. She was preparing for the panel, so I didn't want to bug the shit out of her. We waited across the hall (no need to queue anymore, you see) for a bit before the Enforcers allowed us all inside. The line became pretty decent, and I was happy. The more people for the Q&A the better. People cared about the topic. Nothing is sadder than an empty room with some panelists sitting by microphones, sipping on water bottles.

As I sat next to Grandma, we saw the most perfect moment across from us.

The panel was titled "Girls and Games: The Growing Role of Women in the Game Industry." Sitting against a wall was a perfectly normal looking woman. Just sitting down across from her was the most absurdly dressed cheerleader cosplay fan.

I call it "Not Ironic At All."

The theater was modestly sized and the chairs filled up pretty quick. Grandma and the grunge chair scooted up front so she could stare down Annie and make her really nervous :) I spoke to an Enforcer.

"Hi, do you guys have a mult-box or anything I could plug an XLR cable into for an audio feed? If not, that's totally fine- I just thought I'd ask."
-"Oh yeah, we've been using this one for cameras. You can use that if you like."
"That's awesome!" He saved the day.
-"I have to tell you though, if one of our regular media people come in and needs to use it, we have to bump you."
"I completely understand. Thanks for this."
-"And even then.. you know, if that happens, we can think of something."


Keep in mind, Enforcers are volunteers. They don't get paid. And this guy was being more helpful than any AV tech I've ever encountered at trade shows and conventions for work. Hell, even when I was in traditional media they weren't this helpful. I mean god DAMN. Once at an Hillary Clinton rally, the mult-box kept sending a clipping signal to everyone's cameras and recorders, and the tech just shrugged his shoulders as if to say "not my problem, yo."

But this guy was not one of those. He knew his shit. He wanted to be helpful. I'm still impressed.

Not that any of it mattered in the end, but we're getting to that.

I set up the camera to LP mode, hoping to squeeze a few extra minutes onto this new tape. The battery was going to die in 45 minutes no matter what I did, and a battery switch wouldn't be fast enough to keep everything uninterrupted. I could have brought an AC adapter, but I was already being a pain in the ass using their mix feed. The audio levels were all kind of weird coming in through the cable, but I didn't have headphones so I don't know what it sounded like. All I knew is that it was responding to their voices and it wasn't clipping unless the moderator spoke (he was much louder than the panelists.) I fixed the white balance, set it to manual focus in case someone stepped in front of me and I was ready to make the very worst video of a panel in convention history.

The XLR cable wasn't very long and my lens doesn't have a lot of reach, also, there were people inexplicably sitting behind me, so I had to sort of duck around a bit while awkwardly holding the video camera, very unsteadily. This was to be a new Blair Witch sequel. Also, I had to grab my camera bag from a chair after the panel already started, so I'm pretty sure there is three or four minutes of beautifully color balanced views of the florescent bulbs on the ceiling.

Half-blind hyperactive toddlers have taken better footage of their older siblings in school pageants, with a cell phone no less, than this video from a so called "photographer."

It may possibly be the worst thing I have ever done with a video camera. And that includes that amateur candy-themed porno I shot: Willy Wonka's Everlasting Cocksuckers. (don't judge me.)

Next time, I'm bringing a goddamn travel tripod.

The panel received some not-surprisingly interesting questions from the audience. One of my favorite answers to a question came from EA Dice Sweden's Senta Jakobsen. Someone asked about health benefit incentives to entice more women to enter the field of gaming; things like maternity leave and better insurance.

Her answer was simply "We don't have that problem in Sweden."

I loved that :)

Annie made some excellent points about the perception of the field in general, regardless of gender. She wants people to realize what exactly goes into gaming. She wants them to understand what a programmer does, what a designer does, etc.,. The work, the sweat and blood of gaming and what one needs to learn to get into it. She sees such ignorance of these positions and technologies as a barrier that discourages those who were never pushed in the right direction because their skillsets were never recognized as being vital. This is what makes these panels so goddamn fascinating. We're not in the games industry. We don't know this shit.

Even though I was secretly thankful there were only three questions after my battery died (so I didn't miss much at the end of that horrific tape), I do think that particular panel needed to be a couple hours longer to truly address some of the larger subjects that came up.

Grandma wanted to hear more about the perception of women in the games industry itself; whether or not their opinions are more valued because of "insider information" about such things, or if that itself can be viewed as sexist. She wanted to know if someone comes up to them and says "hey, Elizabeth, you're a girl, right? How should this go down exactly?" And how one would react to that. You see what I mean? It's complicated.

It's complicated and it's contentious. It's filled with opinions from those who love too much the sound of their own voice, sadly. This, coming from a person who started typing this thing Monday night when we got home and is still typing at 3:00am Wednesday morning, but it's true. We can debate for hours about the systems of perception employed by each gender as it applies to gaming and those who make the games alike, but there are so many overlapping arguments it's difficult to narrow anything down by field. The same applies to movies, music, theater and books. For instance: there are people who are incapable of hearing an internal female voice upon reading neutral text written by a female author. And get this: some of those people are women. Wrap your head around that shit.

