They say that Lego blog readers don’t care about convention coverage, they say that unless you were present to join in the action personally it is impossible to appreciate the experience fully. They even claim that people are resentful of parties they are not invited to. While I don’t necessarily debate this sage and long-standing wisdom, I’m throwing caution to the wind to provide you with the unvarnished truth of my time in the city of angels. It took me almost a full week to process everything that went down in order to compose my thoughts in a way that didn’t read like an embittered rant and even allowing for the interval I’m not sure I succeeded. But I am confident you’ll let me know in the comments. -Spoiler Alert!- Bricks LA 2018 was in turns awkward, uninspiring and mostly boring, which is the greatest sin any convention can commit.
I journeyed to America’s second largest city in search of big-city adventure and excitement but found only regional boilerplate and the only fun was the fun we brought with us or had nothing to do with the convention itself. For the T.L.D.R. crowd you can check out now, go back to your video game and jumbo-sized bowl of paste, but the rest of you should gird your loins and prepare for a deep dive into….mediocrity. We’ll get into it later but this was the convention that made me realize I’ve become terribly jaded, almost incapable of enjoying the conventional traditions of our people. So if you were there and you think I’m being terribly unfair, take solace in the fact that this review may have more to do with my growing disenchantment with the very concept of conventions than the event itself.
This was Bricks LA, 2018.
Bricks LA went down at the Pasadena Convention Center, which was nice enough, if a little on the generic side. It had an overwatch balcony position, which was cool, but unfortunately you couldn’t see our layout from that vantage point, as we were placed beneath an overhang, next to the vendors. After basking in the regal splendor of the UCCU Events Center in beautiful Orem Utah two years previously for the Brick Slopes convention (with it’s jumbo-tron, stadium seating and blissfully efficient air conditioning), anything less was bound to be a little disappointing. On the upside there were plenty of coffee shops, restaurants and bars within easy strolling distance. On the downside, parking was $15 bucks a day and there were not any other appealing options for the rental van. Then there was the matter of the Air Conditioning on Friday, or lack thereof. LA was a balmy 78 degrees that so-called winter’s day and the hall quickly became a wretched sweat-box that was a misery to endure. When we asked for relief from the powers at be, we were told that it was beyond their control and wouldn’t be turned on until the following day. It may seem like a small inconvenience, but it’s no fun trying to set up a display when you’re constantly mopping away the perspiration. Trying not to drip on the project or drop whatever you’re holding is not an ideal situation. Also it was day one, which meant repeatedly greeting fellow nerds as they trickled into the hall. Believe me, nobody wants to perform sweaty handshakes much less engage in hugging behavior. Even skinny-ass RauntRee was uncomfortable, his John Lennon glasses kept slipping down his hawk-like nose. When I first laid eyes on Rutherford my eye was inexorably drawn to the deep crescent-shaped sweat stains beneath his tits of easy living. It immediately put me in fear of the same condition, as we are both fat bastards, but fortunately I was well outfitted with a short sleeved plaid shirt that allowed for much more effective camouflage than his light gray T-shirt. Even still, it was plastered to me like a second skin. Fashion matters, people, has Rupaul taught you nothing? So the venue was fine, the AC was turned on for the public hours, and although it was nothing to write home about, the venue was the very definition of serviceable.
The facility also employed a comically zealous but polite security captain who was obviously enjoying his second day on the job. His big bust of the night? No, it wasn’t the frequent “safety meetings” some of us conducted in the parking garage stairwells. Although weed is legal in California I doubt very much it is permitted on the property. It wasn’t even the mystery thief/vandal who made off with a smallish TBB banner, it was something far more egregious. No, the good constable caught us red handed, a bunch of harmless middle-aged mankinder slowly sipping on Coronas next to the diorama during private hours, and after making us aware of the venues policy on the matter he followed us diligently until we poured them down the nearest drain. He wouldn’t even let us drink them in the afore-mentioned parking garage like gentlemen degenerates. Were we scoff-laws?…Sure, but I’ve never had that happen at any convention, even in Utah. I’ve seen people so drunk they passed out under the display tables where they slept the night away, I’ve seen people so drunk they can barely conduct themselves without vomiting or dry-humping the nearest staircase banister. The worst part about the interaction wasn’t deputy dawg (he was actually pretty friendly about the whole thing), but that we were probably dimed out by another AFOL. I have no iron clad proof of this, but I have strong suspicions.
For those of you who didn’t read Jake RF’s excellent article and resulting comments about our lexicon of stupid Lego acronyms, a KOC stands for Keith’s Own Creation. In this particular case the KOC in question is The Wedding Party (A.K.A. The Boondocks Wedding), a collaborative effort in conjunction with the good folks at WackLUG. The WIP process was exhaustively documented here on the blog, but ultimately it was only half of the picture and the diorama wasn’t completed until the first night of the convention.
