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Ted and I went to ICON in 2001, and it was a blast, so I figured I couldn't resist going this year. This time, my intrepid companion was fellow minion Christopher, who thankfully is still a fellow minion even after all our considerable misadventures during the weekend.

ICON is a great little convention in Cedar Rapids, IA. For those of you who think that a convention in Iowa might be boring, you would be surprised. Iowa conventions are famed for great parties and debauchery. ICON is no exception to this rule. The consuite has a well-stocked bar, the programming docket always has a "Chocolate Ceremony", and the social scene is always great. Since ICON only brings in about 600 people, it is not quite as wild and huge and varied as, say, CONvergence, but it also provides a less hectic weekend. This convention is pretty laid-back and relaxed.

Now for the disclaimer. I realize many of you might be reading this report in hopes of finding out more about the convention or guests of honor or the programming or whatever your particular interest might be. This is merely a tale of my weekend, and as you read further, you will find that my weekend at ICON 2002 was considerably interrupted by various mishaps, emergencies, and other events. I have done my best to relay what ICON is like, who was there, and what my opinions are, but this really is simply a tale of adventure, with all its inherent sidetracks and subplots.

So here it is, in all it's mishap-plagued glory: the ICON 2002 report.

10182002: Christopher and I left town way too late for our own good. I had these noble intentions of getting the hell out of Minneapolis before rush hour struck. We did pretty well with the heavy traffic, considering we hit the streets at around 4:00 PM or so, but a late start on a drive to Iowa is something to be avoided.

Ideally, drives into or out of Iowa should be engineered so the entire drive happens during daylight hours. Bad things happen in nighttime Iowa, or at least I am cursed to witness bad things in nighttime Iowa. I've hit a deer there during the wee hours of the morning, and barely missed hundreds of others. I've gotten stuck in tornadoes. I've had the ignition coil on my car die (during the tornado, no less). I'm surprised that I haven't run into a crazed maniac there. With my luck, during my next drive through, I'll splice myself into the plot line of Spielberg's Duel.

In short, I should know better.

The drive from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids is about four to five hours, which is something I forgot. For some reason, I was counting on three hours. Maybe Lex can drive there in three hours, but I can't. Especially not when I lost Highway 218 about three times that night.

It's a highway. How can we lose a highway? Three times! Twice in the same place!

We even asked for directions once. We had pulled into the lot of a tiny drugstore to look at a map, and a little old guy crept up to my car and offered to help. When we asked where 218 was, he began giving directions: "You go down to one of those lights down there and take a right. Then you drive down past the old Mason house, and kinda go left after that. Then you take The Highway down to this little town and..." You get the idea. Chris and I smiled and nodded, waiting to thank him so we could just pull out the map and make our own route.

We thanked him, he wandered off, we pulled out the map, and then noticed he was back at my window.

"Oh, I forgot! There's an even better way. You drive down to the big tree down Main Street, then follow past the stoplight to The Highway and then..."

I never did figure out what Highway he was referring to. From what I could discern from his instructions, he was instructing us to go north instead of south.

We eventually just took another road entirely. Luckily, the Nyarlathotep Soul Processor (my car) didn't hit a single deer on the way into Cedar Rapids.

We arrived at the Clarion Hotel at about 9:30 PM. The lobby was hopping with fans, so we assumed that most of the programming was finished for the evening. Indeed, when we got to the Registration desk after claiming our room, there was a sign on the desk declaring that Registration had "moved to the Consuite (unless Doug is too drunk)." Yup, this is the ICON I know and love.

Chris and I swiped a couple of program books off the table, figured out that Consuite was on sixth floor, and set a course for the elevators. On the way there, I ran into John, who was my alien diving buddy at Supercon 2002. We chatted for a few moments, but he looked a little distracted, like he had just gotten there, so I left him alone.

Chris and I made it to the Consuite eventually, where I made an attempt to track down someone who had anything to do with Registration. I got about three staffers who knew nothing about it, and one of the guys finally said, "You know, nobody's going to care that you don't have a badge tonight." Which is true; nobody did. Besides, I had pre-registered, so I didn't feel like I was mooching or anything.

We then went down to the fifth floor, which was the party floor. ICON doesn't usually get many room parties, but they do have about 5 - 10 really good ones each year. This certainly seemed to be the case this year.

We poked our head into each room, assessing the most interesting venues one by one. Eventually, we got to the end of the hall, where John and Denise Garner were holding their usual Karoke shindig.

