Even with C2E2 not properly starting until Friday, there’s still plenty to be done, mainly getting my stuff to the North Building of McCormick Place early so I don’t have to drive every day and can just take the Blue Line to the show.  While that was my goal today, even that turned out to be a trek, and I didn’t get out of the suburbs and on my way until after at least 2PM.  Last minute printing at my local Kinko’s took way longer and cost me more Bristol than it should have (who uses Letter size formatting for a Tabloid sized piece of paper I ask you), and scouring the K-Mart next door for AAA batteries became the search for the damn Holy Grail.  Figures I go to the one department store that doesn’t have two dozen end caps loaded with batteries.

Even finding the North Building on my iPhone’s GPS was more difficult than I care to admit.  I finally pulled up to the front door in a huff and asked one of the security guys if he knew where the Artist’s Alley people could park and set up.  Just my luck, turns out there was an unloading area specially designated for the exhibitors and artists at the street just parallel to Lake Shore Drive, but wasn’t Lake Shore Drive, and was at the McCormick Place location that WASN’T the one that the show was held at two years previous.

Everybody got that?  Yea, I didn’t get it either.  But C2E2 has expanded fantastically in just the three years so far it’s been going on, and the North Building is easily the bigger venue than the West Building.  But we’ll get to that.

Heading to the docking area was a surprisingly “hush hush” experience.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if at one point if I was made to do a secret handshake and say “Walt sent me” as a secret code.  I had to drive down the street just behind the North Building (not the front mind you), stop at a small vestibule where I gave my info, take a form to a guy who told me to drive up a ramp and show it to another guy, and then quickly unload my stuff then vacating just as fast so other artists and exhibitors can have their chance to do the same.

This is what we go through for free parking in Chicago, people.  And it’s worth every bit.

I had stuffed all of my books and prints into one giant green tote bin that would’ve given me a coronary if I had carried it myself.  Fortunately I managed to flag down a kind security guard named Jesus who was willing to help me.  We traded stories about people mispronouncing our first name’s while lugging my huge bin of crap over to Table B16.

This was the first time I had gotten a good glimpse of the North Building, and a good glimpse of the convention floor.  You want proof of C2E2‘s growth in just three years?  It’s right here people.  Literally a giant warehouse full of nerds selling their wares, with gaps so big between tables you can LITERALLY drive SUVs through them.

In 24 hours expect me to post photos of THIS EXACT AVENUE only then it'll be FILLED TO THE BRIM with Nerds!

We dropped my hug bin of crap at my table (where table-mates Pab and Bryan had already dropped theirs) and I bid Jesus farewell.  I immediately ran back to my car to get some more stuff before joking with two artists sitting there having a smoke about the reach C2E2 has already achieved.  I also mentioned how, as the local Chicagoan, this year I’d be showing around a motley crew of Minnesotans, New Jerseyians, and Canadians around my fair city.

And wouldn’t you know it?  Two of the Minnesotans literally pulled up right next to me.  Nathan Lueth and Nadja Baer of “Impure Blood“, former MCAD classmates and my table-mates at C2E2 2011, had just arrived to set up themselves.

Like Bruce Springsteen said: “I was walking in, he was walking out” (or something like to that end).  Massive bear hugs ensued and I immediately picked up one of their big bins of crap to help get it inside.  We traded stories about lax shipping dates with our shared book printer and went to retrieve our Artist Alley passes from reception.  Two blonde, tan, perfect specimens of humanity next to my pasty, barrel-chested ass.

One of these things is not like the others.

After dropping off their stuff, I suggested we celebrate by heading to Piece Pizzeria on North Ave.  I knew somehow or someway that before C2E2 weekend was over that I had to stop by Piece, and nothing or no one was going to stop me.  Stopping by there after a surprise reunion with two of my oldest friends before the show even properly started seemed like a perfect time.  However, McCormick Place is on Lake Shore Drive.  Piece is on North Ave in the Ukranian Village, about 10 miles away.  Only way to reach it efficiently is taking the Dan Ryan Expressway.  And this was around 5PM.

Needless to say Nathan and Nadja became very intimately acquainted with Chicago rush hour.  I think rocks and moss by the side of the road were moving faster than us.

Eighty-seven hours later we made it though.  I paid for the pie.  Nathan and Nadja paid for the micro brew.  Piece is unique in the city because they exclusively serve thin crust, not deep dish.  The fact that it’s fucking delicious thin crust with great home-brewed beer has gone a long way to help them overcome that handicap though.  Having one of Rick Nielsen’s five neck guitars on display helps too.  I had the Worryin’ Ale (bitter Rye beer).  Nathan had the Golden Arm (German-style smooth ale).  Nadja had the Dunkelweizen (dark German wheat beer).  We traded old stories about MCAD over a garlic and parmesan pie with sauteed mushrooms and banana peppers.

With an hour left on our parking meters (I told you, it’s a valuable commodity in Chicago), I made it a point to show them Quimby’s Books less than a block away.  Quimby’s is famous as one of the biggest indie comic and consignment book stores in the area, with indie books from all across the country.  I even dropped off a few copies of my “Oh Goodie!” books left over from the disaster that was the Alternative Press Expo.  I excitedly pointed them out to a stranger that my proper books were on a proper book shelf in a proper book store.  I’m sure I looked like a goon.

Posting pictures of my own book on a shelf. My ego knows no bounds.

Eight o’clock rolled around and Nathan and Nadja had to meet up with the people they were staying with.  As we parted, I realized I could just go down Ashland, get on the 290, and be on my way home.  But I decided not to.  I decided to take the longer route heading west on North Ave before getting on the 290.  I don’t know why, but I decided I had to confront an old memory.

I drove down the quiet streets near the closed down Kiddie Land amusement park before passing it by: the Follett text book warehouse in River Grove.  My uncle had gotten me a job there in order fulfillment shortly after my break-up and my return to Chicago.  I spent a year waking up at dawn and driving down this very street to punch in at 7AM, work and sweat all day, before making the same 45 minute drive back and doing it all over again the next day.

I didn’t want to admit it, but all those books at Quimby’s reminded me of my days at that warehouse.  I could even point out which titles and which editions were there, whether or not they had the original jackets, and what condition they were in.  For a soul-crushing job, they had a surprisingly good indie comic selection amongst copies of “The Bible for Teen Girls“.

Pushing a big metal cart and filling it with textbooks in a 90 degree warehouse for eight hours is much like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill.  I was still getting over my break-up and my lack of purpose and direction after college.  It was literally a place for me to sweat it all out.  I don’t know why I felt I needed to see it this night.  Maybe as a reminder of my life before I gave myself a purpose, instead of waiting for someone to hand it to me.  A time in my life when I was more unsure, didn’t know how to handle money, wasn’t as assertive, and when I cared too much about what others thought of me.

In short, a place where I had my growing pains.

…Need to get to bed.  Long day tomorrow.  Time to look forward, not backward.

Welcome to Oz, bitch!