Over the years I have developed a pattern with convention based models that begins with unbridled enthusiasm and a head-first dive into the initial process and culminates with what at best can be characterized as apathy and at worst outright hatred for the project. It almost doesn’t matter if the project turns out well or substandard in terms of artistic quality, the sheer effort of the endeavor from concept to execution coupled with the logistical process of the event itself leaves me sort of burned out and unequipped to properly enjoy and fairly evaluate the model. Even though the window of involvement this time around was much shorter than usual at just 6 weeks, I am still very grateful to the WackLuggers for stepping up enthusiastically and skillfully to populate the layout with minifigs and machines. Jeff Cross was also indispensable in his role as Space Coordinator, it never hurts to have a staffer on the team and anything we needed from power source to parts was readily available. Once we set up the table and brought in the unpopulated slab of plastic that served as the base, I was able to step back and breathe easy while the cronies did all the important last-minute work for the project to be a success. Knowing this pattern of mine, it was more or less my plan from the beginning to let them take over and ultimately it was the most collaborative aspect of the endeavor and a good time was had by all, which is the most important thing. At the end of the day we built ourselves a great clubhouse to serve as a both a rallying point and safe harbor in the roiling sea of humanity.
You may notice a couple of reaction shots from some of the rare black spectators in attendance, it was my informal goal to see if they noticed the preponderance of black minifigs on the diorama and surreptitiously record their reactions. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive and it was good to see that at least a few people picked up on the Afrofuturism going on in the diorama. Unfortunately the theme was mostly lost on whitey, to include our fellow builders, one of whom tried to convince me that the minifigs were Nigerians despite the prominence of the Ghanian flag and my assurances that they were not from Nigeria. One notable AFOL wondered aloud in a decidedly clueless fashion why there were black people with spaceships, as if it was a bizarre notion. When I replied “Yes Abner, black folks are allowed to participate in science fiction and even go to space in real life“, he simply shrugged dismissively and moved on like it was some kind of inside joke he couldn’t grasp. And he probably wonders why the conventions are so lacking in diversity. One of my few regrets from the weekend was not engaging more with the public to plumb the depths of this issue, but at the time it seemed like a terrible option. I just can’t muster the enthusiasm to deal with the public anymore, I consider the vast majority to be an inconvenient distraction that forces us all into free labor for the convention, providing both security and customer service, all while we pay good money to be there. Told you I was a jaded son-of-a-bitch.
Generally speaking I’m stoked with the final results, the big old KOC looked great! The public certainly seemed to enjoy it and I can say without any doubt whatsoever that it was the most creatively original model in the ‘Space’ section and arguably in the entire convention where every other model seemed to be Star Wars themed or based on a preexisting building or intellectual property. The ships and vehicles were top drawer and the minifig-action certainly drew people in, often for a second and third look. If pressed I would say that Zach’s ship with it’s vibrant engine effects and the cave o’ doom were standouts, drawing the most comments from the spectators. I’ll definitely be adding that swirling Halloween light to my bag o’ tricks going forward, even on the brightly lit convention floor it drew in the rubes.
Without the benefit of a MOC card (which I purposefully disposed of), most people still seemed to grasp the basic concept that they were looking at a wedding playing out on a far-flung world, so mission accomplished! Why did I dispose of the MOC card and a replacement MOC card, you ask? First of all, I hate them conceptually and find them especially intrusive where dioramas are concerned. They are fine for stand-alone models but even when they are tucked under the base plates and hang down, I find them to be ugly. The second reason was that the award voting was based on a number displayed on the MOC cards and I wanted to take the diorama out of consideration for a trophy and prize. In hindsight that was probably a crappy thing to do to my co-conspirators, although I doubt they care all that much, but I’ve become so jaded with the focus, process and management of awards that I’d frankly prefer to see them done away with. For me they are a distraction and ultimately not worth my time and consideration. If we’re going to do awards as a group I’d much rather see them doled out exclusively to newcomers with an emphasis on younger builders who might benefit from the adulation and encouragement rather than a jaded burn-out like myself and the cronies. For those of you keeping score at home, we apparently (I say apparently because as usual the numbers were not made public) the diorama came in second place for ‘Public’s Choice’, losing out to the much larger and whiter battle of Hoth. Star Wars trumps everything, it’s gross but true. We were, however, awarded the highly questionable “There is no I in team” award, that I’m pretty sure was made up on the spot by the convention coordinators to make sure our contingent didn’t feel left out at the closing ceremony. I can’t say for sure but I doubt that specific award was handed out last year and I doubt it will be handed out next year. I guess they assumed I would pitch a fit if I didn’t get something. Included with the trophy was a cool Nexo Knights set that I greedily kept for myself along with some collectible minifigs that I distributed to the cronies for services rendered. To recap, for a 6 week diorama I think we kicked ass and certainly had one of the more interesting models in the show. Thank you WackLUG! you guys made it all come together…but more about the homies next.
