SATURDAY, JULY 31ST, 2010
I'm pressed up against the stage, and my wheelchair's jostling sporadically from the bodies in motion around me. Wherever I look, I see torsos, arms and heads; I'm surrounded. Everyone's bouncing up and down to the beat or dancing, waving their arms above their heads, heads matted in most cases with wet hair from the super-soaker cannons and thrown water bottles. It's a scene of mass, euphoric chaos, with me right in the middle of it.
The music blares so loudly that the warm air itself seems to pulse. The house lights are down, and multi-colored spots are rotating and casting beams across the ceiling and the gathered crowd of nearly four thousand people. These people have been here for close to fourteen hours this day, and this moment is the crescendo.
The wall of humanity parts just slightly, and I see her. She's absolutely gorgeous, a dark-haired vision that seems to me a cross between a younger, hotter Fran Drescher and Vanessa Marcil. She's dancing, and her moves are hypnotic, but without pretense - they are pure celebration and abandon.
My eyes have barely touched her when hers lock onto mine. Her face suddenly lights up, her mouth opens in a huge, beautiful smile, and she points at me with one whole outstretched arm. I point back, only because it seems like the only reasonable thing to do. We've both seen each other over the past three days, but have never met. But in this place, that doesn't seem to matter.
She bounces over, pressing her way between the others, and with her smile wider than ever begins to dance with me. Her face is even more stunning up close, and her eyes sparkle. She wears a long, loose white skirt, and for the kind of reasons you don't bother trying to figure out, I've always been a sucker for long skirts.
She suddenly stops dancing, but her eyes stay on mine, and her smile remains. She seems, to me, to have gone into slow motion, while the world all around us continues to writhe and bob and sway. She leans down and slowly, softly, puts her hands on both sides of my face. Our faces are very close now, and even in the low light I can see how green her eyes are.
She doesn't rush it, so I know full well that it's coming. Her face fills my field of vision until my eyes close on their own. Still holding my face, she presses her lips into mine, kissing me softly, slowly, and deeply. I think just long enough to note this is certainly the most beautiful woman I'll ever kiss in my lifetime, and then I tell myself to stop thinking and just relax and enjoy it. And I do.
But I'm getting ahead of myself...
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
10 DAYS EARLIER
WEDNESDAY, JULY 21ST, 2010
Our plane touched down on the tarmac in San Diego, where it was sixty-five degrees and overcast. Two words popped into my head as I found myself grinning warmly.
You see, San Diego was my town for about six and a half years, before a change in living situation and a realistic look at the financial side of southern California living led me to moving back to Sacramento. I loved San Diego - loved it every day that I lived there. But given a choice between living poor there and living well in Sac, I decided it was time to return home for a few years, to spend time with the friends and family I'd seen far too little of. So San Diego changed from home base to the place I took any excuse to visit when opportunity and finances allowed. But I always know that at least once a year, there's a big glowing excuse to hop that plane and head for the ocean again. And that is Comic-Con.
Aside from being a comedian, you see, I'm also a writer, and spent some time in the comic book writing field. And if you're in comics, and you're on the west side of the country, you just don't want to miss the biggest comic convention in the world. It's the place where not only all the comic companies and industry people are (not to mention all the comic fans), but has become, over the years, the home for all things entertainment, beyond just the comic world. Hollywood slowly moved in, and the movie studios and TV networks began using it as a marketing place to launch their latest films and shows. This started in earnest a few years ago, and quickly, Comic-Con International went from a gathering for fans of comics and sci-fi to California's very own Sundance. Mega celebrities started showing up. I mean US Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, TMZ celebrities. And once the world at large started catching on to this, attendance skyrocketed, turning a once modest show and a mammoth affair that sells out every year (and months early) and hosts over one hundred and twenty-five thousand people over the four days of the event. Yes, one hundred and twenty-five THOUSAND. It's a madhouse, but one of the most awesome madhouses you'll ever be lucky enough to step into. I do my best not to miss it. It's typically the highlight of my year.
