Conventional Geek
Tales from a sci-fi con.

I'm one of those idiots who doesn't buy any more saline solution until the bottle is completely out, and that usually means that on the night this happens, I can't take out my contacts and go to sleep until I go to the store.    You can curse Wal-mart all you want, but at least they're open 24 hours.  On my way to the pharmacy section one night like this, I passed the toy department and couldn't resist a detour.  This was maybe a year or so after The Phantom Menace had been released, so they were still putting out fresh Star Wars toys all the time.

I happened to walk past an end-cap display and said to some other Gen-X guy digging through the toys, "Hey, look!  They finally made a lightsaber for Obi-wan!"  Up to this point, they only had the green one and the red doubled-bladed one for Darth Maul... and every kid on the block was fighting in their front yard with these.  Now there was a blue one on the shelves!

"Yeah, I know.  Cool," the guy said.  He asked if I was going to the sci-fi convention the next day.  I was like, "Uh..."  I really hadn't thought about it.  I've always been a sci-fi geek, and yet I never paid any attention sci-fi conventions.  I did know that there was going to be one at a small convention center near my place at the time, but I didn't know anyone else going and didn't know if there was any point in going to one, so I asked him who/what all was going to be there.  Just what were these things all about anyway?

He said there would be lots of booths for toy dealers, etc., and he listed some of the "celebrities" that would attend.  I forgot who all they were now, but in general these tended to be C-list actors who had a few lines in old Star Trek episodes or in sci-fi movies from the '80s.  Somewhere in this list the guy said Chewbacca would be there.  I was like, "No way.  I would have heard about this."  He said, "No, Chewbacca's always there."  I'm thinking to myself, Awww, this guy is pulling my leg, but he looked completely serious.  I asked him what he meant by "always."

He proceeded to tell me that Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca, lives in a town [that I won't mention] not too far from where we were at the time.  I'm like, "Come on, how do you know this?"  He then went into this story about how he worked for a place that did blood work.  You know how they draw blood in those not-so-little vials and then ship it off?  Well, he was one of the guys who takes care of those.  He didn't work at the doctor's office, just where they ship these to.  Apparently, one day the delivery guy for them came back with a batch of these samples from the doctor's office(s) and says, "I have Chewbacca's blood."  Since the delivery guy was obviously not a bounty hunter, the guy at the blood work place was like, "Yeah, right," which is pretty much what I was saying at the start of this story.

His co-worker goes on to explain that Mayhew has to get regular check-ups because of the medical issues that caused and/or resulted from his tremendous height.  He was a regular customer, so to speak, and it was no secret that he did this regularly.  How he, a native of England, ended up in Texas is beyond me.  Maybe his hyperdrive broke down or he's got a price on his head or something.  Regardless, he still lives here in Texas now, so he's always at the local conventions selling autographed photos.

Random Wal-mart guy had me psyched up, and I went to the convention the next day, probably by myself as I'm sure my ex didn't want to go (which was kind of weird because she actually used to read way more sci-fi than I did and was socially awkward to the point of falling under the same headings in the DSM-IV as the majority of the attendees).  Because or in spite of this, it turned out to be one coolest days for any fanboy.

Granted, I'm not an autograph collector and don't really get much out of seeing celebrities just to say I saw them, so I didn't bother to get the VIP ticket or hear any presentations.  I just walked the floor and looked at booths.  It was like a museum of my childhood.  There were vintage toys that I remembered and missed and plenty more that I had forgotten about and now realized I missed.  And sure enough, Chewbacca was there.  You couldn't miss him.  I mean, the guy had (and still has) long curly black hair and stood a full two feet above the rest of the crowd.

There was more to see than just actors and action figures.  A lot of fans showed up in their custom costumes, including Storm Troopers, Boba Fett, etc.  If you grow up with these characters exclusively on one side of the screen, it's just kind of cool to be standing there looking at them in the flesh, even if they're being portrayed by guys with Asperger's syndrome.  I'm sure these folks work all year long perfecting what Dani and I try to cram into the week leading up to Halloween.

As I wandered the floor some more, I happened across a guy showing the Star Wars Holiday Special on a tv at his booth of bootleg sci-fi video curiosities.  Now, if you've never seen this video, you will believe someone has put something in your drink on your first viewing of it.  It is just like watching David Lynch's Eraserhead for the first time and then trying to explain what you just saw to someone.  You're going to hurt yourself.  It's a given.  If you've seen it, you know just what I'm talking about.

Of course, I had seen it back when it first aired.  In 1978.  And I was still in shock from it.  It really is just too bizarre for words.  I won't attempt a synopsis because, well, you wouldn't believe me anyway, but I get to this one scene where Bea Arthur (yes, the Golden Girl) is playing a bar maid at the Star Wars cantina and she's singing a song to all the other patrons there (I swear I am not making this up) about how great it is that they have one another for company.  It's during this scene that I hear a voice behind me say, "Maude?  What is Maude doing in Star Wars?!"  I turn around and it's this older guy who looks kind of familiar.  I can't place the guy for anything, but I would swear I knew him.  At any rate, I went back to watching the show for a bit more then checking out the convention for the rest of the day.

I had completely forgotten about that encounter until about a year or so later when I was flipping through the channels and the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager comes on.  (Actually, I wasn't a viewer and I didn't know it was the last episode until later.)  The ship just destroyed a bunch of Borg and traveled through a worm hole or something to finally return home after having spent the last couple seasons on the other side of the galaxy (Forgive any errors.  Seriously, this one episode constitutes about 80% of the footage I've seen of the show.  Everything else I know about it came from my cousin who actually is a Trekkie and an engineer.  But I repeat myself).  Well, the first people to pop up on the monitor on the bridge of the Voyager are the supreme commander of the Federation (whatever he's called) and a couple of subordinates.  That was the guy!  It turns out I was watching the "Star Wars Holiday Special" with the head of the Federation!  And I didn't even know it.  Wow.  What a day.

In the years since then I have been to several more conventions and enjoyed myself.  Carrie Fisher was at one and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) was at another one.  And I actually ran into Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and his wife (the only person there shorter than he is).  And when I say I ran into him, I mean that I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was behind me, didn't see anyone, and backed into him on the convention floor.  I didn't knock him down or anything, but it was embarrassing.  Then again, I guess going to sci-fi conventions should be embarrassing, but I don't care or I wouldn't be telling you this.

Copywrite 2007 in a gAle[x]y far, far away...

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