(For those that missed part one, Indoctrination, go here.)
I entered the Westin O'Hare lobby early Friday morning, well before silver ticket holders could register. I didn't want to be late after all. What happened over the next three days was better, stranger, more daunting and more exhilarating than anything I had previously imagined
While I waited for the registration desk to open, I found a seat in a quiet corner of the hotel lobby and timidly watched people file out of elevators, dining rooms, cabs and car pools. My first impression put my worst fears into overdrive "“ I really didn't belong here. The Friday morning crowd included the people who had been to several conventions before; many even follow the convention from city to city. They most likely had gold tickets, and had systematically upgraded their seating with each successive convention. I was smack dab in the middle of the hard-core convention goers!
If I'm honest with myself, the first set of people I observed made me uncomfortably self-conscious. I differed in age, stature, profile and dress from almost everyone I saw. There were people in costumes carrying home-made props. There were people with wall-sized posters to be signed (I had come empty handed). I saw permanent and semi-permanent tattoos (you know which ones) all related to Supernatural. Others were dressed in faded, torn jeans, with imprinted T-shirts that only Supernatural fans would understand. I was a rookie in a house full of pros. I thought I was a fan, but the people I saw had made Supernatural a much bigger part of their life than I had previously expected. I strongly considered bolting for the door and declaring myself temporarily insane for ever thinking I could fit into fandom.
Well, I thought, stand your ground. Supernatural hadn't let me down yet, and had only been a force of good in my life, so I might as well forge ahead. Before I could reconsider this folly, the time arrived for silver ticket holders to turn in their printed tickets. We were fitted with permanent wrist bands (the same kind they put on you in hospitals and water parks), and instructed to wear large, laminated ID lanyards around our necks at all times for the next three days. Convenient, but I could no longer pretend I was at the hotel for the mathematicians conference that was taking place on another floor (No kidding - I'm not making that up!). I filed into the convention hall to find my very welcome, very safe chair. But how to kill the long time before the convention started? I decided to take some pictures of the stage. That seemed innocuous enough, and might even be something that "experienced" convention goers would do. This is when I met my first "friend". She was closer to my age than anyone I had seen yet. She was in the 3rdrow (was that envy I was feeling?), and just like me, had started following Supernatural with her daughter. She was easy to talk to and very reassuring. Phew. One person I could relate to. I might just survive.
I had been told that everyone would be friendly. I went out of my way to try to meet people because, for all I knew, this was the full complement of people with whom I would be spending the next three days. To the contrary, I was surprised to find that everyone pretty much kept to themselves or their little group of friends. If you started a conversation, though, they would cautiously, slowly warm up to you. Maybe there wasn't the immediate trust I had expected, but we knew we had a mutual interest, one safe subject at least, so there was some excuse for talking to complete strangers.
To jump ahead, I ended up meeting many people with whom I had a lot in common. I realized that as the audience increased with each successive day of the convention, the demographics of the crowd expanded. I met married couples who share an interest in Supernatural and enjoy going to conventions together. Many of the "older" (more than 20-something) people I met were teachers or more likely, college professors. Out of the 8 people I got to know the best (some I sought out, some I met purely by chance), five were college professors. What are the odds of that? (Oh, sorry. I got confused with that mathematician's conference down the hall again.) I've always considered teaching as a second profession. Was there something going on here that was more than a coincidence?
On the third day of the convention, the "Js" day (when Jared and Jensen appear and dominate the activities), the composition of the crowd broadened considerably. There were mothers attending with their college-aged daughters, and groups of women who brought their pre-teen girls (who were just as much into J&J as everyone else!). There was a young couple where it was unbelievably obvious and so sweet that the young man had attended simply because his girlfriend had asked him to. The convention was sold out on Sunday so there were people everywhere, most of whom had bought general admission, one-day passes. This was the easiest day to feel at home, because everyone was excited and busy, and no one age group or personality type dominated the audience. We were all there to see the "boys".
