I live here, so it's already on my calendar for next year: June 17-19, 2016. Jason has told me he plans to come, also. It would be great to meet you!
I echo what Mr. Marconnet and Mr. Sullivan said above. The Heroes Con ceased being a mainline source of Silver-Age comics for me, ‘way back when it was held in the single convention room at Freedom Mall. I don’t have any major gaps to fill in my Silver-Age titles, anymore. While I might pick up a stray comic here and there, I don’t go to the Heroes Con to buy stuff.
The fun is in sharing the experience. For years, that was with a pal of mine from up north who came down to Charlotte for that one event. But, the last couple of times, exigencies of life have kept him from attending the convention. So this year, I was looking forward to meeting Jason, seeing Mark again, and spending the time in good company. One never quite knows what to expect when meeting someone in person for the first time, but as Jason said, we hit it off splendidly. Wandering about the floor and making good conversation with them was easily the high point of the convention for me.
But not the nicest thing that happened. Mr. Marconnet knows the story I’m about to tell, and he wouldn’t disagree.
Two things you need to know first off.
One, I have a bad knee---the product of arthritis and a frayed meniscus. On a good day, or with the help of an anti-inflammatory med, I can walk around just fine. It’s standing that’s the problem, and I’m pretty much O.K. there, too, for five or ten minutes. And I can go longer with something to lean so I can occasionally flex my leg. If I stand too long with my knee locked, the leg goes dead from numbness, kind of like the worst case of a limb falling asleep you ever experienced. If I try to walk after that happens, it gives way. I discovered that the hard way a year or so ago, when I slammed down onto the pavement after chatting with some old friends at a parking lot.
Two, when I attended the con, I wore a pair of my Navy coveralls---blue, rank devices and warfare pins embroidered on them, along with my surname and “U. S. Navy”. Now, I typically wear those around the house all the time; they’re durable, great for outside chores, and after four or five hundred washings, actually quite comfortable. (Actually, I’m not supposed to wear them at all, off-ship, but the uniform police aren’t going to come and throw me in the brig.) I specifically wore them to the con, as a recognition factor, to make it easier for Jason or Mark to spot me in the crowd.
Now, to the story. The first day of the convention, Friday, I took the light rail into the city. One of the stops is practically right in front of the convention centre and I wouldn’t have to drive in Charlotte’s notorious rush-hour traffic later, when I went home. The next day, though, I drove into town and parked in the parking lot directly across the street from the convention centre. I parked in the closest spot to the exit, so I wouldn’t have to walk across the lot when it was time to leave.
Unfortunately, that’s when I discovered that this wasn’t one of those lots where you hand the attendant your cash ($10). It had one of those machines in which you insert your bills or swipe your credit card and it spits out your parking pass.
And that machine was on the other side of the parking lot.
Moreover, getting to the con an hour early wasn’t as adept as I thought it would be. There were at least sixty people in line for the machine already.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, Charlotte’s been experiencing a heat wave. On that morning, it was ninety-eight degrees in the shade. And there wasn’t any shade.
Evaluating my options, and since my knee was feeling pretty good, I decided to stick it out in line. It’s kind of like your childhood memories of walking to school---it seemed a lot longer than it really was. Actually I hadn’t been standing in line for probably much more than thirty minutes. But the heat was very unpleasant at that point and with nothing to lean against, I found myself shifting legs to keep my knee from locking up.
When I was sixth in line to the pass-dispensing machine, I was finally close enough to read the sign with the instructions on how to use the machine. Instruction number one required the user to enter the number assigned to the parking space in which he had parked his car.
(Insert explicative here.) I had noticed that the parking spots had numbers painted on them, but I hadn’t attached any importance to them---until now. I had no idea what the number was on the space where I had parked. And by now, there were at least another sixty people in line behind me and I would have hand to walk across the entire lot back to my car. I was debating on just how much it was worth it when I got rescued by my police instincts.
If you spend any time as a cop at all, you get pretty good at observing people, and I noticed the fellow just ahead of the guy in front of me in the line. I remembered that I had seen him getting out of a white Cadillac parked in the space next to my car. When he got to the machine, I watched him as he punched in the number to his parking space---“301”. The spaces were numbered in sequential order, so I knew that my space had to be either “300” or “302”. But just to be sure, when he moved out of line with his pass, I asked him if he was the fellow with the white Cadillac. He said he was, and I told him, “Great, because I’m parked next to you, and I didn’t know what my parking space number was. You’re 301, right?”
