15 Years of BotCon - 10 Years for Me
(griffin's 2008 BotCon report)

From Brisbane to Cincinnati

Pre BotCon.
Sunday 20th April.

Most of Sunday was spent getting everything out read to pack, and doing up lists of things I wanted and others were paying me to get at BotCon.  I got to bed later than I wanted at about midnight, and then ended up not being able to sleep at all, mostly due to being nervous about the trip. It was like the night before Christmas when I was a youngen. I knew I should be sleeping (because I wouldn't be getting much sleep during the next 36 hours), but just couldn't.
And this was a year in which I could sleep the night before, because I was flying direct from Brisbane late in the morning, instead of via Sydney (those Sydney flights required a 4am departure from my house, so I would stay up all night to not risk sleeping through an alarm clock).
What a waste it was... having the night before to sleep this year, and NOT being able to sleep.

Monday 21st April
At about 5am I decided to just get up, in case I actually did fall asleep and not hear my alarm (I actually had three set, just to be sure). I got the last of the maps printed up, emails sent, and packed everything I put out the day before, for a scheduled departure time of 8am (allowing for 90 minutes travel time to the airport, and 90 minutes check in before the 11am flight).

These were the black and white versions of the Ozformers T-shirts I did up this year.  The black one was the worse one, with the big rectangle of grey, which I will change to a colour next time. And I'll have the Transformers lettering in colour as well.  It looked nicer in the metallic colours on the computer monitor, but didn't look as good on the shirts.  But that might be a project for when I get settled back and caught up with things after BotCon.

As usual, I was late (despite getting up early), and left home about 8.30.
I could have got a taxi, but at $60-70, but I thought I could still make it with a bus and train to the airport for about $25.
I got to the check-in counter just on 10am. I should have been there at 9.30am, for what I thought was a 90-minute check-in requirement on international travel... But it was a 60-minute cut-off, so I only barely made it.  Even still, I looked to be the last person checking in.
Being so close to cut-off wouldn't have been so bad in previous years, because I'd never checked in a bag before on my way to America.  I usually travel so light, my duffle bag is small enough to be a carry-on bag. But this year I was taking a computer (just bought a few months ago) and packing items (tape & scissors to pack up a box for the trip back), so needed to fill out my big bag plus my backpack (which would usually be inside the big bag in previous years). So this year I was really worried about the cut-off, because there would be no allowance of getting on board late if I didn't have any luggage.
Lucky for me, I must have just made it.

But what was going to happen next, made me thinking that it was good that I wasn't there really early though.

Going through security and Customs, I was at the departure gate just minutes before they started boarding the plane.  Once we were all on board, and pulled away from the gate to do pre-flight checks and the safety demonstration, an announcement was made by the captain to inform us that a warning light for engine 1 wouldn't let them go until it was checked by ground staff.
For the next hour, we were sitting there as 4 or 5 maintenance staff started opening up parts of the engine looking for the fault.

Now, who would be worried about flying for 13 hours across the Pacific Ocean on an engine that was faulty???

Then the announcement was made that we would be towed back to the departure gate for us to be let off, because they needed at least 2 hours to replace some computer parts for the engine.
So now a scheduled 11am flight was going to be at least 2pm, and would mean missing my connecting flight in LA.
Before we were let off, another announcement was made, to let us know that we would each be given a $15 food voucher to use in the Airport food court, plus given a little tub of orange juice.
So while I was still sitting there in the plane waiting to be let back off, I was thinking of what I would spend the food voucher on, and decided to get out my keycard/credit cards in case I went over $15.
I couldn't find them!!!
I searched my pockets and backpack (which I had in the plane with me), but they were no where to be seen.
I started panicking. What if I had left them at home? I couldn't remember packing them, but remembered having them out with the rest of the stuff to pack. If they were still at home, I wouldn't have any of the money I had been saving up these last few weeks, and I probably wouldn't even be able to get into the hotel if they needed to physically verify and swipe the Credit Card I used in the booking.  All I had on me was 200 US dollars, which may be enough to live on there, but not enough for the hotel.

