It was pitch dark and raining ice when I set out for B Fest this year. I'd packed as much of the car as I could the night before, which turned out to be a great idea, but there's always something or other like the toiletries / meds that can't be left out in 20 degree temperatures overnight. And since I pack like I'm moving, a whole bunch of stuff got thrown in the back seat, on the passenger's side up front, in the trunk and anywhere else it would fit. If it had come to it, I would have stuffed a couple giveaway DVDs into the glove compartment. It wasn't quite that bad, but the silver lining about my friend Sam not being able to attend the Fest this year was that there's no fucking way he and his luggage would have fit in the car this time around.
Before starting on the journey proper, I stopped by work to drop off cookies for my coworkers as an "I'm sorry I won't be around to answer the phones or help out" present, and then it was time to roll on down the highway towards Chicago. Still in the dark and freezing rain. Once the sun came up it wasn't as pointlessly awful on the road, and since the weather in Washtenaw County tends to go west to east I was traveling through the rain twice as fast as the clouds were drifting to the east. Things cleared up by the time I stopped by my traditional breakfast stop in Battle Creek, the former Te-Khi Truck Stop (now just a Travel Court). One of the rituals of B Fest is that I need to treat for breakfast and tip nicely at this location. I'm an atheist, but a superstitious one because the year my friend Sean and I got horribly sick and missed the first 14 movies of the marathon was the same year we weren't able to go to this restaurant because the independent owners went under during the financial collapse at the end of Bush the Lesser's presidential administration. You don't mess with the demons of the road. You placate them. So, even though it was a party of one this year I treated for breaky and left a nice tip.
The rest of the trip to Chicago was uneventful. Because of reasons, I was the only person in my B Fest faction that was going to be in town on Tuesday; that meant I could pick up some Green River soda, and then hit the Half Price Books while roving around and pick up some stuff for my own amusement, including the two-disc collectors' edition of Punisher: War Zone (which is a feature-length sick joke of near-RoboCop delightfulness). Then it was time to trust in the magic voice lady on my GPS and go to the Mean Weiner, a quite superlative burgers-dogs-and-Mexican-food diner where I met former Fest attendee Edward for dinner and to drop off a pile of books. See, Edward's obsessed with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, especially their actions during the Second World War. I go to library book sales all over southeast Michigan (and beyond--it's three hours to Dayton, Ohio but I drove that far for a book fair last year). When I can't find anything for myself, it's not a wasted trip if I can find something for a friend. And thank goodness for that, because the Dayton trip was an utter washout for myself. But someone donated a ton of pulpy paperbacks about the UK fighting global fascism so I scrounged up a ton of stuff for Edward. In fact, he wound up with two cloth shopping bags stuffed as full as I could stuff them, and rejected only one of the books (which he had already read, and hated). In exchange for those gigantic piles of books he treated for dinner and showed me several episodes of the insane and hilarious Danger 5 on Netflix; we talked for a couple hours after dinner, briefly said hi to his wife (who was managing his son Winston rather than talk nerdy with us) and gave me everything from the old tabletop RPG Underground, a game that had a phenomenal setting and design sense but very little else to recommend it. After Edward pointed me in the right direction to get back to my car from his place, I drove back to the hotel and experienced the joys of a completely screwed up sleep schedule.