Early in the mist-shrouded days of my convention going career, the great Ley Ward explained patiently to me that these communal gatherings were more about the people than the models or even the event itself. At the time I was unprepared to receive this axiomatic pearl, I was in it for the building action, the glory, the adulation of my peers and of course the awards. Now I’ve come full circle and I find the people are just about the only thing that matters. The one thing that made this surprisingly looooooong weekend bearable were the good folks of WackLUG: Jeff Cross, Andrew Lee, Zach Clapsadle, Brendan Mauro and his wife Jenna. Without the fellowship of the homies I might very well have left early and spent the remainder of the weekend in Vegas with rountRee and Rutherford. I immediately felt at ease and at home, which was all the more appreciated and important when compared with the reaction from the other locals which ranged from quiet indifference to sort of passive-aggressive hostility. When I tell you we had convention within a convention it is no exaggeration, these guys were the event for me and I’m eternally grateful for all the hospitality on the Thailand express.
As you can see below, in addition to the Wedding Party I also brought an eight year old micro-scale model built by Ryan Wood and others called The oMICROn Weekend, a pint-sized knockoff of the original, along with Mike’s flying ambulance and a greenhouse module from Ryan Rubino’s wheel-shaped facility. While I brought the model in a box, when push came to shove I couldn’t summon the interest or energy to assemble the thing on site and I was content to leave it literally under the table, to await the van ride home. The cronies had other plans however, and during the mixer everyone threw in to piece it back together for the final public day. The didn’t have to take that extra step, but that’s how WackLUG rolls, and again I find myself in their debt because despite it’s age it managed to draw quite a bit of attention from the public. The act even served the convention at large because open table space wasn’t exactly a premium, especially in the sci-fi section of the hall.
Long time crony Andrew Lee had an epic surprise in store for the crew, it was in fact, without a doubt the best SWAG I’ve ever received at a convention. He came bearing gifts of great cultural and nostalgic value, a box full of starfighters built by the great Jon Palmer that somehow survived long after his exit from the hobby. Even though they may seem dated by today’s lofty standards I can assure you the fighters were hugely popular at the time of posting; artifacts from one of the most influential builders of the early days of the hobby. Andrew doled them out with his trademark grin while we were relaxing in the inflatable chairs you see in the collage above, deep inside the panic room where builders seek refuge from the masses during public hours. It was a fine plan and the furniture was surprisingly comfortable but they had one fatal flaw for portly gents like myself. It was impossible to extricate oneself from without considerable effort and embarrassment. I had to sort of roll to the side and fight my way out of there, the chair sticking to my sweaty back like a turtle shell. It was totally worth it though, the fighter instantly became one of my most treasured Lego related objet d’arts, and my attempt to simply stand up provided some comic relief. Cheers Chrome!
I’d also like to give a special shout out to Zach who selflessly served as our steadfast pitchman for the diorama. He stood tall on the firing line, absorbing and enduring all the familiar bullets from the public with a smile: Did you build this? How many bricks? How long did it take? What is it? This may seem like a small detail if you’ve never been to a convention but the job can be exhausting when stretched over 16 hours and his willingness to perform the task was HUGE for the rest of us. At least he was rewarded by getting to hear the adulation for his engine effects, that shit was stunning in person. I’ll spare him the story about dramatic entrances and EMT’s, I wouldn’t want a shirtless photo of me covered in ECG leads online and some stories are better hinted at than spelled out in grisly detail. I still included a picture of all the leads stuck to a plastic box for some modicum of proof.
The cronies were also responsible for the best part of the weekend, which unfortunately had nothing to do with the convention itself. On Sunday when everything was back in the van and a surprisingly small number of goodbyes were said, roontRee and I were invited over to Jeff’s wondrous Legoratory for one last hangout before the curtain came down. After eating restaurant food for three days, his wife’s Julie’s curry chicken was just what the doctor ordered. Although Jeff’s Legoratory is impressive and one of the best I’ve seen, Lego quickly receded to the background in favor of his exhaustive collection of toys from the ’70s and ’80s. The man possess just about every significant toy from my childhood, no matter how obscure. Hey Jeff, do you have a Dinky Toys Enterprise? Bam, I was holding it! Hey Jeff, do you remember Starbird? Bam I was swooshing it around like an idiot, delighted that the sound still worked! I didn’t expect to encounter a time machine during my time at Bricks LA, but thanks to Jeff, that’s exactly what I got. So cheers to Mr. and Mrs. Cross for saving the weekend, you guys are always welcome in Vegas.
I’m going to make this subsection as fast and dirty as possible for two reasons: 1. Because you’re a slut and that’s the way you like it…and 2. I’m approaching Rutherfordian levels of gasbagging with this article and I prefer to let the numbers do the talking. Hey! At least I didn’t spend a page defining basic terms like convention, mediocrity and community.
All dollar amounts have been rounded up for your convenience. I will say that I came in just slightly under budget with some big help from roontrEe, but it still stings a little because the convention was a drag and I could have spent the cheese on something a hell of a lot more fun. Obviously it is possible to have a convention experience for a fraction of the final number you see below, but I thought you might be curious how much it costs to mount an expedition of this kind.
Parts ordered for the diorama: $34
Combustible party favors for the safety meetings: $50
Manifesto SWAG: $111
10ft rental van with insurance: $284
Gas for the rental van: $126
Parking for the rental van: $45
Food and off-site alcohol: $173
On-site alcohol: $120
Lodgings: (free, thanks roontRee!)