But scheduling and finances had kept me away for a couple of years. And it looked like the same thing was going to happen this year, with me being unemployed and trying to focus all my time on comedy - not to mention the heart surgery I'd had to deal with in June.
But something else very unexpected came into the equation, too. It was around this time that an interview I did for Quest Magazine (the magazine of the Muscular Dystrophy Association) showed up online. One day I was out on my patio, working on my laptop, and happened to check my Twitter. I saw a post had just gone up from Tony Robbins. You know, THAT Tony Robbins? The motivational guru? I follow him on Twitter because I'm a serious fan. During a bad time in a my life a couple of years before, when the stress of my job and life was really getting me down and I couldn't figure out where my life was going, I started a self-help phase that led me to Tony's "Personal Power II" CD course, the one you see on the infomercials. I picked it up, completed the 30-day course, and it really did change my life. No fooling. I use concepts from that in just about everything I do, every day.
Seeing Tony's post, which had just gone up seconds before, told me that he was currently online. For how long, I didn't know. Here's the thing with Twitter celebs. You can get a note to them that shows up on their feed, sure. But when they have as many followers as Tony Robbins (1.7 million), chances of them actually seeing your post amidst all the many others they must be getting are pretty slim. But I'd had some success before. For example, I had sent a link to my first comedy performance YouTube clip to actor Adam Baldwin ("Chuck", "Firefly", "Serenity"), and he had not only watched it but started communicating with me about it and reposted it on his Twitter feed for his fans (something that gained me a number of new fans as well). I would send Adam new clips and updates on what was happening, and he'd review my stuff, offer advice and encouragement, and, again, share it with his people. He became a fan of my comedy without every having seen me live. YouTube is kind of awesome that way.
So I decided I had a precedent to work with, so I went ahead and sent the link to my Quest interview to Tony Robbins. One never knows, right? Well, sometimes one gets to know a lot quicker than one might expect. It wasn't but a few minutes later that I got an email notice that Tony Robbins was now following me on Twitter (!). Before I could properly process that bit of shock, I got another notice telling me that I'd received a private message from Tony Robbins (!!). I read it, and, in summary, Tony had read the interview, felt I was very inspiring, and asked me if I wanted to come to one of his seminars as his guest. He provided, in the same note, the email address for his assistant, and advised me that, if I did wish to do so, to email a copy of the message to said assistant and he'd set everything up.
Stunned was an understatement. Like I said...big fan here. This guy's one of my heroes. And I can clearly remember listening to those CDs, hearing him talk about his live seminars, and wondering what it would be like to go to one of them one day. A look into the cost of a ticket to one, though, left me feeling that it would have to remain a dream, because I'd never be able to afford that cost. Now, two years later, the man himself was offering to let me into one of them for FREE.
I did a quick check on current seminars of his, and found ones going on in New York...Rome...Fiji. Clearly I couldn't afford travel THAT far. But then I spotted one coming up at the end of July. This one was in Long Beach. And it was scheduled to take place the week after the end of Comic-Con.
With the airline ticket I had available, I could get a flight to San Diego, and then fly home from Long Beach. Comic-Con plus Tony Robbins. With a few days in the middle. Thinking about those few days, I remembered how much I'd been wanting to try out some Southern Cal comedy (I'd only been a NorCal comic at that point). So I made some calls, and managed to get myself some stage time at the Comedy Spot in La Jolla (right near San Diego) and the Comedy Palace in San Diego during those in-between days. So it all came together. Comic-Con. Comedy. Robbins. Just about two weeks of southern California adventure, career advancement, and possibly life-changing motivational mojo. All...good.
