Adventures in Columbus 4: TrotCon!
So I arrived in Columbus on Friday evening and headed straight for the Red Roof Inn where I’d booked a room to share with three fellow bronies who were kind enough to share the space and the cost of the lodgings for the weekend. I’d never met them before, so I was eager and a little bit nervous to find out what the people with whom I’d be boarding were like. Any lingering fears I had were allayed immediately when I met DB, EBD, and Ozzie (not their real names, of course, but since that’s what they put on their nametags for the con I figured it’d be best to use those names here, too). All three of them are friendly guys, and even though they all more or less knew each other and had never met me before, they made me feel completely welcome from square one, so if any of you guys read this, thanks again for helping make TrotCon a great experience.
Anyway, we set up shop in the room, then ran across the street to Kroger to grab some last minute food items for the coming weekend, like a big bag of Captain Crunch-esque cereal for a quick and easy breakfast and a bunch of Gatorade so I could stay hydrated at the con. That turned out to be a good decision, because that’s pretty much all the nutrition I had time to consume over the course of the next thirty-six hours. When we got back to the room, we watched a few episodes of ponies to get Ozzie, a relatively new brony, up to speed on Season 2, then I grabbed a pillow and plopped down in my Sleeping Chair for a few hours of rest before the craziness began in earnest.
I woke up, took a quick shower, donned my trusty NaNoWriMo 2011 winner shirt and green hoodie, threw back a bowl of Lieutenant Crisp or whatever it was called, and stuffed myself and my backpack into EBD’s Tardismobile. We arrived at the gorgeous OSU Ohio Union in a matter of minutes, and after a brief interval of wandering aimlessly outside we caught a glimpse of a Fluttershy cosplayer and followed her to the registration line. Seeing that many bronies gathered in one place is always fun, and before I’d even gotten up to the registration table to claim my badge I was already having a great time people-watching. So many creative costumes!
Once I’d collected my badge, con book and schedule, however, it was planning time. The schedule was an embarrassment of riches, with at least three different panels going on at any given time, and that’s not even counting the various events in the gaming room and the video room. After the opening ceremonies, which were slightly delayed by the unexpected appearance of a bunch of weirdos who wanted to run around a lot right outside the Union and closed off the street to drivers so they could do so safely, I stayed around in the main room for the Brony Charities panel. My absolute favorite thing about this fandom is how generous they are in supporting the causes that matter to them, and it was truly inspiring to hear the guys from Bronies for Good, the Humble Brony Bundle, and the Brony Thank You Fund talk about all they have done and are still doing to promote giving in the community, as well as the staggering amounts that the bronies have already given to charity. During the Q&A, I even had a chance to encourage the bronies in attendance to join the efforts of Hope Mob in supporting the victims of the Aurora tragedy (which, knowing the bronies, I’m sure a few of them did).
Actually, come to think of it, I didn’t leave the main room for the next several hours, because the next panel was full of writers in the fandom, which I naturally opted to attend as a writing fanatic myself, and then an improv comedy set a la “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”. The writer’s panel was fun, a nice mixture of solid questions and answers and loopy shenanigans (the latter being mostly provided by the hilarious Argembarger), and “Whose Pony Is It, Anyway?”, while a tad on the crude side for my taste at times, was a good time nevertheless, and a pretty accurate representation of my experience at the con – a bunch of people getting together over a common interest and just having as much fun as they can.
When I finally left the main room, I made a beeline for Artists’ Alley to shop for loot before any of the good stuff sold out. My main target was the inimitable PixelKitties‘ table, where she was selling all of this amazing stuff.
I was thrilled to discover that she still had everything I wanted in stock, which amounted to all four of the buttons in the second row (Princesses Celestia, Luna, and Cadence, and my personal favorite Queen Chrysalis), the beautiful silhouette poster (signed by the artist herself!), and the four stupendous Fallout: New Vegas parodies that you see up there (which are just a small sampling of her enormous print collection). After achieving my primary goal, I wandered about to drink in all of the talent that shone forth from all of the assorted tables, and I ended up snagging an official TrotCon shirt (my first ever pony shirt at last!) and six more really neat cutie mark buttons (can you tell that I love buttons?) as well before I extricated myself from the throng of shoppers and returned to the land of the panels.
This time around, my home base was one of the smaller panel rooms off to the side, where Present Perfect and Argembarger were conducting a panel on how to write good fanfiction (yes, there is such a thing, you just have to know where to look and have a lot of perseverance), which I quite enjoyed. What came next, however, was one of the most defining moments of the con for me, and that was the speed writing contest. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to get involved in a contest that required me to write something in under 20 minutes that would be read the next day to all of the other contestants by a random stranger, but in the end my writerly instincts just couldn’t resist, so I pulled out my pencil and notebook, waited for the prompt (they settled on “Crackle visits Ponyville”), and scribbled furiously away. Somehow, when the twenty minutes was over, I had before me an actual miniature story with a beginning, end, and entirely coherent middle section. It was no work of art, but it was a clever, lighthearted little snippet of prose, and I found to my surprise that I wasn’t in the least ashamed of it. That was incredibly encouraging to me, because one of the main reasons that I don’t write fictional material as often as I should is because I worry that it might not be any good. It’s a silly reason not to do something, but one that I give in to all the time, so it was liberating to just set that worry aside, write something that was entirely likely to turn out awful, and discover that it wasn’t so bad after all. Take that, excuse! No more nonsense from you. I’m gonna write.