Now, I should give you some background. The weekend before ICON, Rick, Sharon, and I had a big BBQ, and Denise came by with our friend, Kevin Wilson. During the party, I took peculiar delight in inflicting a short Don Hertzfelt film named Rejected upon the partiers, and thus addicted most of my friends to such catch-phrases as, "My spoon is too big!" and, "I am a banana!" and, "YAAAAAAAY!"

So, when I walked into Denise's party afterwards, Denise flew into my arms and screamed, "YAAAAAAAY!" She then giddily showed me the Karoke song books that she had printed up, which boasted a cover graphic consisting of one of the Rejected happy puffball people. I laughed with great glee.

We jumped into the fray of the party. Kevin Wilson was there (from the various Conventions of Kevins). So was author Mike from Demicon and CONvergence, artist Mike Cole who I met at ICON 2001, artist Beth Hansen who I formally met the next day, artist John Garner, and several others. Denise's Cthulhu hat was there, presiding over one of the cabinets.

The Karoke machine was certainly getting its full use that night. Please understand, I really dislike Karoke. I mean, I really dislike it. Denise and John's parties are the only times I will ever come even close to a Karoke machine, because the Garners and their cohorts are just too much fun.

When Chris and I walked in, Beth, Denise, and one other girl were the only people singing. Mostly, they sang diva stuff, which is fine, but it's not exactly happy party music, you know? Don't get me wrong, Beth and Denise have smashing voices, and they're great to listen to, but really, nobody was listening.

Finally, Author Mike had fed me enough Scotch for me to consider taking the mike for the first time in my life. Chris egged me on, and soon I had hatched a plan that would be fun for everyone: pick a song that everyone would sing, so nobody would hear how bad my voice is. I picked Weird Al's "The Saga Begins".

Boy, do I know this crowd or what? Soon, about twenty of us were singing about Anakin Skywalker.

Then we all kind of got into the silly songs. Kevin and I teamed up on a duet of "They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha Ha". Denise sang "Kyle's Mom is a Bitch" from South Park. After another glass of Abelour, I found myself singing Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park". Damn, Karoke is an evil addiction. Thankfully, I don't know any songs lyrics aside from silly ones, otherwise I probably would have sucked down another Scotch and grabbed the Patsy Cline disc.

By the time Denise first started trying to throw us all out at some wee hour of the morning, Kevin and I were drawing Rejected characters on the steamed up windows of the room. We finally left when we ran out of space to put happy puffball people.

Chris and I then wandered to the Odyssey Con party, which was fetchingly lit and decorated with cows. One of the hostesses put a miniature cowbell around our necks as we entered. Then I found a Sapporo in the cooler. Yup, this was the place for me. I made a mental note to finally sign up for Odyssey Con next year.

Chris and I wound up sitting next to a big bowl of cheesy corn, which was being guarded by a bright red stuffed cow. As people came and went out of our conversations, every once in a while one of us would pick up the red cow and marvel at it. It even had little udders, which I found a little disturbing.

Eventually, Chris picked it up and said, "Devil cow."

A few minutes later, he picked it up and said, "Baelzebessie."

Finally, he picked it up and pronounced it to be, "Moophistopheles."

During this time, Brian (from Supercon) showed up, and we began chatting a bit. Brian mentioned that both he and someone from Demicon had sent messages to be about my less-than-enthusiastic report for Demicon 2002, which is a little disturbing because I never got either message. I was happy to hear, though, that Demicon has finally gotten into a new hotel, which will hopefully be more friendly than the old one. Honestly, most of the problems I had with Demicon this year were related to how the hotel seemed to be deliberately squashing everyone's fun. I did vow to try Demicon again if they moved to a new hotel, so I made a mental note to check for their flyers on Saturday.

Brian and I were then joined by Bryan (from ICON 2001). I was sitting in between two Bri/yans, and they were kind of talking across me about various things. Kind of surreal, really. I was tired enough that nothing they were talking about stuck to my brain, so I really couldn't tell you much about the conversation.

Chris was feeling a little under the weather, so he retired a little earlier than I did. Not much happened after that point, except for a brief chat with a fine gent named Tony. I finally just excused myself and went to bed.

10192002: We both woke up around 9:00 AM, which is astoundingly late for me to wake up at a convention.