After the panel, I gave Annie the tape from the video camera and we sprinted back downstairs to the EA booth to hunt for Tim Schafer again.

You can probably already guess that he wasn't there.

"Is he gone for the day?" Grandma asked.
-"I think so, yeah," replied the EA booth person.
"Well.... ...shit."

We glanced over the day's schedule downstairs and noticed that Blair's G4 panel was upstairs. In the Unicorn Theater. From which we had just came. The programs said it was in the Raven Theater, but apparently it moved. So again, we sprinted. It was just about to start. We sat in a middle row looking for Blair. I didn't see him, and I didn't see a card with his name on it on the panel table.

A dude in front of us turned around.

"Hey, man- I just want to say, I love your blog." Blair or no Blair, that was damn cool.

Grandma and I settled back in our seats as the line filtered in. Morgan Webb, Adam Sessler.. no offense, but Blair was the reason for the season, so to speak. She looked at me.

"Let's go."

I pushed her back through the lobby. A woman approached grandma.

"Are you Old Grandma Hardcore?"
-"Sorry?" She had taken out her hearing aids after Annie's panel.
"Are you Old Grandma Hardcore?" Her accent was such that the word "hard" was higher pitched than anything else in the sentence.
"That's fantastic! I love that you're here!" It was pouring rain out the window, but in here, Grandma was beaming.

We made our way back to the hotel so I could put the video camera away. It was 12:30pm. As we entered the room, Annie called our cell phone.

"Hey! I'm waiting in line for a Tim Schafer panel. Thought you guys should know!"
-"Seriously?! Where!"
"Serpent Theater. Sixth level, right by where we were."

Grandma jumped into the chair and I grabbed the camera bag. We crossed 6th Avenue a bit too quickly. The chair jolted to a stop on the ramp. I spun her around and pulled her up backwards. It tilted almost to the ground. She yelped. We laughed. We spun around again like it was choreographed and slipped through the crowds, back inside and sprinted to the elevators. We ran to the second bank of elevators with a friendly "hello!" to the convention worker checking our badges.

We were outside the Serpent Theater at 12:39pm. When we're a team, we're fast.

We shuffled through the program and sure enough, there it was. "Medium is the Massage: Story Matters. Panelists include Denis Dyack, President, Silicon Knights; Greg Zeschuk, VP and co-founder, BioWare; Joseph Staten, Creative Director, Bungie; and Tim Fucking Schafer, Founder, Double Fine, God among Men."

Well I'll be damned. How did we miss this?

The Enforcer on guard didn't know about any wheelchair rules so we just got in the huge goddamn line surrounding the theater with everyone else. As long as we got in, we thought. All we had to do was get inside. We felt like assassins.

The line hugged the entire perimeter of the theater almost twice. But when we got inside, there was a snug little spot for us in the front corner. Bad viewing angle of all the panelists, maybe, but that was incidental to our goals. Tim Schafer was sitting close by. Once again, we studied the situation. The panel hadn't started yet so everyone was just sort of sitting around bullshitting. If there was ever an opportunity, this was going to be our last one.

A guy further down the line approached him and it looked like he signed an autograph or something.

Briefly, I entertained some horrible result to our stalking this man. Not everybody is like Vic Ireland, as much as we'd like them to be. For a moment I thought maybe a PR lackey at DoubleFine had him sign something and he never really followed what had happened. For a moment I thought perhaps he would respond coldly, maybe even harshly to approaching him so soon before a panel. For a moment I thought there was a chance a bad experience now would forever ruin Grandma's perception of all that she had come to love about DoubleFine and the mythical Tim Schafer, like watching your favorite athlete kick a puppy and call you a slob. For a moment, I hesitated.

But it was just a moment.

"Fuck it," I said aloud to nobody.

I moved up to the table. He was talking to Greg Zeschuk. I waited for a pause.

"Hi!" he said.
-"Hi! Um... when my Grandma was in the hospital, you sent-"
"Wait- wait, hospital-" he said, looking around. "Wait are you talking about-"
-"She's right over there!" I pointed.

He got up immediately and walked down to Grandma, proudly wearing her DoubleFine hoodie. He sat down next to her grunge chair and gave her a hug.

"We just really, really wanted say thank you for what you and DoubleFine did. In person. You have no idea how much that meant to us. To Grandma. And to me."
-"We're happy that you enjoyed Psychonauts!" Grandma was ecstatic. He remembered.

I took a picture of Grandma with Tim Schafer. Actually, I took 20 photos of Grandma with Tim Schafer, throwing the camera into burst mode and bracketing like a motherfucker to make sure something came out. It sounded like a machine gun or an old IBM sorting machine.

Then he handed me his iPhone to take a picture of the two of them for him. He asked me to send him a copy of the photo I took with my camera. I promised I would. Grandma told him she just bought Brutal Legend online downstairs and was looking forward to playing the hell out of it. He gave her another quick hug and headed back up to the table, as the panel was ready to begin.

