My journey to Boston began with a simple desire - to attend PAX East in Boston. Pretty much all of my favorite internet celebrities would be there, and I simply wanted to get my photo taken with them. Simple enough reason to go!
Unfortunately, I was unaware that badges sold out almost instantly, and I was out of luck – that is, until I made a whiny tweet. Enter Patrick, my friend and Penny Arcade forum manager (I forget his official title!). He could hook me up with a 3-day badge. I never like to accept preferential treatment, but I allowed myself this one bit of selfishness, and I'm glad Patrick did, too.
With that, I booked my flight and AirBnB room, ready to go to Boston!
I will gloss over some details to avoid a novella, but I hope I can properly express the intense gamut of physical and emotional rollercoasters that lasted four eternal days.
My flight would leave at 6:05AM Friday Morning. It would get me to the convention at around 11AM. I figured it would save money on an extra night of lodging, but I would soon wish I'd popped for another night at the remarkably affordable $60/night room.
After a lot of back-and-forth and overly complicated math, I asked my mother to drive me to the airport at 8PM and I would try to sleep there to keep her from having to drive an hour back to her home at 4AM.
Before she and I parted ways, she gave me a small box of home-baked brownies. The box was styrofoam, the kind you get for restaurant leftovers.
As soon as I got to the security check, I had a mild panic. What if they think these are... special brownies? So with that, I decided to try and eat the brownies before going through security. Of course, I wasn't sure of the food policy outside the actual terminal gate area, so here was a big hairy guy shoulder deep in his backpack, attempting to conceal his messy consumption of a mysterious food. Let's call it Brownie Bagging.
Once I'd finished my brownies, I had a new conundrum. I had to throw away the box! In my constantly fearful mind, I had decided that the box was the perfect size/shape of an incendiary device, and if they saw me throw it in the trash, they'd have me tackled to the ground and fished around in my butt looking for the detonator.
I finally worked up the nerve to throw away the box when no one was looking.
I found no sleep that night in the airport. I saw one man who had pushed two sets of chairs together for a makeshift bed. I wish I were so bold!
After a lot of worrying that the Blue Snowball microphone I was carrying would be mistaken for a bomb, I was ushered through security with no problems.
I arrived in Boston, and made way to my AirBnB room to drop off my luggage. This involved engaging with the 'Charlie Pass' system that allows you to ride all mass transit with a single fee. Thankfully, I'd done too much research months before, and I knew immediately to buy a 7-day pass.
After a bit of thought and confusion, I took the shuttle to the Blue Line to Wonderland (well, my stop was Orient Heights - coincidentally appropriate for a weeb like me.)
The bus proved a bit more of a challenge, because their schedules are a bit less frequent than the trains. Fortunately, I got on the correct bus, and it was being driven by a wonderfully kind woman who was more than happy to answer my questions about the stops.
I dropped off my bag, and while I could have waited for another bus, I wasn't sure of the times, so I decided to try a new resource I'd never partaken – an Uber! There wasn't much exciting about it, except the driver was very nice. He also had Prince's songs on loop, in honor of the dearly departed. My personal favorite was When Doves Cry, because I friggin love Romeo+Juliet with Leo and Claire Danes.
Everything was going good... so far!
I sat outside the convention center, trying to get a bit more of a charge on my phone until Patrick brought me a badge. The phone's charge was getting terribly low, because the night before at the airport, the only outlets were monopolized by sleeping people, and a girl who sat on the floor in front of the outlet talked on her phone for two solid hours (and didn't budge when she was done talking).
After more stress about the security bag check at the convention, I finally got in!
I walked around the floor with Patrick and Hannah, his significant other. (God, I hope I'm right in remembering it was Hannah and not like... Anna......... or Jamie.)
This is when the day begins to turn into a blur. At this point, I hadn't slept in 24 hours, and it was time to start sitting down and watching people do video game related things. I started at the Street Fighter V Arena where Ricki Ortiz, Mike Ross, Marn, Gootecks, K-Brad, Nickledu, and other big fighting game community stars were hanging out and playing the fight games on a big screen. The actual area was so small, you couldn't help but be close to them all the time, and it was great, except for one thing.
Every once in a while, I would doze off. Each time I did, I looked like an insane person as I would snap back awake with a startled face and an audible gasp. This continued throughout the day.
Once I saw Marn standing about, I handed him the microphone I'd promised him on Twitter. His microphone wasn't very good, and since he lives in Vietnam, it's highly costly for him to buy electronics from overseas. I donate to streamers all the time, so this was no different. With the handoff, he gave me a big thanks, and I just smiled and gave a thumbs-up, not wishing to interfere with his official business. It was this moment that I realized that I was content with simply seeing the people I loved, with no need for photographs. It seemed more special to just allow the moment live in my memories.
