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Sunday, February 1, 2015

B Fest 2015, Part 1: Absent Friends and Suburban Adventures

It seems like only a year ago when I last went down to B Fest to see my annual-release friends, do touristy things in Chicago, eat diner food like it was my last chance to do that and watch a solid day of terrible movies with my friends while staying up way too late. This would be my fifteenth (!) consecutive B Fest, and by this time I've got my methods and procedures down pretty solid.

Of course, there are always complications--this year, my friend Sam was hoping to make a return appearance but got the flu a few days before we were scheduled to drive from the Detroit area to Chicago. He made the sensible, appropriate choice that both of us hated, and stayed home to 1) recuperate and 2) not get me and everyone else sick as a dog as a present for our vacation. Better luck next year, amigo. Several other past attendees in my faction weren't going to be around for this year either--Bergerjacques had to bow out because he was getting a journalism award and the banquet was scheduled for the same day as B Fest. The Nebraska contingent was sidelined by a health emergency from one member, and we all hope that Chad Plambeck gets back on his feet and recovers as quickly as he can.

The second complication was one that I'd never foreseen. I slept on a heating pad to try and take care of a hitch in my shoulder the night before leaving for vacation and sustained a sizable burn blister on my right arm; dealing with that in my car in a CVS drugstore parking lot and in the hotel every morning made me imagine that I was working on the beginners' course of the Anton Chigurh Home Surgery course. As of this writing (twelve days after I burned myself) there's still some leftover red marks and scabbing that are clearing up slowly but surely. It doesn't hurt nearly as much as it did, but every time I scratch the itchy sections it's amazingly painful.

The ride down to Chicago was just me in the car, listening to the playlists I put together on an iPod to help kill time and occupy my mind while in the Zen driving trance that kicks in while making a four and a half hour journey. Unlike last year's thirteen hour long fiasco, I made good time (it was snowing in Michigan, but not enough to cause significant delay) and since I didn't have to consider anyone else's need for a pit stop I just drove straight through and had lunch at the conveniently close Seven Brothers restaurant when I got to my group's regular hotel in Morton Grove. Bryan "Brother Ragnarok" Clark showed up shortly thereafter, also flying solo this year. His wife started a new job the Wednesday of B Fest week and sent him out on his own rather than tell him not to go. Since we were two men on our own near the largest and coolest city in the Midwest, we both went to a Half Price Books and bought science fiction. Bryan also left with the traditional gigantic box of books that I keep saying I'm not going to put together for him every year because he's got hundreds of books he hasn't read yet, and I fail every time because he's my friend and I know his literary tastes. He was also the first recipient of this year's B Fest mix disc, but not the last (I gave away every single copy of the 100 discs I burned this year, which doesn't always happen).

That evening, El Santo and Juniper arrived after a half-day-long drive from the Baltimore suburbs and Gavin "MudPuppy" Smith and his girlfriend Tori joined our group for Chinese food at the Palace Restaurant, which was within walking distance of the hotel. The walk there was fine, but the temperature fell far enough while we were eating that the sidewalks were ice slicks on the way back. Near misses, slips, stumbles and falls were experienced by all to a greater or lesser extent. Then followed a game of Cards Against Humanity, which could probably be best described as "Satanically evil Mad-Libs" for people who haven't played it yet. Players compete to come up with the foulest joke imaginable from a random draw of responses to offensive questions ("What do white people like?" "Racism." was one winning answer from me). My stomach hurt from laughing for hours when we were done with the game. And then, because we're all barreling into middle age, the group split up and went to bed.

I woke up way too early the next day and went for a two-mile walk in the bitterly cold Morton Grove morning, then went back to the hotel to fall asleep reading a book. My plans are wonderful. Wednesday morning was also the first of the Suburban Adventures; Bryan and I were kind of burned out on Chicago traffic or pointlessly cold weather on El platforms, and decided to check out some things that required farther driving, but less city exposure. First up was the Cernan Space Center at Triton College, which I'd found by looking for museums on Mapquest; it was a near-total bust, because it turned out to be some rocket engines and a worn-in-space NASA space suit in a display cabinet, a couple of dioramas, a gift shop and a cork board with science articles pinned to it. The planetarium had shows on the weekend but we weren't going to be able to catch any of them. We left quickly, but not so quickly that I couldn't buy a glow in the dark Allosaurus for myself and a Deinonychus for Gavin, who named his own B movie review blog after that species.

The next stop was as awesome as the Cernan center was disappointing; the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art is a little square building in a little square suburb (Elmhurst). Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Joseph Lizzadro was a hobbyist who liked making his own cufflinks and things out of semi-precious stones and also started collecting carved-stone artwork. Reading between the lines of the display in the basement, his wife and kids got fed up with all the stone artwork cluttering up his house and he founded the museum in order to preserve his collection and also prevent recurring arguments with his family. The gallery on the main floor must have a thousand years of effort on display; it turns out that jade is slightly softer than diamond and the only way to cut and shape it involves grinding it into the desired result. The traditional jadestone grinder is a foot-pedal powered device that looks like a spinning wheel, and it isn't unusual for larger pieces to take nearly a decade to complete. Everyone was stunned and amazed by everything on display--including me. I hadn't been to the museum in at least thirty years, so all I remembered was that I saw a dinosaur fossil lecture there when my age was in single digits.

