My 10th year of BotCon
(griffin's 2009 BotCon report)


BRISBANE TO LA - MONDAY & TUESDAY

First, a bit of pre-con details.
When the convention date and location was finally announced and confirmed at the end of December, I didn't expect there to be any sales or discounted seats, and at that time there weren't (direct from Brisbane to LA). But there was a sale on for flights out of Sydney and Melbourne, probably to boost capacity for the new A380 planes that had just started this year from those to cities to America.  The choice was to fly at half price, but go via Melbourne or Sydney, adding several hours to the journey, and no sleep the night before departure (I don't dare risk relying on an alarmclock for an earlier domestic (dawn) flight). I had been enjoying the convenience of direct Brisbane to LA flights for most of the last five years that they had been operating (before 1994, flying from Brisbane to LA meant going via Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland or some Asian stopovers), I didn't really want to go back to the bad old days of adding extra time to the 12-13 hour international flight.
Ah well, even paying for the extra domestic flight, it was still a saving of about $1200, and I couldn't risk hoping for another sale later to include Brisbane.  I booked, and, well... a week later, there was a sale to include Brisbane, because QANTAS had to start competing against V-Australia (who were about to start their direct flights, and discounting to under a Grand for a return ticket - which is the lowest price ever).
The good thing to come of it was Melbourne board member Demonac (Ian) had also ended up booking on that same flight from Melbourne, which would make this the first time out of my 10 BotCons, to travel WITH someone.  Not only that, I would fortunate enought to end up sharing with him and his family (wife Caroline and kid Emilie) for half of the time there (the hefty cost of conveniently close accomodation (can end up being about AU$200 per night) makes it a MUST to share with someone). I was a bit worried that I might end up having the remaining 3 of the 7 nights on my own with an expensive roon (that you don't spend much 'awake' time in), but was also lucky enough to have my American friend, Tim want to share for those exact three days. He's my longest lasting American TFs friend, which I met at my very first BotCon, and coincedently shared with for a few nights at the exact same location at the BotCon five years earlier.  Since this ended up being one of only 3 BotCons with no nights on my own, two of the three required expenses (airfare, accomodation, pre-registration) of mine this year were a lot cheaper, leaving me with a lot more to spend at the event.

In those few short months leading up to the Convention in May, the cheap flights (thanks to the airline price-war) had encouraged a record number of Australian Transformers fans to register to attend.
A total of 11 Australians registered for the convention, representing almost all of the mainland states of Australia.  Even if we didn't count the two non-fans going, we still had a record number of Australian Transformers fans attending this year.

Initially I thought that having more Australians going would make the time there more fun, as it would mean more people I was pretty much guaranteeed to meet up with.  Problem was, I didn't realise just how much extra time I had to cram into my schedule, on top of my existing commitments (recording details and photos for this report, plus organising the purchase of items for Aussie fans).  All part of the adventure I guess, and it was still a lot of fun.

So,
December 25th - revealed location and dates of convention (5 months notice)
February 25th - released registration forms to confirm the location and dates of convention (only 3 months out)

MONDAY 25TH MAY

Below is a map of the flights taken to get there. Brisbane (1) to Melbourne (2) to LA, California (3).

