We managed to make it to London before having to fill up on gas, then we turned off the 401 and headed towards Sarnia, as it was usually a quicker route to Michigan and entailed an easier border crossing. We breezed through as usual, and began our mini invasion of the USA. Traffic in Detroit slowed us down as we went through there to pick up I75 south. I managed to stay alert enough to drive to Dayton Ohio; I think it was staying pissed off at the sheer volume of patrol cars that enforced the speed limit that helped me concentrate. We braved the first of a series of fast food restaurants, inflicting ourselves on a Big Boy. We shoved our ration of grease into us, and the car was fed too and Siobhan took over the driving. We were taking my car, and hoping that it would break the curse that seemed to follow her on road trips (see her C4 trip from hell for reference). We bypassed Cincinnati and entered Kentucky with a slight feeling of trepidation. We were in the South now.
Kentucky was hilly. Eventually we passed into Tennessee and stopped for gas again in Knoxville. Since we were hungry yet again, and it was approaching dinner time we looked around for a place to eat. Thanks to the wonder of chain restaurants, we recognised a Subway and dashed in to get something relatively healthy to eat. After the server confused the hell out of me by asking me what vegetables I wanted on my salad, we managed to get our food and went outside to eat it, since she'd just closed up the eating area, grumbling about her replacement not showing up and that she was going to close down early today. Shades of "Clerks". As we were sitting on the concrete stops in front of my car, people kept going past us into the store and asking us why we were sitting outside eating, as there was a dining area inside. We patiently explained, over and over, that it was closed. Then she opened it since her boss called and told her someone would be coming in to close for her. But we decided to be stubborn and continued to sit outside, and I popped the hood to check the fluid levels on the car. At this point we found out that Southern hospitality is alive and well, since every single time the hood went up, at least two people would ask us if we were okay. I'd remembered Siobhan's tales of her car's fluids evaporating faster than usual under constant driving and high temperatures, so I checked the oil and stuff every stop, and was asked, every time, if we were okay. Kind of nice, actually. The air conditioning was dripping water the whole time, but it was just condensation.
The moon rose at about 10pm, after we had been peering about and waiting for it to make an appearance. The stars were bright and the sky was clear, a good night for driving. At another stop for gas, I tried to get in touch with Ray and Liz at the Hyatt in Atlanta, but the desk clerk insisted that they weren't registered. Siobhan managed to talk to Jealousy and he expressed his disbelief in terms somewhat similar to: "What the hell are you doing in Atlanta?!??!" She calmly informed him that we weren't in Atlanta yet and that we'd warn him when we were heading to visit him in Florida. We passed the Georgia border and felt tiredness setting in, so we decided to try to find a hotel to hole up in for the night then drive into Atlanta proper in the morning. We picked up a hotel coupon book and tried a few off of an exit about an hour from Atlanta, in Calhoun, but they were closed. It being 4 in the morning or so, we weren't all that surprised. We finally drove up to an Econolodge and I woke up the night clerk by ringing the bell. He had a room right next to the lobby but a flight up, which we took. I ran up to check that the room and/or it's current occupants wasn't going to kill us and eat us in our sleep while Siobhan straightened up the parking job. A resounding crunch had me hurtling back down the stairs to see Siobhan attempting to settle my car's rear spoiler back into place. Apparently an overhanging pole had been in the way as she'd backed up to straighten the car. Ah well, it was loose anyways. I took a quick shower to get the humidity off of me and fell into bed.
