published Friday, August 31st, 2012

Phillips: There's no place like home for a good convention

As you read this, I will just have arrived in Atlanta for DragonCon, a four-day geeky odyssey of truly epic proportions.

DragonCon has attracted fans of pop culture in the tens of thousands to Atlanta every Labor Day weekend since 1987. About 1,400 people attended the first DragonCon. Last year, the number was more like 46,000.

To put that in perspective, if it were a city, DragonCon would be only slightly less populous than Kingsport, Tenn. It fills nearly every floor of Atlanta's three largest downtown hotels -- the Hyatt Regency, Marriott and Hilton -- with people dressed in some of the most hilarious, ridiculous and downright impressive costumes you're ever likely to see.

Think of it like Halloween in September, if you want, but I prefer to think of it as one of the highlights of my year. It's my chance to hobnob with hobgoblins, chat up bounty hunters, pretend I'm traveling through time and space and generally indulge my love of fantasy.

I attended my first DragonCon last year, and despite having prepped for the big show with three years of Chattanooga conventions such as Chattacon and Con Nooga, I was wholly unprepared for the sensory overload.

With the smell -- spandex and summer heat are a pungent combination -- and the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, navigating DragonCon is nightmarish.

The schedule sprawls for pages with events spread between five buildings. This makes it especially tough to figure out where to go to see the guy who played the android in "Alien" and what time the armor smithing panel is kicking off.

Despite my best efforts to plan out my days, I ended up wandering around in a fog just soaking it in. This was still a blast because DragonCon offers some of the choicest people-watching around.

But after 96 hours, it starts to feel like Bizarro World, where otherwise double-take-worthy events become commonplace. You cease to give a second thought to a Power Ranger apologizing for bumping into you or seeing Harry Potter look-alikes comparing their scarves to see who has the more authentic weave. Not wearing a costume begins to make you feel self-conscious.

By the time my friends and I left last year, I needed a week to recover and reconnect with reality. I'm sure I'll return feeling just as dazed on Monday.

But return I shall -- probably -- because as much as I look forward to DragonCon, I have a special place in my heart for Chattacon and Con Nooga.

Yes, they're smaller and most of the guests don't have nearly as much star power as those at DragonCon, but local cons are far more accessible and friendly. Even with more than 1,000 in attendance, you'll see a lot of familiar faces at the local cons. It's like the old home place, if the old home place were a castle or space station full of people wearing pointy ears and coweled masks.

Personally, I'll take 1,000 friends over 45,000 strangers any day.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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