It was early morning. In fact it was still dark outside, but I was already awake. My internal alarm clock kicked in and I woke minutes before my iPhone started beeping. I then woke my husband and we both got dressed and headed for our destination.
By the time we arrived at the San Diego Convention Center, it was nearing 6:30, half-an-hour later than I intended. We still didn’t rush. Instead, walking through the crowds at a normal pace, commenting on the woman dressed as Thor and the teen girls still asleep, huddled under blankets beneath a giant tent. I casually asked a volunteer if it was still worth it to get in line.
“I can’t tell you if you’ll get in or not, but I would try if I were you,” she said. We took her advice, finding the end of the line and plopping down on the concrete to wait.
I talked to the man next to me. He was an economics teacher at a local high school. It was his 25th year at Comic Con. I wasn’t surprised he was so friendly. Despite the massive crowds and long lines, everyone I had met over the previous two days were more than kind. A friend joked that this is what happens when you get thousands of people used to being beat up for the slightest infraction in one place. No one wants to ruffle any feathers.
Nearly two hours later, the line started moving. Over the next three hours, we would wind our way towards the entrance. The teacher was convinced we'd make it inside. Since he was a pro at this, I allowed myself to get excited. As we neared the convention hall doors, the line crawled at a horrifically slow pace, before stopping altogether. It was 10:20 in the morning. The first panel started ten minutes later. I began feverishly checking Twitter and Instagram for any update on the amount of space left inside. After what felt like forever, our line started moving again, but then suddenly stopped. I realized the auditorium was nearing capacity and the line workers were now only letting a handful in at a time. I saw on Instagram that the panel already started, those inside reporting their excitement for all the announcements to come and the movie stars to present them. 10:40 arrived. The teacher was clearly upset. Our line moved once more, but only a foot. I looked ahead and estimated that there were around thirty people between us and one amazing morning.
And then a line worker made an announcement using a bullhorn.
“Hall H is now full for the first panel!”
That was it. We weren’t getting in. So close and so rejected. I wasn’t devastated, merely disappointed. After all, the panel I wanted to see didn’t start until three hours later. The teacher left the line unhappy, but still wished us luck. At least now we were on grass and not concrete. I rolled up my backpack, used it as a pillow, and laid down with book in hand.
Comic Con hosts dozens and dozens of workshops and panels throughout the day. However, the convention halls hosting the ones with all the celebrities and blockbuster announcements fill up quickly. Once you get inside a hall, you don’t have to leave. You can claim your spot all day if you wish. I convinced myself that out of 6,600 people in Hall H, at least thirty would leave after the first panel ended.
Three hours went by as I read my book. I stopped looking at social media...too depressing after learning Tom Cruise made a surprise visit to Hall H. When I checked the time and realized the second panel was already starting, I tortured myself with one more look at Instagram. I found a picture someone took of the large screens inside flashing the bright orange and red logo of The Hunger Games - Catching Fire.
Then suddenly, our line moved! ... And then immediately stopped again. I looked around the bodies in front of me in time to see ten people ushered inside. TEN! Out of nearly seven thousand, ten left after the first panel. Moments later, the announcement again.
“Hall H is now closed for the next panel!”
We weren’t getting in, again. Nearly nine hours in line, and only twenty people between me and the pomp and circumstance of one of my favorite stories ever written. To be so close, yet so far away was brutal. I told myself it was a ridiculous first world problem, but couldn’t help feeling let down.
I was boggled by my own sorrow. I wasn’t even planning on trying to get in until two days prior. It’s not like I anxiously awaited my opportunity for Comic Con tickets like so many there. My husband has “Professional Ticket Priority” and gets first dibs to buy “Professional Guest” tickets. I can easily come back next year.
Yet, the excitement of everyone around me sucked me in like ants to a bright pink lollypop dropped on a sidewalk. There were smiles everywhere you looked. (Well, unless the faces holding the smiles were covered by Stormtrooper helmets or zombie makeup). People spent hundreds, if not thousands to participate in this one event.
What drew them here? What pulled me in so much that as a 32-year old grown woman I would dress in costume...and then ask a 10-year old I recognized from an alien invasion tv show for a picture?
I think it’s all about one word. Story.
Story moves us. It drives us. It educates us. It inspires, it hurts, it helps.
Yet, so many mock those who would dress in tights and carry a sword. We are taught since childbirth to use our imaginations, to play pretend, to make our Barbies and Transformers real. But, once you reach adulthood, playtime is over. Too often that’s translated into imagination is over. Get in line. Grow up. Get a job. Think outside the box, but stay inside the circle. Appreciate good things in life, but don’t let anything make you fanatical because that’s immature.
I argue, some of the greatest people ever lived didn’t kill their imaginations or their playtime, but fed them into frenzy. How else could mold become medicine? How else could sitting at a lunch table lead to a black president? How else could a cartoon mouse lead to the country’s most beloved empire?
I’ve learned much of this through my husband. A perpetual optimist, he taught me life is more successful if you take that piece of yourself rooted in bitter disappointment and turn it into childlike dreams.
I let myself feel ridiculous that day for waiting in line for hours only to be turned away. All my friends found it ridiculous...they would never do that they say. But then I remembered how inspired I felt while reading Catching Fire again in that grass. How much I too want to one day be able to capture such imagination onto the pages of a book.
Being around those brave enough to ride a city-wide trolley in full zombie apocalypse combat gear, inspires me to brave enough to put my own thoughts on paper...to let my own feelings go out into the world of judgement and criticism. Even if they aren’t good, if my thoughts are convoluted and I haven’t yet grasped the ability to capture the story in its best form, at least I’m doing.
I’m trying to get in. And if I wake before dawn only to have Hall H close its door and leave me rejected on the cold, wet grass...so be it.
****Here's a link to the Catching Fire trailer I missed that morning!