Even though I didn’t have the greatest time, it wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the Bricks LA staff. Largely unsung volunteers like Jeff Cross, John Langrish, Josh Gay, Chris Wight, Brandon Griffith and others were both friendly and helpful throughout the weekend, representing the event in the best possible way. It was especially great to see Langrish again, I met him when he was barely driving age almost a decade ago and he never fails to make me smile, he’s got an infectious almost little-boy enthusiasm that draws people to him. I have mixed feelings about the performance from Show Coordinator Ayleen Dority, but it’s a pretty tough gig to please everyone and at the end of the day she did a fine job. On the plus side, she was very available, approachable and friendly. I don’t think I’ve ever had that much contact with the chief of operations at any convention, she checked in with our group in some way shape or form on each of the days. Ayleen also did something I’ve never seen before: during the closing ceremonies she told the crowd that she’d be happy to sit down with anyone and discuss the process of starting and running their own convention, offering to reveal her tips and tricks of the trade. I can’t emphasize enough how unusual and refreshing it was to hear a Con organizer offer such a thing. Although I only entertain fleetingly vague pipe-dreams of attempting a Las Vegas invitational, it’s cool to know there is someone out there who is willing to pull back the plastic curtain to reveal how the sausage is made.
Event Coordinators seem to reflect the character of the host city. For the super-massive unwieldy carnival of BrickWorld Chicago, you need a belligerent walrus of a man to keep everyone and everything line. Seattle seems to flourish under a fussy, hyper educated engineer type who stresses over everything, even when it’s running flawlessly. The tag-team in Orem Utah are unfailingly polite and reserved, and their event comes off like a big church picnic. So maybe it’s only natural that Los Angeles would be lead by a laid-back, laissez-faire, tatted-up, purple haired lady who has a smile for everyone. I also give her props for a brisk opening ceremony. I don’t mind if the closing remarks go long, but on that first day most folks just wants to set up and party. I’ll also give her big credit for keeping the ticket price low for the public, these things are supposed to be family events and it was pretty good value for money from that perspective, even if it seemed a little light on actual models.
After all that praise you’re probably wondering why I have mixed feelings about Dority. There is a two-part answer, and the first part has to do with her ability or lack there of to take feedback. I kept hearing from various staffers and from Ayleen herself that she wanted constructive criticism about the event. But on two separate occasions when I tried to give that feedback I was met with nothing but excuses and a consistent disavowing of responsibility. I got the feeling that she really wasn’t interested in listening to what I had to say and that was a drag, it came off as disingenuous especially when delivered with a smile. I wanted to talk about the $10 bottles of Coors product that killed the mixer, the lack of air conditioning and the lack of models given the size of the talent pool in LUGoLA, but she was only interested in telling me how none of that was her fault. There was no real discussion, or if there was it was concerning the praise only. Ayleen also made a point of repeatedly telling me it was okay if I “lit her up” on the blog, even though she also told me she that she’d never read the blog. The whole encounter was awkward, which as you’ll no doubt notice was a defining quality of the weekend. For the second part of the answer you’ll have to wait for the section on Rutherford, consider it a spoiler.
Your old uncle rahwntrEe had what might charitably be called an uneven or suboptimal convention experience. The mere fact that he eschewed the opportunity to compose his own personal narrative concerning the weekend’s antics should speak volumes to every constant reader that frequents the Manifesto comment section. Never one to shy away from an honest opinion or long-form reply, it surprised even yours truly that he had no interest whatsoever in committing his obscene and oddball thoughts to digital paper. When I asked him on two separate occasions to jot down his thoughts, I believe his exact words (word) on the topic was “Nope“. A price must be paid for such a steadfast refusal to provide free content to this blog of blogs, and that price will be suffering through my interpretation and summation of his Bricks LA experience. He’s also deserving of a little payback for the Irish Goodbye, but we’ll get into that in due time.
On the plus side, our good forge-master from Prescott Arizona managed to take home the highly coveted “1st Place Space/Mecha” hardware for excellent in his chosen genre. Designed by Space Theme Coordinator Jeff Cross (Octopunk), this is without a doubt one of the coolest trophies I’ve ever laid eyes on. I tried to trade roontRee for my own pleasant enough but terminally generic trophy, but he was having none of it and I can’t say I blame him much. I’m probably in the minority when it comes to the topic but I much prefer original, creative trophies like this one that are made by the home-team of local builders. I’ve won my fair share of awards over the years and the only ones I care about remotely or bother to display on occasion are these one-off micro builds. To turn the award into a MOC is a great complement the person on the receiving end, it implies a certain level of care, respect and bonhomie. To say that The Bushmaster was well received by builders and public day rubes alike would be an understatement. If you consult the photo-montage below, you’ll see one of Bushmaster’s oldest and biggest LA fans, gesticulating in appreciation of the worthy SHIP. Although the video of this interaction was somehow lost in transit, I can report verbatim what the elder statesman in the tan sport coat had to say to his adult son standing next to him: “It takes a certain kind of American to build a rocket ship like this, David, it takes a man with a set of balls…brasssssss balls.” He said it low and slow, like he really meant it, like the boss in Resevoir Dogs.
