Muppets Cosplay: Yip! Yip! Yip!Continuing the write-up of our late-February vacation and trip to WonderCon in San Francisco, we left off with Friday at the con.

Note: If you want to skip straight to the photos, head over to my Wondercon 2009 Photo Set on Flickr.

WonderCon 2009Originally we’d planned to only go to the convention on Saturday, and pre-ordered one-day tickets. Then WonderCon published their schedule, and most of the stuff we wanted to see turned out to be on Friday. So we juggled our schedule around, and bought a second set of one-day tickets.

On the plus side, it ended up being slightly cheaper than getting three-day tickets and not using them all three days (which is what we did last year). On the minus side, it meant we had to pick up our badges twice. (I asked on Friday whether we could pick up both badges at once. We couldn’t.)

Day 5 (Feb 28): Saturday at WonderCon

BSG Cosplay: Starbuck, Caprica Six, and Boomer

The crowds outside were slightly bigger, but I don’t think we had much of a line, since we arrived about an hour after the floor opened. The first real hint of fandom was a group of people dressed as Jedi and a pair of life-sized R2D2 robots on the mezzanine. Then another group of people dressed based on what I assume was an anime or video game. Then we were down the escalator, across the hall, and walking to pick up our badges again.


Watchmen Cosplay: Silk Spectre and Doc ManhattanWhile we were still getting our badges ready, we spotted a trio of women in Battlestar Galactica costumes. Katie leaned over to me and said, “Isn’t that a Six?” and then one of us realized that the two with her were dressed as Starbuck and Boomer/Athena.

There were a lot more people in costumes on Saturday. If last year’s big theme was G.I. Joe, this year it was clearly Watchmen. I remember seeing the occasional Rorschach at cons a few years ago, but this year they seemed to be all over the place. I saw at least two Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectres as well (one with a somewhat more modest costume), at least one Comedian, a Laurie Silk Spectre and even a Doctor Manhattan (a brave soul who had painted himself blue and walked around in a bald cap and a speedo). The weird (or perhaps not so weird when you think about it) thing is: They were all based on the movie versions of the costumes.

I have a lot more cosplay photos up at my Wondercon 2009 Photo Set.

The Main Floor

Actually, there were a lot more people on Saturday, period. I ended up skipping the DC booth swag line, because it was at least four times as long and not noticeably moving when I walked by. It was made worse by running past the gaming area and, as near as I could tell, through an area where the 501st Legion (or perhaps another Star Wars fan group) seemed to be doing photo ops. Speaking of which, it’s weird: 10 years ago, someone with a Star Wars Stormtrooper costume was impressive. These days, they’re so common that I hardly even notice them.

Autograph crowdThe autograph area in particular was very crowded, partly because they had big names like Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. I don’t think I ever had to resort to shuffling on Friday, but it happened a lot on Saturday.

In many ways, WonderCon resembles San Diego Comic-Con before it went insane. Actually, I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to attend a comic/pop culture convention in California, but has gotten sick of the crowds and the hotel rush and the lines and not being able to get into the events you want and everything that has made Comic-Con International so frustrating over the last few years.

What I did find frustrating about this year’s WonderCon, though, was that several people I would have liked to meet (or at least hear speak at a panel) ended up not coming because MegaCon was the same weekend. I’m not sure, but I suspect there was a regional divide, with most west-coast people going to San Francisco, and most east-coast people heading to Orlando, Florida instead. Ultimately I only added two signatures to Comic Book Tattoo, and no one involved with Flash: Rebirth was there at all.


DC Universe PanelThe only panel I really wanted to make sure I attended was the DC Universe panel, though it was more a matter of obligation (Speed Force). It turned out to be mostly rehashing the previous day’s DC Nation panel. I will say one thing for Dan Didio: he certainly brings energy to the room for his panels. I expect I probably would have paid a lot more attention instead of using my phone to read about the scans_daily meltdown.

Katie caught a writing workshop run by David Gerrold, which she found quite helpful, and got into the giant room for Star Trek.

Star Trek Panel: Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Roberto OrciNow, the Esplanade Ballroom never managed to be as tough as the infamous Hall H in San Diego…but Star Trek was absolutely packed. Everyone’s seen the latest trailer by now, but it premiered at this panel, and Katie remarked afterward that it was the first trailer that made the movie actually look interesting, like it had an actual story and not just a bunch of ships blowing up. On the downside, no one asked Zoe Saldana any questions during the Q&A period — they were all directed to Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.