"Good to see you Grandma!"

The people sitting around us must have thought we were insane. But we didn't care. Grandma was so happy you could have punched her in the face and she would have just giggled. "Oh, you face puncher guy. You're such a card."

Then the panel started. For us, it was like an added bonus.

The addition of Joseph Staten of Bungie made the panel seem awkwardly matched. Silicon Knights produced Blood Omen: Legacy of Kane (a particular classic Grandma favorite), Metal Gear Solid and Eternal Darkness. BioWare had Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, and Jade Empire. DoubleFine had Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. Bungie has Halo.

And I like Halo! I dig the series.

But for those of us who really try to get into the story behind the Covenant and Brutes and The Flood and all that jazz, his statement on the lines of creating the stories via the players actions (focusing on multiplayer), well, it sort of cast us aside. The panel was called Story Matters. He had a clever point, but it was a dodge that didn't seem suited for the present company on the panel, as if to say "can your games do that?"

I'd could to sit and listen for hours to Denis Dyack talk about Eternal Darkness, but I think that would just get my hopes up for a sequel. I'm beginning to think sequel talk from Denis is merely just another Sanity Effect on some deep, disturbing level.

Greg Zeschuk did get a pretty good question about the polarity of game decisions being either entirely too evil or entirely too good, but to be fair, I don't think that's an easy question to answer, especially in these, the days of GameFAQs where one can simply find out the decision tree to discover the ultimate consequences of each action. So his answer was appropriately vague.

It was no wonder why the theater was packed to capacity.

As it ended, people swarmed the table. We had said what we came to say; there was no reason to be greedy. As I turned Grandma around to file out of the theater, we noticed a familiar face had been sitting directly behind us for god knows how long.

"Totilo!" I said, immediately regretting calling him that.
-"...should I remember you from somewhere?" he asked, looking up. Actually, no, he shouldn't remember me. We had only actually met once, briefly, outside the Viacom building in New York, and he had looked cold and in a hurry at the time.
"You wrote the very first article about Grandma when you still worked at MTV."
-"Oh!" We mentioned trying to find Blair, another MTV exile, and Stephen said he had been floating around somewhere, but he was here.
-"Wait- what's your first name?"
-"....St. Hilaire. Good to see you you guys here!" He even pronounced it correctly. Ours is not an easy last name to remember. What can I say, the man's a journalist.

We met with Annie and Brian outside the theater. It was time for some food. Downstairs at the convention center there are various shops and restaurants. We settled on pizza because the line for tacos was long. Annie and Brian took Grandma to a table to hang out while I ordered us some stuff. Then I found out why this line was shorter. They were still just making the pizza. The people in front of me quickly snatched up multiple slices leaving the selection pretty bare.

I ordered the last four remaining slices and Brian came back to help carry the drinks and stuff back to the table. I felt foolish only being able to get us each a single slice, but the day was good.

We talked about the panels, we talked about gaming, we talked about the weather in Seattle. We talked about the berries growing in their backyard. We talked about their move from California; looking back at Los Angeles and seeing the hills on fire as they drove North. The pizza wasn't very good, but we could not have had a better lunch.

We said our goodbyes; our group divided and and we all left feeling that we would see each other in only a few days.

Grandma decided on a new strategy. She would walk the convention floor a bit.

The grunge chair allowed her to explore PAX in its entirety like everyone else rather than in patches before finding somewhere to collapse and wheeze but it had also limited her views of demos and presentations to the level of a rather tall child. We came up with a plan. I would park the grunge chair along one of the outer walls and stay with it as she walked out onto the floor and did her thing. I was happy with this plan. I couldn't take any pictures of the convention floor when we were together because my hands were full. Stationary, I still couldn't get everything, but at least I could get something.

We parked on the wall near the 2K booth and Grandma hobbled off, disappearing into the crowd.

Grandma returned with a bunch of stuff in her hand.

"I got more t-shirts!"
-"Cool! What did you play?"
"I played this thing, I forget what the hell it's even called, but it was basically a God of War knockoff. It was the same damn game. I watched some demos, I tried following some stuff at a tabletop gaming booth but I didn't get it, and I watched a dude fall off a mechanical horse."
-"Where would you like to go next?"
"I don't know, let's head over to the other end."

We checked out a booth that sold a bunch of 70's and 80's nostalgia right along side Commodore 64 and Atari games. Grandma pointed at a glass in a cabinet.

"Haha! They have an old A&W glass. Shit, I think I still have one of those somewhere. You used to get your rootbeer floats in a special glass if you paid extra."
-"They still do that, I think."
"Yeah, but the glasses suck.

"Ahhh... the Sega 32x," she said like a wine connoisseur touring a vintage collection. "Your brother broke mine, remember?"
-"I do."
"Goddammit, Josh."

We perused the selection of classic NES games at the PinkGorilla booth. I looked at a Game Gear charging cable like it was a relic that escaped my hands before that bastard Indiana Jones brought it here. Grandma noticed a rather large book tucked in a corner.