I couldn’t agree more with the accolades, throughout the weekend I would find myself sitting next to Bushmaster, studiously attempting in vain to shelter myself from the public and I would inevitably notice some new and enticing detail, it’s the rare model that inspires rewards repeat viewings and it would have been just as successful at a big show. Genre aside, it was simply one of the best things at the convention.
RoontRee was also celebrated far and wide for his inspired creation of the single greatest brick-badge in the short history of Lego conventions. No, I’m not talking about the “Malort, I’ll have another” brick, although that was glorious in its own way and will no doubt entertain the hot weather crowd at Chicago’s Brickworld…no, I’m speaking of course of the timeless “Shut up, Rutherford” brick. I’m still kicking myself for not thinking of it first, I could have been rocking that badge for the last ten years of Lego gatherings, spreading the gospel to builders far and wide. The message is timeless and could easily be the official subtitle of this august blog. Come hell or high water I will own such a brick of my very own, if not dozens that I can pass out to everyone I know.
Now it’s time for the less than great aspects of the Bricks LA experience as seen remotely through the eyes of our beloved Lego Jesus, or as I like to think of him, Arizona’s answer to Geddy Lee. Right out of the gate, my typically reliable LA crony Andrew Lee set a bad tone for the weekend where rountRee was concerned. When we first sauntered into the hall I sought out Andrew and after giving him a warm embrace I said something like “Hey man, You remember rountRee…“. At this point Andrew adopted a strangely deadpan expression and said something akin to “Nah dude, we’ve never met”. They had, in fact met on multiple occasions so the whole thing was awkward (one of the convention’s themes) and although rountRee downplayed it’s impact, it was kind of a bummer and just struck the wrong chord. Relations definitely improved as the weekend wore on but I think it caused our old uncle roontreE to have some Vietnam-style flashbacks to his previous socially unfortunate interactions with another LUG at another convention. I’ll round out the interpretive shit talking at my friend’s expense here, with a final anecdote concerning the $10 beer fueled mixer event on the second night. It’s about 11pm and I”m $80 bucks into my bar-tab, mostly spent on shitty beer and watered down vodka tonics. I had to suspend any Lego purchases from the vendors because I refuse to go to a mixer and not buy drinks for the cronies. So I know the bar is closing in an hour…which is another sign of how great this mixer was…and I performed a mental tally of who I still needed to hook up with a $10 Coors product and I realized RoOntree was the last homie on the list. I looked around, I asked around, but no ‘Tree could be found…he’d simply vanished without so much as a word or gesture to anyone. To my shock and awe, the greatest drinker I’ve ever encountered in the AFOL world had abandoned ship…given me the Irish Goodbye., The Irish Goodbye! To me! Unacceptable!
Rutherford and left the mixer penniless and over a few glasses of really good $7 beer at a nearby restaurant purchased on credit, we porked out on greazy pizza and speculated on our friend’s fate. Was he abducted by bikers who confused him with an undercover prospect named “Cutty” ? Had he relapsed into black tar heroin abuse, headed south on Interstate 15 with a trunk full of dead bodies? Had he finally completed a state of transcendence and became one with the universe? Had he decided to defect to the adjacent yoga-pants / man-bun convention? Our theories were numerous and turned darker as the night wore on, but it turns out he went outside to talk to the wife and decided to go to sleep early. I told you the mixer sucked…but did I mention the $10 Coors products?
Long story short, I think my favorite Art School Girlfriend would rank this convention at the bottom of his multi-city resume, despite his well-earned victory for Bushmaster and a few fun moments here and there. It was weird, at times awkward (there it is again!) but mostly boring. Irish Goodbye notwithstanding, the man’s greatest value to me personally was in the logistics. The list of Lego nerds I’d want to be stuck in a van with, blasting through the Mojave desert for 8 hours without a radio is pretty short. Without his skillful aid as a spotter, I would have taken out signage and at least one water pipe in the parking garage alone. Generous to a fault, Matt also sported the hotel accommodations, which allowed me to spend more vigorously on the rental truck, gas, SWAG and associated whatnot. Bullshitting with Matt made the trip seem more like 2 hours and I’m hard pressed to think of a dude who has come to be a better friend in such a relatively short period of time. He was also cool and engaging with my kids and put together last-minute minifigs with my 6-year-old for hours prior to departure. Even if the con wasn’t the greatest, it was a blast to hang out with Matt.
Simply put, the Manifesto’s resident Lt. Colonel was on fire! Like strapped to a burning wheelchair on fire! This scene from the 1986 film Manhunter accurately depicts what it was like for the bored, distracted people in the audience once Mike grabbed the mic. They simply were not prepared for the impact of his arrival. Just substitute a smart phone for the newspaper in the clip below and you get a great idea of what it was like for the average spectator to be in the conference room when our man from Kansas hit the stage.