The "Talent" (i.e. the actors we came to see)
Soon it was time for the actors to take the stage. I had seen endless hours of Jared's and Jensen's "panels" on YouTube, but I really didn't know what to expect from any of the other cast members. I won't bore you with a detailed description of everyone's Q&A. I would like to share several lasting impressions, however, that really impacted me:
First, there was a big range in the entertainment value of the guests. It was clear that some had prepared for their time with us. The most obvious example of this was James Patrick Stuart (Dick Roman). I frankly was very ambivalent about his appearance at the convention. I really didn't like the Dick Roman character (I found him annoying, which probably says something good about the actor's portrayal of the primary S7 bad guy). I wouldn't have minded at all if I had a good reason to miss his panel, but I didn't, and I was determined to absorb every single minute of the convention experience. So I dutifully took my place in the audience and gave him my full attention. I am SO glad I did (proves again how much you can learn when you are open to the unknown). He was incredible. He was witty and entertaining. His talent for recounting stories, singing, instantaneously switching characters on stage and interacting with the audience was stunning. Besides his abundance of natural talent, though, I really appreciated that he respected the fans enough to prepare for his time on stage.
I was also tremendously impressed with DJ Qualls and Kim Rhodes. They were open, honest, revealing and engaging. They had stories to tell, energy to spare and they were both just plain funny. They were brutally honest about their personal lives, which endeared them to the fans (at least to me), and again, their time on stage was truly entertaining. Of course, Jim Beaver was sweet and charming and Richard Speight, Jr. was a riot.
The second most poignant observation that stirred me was how fragile some of the individual actors appeared to be. They had the courage to appear before 1000 people in the audience, yet I wanted to go up to several of them, hug them and reassure them that they were OK. Returning the favor of the honesty they gave the fans, I won't relay any specifics, but several of the actors said things that revealed the vulnerability and insecurities that drove them to acting in the first place and that still plague them every time they try out for a role and are rejected for being too skinny, too fat, too old, too plain, too quiet, too loud, or for absolutely no reason at all. Most adults have either overcome, or more likely, hide all too well, their personal demons. But these people have chosen a profession where they have to overtly display characters' emotions, so I guess either accidentally or by design, their personal frailties were exposed for all to see. I had previously been aware of the most common personality profile of actors, but seeing it and hearing it first hand from people I "knew" was a very powerful experience. I didn't expect this at all.
Besides the psychological bruising, I was struck by how physically grueling acting was. Jim Beaver was late because, after a full day of taping, his flight had been cancelled and he was squeezed at the last minute into a different airline's over-crowded plane. He had slept 3 out of the last 36 hours and he brought an uneaten bag of cold McDonald's food onto stage because he also hadn't eaten in too many hours. Other actors mentioned as well that they got into the hotel in the wee early hours of the morning, after taping or auditioning or some other such commitment. Rachel Miner was sick with a fever, was white as a ghost and could hardly speak loud enough for us to hear her. Yet she stayed on stage for 45 minutes, answering questions. Then she slugged through photo ops and an endless autograph line. This convention was sandwiched between everyone's "day jobs" and personal needs. They were contractually obligated to appear. Yes, they were getting paid, but I think Jim and Rachel would have paid any ransom to be able to skip the stage time and just sleep.
And speaking of sleepingI should pause here to describe a little bit about the convention atmosphere that I had experienced thus far:
- Scheduled convention events went late into the night and started right after breakfast in the morning (unless, of course, you had tickets to the breakfast panel. Then it started before breakfast!). There was little time for sleep. There was a lot of waiting for your turn and a lot of standing in lines.but I was so excited, I didn't mind one minute of any of it!
- This convention venue was not prepared to accommodate a group of our size. There was only one snack bar, and it was poorly staffed and poorly stocked. I had nothing but an apple and candy bar for my combined lunch and dinner on Friday. You don't go to conventions for the food!
- On the positive side, though, I was amazed at the creativity and the superb quality of the fans' music videos. They were excellent. They were shown as fillers, or as introductions to some of the actor's panels, but I made it a point to always be in my seat early enough to enjoy them.
- The convention took place on the weekend before Halloween, so the local TV affiliate was running a Supernatural marathon all weekend long! All of the lobby TVs were tuned to Supernatural, so we could see the actors on stage, then come out to the lobby and watch episodes during the breaks! Supernatural was everywhere we looked! Talk about being completely immersed in a "Supernatural" world!
- Lastly, the Karaoke party was fun!
The excitement of Day 2 was the arrival of Misha. It was also the day he was going to be presented with the check for his charity. I had voted for him every day for the past month, so I was super excited and proud to be a part of the award ceremony. What I witnessed on that day, though, was a Misha that seemed somewhat uncomfortable being in the limelight? During the hand-off of the money, I got the impression that he didn't know what to say, where to stand or who to thank. It was all rather a bit awkward. He was witty answering fan's questions, but it helped if you understood that he adds a bit of sarcasm to flavor his responses. His popularity with the fans was obvious, though. He was loved.