"Hey, weren't you looking for an FFXII strategy guide a few weeks ago?"
"They got one."

We watched a new Katamari Damacy demo as a giant Prince danced next to the screen outside the convention hall. It was a very random placement for a very random game. Grandma whispered in my ear.

"I read they use the SixAxis to do some new move or some shit."
"I know. Just give me buttons to press."

We passed a conversation that made little alarms buzz around our head.

"What panels are you seeing tomorrow?"
-"I don't know, I was thinking of seeing Victor Ireland talk about some stuff."
"Working Designs Vic Ireland?"
-"I think so."
"Fucking Arc the Lad, man."
-"I know, right?"

Holy shit. Were the rumors true?! Grandma and I stopped abruptly in the middle of the thoroughfare to the chagrin of everyone behind us and dug out our programs.

Nothing about Vic Ireland.

The people were gone. We moved on, confused.

We left late in the day. The rain had stopped and I rolled passed base camp to the market at the end of Pike. We found a silk shop to get mom a present and the Pike Brewing Company I'd heard so much about. We walked around until it closed.

Both of us decided that the single slice of pizza with Annie and Brian wasn't going to cut it, so we sought out a McDonalds. Say what you want about the company, but it's cheap and delicious. It's the one place Grandma and I can find in every city and know that billions of dollars were spent in chemical research to get the fries to taste just so.

Inside, we discovered one of those wonderful instances where crazy people think everyone else is crazy.

"Hey, yeah, give me a meal, man."
"A MEAL, what are you deaf or something? Speaky English? A MEAL." He glanced at Grandma with one of those Can you believe this fucking guy? looks.
-"Which one?"
The crazy person rolled his eyes in obvious frustration. "I want some FOOD, man. I'll give you money if you give me some FOOD."
-"A Happy Meal?"
"Do I look like a god damn child? No, man- give me a MEAL."

We happily munched on our Quarter Pounders and discovered that Seattle is at war with salt. Apparently they think they're winning.

Outside I smoked a cigarette in anticipation of our climb back up to base camp.

A guy came up and asked about the badge.

"Hey, what band is that... 'Three Day...'"
-"No, it's a three day pass. For a gaming convention." He got a bit closer. We had information.
"Did you hear anything from Bungie? Are they doing anything new?"
-"Absolutely. Halo 3: ODST. She got to see it," I pointed to Grandma.
"I love Halo!"

He was originally from New York City. We talked for a while. Here we were, three adults outside a McDonalds, talking about Halo. This is why we were here.

"A long time ago, my friend was into that stuff and I said 'man, that's kid's stuff; what are you doing playing.' And then he had me play... um... Goldeneye for the N64."
-"Great fucking game," Grandma and I said in unison.
"I know! So then I hear about his new system coming out, the Xbox and I knew I had to get that. I mean, it had Halo, the greatest game of all time."

The geek centers of my brain wanted to argue that particular point, but I didn't have the heart. This guy was our kind of people. He and Grandma traded Xbox Live gamertags as he walked away, yelling back up the street to make sure he got it right.

-"O-G-H-C, yup!"

It gives me profound satisfaction to be able to tell you this happened.

This happened.

Grandma and I reached base camp sometime close to 8:00pm. She was spent.

"I am going to sleep."
-"But... Jonathan Cloulton, Freezepop, and Paul and Storm. You now know the first two, I'm not sure about the third."
"I am going to sleep!" she said, smiling.

Okeedokee. She pulled out her book and pulled up the covers on her bed. I grabbed my camera bag and headed out for the line.

The line was much longer Saturday night when I arrived. Once again, I switched to black and white and cranked up the ISO.

A round of Omegathon included two groups playing Beatles Rockband in front of us all. Even as they stared into the tiny screens in front of the stage trying to play the best they could, for a moment they were superstars. It was almost beautiful.

Almost. But at PAX, I was no longer capable of being surprised with small miracles. They were everywhere. Right after you've seen one, another is lined up. A man proposed to his girlfriend on stage during Freezepop. She said yes. Out in the crowd, a few couples squeezed closer, silently communicating words the rest of us were never meant to hear.

I picked up my camera and got a little closer to the music.

Freezepop was on stage.

I decided to get a bottle of soda and grab a cigarette in Eden. The line to meet Freezepop was already longer than any line I had seen to see Wil Wheaton. I met Dave outside.

"Jesus, we're going to be busy tonight."
-"I can see that."
"You look at the line for Freezepop and you know for Jonathan Coulton it's going to be just as big tonight." I empathized. But I was glad business was good.

Back inside, the soda machine had a line and a fascinating study of human behavior.

A person would give it their two dollars and press the Coke button. Sold out.
Then they would try the Cherry Coke button. Sold out.
Then the lemonade button. Sold out.
Then the Diet Coke button. Sold out.
Then the bottled water button. Sold out.
Then the Sprite button. |Vend. And walk away with a Sprite.

Each of us watched this. Each of us knew there was only Sprite. And yet, each person upon approaching the machine would insert their two dollars and try the other buttons anyway, in the same order. This happened four or five times before my turn.