Okay, so 2 hour delay - I started thinking that it would be enough time to get a taxi home and back again. It would be expensive, but spending about $140 to be able to spend 2 and a half thousand would be a necessary expense. Unfortunately, the airport people wouldn't let me leave the airport if I had luggage checked in and loaded on the plane (I could be a terrorist, planting a bomb and not returning). Again, the one year I check in luggage, works against me, as I was stuck in the airport now.
I needed a new idea.
I had to see if anyone else was still at home (I rent the downstairs level of a two-storey house), and beg them to go into my part of the house and look for my cards. I remembered where they were before I packed, and didn't do much after I packed before leaving. The problem was, I was having a total blank on what I did with my cards while I was packing everything away. I should have put them in my jeans pockets with my money and passport, but for some reason didn't do that, or even remember to check to do it.  I only double checked my passport, flight details printout, house keys and US money.
So the other person was looking around, but couldn't find them. Where could they be? The only things I could think of were, they were in my checked in bag (shouldn't be, and I don't remember putting them in there), I lost them on the way to the airport (fell out of my pocket while pulling money out to pay for public transport), or, in the pockets of the clothes I was wearing while packing.
There wasn't much I could do now. I couldn't ask the person looking for my cards to go through my dirty cloths basket to check my shorts pockets, and I wouldn't be able to check my checked-in bag for about another 13 hours in LA. All I could do now is just wait it out, and just hope that they were accidentally packed in my checked-in bag. I was so annoyed with myself, because this was ninth BotCon adventure and not double checking the money side of things before I left home was such a newbie mistake. I was getting too complacent with these trips, and it was now gonna cost me.
This was also another case of this year's checking in of luggage working against me, because I would have known for sure if it was in my luggage while I was still in Brisbane.

So now I was in the food-court at the Brisbane International Terminal, and I use the word 'food-court' very loosely. The BIT is still a very small airport - it has only been servicing direct QANTAS flights to America for less than four years (I was actually on the very first direct US flight for BC04, coincidentally), and the terminal only has about 14 departure gates. So as you can expect, the number of retail outlets in this particular airport beyond the security checkpoint is only about 7, with 4 of them being food outlets. So imagine a scene of about 350 people, all wanting to use food vouchers at these four tiny food outlets.
It actually took an hour to get something from the Eagle Boys Express Pizza outlet, but at least it was free.
The turnover for that one day would probably equal a few months of trade for them. Unless QANTAS does this sort of thing often (mechanical failures seem to be getting quite common since they moved their fleet maintenance to Indonesia a couple of years ago).

While I was waiting for the pizza queue to dissipate, I harassed Demonac/Ian for a while by phone. It helped relieve some of the stress of the missing cards and missed connecting flight.

Thinking about it, there are about 350 people, each with a $15 meal voucher, plus dozens of passengers QANTAS have to pay for new connections, transfer fees or accommodation in LA (if their connection was a one-per-day type of route), all adding up. I guess the savings they make from the cheap, dodgy foreign maintenance crews in Indonesia (seen on 60 Minutes) is still worth all those various expenses when something screws up, or crashes...

Before we were called back to the plane, I phoned my travel agent, who was great in being able to check my connecting flight options, and booked me onto the next one out of LA, which was an hour and 10 minutes later. Hopefully enough time if they fixed the problem soon and there were no other delays. Otherwise, the travel agent told me that the next connection after that was 11 hours later, and I would be missing the first night of my hotel reservation (money wasted).
Back on board by 2.30pm, we took off 20 minutes later, almost 4 hours behind schedule!!!!
Everyone on my side of the plane was looking at the faulty engine as we took off, expecting it to fall off or explode. It had a bit of smoke come out of it, like an old car being started, but that fortunately was the only problem I noticed during the flight.

The pilot must have floored it though, as we managed to make up about 30 minutes on the scheduled travel time.

Love the current entertainment-on-demand with QANTAS, which they had last year - you can play and pause anything you want to watch.  With about 40 movies on demand, 50 TV shows, a dozen games and heaps of music to listen to, the flight just goes so fast.  Movies I watched were I am Legend, The Mist, Bee Movie and the first hour of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  The main meal was a Beef dinner (the Chicken option was not available, which was what I wanted) with icecream and hot chocolate. Plus there was a snack bag and a hot breakfast just before arrival to America.

We arrived at 10.10am Monday LA time (3.10am Tuesday Brisbane time), instead of 7am as we were supposed to. The first thing I did when I picked up my checked-in bag was look for my credit cards, and yes, they were in there. Phew! I still don't even remember putting them in. They must have been caught up in something else.
The Customs lady who processed me was quite amused at my reason for visiting the US (toy convention), and noticed on the computer that I had been doing this almost every year since 1999. Well, at least she didn't think I was a terrorist, otherwise, no one would have ever heard from me again.
This was the last year I could use my first ever Passport, and it was fitting to have this year's US Customs stamp be opposite the first stamp from my first BotCon in 1999. As such, I thought I should take a photo of it, because next year I will have a new passport. (I used Time Warrior to cover up the passport number to prevent identity theft)

Once again, if I hadn't been taking any checked in luggage, I would actually have been able to make my connecting flight, because that flight had been rescheduled for 30 minutes later than it's original departure time.  But I spent too long in the check-in queue, and got booked onto the flight that was now only 40minutes later. I had to I checked in at the Delta Airlines terminal (never flown with them before, as no QANTAS partner airline flew into Cincinnati), and waited at the departure gate with half a dozen uniquely American chocolate bars (always sampling the local cuisine).  I was worried that the over-booking policy American airlines have (to limit empty seating) would have prevented me from getting onto the next flight, but surprisingly it didn't (the plane was still full though).