Star Trek ExodusThe plan, originally, was for me to catch up with the panel for 9 in the same room. I made it about halfway through, because of the crowd issue. It wasn’t that there were no seats. It was that five million people (well, it seemed like it) left the room after Star Trek, and after crossing that torrent, I had to ind the line…and trace the line to the end. That turned out to be out the front door and down along the entire side of the convention center almost to the very back. It stayed still for a few minutes, then started moving more-or-less smoothly. As I made it up to the doors, a woman handling crowd control assured us, “There’s plenty of room, they all left after Star Trek because they’re crazy.” There was no hope of figuring out where Katie was sitting (quite near the front, as it turned out, since she got to move up when so many people left between panels), so I just grabbed an empty chair near the end of an aisle.

Joe Ksander and Elijah Wood at the 9 panelAnyway, Nine was just Elijah Wood and animation director Joe Ksander talking about making the film and occasionally showing clips. Someone asked Elijah Wood to compare his character to Frodo Baggins, and he remarked something along the lines of, “I’m going to be hearing this for the rest of my life, aren’t I?”

Wrapping Up

After 9, we met up again and did a final circuit of the floor, checking for anything either of us wanted to show the other, or anything one of us might want to pick up. We ended up at the SLG booth examining The Map of Humanity for something like 20 minutes, trying to spot all the real-life and fanciful place names and where they were located. (Hollywood showed up in about 5 places.) We bought a copy.

Then it was back to the hotel to drop off all our stuff and get ready to meet up with my brother and his fiancee for dinner. They took us to a fantastic Indian restaurant called Mehfil that was somewhat off the beaten path as far as the convention was concerned. Afterward we tried to go to a nearby pub, but it was really crowded (it was Saturday night, after all), so we started looking for another place to go. We ended up walking through the area where Wikimedia has its offices. Eventually we ended up back at a frozen yogurt place in Metreon, a shopping mall across the street from the Moscone convention center, and we hung out there until closing.

WonderCon 2009Continuing the tale of our late-February vacation (starting with Cambria and Hearst Castle and moving on to Monterey and Carmel, we catch up to San Francisco itself and two days at WonderCon.

Note: If you want to skip straight to the photos, head over to my Wondercon 2009 Photo Set on Flickr.

We’d been to WonderCon once in 2008 and had a great time, and while we weren’t planning to make it an annual trip, the timing worked out such that we’d be in San Francisco the right weekend anyway.

Staying in San Francisco: The Mosser

View from the Mosser Hotel.Last year we stayed at the Mark Twain, which was okay, but this year on my brother’s recommendation we stayed at the Mosser Hotel. It was quite nice, although the rooms were still extremely small by modern standards — small enough that instead of an actual desk, there’s a fold-out desk on the armchair. There’s also a flatscreen TV with both pay-per-view and video game rentals, and an AT&T wireless hotspot accessible from the room. The staff was nice, and the location was perfect. We were in a decent area of town, near restaurants, 5 minutes from the Moscone Convention Center one way, 5 minutes from a BART, MUNI & cable car station the other way, and right across the street from the official convention hotel.

Day 4: Friday (Feb 27) at WonderCon

After Thursday’s long drive, we slept in Friday morning and made our way to the convention center around 11:00. The “line” to get to the registration area moved quickly enough that it might as well not have been a line, and there were only a few people in front of us at the badge pick-up windows, so we made it through the whole process in only a few minutes. Then we stood in line for 45 minutes waiting for the hall to open at noon. Oh, well!

We started by making a beeline to the BOOM! Studios booth to pick up several copies of the Farscape #1 WonderCon exclusive variant — one for us, and several more for people at the Terra Firma message board. Series writer Keith R.A. DeCandido was there signing them, and we chatted a bit with him and with another Farscape fan. After that I got in line for the DC booth, and Katie went off to explore. I picked up a bunch of random swag from DC, some of which I want to keep and some of which I’ll probably offer to people on Speed Force.

Cowboy Bebop: Faye Valentine and JuliaNext I headed over to Artist’s Alley to track down some of the artists connected with Comic Book Tattoo for signatures. I’d gotten a few of them (including Tori Amos herself!) at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, but took the massively heavy lead weight book back to my hotel room at the first opportunity, not thinking that I could catch up with more of the creators. So now I’m trying to fix that.

I found David Mack first, and he had a whole spread of Kabuki material. As we talked, I admitted that I’d never read any of it, and he not only offered me a few issues of the latest series for free, he signed them!

