Friday, March 31, 2017


Pensacon 2017 took place Friday through Sunday, February 17-19, in Pensacola, Florida. It was held mostly at the Pensacola Bay Center, though many events and programs were at the Pensacola Grand Hotel, Rex Theatre, Pensacola Little Theatre and Saenger Theatre. This is a show too big for one convention center. This was my second visit to Pensacon, already one of my favorite shows of all. The Pensacon folks are so nice that I have to up my own nice game just to keep up with them.

Pensacon is so great because it’s an amazing mix of dedicated and smart promoters, eager and friendly volunteers, terrific guests and vendors, and a city that has taken the convention to its heart and given it a big old hug. From the airport with its countless banners and signs to supportive shops and restaurants around town, this is a hometown convention that feels both intimate and national, nay, global. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

I like to relate my whole convention experience, so we will start today with my trip to Pensacola. My daughter Kelly drove me to the Cleveland airport.

My Delta flight to Atlanta - because the universe would end if the airlines offered more direct flights to anywhere - was packed and late arriving in Cleveland, though the Delta pilot was able to make up the lost time along the way.

New pet peeve about air travel: passengers who push the envelope on luggage limits. When you check in for your flight, the airline has a display that allows you to determine if your bag is the right or wrong size for the overhead compartment or to be stowed under the seat in front of you. Your luggage isn’t going to get any smaller between where you check in and where you board the plane. Unless, of course, you’re Henry Pym, Scott Lang or Ray Palmer.

When we arrived in Atlanta, I had the first of my “hero” turns. A young woman traveling with a baby and a small child had the former balanced on a suitcase while she was trying to get everything ready for them to disembark. The baby started to slip...and I caught her. Okay, maybe not as impressive as flying into a burning building and rescuing an entire family, but not too shabby for someone not born on Krypton.

My second “hero” turn came on one of those lightning trains which carry passengers from one gate to another in Atlanta. I have ridden enough of these to know that you need to hold onto something before the sudden starts or stops. A big guy near me didn’t know that and started falling backwards when the train stopped. I moved my body so that I could keep him upright until he could grab onto a pole. I figure the Justice League will recruit me any day now. Or maybe it’ll be the Great Lakes Avengers.

The Atlanta airport is huge, but very nice with lots of great places to eat and shop. There was a violinist, part of some promotion with a local music college, I think, playing “Don’t Stop Believing” as I made my way to the gate for the second leg of my trip to Pensacola.

Our Delta flight from Atlanta to Pensacola was over booked. So was the Delta flight across from our gate. Listening to the Delta folks trying to get people to change their flights was amusing. It was as if the two gates were competing against each other. Our flight got up to $600 bucks in Delta dollars and a guaranteed seat on a flight leaving four hours later. The other gate got up to $800 in Delta dollars plus an overnight stay in a hotel plus a guaranteed seat on an early morning flight.

On our flight to Pensacola, before takeoff, the pilot came to the back of the plane because he didn’t want those of us seating there to fell left out. He was a friendly, even jovial man and the kids sitting near me were thrilled by him giving them little airplanes. Our flight was a quick fifty minutes.

For the weekend of the Pensacon, the Pensacola airport becomes the Pensacola Intergalactic Airport. There are banners hanging around the airport. The gates are called “Stargates.” Even the restrooms are part of the fun.
Pensacon guests are met at the baggage claim by volunteers, who can take them to the convention shuttles or, if the guests wish to have a quick drink and snack, a green room set up by the Pensacola International/Intergalactic Airport for its travelers. I went to the green room where I was greeted warmly by the wondrous Maria, Pensacon’s Titan of Transportation. I love this woman and her staff more than I can adequately express and, as this multi-part report continues, you’ll see why.

Sainted Wife Barb would be joining me for the weekend, but she was coming in on a later flight. My shuttle companions to the Pensacola Grand Hotel were actor and voice artist Carlos Alazraqui and singer and voice actress Samantha Newark.

Alazraqui was Deputy James Garcia on Reno 911, has done a bunch of voiceovers for cartoons like Rocko’s Modern Life and Family Guy, appeared as Nestor in Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2, is the voice of the Taco Bell Chihuahua, is a stand-up comedian and, with Reno 911 castmate Cedric Yarbough, has become one of the most requested acts on the college circuit.

Newark was the voice of Jem and Jessica in the classic Jem and the Holograms. She’s done voiceover work in films, games, TV series and other cartoons. She writes original songs, some of which are heard on games, and has released three albums.

Pensacon has a nice balance of comics, literary and media guests. There’s something for everyone and no fan will feel their special interests were shortchanged.

Pensacon’s Mike Ensley greeted me at the hotel and made sure I would have everything I needed for the convention. My hotel room was, as expected, very nice. Our view was railroad tracks that ran next to the hotel, but the trains were more soothing than anything else. It fit in with my take on Pensacola: it’s both one of the nicest big cities and one of the nicest small towns. Friendly people, plenty of entertainment and restaurants, cozy neighborhoods. Add it to my short list of places to which I would consider moving.

Since Barb’s birthday was Friday, I wanted to surprise her when she got to the hotel. Maria’s transportation team drove me to Publix, a nearby grocery store. I bought a small bouquet of flowers in an attractive small vase. When I got back to the hotel, I set up the birthday display: the flowers, a card, some candy, a small seashell and some other stuff. Hey, when you marry someone wonderful who is so far out of your league but who stays with you for over 33 years, you need to bring your “A” game to your life together.

I walked down to the lobby just as Barb arrived. We saw my friend of many years Julio Diaz. We saw my friend of somewhat fewer years John Dell. Later that evening, we would run into Carlos Alazraqui, meet screenwriter and TV producer Neo Edmund, and have a nice chat with Alexi Vanderberg, an old friend from my New York days who is the guy behind the incredible Bard’s Tower display featuring lots of terrific writers and stacks of their books. I’ll talk about the Tower later in this convention report.

Neither Barb or I had eaten, so we asked for suggestions and were driven to the Union Public House on S. Reus Street. Here’s a quick snippet from their website:

The Union Public House is a crafty southern pub where it all comes together. Excellent food and drinks combined with unparalleled customer service is our mission. Fresh and creative ingredients will be paired with fresh and creative ideas. Exceptional food, superb drinks, and stellar service will be the norm.

The Union Public House is in the running for our favorite eatery in Pensacola. From the outside and even from the inside, you’d think it a typical neighborhood bar. But its food and drink menu make it clear it’s so much more.

Barb and I split a UPH burger, which was ground short rib stuffed with cheddar and bacon. It was so delicious we each could have eaten a whole burger, but we were trying to keep from gaining weight while we were in Pensacola.

I rarely drink alcoholic beverages of any kind, but this was going to be my “Bar Rescue” weekend. I would try at least one signature drink at every restaurant we visited. At the Union Public House, it was the “6 Feet Something” (1 part Hangar 1 Citron, 1 part Cynar, 2 parts sparkling wine, 2 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters). This was one tasty cocktail and I had a second one as well.

After dinner, we were picked up by the Pensacon Transportation Team and driven back to the hotel. We were happy and we were tired and we were looking forward to the first day of the event.

Come back tomorrow for the second part of my extended Pensacon 2017 report. No “hero” moments for me, but I did get to introduce Barb to one of my heroes.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

No comments:

Post a Comment