It’s that time of year. The time when summer dies and gamers live, flocking to Seattle in the tens of tens of thousands.
This was our second PAX; the first was so awesome that we knew before it had even finished that we’d want to do it all over again.
There’s been a lot said about the PAX experience. “Home” is how it’s mostly described, and it’s definitely a feeling that can’t be overstated. I’m generalizing pretty heavily when I say this, but geeks and nerds are a socially awkward lot by and large, and as a result I think it’s a subculture that thrives when in a “safe” place. When that safe place just happens to be with 100,000 or so people who feel the same way you do and love all the same shit you and get all the same jokes you do … well, it’s pretty bloody awesome.
Without a doubt, that’s an element of PAX that I love. Everybody there is a friend ready to be made. Everybody there is helpful and encouraging and giving you an enthusiastic high-five because something awesome just happened and, strangers or no, you shared it together.
PAX is also a great time for more personal reasons though. Time-wise, it sits perfectly, nestled a few days after our anniversary and a few days before my birthday. It’s proving to be a great touchstone for Mike and I. It’s a chance to get away from the mundanity of life and connect with the things we love most: each other, and being geeks.
This year, driven in no small part by the Harmonix pre-PAX party, we decided almost at the last minute to head to Seattle a day early. Of no surprise, we started out later than I wanted, not getting on the road until almost 11am, over two hours from when I wanted to actually get going. Pretty much SOP for us, which makes me wonder why I bother being so optimistic every single time, but there it is.
It wasn’t long after that we were crossing the border (due to Portland sitting about ten minutes from Washington and not any particular burst of punctuality) …
… and into Washington.
The drive to Seattle itself was really quite mundane, all things considered. Not a lot of ridiculous stuff on the road to catch our attention, and both Mike and I were feeling a little stressed and cranky (always the way you want to begin a trip). As a result the drive was a touch on the subdued side, broken up mostly by the occasional iPod sing-along.
Finding the first hotel wasn’t too terribly difficult, though finding parking was a touch more challenging.
I interrupt myself for a moment to focus on parking. HOLY GOD PARKING. I mean, I get it’s a business and all and businesses want to make money but these rates? Somewhere there’s a Parking Mogul sitting in an ivory tower on a golden toilet laughing as he lights cigars on a fistful of flaming five and ten dollar bills, pockets bulging with the pilfered change of the innocent. I like you a lot, Seattle, you’re a nice city and all, but you need to rise up and depose your parking overlords.
And that’s all I’m going to say about parking rates otherwise this will become a very different kind of post indeed.
Checking in was easy and the room more than sufficient for our one-night needs.
The only slight downside that I could see was the fact that it was a mile+ walk away from everywhere I wanted to go, and I knew I’d need to save my limited foot HPs for the con. As previously mentioned, I had already paid my parking tithe (fucking parking) and didn’t want to shift the delicate balance of power by moving the car. Plus there’s the whole part where I hate driving in cities. But then thanks to the power of iPhone (*heavenly choir*) I saw that public transport was an option.
I don’t do buses a whole lot. I’m pretty solidly a subway/light rail+feet girl when my car is removed from the equation. I’ve yet to have a bus experience that didn’t result in “this will be funny when we look back on it” situations, and not a one of those situations created a story funny enough to justify the extreme aggravation I had to go through to make them. I mention all this to highlight my trepidation in relying on buses.
But Seattle, I gotta hand it to your bus system. While nothing ever seemed to arrive exactly on scheduled time, I never waited overly long for the next one. The rides were short and pretty cheap, and your drivers were all friendly and helpful. I especially give a shout-out to the driver who gave us an all-night ticket for no extra charge when we were on our way to the Harmonix party, meaning that we could stay as late as we wanted and not worry about watching the clock. Taking the bus in Seattle was the only time in my history of big city busing that didn’t result in me wishing violent death upon someone (possibly myself). Sincere thanks for that.
As we’d arrived later than intended, we only had a few hours to enjoy the city and grab showers before the party, so I set my sights on Pike’s Place.