I wandered the floor a lot, picked up some cheap trades, scarfed down a small pizza and eventually went up to a panel on “The Real Archeology Behind Indiana Jones.” It was run by an archeology professor from some college out near Lake Tahoe, and he had this talk about the major artifacts in the four films — what is known about the Ark of the Covenant, where people are looking for it, (or in some cases, claim they’ve found it but won’t let anyone see) — the actual stories behind the Sankara stones and the Thugee cult — legends around the history of the Holy Grail, and where people think it might be — the history and legends of the various crystal skulls, none of which can be verifiably traced to an actual excavation.

Batman asks a question at DC Nation.Then I hit DC Nation, Katie hit panels on 2D visual effects and the shift from a cowboy metaphor to a super-hero metaphor in US Politics (all those Obama-as-Superman images), we met up at the BOOM! panel, and finally went to the Wonder Woman screening.

Friday was, overall, really laid-back. The crowds were light, people in line were patient, and there weren’t even too many people in costumes. Even DC Nation was relaxed, though that’s probably in large part because Dan Didio was at Megacon and Ian Sattler was running the panel.

Wonder Woman

We had no trouble getting into the Wonder Woman screening, and managed to get seats maybe 10 rows back. I noticed a woman I recognized in a WW outfit (someone I’d seen as WW at other cons). Oddly, they kept calling it the movie’s premiere, even though it had premiered at New York Comic-Con a few weeks earlier, so at best this was the west coast premiere. Still, the movie was very good and amazingly epic for a 90-minute animated film. (Reviews are all over the place now that the DVD is out, so I’ll skip the details.)

Wonder Woman Discussion Panel.

After the screening there was a discussion panel with producer Bruce Timm, screenwriter Michael Jelenic, actress Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta), director Lauren Montgomery, and executive producer Gregory Noveck. They talked about making the film for quite a while, then took audience questions until their time was almost up.

Then they ran the trailer for the next DC animated project: Green Lantern: First Flight. I’m not a huge Green Lantern fan, but this looks suitably cosmic in scope and sci-fi in tone, and frankly, that’s the way I prefer the character, so it looks promising!


Shh... The con is sleeping!After the discussion, we cleared out. Neither of us wanted to watch a bunch of Star Wars fan films at this point (I would have 10 years ago, but these days? Not a priority.), and we were hungry. So we headed back to the hotel to change and went out to look for someplace to eat dinner. We ended up at a very good steak restaurant in the Marriott, then went back to the hotel where stayed up way too late uploading photos and dashed off a first impressions post of the con.

Update: On the way out, though, we stopped at the mezzanine walkway, which has a long glass-enclosed view into the main floor. It was eerie to see all the booths set up, fully lit, but with covers thrown over tables, and the aisles empty except for (as far as I could see) one person.

Continued in Saturday at WonderCon.

During the last week of February, we drove up the California coast from Orange County to San Francisco, stopping in various places to visit friends and family and see the local sights. It wasn’t an exact repeat of last year’s trip, but we did redo Hearst Castle the second day out.

Day 1: Tuesday — LA to SLO

A crag along PCH.We left Tuesday morning (February 24) after eating breakfast at the Gypsy Den in Costa Mesa, took a relaxed drive up the 5 and Highway 101 to San Luis Obispo, stopping in Santa Barbara for lunch. From SLO we cut across to the coast and up to San Simeon on Pacific Coast Highway. After we checked into our hotel (the Best Western Cavalier again, since it really impressed us last time), we headed into Cambria for dinner at a restaurant called Robin’s.

One of the things we tried to do on this trip was to always eat at local restaurants rather than familiar chains, just to try something new. Overall, that worked out really well. The only real misstep was a crepe place in Monterey.

Funny astronomical timing: Last year we were in San Simeon the night of a lunar eclipse. This year it was ideal viewing time for Comet Lulin. After trying to spot it from the hotel grounds, I finally drove out of town a few miles for stargazing. It was a fantastic view, but the comet was too faint for me to see.

Day 2: Wednesday – Seals and Hearst Castle

Elephant seals on the beach on a gloomy day.Anyway, we spent most of Wednesday near San Simeon. First we drove up the highway a bit to a viewpoint near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse to look at the elephant seals that crowded the beach. Most of them were just lying around relaxing, but every once in a while one would move, and I saw a couple of seals fighting, and a couple of seals, um, doing something else.

Ornate and full library at Hearst Castle.Hearst Castle took up the bulk of the day, as we took two tours, one before lunch and one after. In the morning (after the seals) we toured the Casa del Monte and the North Wing (one of the latest additions to the house), showing interesting contrast in design and decoration style. Then we came back down to the visitor’s center, had lunch in the cafe (which was surprisingly good — probably because they used Hearst Ranch beef for the barbequed beef sandwiches and the chili), and went back up the hill to the next tour, which covered the upper floors of the main house.

