YtseCon III Convention Report

The Joy of Travel.....Not :)

----------------- blue separator -------------------

My trip up to New York for Ytsecon III, a gathering of fans of the band Dream Theater, was to begin very early Friday morning October 11th, a Continental Airlines flight to Cleveland where I would change planes (two hour layover) for a flight -- finally -- to Laguardia. There, if all went well, Ytsejammer Heath Augustover ("Augie" on IRC) would meet me and take me back to his parents' place, where I would be staying Friday night. Then the con on Saturday afternoon, and then Saturday night would be spent at the con hotel, the Laguardia Marriott, with Chris Oates, a Jammer flying in from the Seattle area (!). After that it would be back to Augie's to spend Sunday night and then fly back -- at a decent hour this time -- on Monday, Columbus Day.

Well, that was the plan. It Didn't Work Out That Way. :( :)

I didn't get much sleep Thursday night -- as usual, I was on IRC too late yakking with the usual crowd of DT fans -- and so I was in fine form Friday morning, nice and muzzy-headed. After a slow start and some last-minute packing (what DO you wear to NY in October?), I left the house with about an hour til the flight. This is fine, since at that early hour the ride to the airport is about 25 minutes and the airport approaches here are easy to negotiate (unlike Laguardia, whew!).

I arrived with about 35 minutes til the flight, but I didn't see the vaunted "express" curbside baggage check-in. So I parked the car at the curbside and went inside. There was a line at the ticket counter inside, but eventually I got my bag checked in. Went outside to find the police officer just laying a parking ticket under the windshield wiper. Oh, joy. A great start to a brutal day.

So it's now about 25 minutes til the flight leaves, and I haven't parked the car in the economy parking lots yet ($5/day). This would be the biggest problem of the morning. After driving around to the lot, I had trouble finding a space. Getting more and more frantic, I finally found one, nice and far away from the terminals. In a blind panic I locked the car and started running for the terminal, with about 15 minutes til the flight. A few years ago I might have been able to run more of the distance, but at my advanced age and in my "vertically challenged, horizontally enhanced" condition, I couldn't keep up the pace all the way. Back into the terminal I went, through the weapons detectors (as usual, I set it off even after taking off everything, so they had to manually check me -- more delay!), then down to the automated Cylon-controlled trains out to the concourses.

The flight was on Concourse C, which is good news only in that it's closer than Concourses D and E. After a seemingly endless ride on the train I dashed off, with about 4 minutes to go, up the escalators and ran haltingly down the concourse to Gate C9.

I arrived at the gate. The agent looked at me and said "Oooh, boy, let me see if you can still get on." He poked his head into the jetway. "Sorry, guy, I can hear the bell; they're just moving the jetway back." Curses! Foiled by 30 seconds! If, at any point during that morning I could have saved a minute or two, I'd have made the flight. Further joy. (I must observe that the flight actually left a bit early by my watch. Grr.)

So I trudge dolefully over to the gate-agents' counter. "We can put you on another connecting flight to Cleveland in about three hours, sir. A two-hour layover in Cleveland and then a flight to New York." Uh, okay. Like I had a choice....

By this time it's about 7am, and me with just a few hours' sleep, so I figure I can hike back out to the car and listen to tunes on the radio. I'd also have to call Augie's at some point to tell him he could sleep in; I wouldn't be arriving at Laguardia until much later in the day.

One problem: I couldn't find my car! In my blind panic to leave I'd forgotten to memorize the parking lot section number. I tried retracing my route to find a space but it turns out I was a little off. So, no car. If I'd been in a better mood I could have enjoyed the fact that, with the lot now completely full, every car was stopping me to ask me whether I was leaving. One guy rides up and says jovially "Good morning, sir! Can I give you a lift to your car?" I forced a smile, appreciating his humor on this black morning. "Well, yea, but there are two problems: I can't FIND it, and even if I could, I'm not leaving anyway!"

