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May 12th 2012
Published: May 12th 2012
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Blame Canada! For holding an awesome Star Trek convention and making me spend money on it.

Our brief stay in Canada was preceded by a 23 hour journey from Rio de Janeiro. All things considered, it wasn't so bad - flight to Panama, then a 7 hour wait (filled with electronics ogling), flight to Toronto and entertainment on arrival. A drunk guy two rows behind us decided he would like to have another drink as the plane was making its approach; the attendant declined. Now, I couldn't hear much of their exchange, but I did hear the word "cabron" from the passanger, which loosley translates into English as bastard. The attendant mentioned the police. A few minutes later, the drunk ambled down the aisle - as we were landing - presumably to apologise and avoid the waiting can of whoop-ass. Didn't work. We had to wait 30 minutes for the police to get to the gate, and people were shouting at the guy because he had caused the problem. Finally, we got out, and went to immigration. They were almost as entertaining, moody in the extreme. This may have been due to our flight originating in Panama, with connections from Rio and Bogota; suspicion of motives for entering are higher when your flight originates in a place rife with corruption, smuggling, drugs and counterfeit money. So, naturally, we were subjected to a verification of our customs declaration, a fancy term for we unpack your stuff and you repack it. The guys at this station were a little more chilled out though, and we had nothing to hide, so no problems. Of interest, though: the drunk guy was allowed into Canada, and was passing through the bag verification at the same time as us. So, get shitfaced and attract the attention of the airport police, and you match the entry time of decent, normal, mostly sober travellers. That said, I hold no grudges - I'd rather unpack my bag once in a while than have criminals flowing through borders.

After all of that, we decided to take a cab to the Bond Place hotel, our two nighter in Toronto. We pulled in and hit the hay around 3am. In the morning, we emerged at 09:30, then headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame. A friend and former work colleague, Áine Rooney, was in Toronto, just beginning her own adventure. We decided to meet up at the HHoF, and went for breakfast. I felt like a good old protein brekkie, so we found one of the all day breakfast places and had some eggs, in my case along with corned beef hash. Nice. It was fun catching up with someone from home, a mini-preview of getting back home. After breakfast and a walk, Áine (Rooney, not White) headed to CN tower. Both Áine (White) and I had been up the tower, so we elected to head down to the waterfront instead. It was a pleasant day, sunny but quite cool, and the crisp, clear air was a great change from Latin American cities. We visited a few malls, looking for potential gifts and souvenirs. My favourite purchase was the boardgame 'Settlers of Catan', which everyone seems to be talking about...wise investment, I suggest looking it up. We dropped our purchases off at the hotel, then headed back out. We noticed a crowd gathered in Dundas Square. Unlike in so many other places we had visited, it was not necessary to avoid a large gathering, so we went for a nosey. It turned out that the crowd was watching a street performer named 'Fire Guy', whom we had seen 2 years before in Dublin at the International Street Performer Championships. We watched him for a while, quite an impressive show of balance and juggling, then moved on. We finished off the evening by strolling over to Toronto's large and fantastic Chinatown for dinner.

It was another early start as we went back to Pearson airport for our much anticipated flight to Calgary. Pearson is ridiculously far from the city, about 40k, so the taxi is a bit option at 5am. Our Air Canada flight to Calgary was about 4 hours, and was quite comfortable. Our friends from Chilean and Argentine adventures, Stan and Patty, were waiting at the airport for us. Much like arriving in Perth to meet Bertie and Annette, it was a bit like a homecoming. It was their extremely kind offer of a place to stay in Calgary that made it possible for us to visit; made it possible for me to experience the nerdy joy of Calgary EXPO, wherein the cast of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' would be appearing together for the first time since the end of the series. On our first evening in Calgary, we ate with Stan and Patty and caught up on the news. The two early starts had drained us, so we dropped like stones in the early evening. The next morning was Friday 27th, the first day of the convention. It started in the late afternoon, so we had been hoping to see some of the city before I headed in. Calgary was extremely foggy, so that plan was scuppered. We relaxed in Stan and Patty's lovely home, and enjoyed home made oat cookies (the staple of the weekend - bloody delicious). Their area of the city, just outside the centre, is a beautiful, active and diverse place, with many excellent restaurants, wine shops, etc. The robins and squirrels in the gardens are a distraction from the fact that you are a 10 minutes rail ride from the centre of Calgary. In the afternoon, Stan and Patty dropped me off at the Stampede Centre, home to the convention, and in I went. I got oriented - the place is massive - and browsed the stalls of comics, collectibles, costumes and all sorts of nerdy ephemera, before attending the first panel of the weeked. Gates McFadden and Denise Crosby, Dr. Crusher and Tasha Y'ar in the Next Generation, spoke about their experiences on the show and what they are currently working on. It was a lot of fun, and kind of surreal to see them out of the context of the show. I moved on to see Dave Prowse, the Bristolian who occupied the suit of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies. He had some great stories to tell about working on those movies and others; he was a stuntman and body building champion, and he once trained Christopher Reeve for the Superman roll. After a little more browsing, and admiration of the extraordinary costumes on show, I retired for the evening.