I got up and did some planning for the day. Much of the day was going to be lost. Chris, who is a comic artist by trade, had been scheduled to speak at a Cedar Rapids library that weekend, along with comic writer Steven Jones and publisher Dave Arnold. Chris had worked with Steve Jones on the comic adaptations of the film Re-Animator and Lovecraft's tale "The Statement of Randolph Carter", so I was very anxious to meet him. (Sadly, I had left my copies of the Re-Animator comics at home -- I was hoping to have Steve sign them.)

I was tempted to stay at the convention, because some of the programming looked very interesting. However, I thought I would probably get more enjoyment out of the library talk and meeting Steve Jones, so I decided I would duck out of the convention for most of the afternoon.

So, I decided my plan was to: attend the art show tour at 10:00 AM with John Garner, get some breakfast, go to the library, perhaps get lunch with Steve and Chris, and then return to the convention.

Of course, the best laid plans often go awry, and this seemed to be the weekend for things to go awry. Chris was indeed ill with a sore throat that morning, and decided to sleep in to try and quell the problem before he had to speak in public.

I left him in the room and trekked downstairs. I picked up my registration without a problem. In fact, I was pleased to see that there were only about four other pre-registered badges in the box, which means good things for the warm body count of the convention.

I then walked into the Art Show, where I immediately ran into John and Denise and a crowd of art show tourists. I was happy to see Barbarian Joe from Demicon (who I finally figured out is John's brother) and Mike Cole and several other people. Susan Garner might have been there, and I'm not sure if Kevin was there or not. (I forgot to take notes during the convention. I should know better.) Anyway, a fairly large group gathered for the tour.

John, who was the Artist Guest of Honor this year, was supposed to be leading this tour through the Art Show. I was kind of wondering how this tour was going to go. John is kind of the quiet sort. He's not shy. He's just not very talkative. Kind of a low-key guy. His wife, on the other hand, is chatty in that bubbly, charming and breezy sort of way. I giggled to myself when I realized that the tour quickly wound up being mostly led by Denise.

We started as a mass by the door and worked our way into the Art Show, chatting about each artist as we came by their panels. ICON has a stellar Art Show for their size -- really great stuff. In fact, the first fantasy/sci-fi art I ever bought was a piece I found at ICON last year. John and Denise had plenty of good things to talk about.

We all chatted about Mike Cole's twisted little cartoons, theorized how one of the artists carved her work into slate, and marvelled at some very detailed cross-stitch works. John talked about an original piece that he brought along: a huge, framed canvas depicting a dying star, with a cracked crust of iron. Denise had some time to talk about one of her originals, which she had just finished -- a gorgeous watercolor portrait of a black woman. When we stumbled across Alan M. Clark's prints, I got to talk a bit, since I was the only person who had met him and seen his originals (I still can't believe that he does that stuff in acrylics). Erin McKee joined us later and led some discussion on her stuff. I finally got to see Barbarian Joe's infamous black-and-white portrait of John, which won the People's Choice Award at CONvergence 2002. I was introduced to Beth Hansen's work, which resembled the detailed and luminous works of the Pre-Raphaelites. There weren't any huge revelations during the tour, but it was fun, and I was thrilled to see a lot of new stuff.

After the tour, Denise pointed out that the artists were teaming up to do body painting again later that night. She showed me the silent auction bid sheet and told me to sign up, which I gladly did. John then leaned in and joked that all the artists should pitch in money so I could get the body painting again. It sounded a little recursive to me, but hey, it's for charity.

Everyone dispersed, and I walked into the next room for a brief walk around the Dealer's Room. It was bigger and better than last year, but still smaller than many other conventions I've been to. There was a good variety of dealers, though, and really, that's the critical thing. I didn't find anything truly exciting in there, which is good, because I was pretty broke. I said hi to Felix Needleworthy and perused some toe rings, but that was about it.

I then went back to the room to fetch Chris out of bed. I found him in possession of something like a very gravelly gangster voice. It didn't sound good, but it was workable.

We then went to the hotel restaurant for some breakfast. Don't get me wrong; I love this hotel, and I'm all for family-run restaurants and businesses. However, the food at Zazza's is often hit-or-miss. The eggs benedict I ordered was passable, but I don't think Hollandaise sauce should quite look or taste like that. I think I had the underwhelming eggs benedict at last year's convention, too. I should know better.

After breakfast, we wandered past the flyer table. I can't resist flyer tables. I shuffled through everything, looking for information. A-ha! Supercon registration sheets! Info about WisCon! Demicon info! I was especially tickled to see that the Supercon flyer was emblazoned with the phrase "Cask Strength Fandom", which I coined at the convention last year.

