Wednesday, January 28, 2015

B-Fest 2015 Part 1: Staring At Jade Carvings and Animals' Butts In Suburbia

The turn of the new year has seen some big changes in the Ragnarok household. Both Malorie and I are starting new jobs. Mine doesn't start until February 1, and so I have the week after B-Fest to run errands, get some writing done, and enjoy the biggest stretch of down time I've had since grade school and, barring a winning lottery ticket or getting lucky enough to become a full time writer, the biggest stretch I will probably see until I retire. Malorie's new gig, on the other hand, started the Wednesday of B-Fest week, and so it was that I set off for Chicago solo for the first time.

A recent update of my GPS maps seems to have altered something in the way Magic Voice sees the world, because barely more than an hour into the trip it took me in a different direction. Instead of taking Highway 20 all the way to the northern suburbs of Chicago, with a little jog at Belvedere to get around Rockford and some tollways, it swung me all the way down to Iowa City and in on a huge loop of interstates. It certainly wasn't as scenic and it definitely added some miles to the trip, with the tradeoff of actually being a little quicker because instead of crawling through a two hundred mile stretch of little towns with 25mph speed limits, you're rocking away at 65-70 the whole time. At the end of the day I think I still prefer the more rural Highway 20 route, but at least the mild panic that Magic Voice had flipped her lid kept things interesting.

I arrived at the Morton Grove Best Western around 2:30, where I met up with the inimitable Tim Lehnerer. Generosity was demonstrated and long-forged alliances were renewed as he presented me with this year's B-Fest mix CD (which includes some great music, as always, but this year also sparked a running joke that will be with us all for a long, long time in the form of the haunting driving theme from Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness) and another box of fantastic-looking books. I'm especially looking forward to reading Metal Rules the Globe. Then it was off to Half Price Books, where I had to show some restraint since although I've got one more paycheck coming from the old job, I am technically unemployed and as the new gig is partially commission-based, unsure of exactly how much money I'll be bringing in until I get good at it. Between trade-ins and a coupon, I got away with spending less than half what I did last year and scored a pile of really cool old Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novels for dirt cheap, including The Land that Time Forgot, which I've been hunting for for ages.

Later that evening saw the arrival of Scott Ashlin and Jessica Ritchey, and Gavin Smith with his delightful lady friend Tori joined us for a delectable meal at the Palace restaurant. Phenomenal duck and almond pie, plus it's walking distance from the hotel and we all spent an entire day in our damn cars so no one wanted to drive anywhere. Not being on vacation like the rest of us slackers, Gavin and Tori had to skedaddle after supper, but the rest of us went back to the hotel for a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity. I also acquired all the currently available recordings of Scott's killer band, The Schismatics. Look them up, they kick ass. Think a punkier Iron Reagan and you'll be fairly close to the mark. Weary road warriors all of us, we turned in at a reasonable hour to meet up for breakfast the next day and being our suburban adventures.

Suburban adventures? I hear you asking. Well, yes. We've done the Field, the Shedd, the Art Institute, and so many other things in the city multiple times, and were feeling a little burned out on train rides and traffic fighting, so at the behest of Mr. Logistics Person, we headed into Chicagoland to seek new entertainments.

At the suggestion of one of the Best Western employees who always remembers the big dudes with glasses and Godzilla t-shirts who show up every winter, we checked out a diner called Kappy's. It was good, but not as good as Seven Brothers, which is, again, walking distance from the hotel. And of course nothing we've found so far is as good as the Omega Pancake House. From there we were off to the Cernan Space Center, which turned out to be one space suit, a couple of rocket engines, and a tack board with some articles ripped out of science magazines and pinned up. They can't all be winners. At least I got some neat glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs for myself and some freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for the kids, and perhaps the most ideal photo of Tim anyone will ever take.

Telstarman sensibly sets the anti theft system on his space capsule before turning his attentions to the conquest of Earth.
For all that the Space Center was a bust, our next stop at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Arts was a resounding success. We learned some things about jade carving (despite looking incredibly fragile, it's only a couple of steps down the mineral hardness scale from diamond, which makes its ability to be worked in such fine and magnificent detail easier to understand), viewed many beautiful works of art, and got to look at a piece of rock that was 3.4 billion (yes, with a fucking B) years old. Mighty humbling, that is.

Chalcedony ghost skull is more metal than you.