As it turned out, my flight left LA airport surprisingly fast (it is a really bad airport, and most flights take up to half an hour to take off after pulling away from the gate), leaving there at 12.45pm, arriving at Cincinnati airport 30 minutes early at 7.45pm local time (9.45am Tue Brisbane time). Getting my luggage and a shuttle bus to the hotel, I checked in about 8.45pm. So after all those delays and problems, I only ended up being about 45 minutes later checking into the Hyatt hotel than when I expected to be.

This is a map of where the hotel in Cincinnati was in relation to the aiport.  Note that the river (Ohio River) is actually the state border, which means that Cincinnati's airport is actually in another state (Kentucky).  The airport is apparently the most expensive in America (the fee charged to airlines to use it), which is why Saintly and some others flew into Dayton's airport an hour away and got a cab or drove to Cincinnati. I was wanting the closer option though, especially if there were any delays, in case the hotel front desk closed at a certain hour.

Below is the Cincinnati Downtown area, with their two giant sports stadiums, and the hotel noted by the red star.

This is a map of the blocks around the hotel and convention centre. H is for the Hyatt, M is for the Millenium, and CC is for the Convention Centre. On that four corner intersection, the two hotels and the convention centre are on three of those corners, with a carpark on the fourth. It was fairly equal distance by foot from either hotel to get to the dealer room inside the convention centre, but the Millenium hotel was less distance to the panel room. Both Hotels were actually linked to the Convention Center by walkways suspended above the roads, with the Hilton walkway going through the carpark. Those walkways were linking several buildings in the CBD, which will be noted below.

Above is the Hyatt by night, from their website, which was also on the BotCon website.  Below is the Hyatt by day.

The first night is always a nothing night if checking in after dark, especially in a city like Cincinnati that closes up early, so all I did was get some food (a pizza shop was the only thing that I found was open, besides some bars, so I got a couple of pizzas), watched some TV, posted to the messageboard (signed up for an internet 'day pass' for US$10 - compared to $20 an hour at the hotels last year), got cleaned up and went to sleep at about 2.30am (about 4.30pm Tues Brisbane time).

Another thing I did while out looking for food, was to see if the Millenium Hotel still had rooms available at the discounted convention rate.  They did, but said I would have to call up their reservations number the next day to book a room.
The Botcon website or brochure or email gave me the impression that the first hotel (Hyatt) was part of the convention centre (said it was attached to it), but as it could be seen in the photo map a bit above, the Millenium is closest overall, and the walkway to the convention centre was completely enclosed. The walkway from the Hyatt was not covered.  Checking the wether forecast before I left home, it predicted a high probability of heavy storms on the Saturday and Sunday of the convention.  Fortunately for others it only rained on the Friday and Sunday evening, but I figured that it wasn't worth risking my computer and toys getting wet, when I could pay for a cheaper room and be dry then entire weekend.
So I went to sleep with my alarm set to wake me up early to get onto the room changes, because I only had until noon to cancel the next day onwards (part of the 24 hour cancellation policy), and needed to contact Saintly to get his opinion or approval (he wasn't arriving until the Thursday night, but was expecting to be at the Hyatt).

View from my window by night. Below is the photo of the room (522), and a photo of my travelling companion next to the US$5 600ml bottle of water!!!  I remember a few years back, a BotCon hotel having a bottle of water in it for $2, and it has kept going up each year. I've never seen a complimentary bottle of water as some have mentioned seeing in other hotels. I'd rather have a free bottle of water than the free newspaper every day, which would amount to much more over a few days stay.