On Saturday morning, the convention started earlier. Áine was attending this day, out of curiousity as much as anything else; this was also the big day, the day of the full cast photo with all 9 members of the Next Generation crew! An auspicious occasion indeed, and the crowds that turned up were something to be reckoned with. We began the day by watching a 30 minute costume competition; teams of guests had half an hour to assemble fantastical beasts from egg cartons, bits of carpet, etc. It was fun, and the teams got pretty creative. Next up was another panel, this time featuring Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner (Wesley, Geordie, Data). It was a lot of fun, though Brent Spiner is kind of manic when allowed to have emotions. After a half decent lunch at the convention (leaving was risky - the fire marshalls had shut the place down for overcrowding at one point, and people were trapped outside afterwards unable to get back in), we joined the queue for the Photo (capitalisation intended). People were queueing well ahead of time, and it was really hectic. When the queue began to flow, it moved pretty quickly. Unfortunately, this meant that, when I finally got up front, there was no time to greet or shake hands with the cast. I stood in behind them, only having the time to make a joke with Wil Wheaton; he is laughing in the photo, so I guess it was good. One girl in front of me got a slightly better picture of the whole cast laughing - Michael Dorn (Worf) had announced that he "needed a shit". Overall, I was really happy with the picture, and to have been so close to legends and personal icons.

For the last day of the convention, I thought I would mosey down for the morning panel session (Frakes, Sirtis and Dorn - Riker, Troi and Worf, a really funny panel), and quit around lunchtime. In the end, I stayed all day, and made the most of it too. It turned out that John DeLancie, Q from Star Trek, was a surprise guest, and would be signing autographs. So...I got one. And then Jonathan Frakes was so nearby that I got his, too. Frakes is a really nice guy, taking the time to chat and shake hands with me. After the autographs and lunch, I was going to go again, until I thought that it would be a little silly to be all the way over there and miss Patrick Stewart's panel discussion. I went to the location early, knowing that Sir Patrick's crowd would be epic, and caught the James Marsters panel too (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He was a funny guy, and even though I wasn't a massive fan of the series, it was enjoyable. Jean-Luc Picard himself was up next, and he didn't disappoint. I didn't stay until the end, as the crowd for the train would have been ridiculous, but I caught most of it. Sir Patrick Stewart is a wonderful story teller, and this is perhaps why he is so great an actor. I really love how, when people ask him why a classically trained Shakespearean actor would do sci-fi, he says that playing all those kings and princes was merely a preparation for the Captain's Chair on the Enterprise. That said, he also says that he considers himself a theatre actor, and that he took the job thinking that it would last perhaps 6 months. Obviously, the fans, the popularity, the writing (and perhaps the money) of the show changed his mind.

As I walked out, I reflected that this was just about the greatest way in which I might have finished off my trip. I realise that it is not everyones cup of tea; and even that some peoples cups of tea do not inspire such passion. Star Trek, particularly the Next Generation, is just my thing, ever since I first saw it at the age of 5 growing up in western Ireland with two channels and a lot of turf. It was a gateway to a universe of imagination, something unlike anything else in my world at that time and this, and though I am able to separate the cast from their characters, I am nonetheless endebted to them for bringing to life the crew of the ship on which I spent so many imiaginary hours. I only felt bad that some of the others at the convention were not more in my sphere; some of the autograph queues were short (or empty), and I would like to have been able to encourage these people. For example: Jake the Snake Roberts and Honky Tonk man, legends of World Wrestling Federation; the guy who did the voice of Lord Zedd on Power Rangers, now a very fragile old man; and others whom deserve attention but are very much faded stars. Among other, more popular people I saw were Amanda Tapping (Carter from Stargate SG-1) and Lance Henrikson (Aliens, Terminator, Millenium, too much stuff to list...).

On Sunday evening, we went out to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. It was really fantastic, a perfect way to finish off for the weekend. And it was the end, as after a few sips of rum and a short sleep, we were off to the airport in the early morning. From Calgary, we flew to Chicago (O'Hare is a bit of a mess, new but chaotic); after a 6 hour wait, we boarded our flight home to Ireland. I had not told anyone when I was coming back, and so I will publish this blog after I have seen family. It was actually quite surreal to step through gate M05 of terminal 5 in O'Hare, knowing the next time my very aged shoes touched ground it would be Irish. The otherworldliness continued after boarding: getting on a plane and hearing Irish accents making announcements, chattering amongst each was like rediscovering your own voice. I hope that is what it is like at home, that Ireland seems like another country. That said, the apprehension that I had been feeling was dissolved over the weekend in Calgary, so that I think I had really accepted the homeward leg as reality and imminent. Adjustment will be interesting, but I look forward to the challenge, and to just relaxing and sleeping long, long hours for a bit. I intend to post another blog entry about my return, so I will save summaries for then. Right now, I am going to try to get some sleep - 3 hours to landing in Dublin.

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