GenCon 2017 Report

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I’d planned to post a GenCon report last week, but I got hit with overtime at my day job when I got back (my 4-day week turned into 50 hours) and just didn’t have any time to write it. As usual, the plan was to arrive in Indianapolis on Thursday, run games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and take Monday off work to recover. Somewhere along the line, I decided that I’d spend the night in Louisville on Sunday night, maybe meet up with some friends who weren’t going to the con, and drive the last 3 hours or so back Monday morning. Then I found out that there was an eclipse that Monday and my hometown was in the path of the totality. Since I hadn’t booked a room for Sunday night yet, I decided wait until Saturday to decide whether I’d spend the night in Louisville or just head home.

As usual, I planned to leave early. I even had this crazy notion that I’d get to Indy in time to visit the Vonnegut Museum or some other attraction that wasn’t one of the same places I see every year. After all, I normally wake up at 6am on Thursdays, so I should be able to get up, get going, and make it to Indianapolis by early afternoon. As usual, this plan fell through almost immediately. I was up until about 4am Wednesday night packing and finishing up the Qerth characters (which are ridiculously time-consuming to make even when you’re not converting them to a new system), so I didn’t wake up until about 10am. Luckily, I’d set the pick-up time for my rental car at 1pm the night before when I realized I’d be up late, so I was still on (my new) schedule. I even had time to stop and grab some (admittedly fast-food) lunch on the way.

I drive a 1993 8-cylinder Chevy pickup with just over 290,000 miles on it, so if I’m going farther than Nashville or so, I’m renting or borrowing a car. I recover a good chunk of the rental cost in gas (my truck might get 15 miles to the gallon right after an oil change if I drive exactly 55 the whole time) and the rest in the peace of mind of knowing that I won’t end up stuck on the side of the road trying to come up with a plan to drag the beast a couple hundred miles back to my mechanic. The last time around, I went cheap and got the “not the tiniest available” option. I ended up with a Toyota Corolla. I liked it well enough, but had bruises on both knees by the time I got back. Like many modern cars, the Toyota Corolla is apparently designed for people without knees, or at least for people whose knees are positioned radically differently than my own. On one side, there’s a giant console right where your knees should go. On the other side, there’s an armrest right where your knees should go. Maybe I’m just used to older cars, but in my day (or at least my truck’s day) the armrest was above knee-level. So this time I sprang the few extra bucks a day for a full-sized car, hopefully one designed for people with a knee configuration similar to my own.

Unfortunately, the store where I was supposed to pick up my car had some late returns, so they offered to take me across town and set me up with a Jeep Patriot. Since I still had to drop my truck off where I’d be leaving it for the weekend, things got a little elaborate. They’d drive me (and another guy who needed a van to move his kid into college) to the other store, I’d pick up the Jeep, drive it back to the first store, pick up my truck, drop it off at work, ride back with a friendly Enterprise associate, get in the Jeep, and drive to Indy. The fact that I had to drive the Jeep back to the first store instead of just off the lot actually turned out to be beneficial.

It turns out the people who designed the Jeep Patriot hate knees even more than the designers of the Toyota Corolla. This thing had even less legroom. No matter how I adjusted the seat, my legs were locked together like a teenage girl trying to practice Baptist birth control. This was not going to work for a 5-hour drive, so by the time I got back to the first store I realized I had no choice but to be the kind of annoying customer I hate to be and ask for a different car. Luckily, a few cars had been returned during my trip across town and the rental person (I think her name was Amanda, just in case anyone from Enterprise stumbles across this and wants to give her a raise) let me take my pick of what they had. I ended up in a Hyundai Sonata, which was still a little small for my tastes (as JimVal MorrisonKilmer put it, “I am a large mammal”) but it was an improvement over the Toyota Corolla and a huge improvement over the Jeep designed for a Fisher Price action figure. I still had a couple of errands to run, so I left town much later than expected. I checked the clock after I’d been on the interstate a little while and noticed it was somewhere between 4 and 4:30. Paying more attention to these details would have been helpful later.

The next few hours went well enough. Even though going through Illinois is a shorter distance, I’d discovered a few GenCons ago that going through Louisville took about the same amount of time and didn’t require dealing with Illinois road construction, Illinois cops, or Interstate 57 (the Florida of Interstates). Even though I’d gotten a later-than-expected start, I had this dream of stopping for dinner and getting a real meal, maybe even trying to locate that Cuban place I like (the closest Cuban place to where I live is in Nashville). Then I looked at the clock and saw that it was 8 o’clock.