In a decade of conventioneering with our beloved officer and gentleman, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him leave such a mark on a Lego nerd gathering. Usually he toils unrecognized in the shadow of my pseudo-celebrity, more often than not cast in the role of comic relief sidekick, or derivative crony, but not this time constant reader. I might as well not have been in the same building this time, it was the Rutherford show and it was glorious to watch. Mike has presented various Lego topics (usually collaboration) in six different cities, to varying degrees of success and occasional infamy, but this time I’m happy to report that he delivered the goods and actually delighted the capacity audience. As much as it pains me to concede…Mike’s got a gift for public speaking that he has honed with repeated use in a professional capacity and these were his best performances to date. I’ve sat through dozens of panels, keynotes and presentations over the years but none were as entertaining as the two he delivered at Bricks LA.
On both occasions the room was full and unlike past speeches, nobody bailed early except for some public-day rubes who were obviously in over their heads and were probably just looking for a place to escape the thronging masses for a few minutes of rest and a Go-Gurt. The rarest of all things happened when people actually lined up to speak to him afterwards, showering him with questions, observations and pure adulation. An art professor congratulated Mike on his in-depth dive into the cultural importance of critique and a fan/collector of oddities shared a rare, pristine example of a wooden Lego firearm after his presentation on Lego and violence. I didn’t really appreciate the gun at the time, I thought it was some weird Nazi thing with a star of David on the stock and I wandered off for a safety meeting. Even the convention coordinator, Ayleen Dority was so taken with Mike’s public speaking skills that she tried to convince him on multiple occasions (in front of many fellow Lego nerds) to be the key-note speaker for next year’s event. Unfortunately it turned out to be a load of disingenuous bullshit, as she later claimed to be joking when pressed on the topic. The cronies and I wasted an entire day trying to convince Rutherford that it was his best and perhaps only shot at delivering a keynote anywhere in his pathetic life and filled his head with visions of backing mariachi bands, sight gags, fog machines and glory, just to have it ripped away with a giggle and a dismissive wave of the hand. None of that disappointment can distract from the fact that Rutherford finally had his day, I’ve rarely seen such quality engagement from the audience and so many genuine laughs. If you ever get a chance to see him in action, you should take the time because he’s finally really good at it.
Still not convinced that Rutherford delivered the goods? I was approached after his second speech by Josh Gay, an affable builder from Portland who we’d met a few years before in Utah. Josh Gay and his confederates were so taken with the presentation and it’s comedic elements that they were determined to create their very own keepsake of the event. He’d noticed that I was video taping the speech and wanted me to pull a specific quote to make sure they heard it right. A few hours later Josh and MIke were walking around with an engraved brick badge that read “Fairylicious”. In the coming days I will post the video for context but the point is that I’ve never seen nor heard of a presentation that inspired such an act. Rutherford had his 15 minutes of fame, and he loved every second of it.
While he may have triumphed in the public speaking arena, the same cannot be said where his actual Lego related contributions were concerned. After much pre-convention cajoling I convinced Mike to bring his SHIPtember offering from last year, the wonderfully tubular Demeter and I was looking forward to seeing it in person alongside my own entry and RoontRee’s. I never got the chance though because the model didn’t even last 15 minutes past the point of assembly. I wasn’t there to bear witness so I don’t know if it was the result of the copious quantities of sweat rolling off his fevered brow, or an ill-timed table bump, or the very hand of God himself, but that baby rolled right off the table and suffered serious damage. Instead of doing what most builders would…take a deep breath, curse and begin repairs…Mike surrendered, just like France to the Nazis! Yes, he surrendered to the tides of misfortune and quietly stuffed the orange and white debris back into his ridiculous camouflaged suitcase, muttering to himself like Popeye all the while. To make matters worse he was prickly and dismissive when the cronies and I took him to task, refusing all offers of assistance and fell back on some paper-thin nonsense about needing time to prepare for his speeches. His argument all boiled down to this: “But it’s too hard and I don’t want to“. Believe me, there was nothing else going on at that boring-ass convention, no tantalizing distractions or key events that he was primed to miss out on. Rutherford, of all people, took the path of least resistance and surrendered without a fight to his very avoidable fate. The cronies and I were looking forward to admiring his ship and he let us down. Hell, he let the entire “Space” section down because there frankly wasn’t a lot going on and Demeter would have had one of the more interesting contributions. In the end, the only thing Mike had to display was a 10-year-old flying ambulance, a magazine with said flying ambulance featured on the cover and a tiny horse-drawn cart that was swallowed up by the wedding diorama.
Speaking of which, Mike also let down the cronies and I by refusing to serve as the carnival barker for the diorama. He has engaged in the behavior famously in conventions past, garnering well deserved high marks from anyone who saw him in action. Again, Rutherford had some unexpectedly tired and wimpy rhetoric about being uninvested in the layout but that’s all on him. He was invited from the very beginning of the process and chose not to be a part of it in a meaningful way. And, his level of investment has nothing to do with his skill at the task or ability to perform. In Utah the man was only nominally involved in our Bucharest diorama and still managed to delight the public day crowd with humor and friendly banter. Fortunately for us, Zach was able to take up the slack and engage with the paying customers for eight hours a day as our point man. Instead of stepping up, Rutherford preferred to engage in behavior that he typically lambastes others for: he sat behind the model with his back turned to the audience. In essence, he surrendered…again…in the face of a modest challenge.
