ALA5

The trip to Anime Los Angeles 5 was a bit of a last-minute thing suggested by Leigh Ann Hildebrand shortly after LosCon. For a while the plan teetered on the edge of not happening at all until a few days before the con when things came together thanks in large part to Leo Schwab and Christian Maguire.

With Leigh Ann in the driver’s seat we hit the road early Friday afternoon, stopping only once along the way at Casa de Fruta — which was an exciting first for me. The rest of the drive was uneventful traffic-wise but quite entertaining/traumatizing musically. Since the car stereo didn’t like the mp3 disks I had burned and Leigh Ann warned me she had mainly brought Indigo Girls albums, we went through the rest of our regular music first and quickly ran out of standard stuff. As we neared the LA area Leigh Ann put in a rock opera about the Odyssey.

Yeah, you read that right. Describing it is beyond my talents, so I will just let my favorite chorus sit in your brain: “We are Greeks; we will have cheese!”

You’re welcome.

After that I was practically begging for the Indigo Girls, and intrigued by their only album Leigh Ann had that I had any idea about, their version of Jesus Christ Superstar. Honestly, it was really good. It also became sort of the theme to our entire weekend, and probably beyond.

As we were arriving we called to check in with our lounge co-conspirator, Jason Schachat, to assure ourselves he would be making it to the con. He assured us he would and sure enough just about the time we got checked in and unpacked and were ready for dinner, he arrived at the hotel.

On Saturday there was some miscommunication as to the opening time for the Fanzine Lounge, but we got set up reasonably quickly considering how late the previous night’s impromptu pajama party had run. (Still, totally worth it to wear my new blue jammies which everyone seemed to appreciate.) Thanks to the prime location the lounge was soon hoppin’, particularly once Chaz settled in for a bit. The space was ideally suited for our kind of scene and someone thoughtfully provided a cute yet disturbing little teddy bear- shaped seat from Ikea which the anime girls especially seemed quite taken with. Leigh Ann soon dubbed it the Training Bear, to the amusement, bafflement or horror of all depending on their age and inclination.

One of the highlights of Saturday was a visit by Rick Foss who entertained the kids with stories. The only downside was the room being a little on the small side and getting a little crowded, but anime kids are apparently quite happy to sit on the floor and don’t mind queues, so after we put up a sign a polite line formed rapidly.

Outside in the rest of the con attendance looked good and to all appearances everything was running like clockwork. The first thing we all noticed was the truly excellent signage the convention had put up. In addition to large photos of cosplayers from previous years there were lots of very cute posters pointing the way to various places of interest and a rather amusing one warning those people wearing capes and cloaks to beware of the escalator. The other thing that stood out was the good energy and enthusiastic vibe of both staff and attendees. The membership is mostly young, high-spirited kids who are having a great time and their mood is definitely infectious. But even beyond that Chaz seems to have made an effort at maintaining a civil and approachable atmosphere for himself and his staff and succeeded at creating one of the most smooth and helpful con experiences I have encountered.

Of course there were tons of great costumes. My favorites, partly because they were among the few I recognized, were a Raptor Jesus and a certain bear normally found over on 4chan, both internet memes made disturbing reality. I managed to wander the dealer’s room and the artist alley a couple of times. Both were interesting and lively but still mysterious uncharted territory for me. The only failure for the day was the schedule at the hotel restaurant, which closed during lunchtime. We found out that the sports bar, Champions, also serves the hotel menu but it’s not an ideal compromise since its walls are covered with multiple TV screens, probably twenty or so, often tuned to several different channels.

The big event for Saturday night was the Masquerade. There were twenty-something entries, some clearly very good even to someone almost entirely unfamiliar with the source material. Most of the entries had skits or choreography, and even some singing, which was generally superior to what I’m used to from sci fi convention masquerades. This is probably due to the anime crowd’s emphasis on cosplay rather than our traditional costuming. Although I only recognized one person on stage, there were several familiar faces during the proceedings, including Tadao Tomomatsu as MC, Karisu judging and Richard Man handling photography.

After the Masquerade we got changed and settled in for some more lounging while the kids ran happily amok in the hallways and at the dance. Richard and Karisu dropped by when they got done with their masquerade duties and traffic was pretty constant.

At some point while I wasn’t paying enough attention there were apparently some “special interest” hijinks. Again. The next day we dutifully added the newly minted rules to our ever expanding “No <insert offense here> in the Fanzine Lounge” list. Someone seems to consider these more of a challenge than a rule set, is all I’m saying. You know who you are. Tsk.

Done with all that excitement, we closed up and retired the party to our own room for a few more hours of slightly more grown-up plotting, recriminations and chants of “di di mao!”

On Sunday we decided to venture out to greener pastures for brunch and headed next door to the Sheraton. It was a good idea that will bear remembering for future conventions. Their restaurant was quiet and pleasant and while still a hotel menu with hotel menu prices they do have some interesting alternate choices. Back at the lounge we mostly just hung out, with people coming and going throughout the day including our dear, almost-but-not-quite-drinking-age Fanzine Lounge Fellow Traveler Wendy Newton and her sister Pearl, as well as guest appearances by Chaz, Christian, Tadao, Joyce Hooper and various other familiar staff faces. As the afternoon wore on, we lingered as the convention was slowly dismantled around us and we were probably the last to go.

Although cell reception in the lobby areas seems to have gotten much better, in the con area below it is still practically non-existent. Since I was waiting for a call from my sister Ashley who was planning on dropping by in the evening, I had kept popping out to check my messages. Each time I did so there were fewer kids about and by the time she arrived it was pretty much all over but for staff and stragglers. She did get to meet Jason and Leigh Ann and it was weird to have my two worlds intersect — crossing the streams, if you will. The fun part was that her boyfriend, Andres, who is a total geek came by to pick her up at the end of the night and I introduced him around and thus managed to convince him to attend Gallifrey next month.

Sadly, Schachat had to leave at about the same time my sister did, so I pretty much called it a night at that point myself, leaving only Leigh Ann to carry on for us both, which she did, judging from her sleep-deprived complaints the next morning/afternoon as we checked out. We managed to grab some lunch with Christian before hitting the road for the Bay Area.

She had calculated that leaving by 2 p.m. would put is back home right about the time for the Monday BASFA meeting, and as I had never been to one before this sounded like a great idea. Excepting a accidental detour up and back down about ten miles of I-99 we made very good time and pulled into the Coco’s parking lot at about 7:45 before the meeting proper started.

I was surprised at how many people were there, although not as surprised as they were that I had finally made a meeting. We did a\ little show and tell with Garcia and I ordered some reasonably tasty little slider-like thingies before the meeting started. It was longer than I would have expected from reading the minutes, but pretty entertaining. I even overcame my reluctance to speak to a crowd and reviewed both Leo’s greatly appreciated help during the trip and the Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection album, although in the end my name didn’t make the official minutes so there is no actual evidence that I have ever attended a BASFA meeting. That may be just as well, should I ever decide to enter politics.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #79. January 12, 2009