Since I was so happy to hear that Demicon had a new hotel, I made sure I grabbed one of their flyers. Then I read it.

$40 to pre-register, and more at the door? I pre-registered for CONvergence next year at half that price, and CONvergence is twice Demicon's size and ten times the fun. $40 is a fine at-the-door price for a 500 - 1000 attendee convention, but that's oddly high for pre-registration. Hmm. Must think further about registering for that one.

Chris and I stopped at the room, then met Steven Jones in the lobby around 12:30 PM. As I mentioned before, Steve was the writer for several Lovecraft comic adaptations, so I was thrilled to meet him. He's an interesting guy. He's very nice, soft-spoken, and kind of boyish, even if he does have grey hair. He doesn't look quite like the sort of guy who would be writing comic books for a living.

It didn't take me long to lament to him that I had forgotten my Re-Animator comics at home. He offered to give me one of the copies he had along, then asked if I had a copy of The Lurking Fear comic as well. When I said I didn't even know about that one, he offered to give me one of his copies after the library talk. I decided I really liked this guy. I began to scheme for a way to return the favor.

After a brief introduction, Steve drove Chris and me to the Cedar Rapids Library, a huge, modern building of the sort that would be really fun to commandeer for a paintball game. The place was a maze of big, open stairways, balconies, odd corners, and bookshelves. What a great library! It was sunny, too. Lots and lots of windows. I would have loved to haul this library to Minneapolis.

We walked to an upstairs foyer sort of area, where we ran into the librarian/events coordinator lady and publisher Dave Arnold. I didn't get to talk with him much, but he was rather interesting. Dave Arnold is the guy who owns the only comic publishing company in Iowa, Sundragon Comics. Chris, Steve, and Dave have known and worked with each other for around 20 years.

Chris, Dave, and Steve got set up at a couple banquet tables in the front of the foyer, while I picked out a chair in the empty rows of seats that had been set up for the event. (They offered to let me sit on the panel, passing me off as a colorist or an inker, but I didn't think that was a particularly good idea.) Soon, kids and parents started to filter into the room, and eventually, we had a pretty solid crowd of about 50 people.

To make a long story short, the panel was a little scattered, but very interesting. Dave was really set on talking about Sundragon characters, especially The Mighty 1, even though the seven-year-olds in the audience didn't seem particularly enthused over hearing about business ventures. They latched onto Chris and Steve pretty quickly, though -- to kids, writing and drawing are a little bit more concrete than business talk.

The talk went on for about an hour, then concluded with a mass giveaway of several comics. I let the kids get first grab, then managed to get my hands on one of the last Mighty 1 comics. After the crowd had thinned in front of their table (it had kind of turned into an autographing frenzy), I asked Dave, Steve and Chris to all sign the book. Then, Steve signed both his copies of Re-Animator and The Lurking Fear and handed them off to me. I thanked him profusely, and then let him deal with the dwindling hoarde of children.

After about another half-hour, Steve, Chris and I took off for a late lunch at this little hole-in-the-wall Italian place. It was cheap, decent food, and most of the time was spent discussing comics. I didn't pop into the conversation very often, since I figured that Steve and Chris hadn't seen each other for a while and should have time to talk shop.

After filling ourselves with Italian food, Steve dropped me off at the hotel so that he and Chris could go in search of a photocopy shop. I had plans to drop things off in the room, then peruse the Dealers' Room and the Art Show again, but it was not to be. Instead, I just crashed for a quick nap.

A while later, I was woken up when Chris and Steve showed up at my door. I let them in and dashed back into the lobby to see if the Art Show was still open. Alas, it wasn't. I guess I wouldn't get to bid on anything before the auction.

Remembering that I owed Steve for the comics, I had an idea. Steve had commented earlier on my Cthulhu Coffee shirt, so I took a quick detour out to my car, where I had stowed a few Cthulhu Coffee mugs. I grabbed one, went back up to the hotel room, and gave it to Steve as a token of thanks. I was a little worried that I was being presumptuous by giving him a logo item from the web site, but he looked pretty genuinely pleased about the surprise.

Chris and Steve continued to chat, so I decided it was about time to put on the Convention Evening Garb. This time around, I chose my ever-popular vinyl pants and a backless shirt. It would only be comfortable for a few hours, but you have to suffer for your fashion, right?

