.

A  DASH  TO  DALLAS
(griffin's 2012 BotCon adventure)


MONDAY 30TH APRIL & THE JOURNEY HOME

Well, the convention is over, and now it's time for the journey home.

After about 5 hours sleep, I was up Monday morning, with about 12 hours to fill before my flight back home.  The flight leaves Dallas at about 10pm, but since it was not an American airline, the check-in wouldn't start more than 4 hours before departure. And even though I had a heap of photos and reports to write up, I didn't want to be spending 6+ hours in the airport, especially if there wasn't any power outlets near the check-in desks. I could fill in the time with reading if necessary, but that would be a bit tiring and boring.
I had a few ideas of what to do to fill in the time, but first I had to double check that checkout was midday, not 10am.
I looked up their website, and it confirmed that it was a midday checkout, which at least used up 2 hours. (strangely enough, the internet was still working for me, despite me only paying for a 5-day block... which should have run out the night before)

The night before, I had an idea to go back to the Target store after Checking-out at noon, as it was only a short trip, and I wanted to see if they had restocked since last week (as an employee there had said when I was first there, that they get deliveries every day - and they were cleaned out enough on Wednesday to prompt a restock). I also figured that if they had restocked, there was little chance anyone else would have thought to check it out before leaving.
I rang up the store (got the number from the website) and asked about their Transformers toys.  The lady had a bit of trouble trying to describe what was there, which is understandable if you are faced with dozens of different toys and aren't a dedicated collector. Eventually she was able to tell me that they had received some new toys in yesterday, so I figured that it was only a $4 train ride, and worth the risk.  Even if there wasn't anything there, I was filling in another couple hours, and maybe buy a few "American" snacks as well.

So I finished up the rest of last nights dinner, showered up and changed, and watched some TV until just before midday... when I had to do some last minute rushing to get the boxes taped up and everything else in the bag.
Carrying the boxes and bag down to the front desk, I checked out (making sure the account wasn't overcharged - actually, since I was registered to something in the Hyatt Hotels system, the Internet was free).

I had my luggage stored away until later (for when I would get on the shuttle bus to the airport - which didn't need booking, as it stops at the hotel every half hour), and did an online checkin for my flight (the hotel has a computer & printer in the foyer just for that). I was able to get a good seat, right at the front, on an aisle, and with no one yet assigned to the other two seats next to me.
Not that I needed to save time checking in ahead of time, I did it more for the curiosity of it, and to see if it could reserve me a good seat.
I then went downstairs and walked over to the trainstation outside.
Keeping the nose closed to minimise the hayfever, the eyes were irritating within 5 minutes outside the hotel. It was like cutting onions... and I think the only way to prevent it would have been wearing a full-face gas mask.

The DART train at the station...

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...in front of the shiny hotel.

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On the train, I saw this odd looking building, with a big hole in the middle.

I got to the Target store within 20 minutes, and unfortunately, there wasn't any new Transformers that I wanted. Even in the Playskool Rescue Bots section, they had every Robot EXCEPT the one I am missing (Blades).
One of the staffers there said that they got in a new case of BotShots and TFPrime Deluxes, but each was just wave 1, so nothing for me, or for anyone at home (to pass onto others for half the price of toys in Australia).
I did however see this while walking through the store...

I don't know if it was wanting to come away with SOMETHING Transformers related, or thinking that it would be fun novelty item in the collection, I bought it.  It was $20, which wasn't too bad.

Over at the food section, I saw these.  It's a bit blurry, but those are 1.2kg bags of M&Ms!  That's HUGE.

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I found a few uniquely American items...

The two boxes of "bites" were mostly chocolate coated, sweet things.  The Pepsi Next is a half-sugar, half-artificially sweetened cola. The Almond Joy pieces (blue bag) were coconut-almond flavoured candy-coated chocolate, and was really delicious.

As with every Target store I've been to in America, this one had a food outlet at the entrance. Knowing that they have pretzels, and figuring that I probably wouldn't get any fresh ones, I bought a couple (theirs are pre-prepared, so aren't as nice as the real thing).
A cinnamon/sugar pretzel & a regular salted one.

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I went back to the trainstation and was back at the hotel by 2pm.
Getting my luggage out of storage, about 20 minutes later the next shuttle bus was there to take me and two others to the airport. One person who was also there for the convention, and noticeably British, was having some trouble with the pre-paid fare, so to help out a fellow foreign fan, I offered to pay for her, and gave her my email to pay me back by paypal later. It was only $25, so wasn't too bothered if it wasn't paid back, but sure enough, within a couple days, a payment notification came though.