I met back up with Patrick and Hannah and, thankfully, we went to have a nice lunch. It was about then I realized I hadn't eaten since those brownies the night before, and being awake for that amount of time makes you a heck of a lot hungrier. I drank my weight in Diet Coke at the restaurant. I am renowned for my constant dehydration during periods of minor exertion. This will be a factor later in the weekend.
To close out the day, I went to the Giant Bomb panel. Patrick Klepek was making hotdogs and throwing them at us, but to my shagrin, I could do nothing but doze off time and time again. I kicked myself for not properly enjoying the panel. Thankfully, it was properly filmed, and I will be watching it later in full wakefulness!
I wasn't too sleepy, however, to accost Alex and Dan with the dumb poster I drew. I'd printed enough for everyone on the Giant Bomb team! http://i.imgur.com/TobB6uX.png
First I showed it to Alex. He loved it and told me he'd make sure to give it to the other bombers. He was very busy interacting with fans, so I wasn't able to hand him the tube. I was worried to just lay it down somewhere, so then I kinda scooted over to Dan Ryckert and had an extremely similar conversation. This time, I forced it into his hands as if to say “THESE ARE YOUR PROBLEM NOW.”
And I ran. No, really. I ran out of the room because the Enforcers were trying to get us out, and with good cause!
Before the night was done, I made a long-ish walk away from the PAX center, not sure what I was looking for. What I found was a McDonald's! Now, I know what you're thinking. “You had them nuggz. 20-piece world peace.” I must disappoint you, but I had nuggz recently, and I keep my nugg experiences very separate for maximum enjoyment.
I had two cheeseburgers, big fries, big drink. The burgers were just awful. Too much ketchup, and the buns were dried out. It ain't my first time at the McDonald's rodeo, so I know it ain't all McD's dropping bad burgs on the people.
Now it was time to go sleep my first night at the AirBnB room. I was considering the transit system, which was still a bit unusual to this country boy, but I wasn't seeing anyone go into the station. I couldn't tell if it was closed/disused/etc. All I know is someone wrote 'muerte' on the door, and I took that as an omen. Tonight, it's Uber.
When I get to the place I'm staying, I find that I'm sharing a floor of a house with another couple who was attending PAX. I'm not gonna mince words, they were nerds like you and me. We had a nice nerdy talk, and it was off to bed with me and my painful feet.
I get to my room (three flights of stairs to get here!) just before my phone is ready to die for good. No problem, just plug in the charger and-
I've lost my charger.
The night before was hot. Too hot. There was no fan to keep the air moving in the room, so it felt positively tropical when I was already overheated from uncharacteristic exertion.
After finally figuring out the Rubik's cube shower knobs, I made my way back into Boston with intent to buy a new charger. After some wandering around north of Boston, I found a convenience store where I bought a charger. Despite my sneaky intentions to hide behind the store and use an available outlet, the plug was too oddly shaped to fit, so I made my way down the street looking for bus stops and charging outlets. I occasionally checked my perpetually dying phone for the general direction of the train station, and after missing multiple buses and finding no outlets, I ended up walking the main street two miles to the station on already-achy feet.
When I arrive at the convention hall, I attempt to charge my phone. It was a very slow, unfruitful affair coupled with a very loud Ghostbusters cosplayer who made my ears sad.
I made my way to the Street Fighter V area where the powerhouses of the community were still duking it out in an invitational tournament. Before it began, however, I wanted to sit down at the free-play area with fellow SFV players. I would play a couple games and give myself enough time to find a seat next to the stage where I could absorb the aura of the near-sitting legends.
My first opponent was very kind. Very... very kind. He crushed my Karin, which is fine. I don't mind being crushed, because I find victory in taking even a single round from powerful players. Then he began to teach me. How generous!
As the beginning of the show came, I was ready to take my seat. But the lesson wasn't over. It continued... and continued. The seats filled. I learned to punish unsafe moves. That's pretty cool. Hey, Marn's playing. I love watching Marn play... but I gotta learn how to frame trap now, I guess.
At the time, I was pretty upset, but it wasn't his fault. The tutor was very kind to give me his time. I should have been more open about my intentions, but hey! We're all a little socially awkward!
After the SFV tournament, I see Jerma985's tweet about a fan meet-and-greet he's having. He and Star_ are hilarious makers of youtube videos, as well as lovely streamers. I had the privilege of moderating Jerma's chat (and now Star's), so we shared some familiarity.
