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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

B Fest 2014: Wednesday, or, Demonstrating Generosity and Forging Alliances

If I'm being completely honest with my readers, I'd have to say that over the last decade and a half the purpose of my B Fest vacations have changed. It used to be that I was there for the movies exclusively; in 2002 and onward a group of friends from the B Movie Message Board have gone to the Fest as well. We've had board members from Nebraska, Utah, Texas, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa and London (Ontario) as well as London (England) show up one year or another. It's like having a class reunion every year, but with people that I would voluntarily spend time with. We've accreted a few traditions of our own over the years and abandoned others as unworkable (the hotel in Morton Grove, for example, is significantly cheaper than the Best Western in Evanston and has a parking lot that doesn't have a single-lane 45 degree ramp as its only entrance, so we've taken it as our base of operations).
As it turns out, having a dozen or so B movie nerds show up for half a dozen years at your hotel right before the Super Bowl is something that the staff remembers. And we must have turned on the charm this year, since Sarah the desk clerk tried unsuccessfully to attend the marathon on Saturday. She says she's going to schedule time off for B Fest 2015 so she can enjoy the weirdness and I hope that she enjoys it.
Wednesday morning, Bryan Clark and his wife Malorie were the only other BMMB attendees at the hotel; we decided the sensible course of action involved the hotel's free continental breakfast, a trip to Half Price Books, a trip back to the hotel to drop off our purchases and then an L train ride down into Chicago to check out the Museum of Broadcast Communications (Mal declined and took a nap at the hotel; she was enjoying the opportunity to get some sleep without children or pets making noise or needing anything from her). I proved that I don't understand cuisine very well by having a bagel with cream cheese and a lot of bacon for breakfast. Around this time I gave Bryan his traditional 15 x 12 x 10 cardboard box filled with as many books as I could cram into it; every year I keep saying I'm only going to give him a couple things and every year I fail. It's because I go to library used book sales all the time, and I know more or less what my friends like to read. So if I can pick something up for half a buck, it goes on the shelf until I can give it to one of my Fest companions.
In my role as Mister Logistics Person, I found the Skokie L train station (which was a five minute drive from the hotel); in my role as clueless tourist who hadn't used this public transportation system before I took advantage of the polite helpfulness of several CTA employees to figure out how to get a one-day pass to ride the trains and pay for parking in the station lot. Bryan couldn't get his day pass to work on the turnstiles (this was his motif for the week), but we were so obviously not trying to scam the system that the workers at three different stations used their system skeleton keys to get my friend through the turnstiles. The weather in the city was so cold and miserable that we asked the concierge at a shmancy hotel where to find the Museum of Broadcast Communications and he gave us perfectly understandable and concise directions in order to get the pair of us out of the lobby before any of the guests could demand a discount for having to look at us.
The museum was pretty neat, if understaffed and sadly lacking the horror host Svengoolie's coffin, the main thing that Bryan wanted to see and take a selfie in front of. Lots of information about radio and TV personalities back when national radio was a thing and when there were only three networks rather than the multiple hundreds of stations we have now (and long, long before DARPANET was a gleam in its creators' eyes). The plaques were quite informative and the exhibits were pretty obviously pitched to a nostalgic local late-middle-aged audience more than anyone under the age of 55 or so. I didn't see a plaque for John R. Pierce, the inventor of the Telstar communications satellite, and I was looking. I might have overlooked it but I think it's much more likely that the museum overlooked him. Their loss.
After a couple hours at the museum, Bryan and I patronized the After-Words used book store that we'd passed on the way from the L stop to the museum and secured directions to the legendary Billy Goat tavern. There we enjoyed a double cheeseburger and a soda (and Bryan also got a beer if I'm remembering right); the food was delicious and I got to cross "get a cheeseburger at the Billy Goat" off my bucket list. From then it was a trudge through the gratuitously awful cold and wind to the train station, a slight delay as Bryan's fare card didn't work on the turnstile and an hour's ride back to the Skokie Swift station. Which would have been a bargain at twice the price; both Bryan and I hate driving in the snow and in Chicago, and it's not like the train was much slower than driving would have been. Hopefully this will be a new tradition for future Fest trips, because it really worked out for the stuff we wanted to do.
While we were out gallivanting, Jacob showed up at the hotel (sadly without his friend Natasha, who couldn't make it this year) and we went for dinner at Circa 57, a Fifties-themed restaurant that served Green River on tap and which everyone found to be delightful. We almost talked our waiter into going to B Fest, and the restaurant's owner stopped by to talk with us about his plans to set up an indoor drive-in room where the booths would be restored old 50s behemoth cars and a projection screen would show old science fiction and monster movie trailers along with dinner. Bryan found out that a crab cake BLT is a great idea and we praised the restaurant enough that the owner picked up the tab for the bottle of Green River that Jacob picked up for Natasha as a consolation prize for not being able to go on the vacation. Gavin, a board member from the area, joined us for dinner and returned to the hotel afterwards for a viewing of Gamera:  Advent of Legion on the hotel lobby television (courtesy of the Playstation that Jacob brought along for just such a situation). There's just something about a giant fire-breathing turtle wiping out a horrible insectile menace that makes me happy. Jacob got his huge box of books as well, which was meant for Natasha but since he was going to be the courier he got scavenging rights to it. As he well should.
After the film I retired to get some sleep (the long drive and a way-too-early bout of insomnia Wednesday morning made it very necessary to put my head down for a little bit at this point), and the group made plans to meet up for breakfast the next morning and take the L downtown again--this time for the Art Institute of Chicago and a fresh-catch seafood diner that Bryan saw on television a couple years back. I had the great privilege of spending time with people who understood me on a cellular level, and who were willing--just as I was--to go halfway across the country in the name of fellowship and of mocking terrible movies.
I was home again.

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