As with the early few BotCons I went to, before there were any direct flights from Brisbane to America, this year required a much earlier departure from home for me, to catch a much earlier (dawn) domestic flight (the major airlines all seem to depart from the eastcoast cities to America between 10-11am).
An early departure meant no sleep the night before (I never take the risk of sleeping through an alarm), and relying on an expensive taxi ride to the airport (because it was too early for the train).
I spent the evening posting stuff on the Ozformers messageboard, and last-minute maps of the Pasadena area (with important places marked), but later found that I forgot to print up the maps before I left...
I also found out later that I didn't pack my alarmclock (my watch's alarm doesn't work) or my 'travelling companion' Dispensor (a Transformers figurine I now take on my various travels).
At about 3am I got myself packed, showered and dressed ready to go.  I called for a cab and it arrived at around 4.30, getting me to the airport just a little after 5am. Since it was only a domestic flight, I didn't have to be there 90 minutes prior... only 30 minutes, so with about an hour before the flight departed, it was the first year for a while that I wasn't panicking about getting to the airport in time.
At 6am, I was on my way to Melbourne, worried that the flight might not be able to land and make the connection to LA (the weather forecast the day before was that Melbourne should be covered by thick fog - worse than the day before, which saw the airport closed for hours in the morning).  Fortunately, there was no fog, and I landed on time a little before 9am.
I didn't have to collect luggage because it was meant to be checked through to LA (prior to last year, I used to carry on my bag because I didn't take much - but now take a computer with me, so need to check-in a bag and carry-on a backpack).

I had to get a new passport this year, as the old one expired too soon after the event (apparently you need at least 6 months to be allowed to use it).  The new one has a microchip in it, which meant being able to use the Customs express lane when I returned to Australia (won't be too express when everyone has one soon).

The United States had also just implimented this year, a new Visa-waiver registration system.  Instead of filling out a green card on the flight, visitors pre-register through a website.  Unfortunately, even though the online registration had been instigated since January and I had to fill it out, Customs at LA Airport (and probably not just there either) were still requiring us to fill out the green card because they weren't yet using the online system. It had been operating for about 4 months, and was still not being used...

The QANTAS flight from Brisbane to Melbourne had a technical fault (disappointingly common with QANTAS lately), but fortunately it was only delayed 10 minutes.

I landed into Melbourne around 8.30am, and went straight to the International Terminal, meeting up with Ian/Demonac, his wife Caroline and kid Emilie. Somehow Ian was able to get my Boarding Pass when they checked in (it wasn't a joint booking, and my ID should have been required).  So we went straight to the departure gate, where we were told that we could get on first because of Ian's youngen, Emilie.

Photo of the plane we were on.  Because it has 2 decks, it looks a lot shorter than a 747, but is probably about the same length. But when you look at those massive engines, they are the size of those catering trucks.  We were seated on a row near the wing, and I just couldn't get over the size of it.

Even though we got onto the plane first, the flight was delayed by 2 hours, making us fairly restless by the time we took off (a passenger was sick and had to get off, so they needed to find and remove his luggage - law requires no luggage be on a flight without the owner). A 12 hour flight is not something you want to be spending extra hours stuck in.

But it wasn't all bad, because of the personal entertainment system.  The old system had more movies, TV, Music and games than you had time for, but this new system had over twice as much available to view/listen/play. Over 100 Movies, 100 TV shows, 100 CD listings and about 40 games.  And they had snack-bars in the plane, with an endless supply of cookies, fruit and their full beverage range (drinks are usually available on other flights anyway, but this allows you to get them without having to chase up someone to help you). Let's see, what did I watch this year... The Day the Earth Stood Still, the latest Bond movie, Wall-E, and some TV shows includng an episode of Dr Who I missed on TV.

The flight managed to make a little time, but was still an hour late arriving at LA airport (9.20am). Not a big deal for me/us this year, as there wasn't a connecting flight to panic about missing.
We got our luggage, went through Customs, and went straight outside to the first available taxi. It was 20 minutes and 28 miles to the Hotel, but for the four of us, it worked out to be cheaper and quicker than a shuttlebus.
It had been 5 years since I had done most of this before, and recognised a fair bit of it, including the approach to the Hotel and its surrounding streets. It was a bit like BotCon 2002, returning to Fort Wayne from two years earlier... and almost, 'returning home' type familiarity.

Below is the map of LA, with the airport at bottom left, and the Hotel is the Red Star at the top.  It shows some very familiar place names too, in relation to where we were staying (and would go to on the pre-Convention tours).  The route from the airport was Highway 110, which took us right through Downtown LA.