That’s when I realized that, despite having lived my entire life in the Central and Eastern time zones (roughly half in each), I’d completely forgotten that I would be crossing from one to the other. That led to another question: was it a little after 8pm Central or Eastern? I’ve only had my phone for a few months, so I wasn’t sure if it wa set to adjust the time zone based on the GPS readings. The clock in the car also said it was after 8, but I hadn’t noticed it previously so I had no idea what time zone it was set for (or, since it was a new car, whether it adjusted for time zone as well). Louisville is usually 3-3.5 hours from Paducah, but there were enough variables (the previously mentioned inexact departure time/location, some traffic, a stop for gas and hydration, etc), that 7pm CST and 8pm CST were both plausible.

Since I was pretty sure that it was just shy of 2 hours from Louisville to Indy, 8pm Central Time (9pm EST) could be a problem if my hotel’s check-in time was 10pm. Even if check-in time was 11pm, I’d be cutting it close. Hotels for GenCon fill up several months in advance and finding a room at the last minute is very unlikely. Given the typical gamer’s knack for adulting (the forget about time zones and shit), I figured there was a good chance that missing the check-in time meant losing my room.

Luckily as I passed downtown Louisville I got a glimpse of a clock tower and saw that it said 8:20pm. Assuming the clock was right, and Indianapolis was on Eastern time (parts of Indiana used to ignore Daylight Savings Time (or at least I believe they did, it could be some kind of Mandela Effect thing), so I’m never 100% confident about what time zone I’m getting myself into when I go there), I had a reasonable chance of making a 10pm check-in and would definitely make an 11pm check-in, but real food was a forbidden dream and even road food was out until I confirmed the check-in time and found out for sure how far I was from Indianapolis. Just over the bridge I hit construction, then rain, then more construction, then more rain, so I was about halfway to Indy before I got a calm enough stretch of road to check my reservation and confirm that I had until 11pm. Since I hadn’t eaten in 8 or 9 hours and had finished off my drink sometime around the Ohio River, I decided I could afford 10 minutes in Drive-thru of the McDonald’s (since the ease of eating one of their burgers while driving balances out how terrible they are) in North Vernon. It was unsatisfying, but technically food.

When I finally arrived in Indianapolis, I had to get on I-70. In most places, they hang the sign for the exit you need right above the lane for that exit. Indianapolis didn’t get that memo, so they hang them over adjacent lanes just for shits and giggles. Because of this, I lost about 20 minutes going the wrong way on the interstate. I finally made it to the hotel at something like 10:43pm local time. I knew what I was getting when I decided to go with a $55 a night hotel room (since all I’d be at the con most of the time and only need a place to sleep, shower and shit), but this place (which I later determined was in the middle of being remodelled) looked goddamn apocalyptic, with black stains on the walls and missing fixtures and ratty everything. The room was surprisingly nice, though. I thought about trying to find some real food, but by that point I didn’t have enough energy to venture to the Waffle House about 20 yards from the front door, much less out into the world.

The next day, after paying $40 for parking just so I could stop driving around Indy, I finally made it to our GenCon home in the JW Marriott. Over the next 3 days I ran some games, hung out with the other Hex people, and ran into a few friends. It was a good time, especially the 5 hours where Josh, Leighton, and I sat around talking about nothing in particular and occasionally coming up with new product ideas.

Since I’d gain an hour going back (because of time zones!), I decided I could make it back home in time for the eclipse even if I stayed in Louisville until the hotel kicked me out Monday morning, so I booked a room in Louisville for Sunday with plans of trying to call up Colin Thomas and Andy Davis to see if they wanted to grab dinner and maybe beers. Since dinner was still a couple hours off, I decided to take a quick nap. This was a bad idea. I woke up around 1am and ended up eating trash food yet again. The next day, the 30-something mile drive from Louisville to Elizabethtown took over 2 hours thanks to people heading south to view the eclipse. There was a helicopter circling overhead for a while, and I’m pretty sure they were laughing at us.

When eclipse time came, I was on the road somewhere between The Everly Brothers Monument and the highway named after James Best (TV’s Rosco P. Coltrane). I knew the totality was under 2 minutes, but thought the whole eclipse would last longer. When it started getting dark, I started looking for a place to pull over. By the time I found a spot, it was daylight again. Luckily, we’re in the totality path of another eclipse in 2024 or something, so maybe I’ll get another chance.

Next Week: THE RULES for Guardians of Shymeria! Or Sex in D&D. I haven’t decided yet. (If you got that joke, you’re old).