Finally for Wednesday was Horrorbles, a horror collectibles shop. It occupies a tiny, odd little space with many cramped hallways and rooms, and it was really hard not to spend all of the money I have and ever will earn there. And then we went next door to Reel Art Collectibles, which was full of Godzilla and kaiju toys. Son of a bitch. I managed to restrict myself to a few Gamera chibis and the NECA Crimson Typhoon figure.

Back to the hotel to meet up with Jacob and Natasha, who gave me some lovely presents for my absent wife before we all headed off to the Himalayan for supper with Gavin (thanks for the Godzilla pen!), Edward, and his wife Melanie. Another round of Cards Against Humanity with Sampote Sands's Crocodile as background noise capped off the night.

Brookfield Zoo or bust on Thursday. The upside being it was a free day. The downside being that most of the large outdoor animals were in storage for the winter. We did get to see an Andean condor disembowel and devour a dead rat, and a black rhino taking a whiz, so that was fun. The reptile houses were a real treat, and I got a Mold-O-Rama alligator, but the real highlight was watching the otter run around chirping and being cute. If you don't love otters, you have a problem. The running theme for the day seemed to be that every animal we went to look at was dead set on presenting us with an unobstructed view of its butt. Of course, if I was put on display I would do nothing but moon my visitors too, so I can't really blame them.

Eyelash viper.

Exhausted but happy, we hit a little sandwich shop called Mr. Submarine for a late lunch, and then went to the Galloping Ghost arcade to spend the rest of the day reliving our childhoods. Well, most of us did. I never played many video games as a kid, but they did have the single greatest arcade game of all time: Lucky and Wild. For those not fortunate enough to have had one of these in your hometown arcade, it's a booth game where one person drives and shoots, with a second gun for a passenger. Or, if you're feeling wild and crazy, you can cram three people in and have two shooters while the driver just concentrates on dodging the un-dodgeable obstacles. You play as a pair of cops on the edge who play by their own rules, chasing down a variety of bad guys driving monster trucks, armored tractor-trailers with flamethrowers, Lamborghinis with laser turrets and the like, while their minions in black cars and motorcycles throw Molotov cocktails and grenades at you. Essentially it's Cannon Films: The Video Game. I have no idea how many quarters my friends and I pumped into that thing in high school, but it was a lot and it was money well spent. They also had a Godzilla/Ultraman cabinet that I had seen a console version of at G-Fest, which was neat, but my attention span for video games is fairly short so I spent most of the time playing pinball instead. The Creature from the Black Lagoon table is a beast.

Having downed an enormous and rather late lunch and feeling a little wobbly from either the van ride (typically as long as I'm not riding in the back the motion sickness doesn't get me, but it had been a long day) or the eight pounds of corned beef and garlic fries lodged in my gullet, I considered skipping the Hala Kahiki. I said last year that I had grown weary of the place, but this year it redeemed itself. I figure since I only get to see my B-Fest friends once a year, I should spend every minute with them that I could, and so I decided to give the tiki bar another chance. Since Malorie had to skip this year, Fistula and I decided to bunk together to save a little money. He had arrived while we were out, so we returned to the hotel to regroup and grab him and Lisa and Tim's friend Dave, both of whom had also arrived earlier in the day, and off to fruity booze land we went.

The past few years we've been stuck at the line of tables in front of the door rather than the back room we prefer, and this year was no exception despite Tim calling ahead for the group, but since this year was a sadly slim one for the BMMB regulars, we were able to keep up a lively round of chat. And for all that last year's waitress was surly and inattentive, the gal helping us this year was friendly and always right behind you the second your glass was empty asking if you wanted another. I stuck with lighter vodka drinks, figuring dark heavy rum would really do a number on my already questionable stomach. A few refreshing lemon and grape juice drinks settled things down nicely and before long I was back to full operational power.

Back to Jacob and Natasha's room to watch Daoism Drunkard, but despite the insanity of the watermelon monster, the events of the day began to catch up with us and we turned in to prepare for the Fest of B.

Friday morning saw Fistula and I driving into the city to do some galavanting with Scott, Jessica, and Lisa before the show. A visit to the Gallery bookstore and a used CD/DVD shop the name of which I can never remember, and then Scott aimed his van toward cinemasochist Heaven and we rode to our fate at the hands of A&O Films.

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