It was a day of panels, friends, and tow trucks.
When I arrived at the Convention Center today, it was with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was desperate for a good night’s sleep, but on the other, I was gonna miss the Con and its wonderful, nerdy chaos. I was especially going to miss seeing my friends and my entertainment heroes.
And the first panel I went to was full of them, though I hadn’t expected it to be.
Of course, on the last day of SDCC, I was actually early for once, and so made it to the panel room without much difficulty, even scoring a decent seat. Like yesterday, I was waiting for another panel after whatever this one was. Upon checking the schedule, I saw that it was for “Sesame Street and Pop Culture”. I loved Sesame Street so much when I was little, especially since we didn’t have cable, so it was PBS all day, every day for me (except not really everyday, since the kids’ programming ended at 3, and there was nothing much on weekends, but I digress). Even so, I assumed this was a sort of philosophical discussion, with important professor-type people talking about the cultural merits of this long-running puppet show.
I WAS SO GLORIOUSLY WRONG.
The executive producer, Carol-Lynn Parente, came out first and alone, and spoke a bit about the show, why it’s been running for forty-five years, and the sort of positive feedback they’ve received over that time. Then she introduced the other panelists, and I felt a punch in my childhood:
and David Rudman.
Otherwise known as:
Grover, Bert, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, etc.;
Murray Monster, Papa Bear, etc.;
and Cookie Monster, Baby Bear, Scooter, etc.
And not just these BRILLIANT puppeteers, oh no. They brought their friends along, too.
I was stunned. How had I not known about this?? In any case, I cheered and hollered with everyone else, and I noticed much of the room was filled with adults, rather than only kids. And EVERYBODY had a great big smile on their face. Cheesy, but these characters are so precious to so many people, and it’s wonderful.
And to top it off, Chris Hardwick bounced onto the stage as the moderator!
Chris is an excellent moderator, and a really great guy. And he was freaking out as much as any us were, being in the room as these iconic characters. Naturally, he took a selfie with them.
Much of the panel was taken up with an exclusive screening of a Sesame Street episode called “Numeric Con”, which as you might’ve guessed, is a parody of Comic Con and featured number themed superheroes and other fandom characters, making references from Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, Batman, Doctor Who, Super Mario, and even The Simpson’s Comic Book Guy! It really proved that Sesame Street has not fallen behind with the fluctuating times, remaining relevant and still having the power and creativity to teach and entertain children of all ages.
Q&A followed this, which was really fun because Eric, Joey, and David got to answer as their respective characters, and even though nothing ventured beyond a G-rating, they had fun going a bit beyond than the preschool norm. I’d never seen a Muppeteer in person before, and was absolutely fascinated by their tremendous skill. And I must confess, I might have to place puppeteering above voice acting in terms of difficulty, since they must not only know how to act and do voices, but also operate a puppet at the same time. These are truly gifted people, and are also among the nicest, least pretentious people in show business. I didn’t get to talk any of them in person, but their genuineness and humility was quite obvious.
Due to so many people wanting to ask questions, the panel started to run a bit long, and Mark Evanier was waiting off to the side when a staff member came up to the stage to announce the end of the panel. Everyone was severely disappointed and even Chris tried to nicely argue with her, but she was firm, and to his credit, Chris acknowledged what a difficult job the staff have in keeping the whole Con running smoothly. He was about to close out, when Mark stepped up and generously said they could answer the one last question. Much applause met this announcement and the panel continued to full completion. Everyone cheered as Eric, Joey, and David – or rather, Grover, Murray, and Cookie Monster – waved farewell and the stage cleared for the next panel.
As the room rearranged itself for new people coming in and the upcoming panelists, Mark commented that he hates when the panels before his run over, and he usually gets very testy. But as he said, “You can’t ask Cookie Monster to leave the stage!”
For this Cartoon Voices, there was another fantastic set of guests: Gregg Berger, Vanessa Marshall, Fred Tatasciore, Debra Wilson, and Robin Atkin Downes.