On the way to the airport, we drove past the Burger King that was the closest one to the hotel, but would have taken about 40 minutes to walk to it.
And lucky I didn't try to, as it looks like it was closed for renovations... or being torn down.

That odd-shaped loop and wires thing in the background is actually a bridge... which looks really weird from a distance, but this is what the bridge actually looks like (according to google).

It musta taken over half an hour to get to the airport, because it was about 3pm when I got inside the terminal (and found an empty trolley for my luggage, preventing the need to pay to use one).
As expected, none of the counters had QANTAS signage up, so it was still too early to check in, but I wanted to see if anyone there knew which counter would be doing the checking-in.
I had a choice of American Airlines and British Airways... both are partners with QANTAS, but I went over to the AA section first, as it was their "home turf".
I was at the self checkin counters, as there was a lady there assisting people, but as she was only attending people who were in suits or dresses, I started to wonder how long it would take to have her ask if I needed any help.
For 8 minutes I stood  at a self check-in computer and getting in the way of people, the lady kept approaching people who were female or dressed in suits.  It was almost like I was invisible, as she was discriminating me just because I prefer to travel long-distance in comfortable clothing (t-shirt & shorts), and in this particular instance, I wouldn't want jeans or a belt digging into my surgical scars for 16 hours.
As much as I wanted to see how long this would go on, I was getting bored and tired, so I went over to the British Airways section, which had a customer service desk.  The person there told me that QANTAS would use a counter at the far end of their section, but not until about 6pm.

I had a look around and noticed seating in the check-in area, and better still, a power-point near one of the seats... so I got myself set up, and processed photos for the next 2 & 1/2 hours.
As soon as the QANTAS counter was open, I packed up my stuff and headed on over with my luggage.
As I had hoped, my bag (with backpack inside) was okay to carry onboard, while the two boxes were checked in as my two allowable items... once again, preventing me from needing to post back items at significant expense (ever since I've been doing that, from 2010, I've been kicking myself for not thinking about doing it in previous years, especially in those years that cost several hundred dollars posting stuff home and then waiting a week for them to arrive).

The timing of the check-in was rather interesting, because when I walked over to the security screening point, there was no passengers there at all  All the security people were just standing around with nothing to do... so I got the "full treatment".
Not really, but it was a refreshing change to be able to go through security at an American airport in under a minute.
(it was interesting to notice on the full-body scanner image, that they showed me, that three spots showed up on my abdomen, exactly where my tiny surgical scars were. It must be that sensitive)

Inside the airport, (after a quick leak, which I'd been holding onto for a couple hours now) I checked the map to see what food options I had left while in America.  As I looked it over, I realised that it was the same terminal that I arrived at, so struck out on the Burger King option.
I did find something on the map called "Fuddruckers", so went over to check it out.
It was a burger outlet, and had on the menu a "buffalo burger" so I figured it would have to be a suitable compromise for missing out on BK (or Wendys for that matter - another favourite burger chain of mine).
I ordered up a 2/3 pound cheese & bacon burger, plus a buffalo burger.  They were prepared and served as just the toasted bun, meat and cheese/bacon... everything else is self-serve.  You can add lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, jalapenos and sauces, to create your own style of burger.
Here are mine, with the buffalo burger on the right...

They had onion rings as well, the big ones, but I skipped on them because the picture looked like they were the crispy coating, not the batter coating I like.
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After that, I headed up to the departure gate, stopping off at a pretzel place on the way... I had to have at least one proper pretzel.  Unfortunately I was pretty full from those two burgers, so only bought a single regular pretzel, and a serve of sugared pretzel sticks.

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At the departure gate, there was very few people already there (being so early), so I managed to find a seat near a power-point and worked on my computer for another couple of hours.
The plane we were to board on was towed over to the gate while I was sitting there, and this was before it got to the gate...