As we stood around trying to get our bearings, a few stray geeks walked past and we hit on the plan to follow them and see where they would lead us. We found the Apparel Mart and the dealers room and from there the constant flow of people to the hotel directed us. I promptly became dizzy when I walked into the lobby of the Hyatt - it's one huge open space inside, with the rooms around the perimeter of the building, somewhat like at the Luxor in Las Vegas, but not slanted in. We found the information desk and were directed into the bowels of the hotel to the registration cavern. It was a ballroom, with partitions snaking around and about to direct the flow of people. Luckily we were late enough that we didn't have to wait too long. Somehow the attendant who took Siobhan's information screwed up and her badge was printed proclaiming her to be from Marietta Georgia. We grabbed our bags of loot and made our way back to the information desk where we left messages for TSM and Liz and Ray. We found a corner to sit and leaf through the program book, and found that Peter Jurassik, who plays Londo on Babylon 5, was giving a talk that was about to start. We managed to find the right room and found seats at the back of the room. He was very entertaining, though a bit too prone to commenting on the fact that every woman who asked a question was beautiful, charming, or both. :) We left as he started to auction off signed pictures since we didn't have spare money to contribute to the cause. As we were milling about aimlessly, pushed and pulled by the crowds moving to the next set of panels, I spotted TSM on the escalator. He gave me a second look, confirmed that it was me, and fought his way against the crowd to come say hi. His friends appeared from the crowds and reclaimed the snatched with the loot that they wanted to get Billy Dee Williams to sign and disappeared again. Will, Siobhan and I ensconced ourselves at the bar, and I poured yet another iced tea into my gullet. He was there in the entourage that came to provide security for the Gwar show but politics had left them at a loose end, the con deciding they had enough security. Will's friends came back disappointed, BDW had only been signing his book and had left in a huff when no one wanted to buy it. Christian joined us at the special effects talk with Tom Silva, who showed up late and talked of all the bootlegged videos he owned, much to the consternation of the other panel speakers who had been admonishing the audience to not buy bootlegs. Katie joined the panel for a while after she posed a question to the panel and they invited her up to the stage in order to be better heard. The covered CGI and compliance in animation, a subject that I had almost done my thesis on. A consensus was reached that while Jar Jar Binks had been an impressive feat of animation, he was the worst part of The Phantom Menace. There were more people in Star Wars costumes wandering around than you could shake a light saber at, though personally I found the Star Ship Troopers the most impressive through sheer firepower.
At this point, we were all hungry and decided that we'd try the sushi restaurant near the hotel. It wasn't open until 5pm, so we decided to wander around a bit. Hit the Dealer's Room, a huge huge thing, with every conceivable geek toy available for sale. I managed to spot Ray and he led me to Liz, shielding me from her sight until I could pop up and surprise her. The look on her face as she reconciled the fact that she was in Atlanta and I was in Atlanta but was supposed to be in Toronto was priceless. They immediately offered us crash space in their hotel room, since they'd lucked out and been given a suite when no more doubles were available. We made arrangements to meet them at their room around 6:15 and headed off to try the sushi bar again. It turned out that the restaurant was open, but it wasn't serving sushi. We left in disgust and found a Mexican restaurant instead. Will left us at this point and Sio and I trekked back to my car to get our luggage to bring to the hotel room. We ran into Adam and Darcy from Montreal on the street in front of the hotel and found out that the room was in fact in Darcy's name but that we were welcome to share it if we helped split the cost. She came back up to the room with us, so that she could get a key - they weren't telling the hotel there were 5 people staying there, so they only got two keys but a cheaper room rate. This meant that Siobhan and I wouldn't get a key, but we'd manage. The five elevators that were serving the 24 or so floors were overwhelmed and we ended up taking at least 15 minutes to get up to the 14th floor. We eventually discovered that the cars were going express down and only picking up people on the way up. Siobhan and I flirted with our fear of heights as we watched the lobby recede through the glass sides of the elevator. I took a quick shower and changed into clothes that wouldn't get ruined if Gwar happened to squirt unidentifiable liquids on them. We were assuming we'd not get back into the room until the end of the night to sleep, after meeting up at the concert. We headed down to the concert area to find that the hall was almost full of people there to watch the Masquerade. We stood up against the back wall with Ray and Liz for a while, couldn't spot TSM in the huge crowd, and moved to four seats near the back of the room when the security detail started moving people away from the exits.
The Masquerade MCs were a bit annoying, one I'd encountered before at Mad Media 5 on the comic book censorship panel and some other guy. :) They came on as Qui Jon and Obi Wan fighting Darth Maul then began to comment on all the costumes, amid reading names and descriptions. We were saved by the fact that they were video taping the show and simultaneously projecting it up on large screens, we were too far away to see any details on the costumes. Lots of Star Wars Episode I costumes, all but one of the Amidala's wearing the red gown. The unique Amidala was wearing the white layered gown from the last scene, and looked lovely. The most amusing skit was a Star Wars / Austin Powers crossover called Star Wars Episode I : The Sith Who Shagged Me. Dr. Evil was the emperor and revealed plans about a Death Star and lasers, and Austin Powers was a Jedi who defeated a very athletic Darth Maul. Another wonderful skit played on the marketing of the Star Wars movie, involving the costumed participants posing as dolls, complete with one set action each. Two borg complete with blinking lights and prosthetic hands ended the show by stealing the mic and walking off stage. We bolted at that point to beat the crowd, and never did find out who won the costume contest. A young boy dressed as the main character from the Zelda games won the children's contest, but a half time show was going to be put on before the adult winner was announced.