There were other wacky hijinks where Rutherford was concerned, but they mostly fell into the “you had to be there” category and I won’t go into them beyond a basic description. I’ll be happy to fill in the gaps in the comment section in the unlikely event that you guys find it interesting. Topics include a delightfully unconventional harem of female admirers including a crazy cat lady, a biggun’ and….I can’t describe the third one without being hurtful but suffice it to say that she was a real charmer. I can’t be a hater though, it was more female attention than I’ve ever seen him garner (including high school) and it was certainly larger than my own harem, which contained only roontRee. Then there was the nudity. Rutherford has clearly been too long in the company of men and thought it would be cool to parade around the hotel sans-clothing whenever possible. So I opted for what seemed like the only retaliatory measure at my disposal, the cell phone camera. Mike is operating under the belief that deleted all the incriminating photos but I think you know better constant reader. I really had him worried when I mentioned casually over lunch that I forgot about the Flickr auto-uploading feature, and that his junk was literally on the internet…albeit set to private. Mike’s brother also unexpectedly showed up for the mixer, and elevated the event from depressing to merely boring.
So it was great to see my old friend again, it seems like these days we only seem to meet in random cities surrounded by Lego nerds, but I’ll take what I can get. What I can say without a doubt is that Rutherford enjoyed the convention much more than either roontRee or I did, and made a much bigger impact on the attendees. I think his only regret was that he had to leave before the closing ceremonies on Sunday, although he didn’t miss much.
I approach conventions with the Pokemon slogan in mind “Gotta catch em’ all!”. Even if it’s an awkward or bad encounter I live for adding another card to my ever-growing deck of AFOLs I’ve met in person. I’ve never come away from a convention with fewer new cards than LA and there was a weird absence of late teen/early twenties aged builders that doesn’t speak well for the future of the local scene. Sure, I picked up some duplicates and special editions of favorite characters but when it came to new magical creatures it was slim pickin’s for Goldman. I did manage to capture Miro Dudas, Bill Volbrecht and a JPL engineer named Stephen Pakbaz, who designed the Mars Rover set from a few years ago. That particular encounter definitely fell into the awkward category (there it is again!), he’s a hell of a builder but I find him to be extremely off-putting socially. He’s in a sub-group of our tribe who likes to walk around scowling at people and would no doubt have never troubled himself to greet any member of our foreign contingent if we hadn’t made a point to seek him out. His outstanding NASA models were displayed right next to ours but it probably never crossed his mind to actually say hello to the newcomers. This video, while horrible in quality, somehow perfectly encapsulates an encounter with the dude. You can briefly see him demonstrating a beautiful mechanism, a genius technique that is deserving of heartfelt accolades, but the video (much like the encounter) ends as abruptly and with about as much finesse as the AFOL in question. Rutherford was right that the technique would better for a sea creature where the slowness of the hypnotic movement would look more natural.
It’s probably shitty of me to single him out because A: he’s a victim of the affliction commonly referred to as “resting bitch face” and his antisocial behavior was hardly unique amongst the attendees of Bricks LA, they simply were not a friendly bunch. I know all about laid back, I spent my formative years in So-Cal and I’ve been consistently labeled as such, but this was more akin to self-absorbed indifference, and there was a lot of that going around the convention hall. Every encounter I had to initiate myself, and that gets old pretty quick. I’ve never walked away from an event without making a new friend, or giving out all my SWAG but I guess there is a first time for everything.
More alarmingly, people I once considered buddies seemed to have no use for me, like Bruce Lowell who was a key figure in the early days of the hobby for me, he’s been to my house, we’ve built and travelled together but if I hadn’t sought him out to say hello and goodbye, I doubt he would have said a word to me and that was a huge downer. I had a couple of encounters that were similar enough in tone that it caused me to tighten up over the course of the weekend instead of relax. Then there was Abner…dear omnipresent Abner…the walking encyclopedia of the hobby who never builds and rarely shares his vast knowledge. I thought we were all good (except for his strange attitude about black people in space), until our final conversation. Midway through the interaction something clicked and I realized we’d had that exact same exchange each of the last four or five times we’d met and it wasn’t a comedy routine. Abner’s one of those guys who must have read the 7 Habit’s of Highly Effective People or How to Win Friends and Influence People, because he’s memorized four or five facts about me and uses them in a very scripted fashion. I’m not exaggerating, I can recite the lines verbatim from memory, here is just a small sampling: “So when are you starting getting a convention in Vegas”, “How come we never see you anymore” (we saw each other less than two years ago in Utah) and “So what’s up with KeithLUG, what’s that all about?” It was, again, dissapointing because it came off in such a disingenuous fashion. This picture sums up the encounter perfectly and the whole LA scene in general (minus WackLUG and a few outriders). Buh-bye Abner, same time next year?