The name of this one was "City of Parkes". (a place in NSW, famous for playing a role in the 1963 moon landing - having contact with the moon when USA was out of the line-of-sight)
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Boarding started at 9.10pm, and with so few people in the waiting area, it didn't take long for everyone to be on. I was expecting to wait about 10-15 minutes before queuing up, but everyone was in within 5.
Since I checked in really early (online) I had a great seat... and with so few people on this flight, I was expecting to have one or both seats next to me be empty (to stretch out a bit), but when I got onto the plane, a pair of biggish latino guys were in those two "empty" seats.
Apparently seating patterns on half-empty flights are specifically designed to evenly distribute the load when taking off, so it was intentional to have people bunched together, while other blocks of seats were empty.
Now, since the plane was half empty, and the the middle section of four seats next to me was also empty, I asked the attendant if he knew if those seats were taken (so that I could move across to them). He said it was okay if no one else came on and sat there, but I had to wait until we were in the air before we could move to a new seat.
But as soon as the seatbelt light went off after take-off, this old guy in the row behind that set of four empty seats, jumped up and sat into the seat that he knew I was going for.
Since I was in the first row of economy, most of the other seats near the front already had 1 or 2 people in them, which meant that if I wanted to get an empty seat next to me, I'd have to sit halfway up the back of the plane and be cramped behind a row of seating (the front row had nice leg-room). When I did get up to have a look at what seats were still available, all of the 4-row seat sections had a single person sleeping across the entire 4 seats.
So I ended up just staying in the original seat, as it was probably as good as it was going to be. It would have been nice to stretch out to the side, or even relax more without leaning up against someone who was "filling out their seat" as well, but being up the front had advantages - first to get the meal of your choice, first off the plane, and, never having to get up to let out the person next to me when they needed to take a leak.
Luckily I was tired enough to sleep most of the way back - the direct Dallas to Brisbane is 16 hours! That's 4 hours longer than the usual East Coast to LA flights. I woulda gone insane if that was during daylight hours and I wasn't sleepy.

Speaking of that old guy pinching my seat - when we landed, he had gone back to the row behind to be with his wife for landing.  So when we were allowed out of our seats, I was a row ahead, but both him and his wife pushed past me while everyone was stuck waiting for the business class to exit first. They still had to wait like I did, and only got off the plane a second before me, and yet, forceably pushed themselves past me into a small space in front of where I was standing (remember, I was in the first row of economy) What is with that arrogant pushiness...??? And yes, he had an American accent.

I am still amazed that it is a direct flight from Dallas to Brisbane (and then onto Sydney), mostly because I thought the 14 hours to and from LA was the maximum safe range... but having an extra two hours onto that, makes me think that the margin of error would have to be pretty small (and no excessive storms or fronts to add to the resistance).
The other thing that still amazes me - direct flights between Brisbane and Dallas? Of all the American cities to have direct flights to/from Brisbane, Dallas is not one I'd think would have enough demand to warrant 3 flights a week. And judging by the half empty plane, I can't see it as being too profitable. At least if it landed at LAX for refueling, it could fill up the rest of the plane with passengers from there, before flying onto Australia.
If you consider LA as being a jumping-off point to Australia (people can fly in domestically from anywhere in the US to LAX and then board an international flight), I don't see the need for QANTAS to go in further to the US landmass, and if they did, surely there'd be other, more popular cities than Dallas.

The meals were better on the flight home. I guess their American supplier is better than their Australian supplier. And better still... we got snack bags!!!
The entertainment program was still the same as the flight over, despite it being a new month and should have been a new program. I ended up watching several episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", which featured the "reunion" of Seinfeld. There wasn't much else on that I wanted to watch, and wanted to sleep as much as possible to make the 16 hours go by faster.

So arriving at Brisbane at 4.50am Wednesday (we lose a day on the flight back by crossing the dateline), we were the first plane in apparently, as the baggage staff were only just arriving, and the customs hall was completely empty with staff there waiting to start processing people.
My two boxes were at the over-size chute, and since I had some snack food items, I was questioned as to the contents of the boxes.  Since the sniffer dog didn't react to anything, I was allowed to go through without being searched. (which seems to happen quite often, so I guess they rely on their dogs a fair bit)
Jumping in a taxi, I was home before 6am.
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Unpacking my stuff, this was my total haul for this year...

Some of those items weren't from BotCon though (the Botshots, Gen1 Starscream, and a couple of United toys).
From above...

I really love that Optimus pillow... which might sound sad, but compared to what I came back with this year, it ends up being one of the more interesting items.
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And a closer look at the BotCon toys for this year, in Robot mode.

Yes, just a small haul this year.
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This was the Starscream jet as I was working on it with the HUGE sticker sheet (with an original Starscream in front).