When I reached the machine I pressed the Coke button. Sold out.

Son of a bitch, I thought. I did it too.

I took my Sprite and headed in to see Paul and Storm.

An Enforcer stopped me at the door. "Sorry, man. Only bottled water in the Main Theater." I stepped outside for another cigarette. Eden was empty. It was raining. I found a dry spot on the concrete and downed my Sprite.

They were goddamn hilarious. They even made a Fark reference. I was sad this was my introduction to their work.

The wait between their set and Jonathan Coulton wasn't nearly as long as I anticipated. Most folks didn't budge from their spots the way they usually did; pouring out of the theater to use the restroom or grab a quick smoke. They just sat right down where they stood, claiming their spot.

Jonathan Coulton took the stage.

He played a fantastic set. I had hoped he would play Still Alive and Codemonkey, and dammit he delivered; not like some musicians who avoid the songs they are known for out of disgust at their saturation.

At the end of Codemonkey, my camera was held high above the crowd, pointed at the stage. I let the shutter loose with a barrage of clicks at precisely the wrong moment.

"♫ Code Monkey likes yooooooou...... ♫"

It elicited a couple irritated looks from people in front of me. I sheepishly apologized and moved to the back. The only way I could have been more embarrassed is if Tiger Woods beat me over the head with my camera after hooking a drive into a pond.

When I arrived back in the hotel room, Grandma turned over as I tried to quietly put my bag down.

"How did it go?"
-"FANTASTIC. I don't know why you didn't come!"
"Tim, I was exhausted."
-"I know. But it was awesome.

I sat and watched TV with her for awhile as I told her about the show.

And ate the leftover pizza from Friday.

We didn't have a microwave, but it didn't matter.

It was a hell of a day. It didn't seem fair that there was another whole day to do even more stuff. Make-a-Wish kids don't get to have this much fun.

Before they die, I mean.

Sunday, September 6th - Game Localization Panel - Penny Arcade Q&A - Meeting Wil Wheaton - Wil Wheaton's Awesome Hour - Deathspank - Hotels are Expensive

Grandma and I woke up early to get some coffee. We rolled down to Seattle's Best and ordered some pastries and a couple drinks. Grandma couldn't finish hers.

"This is so fucking sweet my mouth hurts."
-"You want to trade?"
"Okay." I gave her my cafe mocha. "Blegh! This is sweet, too! Jesus!"

We settled on convention center coffee instead. She told me she had leafed through the program for Sunday and found a panel she really wanted to see, "Game Localization: A Behind-the-Scenes Look." It had two guys who were partly responsible for bringing Final Fantasy XII to the English speaking world. The panel was scheduled for 10:30am, so we ran upstairs and were, once again, the first in line.

We watched a convention center employee set up a food and beverage table with the diligence of a head chef. Sure, it was just hot dogs, nachos and chili, but she gave a close inspection, pulling the tablecloth with little tugs that left the folds just perfect; she polished the warming trays with the tip of an ever-present rag. She didn't fuck around.

"Good morning!" she said to the two weirdos watching her work.
-"Good morning!" we replied.

An Enforcer moved the line, and by the line I mean us, to the other side of the wall to get ready for the coming rush. After awhile, a guy sat down behind us wearing a media badge. Grandma was fidgeting.

"I wonder if it's true."
"I wonder if Vic is here."
-"I don't know."
"We should call him."
-"You don't just CALL Vic Ireland."
"I'm going to call him." She rifled through her purse and produced a Gaijinworks business card. She's got the craziest shit in there.
-"Well, you have bigger balls than I do."

The guy sitting behind us spoke up.
"You know Vic Ireland?" Well now don't I look like an asshole, now.
-"No, no, no. I don't know him. I've met him a couple times but I don't think he'd recognize me or anything. I wouldn't go around telling people I KNOW Vic Ireland, you know? No," I said, trying not to attract attention to Grandma's rather loud voice message she was yelling into her cell phone.

"Hi, Vic! It's Barb. Hey, we heard you might be down at PAX and we're down here and I was just seeing if it was true or not. Talk to you later!"
"I left a message."

The line got bigger fairly quickly and we were ushered inside.

"Hi, Grandma! You rock!" said some completely random person sitting near us who is awesome.

The panel was well attended. The Q&A line was at least ten people deep. Grandma was really into learning about games localization. She watched the screen showing direct translations with the final dialogue choice with interest. I found it fascinating that the comments between translators could be found within the individual game files. I loved the depth that went into creating descriptions for the FFXII bestiary.

But I felt like I was in the wrong room. I was not the sort of person who was wanted there. Grandma was, sure. But I was a sub-snob. A hideous and annoying critter to localization specialists. I'd love it if the dialogue was spoken in the original Japanese and then just subtitled in English. These guys pour their heart and soul into making sure the voices are done right and I'm not the person who ends up appreciating the work. Hell, I bitched when they introduced voice-acting to Final Fantasy X. I bitched when I found out it's pronounced "Cho-co-bo" and not "Co-co-bo."