The third stop was a tiny, cramped shop called Horrorbles in Berwyn (BERRR-WYN!) that was packed to the rafters with action figures, posters, books, DVDs, dioramas, autographs, and other things people could buy and take home as a way to show allegiance to the most disreputable of genres. Better yet, there was a science fiction and movie collectibles store only a door or two down from Horrorbles, so there were plenty of options for spending like a drunken sailor. I escaped with a pair of plastic 3-D glasses and a painting of Ray Harryhausen working on the model of Gwangi, but if money was no object I could have walked out with about half the store. Kaiju fans, especially, would have had to fasten a drool cup under their chin when they saw all the Japanese toys and models on display.

Dinner that night was at the Himalayan, with our group swelling ranks with Edward McEneely and his wife as well as Jacob and NaTasha joining us; Gavin and Tori stopped by as well. Delicious spicy food and naan bread were enjoyed by all, and a much bigger Cards Against Humanity game was enjoyed for hours by our B Fest faction. Gavin brought a copy of Crocodile but nobody really watched it while the game was going on (in my defense, the back of my head was facing the TV). I won this one handily, because apparently I am faster to go turbo-vile than any of my friends. Nice to know. I bowed out early of a viewing of Streets of Fire because it was one in the morning and I didn't want to wreck my sleep cycle completely before the Fest.

Thursday was the second Suburban Adventure day; Santo drove the six members of the B Fest faction as we went to the Brookfield Zoo (which turned out to be having a free day, which was unexpected and cool). The Brookfield was one of the zoos instrumental in changing things from the "cement cage with iron bars" model to one where the animals were kept in an environment that would make it feel more at home--the temperature, humidity and foliage were maintained to give the animals a more homelike living space. I missed out on the penguins mating but did get to see a condor eviscerate a rat and eat the organs, so that was nice. Jacob and NaTasha were not that impressed with the zoo (most of the animals had been put into winter storage and they're from several hours south of the Chicago area so they had the distinct impression that the weather was trying to murder them). Also, by random coincidence, nearly all of the animals that were out and about (or sleeping in their enclosures) were pointing their butts at the zoo attendees. I can't blame them. As a value-added bonus, I got to show the St. Louis duo the Mold-A-Rama machines, which were a touchstone of culture for anyone who grew up in the Chicago area.

After a delicious sub at a Mr. Submarine in Brookfield, we went to the Galloping Ghost Arcade, also in Brookfield (Mr. Logistics Person picked the zoo for being near the arcade, and vice versa). For a flat $15 fee, one is allowed to play any of the 350 or so arcade games as much as one wants. Bryan and I beat Lucky and Wild, a driving / shooting game where the aforementioned Messrs. Lucky and Wild are cops on the edge who play by their own rules. Those rules include shooting grenades and dynamite bundles out of the air when mobsters throw them at you and driving through a mall, We started calling it "Cannon Films:  The Game" and it was the Platonic ideal of a game to play on B Fest vacation. I also discovered that I'm not that into arcade games any more; my reflexes and coordination are decades out of practice and it just looks like it's a hobby I'm not in to any more. Jacob and NaTasha plan to add the arcade to their annual itinerary, so maybe next year I'll look for something else to do in the area and do that while the video gamers enjoy a spectacular array of games ranging from classics to Japanese imports to weird old things that time forgot.

When we returned to the hotel, it was also time to demonstrate generosity and forge alliances by giving NaTasha an instant library; she had to bail on an apartment thanks to lots of factors, and among other things, she had to leave all her books behind. I sent messages out to the B Movie Message Board regulars that were going to attend B Fest this year and several of us stockpiled books we wanted to recommend to a friend so we could give them to NaTasha this year. She was stunned, possibly because she didn't have any bookshelves in her new living situation. Well, here's an excuse to get some.

That evening we took our traditional field trip to Hala Kahiki, a tiki bar from the Mad Men age that serves tropical drinks in an undistinguished semi-industrial suburb of Chicago. David Braley (a former coworker of mine from JSTOR), Bryan's college friend Matt Foy, Melissa, Kelvin and Lisa (the Minnesota Faction) all joined us for the pilgrimage to the boozeatorium and light conversation was fueled by weapons-grade drinks. I don't drink alcohol so I had to be content with a peanut-butter-chocolate milkshake thing that redlined my tastebuds immediately. I also stopped by the souvenir shop, where I was unable to extricate myself for about twenty minutes without being hugely rude to the woman who works there (and who likes to explain every single item on sale to anyone who walks in). Eventually a couple other random victims wandered in and I made my escape. After the tiki bar was wrapped up, we went back to the hotel and caught the first hour of Daoism Drunkard, a typically berserk Yuen Wo-Ping kung fu comedy that features the Watermelon Monster. The day caught up to everyone and we bunked down for the night, because B Fest was coming and we all wanted to be rested up.


  1. So, the rat fed to the condor, was it alive when the condor set to work?

    Also, the animals were right: the weather WAS trying to murder them.

  2. By the time I saw the condor working on the rat, that rat was deader than disco. But I didn't see the entire process start-to-finish, so I can only give you a definite "maybe" on that.

  3. I am currently hunting for bookshelves for my book collection. And working through reading Day of the Trifiads (I read it in high school and watched the movie, I have always wanted a copy!)
    And Jake and I didn't think Chicago was trying to kill us. We are from STL where the weather changes every 15 minutes and does try to kill you. Look up thundersnow. I've seen it! Ha ha.
    But our zoo is bigger and always free so we were sourpusses through Brookfield. :( sorry.

  4. Ehh. These things; they happen. But I'm giving a (mostly) unedited report, so the cold and the St. Louis Zoo / Brookfield Zoo disparities have to get mentioned.