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This is something interesting (for me at least).
At the train station outside the hotel, the ticket vending machine gave out dollar coins for change instead of notes.... something that I was not expecting, because of how limited the dollar coins are used in America (they've been minting them on and off for a couple hundred years, and despite the push to have them replace the notes to save billions, there is resistance preventing it from phasing out the dollar bill).  At my second BotCon in 2000, when I was at a bank to withdraw money I was talking about our Australian plastic notes to a bank teller in Fort Wayne (Indiana), comparing them to their paper notes.  She told me about their "new" dollar coin (only just released that year) which was golden coloured, and gave me one to keep. I never used it. Instead, I kept it as part of the BotCon "treasures" to remember that year by.  Since I've never seen it in circulation in the following 11 times I went back to America (and still had the note being used), I figured that it must have been a failed conversion, which made the coin even more special to me.
I've since learnt that the dollar coins were still being produced and used, but primarily for coin-operated devices that issue change (as coins are probably easier to dispense than notes in non-ATM devices). As such, the ticket machine at the train station in Dallas issued a dollar coin when I fed it a $5 note (for my $4 ticket), and I noticed that it was completely different to the one I got 12 years earlier.  Which had me thinking that they must have still been producing them, but just for this sort of thing (as people seem to be fairly traditionalist when it comes to something as iconic as the American Dollar Bill, so prefer not to use the coins unless they have to).
So below, I have a photo of the 2000 Coin on the left (known as a Sacagawea Dollar - produced from 2000 to the present day), while on the right is the one I got this year (known as a Presidential Dollar - produced from 2007 to the present, but the ones from 2012 were produced in smaller numbers for collectors only).  It's interesting to note that they are intending to honour all deceased presidents with the new dollar series, of which I got the 17th one, issued February 2011.  Also of interest is that the Satue of Liberty image on the new coin was originally planned for the 2000 coin, but was put aside for the image of Sacagawea, a famous Native American guide.
I won't be spending this one either, because like with the 2000 coin, this one also has a story to tell from my BotCon adventure.

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And as usual, the goodies I pilfered from the Hotel room while I was there...
(coffee pouches, teabags, sugar-free sweeteners, soaps and other toiletries including a tube of toothpaste - those bars of soap at the bottom left are huge for mere hotel soap, almost as big as ones you'd buy, and have these big bumps on one side which are very therapeutic)

Well, that's it for another year.

On the Sunday evening in the hotel room I was thinking, "is that it", because it had gone so fast again this year.  More so for not being too active while recovering from the appendix operation.  But even a week later when I started typing up this report, it really does feel like it wasn't long enough... the whole trip that is.
It feels like yesterday I was in hospital dreading missing out on my trip, and now here I am, back home without any complications (despite all the food I ate).
I have 4 weeks off work because of the surgery, so it was probably a good thing that I had 2 weeks off in the middle of it, otherwise I may have run out of paid leave.

I only noticed yesterday that a TGI Fridays was just one block over from those two Steak/BBQ places, and is a chain you hear a lot about in America... so would like to try it one year.
IHOP is another one I want to try... as it is said to good for steaks (despite the "pancake" in the name).
And a place I saw while in the shuttle bus was whataburger. I'd never heard of it before, and when I just looked it up, there are like 200+ outlets just in Texas (it seems to be limited to just the south-eastern states of the US... kinda like In&Out Burger being limited to the south-western states). I just looked at the menu, and damn... I wish I'd known about this place sooner.

Hopefully some of this was entertaining to the readers, both fans and non-fans.

Here's to next year, and for those who will be joining me.



That's the end of the report for this year.

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***All pictures in this convention report are mine unless noted. Any that are borrowed, have the source credited/noted.  If you want to use/borrow any of my photos, all I ask is for you to please credit the source as well. I try to take as many of my own photos as possible, and usually only resort to using others if I failed to get something, or my photo wasn't clear enough.

OZFORMERS - The Australian (and Asia) Transformers Fansite for News and Interaction (started way back in 1996 - try to find a Transfan community that's older)
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BotCon website - The official Collector Club and Convention website
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To contact me --> griffin @ otca.com.au









Easter Egg 1 of 3

Continuing another tradition with my American Adventure reports... another instalment of "The American Survival Guide".

This year, its.... The power-point adapter.
If you plan on taking anything electrical with you to America, or any foreign country really, you won't be able to use or recharge anything without an adapter plug.
Because there are a lot of different electrical socket/plug combinations around the world... they aren't all a 3-pin "sad face" like ours.

(my adaptor plugged into the lower power-point socket)

So before you fly away on your own adventure, remember to go to an electrical/electronics store (or maybe a regular department store might have them) and look for the adaptor for your location.
In other words, the "female" (hole) side needs to be able to have your items plug into it, while the "male" (prong) side needs to be able to plug into the socket of where you are going.

AND BE AWARE of countries with different currents or electrical properties... as Volts and Amps can be different in other countries, which could short out your equipment if you don't have some sort of transformer (not the toy kind - the electrical kind) as well.

Prices can range, so shop around, and don't leave it until the last minute... because if you forget, you may end up taking a lot of electrical equipment that can't be used (you might get lucky and actually find a store over there that sells an adapter you need... but most would sell adaptors to use in other countries, not their own).

The key is to plan ahead.

Happy Travelling!