Okay, maybe not, but these days, if I nixed the vinyl from my convention garb, people would wonder if I had been replaced by a body snatcher.

So, I changed clothes and just got out of the bathroom as Steve was heading out the door. We all bid our goodbyes, and Steve went home.

6:00 PM rolled around soon enough, and Chris and I found ourselves sitting in the Art and Charity Auction. Mike Cole was one of two auctioneers for the event, so the ensuing hours were riddled with his particular brand of innuendo.

The Auction took up more than its two hour time slot. It was loooong. Thankfully, it was hardly boring, even though I was anxious for Mike to auction off the body painting. A couple highlights:

...The "People's Choice Best-of-Show" award for the Art Show went to... Mike Cole! It wasn't for any single piece, however, since all of the nominations were for different images.

...An image of Cthulhu done in Celtic knotwork immediately soared above $50. I couldn't even get my hand in the air to bid on it before it went out of range. Bummer.

...Finally, the body painting went up for grabs. Mike was working on this cute blond girl to keep bidding on it, but she apparently ran out of money at $40. I got the final bid at $45. Too bad -- she could have had it if she went over $50. Not only was I a little broke, I was also just hoping to drive the numbers up to a respectable level. The money does go to charity, after all.

But I got the body painting, for the second year in a row. Woohoo!

After the auction, Chris and I went in search of the artists for the body painting event. There was about an hour's worth of chasing people down, switching rooms, trying to find someone who was "only just here", waiting in the lobby laughing at Entertainment Weekly, and general confusion. Literally, Chris and I went from fifth floor to the Forum room about four or five times. In the program, the event was supposed to take place in the Forum, but then Denise wanted to switch to her room, then the convention chairs fought with her to bring it back down to the Forum (mostly because I had fainted during the process last year, and the Forum would be cooler than Denise's room), then there was waiting and water fetching and artist fetching... It was just this odd scramble.

I was finally on my final trip down to the Forum when the Blowpop Fairy turned up before me. I'm not kidding. This petite little woman in a fairy outfit offered a grape Blowpop to me. I thanked her for the purple sucker, and suddenly, I was treated to a burst of confetti. This process was repeated with other folks in the hallway.

Once Chris and I settled into the Forum, we started eating our lollypops as I taught him how to use my digital camera. Now, as you probably already know, Blowpops are famous for turning your mouth bright colors. Soon, I was sporting purple lips, purple teeth, and a really sickly-looking tongue.

I was nearly done with the sucker when the body painting was ready to get underway. Denise, John, Erin McKee, Beth Hansen, and Mike Cole were all ready to go with their paints. We conferred briefly for ideas. This year, they only had my arms, back, and face to work with, so we all came up with the idea for bat wings. I then mentioned that I wanted scales and eyes, too. I wanted eyes popping out of my skin! How cool would that be?

Denise got a glimmer in her eyes, and a mischievous smile. I remember thinking, "Uh oh."

"Eyes?" she said. She grinned. "Oh, we can do eyes."

Denise disappeared out of the room for a few minutes while the other artists went to work. John, Mike and Erin started work on my back, tracing out bat wings. About five people with cameras, including Chris, were hovering around, taking photos.

Soon, Denise was back with several Ziploc bags full of... little plastic googly eyes. You know the type. The ones that are a clear, plastic bubble with a black dot in the middle, which moves around inside. It looked like she had thousands of the things.

I was going to ask why Denise had brought a thousand googly eyes to a convention, but I decided I might not want to know.

She set the bags on the ground, and she and Beth went to work on my arms. Denise started doing purple scales on my right hand. Beth looked a little lost, so Denise asked her to start doing the same on my left hand. When Beth took my hand and started working, I noticed that her hands were shaking. I mean, they were shaking a lot. I didn't think she'd be nervous in this sort of laid-back setting, especially since I'd seen her amazing paintings in the Art Show. I wondered if her blood sugar was low or something. Then I wondered if it was something more serious, and I wondered if it would be rude to ask about it.

Beth quickly became very frustrated with her tremor, so I ascertained that it must be a medical condition. I felt really bad for her, because she was self-conscious enough to stop paining. Denise eventually talked her back into it by suggesting other things she could do. Beth wound up with a couple of star-shaped foam stamps, and began working on my arms.