Below is a map of the Hotel's surrounding area. Star 1 was my Hotel (Sheraton) and Convention Center, while Star 2 was the Hotel Ian's family would be staying at later in the week.
The Paseo Colorado was a shopping centre, of mostly food and fashion stores (which was convenient for groceries).

Below is a photo map of the 2 hotels (red stars), and the blue stars was the old Convention Center.  This was a Mapquest map, which must have been at least a year old (the Google map was even older, and had no signs of construction starting).  Five years ago when I was last there, the Convention Center was mostly underground, with the carpark and courtyard space on the surface.  Now, the carpark is underground, and the Convention Centre is fully above ground (shown in photos further down the page).

Photo map without lines and lettering.

The front of my hotel. Our room was on this side, on a balcony floor, a little past where the flags are in this photo.

10am Monday (LA time -  3am Tuesday Brisbane time) we arrived at the hotel.  Since we were about 5 hours before check-in starts, we just asked them if we could drop off our luggage while we went off to fill in time with shopping and looking around the local area.  They must have had rooms available at our reserved rate, because we were able to check into a room right there and then.
That was great, because we could then unwind and freshen up first, and have a room to return to at any time on the first day.

First thing we did (11am) was go across the road and get some groceries (I was travelling with a family of three, so there is a greater need for 'real food' than what I would have), including some lunch items.

I also took this opportunity to take photos of the adjoining Convention Centre (which was between the hotel and the shops).
It was at this time that I realised that the entire Centre had been demolished and rebuilt aboveground.

The map of the complex.

On the other side of Green Street, looking to the right at the 'Ballroom' (Convention Centre), which was where the entire Convention was housed.

Then looking straight onto the Auditorium.

And to the left at the Conference Centre.

Back to the room for lunch (midday), we then went off to the nearby Target to look for my 'first catch' of the trip.  This Target was just as bad as it was 5 years ago, with very little, very old stock, during the lead up to a Transformers Convention NEARBY.  You'd think that either the store manager would know, or the convention organisors would notify them, to capitalise on all the collectors expected to check out the nearby stores during that week.
I did find some Crossover Transformers toys, which are difficult to find in Australia (or really really behind in the waves). I got the Plo Koon/Starfighter and CLone/AT-TE, and Black Spiderman and Human Torch. They had a single Wolverine as well, but since it was the only one Ian/Demonac was interested in, I let him get it.

Another thing Ian was wanting to find was a cheap stroller for Emilie - one they could use for the week in the US, and just leave behind when they left. He managed to find one in Target for only about US$20 (heaps better than a nearby Baby store that had a 'cheap' one for about US$120).
An odd find was a plush Movie Optimus that was about 80cm tall, and about US$15. Demonac bought it, claiming it was for Emilie...

Since that was the only store within 3 miles of the Hotel, and we didn't feel like taking the hour-plus round trip walking to the next nearest department store, we headed back to the comfort of the Hotel room (2pm).  It had already been a long day, especially for me, since I had no sleep the night before I left.  It was coming up on 48 hours since I last had a decent sleep, so by this stage I was sucking down the caffeine from the bottle of some sugar-free cola softdrink, to keep me going.

During the next five hours I logged onto the interenet (paid for a 7-day access - it seems that the gimmick of free internet access is getting harder to find now), and went back to the grocery store for some other items, including a knife to open the toy packaging (for condensing space, and to play).

At about 7pm, we had dinner somewhere, and was back at the room by 8pm.
After a bit of time on the messageboard (posted up about the trip so far), I went to sleep about 11.30pm, but was woken up a few times by Emilie.  She was quiet the following nights though, so wasn't all bad.

The room by the end of the first day (Ian strategically placed the stroller to make it look messier, but probably didn't make much difference).

View from our balcony.

And looking down to the left where the entrance is.

