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First-Timer Chronicles: Unleashing Your Inner Geek at DragonCon

Written by Jaimz Dillman

Photos by Jaimz Dillman & Kevin ODea

For years, I've heard of a place bigger than MegaCon. More nerds per square foot than the eye could see. Hotels full of cosplayers and parties. I saw pictures of friends visiting this magical land in Atlanta, Georgia. And finally, it was my turn. Last weekend, we made the journey to the Mecca of geeks, freaks, and all things encompassing fandom—yes, my fiends, we went to DragonCon.

Now, I have to preface the recount of our experience with the fact that we traveled with a teenager, a young couple, my significant other (who's been a vendor before), and topped it all off with a gimp knee that I was nursing for the three days we walked non-stop. So... here we go!

Day one was technically night one as we stopped on the way back from the airport to pick up our badges. The directions were easy peasy, and we were accredited in less than 15 minutes. Even just this quick trip to the Hyatt Regency—one of several host hotels—showed us that we were in for a ride. Thursday isn't even a main day of the Con, and the lobby was already crawling with every kind of costume and type you could imagine, and some that left us saying, "huh!"

We stayed a bit away in Jasper, which gave us a bit of a drive there and back to prep and decompress. There is talk of staying in a host hotel next time to soak up more of the goodness. And yes, we already know there's going to be a next time!

Friday morning, we were all up early with caffeine in hand and snacks packed. If we know one thing, con snacks and water are a life necessity. The four floors of vendors called to us, so the teenager and I spent about 40 minutes in line to get in. Now, this wasn't like a theme park line or something soul-sucking because it moved pretty quickly, and the Con staff had things very well organized. Plus, the people-watching was half the fun!

Once inside AmeriMart, we headed up the escalator and into a world of anything you'd ever need and everything you never knew you wanted. Three floors of vendors, food and drink options, and a floor of art awaited us—and we did it all.

This was also where we learned about the ribbons. You know, the badge accessories that hang off the end with funny sayings, vendor names, or experiences over the weekend. Seeing others with them, we just wondered aloud where everyone was getting them, and a magical creature behind us quipped up and said, "oh, here! I have ribbons!" And our first DragonCon ribbon was acquired! Through the many tables of wares, if we got to chatting with the vendors, we'd ask if they had any, and most did! Then we found out about the Royal Order of the Ribbon trade meetups, and after we saw what there was to see at AmeriMart, we headed back to the Hyatt to trade.

These people are serious! Tackle boxes organized with ribbons of all colors, representing all fandoms, and even cloaks, skirts, bags, and dresses made from previous years' collections! It's fast-paced and moves quickly, so within 30 minutes, our chain reached the floor. Such silly fun! At this point, my knee needed a break, and there's no seating available through the hotel unless it's ADA or you grab a spot on the infamous carpet. If you know, you know. When I asked a volunteer if I could use a chair for a few minutes, pointing to my brace, he went into quick action telling me I needed to get a sticker for my badge showing my needed accommodation, and two other volunteers waved us over to sit. I've never felt so well taken care of! While the first guy radioed for someone to bring "the stickers," the two other ladies asked me about my needs and entered my info in their app database. I felt like a celebrity! And kinda silly all this fuss was being made for a slight injury that had just recently flared up. No matter, I was stickered and invited to stay as long as I needed—which also happened to be the line for the Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner panel, lol. I laugh because I was named after the bionic woman, and here I am, braced up and not so bionic.

Dinner was at Hard Rock—because it was right there and had immediate seating—and we used the time to recount the day and all the wonders we'd seen. Making it an early night, we headed back home for the evening, knowing we'd be up early for the parade the next morning, and there was a costume to get ready for Sunday. Oh yeah, we were in headfirst!