I felt ashamed for being in their presence and said nothing.

Grandma laughed at the direct translations from Japanese like it was the silliest thing she'd ever heard. When they played clips of FFXII she nudged me in a way that said Remember that part? I remember that part.

Halfway into the panel, the floor began to shake. The Wolfman Theater was directly above the Main Theater, which was currently being used to showcase a live demo of Star Wars: The Old Republic at volumes clearly intended to drive religious nuts from a compound.

After the panel, we found ourselves in line to see Wil Wheaton. I don't know how we ended up there. One minute we were walking along talking about Square games and the next minute BAM- Wil Wheaton line. He draws everyone in. There is no escape.

Wil looked tired. The night before they showed him laying on the floor of the VIP section during Jonathan Coulton's set literally screaming with embarrassed glee as JoCo changed the words of "My Monkey" to make a song called "Wil Wheaton." Now he was exhausted from a joy-joy hangover. And man did it show.

And yet, always the trooper, he still shook everyone's hand and posed for photos and signed whatever various bullshit we brought to his table. He was exceedingly polite.

We waited behind a guy who loved his camera. We easily got along. He had a Nikon D200 with an SB-600 and a matching bouncer. We talked equipment for a little bit until the very moment he got to meet Wil Wheaton. He handed his camera to me (I was honored to do so) and took a picture of our new friends with our hero. Then, just as quickly, it was our turn.

"Hi, Wil! You need to be on TotalFark more, man," I said, flying my banners.
-"I know, I know. I lurk a lot. Believe me, I see everything, though."
"This is Grandma! She loved you in Secret of NIMH!" I exclaimed happily, doing that thing where you don't mention anything recent but say something true to be back-handed and sincere at the same time. (We also loved you in TNG, man. Best fucking series ever.) You can say things like that to Wil. He's fun.
-"Thank you!"

He happily signed the back of her PAX badge and I took their picture.

Scott Kurtz was signing things at the table next to Wil. He gave us the most wide-eyed look we had ever seen. It was a bit alarming, actually.

"YOU were in SECRET OF NIMH?!" he asked loudly.
-"Yeah. I was Martin."
"Well... now you are my best friend like ...EVER." Really, Scott? You had no other reason to be his best friend before that?

That's right.

We taught Scott Kurtz that Wil Wheaton was in Secret of NIMH. In front of Wil Wheaton. Spread that shit on the internets.

To be fair, I had mostly the same reaction when I looked it up on imdb way back in the day. Secret of NIMH?! Really? Could he BE more awesome?!

Grandma and I floated away feeling giddy. When they're all lined up like that it's hard not to get a little star struck. You don't wait in line and then ask them "So. ....How's it going?" You have to be silly.

If I wanted, I could have had the entire line chime in on the last line of dialogue.

"Auntie Shrew!"
-"Oh, Auntie!"
"OH, NO."

That was the sort of atmosphere at the tables.

Wil Wheaton's Awesome Hour was to have a huge line in its own right, and then man is a hell of a story teller so we didn't want to miss it. We went straight from meeting the man to queue up for his panel. He has that effect on people.

When we reached the queue room, however, an Enforcer told us we could go on in to the Penny Arcade Q&A, just about to start. The one filled to capacity. Why? Grandma's grunge chair.


Mike and Jerry are the sort of rare people who know to treat a crowd. Grandma found them absolutely charming. One person after another stood up to say they thought Penny Arcade is awesome, and they are awesome, and thank you for the awesomeness. The crowd would groan a little, but Mike would put a stop to it right away.

"You waited in line to say that? That's awesome! Thank you!"

Then the groans turned into massive applause; the person skipped away from the microphone, happy as a pig in shit. Grandma and I knew that feeling. We cheered too.

The entertained just about everything the PAXers threw at them, except for questions about religion. The only reason: they didn't want to bring anybody down.

Grandma found one instance particularly hilarious as a person at the mics asked them to close their eyes and imagine a dark castle, filled with foreboding, lava pits and spikes. When they opened their eyes, a mass of people wearing paper-plate Boo ghosts were at the front of the stage. We laughed our asses off.

A question about an inside joke Scott Kurtz had been making was answered by Scott Kurtz himself, sitting nearby. Once again, Tim Buckley was called a criminal and a plagiarist. Don't feel bad, guys. The bastard stole my internet handle (CtrlAltDelete) I'd been using since 1994. He has taken something from us all.

People pitched game ideas, scripts, DM books, even fashion marketing ideas. All were accepted with a sincere "leave it right here, we'll take a look at it." Briefly, they showed a slash Penny Arcade erotic piece of fanart.

It was drawn to scale.

Nobody left feeling slighted. We were all fans. I had followed the comic from those early days, just like everyone else. And Grandma as well. We have the same bookmarks. They deserved PAX. This success was well earned.

We headed out to get in line for Wil Wheaton's Awesome hour. And, once again, we were first in line behind the Serpent Theater. It was here that we met Donna.