What I didn't expect was how excited Jerma seemed to meet me. I felt like the most special person on earth at that moment, and no matter what happened for the rest of the weekend, it would still be the best weekend of my life, and fully worth the monetary cost. I quickly parted ways with Jerma (after a promise of a lunch get-together) to give him a chance to properly interact with his other fans and not be obligated to myself. My next goal was to seek out Star.
Star was casting commentary on an Overwatch tournament. He was extremely busy, so I contented myself with looking at him briefly, then heading back to SFV to play some more games.
I won't go into too many details. Mostly, I ended up on the 'beginner' side of the SFV tables, and felt extremely bad that I was crushing new players. I tried to go easy on them, and I hope I didn't dissuade anyone from such a fun game.
My next celebrity sight-seeing trip was to the Iron Galaxy booth, specifically to see Dave Lang, the CEO of Iron Galaxy. They're the developers of Dive Kick, a love letter to fighting games. They're also the current developers of Killer Instinct, a very nice game that I don't have the means to play at the moment.
Most of all, Dave Lang is a hilarious guy who is inexorably linked to Giant Bomb's antics. To my surprise, the very busy man who attended many panels was actually at the booth! Of course, he looked very busy, and I was content to simply look at him up close while another Iron Galaxy employee showed me the combo system in Killer Instinct. It was a delightfully brief experience.
It was getting late, and I soon had a dinner reservation with old friends from the Penny Arcade forums. Patrick (who got me into the convention), his wife Hannah, Bill (A moderator on the forums) and his wife Ashley. But first I have to get to the restaurant, an upscale steak joint called “Mooo” at Park Street.
I considered taking the transit, as I was getting more comfortable with it, but it was about the same amount of time to walk, so I figured I'd see the sights!
It was almost immediately after I passed the first train station that I began to receive requests for loose change. The first couple of unfortunate fellows asked for my coins with low voices. I'd gladly give as I could, but I'm wary of reaching into my pockets in an unknown city, so I soldier forward.
The last interaction before my destination was the proverbial cake-taker. As I passed three people perched against a large old window, one of the women shook her cup loudly at me, exclaiming “We got a special one, here! You're real @&(#$ing special!” The other two laughed mockingly in my direction. I kept my head down and perhaps even a small prayer crossed my mind. Maybe she was talking about Jerma making me feel special earlier that day. I wasn't counting on it, though.
I arrived at Mooo, greeted by my friends. While I was thankful for the lack of dress code, I was still the odd man out at this eatery of fanciness. Imagine a room of people in nice, black clothing, clean-shaven faces and immaculate skin sitting within slapping distance of a big chunky guy with a fuzzy beard, fluffy head, gang-like tattoo, and a vibrant Hawaiian blouse. It's no surprise that I was seated closest to the door in case they needed to get me out quickly.
Oh, and I had a school-style backpack. Of course, I'm fancy. I like to be fancy! So I asked them politely to check my bag. (In this case, 'check' refers to them holding it for safekeeping. I wouldn't feel the need to specify, but my bag was checked for dangerous objects thrice so far this weekend)
I've never had a coat/bag checked, and that in itself was a treat. When the bag was returned to me later that night, the highly-dressed man who brought it to me could not have been more of a professional about it. He gave me a bow and a voice as though I were as important as an old money billionaire on holiday with his mistress. It only occurred to me later that I should have tipped him. It would have been worth the equality I felt.
This experience was echoed through dinner as the server, a nice lady in a short black dress, continued to bring me ice water after I downed them quickly. I easily sweat and dehydrate, so I was quite thirsty. She never let me go without.
I won't speak prices as it seems a bit gauche, but let's say that my meal was a bill for a week's worth of my groceries (though I do shop thrifty!). Bill and Ashley were kind enough to treat me to the meal as part of Patrick's birthday, and I'm eternally grateful.
I decided to order my steak medium (I prefer well-done) because I wanted to fit in a bit better. To my delight, I was not bothered by the redness of the meat as I usually am. The rest of the meal was excellent, though not entirely worth describing. Many interesting surprises, and the meal ended by watching Patrick enjoy his birthday sundae. He insisted on sharing, but I was far too full from other delicious food, and was more than happy to refuse.
The outing ended with me giving a gift of some fancy-ish hazelnut Hershey's to Patrick, with one box for him to give to Robert Khoo for giving me a badge. If only I'd known I'd be treated to dinner, I'd have had an extra for Bill and Ashley as well.