The next morning, I went back to my hometown of Wheaton to have breakfast with an old middle / high school friend, also named Tim, and to look at all the stuff that had been changed downtown while feeling conflicted about stuff. The Seven Dwarfs diner, Wheaton's own example of what Mike Royko referred to as "diners run by short Greeks", was the spot we decided to convene. Tim's as old as I am and he'd never eaten there, so I'm glad he finally crossed the threshold there for tasty breakfast foods. Then we drove to the downtown where a Starbucks replaced a storefront we couldn't quite remember (a tutoring center, maybe?) and hit the Wheaton Historical Museum to look at various things from our town's past and check out the massively detailed railroad diorama in the basement. It turned out that the railroads were run the third Saturday of every month, which was also B Fest, and that meant that I wouldn't be seeing the full splendor of the railroad setup when things were moving. There was also a note near the diorama stating that the Wheaton Historical Society was looking for a professional but part-time railroad modeler to work the diorama and keep everything in fine fettle. Hobbyists who want to make a little scratch, who live in or near Wheaton, and who read this blog--here's your chance! A stop by the Popcorn Store (a four-foot-wide candy store that figures prominently in Wheaton kids' memories) was a washout for me (they didn't have the cherry sours I like) but Backup Tim proved his daredevil bona fides by eating Pop Rocks and drinking a Coke; a surprisingly long running commentary about how he could feel his teeth fizzing and crackling ensued. After wandering around in the cold for a couple hours Tim went back to his own home and I drove one town over to look at downtown Glen Ellyn, which is pretty much like Wheaton but one town to the east and without a courthouse. There really wasn't anything nostalgic going on as I clomped around the second suburb of the day, which was in itself a bit of a revelation. I've lived in Michigan for 22 years now, and looking at things that I used to see relatively regularly didn't pluck any heartstrings at all. So it was time to go back to the hotel and await the arrival of faction members El Santo and Juniper (or Scott and Jessica if you know them in real life instead of as screen names from the B Movie Message Board). A pleasant dinner at the Empire Chinese restaurant a block or two from the hotel ensued. I picked up the check, since I was in a "demonstrating generosity and forging alliances" kind of mood. Later that evening Josh the Younger arrived from North Carolina, having flown in to attend his first B Fest in nine years. The auditorium in Evanston exerts a powerful magnetic hold on people who have been there.
Bailing on the museum about a half an hour before it closed, we went for dinner at a fantastic deep-dish pizza place called Pizano's. and unfortunately that meant waiting about an hour for the pizzas to get turned from cold dough and ingredients to a tasty, tasty heart attack on a serving tray. Which led to some fast walking to get to the bus stop we needed to get to the train station we needed to get to Santo's van in the parking lot by the Yellow Line station we'd departed from that morning. On the positive side, I developed the ability to walk up to a bus stop or train station and summon a public transportation vehicle, but on the bad side we were an hour and a half late getting to Hala Kahiki, the tiki bar that we traditionally go to the night before B Fest (Fiasco Field activated!). As I had last year, I grabbed a bunch of hideous thrift store jackets and neckties from the greater Ann Arbor metropolitan area and distributed them to anyone who wanted one (and I still have about a dozen left, having overcalculated how many of those suckers I was going to need). Melissa was kind enough to take a picture of Josh and me dressed up for the tiki bar, and here it is. I'm the one on the left; I thought I'd have the most impressively awful outfit in the room but had found an actual powder blue polyester leisure suit jacket in Josh's size for about six bucks, and he rocked the party like you'd expect in it.
Two non alcoholic chocolate drinks later (the peanut butter one was delicious beyond belief but the mint one was really chalky), I was nice and mellow, and got to hang out with lots of people who'd arrived for the Fest on Thursday or who were not going to be able to go to the event itself but wanted to get some face time with the attendees who had come from all over Hell's creation to watch crappy movies for a solid day. As has become a tradition, I guided some people over to the Hawaiian shirt and Polynesian kitsch shop and then abandoned them to the woman who explains every single item on the shelves if you don't escape quickly enough. Sorry, guys. I did it twice so it's a tradition. After festivities wrapped up at the Hala Kahiki, I abandoned my sketchy and unconvincing plans to go bowling and instead returned to the hotel. The lobby was under construction while we were all there for the Fest so I don't honestly remember what we wound up doing after that but I'm sure it involved talking about B movies and trying to avoid the numbing horror of Donald Trump's forthcoming inauguration.
Which brings us to the end of the first half of my travelogue. The next one will actually discuss the movies that were shown to the crowd, so it'll be closer to the kind of thing I started this blog to talk about.