The Main Attraction
Several years ago there was a show on TV called "The West Wing". It was an Aaron Sorkin masterpiece that forever redefined just how good TV could be. Briefly, it was about the President of the United States and the people that work for him (in the West Wing of the Whitehouse). They used to refer to something called "Presidential Flame-out". It characterized the moment when highly intelligent, accomplished, rational, adept people go brain dead when they first meet the President. They say and do ridiculously ludicrous things because they are so numbed by the awe of being in the presence of such an iconic person. I tell you this story because that is exactly what happened to me when I met Jared and Jensen.
Actually, the analogy of meeting the President isn't far from the truth. J&J arrive at the convention on Sunday. Keep in mind that the fans have already been immersed in the "Supernatural world" for two full days and nights, being entertained by, photographed with, eating, drinking, singing and dancing with cast members that are famous actors in their own right. These cast members have their own private elevators and volunteer "handlers" that keep fans a safe, respectful distance away from "the talent". Nothing compares to Sunday, though. J&J arrive amidst a flurry of unmatched excitement. They are flanked by their body guard (Clif), the hotel's body guards, the convention sponsor's body guards, and, oh yeah, the volunteer handlers. Of course Jared and Jensen are probably the biggest guys in the room to begin with. Add several more "gentlemen" who could have all played left tackle for a professional football team, in suits, with "don't-even-think-about-it" looks on their faces. You know something big is happening. The energy level of the convention increases a hundred fold. The audience doubles in size from the previous days, as the one-day-only attendees arrive. And you can feel the nervous level of energy in the air, as everyone anticipates their time with "the boys". What pose do I want with them in our photo op? Is what I've chosen for them to autograph big enough, good enough, memorable enough? Will I make it to the front of the line to ask my question of them? Do I have a good enough question? Will they notice me? Am I having a good or a bad hair day?
Listening to them talk, answer questions, and interact with the fans is as special as you would imagine. Time seems to stand still, yet their hour on stage goes by in the blink of an eye. Those lucky enough to have a gold ticket have a breakfast session with them. The rest of us have the panel, and maybe a moment when we pass in front of them in the autograph line. And then there's the 15 seconds you might have with them if you paid to stand next to them for a picture. Which brings me to my "flame out"..
So obviously this was my first opportunity to be near them. I knew I would be nervous. The prior two days I had asked every experienced conventioneer I talked to what it was like to meet the boys. Without exception, whatever they relayed to me about their first experience not only didn't relieve my fears, it jacked up my anxiety. One said Jared winked at her when she approached for a pictureand she doesn't remember a single thing after that. Another said the boys squeezed her so hard in their "hug" that she couldn't breatheand didn't want to. I just didn't know how I was going to walk, talk and breathe at the same time in their presence.
I hadn't really thought about my "pose" with them (I had chosen the "duo" photo op). I had read that fans shouldn't plan on special requests because there wasn't enough time to accommodate everyone's, shall we say, fantasies. Then the photographer addressed the auditorium of people to give us instructions for the photo session. He gave the impression that we could ask for a particular pose. I hadn't planned on that at all. What on earth was I going to do? I heard people talking about "gun slinger" poses, back to back poses, and over the shoulder posesI was worried about standing on two feet and they were asking me to get creative?? My anxiety level jumped another few levels, if that was even possible. When my row was called and we went downstairs to wait in line for our entry into the private room where pictures were taken, I decided I would just ask for a hug. After all, that way Jared and Jensen could hold me up if my equilibrium failed me. Soon it was my turn. I started walking toward them. Jared was closest to me (and I have to admit now and for all time, I am a Jared girl), so I looked him in the eye and uttered simply "arms around hug?". He smiled, I heard him say "Sure", then I think there was a brief second of some kind of shuffling (I really don't know "“ I had gone blank at this point), I felt arms around me somehow, I looked at the camera and smiled. Flash. Done. I started to walk away. Then I realized. OMG, OMG, OMG..I never even looked at Jensen!! He had to have been there! He was standing next to Jared when other people were being photographed. Surely he hadn't disappeared all of a sudden! So I turned my head around (my back was already to them because I was walking away) and I was looking Jensen straight in the eye. I blurted out "thank you", really because I thought I had been so rude to completely ignore him during the picture. I know. I have to have my head examined. How does anyone ignore Jensen?? Like I said, brain dead. He didn't say anything to me, but just kind of looked at me a little confused. I turned and walked away. At that point, I think I starting breathing again. Like I said, flame out.