He nodded, and I said, “Well, I parked to your left, so I can guess what my space number is.” I thanked him and turned back to the line, feeling pretty good at dodging that bullet.
The good feeling lasted about a minute. The guy in front of me was using the pass-dispensing machine, and then it would be my turn. Abruptly, right in the middle of his transaction, the machine lost power. The various lights blinked twice and went dead.
The sign with the instructions had a troublecall number and the guy in front of me called it. But, of course, you know the person who answered wasn’t a repairman ready-on-the-spot to come out and fix the problem. No, it was some intermediary whose only job was to answer the telephone and attempt to grasp the situation. Based upon the half of the conversation I could hear, this intermediary was having particular trouble grasping the words “dispenser”, “parking lot”, and “convention centre”, or knowing what city we were in.
I was settling for a long wait, wondering what would take me out first, the heat or my bad knee, when the first nice thing happened.
The man who had parked the white Cadillac next to mine returned. He walked up and told me, “You’re in spot 302.” Now, understand, it was a good five-minute walk to where our cars were parked, and then five minutes back, in 98-degree heat. And I’d never thought of asking him to do that; I was going to just take my best guess when I got my chance at the machine. This fellow went to all that trouble just to help a complete stranger.
And even that wasn’t the nicest thing.
While we’re all waiting for Goober on the other end of the phone to comprehend the situation, I noticed several people breaking out of line and going around to the other side of the machine. Then these people started whipping out their smart phones and pushing buttons or finger-swiping or whatever one does with a smart phone.
As it developed, posted on the other side of the kiosk, where no-one would casually see it, were instructions on electronically obtaining a parking pass by way of one’s smart phone. When the word got out, more and more folks got out of line and accessed Internet magic. Not that it helped me any. I have an old flip-top cellular telephone that the Good Mrs. Benson got for me, and the only reason I carry it at all is because it’s small enough to stick in my pocket and forget about. I don’t even keep it turned on because, as I explained to the GMB, “It’s for me to use when I want to make a call, not for people to call me.”
There are times in life when misery is thrust upon you, and you know it’s going to be a long wait until it’s gone, and you just resign yourself to it. Like when your wife or girlfriend insists that you sit down and watch a movie on the Oxygen channel with her. And I was just coming to terms with that, when a young lady who had been in line behind me came up, her smart phone in hand.
We hadn’t talked during the half-hour wait in line, other than to exchange some “Boy, it sure is hot”-type comments. She was in her mid-twenties, I guess, and I haven’t had any common ground with girls of that age in a long time.
“Sir,” she said, “thank you for your service. I want to pay for your parking pass.” She had entered my car’s licence plate number into an electronic form on the screen of her smart phone and said, “That’s your car, isn’t it?” I replied “Yes, but----“ The “but”, of course, was that I was going to insist that she did not have to do that and, in fact, I should be paying for her pass, just for being so considerate. But before I could get any of that out, she pressed the screen of her phone and said, “There, you’re all set.”
I thanked her as sincerely as I could before she moved on. I hope it was enough; I was so non-plussed that I just stood there for a moment.
Many times, it’s the small things which leave the most lasting impact. When I told Mr. Marconnet about what had happened, I followed up with a pertinent tale about a Marine Corps colonel and a salute that I received when I was at Officer Candidate School. It’s the same sort of thing here; that young lady who bought my parking pass probably forgot about it five minutes after she left the parking lot, but for me, it’ll be the thing I remember most about this year’s convention.
The one downcheck to the whole thing is that standing in line for so long had a worse effect on my bad knee than I initially realised. I wasn’t able to spend more than a couple of hours with Jason before it started giving out on me, whether I was walking or not. I had to bail while I could still get to my car, and that was a real regret.
I’m glad to hear that Jason will be back next year. Unless a house drops on me, I’ll be there. Hopefully, my leg will hold up better, and if it doesn’t, I’ll have the GMB push me around in a wheelchair, like Ironside.
Wonderful story, Commander! I'm sorry your day got cut short, though.
Some people can tell a story and others can’t. You, sir, can tell a story!
“It’s for me to use when I want to make a call, not for people to call me.”
I will remember that line!
One of these years I will have to make it a point to tie Heroes Con in with a visit to see my nephew and his wife. It’s been eight years since their wedding and Tracy and I met you and the GMB face-to-face. My nephew’s wife, by the way, gave birth to twin girls on June 1 of this year, their first.