San Diego Comic Con 2017: Freaks and Geeks?
Part 1-Getting There:
Idries J. Abdur-Rahman, MD
For the uninitiated, what exactly is San Diego Comic Con (SDCC)?
San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) has been about way more than just comic books for a long time now. SDCC did indeed start in 1970 with only 140 attendees as a gathering strictly devoted to comic books. Over the decades however, it has evolved into a multi-genre entertainment juggernaut hosting more than 130,000 attendees every year covering a huge range of the pop culture and entertainment landscape from horror and science fiction to animation, anime, manga, video games and fantasy novels. With over 130,000 attendees, is it any wonder that SDCC has been crowned the largest popular culture gathering in the world?
These vintage pics from the early days of Comic Con show that the more things change (a panel this small hasn’t been seen at Comic Con for decades)…
the more they stay the same (you still had grown folks dressing up in public).
Modern day San Diego Comic Con has become a massive gathering but…
some things never change. You still have grown folks dressing up in public.
So, I look like a pretty sane guy, why Comic Con?
True confession, I’m not a huge fan of comic books or anything comic book related for that matter. So why Comic Con you ask? Well, my oldest son has always been a lover of comics and all things derived from comics (TV, movie) along with video games and just about any thing else popular culture. For a long time now I have been taking each of my children on a one-on-one daddy-daughter/daddy-son trip. In 2012, my son, who was 13 years old at the time, asked me to take him to Comic Con. So for our 2012 daddy-son trip, Comic Con was the plan. I diligently booked flights, got a hotel relatively close to the convention center and then started trying to figure out how to get tickets for the actual event.
In retrospect I did things a wee bit backwards, event tickets definitely should have come first. A bit of research quickly got me up to speed. Apparently Comic Con was really popular and getting tickets last minute was literally impossible. Heck, even getting tickets in advance bordered on impossible. People literally plan a year in advance for this event, usually as soon as the current Comic Con ends. And to make matters worse, you have to be a registered Comic Con member which we definitely were not at the time. Even as a registered member, you only have about a 5% chance of getting a ticket in the lottery that takes place a few months before the event.
So yeah, we clearly were not going to actually get into Comic Con. None-the-less we went to San Diego and we had a blast soaking up the whole Comic Con vibe that takes over the city. The entire Gaslamp district and much of downtown San Diego transforms into a surreal fantasy world with tons of cool things to see and do. Sans Comic Con tickets, we still had four full days of fun and I left San Diego a total Comic Con convert. Okay, rookie lesson learned, as soon as we got home I registered each of us for Comic Con IDs with the hopes of returning in 2013.
The ticket lottery however had other plans and 2013 just didn’t happen. Surely that was just a bad flip of the coin and 2014 would be our year, right? Nope, no dice in 2014. 2015? nope and 2016? fugetaboutit! Now comes spring 2017 and my 18 year old son had pretty much given up on the idea of ever getting tickets. My wife will tell you however, that I am nothing if not tenacious. If need be, I was going to submit my fate to that damn lottery every year until I was 80, but come hell or high water we were going to go to Comic Con even if I was going in a wheel chair with my balding 50-something son pushing me around.
So with little hope I entered the random lottery and wouldn’t you know it? luck was actually on our side this year and we were among the lucky 5% who got tickets in the general lottery. And so 2017 would be our year, no wheelchair or Rogaine required.
PART 1: GETTING THERE
There really is no exotic or interesting way to get from Chicago to San Diego. There are no “five star” airlines, no five course meals, no lie flat seats and no 100+ channels of inflight entertainment. Living in Chi-town however, we do have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to nonstop domestic flight options. There is Southwest at Midway Airport while United, American and Spirit have extensive networks out of my preferred airport, O’Hare. For better or for worst (and mostly it has been for better), I usually remain loyal to United Airlines and Star Alliance. So United it was for our trip to the left coast and the largest popular culture event on the planet.
When it came time to book tickets, I went to trusty united.com where I found that nonstop flights were significantly more expensive than connecting flights ($342 roundtrip versus $515 roundtrip). So connecting flights it was.
Our outbound trip was via Houston while the return was by way of LAX.