The last notable event of the day was one of my absolute favorite memories from the entire weekend: karaoke, another participation-related item that I almost chose to forgo but in the end thoroughly enjoyed. Since the Union had Internet, anyone could pick any song they wanted to sing and we were pretty much guaranteed to have it available, so there was a ton of variety in what people sang over the course of the night as opposed to just songs from the show. Whenever anyone in the audience recognized a song, they sang along, which made the whole thing feel like one epic community singalong with an ever-changing playlist, and whenever a pony-related song came up the whole room burst into song together. I even worked up the courage to add my name to the list of singers, and when it came my turn I sang “The Fox” by Nickel Creek. I was relieved to note that quite a few faces lit up in recognition when the song started, and seeing them smiling and singing too made the experience truly excellent.
Finally, EBD, Ozzie and myself drove back to the hotel to recharge for the next day. All three of my roommates headed back out again to partake in a party at the Hyatt hotel downtown with some of the other congoers, but I stayed behind and savored a little solo time (and a couple of delicious sandwiches courtesy of EBD’s big cooler o’ food) before hitting the Sleeping Chair once more.
The next morning, we all concurred that while the first panels started at nine, none of them was quite worth getting up that early, so we aimed for the more forgiving goal of returning to the con at ten and got a little more sleep. At ten, it was time for the blind reading of the speedfics that everyone had written the day before, so I slipped back into the little room where I’d written mine the day before, took the randomly assigned story I was to read, and sat down to listen to the other entries. It was quite entertaining to watch everyone read unfamiliar stories in sometimes-indecipherable handwriting as Present Perfect made snarky notes on his laptop (which was hooked up to the projector). In the end, it was, of course, Argembarger’s wild and wacky entry that came out the winner, but there were quite a few that rivaled it in silliness, which made for lots of laughs.
Unfortunately, the artists’ panel overlapped with the blind reading, so by the time I slipped into the main room I’d already missed the first two thirds of it, but it was still great to listen to the widely varied spectrum of talented artists answer questions about what inspires them to draw and how they grew to be so skilled at their chosen craft. After that came Foal Papers’ and Arcane Flame’s mythology panel, which was a real treat. Foal Papers’ presentation on the many callbacks and parallels to ancient Greek and Roman myths and legends in the show was fascinating and insightful, and Arcane Flame brought a lot of interesting background to light about the menagerie of mythical creatures that have appeared in episodes of FiM. Food for the nerdy soul right there.
The con was already rapidly drawing to a close at this point, so I took the opportunity to swing by Artists’ Alley one last time and pick up WillDrawForFood‘s excellent TrotCon print, and as I headed out the door I caught a glimpse of a hilariously clever set of three cutie mark buttons for the CMC – blank white, blank yellow, and blank orange – that I couldn’t resist buying. After that, I returned to the video room for another round of karaoke, which was just as much fun as the first. I sang “Forever Yours” by Alex Day this time around, and again I was surprised and delighted at how many people knew the song and sang along. So much fun.
At last, it was time for the closing ceremonies. There was a lot of applauding, a raffle, free packs of trading cards rained from the sky (I got two), and we all sang part of the Smile song before we went our separate ways. It was a really excellent end to a truly extraordinary convention, and I left without a doubt in my mind that I’d made the right choice in coming down to Columbus for the weekend. EBD, Ozzie and I wandered back down to the parking garage and just loafed about and talked about the convention for a while before deciding to go to Taco Bell for some much-needed nourishment (or something vaguely resembling nourishment, at least).
After this point, my plan was very nebulous and involved a lot of “I’ll probably wander the streets of Columbus for a while and try not to get killed on my way to the Greyhound station at five in the morning”, but once again EBD and Ozzie proved themselves to be excellent people by offering to let me keep my stuff in their car and stick with them until they were ready to leave for home. We took the jam-packed Tardismobile to the Hyatt for a post-con get together with all of the bronies who were staying there, and a big group of us gathered in the lobby, then migrated to the pool room to chat and relax. When ten o’clock rolled around, a huge number of us (at least twenty) set out into the dry night air and began searching downtown Columbus for any establishment that would feed so many people so late at night. After a few false starts, we arrived at Dane’s Dessert Cafè where the kind lady who was running the place all by herself agreed to take in our motley crew.
There was no one else there, so we basically took over the place. We moved all of the tables together, two of the girls with us volunteered to take orders and help ferry the food from the kitchen to the tables so the proprietor wouldn’t be overwhelmed, and we spent the next couple of hours talking and laughing and enjoying delicious cakes and ice creams. Purple Tinker was selling trading cards, so I snagged a few more to go with the free one’s I’d caught. Why must the first one always be free? Anyway, one top-notch slice of carrot cake later, after some pleasant conversation with Ozzie, a fellow named Sintanan from Alaska and a guy whose name I don’t know because everyone called him Rainbow Dash, we filed out of Dane’s – but not before putting all of the tables back in order, leaving a 100% tip, and even buying some of the art off the walls. It’s so much fun being a brony.
Once the unexpected party dispersed, my time at TrotCon was well and truly over. EBD and Ozzie dropped me off right outside of the Greyhound station, and after giving them a hearty farewell I trundled inside, sat down on an uncomfortable mutant chair-bench hybrid, and floated between half-consciously watching Big Bang Theory and The Office reruns on the terminal TV and dozing off. Finally, 6:45 rolled around, and as I sank into my seat on the Detroit-bound bus, I gave a contented sigh. As adventures go, I thought to myself sleepily, that was quite a nice one.