Donna was a cheerful, talkative woman. Like Grandma, she was also in a chair. She was happy Grandma was there, as she thought she was the oldest woman there until she saw Grandma. She was a writer by trade. Her reason for being at PAX- her son was one of the primary organizers of the event. He had started as an Enforcer long ago, but was requested by name to head this up.

"I wanted to go last year but he was like 'Nooo! You'll embarrass me!' And it's true! I wanted to sort of reverse things on him. When he was a kid and we'd go somewhere he'd always bug me. 'I have to go the bathroom!' 'I want a bottle of water!' 'Pick me up!' I figure if I see him I can bug him to death. I'd love to see him annoyed," she smiled.

Behind us (!) were some VIPs and friends of Jerry and Mike whose names I didn't catch. We talked about how nobody treated Grandma like a freak; just a gamer like everyone else. We talked about the Enforcers and what a great job they were doing.

"They get a big party when it's all over," one said. Donna chimed in.
-"Where is it? Where is it! I want to crash it. Oh, that would make my son so mad!"

Her and Grandma talked about New York, raising their kids, the city vs. the country, how kids should play outside instead of just play video games, how she got her kids an Xbox, and how one can use Medicare to pay for an electric chair like hers. They talked all the way into the theater, and were seated up front, next to each other for the panel. We thought she was cool as hell.

The Wil Wheaton Awesome Hour was, in a word: awesome.

Nobody can read a blog post aloud and have it sound like the most fascinating story you've ever heard. Nobody except Wil Fucking Wheaton. He recalled stories about his first experience seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and an episode at a restaurant when he defended the word "excellent."

The Q&A differed in one way from Jerry and Mike's, however. When the inevitable "how can I be so awesome like you?" questions arose, he handled them in another way.

"Man, I want you guys to know this- I am not that awesome." He sometimes irritatingly reiterated this point. He was humble to the point of ridiculousness.

I imagine most of us wanted to stand and say "Shut the fuck up, Wil Wheaton. Stop bitching about being called awesome and keep being awesome, you awesome, awesome man."

My favorite part of the Q&A- the topic of celebrities being douches and turning you off entirely from their work (he mentioned Rutger Hauer, I'm sad to report) came up and someone from the audience called out "Jonathan Frakes!"

"SHUT UP," said Wil Wheaton. "Frakes is COOL. I will PUNCH YOU in the FACE."

I loved that :) Mainly because Riker was always my favorite.

The panel ended and we said goodbye to Donna.

Grandma and I went back to the expo floor to explore one last time and buy Portal t-shirts. (We wanted them before but were trying to save our money.)

The convention was no quieter than the day we came. Every controller had someone playing something with a group behind them, watching attentively. Developers were desperately trying to unload free goodies onto the passing crowds lest they had to pay for shipping it all back to wherever. Consequently, we now have two copies of Hello Kitty Online, two copies of Aeria Games Power Collection and enough fliers and stickers to keep a furnace going during an Ohio winter. Grandma was focusing on increasing the size of her button collection that adorned her lanyard like trophy scalps.

We edged near the Deathspank booth for a shot at the drawing.

We watched one last demo and waited for the drawing for a little Deathspank statue.

Apparently, there were rules to the thing we hadn't understood. You got a ribbon with a button. You had to come back to booth several times to get a new button. You fill up your ribbon with buttons and you get to enter the drawing. Grandma's ribbon only had one button.


One of the Hothead Games developers noticed our conundrum. "Here," she said to Grandma, giving us a slip of paper. "Fill this out for the drawing. There aren't enough women gamers in the world."

Groovy! We didn't win, but it was the thought that counted.

And the man doing the drawing was Ron Gilbert his own self. We hadn't expected that. The Hothead games people got out a little point and shoot camera for the event. One of them looked at the big honking camera around my neck and pointed at me.

"Can you send us your pictures? We'll give you a photo credit..."
-"Um... you don't have to give me credit or anything, it's all good."

I couldn't get very good shots, anyway. I was with Grandma on the edge of the carpet and everything was shot towards me rather than in front of me.

I did get a good shot of a guy taking a picture of that which they wanted a photo.

So that's pretty damn meta if you ask me.

We traded business cards and left, watching them begin to pack up their things, as tired and happy as we were.

I put my camera away and didn't take it out again until I got home. We casually strolled the floor, looking for anything we might have missed. We bought the Portal shirts we wanted and a Penny Arcade book, Birds are Weird. It was the 2003 strips. We knew them all. We circled again. It was almost closing time and we didn't know how to say farewell to PAX.

There were no closing ceremonies.
There were no tearful goodbyes.
There was only a short walk to the elevator and a gentle slope to the front doors.

Back at the hotel, we found ourselves unsure of how to use the rest of the day. We unpacked and repacked our suitcases, mixing dirty clothes with clean clothes and swag. We carefully wrapped the camera gear with t-shirts. I hadn't been able to use the video camera except for Annie's panel. Grandma continued packing and I walked out into Seattle to find us some food.

