Tag Archives: Zac

Inside the Comic-con and Tales of Nerdery

Zac with Sesame Street Characters

I’m the resident nerd at Woolly Mammoth and I’m proud of it. It’s a component of who I am and how I relate to the world. As a participant in the culture of fandom I can provide you with a unique perspective into what it means to be a fan of a television show that was cancelled in 1994, (18 years ago). This summer marked the 25th anniversary of that show’s premiere and ten years since the last Star Trek: The Next Generation movie ran in theatres. This summer I attended the Phoenix Comic-con in order to participate in that 25th anniversary celebration and perhaps also to figure out what motivates us nerds.

Why do people choose to be fans of things like Star Trek, Buffy, or Thundercats? Specifically, why do they choose to express themselves in such odd ways at conventions? I actually had the opportunity to ask numerous people that exact question as I walked the floor at the Phoenix Comic-con.

“Why are you dressed up like Liono from the Thundercats?… no really, why?”

“Why are you sitting in line for the 25th anniversary Star Trek: The Next Generation panel four hours before it starts?”

“Why are you attending the con?”

Universally the answer I was given to these questions was simple, they felt a connection to these characters, stories, and the experience at the convention helped them to celebrate those feelings. Generally speaking fans enjoy making connections with their icons because it validates their celebration of those characters and stories. Dressing up and attending conventions justifies the time spent watching and talking about these materials at length. But there’s more to it than that…

As I sat in the convention hall awaiting the start of the Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary Panel with Levar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and Wil Wheaton I kept asking myself why I was there, and why I’d chosen to attend this particular panel. In the course of considering my own motivations I kept coming back to one answer: Love. It’s crazy… I know… but I love that show. I really love those characters. I respect them. They represent an ideal of how life should be, and what we as humanity should aspire to become in our future, and generally they inspire me to be a better person. Star Trek: The Next Generation and the characters played by those actors are a part of who I am. Their struggles, successes and failures, heart breaks and love stories—they’re my stories.  They’re the stories that tie fans together and give us common ground.

During the Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary panel, one of the audience members asked the actors who their heroes are and their answers are less important to the context of this blog post than the question itself. “Who are YOUR heroes?” implies that they are OUR heroes. That alone illustrates the role fandom plays in people’s lives.

We nerds, geeks and fanboys (and girls) choose to celebrate our love of these characters by participating in conventions, panels, and photo-ops with the people who made these shows possible. We obsess over the details of these shows to further our understanding of them and in doing so develop a greater appreciation for the material in question.

If you need any better illustration to help understand the relationship between fans and their heroes simply look at a catalogue of photo-op pictures of fans with their favorite actors and celebrities from their favorite shows. Look at the faces of the fans. The actors understand this relationship better than any of us—they pose for these pictures because they know that for their fans it’s important, it’s meaningful, and that whether they intended to or not, they impacted all of these people’s lives.

On the last day of the Phoenix Comic-con I got to meet Morgan Gendel, the writer of my all time favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ‘The Inner Light’. At Mr. Gendel’s table he was selling signed copies of his original script and a replica of the prop flute played by Captain Picard during that episode. I kid you not, I spent $100 on a tin whistle, $50 on a signed copy of a poorly bound script, and the thing I valued most from that experience was shaking Mr. Gendel’s hand and telling him how much I appreciated his work on that episode. The fact that the episode went on to win a Hugo Award is of little consequence. It was important to me and I chose to celebrate that by buying everything Morgan Gendel was selling at his booth, I attended his panel on the episode, and I will never forget getting the opportunity I got to shake his hand and say thank you, and I meant it.

At the end of the day we are all fans of something and we celebrate that passion in different ways. Fandom is usually portrayed by fans of science fictions, fantasy, comic books, and other general nerdery. I tell you now that we, the nerds, readily admit to our fandom. We celebrate our nerdiness and in the spirit of Woolly’s current show, Mr. Burns, a post electric play, I can honestly tell you that if the lights went out tomorrow I would be a member of the Star Trek troupe… and I wouldn’t need to buy lines.

My last stop of the Con was at the booth of Phil Ortiz, one of the original cartoonists who drew for The Simpsons during the first few seasons. As part of his booth he was drawing portraits of attendees and “Simpsonizing” people for a nominal fee. I told him about the show at Woolly, and he proceeded to draw me with Mr. Burns looking over my shoulder. As a note on the popularity of Mr. Ortiz’s booth I can tell you that the line was quite long, and people were being turned away near the end. The Simpsons has been on the air for 23 years and their fans are still excited about the show. Check out my Simpsons portait below.