Burton Street in Cambria.We stopped in Cambria on the way out, where Katie hit the local yarn store and I explored the nearby shops. There was one that had a huge collection of gemstones and fossils, including a lot of humongous geodes. Then we headed inland along highway 46 to pick up the 101, because I really didn’t want to drive the stretch of PCH between San Simeon and Carmel! (Winding road with 100-foot sheer drops into the ocean, during late afternoon and running past sunset? I don’t think so!) Along the way I kept looking for the turnout where you can see all the way to Morro Bay, and I found it. I managed to get a shot with sunlight this time:

Morro Bay seen from a distance, with green hills in front.

We originally planned to meet up with my aunt in the Carmel Valley area, but the timing didn’t work out, and by the time we made it to Pacific Grove I was ready to just collapse into bed. Fortunately the motel was a pleasant surprise (we experimented with using Hotwire for nights when we weren’t looking for a specific hotel): we got the Anton Inn, which was a tiny little motel surrounded by other motels way off the beaten path, but the staff was friendly, the rooms were very nice and comfortable, and the rooms were stocked with a variety of books! The only real downside is that the area has very flaky cell reception.

We walked about half a block to an Asian fusion restaurant, where I had some sort of citrus duck dish. There was only one other party in the restaurant the entire time we were there, but the food was very good, making me think they probably depend heavily on the tourist season (which is not late February). Then we walked back to the hotel, read a bit to unwind, and hit the sack.

Speaking of which, I should do that now. I really didn’t think it would take this long to write things up! (Plus my internal clock keeps telling me it’s only eleven.) Photos are up on Flickr in my California Coast photo set, with a separate WonderCon photo set. I’ll write up more of the trip later this week. Continued in Monterey and Carmel.

Last weekend was spent in Northern California. During the trip I wrote up Wednesday and Thursday, when we drove up to Cambria and then San Jose for Hearst Castle, the Winchester Mystery House, and visiting friends, spending the night in Sunnyvale.

Friday morning, we checked out of the motel as quickly as we could, then met up with our friends before they left for work. After reminding ourselves of why we don’t usually eat at Denny’s, we drove up the east side of the San Francisco Bay toward Napa Valley.

Hills in Napa or Sonoma Valley

I don’t really like wine much, and Katie can’t drink it, so we weren’t looking for tastings, but Katie had found a sake garden on one of the maps. The weather kept changing from partly cloudy to light rain and back again. The play of light and shadow on the hills made for beautiful scenery. It was somewhat similar to our drive along the 46, which seemed to be half ranches (the west half) and half wineries (the east half).

Unfortunately, the sake garden in question was gone. The building was deserted, and a chain stretched across the driveway. I stopped the car in front of it, and Katie dashed through the drizzle to look at the limp paper sign taped to the post in the middle of the driveway. It was a public notice for a liquor license, in a new name.

We tried to look for another place that did sake tastings, but had no success. We decided to drive into Napa for lunch. Downtown Napa is an odd mix of old and modern. One block looks like Old Town Orange, or Tustin, or Fullerton. Half a block away, there’s a shopping center that looks like it could be a section of the Irvine Spectrum. It was more or less dead, which I thought was strange even for early afternoon on a Friday, but we found a place called Christopher’s that made wraps and sandwiches, and sold interesting food.

After lunch we made our way west through Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley until we reached the 101. From there we went south (a drive which reminded me quite a bit of the I-5 between Oceanside and San Diego), crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and checked into our hotel. It was approaching sunset.

San Francisco

Once we were settled, I called my brother for directions to his place. It turned out he was just getting off work, so we met up at the train station and took the MUNI out to his neighborhood. We met his fiancee, hung out at their apartment for a while, then went out for sushi.

Back at the hotel, Katie did some make-up tests for her Sylar victim costume (which she ended up not using), we got our backpacks in order for the convention, and went to bed.

Saturday is pretty much all covered by the WonderCon convention report.

Sunday morning we went down to the coffee shop next to the hotel, then checked out and started on the long drive home around 11:30. It ended up taking 12 hours for several reasons:

  • We took the 101 instead of the 5, which follows the coast and is considerably longer. On the plus side, it twists and turns enough to prevent highway hypnosis at night.
  • It was windy and raining. The storm we’d been expecting all weekend finally hit.
  • We took a detour to Casa de Fruta, which probably added ~45 minutes of travel time.
  • And of course stops for lunch, dinner, coffee, etc.