Eventually, John and Erin began working on painted necklaces and chokers around my neck, while Mike went to work with very thin red paint on my back. Denise finished the scales on my arms, then ducked around my back to do something. Beth forged ahead, painting my arms various shades of purple, in curlicue patterns that Denise finished off with a fine brush. Erin and Denise then ran around me in circles, pasting little googly eyes everywhere, including a huge one in the middle of my forehead.

Near the end of this process, Chris went around my back and started laughing. He took a photo, then brought the camera around so I could see what had been done.

Denise had painted little happy Rejected puffball guys on one side of my back, with the legend, "YAAAAAAY!"

I burst out laughing, much to the chagrin of all the people around me with paintbrushes.

Eventually, the painting was done. I was covered in paint and plastic eyeballs and happy puffball guys. Curlicues ran up and down my arms, and red wings spread across my back. I had to keep spreading out my arms for the photographers. I felt a little like Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon.

After may photos were snapped, I looked at some of the images that Chris had taken. Finally, I got to see what my face and back looked like. The final result was very tribal and incredibly cool, especially with the addition of the googly eyes. Wow!

And I didn't even faint this time! Bonus!

Thank yous were passed around, and the artists and audience dispersed. Chris and I then decided to do the mandatory show-off tour, since my skin was now a feature of the convention. I swung by Consuite and a few of the parties, said hi to people, and stopped for a few photos. Then, with my tour obligation done, Chris and I retired to the room for a few minutes for some quiet sanity time. I was tired of noise and photos, and the vinyl pants were starting to get to me, so I changed into jeans, and we just chatted for a while.

After my batteries were refuelled, we jumped back into the fray with a more relaxed tour of the party floor. Chris stopped to chat with Lauren and Lex for a little while, while I somehow got into a half-hour anime discussion with a couple of random guys in the hallway.

Then we saw it. Suddenly, everything fell into place.

Denise and Susan Garner showed up at the end of the hallway, flanked by John, Joe, and Kevin. They were dressed in these amazing bellydancer outfits, with brassieres made completely out of googly eyes. Two eyes per costume had giant eyelashes.

It was hilarious, sassy, and deeply disturbing at the same time. Even the googly eyes in their bellybuttons were pretty unsettling.

They had a very hard time getting anywhere. People just massed around them, snapping photos and chattering. It was pretty damn impressive!

After that peculiar sighting, Chris and I retired to the Oddcon room for the remainder of the evening. My first order of business was to sign up for Oddcon. I had been thinking of attending in years past, but had never gotten the opportunity, and their talent for throwing good parties convinced me that I really should go. After handing off a sign-up sheet and $25 off to the room deity, I grabbed a good beer out of the cooler and picked a spot near the cheesy corn.

Chris and I wound up chatting for most of the night with Kevin, Beth, and a guy I only know from his badge name, "Godfather". Godfather was wearing a Chernobyl in 2011 shirt, which Chris had designed several years ago, so that's really how we all started talking.

I have no idea how we ended talking, because Godfather kept handing me little plastic shot glasses of really good Scotch. I remember very, very little about what was said after the Chernobyl conversation. This is partly because I'm writing this report two weeks after the conversation. This is partly because the Scotch ran off with a few critical neurons. I think there were some bad Moophistopheles jokes handed around, and I think some crackers were ingested, and I'm pretty darn sure I had a very good time. We wouldn't have all talked to each other until 3:00 AM if we weren't having a good time.

It was at that point that I downed the last of my Scotch, and then started pulling eyeballs off my skin and putting them in the plastic shot glass. I then somehow found Denise, handed off the glass of eyes, and let Chris help me stagger off to the hotel room. I had drunk a lot of Scotch, for which I am forever grateful to Godfather, whoever he is.

10202002: As per usual after a night of drinking, I woke up obscenely early, and I was wide stinking awake. Boom! 7:00 AM or so, and I was AWAKE!

Yeah, I know, I am a freak.

I noted with pleasure that I was no longer covered with purple paint, either. I thought hard, then remembered having a shower before bed. Thank goodness... I was worried that some poor maid would have to clean acrylic paint flakes out of white sheets.

I started in on the morning routine, and then realized that I didn't feel so good. Not in the hangover way -- my head was fine. For some reason, I don't get hangovers (yes, I know I am a freak). No, my uncomfortableness was of a more, erm, intimate type.

Now, most women who are reading this will know what a UTI is, and will likely cringe at its mention. Men may need to ask their girl buddies for an explanation. I felt like one was coming on.