After an abbreviated morning in the office seeing patients, I zipped home, grabbed my son and my luggage and we were off to the remote parking lot at O’Hare airport. I always check-in on-line because I like to see how hopeless my chances of an upgrade are, but I am still old school so I always get a printed boarding passes when I get to the airport. Boarding passes in hand we zipped through TSA Precheck and made our way to the United Club located near gate B4 where…
I took advantage of the free wifi and vittles. Don’t judge! The cucumbers and quinoa definitely balanced out the cheese and brownie, right?
The United Club is nothing special, but it always beats the hustle and bustle of the terminal and to UA’s credit, they have been making both infrastructural and F&B improvements in the lounges. Thankfully the lounge wasn’t as busy as usual, and we were actually able to find a place to rest our cabooses.
After a quick snack and a whiff of free wifi, we headed to gate B14 for flight UA1128 bound for Houston Bush Intercontinental. With three trips to Asia and only one more domestic trip planned with UA for the year, I figured my RPUs (Regional Premier Upgrades) were getting close to being useless, so I decided to use them for our flights to IAH and SAN.
The upgrades didn’t clear right away (they rarely do), but at least we were #s 1 and 2 on the upgrade list. How my son with no status, traveling on my RPUs was placed above me on the list I don’t know. I’m guessing it was just alphabetical, but it honestly didn’t matter.
I was hoping we would both be upgraded but if only one of us was going to get the upgrade, it would either be your’s truly or your’s truly. Now, before you jump down my throat and call DCFS, in reality I would just pass on it all together if we both were not upgraded.
As we stood in line waiting for boarding to begin, I heard my name called. I figured one or both of us was going to be upgraded, so I sauntered up to the desk to get our new boarding passes. Instead of issuing new boarding passes, the agent explained that the flight to Houston was oversold and they offered us seats on the nonstop flight which left two hours later but would still get us to San Diego and hour and a half earlier. My difficult side wanted to ask for compensation since an offer of $500 was made for volunteers willing to give up their seats at check-in, but I decided to just make it a win-win for UA and for us and just take the nonstop flight as the consolation prize.
New boarding passes in hand we headed back to the United Club, this time the smaller club across from gate B18, and I killed another couple of hours eating way more brownie bites than I should have.
Soon enough we made our way to gate B8 to board United flight UA395 operated by Boeing 737-900 N37422.
N37422 was originally delivered to Continental in May of 2008. Always trying to log a new registration number I was a bit disappointed to realize that I had flown N37422 from O’Hare to LAX in February of 2014. Oh well.
We got to the gate just as group 1 boarding was called and soon….
it was officially time to fly! Damn, apparently it was time to fly on one of the Direct TV equipped aircraft.
We took our seats, 10E and 10F, and I did what I always do.
I checked out the activities on the tarmac as the cabin quickly filled to capacity minus the two empty middle seats in the rear of the aircraft.
Make sure you top her off sir, no penny pinching today!
It was official, we were definitely on a 737-900…or an -800..no, it was definitely a -900.
My son humored me and actually smiled for this shot but then….
he made the mistake of going to sleep. Thats when the fun began, or at least a pathetic form of daddy fun. You know this one is going on Facebook and Instagram!
Economy Plus legroom was pretty good, but the new slimline seats really don’t have enough storage space in my humble opinion.
With an on-time pushback….
we were officially on our way to San Diego!
United’s safety videos were pretty attention grabbing when I first saw them in 2013 (and yeah, she still laughs at the Loch Ness Monster)….
but me thinks it’s now time for them to think of another angle if they want to keep them fresh.
I checked out the Hemispheres magazine as we slowly taxied and of course I had to…
checkout the fleet page. My still favorite widebody was sitting on top of the page looking forlorned with the knowledge that her days with United are numbered. I’m sad to see the Queen of the Skies leave the fleet of my favorite airline BUT I am excited to be flying on that last flight from Seoul/Incheon to San Francisco in October.
O’Hare usually has a nice variety of carriers but….
as we taxied to the active runway…..
there was only United as far as the eye could see.
As we held short of the thresh-hold I caught a glimpse of my second favorite widebody…..
the triple 7. Well, actually my second favorite widebody is the DC-10, but of the aircraft currently flying, the 777 is definitely it!
Soon our spunky little Boeing snuck past it’s patiently waiting big brother, finally making our way to runway 9R.
We lined up on 9R and within seconds the engines were spooling up.