Tuesday 22nd

Woke up 8.20am, and spent an hour or so working over the room options.  Should I take the safe option and just stay at the Hyatt at the higher rate (US$19 extra per night, and $47 extra on the last night) and internet access, or risk booking at the other hotel, which could have me paying for two rooms or not have either through some unforeseen miscalculation on my part.  Considering the bad luck I was having already on this trip, it's not surprising that I was very stressed out making this decision. I rang both hotels again to double check what I was told the night before, before making the reservation at the Millenium. And I had to make sure that I booked the correct nights to match the nights I could cancel at the Hyatt (could only cancel Wednesday onwards, not the Tuesday because it was less than 24 hours notice), otherwise I could be paying for two rooms at once or having a night without a room (in hindsight, that wouldn't have been a problem because of the availability of rooms at the Millenium).
The big hassle I was going to have, based on the experience at my first BotCon, was I would be temporarily paying for two rooms until the refund (about US$700/AU$800) from the Hyatt got back to me.  Hotels charge the entire amount at check-in, and will charge more or return a refund only when you check out.  The odds are though, even though the Hyatt front desk said it would be 3 business days (in time for the convention), I wouldn't see the money back in my account until I was on my way home the following monday.
With no contact with Saintly, I couldn't get his opinion. I went ahead and made the reservation, then went down to the front desk of the Hyatt to shorten my stay to just 2 nights. I then had think about checking out of the Hyatt (packing up all my stuff) on the Wednesday morning and dropping the bags off at the Millenium before the Wednesday tour at 7am, because I wouldn't be able to check in there until I got back in the afternoon but had to be out of the Hyatt by noon (while away on the tour).

Looking out of my window of the hotel that morning (a cut and paste of four photos to get everything in). I was on the fifth floor, which I think was the first floor of actual rooms, and I was the first window from the central column.  To the left of the photo is the convention centre with a pyramind on that corner of the roof.  Straight ahead is the Millenium Hotel.

I didn't end up getting out of the hotel to go shopping until about 11am, so with such a late start, I probably wasn't going to have much time to go long distance to some of the department stores I would need a taxi for.
I started off by doing the usual bit of reconnaisance of important things, like Convention Centre, Post Office and food outlets. Knowing where they are while I have time, means I don't have to look for them in a rush later.
Walking over to the convention centre from the Hyatt, I walked past three of the BotCon staff (Brian, Pete, Rik) who were carrying a number of BotCon toys with them (must have been seeing to their deliveries at the centre and bringing some items back to the hotel).

Above is a photo of the exposed section of the walkway between the Hyatt (orange brick building) to the Convention Centre (where I was standing). Below is a map of the 'Cincinnati Skywalk' - a network of 2nd storey pedestrian walkways going through buildings and across streets linking up 16 blocks of the CBD area. But the only uncovered part I found was between the Hyatt and the convention centre, making it worth changing hotels if it did end up raining that weekend.

For about 2 and a half hours, I wandered around the CBD, looking for a grocery store that appeared to no longer exist at the location it was supposed to be (according to the internet), so was disappointed that I couldn't get a good sampling of 'native' foods at non-convenience store prices.
I checked the maps at the bus station near Fountain Square (2 blocks from Hotel).  I saw that their busses didn't go south of the river into Kentucky to the closer stores of interest, and I didn't have the time to travel to any of the stores that were north of Cincinnati. If I had another day before the tours, I would have, but the stores were spaced apart, so wouldn't be an efficient toy hunt.

Fountain Square, with a huge TV screen that played a sports channel.  The first night I was there, it was playing a Baseball game and the square was crowded with people, despite nothing much being open in the CBD.

The only Transformers I found at all was 3 Real Gears and keychains at a Walgreens (convenience store), and a couple of KO Transformers attached to clothing at a CVS store (a very small department store, which had a toy section, but only had a Cybertron Primus toy and a number of merchandise items).

I found an outlet that sold Gyros (didn't know what they were, but remembered it from an episode of Seinfeld), and they ended up being like a cross between a soft taco and a kebab. Very nice though.
Also found a pathetically small music and DVD store nearby, but didn't find anything I really wanted (like certain cartoon DVDs that are heaps cheaper in America than in Australia). I had my hopes up at getting some of the Masters of the Universe DVDs too. Ah well, I'll just get them online when I get home.
On the way back to the hotel, I saw a Wendys burger shop (one of my favourite non-Australian burger outlets) and a pretzel shop.  I got several pretzel products (we don't have these back home, but I really like them), bought a few items from a Walgreens and went back to the Convention Centre to take some photos before returning to the hotel.  Got caught up talking with a tourist guide at the convention centre for about 40 minutes, about our cultural differences, and the Transformers convention (she would be taking her kids to it, and wanted to know what to expect).
Back at the hotel about 4pm (6am Wed Brisbane time), I ate, watched TV, showered, did internet stuff on our messageboard (and TFW2005 board - which I had a message from another member, letting me know that a package of early BotCon stuff he had very generously offered to copy for me, would be at the Hyatt front desk on Thursday), packed for the early check out in the morning, and went to sleep around midnight.

Go to next day - Wednesday 23rd April - pre-convention tour and pre-registration

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griffin @ otca.com.au

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