This time, I take the transit. Onto the train, onto the bus, on to my temporary home. It couldn't have gone smoother.
I climb up three flights of stairs on my achy feet, shimmy myself into my bed, plug in my dying phone, and watch the newest episode of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. Other than the intense pain radiating through my groin from all of the walking, it was a delightful night of slightly overwarm sleep.
The next morning, during my routine, I accidentally broke a tiny drinking glass in the bathroom of my hostess. I have no idea what the glass was for, but I suppose it was for... bathroom stuff? I carefully cleaned up the mess and placed the glass gingerly atop the trash, making no effort to hide it. Despite my willingness to be open about the transgression, I didn't bother telling the host. It would have involved a phone call, and I wouldn't have wanted someone bothering me about a half-dollar water vessel.
Transit was a bit less successful this day, as the buses didn't run nearly as frequently on Sunday. After deciding I didn't want to wait 40 minutes for a bus, I partook of Uber one last time to maximize my PAX time.
The day began with PAXMANIA II, a faux-wrestling event held by journalists and developers that was insanely entertaining. I had the privilege of sitting with Whomp! fan and generous charity donor Rhylith from the Penny Arcade forums. There was nothing extremely notable about my experience other than it being highly entertaining to hear Greg Miller scream “Turn on the fog machine” a dozen times.
I then make my way to the Overwatch booth for a second chance to say hi to Star. To my subdued elation, he actually sought me out to say hello. We chatted for a long time, and once again I felt extremely special, but it didn't end there.
I met up with Jerma once again, and after a long chat where he introduced me to Mala (another popular figure in the Team Fortress 2 community), we temporarily parted ways as I went to the nearby SFV area for some more gaming and watching. When the tournament was over, the screen displayed the Overwatch match being commentated by Star.
Still sitting nearby was Ricki Ortiz, with Mike Ross hovering around (He didn't sit much. He's like a bumblebee!) I immediately steeled my resolve to go say hi. Even if I was worried that I would be interrupting, it would be a very quick interaction, and went exactly as planned.
I leaned in close and said something akin to, “Hi! I recently started playing Street Fighter, and I love watching you guys,” but perhaps a bit more flowery. Both Ricki and Mike gave big beautiful smiles, gratitude and friendly handshakes, which made my heart flutter. It was a perfect get-in-get-out transaction, and it couldn't have been more satisfying.
As I sat to watch the Overwatch stream from my seat in the SFV area, Jerma and Mala joined me, and we enjoyed the end of the match.
After that, Jerma, Star, Ashley (Star's wife), and another couple whose names escape me (sorry!) went to enjoy a tabletop game. We didn't have much time, as Star was going to a special dinner with Blizzard. It came down to just me and Jerma.
The entire time, my brain was telling me that I was a third wheel, an annoying fan, a hovering Harold just buzzing around the famous Youtube guys, but I hope that my logic brain was right in telling me that they genuinely enjoyed my company.
Jerma and I sought out a place in the streets of Boston where we could grab a bite to eat. I'd had nothing all day, and Jerma had only a parfait, so we were famished. He pointed us towards an absolutely lovely bar restaurant in a basement called Lucky's. I won't bore you with superfluous details, but we discussed everything from video games to anime, and the food was terrific. After seeing the menu at Mooo, the prices felt absolutely budget!
After a quick walk back to Jerma's hotel to grab his bag, we parted ways with a hug initiated by Jerma. (I also forgot to mention that Star hugged me a couple times as well, which is why my logic brain won over my awkward brain!)
I made my way to the train station, and navigated the transit system with ease back to my place of stay.
No one had yet mentioned the broken glass, so I remain steadfast in believing it was really no big deal. Of course, that's what I tell myself so I don't have to apologize to anyone. If they send me a bill, I'll gladly pay it!
I finished the night with a new episode of Dragon Ball Super, and a good sleep was had.
The Final Day
With my final few hours in Boston, I decided to randomly ride the train system around the city to discover new sights. I didn't go to many places. I went to Newbury Street, wondering why it was a place-of-interest as claimed by my browsing of the topic. It seemed to be where rich people shopped. I felt far more out-of-place in front of these pricey clothing stores than I did in the upscale steak restaurant.
Most of my time was spent sitting on a bench near the building that looks suspiciously like a Playstation 4 console. There was an old church-looking structure that I enjoyed simply observing. After a while, I decided to just return to the airport using the transit system I'd grown to love.
And as my plane hurried down the runway and lifted into the air, I thought, “I am now the King of Transit.”