Buh bye Mr. 777, buh bye Mr. A320.
Bye to you too Mr. Lufthansa 747-8
Within seconds we were up up and away, starting our 3 hour and 34 minute journey with a 180 degree turn which…
gave us a descent view of downtown Chicago in the hazy distance as we slowly made our way westward.
As we climbed out, I caught a quick glimpse of highway 294 and the suburban sprawl beneath.
Hey, look who spotted Chicago Executive airport below our starboard wing.
Given my druthers, I would rather watch the show unfolding outside of my window anyway. Being on one of United’s Direct TV aircraft meant that I had nothing to watch. Maybe I’m just cheap, maybe I’m just stubborn and probably the answer is C, both A and B, but I refuse to swipe my credit card to pay for $8 for three and a half hours of TV. So I broke out the old laptop, kept my window shades up (sorry neighbors) and split my attention between my trusty Mac and the view beneath my window.
I have no clue what airfield this is but I know one of my aerophilies can clue me in.
I love flying westbound because you can see the landscape change…
from the flat browns and greens of the midwest…
to the wondrous landscapes, formations and…
mountainous scenes of the mountain region of the country.
As you get closer to the west coast…
the landscape takes on more of a beautiful red desert-like appearance.
Contrast the red landscape below against the deep blue sky and it’s stratus and cumulus clouds and is there any wonder why most of my time was spent with my nose glued to the window?
One of my many complaints about the Direct TV equipped aircraft is the placement of the control panel. Unfortunately UA has also made this mistake with the passenger control panel on the newly refurbished domestic 777 sub fleet.
What’s the issue you ask? Between your arms and your neighbors arms, someone’s arm is always brushing against or just resting on your control panel.
And this is what happens. An arm moves and your volume goes up or down. An elbow brushes and the screen gets lighter and darker or sometimes the screen turns off all together. I have had more than one flight where a sleeping neighbor’s wandering arm prevented me from getting my $8 worth. Time to re-think this design UA!
Now the best part of any domestic United flight is the generous and copious in-flight service. Yes, that is sarcasm! After the premium snack mix and 4 ounces of water, I was bursting at the seams. No more, please no more, have mercy, my stomach can’t handle it! The main in-flight service was supplemented however with a second run of water or OJ about an hour out of San Diego, so thats actually a total of 8 ounces of hydration. Call me crazy but I’m pretty sure mid-cons on United used to have two full beverage services. Anywho, I already stuffed myself with free food in the United Club, so I wasn’t really hungry anyway.
I did buckle a bit and contribute a little something extra to United’s bottom line, paying for an hour of internet access. Four hours with nothing else to do meant that I had to at least attempt to be productive and I needed internet access to pretend to do that. With UA’s wifi, even if you don’t pay for internet access, you can checkout the flight map, which always keeps me happily entertained.
Oh how artsy. If only I could have actually centered the window in this shot.
As we got closer to the California boarder, the desert scenes yielded to the greens and blues of So Cal.
Add to that the impressive show that the clouds were putting on and…
the views were just breath taking.
These clouds just looked comfy enough to sleep on…
though I’m sure anyone who tried would plummet to their very quick messy demise.
None-the-less a boy can dream and…
day dream I did until…
the chime brought me back to reality.
Before long we were descending over southern California and…
due to anticipated turbulence, the captain instructed the flight attendants to prepare the cabin for landing earlier than normal. This meant laptops away, seats in the upright position and seat belts fastened.
Better safe than sorry, but it was all hype and…
we had a nice smooth descent as suburban sprawl came into view.
We were on short finals before I knew it…
buzzing the Air & Space museum.
Landing at San Diego International Airport is second in my book only to landing at Chicago Midway.
Our 737 cut a path through downtown and…
with a light thud we were back on terra firma…
making our way to gate 39 where we were surrounded by company aircraft.
Carry-on’s only (that’s how I roll, get it? roll) meant a quick egress and we were soon enjoying the temperate San Diego weather waiting for our Lyft driver. Next stop was the Doubletree Hotel San Diego Hotel Circle. Welcome to San Diego where everything for the next few days will be Comic Con related. No, the airport’s pedestrian walkway does not normally have a huge advertisement for the TBS show People of Earth.
Be sure to check out part 2, our time at “The Con” HERE
Be sure to check out part 3, our journey back home HERE