Adam, Darcy, Deja and Siobhan and I checked out the gothic/industrial dance and found it fairly dead. Darcy and Deja danced for a bit then we wandered back to the concert area to wait to be let in to see Godhead. I spotted Christian threading his way through the crowd, his fuchsia hair easy to spot, and ducked through the press to catch Will's sleeve. We waited around, and found that Godhead was at least 2 hours late. We sat outside for a while, listening to some drumming and watching the crowd. Siobhan and I were getting a bit jumpy with the press of people, unrelieved by the ability to hide in a room somewhere to de-stress. Will pointed out JJ to us as we moved through the lobby. We hit the restaurant in the hotel lobby for a drink since the bar was swamped. It took a bit of doing to convince someone to bring us beer and iced tea, since they would give panicked looks at the bar when we said we just wanted drinks. Apparently beer was to be had there after all and we were served eventually. Godhead could be felt through the floor since we were right above the concert hall. It was almost 2am at this point, the time that we'd agreed to meet some people to head over to the Secret Room, so we wrote off Gwar and sat outside waiting for the shuttle bus to arrive.
The bondage / porn videos that they showed on the bus TVs were interesting to watch, but it was more amusing to hear Will heckle them. Apparently they weren't putting enough effort into their whip strokes. A ton of his Charlotte friends managed to get on the same bus with us, and we talked a bit with Jay on the ride across town. We made it to the club and sat on a large round cushioned seat for a while, a bit non plussed by the techno music. As everyone was disappearing behind a partition, Will went to investigate and found the real secret room. Better music and a fetish display were on going, and I got to dance finally. Unfortunately since we'd arrived too late, we had to leave soon to catch the last bus back to the hotel. We called the room and found that people were back and we could get in so Siobhan and I went back to the car to get the sleeping bags, pay for another day, and said good bye to Will. He made us promise to call him if we went back to Toronto via Charlotte and we'd try to catch him tomorrow also. I made sure that I had his phone number and he said to call him when we got there, refusing to give us directions to find him. We made it back up to the room and crashed after Deja let us in. Liz, Ray, Adam and Darcy came in as we were settling, fresh from the White Wolf party. Liz and Ray had been cruised by a couple there, understandably so since Liz looked very neat in her PVC demon outfit, complete with bat wings on the shoulders. I fell asleep finally at about 5am.
We stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Macon, Georgia for food and I got to witness the epitome of kitsch. The singing rose bush at the door scared a good few years off of my life, but it was made up for by the fact that we found clove candies. We passed Marietta Georgia and found out where Siobhan was supposed to be from. I couldn't resist and picked up a box of Georgia peaches. Soon after we crossed into Florida, Siobhan and I saw the first palm trees of our trip. Spontaneous screams burst out from both of us as we realised just how bloody far south we'd driven. We soon recovered and I drove on. Since our directions in Gainesville consisted of "take the second exit and call me" we stopped at a Subway and I bought an iced tea while Siobhan trekked off to find a phone to get more precise directions. After looping around when the wrong turn was taken according to the erroneous directions, I tucked the car in behind Jealousy's apartment building and turned it off and breathed a sigh of relief that we wouldn't be driving anywhere for at least a day and a half. He came out to throw some stuff in the trash and spotted us immediately, two lost Canucks, bewildered at finding themselves in Florida. He gently ushered us in and let us sit and shake for a while and then clean up a bit. I brought the poor spoiler in and it was ensconced in the den where it would be safe while the car sat and baked during our visit. J then forced me back into the drivers seat, since his car's headlights were on the fritz and we needed to go out for dinner. The Chinese place that we were heading for was closed, so we hit an "Irish" pub which Siobhan assured us was no such thing, and then hit Blockbuster to grab a couple of movies. We watched "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" which reminded Sio far too much of her mis-spent youth, and made us all wonder where Johnny Depp got the tail from, then "Clerks". Ann arrived from her trip to Miami at some point and hugged us all hello. Apparently the look on her face when she spotted the spoiler in her den was priceless, but I was drifting off to sleep at that point and missed it. I crashed out on the living room floor, was made a play thing by the cats for a brief period of time, and was asleep by 3am or so.