After a while, with my knees and hamstrings aching royally from the mad-dash to the flight earlier, I limped back to the concourse to read the book I'd brought (Tad Williams, To Green Angel Tower Part 2) and await the flight. Since it was getting a bit later in the morning I called Augie's house to warn him of my later arrival, but I got the answering machine. I left a message with the new flight information.

Finally the new plane arrived, disgorged its passengers and sat waiting for us. I'd managed to stay awake -- no easy feat -- and with relief I boarded the plane and settled in. Through some bit of necromancy Continental had known I wanted a window seat without asking me, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in one. The plane, a DC-9, had these cool LCD screens built into each seat-back, with a phone/remote control mounted under the seat-arm. I was tempted to play around with it and also tempted to call Augie's again during the flight, but I figured it would cost way too much. Besides, I wanted to at least TRY to sleep a bit. I did, but it was only an hour and 10 minutes to Cleveland. The closer we got, the cloudier the weather became underneath us, and on approach to Cleveland we dropped closer and closer to the cloud deck before finally sliding into it. In the morning light, it looked really cool.

--Great, another two-hour layover, and I'm still sleepy. With the aid of To Green Angel Tower and a stop at the concourse's self-service Burger King (!) I managed to stay awake -- I was mostly running on adrenaline anyway. I also called Augie's place again -- got the answering machine again. *sigh*

The flight to Laguardia was reasonably uneventful, but short, just a bit over an hour, and no sleep for Paul again. During the approach -- once again in crystal-clear air -- we got a great view of the sprawling metropolis of New York. Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, even a glimpse of the green infield grass of Shea Stadium as we ghosted past it on the approach. (You can always tell instantly when a baseball game is being played at Shea: you hear the not-too-distant airliners whooshing by in the background :).

I had ample reason to fret, now; my luggage had gone ahead of me and, sitting unclaimed at Laguardia, had hopefully been stowed away by Continental....but, you never know. Also, I had no way of knowing whether Augie had gotten my messages. I exited the concourse and started heading toward the baggage-claim, but wait: there's a Dream Theater hat, and there's Augie underneath it. A familiar, friendly face; I almost passed out in relief. :) My suitcase was waiting for me at the baggage office, happy-happy-joy-joy, and so we were ready to leave.

Augie's family lives about 40 minutes from LaGuardia in Bellmore, on the south coast of Long Island. I was too keyed up to sleep, though, and besides, like any tourist, I wanted to see the area. I have relatives on Long Island, in East Meadow (not too far from Bellmore) and out in Montauk, so many of the areas we passed were eerily familiar. Traffic was bad in spots, but Augie's driving, though seemingly reckless, proved to be wreck-less: New Yorkers, I think, only seem to drive crazy because of the traffic they're in; in actuality most of them are good drivers 'cause the bad ones get weeded out quickly by evolutionary forces :).

It's getting close to dinnertime and we finally arrived at Augie's, a nice house (by LI standards) that reminded me of my uncle's place in East Meadow. Augie's mom and dad apologized for my "rude" accomodations downstairs and started setting up the sofa pull-out bed. Rude accomodations? Good grief, I've slept on many a hotel-room floor at science-fiction conventions; this was unasked-for luxury!

After dinner (ricotta-filled calzones; they don't make 'em like that down here) and going online on IRC, I finally slipped off to bed. I slept the sleep of the dead; logs ain't in it. :)

Augie is very much a late-night person due to his schedule, and he'd been up flirting on IRC pretty late, so as the morning advanced and there was no sign of Augie, I was getting worried. I'd had plenty of time to be worried; I was awake by 8:30 feeling quite refreshed. Having to be at work weekday mornings at 7:30 must've figured in that! But at last Augie was up and about and so we left right on schedule for YtseCon III, starting at 1pm at the La-GWAR-dia Marriott.

We arrived on time and even found a parking space on the street for free, so we had a good start to the day (and Augie was happy). The con itself has been reviewed several times on the Ytsejam Digest (including a brief review from me), but suffice it to say that, as always, it was great to be amongst people who share a passion for good, thoughtful music, well-played. Even though the band members couldn't be there (or declined to attend), it was still loads of fun and worth the trip for me.