~Zacory Boatright, Director of Business Development

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Filed under Communications and Connectivity, Mr. Burns a post-electric play

Come Fly the Friendly Skies

I’m sure there’s a clinical condition that defines my relationship with flying. I’m so certain that I’ve never looked it up and have instead ironically dubbed it, “The Murtough Syndrome.” Symptoms may include but are not limited to the following: anxiety, insomnia, compulsive praying, stating “I’m too old for this shit,” and comical hijinks with your new partner Riggs. Most importantly all of these symptoms will come about near the end of a job you’ve done for a number of years. You may be approaching retirement or in my case… six months before taking the job at Woolly.

In my job prior to Woolly I used to travel a lot for work. No…that’s an understatement. I flew so much that I knew the flight attendants by name. I developed a system for packing my bags to ensure a speedy passage through the TSA security gauntlet. I collected enough frequent flier miles to join NASA on their next Moon mission. I didn’t buy first class tickets I got upgraded—for free. You know that guy from “Up In The Air“…amateur.

I used to travel a lot for work.

You tend to remember when you have bad experiences during a flight. I can attest to this personally. I’ve probably told this story more than a hundred times but it’s just as clear in my mind now as the day it happened.  Spoiler alert: I almost died.

It was like any other flight in all the same boring ways. I was selected by TSA in Los Angeles for special search. (1) I got through security after a friendly encounter with a man wearing latex gloves, then proceeded to my gate to check the flight status. My red-eye flight from LA to DC was on time so I checked in at the counter (2) to see if there was any chance of being upgraded. First class was already checked in full and I was now at the top of the waiting list. I headed to the nearest Hudson News and bought my usual compliment of cross country beverages. (3)

When the time finally came for passengers to board the plane I took my place in the business class elite boarding line. (4) After a week in LA for work it was nice to have the opportunity to jump the line, put away my bags and relax while the rest of the passengers boarded the plane after me. A short time later the plane slowly made it’s ascent into the heavens and we were on our way home.

The drama took place 35,000 feet off the ground flying east over the Rocky Mountains. We had been in the air for almost two hours when the captain turned on the seat belts light and the flight attendant’s voice came over the intercom, “The pilot has asked that all passengers return to their seats.”

“Attention passengers this is your captain speaking. We’re currently over the great state of Colorado on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. We may experience some turbulence for the next few minutes. Flight attendants will continue to serve beverages but please remain in your seat.” The shaking started half way through his speech. His confident baritone reassured passengers that everything was fine and that he and the flight crew had everything under control.

The flight attendants proceeded down the aisles serving drinks to passengers as we were shaken side to side, jolting up and down, and generally getting tossed about in the fashion one might expect in an industrial grade washing machine on spin cycle. It was unnerving but not unusual. I’d been through worse turbulence and was the picture of serenity. I had a bottle of Diet Coke in my hand, and was reading a book when the woman sitting to my right looked at me and said, “I’ve never been through anything like this! This is crazy!”

“It’s nothing to worry about,” I said. “It’s actually pretty common flying over the Rockies. I’ve done this flight a few times with turbulence worse than this—it should be over in a few.”

The Captain abruptly came over the intercom, “Flight attendants take your seats.”

“That’s not good,” I said.

“What’s not good?” The woman was looking at me with a panicked look in her eyes. She was holding on to her drink with both hands

“It usually means it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” I said calmly.

Sometimes I really hate it when I’m right. The Captain came back over the intercom as the plane continued from spin cycle to agitate. “Attention passengers this is the pilot. You may have noticed we’ve been experiencing a bit of turbulence but it looks like… HOLY SHIT!”

I am not substituting words or taking any liberties with what came out of the pilot’s mouth. I remember everything in perfect clarity given what happened next. We starting falling out of the sky.

Now you’re probably thinking… not another “My plane fell out of the sky” story! Trust me when I say that what I’m describing is not an exagerration of the facts. We were flying at 35,000 feet. The pilot screamed “Holy Shit” over the intercom then the plane started to drop like it had a date with destiny.

What happened in that moment is one of the most surreal and memorable experiences of my entire life.

I experienced weightlessness.

Something about an immediate drop in altitude resulted in everyone in that plane experiencing a brief moment of zero gravity (5), then we began to plummit towards the earth. As a child I always wondered what it would be like to be an astronaut, I saw Space Camp… it looked pretty rad.

