It’s good to be back!
It has been a while since you’ve all heard from me. Regular readers to the site and anyone who follows our group through the Twittersphere will likely be aware that I’ve been travelling. By now you’ve long-since been inundated with post-GenCon musings and unpacking mental belches (probably to the point that you don’t want to hear much more), and now it’s my turn to unpack a little myself. However, I shall endeavour to entertain and spice things up from a slightly different point of view.
If you are familiar with some of Ricky Gervais’ antics, you may well know of his “An Idiot Abroad” programme on TV (or the “Idiot Box” as we call it down in the deep, deep, deep, south). If you are familiar, you will know what I am getting at.
I am an Idiot Abroad.
Wifey and I have the travel bug. We love going to different places, exploring cultures, meeting people, seeing fine things, and eating delicious treats. While she is civilized and enjoys looking at history and art, I am poking my nose into the oddest things and investigating the niche cultural references – such as why Bart Simpson called outback Australia just to find out if our toilets flush the other way. (I was quite amused to discover that due to the shallow bowl and jet flow system that seems to be everywhere I was while in the USA, the toilets really do have that vortex in them. Australian loos are constructed differently and are more of a brute force “splash’n’smash” approach – and hence do not have a noticeable vortex. Okay – that is probably way too much information there).
Anyway, let us wind the clock back a little, as I would like to tell you all of my first time in America.
0400 Local – 25 July 2015
We set off for GenCon 2015 a little bit (some might call it excessively) early; heck, we only had to travel some 23-24 hours of actual flight time (not counting aircraft changes, customs and immigration, and general exploring of places.) This, I will point out, included an endurance 15-hour flight on the world’s longest non-stop air route between Sydney, Australia and Dallas Fort Worth, USA.
Travel Tip No 1: This flight is hellishly boring when your seatback TV breaks down. However, Final Fantasy is a great way to pass the flight and the A380 has in-seat USB power. Coincidentally, this leads to tip 2:
Travel Tip No 2: Carry USB power cables. For EVERYTHING.
Suffice it to say America is a big trip for us. That’s the thing with Australia – pretty much everywhere is a long way away for us to travel (except for the pina coladas on the warm beaches of Bali, or the ski slopes of Queenstown, New Zealand). We’re used to the idea of it being a 10-plus hour drive if we want to get to the next big city, but going overseas is kind of a big deal, so we wanted to make a right proper holiday of it.
New York! New York!
As it was my first time in the United States, Wifey insisted that we spend a few days in New York, as there are a lot of the stereotypical ‘tourist trap’ things to do there. Things that while everyone does them, I had yet to do. I finally gained an understanding from the Empire State Building about what “Art Deco” really is (the inside was more spectacular than the outside… no really!).
It turns out when people talk about going on top of “The Rock”, they don’t mean a literal rock. In Australia when we refer to “The Rock”, we mean Uluru (Ayers Rock):
I kind of wish I’d gotten around to getting my camera properly fixed, however all the information I kept finding indicated that the observation decks in New York really don’t like people with tripods.
Having limited amounts of time, I tried to immerse myself as much as I could in New York culture. We drank Starbucks in Times Square (yup, it’s pretty terrible) whilst being bemused by the street entertainers. These ranged from the “Naked Cowboy” strolling around, strumming away and singing country, to the “Showgirls” stripping down and getting painted up little more than a yard in front of me, the plumbing, and of course TV.
Much to Wifey Pigtail’s horror, I spent some time while settling in to our hotel channel surfing just to watch commercials. A program would come on and there I was, surfing away, just to watch advertising. You can learn some really interesting things by watching commercials. I am still amused by the number of advertisements for pharmaceuticals on US television, and the accompanying lists of potential side-effects and warnings on them. Needless to say we don’t have that in Austrailia, probably because we have more important things to worry about – such as the giant killer spiders:
Travel Tip No 3: If you have a week to explore, Hop-on Hop-off buses are great. When your time is limited, the subway is “most excellent, dudes!”