After the con itself it was time to move my stuff up to the room I was sharing with Chris Oates from the W. Coast (a really cool chap). Mike Bahr had occupied the same slot the preceding night, but was leaving fairly early in the morning (somewhat more "in funds" than when he'd arrived :)). Then it was time for many of the Jammers present to go eat.

In most places this wouldn't present too much of a logistical problem, but we were in Queens on Long Island, a stone's throw from Brooklyn and other dark nether regions infested -- to hear Augie speak of it -- with minions of Satan, Mordor and the Great Lord of the Dark.

So in order to avoid these Dreadlords and Myrddraal, we had to do some traveling, to get to a "safe" area where we could eat reasonably cheaply. This ended up being a 40-minute ride -- the able Captain Johnny Motown skippering our vessel -- to a placed called Roosevelt Field, which resembled a mall more than a field. Lucky for us, 'cause it had a food court inside, and a pretty good one where everyone ate their fill from various eateries. Meanwhile Mike Bahr hied off to JC Penney to buy a cheap suit jacket so he could fly back home as a Delta Family stand-by. A high point came when Jeff and Greg Chew came back with a big hand-decorated cookie for us, decorated with Ytsecon III tidings. Cool!

Then it was time for Q-Zar. We expected this; after all, Jeff Chew practically lives there! :) After eating and feeling somewhat dicey still from travel-adrenaline, I didn't really feel up to rigors of the hunt. Chris O. and (I think) Rachel/Wisha felt the same way, so we opted out, watching the scores on the scoreboard. After the game some people broke off to go watch Power Windows, a Rush cover band, who were playing elsewhere on the Island. I'd been planning on going myself, but I was starting to feel a little tired, plus my ankles and knees were still aching from that first-day airport run, so Johnny Motown once again took the wheel of his car and hauled two groups back to the hotel; I was in the first wave along with Chris Oates and Tim "Beer!" Spear, who had come all the way from the UK. For this, Johnny "Motown" Mastin was awarded the Golden Steering Wheel Award of Bravery with Goo-goo Cluster. :)

Back at the hotel Chris went upstairs to crash, while Tim and I hung out at the hotel bar ($1.50 Diet Cokes, for all love!), waiting for the others to return. Eventually they did and a lively crowd took over the bar for a while before many of the locals went their separate ways. I spent some time in Pat/Gabbo's room while Mike Bahr gave a quick lesson in how to play Magic: the Addiction to us (I had always been curious; many of my friends play the game or collect the cards), then, feeling sleep lurking closer to me, I went back to the room and crashed.

SUNDAY -- Hell on Earth!

Sunday dawned a bit rainy, but it cleared off in time for Chris O. to leave for his plane. I'd discovered that Tad Williams was Chris' favorite fantasy author, so my current reading choice met with his full approval. This day, I was to journey back to Augie's place to spend Sunday night, but since the Jets were playing and Augie wanted to watch, I had to travel back to Bellmore on my own. I checked out of the room and then compared notes with the hotel bell-staff on the best way to get to Bellmore. The answer appeared to be a multi-stage trip, with me schlepping my heavy suitcase and my briefcase all the way:

  1. Free hotel shuttle to the Carey Bus stop at Laguardia Airport
  2. Carey Bus to Jamaica Station, Long Island Railroad
  3. LIRR to Bellmore ("take the Babylon train," Augie told me)
  4. at Bellmore Station, call Augie's and he'd come out and pick me up.
At about this time Gabbo and Irene came through, on their way out of the hotel. They were also going to the airport and we boarded the shuttle bus together.

The hotel shuttle part worked fine and it deposited me at the Carey Bus stop at Laguardia in fine time. I wished Pat and Irene well on their journey. They were the last friendly, familiar faces I'd see for a while. :)

Unfortunately Carey only operates their bus to Jamaica Station every half-hour, so I realized I wouldn't make the train I'd been hoping on, but no big deal; trains ran every half-hour, too.