Well, I try not to be an alarmist, but I'd had UTIs before, and they are evil. It's usually only a few hours between when they start and when they become unbearable and dangerous -- like, visit the emergency room sort of unbearable and dangerous. I began desperately hoping that my pain wasn't a UTI coming on. There were still a couple of symptoms missing.

I told Chris, just to warn him that I would likely be cranky, and that there may be impending doom on the horizon.

We packed up our things, took them to the car, and checked out of the room. We then walked into Zazza's to sample their breakfast buffet.

Lauren, Lex, Tony, Kerry, Betsy, Nate, and a few other folks we knew were already sitting at one of the large tables, and they kindly invited us over to join them. Lex was merrily showing the rest of the table her stitches; she had visited the emergency room the evening before, when she slammed her hand in her car's door.

Even with that sort of macabre show-and-tell going on, Zazza's still had the most amazing breakfast buffet that I think I've ever seen. The food in there could sate Galactus. Plus, they had the most amazing caramel apple crepes... mmmm...

I ate breakfast with a mixture of joy and dread. The food was phenomenal, but I could feel my health deteriorating fast. Finally, I went to the bathroom to find that I was bleeding out of places I shouldn't be bleeding from. I mean, I was suddenly bleeding a lot.

I walked out of the bathroom cursing. A couple of guys stopped me in the hall on the way back to the table to comment on my body painting. I did my best to be happy and cheerful in those few moments, then quickly deteriorated after I excused myself.

I told Chris that I was going to try to call my insurance company to see if they could refer a doctor or something. I then left him at breakfast, went out to the car, and tried calling. That's when I learned that the PPO that I use for medical coverage doesn't have its offices open on the weekends. Unhelpful bastards.

Frustrated, hurting, and worried, I walked back into the convention to see if I could get some help from one of the locals. The front desk was swamped. Since I was only expecting to extract information about local doctors, I felt bad about butting ahead of the long lines at the desk, so I walked on into the Art Show. I knew they were tearing down the show in there, so I figured at least someone in there would be working with the convention and would be a Cedar Rapids native.

I went in there and was waiting for the attention of someone at the desk when a guy I vaguely recognized walked up to me and asked how the body painting went. I told him good things, then noticed that he was wearing a convention staff banner on his badge.

"Are you on the convention staff?" I asked, hopeful. When he answered yes, I just about pounced on him with joy. I was trying to keep my voice from shaking when I explained that I really, really, really needed to see a doctor. I couldn't drive in the state I was in, and my boyfriend didn't have a drivers' license, and I didn't know anyone from the area...

He snapped into action. He made me sit down, then went to fetch someone who was more familiar with Cedar Rapids than he was. In a snap, a woman was standing in front of me with her car keys ready. "I'm going to take you to Mercy Hospital," she said.

I became a little panicked by the use of the word "hospital". I wasn't sure if my ailment really required an ER stay yet, but would within hours if nothing was done. I asked her to wait for a moment, then I dashed back into the restaurant to tell Chris that I was being taken to the hospital. He chased after me until I agreed to let him come with. We caught up with my savior in the lobby, and the three of us headed out to her car.

Introductions were made in the car. We were riding with Jennifer Moony, who I soon gathered was one of the four people on the ICON Concom Senate. (Her name is listed as "Goddess of Programming" in the convention book.) I suddenly felt really bad -- I was stealing her away from her Sunday duties, and if the ER waiting room was backed up, she might miss most of the day.

Thankfully, Mercy Hospital was very close to the convention hotel. In fact, it was practically next door to the library that we were at on Saturday.

I got through the triage nurse in no time. They had me collect *ahem* samples. Then I got to sit in the waiting room for a few hours. I mean hours. Jennifer and Chris chatted about fandom, comics, running conventions (Chris is on the CONvergence board), and other fun things while I drifted in and out of conversation, depending on how grumpy my body was feeling. More and more people were piling up in the waiting room, and it seemed like nobody was coming out.

Finally, when I began to fear that we were going to be trapped in there for all eternity, with my nether areas in knots, a nurse practitioner came out and called my name.

The nurse took the samples to the lab, ran tests, asked questions, and apologized up a storm for the wait. Finally, when she decided that the lab was taking too long, she just prescribed a bunch of UTI meds and sent me on my way.

On my way back out to the lobby, I did my best to collect directions to the nearest pharmacy. When they became too confusing, I went and fetched Jennifer, who tried to make sense of them. Once we felt we knew where we needed to go, we took of in search of antibiotics and pyridium.