We decided to hit a restaurant and ended up at a Mexican place where the waitress was far too friendly. She kept interrupting our conversations making sure we were okay. I had my long awaited sangria with Jealousy and Siobhan and Ann had frozen margaritas. We wanted to go see a movie and made it to the line up before realising that we couldn't agree to go see any one of the things playing (I refused to go see the South Park movie, Ann didn't want to see Generals Daughter, and there was another one Siobhan had promised to wait and see with someone else). So we hit the Blockbuster again and they picked up Bullworth and a detective story. We made it back to the house and settled in to watch movies. Ann disappeared to crash, tired after the trip to Miami and the walk in the sun. I huddled down out of the draft from the A/C and ended up drifting to sleep. I think I saw or at least listened to most of Bullworth, but I phased out on the second movie. When a scene came up where they were target shooting, I moved into the den and fell asleep with the scurrying of ferrets not keeping me awake. Siobhan woke me when the movie ended and she needed to get at her stuff, and I moved back to the living room and my sleeping bag.
We made it out of Gainesville okay, despite the overabundance of traffic lights. We turned east and headed to Jacksonville close to the coast and then headed north. We had breakfast and over heard that near Savannah the rains were torrential. We hit them a bit north of Savannah and Siobhan drove through rain on and off all the way to Charlotte. Luckily J had reminded me that I had duct tape in the car and I'd covered over the holes where the spoiler had sat. When we hit South Carolina, we decided to take an alternate route, forsaking the highway for a while since we had lots of time to make it to Charlotte. We decided to cut a corner and take route 21 towards Columbia, and it was a very scenic trip indeed. We passed Deliverance Road and Ricochet lane and lots of little dirt roads leading to cemeteries, with hand painted signs giving the directions. We didn't stop, and I'd never have made that trip at night, it was eerie enough during the day. We switched highways at Columbia to head towards Charlotte and I managed to phone Will who said to call again when we were in Charlotte and had found a place to stay. We stopped and picked up another motel coupon book and decided to try the Econolodge again. I was a bit nervous when Siobhan was parking the car, but no mishaps occurred this time. We trooped up to the room and it was quite decent. There was a deposit needed to get the phone turned on, so we went back down to the lobby to use the phone there. We had to wait while a woman talked to her SO and echoed a lot of our sentiments: she was on vacation, had no idea when she'd get in, had come up from Florida and was heading north to New York. She finished finally and I got in touch with Will - the connection was horrid, but enough to let him know where we were and for me to hear him say to stay put, he'd be there soon. Siobhan and I looked at each other, shrugged, and settled in front of the TV in the breakfast nook, watching a special on the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. The most disturbing part was seeing footage of bodies that had been entombed in ash during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. It was much more horrible seeing footage only a few years old rather than the bones from 2000 years ago.
Will finally walked in, stuck his tongue out at us, and swept us out to go have dinner. We went to the Peaceful Dragon, a Chinese restaurant attached to a dojo. A class was just ending as we walked in, and Will greeted the attendant familiarly - apparently it was close to where he used to live and he was taking our visit as an opportunity to come back. The food was sublime - I couldn't finish my stir fry, there was way too much, but the green tea milk shake disappeared very quickly. We browsed through the stuff they had for sale, but I didn't find any origami paper, which I would have bought after seeing the dragon they had on display. After the meal we navigated the confusing streets of Charlotte to Cafe Dada for coffee and tea. The cups were huge and the refills were free. I had a wonderful cup of Bengal Spice tea and we continued catching up and ranting. He took us back to our hotel at around 1am and we sat up talking for a while longer. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day, so he eventually left us to sleep. I noticed the kudzu vines covering the trees at the end of the parking lot, but forgot to take a picture of them the next morning. They were quite sinister, choking the life out of the plants that they grew over.
We ended up leaving Pittsburgh at around 10pm, dinner having taken a bit longer than anticipated. Luckily, we'd made the trip between P'burgh and home enough times that it was a familiar route. Siobhan stopped us at the Denny's, as per tradition, to get a coffee and gas, and we made it to the border in one piece. The duty free was a temporary shelter and the funny smell was explained when she asked the clerk if she could use the washroom. Apparently the portapotties hadn't been cleaned in a few days. I picked up a box of chocolate for Lindsey to thank her for looking after my cat, and Sio got booze and cigarettes for her dad. We breezed through the border and made the run home easily due to a distinct lack of traffic at 2:30 in the morning. We made it to Sio's at 4am, and got her into the house and my keys. I drove very carefully home, unpacked a bit and checked my phone messages. I'd delegate Siobhan to post that we'd made it home safely, so avoided my computer and fell into bed.