While waiting at Laguardia I saw a band arrive and drive off in a van. I still don't know who it was, but it seemed like it consisted of one fairly short white guy -- looked a bit like, say, Charlie Benante from Anthrax -- and the rest black. If they were playing in town that night, they must have been a reasonably big-time band, since they were flying between shows and not riding in their tour bus, but I didn't recognize them.

I'm still not sure who they were, but they provided a handy distraction to take my mind off the fact that the bus was running late. Damn, damn, damn.... Finally one driver was told to reflag his bus as a Jamaica bus, and we were finally on the way.

So, running a bit late but not disastrously so I arrived at Jamaica Station. The ticket line was longish but moved fairly quickly, and I discovered to my pleasure that my railfare was cheaper since it was Off-Peak. A small ray of sunshine on an otherwise drab day. Cool!

The ticket didn't betray any secret intelligence as to which train to take or which track it would use, but consulting the status board I discovered the Babylon train was due on Track 6. Or maybe 7. Looked like two trains might qualify. Uh-oh!

Track 6 held a train, and so did Track 7. A lady advised me to run through the train on Track 6 -- the doors yawned open on both sides -- and ask for advice at the Eastbound Information kiosk between Tracks 7 and 8. I did, and the guy told me the next train on Track 7 was the right one. So I got on the crowded train -- much like Atlanta's MARTA trains, these were, third-rail-powered but somewhat heavier-duty -- and settled in. We roll out of the station in style. Along comes the conductor to collect tickets, and I'm loving it 'cause I love trains and the last time I'd actually seen something so quaint as a conductor taking tickets was on Amtrak over three years ago.

I proferred my ticket with all the happy feeling of immanence I could muster.
"I'm going to Bellmore," I said brightly.
"Oh. Why are you on THIS train?" the conductor fires back.
*Sigh* Betrayed by the guy in the information kiosk!
"Best I can tell you is to get off at Mineola -- that's the next stop -- cross the tracks and take the next westbound to Jamaica, and try again."
*Mineola? I don't want to go to Mineola, or Maxi-ola or Micro-ola. I just want to get to fuckin' Bellmore!*
My faith in mankind was partly restored as the conductor, bless him by all means, handed me back my ticket unpunched.

After rolling swiftly by about five smaller stations -- and zipping through grade crossings with impressive speed -- we arrived at Mineola. I called Augie's house and described my travel woes to his mom, and said I'd call when -- and if -- I ever arrived at Bellmore Station. I missed a westbound train in the process, but oh well. I did get to see a tired-looking diesel-hauled train, with a locomotive at each end and old passenger coaches in between, come through, so that was cool. (LIRR uses these for the outer Island routes, where the tracks aren't electrified.) The approachway to JFK was also nearby, so I also got to see several 747's and a Concorde glide by on final approach. I felt a bit more cheerful. :)

After about ten minutes -- service is pretty frequent on this corridor -- a westbound train rolls in, tootling for the crossing just to the east, and once again we're on the way. I explain my sad tale of betrayal to the conductor, who -- bless him for a true saint and human bein' -- also doesn't punch my ticket. Cool, now we're cookin' with gas!

Gosh, now I'm back at bustling Jamaica station again. At another time I'd drink in the sights at a busy commuter rail station, but I'd like to get to Bellmore by midnight. (It was about five p.m.) I crossed the tracks over to Track 7 again and noted -- to my dismay -- that the chap in the kiosk had been replaced, presumably because they feared my wrath. I buttonholed three LIRR guys, on the assumption that it would be harder for three guys to make up a lie on the fly, and asked them with all the grace I could muster,
"Which train to Bellmore?"
"Take the -second- train on Track 7. Not the one that's there now; that's the express. Take the next one; that's the local. It'll be right behind it."
"Okay, cool." I briefly described my unintended sojourn to Mineola and concluded with "I love trains.....just not all day." :)
Well, I got some smiles out of 'em, at least. :)