They were to do the same script as yesterday’s panel, and Mark insisted this was the last year he would use it, urging the panelists to make this last performance a good one.
The fact that it was one of the best in all Con history is putting it mildly.
Vanessa, Fred, and Debra.
It started off fairly normally, with them all answering the stock questions and it wasn’t until he got to Debra Wilson that things started to take a turn toward the bizarre. She is wonderfully gifted and quite outgoing, and didn’t so much answer the questions as perform them, using it as an opportunity to showcase her talents. Once she started going off, everybody else loosened up and went full ham – in the best most possible way, of course.
By the time the script started, everyone was a silly mood and what followed was the most insane, bizarre, brilliant script reading ever. My words can little do it justice, so you can watch it here, but just know you will hear the wackiest voices coming out of the most normal-looking people, Bill Farmer will randomly show up –
Goofy, in case you’ve forgotten.
Debra Wilson will “die” on top of the table –
and everyone except Gregg will end up on the floor in a sort of kissing party (to put it mildly):
It was easily the greatest panel of the whole Con.
I tried to catch Fred Tatasciore once it was over (I love Freddie so much, he’s so wonderful and kind, and last year, my friends and I went to dinner with him, and we rambled about Dickens and Rob Paulsen and talked to each other in Cockney accents, it was fantastic), but he had to book it to another panel.
I didn’t have time to feel too disappointed, because I met up with the friend I hadn’t seen since Thursday. We spent the next few hours talking and walking around the Floor, where we spotted Rob at the Nick booth, but he disappeared into the crowd before we could say hi. We both marveled at the fact that someone of his talent and celebrity (within his select genre) could just walk around without being recognized.
Mark Evanier had yet another panel (he’s a really busy guy) that afternoon, but this one was more industry oriented, the “Business of Cartoon Voices”. I personally don’t have an interest in becoming a voice actor, but it’s still a fascinating subject and even writers need to know about the acting side of things. The most well-written cartoon shows almost always cater to the talent, making it into a true collaboration, along with the artists.
This panel featured Gregg Berger, Bill Farmer, and Vanessa Marshall, with voice over agents Sandie Schnarr and Cathey Lizzio.
Naturally, much of their stellar advice did not pertain to my situation, but I did find it interesting that the agents must be constantly aware of the changing needs of the animation industry, Cathey Lizzio stating that right now, most productions are looking for natural voices, not so much “cartoony”. This is a trend I’ve been noticing for awhile now, and not just for commercials and other ads, but in animation as well, with shows like Regular Show, Bob’s Burgers, and Adventure Time relying very much on an actor’s regular speaking voice. It was good information from a writer’s point of view as well, given that this is the style of scripts studios are currently looking for. Of course, the industry is fickle and ever-evolving, and so the real lesson is vigilance and awareness.
My friend had to go meet with her other friends, and so we ducked out of the panel a bit early to say our goodbyes properly, and we departed by the main entrance. I didn’t have any plans after that, and so decided to walk the Floor one last time. I’m so glad I did, because I ran into Freddie! He actually stopped me, as I was off in my own world, wandering around, and so it was such a pleasant surprise to see him. We talked for a little, I told him how wonderful he had been at the earlier panel, and he brushed aside the compliment with a blush. After he insisted we should meet up for coffee sometime, we went our separate ways, me feeling on Cloud 9.
My happiness stayed bubbly even after I finally left the building. I remembered that I had wanted to check out the exterior exhibits, and so followed the signs leading to the grassy area just outside the Hilton Bayside hotel.
This time I actually went into the Simpsons area and looked at all the booths. They had a few arcade style games and some snack stands, and they were also giving away totebags filled with a few Simpsony items.
The line was forever long, and so I went over to the Gotham zip line, which I was disappointed to found out that it was not really between two buildings, but a simple line from a tower to the ground. (I suppose having a zip line strung from the top of the hotel downwards would’ve been dangerous, but still, false advertising, yo.)