In that fleeting moment I thought of Ron Evans, an astronaut who grew up in my home town of Topeka, Kansas; graduated from a high school not far from mine; and orbitted the moon in a lunar module more than any other human being. He had done something with his life. We were both from the same town, we had both experienced weightlessness, but he had seen the Moon up close and personal. What a waste…what have I done with my life?

Everybody on the plane started to scream. The drinks that had recently been served by the flight attendants were thrown into the air as people reached out desperately to grab on to anything they could get their hands around. The woman next to me grabbed my arm so tightly that later I found bruises in the shape of her hands where they had clenched my fore arm.

This is where the whole “life flashing before my eyes” thing was supposed to happen, right? Wrong. I’ve heard all the things that supposedly go through your mind when you’re about to die but all I could think about was my wife and how much I had been looking forward to seeing her. I know… I’m a romantic. It’s pathetically charming. Deal with it.

The sounds are nearly impossible to describe but amidst the cacophony of screaming, bags falling out of over-head compartments, and drink glasses filled with a bevvy of beverages splashing on every surface in the plane you could also hear the sound of air screaming past the windows. It reminded me of an old World War II movie where dive bombers drop out of the sky towards their target before dropping their payload. (6) What I heard was an unmistakable horrible howl that immediately made me think that in this plane I was the payload… and I didn’t like where that line of thinking was taking me so I started praying.

It’s important to point out that I don’t pray. I’m not what you would call religious. I do my best to believe in God, and I even capitalize “God” out of respect for a supreme being that I choose to believe exists despite a lack of hard evidence.

“Dear God, please protect us on this flight to Washington, DC. Dear God, please protect us on this flight. Please protect us on this flight.” Over and over and over and over again until the plane—stopped—dropping.

“Attention passengers and flight crew. We passed through a pocket of dead air that caused the plane to experience a rapid loss of altitude. We are now at 17,000 feet and climbing back up to our standard cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Everything is under control and we appear to have passed out of the turbulence now. I apologize for any discomfort this may have caused. The flight crew will be serving complimentary beverages for the remainder of the flight. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy the remainder of our flight to DCA.” The intercom clicked off.  The whole plane was silent.

The woman released my arm. She was crying. I looked around at my fellow passengers and saw tear stained faces all around me. I also saw a horror show of air masks deployed and fallen from their compartments in front of every passenger. Passengers were covered in an assortment of fluids, drinks and other less appealing substances. We were all a mess…but we were alive.

Before I fully understood what was happening the woman next to me was hugging me. “My name is Eileen. I work for a magazine that does video game reviews. I just came from a meeting with the people at EA Sports. I was playing the new Madden like three hours ago. It was amazing. I didn’t even ask what you do. You look like you’re traveling for work. I’m so sorry about your suit! You’re covered in bloody mary. Let me see if I can help you with that… I don’t think this is coming out. (7) I’ll see if I can wave down the stewardess for some extra napkins.”

I learned her entire life story over the next two hours. Everyone around me was talking to each other for the remainder of the flight. It was the most alert flight I’ve ever been on with the most conversational passengers. We had survived something terrible together. It’s amazing how those harrowing experiences form instant connections between people.

We talked, we laughed, we cried. We all got complimentary beverages. (Some of us more than others.) All the while in the back of my head there was a single line that continued to run on repeat until the wheels touched down in DC, the pilot navigated the plane to the gate and the seat belt light went dark.

“Dear God, please protect us on this our flight to Washington, DC.”

I literally kissed the ground when I got off the plane and reached the terminal. I wasn’t the only one. We were all grateful to be on solid ground. There were a lot of us thanking God.

The Murtough Syndrome started immediately following this flight. I still find that now, years later, I say that little prayer right before take off and landing. Flying means putting your faith in other people. We put our lives in the hands of the men and woman who steer those crafts through the sky. I wouldn’t say I have deblitating anxiety about flying. I just flew home to Kansas for Thanksgiving… but I am accutely aware of what I have to do in order to be comfortable with flying. Ironically my iron-clad routines developed during my business travel years help overcome that discomfort but it doesn’t eliminate it entirely. That’s life… every day you have to chose to either avoid a problem or face it.

I’m flying to Chicago for a wedding this coming weekend and I’ll be back home again to visit family for the holidays. I’ve always figured that when it’s my time to go I won’t get to choose how it happens. So I just keep living my life.

~Zacory Boatright, Director of Business Development

*You may have noticed the numbered links in the above paragraphs. Click on them to read Zac’s Pro-Tips from a Seasoned Traveler.

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Filed under Communications and Connectivity, Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies