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Diary of a Social Retard

It was 1am when the Amtrak train pulled into San Diego. Two other passengers and I exited and quietly followed the dark sidewalk leading to the Gaslamp District. A block later, it was only me and an older man following the path. Another block after that, I was on my own.

The convention center was silent and deserted. The dim buzzing of the light fixtures were the only sound aside from my own footsteps. There were no cars, no people, no life. Not even a breeze blowing through the trees. San Diego had transformed into a ghost town. Everyone knew it was coming, and they were all hibernating in anticipation. In 17 hours, Comic Con would begin and the entire city would turn to chaos.

One quarter mile later, I reached the other end of the convention center. Three people were lined up near the main doors with crude supplies – things that could be easily discarded or folded into a backpack when the doors opened the next day. In quiet voices they discussed topics like Christopher Nolan’s fall from grace with the new Superman film, DC’s crippling dependence on Batman as their only successful film character and the importance of not having Ewoks in the upcoming Star Wars films. These were my people, and I was in the right place.

I placed my bag on the ground and curled up against the pavement, hoping for some sleep before the less dedicated, slobbering masses showed up around 5 or 6am, bragging loudly about the dozens of exclusive toys they planned to flip on Ebay, and how they’d use them to pay their hotel bill or take a nice vacation to Catalina. But I still had four or five hours before those douches arrived. Flippers don’t sleep on the sidewalk. Only someone buying for themselves would voluntarily take part in such tedious bullshit.

I was now the fourth person in line for Comic Con, and this was serious business. The Bootman Bootleg Kaiju figure was an unlicensed Japanese monster toy painted to look like Batman. It came with two interchangeable heads – one a bony skeleton face with a horn like a rhino, and the other a rotting Soviet bear carcass. There were only ten of this “toy” made. Each one was 8.5″ tall, hand-painted and retailed for $250. If I didn’t get one, I’d likely have to pay $400 on Ebay the next day. I couldn’t afford that.

By 2am, all was quiet and the line had increased to six or seven slumbering toy fanatics. I couldn’t sleep. My hoodie was no match for the hard concrete, and my brain wasn’t yet familiar enough with the incessant beeping of the nearby crosswalk to mentally block it out. I looked around and wondered how everyone else was able to sleep. I’d later learn that these people had been doing this for years, and unlike me, were smart enough to bring earplugs.

I finally drifted off to sleep around 2:30am. A mere 15 minutes later, I was jolted awake by loud clanging bells and flashes of red light. Train tracks ran along the street 50 yards away, and a freight train was passing through. I cursed loudly at each of the 50 cars on the slow moving train, with a few dozen extra curses added when the train completely stopped for 15 minutes before finally exiting the intersection and ending the commotion. This was the first of four freight trains that night, and at 5am the light rail trolley began passing through every 10 minutes. Each train brought more damned bells.

Waiting got harder as daylight arrived. It seemed the entirety of my buttocks had worn away, allowing my tailbone to rest directly against the sidewalk. By my estimates, I had slept a total of 20 minutes the night before. I popped a caffeine pill like Jessie Spano studying for a test and tried not to think about how there were still 11 hours before the doors to the convention center opened.

By 3:30pm, the massive line had wrapped around the building as well as the nearby marina. We were led inside so the line could be wrapped around the hallways inside the building as well. Pressed in tightly like cattle, with little room for sitting or stretching our legs, we waited for the remaining two and a half hours. I could feel the breath of the obese man behind me on my neck the entire time. If he collapsed and fell onto me, at least three of us would suffocate within minutes.

A little before 5:30pm, they released us into the registration room where we’d show our registration paperwork and get our badges. The woman at the desk looked at my paperwork and got a stern look on her face.

“You have a professional badge?” she said. “Sorry, only general admission badges are allowed in this line. This is a new rule we added this year. You’ll have to go back outside and get in the other line.”

A security guard then escorted me outside to a press line that had not existed when I arrived the night before, nor the previous year when I attended. I had camped out on the pavement for nearly 17 hours. Every joint and limb in my body was sore. I had not slept in 48 hours. Despite all this, it seemed I wouldn’t be getting the toy that I had so rightfully earned.

I would later learn that there had been no rule change at all. Other professionals had been allowed in the main line. My removal was merely one unpaid volunteer’s interpretation of what should or shouldn’t be allowed. I looked around for someone to complain to, and saw only a sea of other unpaid volunteers that neither cared nor had any authority to help me. Welcome to Comic Con.

As luck would have it, the people running the booth that sold the Bootman toy were also colossal fuckups, and had noted the wrong release date. The toy was actually releasing Friday at noon, not on opening night. I would have to do it all over again, once again braving the lines. And I did, because apparently I am the Al Bundy of toy collectors, the Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, the Paula Deen trying to talk to a black person without distinctly pointing out to them that they are, in fact, black.

But I got the toy. That’s all that matters. Battered, bruised and mentally deranged from a lack of sleep, I’m pretty sure I also tried to make out with one of the Voltron statues on the exhibitor floor that evening, but the toy is all that matters. It’s all that ever matters for us weird, pathetic, socially inept, obsessive compulsive, batshit crazy toy nerds.

I should probably go see a therapist about that.

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