I brought back McDonalds. We aren't very original on Sundays.

Outside, Seattle went to bed early. The shops were closed and the bars were dark. We decided to do the one thing nobody ever seems to do with their hotel televisions and ordered a movie. The Hangover. It was okay. Pay-per-view doesn't have subtitles so Grandma had to wear her hearing aids again. After our salt-free fries and cheeseburgers, after the movie, Grandma finished her book and I took the longest bath of my life.

Hotel baths are simply wonderful. As much hot water as you want in a huge goddamn tub.

We fell asleep without a regret in the world.

This had been the trip we were looking for.

Monday, September 7th - Labor Day flying - Looking ahead

The shuttle ride from the hotel to SeaTac was depressingly short. Neither of us really wanted to face our problems in Ohio again. We had escaped them. It's hard to accept the freedom as temporary. The shuttle was filled with PAXers still carrying their swag bags and a couple still wearing their badges. They didn't want it to end either, it seemed. They looked at each other and began obvious small talk. "So what did you think of PAX?" they asked. "Awesome," they answered. We just sat and listened. Nobody would have believed our PAX story anyway.

And Grandma and I no longer blended in with them. Now we appeared as an old woman traveling with her scruffy looking relative. Our clothes didn't advertise our culture. Our age didn't give away our hobbies. We were segregated somehow. Again and quickly.

Our first flight, to Chicago, was overbooked. Luckily we kept our seats. Grandma bought a new paperback from a Hudson News in the terminal, and I bought the kids a shitload of Pocky. I fell asleep soon after we were in the air, and didn't wake up until we were over Wisconsin. This time, we flew into the sunset, speeding it up. And once again, O'Hare bounced the light around the walls in wild ways. We ate at a Macaroni Grill.

I ordered the calamari.

"Again?" asked Grandma.
-"I like calamari!"
"You just HAD calamari. Twice."
-"Yes, but it's GOOD."

Grandma ordered spaghetti, but couldn't finish. We drew on the paper tablecloth with the crayons they gave us. I almost ordered a glass of wine to go with dinner, but decided against it. I might have to drive when we landed in Cleveland. We left a good tip and left for our gate.

Labor Day travel wasn't as bad as I thought it would have been, but I was irritable anyway. The recorded messages over the PA about "don't let anyone put anything in your bag" and "the current threat level is ORANGE" sounded exactly like Jeff Bridges, and it was driving me insane. There wasn't any room to sit. People were sitting too close, and not in a friendly way- you were bugging them by your presence just as much as they were bugging you.

But it made sense.

After all, all of us were flying back to Cleveland. What would a trip to Cleveland be without a little torture.

The flight was short and night took over quickly. It was hot and wet everywhere. Thunderstorms had passed through just before we arrived. We found our bag and our ride. Mom greeted us with a hug outside.

"We have to go pretty quick, I'm not supposed to step out of the car parked here. I already got yelled at." She agreed to drive so I wouldn't have to. It's always the small things that make life seem fantastic.

I sucked down my first nicotine since Puget Sound and listened to Grandma tell Mom about the trip.

When we got home we unpacked Grandma's new t-shirts to show them off. We gave Mom her present from the silk shop. I unloaded the Pocky onto the table for the kids so they could take a box or two before school.

I grabbed my camera bag, scurried downstairs to my computer and started typing this post.


It's now 11:32am, Eastern Time, Thursday fucking morning.

Holy Jesus goddamn.

How long is this goddamn post?!

I fell asleep twice and took Grandma to Chipotle yesterday but other than that my time has been spent constantly typing.

Holy shit, you guys. Seriously.

I should wrap this up :)

We were sad to leave PAX. We had an experience there that exceeded anything I could have hoped for Grandma. She got to meet wonderful people. Our kind of people. And I'm not talking about Tim Schafer or Wil Wheaton or Jonathan Coulton or Ron Gilbert, although they are certainly going to be highlights in stories I obnoxiously repeat to people for years to come.

I'm talking about you guys.

The 40 or so of you that came up to us just to say "hey, I love you guys!" or "you fucking rock, Grandma" or "I love the blog, man!"

I cannot put into words what that meant to me.

Thank you.

Thank you Annie and Brian, for showing us a great time and sharing your stories.

Thank you Donna for opening up to us in ways strangers never do.

Thank you to John, Matt, and Dave for putting up with my bullshit over a pitcher of beer.

Thank you to Rebbecca, Marie, Casey, Cassidy, Mike, Jen, Paul, Henri, Sean, and all the others. You know why.

Thank you to all of you who spoke to Grandma as a gamer and as a friend. As a PAXer.

And thank you to Jerry and Mike for making this celebration of gaming possible, away from the exclusivity and elitism of E3.

Thank you.

PAX never really ended. We were all there for the same reasons. Penny Arcade and Gaming. This culture doesn't end outside the Washington Convention Center. It spreads everywhere like wildflowers. And it's spreading still. Grandma, like us all, just wants something great to play.

And there's so much to play.

Game on.

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