And there was one other piece of business I wanted to fit in. I had recently mailed Adam Baldwin one of my tee shirts as a thank you for all the work he'd done getting me some LA fans (one of whom I had been chatting with for a while on Twitter who was going to be at Comic-Con, another bonus of the trip). He asked me after that when I was going to be in LA next, and I explained the trip. Adam was going to be at Comic-Con attending a panel for his then-current NBC show, "Chuck". This would be a perfect place for the two of us to finally meet. And if that didn't work out, there was always my time in Long Beach (though little of it would be available since the seminar would be running until after 10:00 PM most of its days). So working a meet and greet with Adam in became a priority, too.
Soon we made our way to the convention center, and the registration lines were, as ever, ridiculous. Being industry pros, Tim and I got to get in the Professionals line, but even that stretched as far as the eye could see. However, someone who worked there helpfully came up and let us know that we could go to the Disabled Services booth inside and they'd handle all the registration stuff for us. What? No line? Score! We went and did just that, and they got us hooked up nice and quick. Tim got a special "attendant" sticker on his badge, which meant that he and I both could use our badges to get past the big-ass lines that would be awaiting us at every event during the Con and get inside to disabled seating. Again...score!
With badges hanging around our necks from lanyards, we then settled in with many others in the lobby and waited for the doors to open for Preview Night. Preview Night has had an interesting evolution. It started as just a bonus for people who bought the four-day badges. On Wednesday, when everyone picks up the badges, those folks would get to go check out the convention floor before all the others suckers who wouldn't be able to get in until Thursday morning. Most of the companies and vendors would have their booths and tables all set up by then, so this would allow you to walk around and check out who was where, what neat items were for sale that you'd be coming back to snatch up later, and so on. After a while, sales by the vendors were the allowed, so now if you went in, you could have your choice of all the most-wanted goodies before they started selling out.
But once the big Comic-Con explosion happened (once it broke a hundred thousand people), Preview Night turned into an unofficial extension of the Con. Full sales, most of the artists there behind their tables in Artists' Alley (where you could meet your favorite pro comic artists and get autographs and sketches from them), an insane amount of limited edition giveaway products available only on Preview Night, and even panel events started being held upstairs Wednesday night. Comic-Con is now four-and-a-halfish days long.
So we started moving up and down the aisles, marveling at how empty they were (if only for another few minutes), when we're used to seeing them crammed with thousands of people. We went around one corner, and unfortunately, it ended up being near where the upstairs people were coming down. This was a collectors' mob. Know how you could tell? STAMPEDE. They all suddenly broke into runs - headed right for us - as someone from (I assume) security was yelling "no running!". We managed to get out of the way in time. Collectors frighten me. The idea that I could be killed Pamplona-style by a herd of people racing to get into a line that would allow them to get a ticket that would get them into a drawing which would maybe then allow them to purchase a limited edition Pokemon figure made me think that maybe I'd go back to skipping Preview Night like I used to.
L.A. Ink Stains" that let you get inside the life of a hard-working, hard-partying, world-traveling artist. Great finally getting to meet him. Awesome guy.
I also tracked down a fellow Sacramento comic creator named Dan Cooney, a pal of Tim's and mine. We've done a lot of autograph signings and such together. Dan's a great guy who's been at this for years, self-publishing his action/espionage series called "Valentine". Well, the work's finally paid off, and Dan's going Hollywood. "Valentine" got the has a director. Hopefully you'll be seeing it on the big screen soon. Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
We met up with Tony and pals and had a great time chatting away and knocking back Japanese beers. The only downer was that I had slept for maybe three hours the night before and had had a very long day, and the beer finally ignited all that - which meant after a while I was fighting to stay awake. We eventually finished up, got our rental, and followed Tony home, where we got to say hey to his wife Wendy (our kind hostess) and chat for a little bit. But sleep was the priority. Tony always converts his office downstairs into a bedroom for me when I'm in town (which is awesome, because it has its own attached bathroom with shower), and I dumped my stuff in there and zonked the hell OUT.
And I would need the sleep that I got, because there were a whole lot of adventures, surprises, milestones and memories still ahead of me on this journey. As well as one really spectacular kiss.
TO BE CONTINUED