I was fighting not to writhe in my seat while we were driving around, looking for this mythical Walgreens. It was supposed to be within a few blocks of the hospital. After a half-hour of driving, we decided that this was not the case.

I began to feel even more awful about subjecting poor Jennifer to my dilemma. We should have been back at the hotel by now, where she could enjoy the convention that she worked so hard to make happen. Instead, she was stuck trying to find a mythical Walgreens for the benefit of an almost complete stranger.

Finally, we stopped for gas. I insisted on paying for it, which lessened my guilty angst a little. Then I went into the station to ask for better directions. The girl behind the counter gave me what sounded like the most simple and specific directions ever made on this planet.

Gleefully armed with this knowledge, we took off in search of this mythical Walgreens. I began to think of it as this sort of Shangri-La. I felt like Ronald Colman's character in Lost Horizon, searching among the Himalayas for paradise...

Well, it turns out that the simple directions ("Go down 2nd street there to 1st, then take a right. The Walgreens is on the right side, a mile or so down.") were downright wrong. 2nd Street ceased to exist somewhere around 4th Avenue and dead-ended into a building. We jogged around and found not one, but two 1st Avenues. We tried driving on both of them, but there was no Walgreens to be found. I began to think it was mocking us.

Lesson learned: I should never ask for directions in Iowa. Never ever ever.

Finally, completely by accident, we stumbled across a Hy-Vee with a pharmacy. Walking into that Hy-Vee seemed like a victory akin to breaking the finish line at the end of a marathon. Within minutes, I was armed with some of the greatest medications known to mankind. I felt like digging up the dead body of Alexander Fleming and kissing his moldering skull.

We finally got back to the hotel sometime well after the closing ceremony was finished. We both thanked Jennifer about a thousand times, and it still didn't seem like enough. She asked for contact info from both of us (she especially wanted to talk to Chris about doing some panels for ICON next year), which we happily gave. She then went of to take care of other business.

Chris and I stayed in the lobby for a few minutes. The whole convention was dissolving. We said goodbye to the few people we recognized, then decided that we had better start our journey home. It was almost 4:00 PM, and it was a long drive back to Minneapolis.

We ran into John, Denise, and Jennifer out in the parking lot. We all said our goodbyes, and I got one last photo of all of us. Chris and I then departed for the great metropolis of Minneapolis.

Our adventure didn't end there. When I got home, I wrote the following letter:

Dear [insert deity name of choice],

I realize that your product, Life (tm), is marketed with a no returns policy, but I hope to bring to your attention a defect you might want to make note of for future versions.

I do realize the occasional emergency room visit is necessary for Life (tm) to operate properly. However, would it be possible to a) not schedule that visit during a perfectly nice weekend out of town, b) not schedule the UTI to set in immediately before a five-hour drive across the Midwest, and c) not schedule a snowstorm during the aforementioned UTI-plagued drive home? I did appreciate that perfect sunset, which I wouldn't have otherwise seen if I hadn't spent three hours in an emergency room in Cedar Rapids, IA. However, following that up with the sudden snowstorm was just an insult.

I would also like to go into how Life (tm) needs more urgent care doctors in the Cedar Rapids area, and how nobody in Iowa can seem to give proper directions to a Walgreens, but they are relatively minor bugs and I realize that you have bigger fish to fry. Instead, I would like to close with a request that Jennifer Moony be bestowed with sainthood for dropping her con chair duties and driving me to the hospital. I would also like to request Random Acts of Kindness (tm) for the folks who put up with my illness-induced grouchiness at breakfast yesterday morning.

Thank you for your attention,
Melissa S. Kaercher

And that, folks, is the tale of my odyssey at (and not at) ICON 2002. If you have never attended ICON, might I suggest you do so? It's a grand thing full of friendly and talented people, and you KNOW you are going to be well cared-for.

I'd like to thank:

  • John and Denise Garner for their hospitality, food, and paint;
  • Erin McKee, Mike Cole, and Beth Hansen for their amazing body-work;
  • Godfather for his friendly chatter and generosity (and, if you happen to be reading this, what the hell is your name, anyway?);
  • Chris for a thousand reasons, including for making comfort food for me after we got back to the cities;
  • and of course, my savior, Jennifer Moony. I'd like to thank Jennifer a thousand more times, but I'm afraid she might file a restraining order.

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