Misty hills and the Casa de Fruta parking lot

The worst of the rain hit in two places: First, on that detour to Casa de Fruta. I filled up the car there, and got thoroughly drenched even though the gas station was covered. We stopped for lunch, I dried out somewhat, and the rain moved on. The second was near San Luis Obispo, where it rained hard enough at I could barely see the taillights of the car in front. It didn’t help that it was approaching dusk.

We stopped for dinner in Santa Barbara, and finally made it home around 11:30.

The Prius handled its first real road trip admirably. We drove 1193 miles in total. The best mileage was on the last leg of the trip home, the final ~130 miles from Santa Barbara, where we averaged 48 MPG. The worst was from San Luis Obispo to Sunnyvale, with the side trip out to San Simeon—full of twisty mountain roads, steep grades, and, when it turned into a full-on freeway, I was pushing the speed to get us to San Jose in time for the last Winchester tour. The car handled everything thrown at it, except two things: a Target shopping cart in Paso Robles, which careened into it and scratched the paint, and a piece of gravel that dinged the windshield. I was seriously annoyed.

I’ve driven 500 miles in the last 2 days. We’re heading up to San Francisco for WonderCon this weekend, stopping along the way to visit friends in Silicon Valley and my brother and his fiancee in San Francisco. We ended up with an extra day at the beginning of the trip, which we used to visit Hearst Castle.

We left around mid-morning on Wednesday, driving through 2 hours of crappy Los Angeles traffic until things finally cleared up out toward Ventura. Along the way we saw something we’d never seen before: Our Prius runs in part on a battery, which is recharged by the gas engine, by coasting, and by braking. It has an 8-bar battery gage that mostly moves around in the 2–7–bar range. Heading down the pass into Camarillo, for the first time, I saw it fill all 8 bars.

We took the 101 most of the way, branching off at San Luis Obispo to take Pacific Coast Highway up to San Simeon. With all the rain we’ve had this winter, the countryside is amazingly green. The last few times I remember taking the 101 up the coast, it was summer, so the hills were all golden brown. We lucked out with the weather: instead of the constant rain I was expecting from the forecast, we only had scattered showers.

We spent Wednesday night in San Simeon. Dinner was at a restaurant called The Sow’s Ear in Cambria, which was very good.

Blurry Lunar Eclipse through cloudsWe actually managed to see the lunar eclipse. Sort of. The cloud cover was just light enough to see the bright sliver shortly before totality. It screened out the reddish light completely. I have a blurry picture of the just-as-blurry eclipse.

Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle.Thursday morning we went to Hearst Castle for the morning’s first tour. We didn’t get the one we wanted (Tour 2) because it didn’t start until 9:20, and we wanted to get to San Jose by 5:00. If I could make one change to their website, it would be to list actual tour times. We got rained on a bit, but it was a good overview of just how eclectic the house is. Basically, if William Randolph Hearst was traveling and saw a piece of a building that he liked, he’d buy it, ship it back to California, and have it built into his house.

After stopping briefly in Cambria, we took highway 46 across the hills to catch up with the 101 and head north to San Jose. Partly I wanted to avoid the long, twisty, cliffside stretches of PCH, and partly we wanted to avoid getting caught in the bike race. The route goes past cattle ranches, empty hills, and wineries. At one point there’s a fantastic view of Morro Bay off in the distance. (Update: We took the same drive a year later and caught the view in the sunlight)

View of Morro Bay and Morro Rock from Highway 46
We made it to San Jose around 4:30, and managed to get tickets for the last tour of the Winchester Mystery House. Yes, we toured two big, rambling mansions in one day. It was interesting to compare the way the tours treated the two places. With Hearst Castle, it was very much a museum tour. Everything was preserved as exactly as possible, including all the furniture and decorations, and they admonished you not to touch anything. And the docents were walking encyclopedias. With Winchester, it was much more casual. The speeches felt more canned, and the tour guide wasn’t concerned with anybody touching anything except for a few places where the floors or tiles were still original.

After the tour, we met up with our friends for dinner. I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was a tapas restaurant on Santana Row. Also quite good. Edit: Katie points out that it was called Consuelo.

Tomorrow: On to San Francisco. Not sure whether we’re going to WonderCon on Friday or not—it depends on what else is available (since they keep promising massive downpours of rain)—but we’ll definitely be going on Saturday. For one thing, I’m hoping to get to the premiere of Justice League: New Frontier. I really liked Darwyn Cooke’s original mini-series linking the dawn of the Silver Age and the dawn of the space age, and what I’ve seen of the animation style looks quite promising.

OK. It’s 11:30. Time to get some sleep.

Update: filling in a few pictures.

Continued in: Saturday/WonderCon and Friday–Sunday