Hop-on Hop-off buses really are great. You get to see a lot of town, you get a great audio guided tour, and you get a good walloping of history and other cool little tidbits. The problem with them is waiting forever for one to come by with free space. There are definitely a bunch of things I would have liked to have done in New York – things that will have to wait until next time, due to the buses. Next time, I will just whizz around on the subway and get to Katz Delicatessen, check out the Man vs Food destinations in Brooklyn, and see more of Central Park.
That is also the problem with New York in general; there is way too much stuff to do.
Travel Tip 4: Do what you wanna do, see what you wanna see. (Yeah yeah yeah….)
While Times Square, the Empire State Building and Lady Liberty herself were damn spectacular to see, my highlights of New York were two-fold. First of all, I wasn’t expecting to get a game of cards in until we got to Indianapolis for GenCon; however, it turned out that the bright side to Jon Pflug not being able to join the crew in the GDC house at GenCon this year was that Pigtail and I were able to meet Jon and Dave’s regular Monday night EDH group and sling some cardboard.
Secondly, the other thing I enjoyed the most was spending the afternoon at the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum. What can I say? I like toys. I wanted to be a pilot when I was a boy, but sadly my vision doesn’t allow that. However, I have not lost my love of big armoured machines and chairs that belt through the atmosphere at stupid velocities. For anyone I perplexed on Twitter with some of my cryptic photos, they were taken here. Specifically, for those of you who may be wondering, the answer to my Twitter quiz is that I was sitting on the Concorde.
The Wild Mid-West of GenCon
Sadly, after a few days we had to say good bye to New York and travel onward to our next destination: the wild mid-west city of Indianapolis, Indiana, home to GenCon and the now-legendary digs of the GDC house. I’ll not expand on the house in too great detail, other than to say that it was a fantastic idea and coup by Cass to arrange the house and the group to fill it. Thank you my friend, and we hope to do this again in a few years once the budget has recovered.
Travel Tip 5: Don’t be afraid to stay outside the GenCon housing block lockout zone. Uber is a thing – and it is good.
My one real regret here was over-preparing – and causing myself to be underprepared. I ended up carrying ten decks on me: two Vintage (as I was playing in the Thursday and Friday Vintage events), and eight EDH decks. I honestly could have gotten away with more like two or three EDH decks. This, for me, meant that I spent too much time with my preparation process once there – time I could have instead spent hanging out and playing “Ca$h ‘n Gun$” or getting over jetlag.
I’d call myself somewhat of a veteran of the Australian convention scene. I know how to cover my ground, plan my events and generally see what I want of an Australian event. If you’ve not GenCon-ed before, you can throw all that experience out of the window. There is literally too much to do. On the flip side, it was amazing actually meeting people I follow and folks who follow me on Twitter. Best of all was the games I got to play with you all – that was an honest treat. From Vintage by smartphone-light on Thursday night when someone forgot to disable the auto-lights out feature in the Indy Convention Center, through to grabbing a random Mr P deck, or reefing out one of my boxes of shenanigans and going mano-a-mano with whoever was at hand – It was all amazing.
It was really awesome meeting the rest of the GDC crew in the flesh – awesome in the sense of meeting long lost cousins and fitting in like family. A great big gamer family, with GenCon being that great annual family reunion where the various branches of the tree come together, and where you can meet those distant cousins from overseas that your mum religiously sends X-Mas cards too. I met so many artists (thank you to everyone who made that playmat a success) and had fantastically long chats with them while putting my GenCon playmat together, discussing almost every topic that came to mind – from beers from back home at Ruth Thompson’s booth to political motivations leading to World War One (I really need to get on to that Hardcore Histories podcast) at John Stanko’s booth.
I am proud to say that the only time Arcanis the Omnipotent was broken out was in a few technical demonstration games between Sean’s Arcum Daggson list, with Cass and I taking turns piloting it. I’m big into the school of thought that you have to understand your opponent to beat your opponent. Sun-Tzu said that if you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a thousand battles.
I am however glad I did not inflict the Commander Cabana on myself. (Excellent call – ED)
What I am getting at is that there are three ways to see GenCon: See the ‘Con, play the ‘Con, or be the ‘Con. I tried to do all three and failed miserably, but you know there is always next year or the one after, so I hope to see you all in one of the next few goes. That, and I need to finish getting my power signed….