You don't get your pictures until late that evening. When I finally saw my picture with these two wonderful, gorgeous guys that I admire, I was actually very happy. I had smiled in the picture. My eyes were open. I was standingwell actually, I was leaning on Jared, but I don't remember leaning on Jared. Jensen, bless his heart, had taken up a great model pose simply standing to my left (Jared was on my right). But the look on Jared's face stole the whole picture. We know the boys tease each other. They talk about their friendly competitions with each other. Well the look on Jared's face said, "Hah, Jensen, this one is mine!" My 8X10 is framed on my piano, and to this day, every single time I walk by and glance at his expression, I laugh. Yeah, I was his.
Then the convention was over. The boys were whisked away to their planes. People went home. So that was my convention experience. I made it.
If I peel away all the excitement, confusion, long waits and long lines, entertainment and applause, anxieties and exhilarations of the convention, I am left with some enduring, treasured memories that I will hold dear forever:
First, the people that attended the convention, especially the 3-day attendees, found a place where they could unabashedly celebrate something joyful in their lives. There really was no common denominator for what these people did Monday through Friday, where they lived or what made up the fabric of their lives, but what brought them all together, here, was joy.
Second, that the kindness of 4 people who took me under their wing, shared meals and friendship with me when they hadn't known me for more than literally a few minutes, enriched my convention experience beyond words. Thank you Jennifer, Alice, Lynn and Kathy.
Next, when I think about meeting the actors, I was touched most by the look in Kim's, Rachel's, Richard's, and Jared's eyes when they looked up at me in the autograph line. I had thought long and hard about what I wanted to say to them in the 5 to 7 seconds when I was directly across the table from them (as they signed their names on the photos and DVD covers that were put in front of them). I had decided to thank each one of them for something they had done that moved me. For Kim, it was a particular page in her blog. For Rachel, it was how she delivered lines. For Richard, it was the energy he added to the convention by emceeing with laughter, wit and sincerity. For Jared, it was simply asking how he had enjoyed the day he had taken to tour my city. In each case, they stopped, moved their eyes up from the endless, moving stream of fans, and looked at me. I saw them process what I had just said, and in that moment, they were normal, ordinary people that cherished hearing that they were appreciated. They each kind of breathed a heart-felt thank you, and shared just one quick thought about what they were trying to do with that piece of writing, acting, or in Jared's case, relaxing. But I will never forget the raw validation and acceptance I saw in their eyes and heard in their voice in that moment. All the hype, fame and celebrity status was gone. They were people, just like the rest of us and they had been told they mattered.
Above all, it was an utter thrill to see Jared and Jensen interacting with each other. Up to this point, my life has been full of many joys that have no comparison - accepting a proposal of marriage, holding a baby in my arms, promotions, accomplishments. Of course, they are all on a different plane than meeting two actors I admire. But there is something special, something blessed, about being in the same room with J&J. I can't describe it, but they emit a palpable, enriching grace or aura or energy that fills you to the core. Individually, I believe they are dedicated, honest, sincere, genuine, caring people, but together, their impact on others is astounding. J&J strengthen each other, support each other, inspire each otherand the joy and fun they share gives the world around them a truly powerful gift. They really are special and I consider meeting the two of them one of the special moments of my life.
So there you have it. My journey to becoming a full-fledged, card carrying fan of Supernatural. Immediately after attending the convention, I really didn't know if I would want to go again next year. Did I really need to do this again? Hadn't I spent enough? Experienced it all? It is now three weeks later, though, and I'm starting to think, hey, why wouldn't I want to go again? After all, I had fun.
P.S. What is the next step on my journey? You tell me. After all, I am the new kid on this block. Actually, I do have a few ideas. If you can believe it, I would like to work for Jared and/or Jensen and use all my business experience to expand the good that they do, and the good that Supernatural does, for the world. Of course, I know that sounds crazy, but as Jim Beaver has said in many interviews this season, "Hey, this is Supernatural. Anything is possible."