We hadn’t eaten all day, so hunger was also a motivator. We wandered for a little bit, me mostly marveling at the fruit (never in my life have I wanted a peach so badly), and finally settled on some little corner stall that had truly excellent fresh shrimp tempura. We ate shrimp and fries from our little paper sacks, watched people bustling all around us, and listened to a busker playing acoustic classic rock from “D’Yer Mak’r” to “Wild World”. It was one of those moments your brain takes a snap shot of and files away in your heart. In that moment, everything was exactly as it should be.
We wandered around a bit more, but by this point many booths were beginning to shut down. We were also pretty beat (amazing, as we hadn’t even really done much yet) and needed to get ready for the Rock Band thing if we were going to do it, so we boarded the bus and were quickly back at the hotel.
At this point, I was of two minds about going to the party. Like I mentioned, I was pretty wiped out, and I knew that there was only more tired to come as the weekend wound on. Still, after a bit of a rest and some channel surfing I was feel better and decided to go.
I’m really glad I did.
The party was held at Jillian’s which, surprise surprise, I’d never been to before. Mike was immediately in love though, since the whole thing could be fairly accurately described as an arcade with booze. As we approached we could see Rock Band being played through the gigantic front windows, but it turns out this was for a pre-pre-PAX-party. We had to wait about 15 minutes or so, but just queued up, checked out the other people flocking into the place, and chatted with some other people in line.
My Rifftrax shirt was deemed sufficiently geeky. WHEW.
Something that we heard a few times while waiting was that several people there were Seattle residents who, for one reason or another, were unable to attend PAX. They were really stoked for this party, because it meant they too could play the game and hang out with other RB fans. Thrasher was telling us later that this was something she was really hoping to achieve with the event, so kudos to HMX for thinking of the PAX-less folks.
One of the perks of arriving at the party early was swag. But this swag was in extremely limited quantities, making me think it was less about underpreparedness for the party and more about overpreparedness for the pre-party event we had to wait on. Whatever the reason, I was thrilled to receive it: a cloth Rock Band Network bag (which served as my swag bag throughout the con), assorted Yelp! items (again lending credence to the idea that these were leftovers) including a wristband, chapstick and bottle opener keychain, a Green Day CD and Green Day Rock Band for the 360. So yeah, that was awesome.
We quickly made our way into the party section, which was a big room lined with tvs and a HUGE monitor above a makeshift stage. A balcony with more seating overlooked the play area. Tables and chairs littered the room and we quickly grabbed one by the window with good view of the entire setup.
Said room filled very quickly; I’d say somewhere between 150 and 200 people attended. A line formed almost immediately to play the game. I sat out, myself. I’m not exactly at my most relaxed in large crowds and didn’t feel comfortable getting up in front of everyone to play.
Mike on the other hand has none of these concerns.
Because I am such a little Twitter whore, I spent a goodly chunk of my time with my phone in my hand (as those of you who follow me are no doubt only too aware). Thanks to this, however, I was able to catch a tweet by @HMXThrasher saying that the first person to find @thebeststeph would get some awesome Harmonix loot.
And that loot was indeed pretty bloody awesome.
The item on the left is a hand-made ‘zine by Thrasher and @HMXkatattack, giving a random glimpse into their random lives. They only made ten of them; we got #9. This was despite seeming to be the first one they gave out, but very fitting as 9 is my lucky number.
The jewel case on the left is a sealed copy of Harmonix’s very first game ever, The Axe. You too can play this bad boy on your Windows 95 PC! According to this section on Wikipedia, the game sold all of 300 copies. Mike’s pretty torn between keeping it mint and sealed or cracking it open and trying to get it to play. (Should he ever succumb and break the seal, I’ll be sure to let you all know.)
The party was a lot of fun and the staff at Jillian’s were even nice enough to stay open and let the party run over an hour late. Lots of songs were chosen during that time, no dupes, and Mike even gave keyboard a shot.
The song was “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police. John Drake assured Mike that keys were easy on this song and Mike could totally leap right in with expert pro keyboards.
The night finished off with the crowd calling for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” which I just happened to capture.
Epic singalong is epic.
It was the perfect end and the perfect beginning.