With as many people as there are gathering in a few city blocks, downtown Atlanta was pretty peaceful Saturday morning when we made our way to the parade route. A quick grab-and-go breakfast from the Hyatt—still $40 for two coffees, a coke, and two breakfast sandwiches—and we found a great spot to watch everything right out front. Again, any waiting was the perfect time for people watching and grabbing pics of cosplayers as they walked by. It was such a variety of people, you couldn't help but feel like you belonged, as all are accepted and applauded.

Once the sirens could be heard, the parade approached and lasted about 45 minutes. Mostly groups fronted by banners, a few bands, maybe 2-3 "floats," but everyone was cheered for. All were appreciated. And participants and the audience alike were just beaming in the glow of the moment. I was particularly fond of the Ghostbusters unit and the Horror Group. Netherworld had a great spooky exhibit, and c'mon—a whole Coming to America group complete with a pink-dressed bride, flower women, and Sexual Chocolate!

The streets cleared pretty quickly with everyone dispersing to the area hotels for tracks and panels or down the street to the vendor area. We had our whole group with us that day, so we all went shopping—yes, again—and the line was there again, deceptively wrapped around the building and through a parking garage lower level. About 2 1/2 hours later, we approached the door, and, out of curiosity, I asked security if there might be a separate press entrance, and there wasn't, but my ADA sticker would get my whole group in, past the wait. Well, we knew for next time!

Saturday is definitely the busiest of the days all over the area, and the vendors were enjoying it in full force. The rules of DragonCon don't allow photos inside or at the Walk of Fame and Artist Room, so I can only tell you so much good stuff! Got some holiday shopping done, searched for elusive items for friends, and even saw a few artists I know from Orlando! Pretty cool. We had autographs to get and a panel to see back at the Hyatt and Marriott, so we trekked on. Feel like we're zigzagging back and forth? We are—lots of walking.

Celebrities present were from TV, movies, comics, streaming platforms, you name it. I was especially excited to see D.B. Wood from Lucifer. Then I turned around, and the perfect Lucifer cosplayer was just leaving the ballroom, so I was able to grab his pic!! Sean Aston was there from Goonies and LOTR fame, and even though it was neat to meet him, he wasn't very personable. Pretty much sign and shove. But yeah, it's business. I previously interviewed Ryan Hurst at Spooky Empire and stopped by to say hi. Yes, he remembered me, even noting my hair was different a couple of years ago. Eee! I peeked a few glances at Freddie Prinze, Jr. and others on the way out and really liked their setup. Yes, no pics are allowed, but that really does help keep the flow of traffic moving and the stars making their money.

Our whole group gathered together again when we heard of another ribbon trading event, and since we had a little more knowledge this round, we held on to what we wanted to trade rather than just adding anything blindly to our badges. It was really cute to see first-timers bewildered and figuring it out like we had the day before. Gosh, this ribbon business is serious!

Dinner again nearby, and we had no problem getting a quick table. Then home to finish Sunday's costume. Later, a more casual start to day 3, and Batman emerged from the top floor of a parking garage overlooking the line formed already for the vendor room. The best part of being in a costume easily recognizable is the recognition and accolades from those who appreciate it.

We spent some more time in the Walk of Fame room for more autographs, caught a panel on Batman and Superman led by some of the comics artists and writers, and yep—one last go at ribbons and the vendor room. It was only this day we learned of the lower-level offerings, so we did some quick loops to get it all in. Since we weren't going back on Monday, we closed down AmeriMart and left with lots of goodies and finds, trailing more ribbons than we could count.

Home again to a well-deserved takeout dinner, reflecting on what highlights were for everyone, and the final ribbon tally. The teenager loved the day out of costume and being recognized in their lesser-known cosplay as The Riddler from the most recent Batman movie. My significant other liked being at the event as an attendee and not a vendor, as he had in the past, and seeing how we liked everything. And for me, I just loved it all! It was one of the most welcoming weekends of all worlds colliding in support and celebration of each other. The creativity, the community, knowing there's so much to do and no way to get it all in... There's definitely a plan to do it again. And next time, I'm in for the parties!!


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