I’m also gonna throw in a weird anecdote more for my own benefit, so I can go back years later and remind myself that it really happened. In the panic room I actually witnessed a man go to his knees, only to be mounted from behind (fully clothed) for the purpose of engaging in a grooming ritual. It was my first time witnessing an AFOL haircut and is something that I’ll likely never see again.
As I mentioned way back in the introduction, I came to America’s second largest city with the expectation of encountering an impressive and inspiring array of amazing models and was sorely disappointed. There were a few highlights where the models were concerned but for such a vast and diverse talent pool (especially when you lump in nearby San Diego), the offerings on display lagged behind the smaller regional cons like Orem Utah, Portland Oregon and Houston Texas in terms of both quantity and more surprisingly, quality. There just wasn’t enough to look at, and what was there was mostly bland Star Wars models or sprawling low-res dioramas that might delight the public but offer little to a seasoned builder or traveler. I was really hoping that home town hero Dan Jassim would make an appearance, at least on public day, but unfortunately he was entirely absent from the scene. One of my most cherished aspects of any convention is walking the hall with trusted cronies and critiquing the models. The question that kept popping up this time no matter the makeup of the observers was “That’s it?” Just to prove I’m not a complete jerk, I’ll include a few shots of things that I did like.
Look! I even liked a Star Wars model!
I’m gonna choke back the hate as much as possible and only mention a single model that left me completely cold….no pun intended. I met the guy who built this a few years ago, Mark the Brickplumber, he also lives in Vegas and builds much bigger than I do. He’s a nice guy, I have no complaints about his demeanor or social skills but this is your winner for best in show as determined by the public. What the picture can’t tell you is how physically difficult it was to look at in person. The light bounced off the tiles and curved slopes in little daggers in a way that made you avoid that end of the display at all cost if you were even remotely hung over. One builder compared it to those “Magic Eye” optical illusion posters from the 90’s, that you had to squint at just right to appreciate. Others called it a headache rendered in Lego. Forget the fact that mighty echo base is reduced to an oversized igloo, for all it’s impressive size there just wasn’t much to it. The little billboard for an aftermarket lighting company near the trench was a nice touch, as were the hovering speeder bikes that left parallel tracks in the snow for some reason. Because of this model and what seemed like dozens of smaller ones, this show seemed more like a Star Wars convention than a Lego gathering. So let this MOC be a lesson to you if you are gunning for best in show, go Star Wars and go BIG! The public ate it up with a spoon.
The Best In Show award as determined by registered attendees was no less snowy, or boring and it even had a couple of Star Wars references. No, no no, I don’t think my KOC should have won, it wasn’t big enough, or possess the kind of mass-appeal recognition for that kind of honor. Canadian Winter Village by Dave Schefcik, Terri Landers & Wayne Hussey was well built and made a great deal of sense for the biggest accolade of the weekend. The fact that I found it boring isn’t important in the slightest, when I showed my own kids pictures of it after the convention, they liked it better too.
Reality check: nobody cared, nobody asked me about it, nobody has heard of it and nobody wanted the SWAG, even when Rutherford pushed it on them relentlessly, as a gift for showing up to his presentations and answering “check on learning” style questions. The only reference I heard was a guy in the front row of Mike’s first speech, a true middle-aged mankinder who was there with his mother whose mere presence he seemed to resent. Dude had a piece of metal crammed through his septum, sat cross legged on his chair and claimed to never have seen a single Rocky film. This paragon of Lego nerds took one look at the Manifesto brand poker chip said with a sneer: “What the fuck is this?”. Cold blooded…but also the naked truth. I came to the convention with the modest goal of finding just one constant reader and all I got was the trumpet of the damned…
I should have known I was in trouble early in the process when the local homies had this to say: “Dude, I wasn’t even going until I heard you were in” or “Yeah, last year was a shit-show” and the ever popular “This might be the last year if it doesn’t go well“. Bricks LA is one of only two shows in reasonable driving distance for me and I just can’t believe that Orem Utah is the better option, even after seeing the evidence for myself. The event did have the benefit of revealing to me just how jaded I’ve become since those early days when the conventions seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and left my head spinning for days with inspirational overload. Now I’m closer to a jaded bitterman who takes no joy in the rituals, games and encounters with my fellow nerdkin. I used to leave a convention scheming about how to get to the next one…what I would bring and who I hoped to see, but after LA I’m gonna need at least a couple of years off to recharge the batteries. LA, all you had to do was beat the occasionally hostile BrickFiesta…and you just couldn’t do it, so now you reside at the very bottom of my list of conventions.
My final word on the topic…
Okay, that’s enough smack, even for me. I refuse to end this rambling, bloated diatribe of a review on a downer so I’ll congratulate the staff and participants on an event that most of the 150 or so registrants seemed to enjoy along with the 5000+ public attendees. I’ll close by raising my Bricks LA pint glass (one of the best pieces of con SWAG I’ve ever seen) and say a final “cheers” to rountRee, Rutherford, Langrish and my cronies in WackLUG. Next time fellas, you should just roll out to Vegas and we’ll have a party.
*Rutherford’s take on the convention should be available in the next couple of days and will likely offer a more balance account of the weekend.