One of the things I had to buy up and post back while in American this year was American Breakfast cereals and Confectionary. And not just for me.  A friend from where I work gave me $50 and told me to get 'Lucky Charms' and as many non-Australian Candy Bars as I could find.
Below left was most of what I got for him.  He was one happy camper when they got back to him. Below right is what I got for myself. My favourite is the Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
.

TUESDAY 26TH MAY

We ended up waking up about 10am, and did very little until past noon (mostly watching TV and on the Net).
Around the middle of the day, I git a message from Counterpunch/Jimmy saying that he just arrived in LA and was off checking out some stuff. I called him and we decided to do some toy hunting in a few hours, as he had a hire car. Ian and family went off shopping and lunch, while I stayed in the room to do internet stuff and get addresses of toy stores for our hunt.

At about 6pm, Jimmy arrived - better late than never I guess (luckily the shops are open late there).
Ian and I went off with him, planning to stop off at a ToysRUs, Walmart and Target, as they were all in the one direction, so should be easy enough to find without travelling too far.
We found the TRU first, and I had a big score. I litterally felt like a little kid in a toystore...
I got Animated Wreckgar (there were only 2, so picked the better looking one), Animated Waspinator and Blurr, Universe Darkwing (the redeco of Silverbolt), Marvel Wolverine (lucky for Ian), SWTF V-wing, SWTF Torrent fighter, Mighty Muggs Optimus, Bumblebee, Grimlock (they were only US$12 with tax, so not as bad as AUS pricing), and a TFs gift bag.

Then we went onto a Walmart, which we had to guess the correct road, and surprisingly got the right one. And to top it off, there was a Target next to it that I didn't have on my map.
The walmart had a huge section of empty shelf space with paperwork taped to it detailing where all the Movie toys were going in four days time, so there weren't a whole lot of TFs there. I did end up getting SWTF Kit Fisto (yep, I bought two EP2 Starfighters in 2 days), SWTF AAT, MarvelTF Thor, MarvelTF Captain America, MarvelTF grey Ironman, Animated Powerbot Street Patrol Bumblebee.
Going next door to the Target was a bit of a waste though, as they had really old TFs, and not many of them.
But 3 of the four stores we went to in the last 2 days had wave 2 Marvel TFs, but were missing the grey hulk. The green hulk from wave one was the shelf warmer in AUS, but the grey hulk is beginning to be a pain to find...
Maybe the tank in the packaging looks better grey than green.
I did buy a pack of Transformers Animated Band-aids (officially licensed), which I intend to use at work when I get minor cuts and scrapes.

As it was getting late, we turned back for home, deciding to skip the nearer Target store we were originally planning to go to. But on the way back, we took a wrong turn (which was somehow odd, because it was a straight road getting there), and it took us about an hour to find our way back to the hotel. By then it was too late to go out to dinner (as we were planning), so instead Ian, Jimmy and I headed off on foot for some burgers (also to get something for Caroline, who had to stay with the sleeping baby), but everything was looking to be closed. We headed off in the direction of a Burger King (half a mile away), but ended up seeing that it had closed just 10 minutes before we got there. The drive-thru was still operating though, so we asked if we could order something through there. The manager was a bit hesitent, but was charmed by our accents (wanted to know where we were from), and we eventually got some burgers ordered and picked up (we had to keep getting out of the way of the cars, so it took about 20-30 minutes).
Back to the hotel at about 11pm, we ate, played with some of our toy goodies from that night, and talked about, well... Transformers.

We have to get up at 7.30am (12.30pm Brisbane time) for the first Pre-Con tour at 8.45am, so Jimmy left at about midnight, and the others tried to go to sleep soon after. Emilie was a little restless at first, but was soon quiet within an hour. I on the otherhand was up till almost 4am doing messageboard stuff and emails, so wouldn't be getting much sleep for a third night in a row.

So after day 2 here, I've managed to get 20 TFs toys. A lot more than I expected.

Next up, Universal Studios tour... I'm excited.


Continue onto Wednesday (Universal Studios tour)

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griffin @ otca.com.au

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