But despite my early start this morning, it seems I’m forever cursed with tardiness, as when I tried to get in line, I was informed it was already closed to newcomers.
Those lucky stiffs.
And when I decided the heck with it, I’ll queue for the Simpsons tote bag, that line closed right in front of me, too.
In spite of these setbacks, I refused to let my good mood vanish completely, and so visited a nearby yogurt place and got a delicious cupful of sweet deliciousness.
I was thus still pretty happy when I finally got on a trolley (it was the most crowded it’d been the whole weekend) and headed back to Qualcomm Stadium. I knew I had a long, traffic-riddled drive ahead, but at least I’d be getting home early.
This is the sort of situation that in fiction would be known as “asking for it”.
I had noticed the car making a funny noise yesterday and this morning, but I didn’t think anything of it beyond figuring I should get my car checked out. When I started it now, it REALLY made a funny noise, and I grew a bit worried. But as long as I made it home, it would be alright.
I was racing down the 15 freeway, getting more and more anxious with every mile as the noise grew louder and more persistent. It became too much, and right as I put my hazards on and started making my way over to the side, I noticed smoke was streaming behind me and the other cars were wisely getting out of my way. As soon as I pulled over to the side, the car shuddered and stopped functioning completely, and all the emergency lights came on – engine, gas, exclamation point, you name it.
I was broken down on a busy freeway, over 70 miles away from home.
I gave the key an optimistic turn, but nothing even clicked. I was close to panicking, and after calming myself down, I made a (somewhat tearful) phone call to my mom to tell her what happened. After ascertaining my safety, she was understandably very upset, mostly because I was so far away. There was little I could do now except call a tow truck. She sent me a couple numbers, warning me that no one might answer, given that it was Sunday evening. Luckily, I reached somebody, and they said they’d be on their way in a half hour.
So I just had to wait.
About 20 minutes into my vigil, a police car came up behind me, and I almost panicked all over again – had I broken some law about pulling off to the side? No, he was just checking to make sure I was alright, and that a tow truck was indeed coming to help me. I assured him on these things, and he went on his way.
It was some time after that when the tow truck finally came, and I got to watch my poor car get yanked unceremoniously onto the flat bed. I hadn’t been able to find a car repair place, but the tow guy informed me of a place he knew. I was somewhere between Escondido and San Diego, but he informed me that Escondido was filled with “crooks” and we were quite a ways from San Diego in any case. He seemed nice enough and I didn’t have much a choice otherwise, so I agreed to let him tow me to a place in Vista, about 15 minutes from there. I explained my money troubles, as by now, I had realized how expensive the towing and eventual repairs were going to be, and he seemed sympathetic, but the bill was still outrageous and then my card didn’t work, so the repair place had to pay for me. To be fair, he did contact them for me and got them to come down, because they were closed on Sundays.
I had been updating my mom this whole time, and she had set out from home a little after my first call, and so was able to meet me almost immediately after I got dropped off. The repair place seemed friendly, and we worked out the details of what had happened and my contact information. Then I somberly and guiltily joined my mom in her car.
I’m going to write a much more detailed post about my car troubles later, but the short of it is, I didn’t take of my car AT ALL and now I was paying the very heavy price.
I was appropriately lectured the whole way home, and the whole situation was worsened by the fact that my mom, leaving in such a rush to come get me, hadn’t been able to feed the kids, so everyone was hungry and angry at me. And I was, too, frankly.
Once we had gotten some food at a McDonald’s on the way home, though, Mom apologized for being mad, stating again it was only a problem because I had been so far away. But I pointed out we had a bigger problem now: how was I going to take the kids to school? She said we’d figure it out if/when it happened. For now, we’d just have to wait to see what the mechanic found out.
Overall, despite my car troubles, I had a WONDERFUL time at SDCC. I don’t know if I’ll get to go again, but it was a fantastic experience, and if I do get a badge next year, I’m definitely going to be more proactive in terms of lodging, and really try to do as many activities and see as many people as I can.