Welcome travel bugs! This month, we are delving into the city of Chattanooga, TN. Chattanooga has a young, fun loving and laid back atmosphere that’s as cool and refreshing as the Tennessee River itself. It’s great for every demographic like families, date nights, girls nights, adventurers, thrill seekers and treasure hunters. And, if you happen to be in town around the last weekend of February, it becomes an eleganza for Nerds and Geeks alike! And I mean that with every ounce of endearment I can muster.
Con Nooga is a convention for all things of the entertainment variety that you could have an obsession for. It is a place where you can meet with like-minded individuals who obsess and gush alongside you. This year was the 10th time the people of Con Nooga convened at the Chattanooga Convention Center and the Historic Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. Which, if I say so myself, is one of the coolest and most unique hotels ever because the hotel rooms are actually in the train cars themselves!
Jan With The Van
To make for easy transfer between the two places there is a free shuttle that arrives every 10 minutes or so. The best way to meet new people at Con Nooga is to stuff yourself into the shuttle and ride with Jan! Jan with the Van that is. Jan is the foul mouthed lovable shuttle driver who is dedicated to driving everyone to their destination safely and soberly. “This is my favorite job all year round,” said Jan, “I get to ride around with you crazy mother [expletive] and then I get stories to last me the rest of the year!” She’s a hoot that Jan, as well as a fantastic driver. It’s no wonder that the van fills fast with fans and performers alike. I had to sit on my mother or boyfriend’s lap while people loaded onto the shuttle, keeping helmets, cloaks and tails from being smothered. It was great! Con goers told stories of Conventions past and things that are planned for the future. The “Shade”, the jokes, the numb squished limbs; riding in the shuttle turned out to be an adventure all it’s own.
ONE OF US! ONE OF US!
Conventions really are a fascinating phenomenon of modern times. Massive gathering centers built with beautiful architecture can be found in most cities around the nation. They are obviously a universal human need, especially when it comes to gathering with a central theme or topic in mind. The central theme at “Con Nooga: The Convention for ALL FANDOMS” is all things nerdy/geeky: Anime, Super Heroes, TV Shows, Movies, Video Games, LARP (Live Action Role Play), Dungeons and Dragons, Board games, Warhammer, Cosplay, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Spongebob, Create Your Own Character, etc. You get the idea.
I am a self-proclaimed “Wannabe Nerd/Geek”. To turn a phrase, “Geeking ain’t easy”. According to my professional geek boyfriend, I am but a voyer in this world where every little detail counts. What I mean by that is if you want to be a full fledged geek, you have to be devoted. That means that you chose to make many financial and time related sacrifices in the name of your fandom. You have to keep up with the current events and keep up with the easter eggs. And if you want extra geek points, be prepared to debate on the hot button issues that are happening in your fandom’s universe. For example, I am pretty big into the Pokemon Go fandom craze, and there is big speculation that they are going to have an easter event where more candy will drop when an egg hatches as well as other egg related bonuses to crack out during the days of the event. Trainers, take advantage! How else would you get to level 40 by the end of this year?
To enter into this slightly competitive world of detail oriented wonder, all you need is a Con Nooga pass around your neck and a wallet full of cash. It is best to plan this adventure ahead of time. But, I’ll admit, stumbling into this convention without a clue and with very little preparation is pretty exciting too. Like, had I known that I would be placing my hands underneath several young men’s kilts that Friday night, I may not have had as much fun as I did. I do love surprises.
Nooga Nights & What’s Up My Kilt
There I was, a naive reporter trying to blend into the wallpaper of the Imperial Ballroom of the Historic Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. When what to my wondering eyes did appear, but 5 winsome young men donning kilts that contained mystery. Listed on the app during the first night of festivities was the game show for those 18 and older, “What’s under my kilt?” The game, dripping in innuendo, centers around the popular stereotype that a man who wears a kilt, may not have anything underneath it aside from what God gave him. But you can never know for sure unless you take a peak. Or in this case,cop a carefully calculated feel.
The first victim chosen from the audience was a petite and bonnie young lass who was in cosplay complete with a bubblegum pink wig, weapon strapped to her back and a fox tail. The girl was blindfolded and told to get down on her knees and then feel for the object hidden underneath the first man’s kilt. Alas, she found a banana! And on and on it went 4 more times, and she correctly guessed 3 objects all suggestive. Then before I knew it, my own mother, was volunteering ME to be the next victim. I was not as intoxicated as the first girl, so it took some convincing. But I, eventually, caved and sheepishly went up to the stage. I was blindfolded, and the Dust Bunny emcee took my hand to guide me to the first kilted man. When I was on my knees, I reached up, gingerly and feel the object hanging on a string a little to the left of the danger zone. I knew what it was after about 2 seconds. It was a TURKEY BASTER! Whew! That was easy!
The next object was a bicycle pump. At this point the adrenaline was getting to my head, yet I was feeling pretty confident having guessed 3 objects in a row. They thought they had me with the fourth object, but I was a kilt mystery object sluth at this point! I put my hands up the kilt and found a plastic figurine with pointy ears and many ridges that felt like it was supposed to imitate cloth. I had no doubt that these nerds had planted a toy Yoda from Star Wars under this kilt. I knew it with every fiber of my being. Dust Bunny lowered the microphone to me and I said. “Well I’m gonna guess that this is a toy Yoda!” The room erupted with cheers and shouts of disbelieve. My pride level at that point, on a scale of 1 - 10 was beyond 11.