Also, I miss….
Travel Tip 6: It’s legal to walk down the street in Indy with a take-out cup full of Long Island Iced Tea.
One last thing I will miss about America is the food. While I know we have some damn good restaurants here in Oz, and I know we produce some of the finest beef on the planet, American food is just a whole other level of fun and tasty compared to what we get here. From playing Vintage with Grandpa Belcher, Thallid Tosser, Chris Ferry, Matt Hazard and Brian DeMars (getting my butt kicked), and then attempting the most audacious burger punch ever, to the finest steak I have ever laid tastebuds on with the GDC crew at Harry and Izzy’s…the only things stopping me from moving there right now are lack of a green card and the healthcare system. (Maybe I’ll move to Canada and I can just pop over to the US for a steak each night. That’s feasible, right?)
Sadly, while Mr P was able to restock my moonshine supply (dude, you are a champion), I was unable to manage to try biscuits and gravy as our airport transit arrived faster than I anticipated. On to the next…
Ye Olde London Town
I said earlier that when we travel, we travel big. Everything from Australia is a right pain in the ass to get to; you folks up in the northern hemisphere have no idea how good you have it. You can just pop over the ditch to go to Europe, or take a quick drive over the border into Canada or Mexico for some decent maple syrup or tequila respectively. Okay, look – I realise that it’s not as easy as that, but honestly it is a lot easier than it is for us. I’m a huge believer in going out there to meet people, see cool things and play games. It’s a big part of what kept me in Magic for all these years – that I can travel the world and I can find someone to play a game with. While we may not speak the same language, we can communicate through the medium of the game. This is yet another element of the gaming social contract at work here.
Many years ago I got myself involved in an online game called Kingdom of Loathing. Some of you may remember it – or even still play it. This was a time of my life that was very much a turning point and without this game, you would not be reading these words today. The community (an international community at that) has very much been like the family I have found in various EDH circles around the world; in this case we have non-Magic friends, who we invited to our wedding years ago and who invited us to their wedding earlier this year. Like meeting all the gang at GenCon and in the GDC House, meeting some of these friends in the flesh for the first time and literally sleeping on their couch for a week (thank you all Team London – Marshy, Bungee, Jez & Stu) was like being at home with friends.
As for London – if there were four cities on the face of the planet that I would say everyone should visit, the other three would be New York, Paris, and Melbourne, Australia – culture, history and food. While we can cook a good meal here in Australia, and while we have some great bits of art, we have nothing on the depths of New York, Paris and London. If you really want to see the true heart of Australia, screw Sydney and come to Melbourne (and come visit us over in Adelaide; I promise you some good wine and good games of cards).
I don’t want to bore you all too much so I shall include just a few pictures of our wanderings through Paris and London…
Travel Tip 7: Pickpockets, pickpockets everywhere…. No, you don’t want a Taxi, no you don’t want to sign a petition and you definitely do not want to buy/sniff the flower held at hip level. Trust us on that.
My final highlight of all these travels, much to wifey Pigtail’s dismay, was telling all the flight attendants about all the different aircraft we’d been on. As a bit of an aviation buff, I do enjoy flying and have ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. As such, I am going to inflict my glee on you all as well. We had an Airbus A330-200 from Adelaide to Sydney, A380-800 from Sydney to Dallas, then a McDonnell Douglass MD80 from Dallas to Newark (which was one of the 6 new airports for me). Next a Bombadier CRJ700 from LaGuardia to Indy, back to JFK on a CRJ900, and then we hopped the ditch to Heathrow on a 777-300. Finally, we headed homewards on my only aircraft repetition of the A380 with a last hop from Sydney to Adelaide on a Boeing 737-800.
Travel Tip 8: If you are visiting Australia, ensure you have plenty of return luggage space for our national delicacy – Double Coat TimTams. Same as if you are in the USA, max your booze allowance on Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon (you can thank me later).
Thanks again for the amazing experience to everyone we met on our travels. If I have missed mentioning anyone, I am sorry, but if I mentioned literally everyone I would be here all day. I Hope to meet more of you and play lots of games in the future.