So now I'm waiting for one train to leave and the next one to get there. At the platform, this guy comes up to me and says "You look like a musician going home from touring." (I'm carrying my suitcase and wearing my leather jacket, Dragon*Con '97 shirt with metal-looking James O'Barr artwork, and I have long hair.) Hey, cool, a kindred soul; this guy also had long hair tied back in a queue. He reassured me I was waiting for the right train, and when it rolled in, literally thirty FEET behind the outgoing express, we sat together on the train, talking about music and stuff. This time the conductor punched my by-now-grubby ticket. :)

A swift 25-minute journey commenced -- no grade crossings this time -- and eventually Danny and I exchanged phone numbers, since he'd mentioned he was a medievalist and I sell swords for a blacksmithy. He also gave me his ticket, which had a route map on the back for all of LIRR. Cool; there's my Official Souvenir for the trip! He was continuing on to Massapequa Park, so I bid farewell to him when -- at last! -- we rolled into Bellmore Station. It was close to 6 p.m.; I'd started out from the hotel at around 2.

I went downstairs and looked hopefully for either Augie (he wasn't there, not that I expected him) or a payphone. I called Augie's house. No answer. Uh-oh; they have an answering machine. Tried again. No answer. Tried again and again, at two-, then five-minute intervals. No answer. I looked at Danny's number. I called directory and verified Augie's address, since he supposedly wasn't too far from the station and I could possibly take a taxi there. Still no answer, and no guarantee there'd be someone there if I took a cab. I looked at Danny's number again and decided if there was still no answer at Augie's in fifteen minutes, I'd just go ahead and call this guy and beg for crash space there, since he was really cool. :)

But this wasn't needed, since with five minutes to spare Augie finally answers. "Ooops, the modem must've blocked the line again. Sometimes it does that. How long ya been waiting? An HOUR!? Shit, I'll be right there!"

Augie was there in about 10 minutes -- by this time the Jets game was mercifully over -- and we went back to his parents' place for another unbeatable dinner, more Web fun and IRC. I also watched the Braves/Cardinals Championship game until the Braves started losing, then turned it off in disgust. (They'd eventually fall to the Cards, making the best-of-7 series 3-1 in the Cards' favor.)

The rest of the tale is, happily, unremarkable. Augie got me to the airport in good time Monday for my two return flights, and the flight to Cleveland, a city I've only seen from its airport, was fine and smooth.

While awaiting the connecting flight in Cleveland, out of the corner of my eye I noticed the guy sitting next to me is reading a book-- Holy shit, he's reading HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian, the third in a terrific series of historical/adventure books considered by some, including me, the best in the world! I happily exchanged pleasantries and observations about the books with the guy, who was a businessman-type. As we parted I said to him "I wish you joy, sir," in the true manner depicted so faithfully in O'Brian's books (it means "good luck" or "congratulations"). He favored me with a conspiratorial smile.

This time the Cleveland-Atlanta plane, a brand-new 737, didn't have those cool video screens on the seat-backs, so I missed my chance to play around with them, and this time I was even awake. :) As we were approaching Atlanta the captain came on and announced "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to announce that the Braves are now beating the Cardinals fourteen to nothing," and the whole plane cheered. See? I left town for a weekend and they slacked up, but they knew better than to fuck up when I'm headed home!

Back at the airport, weary and fearing a long walk back with my 50-lb suitcase, I splurged on a $1.50 luggage cart. I dreaded trying to find my car -- you'll remember I couldn't find it before -- but thanks to the fact that I'd arrived later in the day, there were a good number of open spaces, and I spied my car a little ways off from where I'd been searching back on Friday. It started up like a dream -- unlike YtseCon II, where I'd left the dome light on for three days. I drove home, stopping only at Carvel for a soft ice cream treat to celebrate my successful return, and because we never got to stop at one up on Long Island, where they're based (there's only one in Atlanta, and to my glee it's close to my house). And so my Ytsecon III trip came to a happy ending. Now we're planning on roadtripping up for a Dream Theater show in a few weeks, but it doesn't look like the Long Island Railroad will be featured this time. :)

----------------- blue separator -------------------

TOP of Paul's home-page
My current fave vibes
Past, present and future books
Contents of my CD changer
My favorite books of all time
Current news and happenin's