The last object was a stuffed animal, but I loss some posterity because I didn’t identify it as a stuffed “bunny rabbit”. But they gave it to me anyways and I was on to the finals! I got to chose my kilted man this time, and they were supposed to have really challenging objects underneath their kilts now. So one last time, I dove under the kilt, and groped... a Nintendo Wii Controller! My prize was a bottle of off-brand apple flavored whiskey. All hail me; “Queen of the Kilts” for I alone have discovered their mysteries!
LOVE LOVE LOVE - Drag Shows
After leaving the Imperial Ballroom with slightly pinker cheeks, I check the convenient Con Nooga app on my phone to see what events were happening next. I saw Drag Show, and I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I grabbed my mom, and we headed for the main stage. There were 7 Queens and even one Drag King in all, some doing more than one performance. The “girls” strutted up and down the aisles and ate up the entire room. They dipped low and gyrated their hips in perfect synchronization to the beat of the music blasting from the box speakers around the stage. One drag queen, Piranha Rivers, was introduced as a virgin to performing for a crowd. She dressed in a female version of Cosplay that was an homage to Deadpool. I found it amusing that all the while, when Piranha was doing her stuff, Spider-Man was sitting in the crowd and he only had eyes for her. Another Queen, Nicole Delong was a bit more traditional with her drag eleganza. She made sure that you did miss what a great job her plastic surgeon did; bouncing her enormous shapely bosoms. After the show, the queens invited everyone to join them in one of the conference rooms for a Q&A.
The Q&A was eye opening for me as well as inspiring. To be a drag queen, not only does it take balls (pun intended) but it takes an overwhelming understanding of LOVE. Not just love for yourself and love for your craft, but love for every human that is around you. Even those that spread negativity, ignorance and hate. What I saw, and felt in that conference room was an overwhelming flow of love, positivity and acceptance from everyone about everyone. The message was, “Love yourself for who you are, and what you look like and who you are inside, and we will in turn love you right back.” I believe that if people were more accepting and understanding of others, no matter the differences, there would be so much less hate and violence in this world. But it all starts somewhere and it is our job to keep spreading the message.
Where the Wild Goodies Are
The following Saturday (February 25th) I returned to Chattanooga exhausted. I had made it home the night before, at 4 am. It wouldn’t have been so late returning, except my mom was yanking my arm like a kid, saying that she was starving. So we stopped at popular 24-Hour Con Nooga haunt - City Diner. They have every flavor of massive rotating cake and every kind of food you can imagine! I could go on about the rotating cake, and the awesomeness of this restaurant, or you can go visit it, and see for yourself. But I digress.
I returned during the daylight hours of Con Nooga, this time with my boyfriend in tow. I was wearing a Pikachu onesie, which was perfect because it was cold outside. I checked the app and perused what was happening in the different rooms of the Chattanooga Convention Center. They had panels going to discuss different fandoms in detail, like Dr. Who or how to build weapons for LARP. They had DIsney karaoke setup for the kids. More people were dressed up in cosplay and parading through the halls and giant convention rooms. Vendors were selling their wares: collectibles, handmade oddities, high-grade steel boned corsets and other steampunk related regalia, artwork and many more things that would be difficult to fit into a category. I ended up buying an “Inflatable Evil Unicorn Horn” for cats! I had seen this item before on Amazon and it is one of those items that have a million hilarious reviews about. As you can see, my cats “loved” it.
This room was also the room where the celebrities had booths set up for signings. Among the celebrities was Steve Cardenas, who played Rocky the Red Power Ranger of the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers series. They had replicas of the General Lee and the Batmobile. They even had a life-sized rendering of “Toothless” from the “How to Train Your Dragon” movie franchise.
In a separate large room, the had the board and tabletop games setup. When I say board games, I don’t mean Monopoly or Connect 4, I mean some of the most obscure and deeply nerdy setups I have ever laid eyes on. Let’s take the tabletop game “Warhammer” for example. My brain does not contain the wherewithal to understand complexity it takes to play this game. So I am not going to explain it. My fascination with this fandom however lies with how much people pay to play this game. It’s not like you buy a box and all the pieces are contained inside it, oh no, you have to buy each individual piece separately. From what I’ve heard, each piece can range from about $10 - $50...unpainted. And it’s a war game, so you need an army! They more pieces, they stronger your army, there is no limit! There are also professionally painted pieces available for sale if you are willing to shell out even more. Buyers beware. Yeesh.
After the Cosplay contest and the lightsaber contest and the evening was coming to a close. However, the final event for Saturday listed on my app was karaoke. Personally, karaoke is one of my reasons for living on this planet. Nothing is quite like the rush of pleasure you get from singing for an audience. So I knew I had to attend this event. The problem was, the app said it started at 10 on the Main Stage, and there we were, 5 minutes until 10 and no karaoke equipment was in sight. We waited, externally patient, my boyfriend and I for some sign that karaoke was going to happen. When 10 came and when, and it didn’t, we the karaoke people of Con Nooga, took matters into our own hands. A young woman, dressed as Christine from the Phantom of the Opera prompted everyone to join in for an acapella rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. We killed it. Then Dust Bunny, from the kilt game showed up with news of the karaoke lady. While we waited for her, Dust Bunny used YouTube and a projector to keep the party going, with mediocre musical accompaniment. We sang Weird Al’s Amish Paradise and then “Christine” sang “Think of Me” just like the chick from the movie. We laughed are danced and when the karaoke lady finally showed up we already had our songs listed on a slip of paper. Picture me, a Pikachu, singing “Toucha Toucha Touch Me” from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” It was too hot to handle, no seriously, I was burning up in that suit. But a bit of personal suffering was worth it for a weekend that was Top-Shelf. I plan on going back to the 11th Annual Con Nooga next year, and this time, I will be ready! Will you?