Last year’s little travel log was written in sort of a time-based format. Because of the detail Im narrating, Ive decided to go with a prose format, because I didn’t feel like recalling exact times which could end up being wrong.

(Anime Expo) 1998: A Hamburger Odyssey
By Michael D. Garcia

The Annual Japanese Animation and Manga Exposition is held around the fourth of July. Anime fans, otaku, and other interested parties flock to the Mother of all Anime Cons, which is usually held in the Southern Californian metropolis known as Los Angeles. Our story begins as it has in the past; An otaku, his faithful companions, and a three day-two night adventure of anime bliss set in the backdrop of a plush hotel.

But before our heroes set out for their journey:

Every year before Anime Expo begins, one of us plans ahead for various types of groups we go down with. The first year we went (1996), we had a group of six people, we went in three cars, and had two rooms. Kenny Lau made that possible. The second year we went (1997), four people dropped out, and it was just Ken and myself. Ken also made that possible. Most of you who’re reading this read the little log from last year know exactly what went on. This year, we were up by two people, my lovable fiancee, Stephanie, and the Lost Boy Himself, Todd James. 1998 was designated my year to plan, so I had to make all the reservations. It was I who booked two rooms at the luxurious Anaheim Hilton, and made the plans for driving down. For those of you who know me, know that four people really can’t fit comfortably in my cherry red Toyota Tercel. So, Ken decided to drive himself down in his Honda. No problem. A couple of days before leaving for Anime Expo, Ken calls and says that he’s going to be driving down with another group (who also happens to be a vendor at the convention), and quite possibly not staying in the room I booked for him. Oh well, no big deal, as the room was my Christmas gift to him anyway, and I was going to cover the expenses.

Meanwhile, between the twentieth of June and the convention’s date, I spent most of my time making a bunch of tapes. The first year, I had one tape, it had about 7 songs on it, and we were bored more than half the way down. The second year, it was just Ken and myself, and he brought his CD tape cassette adapter for the car and we listen to his CD collection all the way down. By the time I finished making the little collection for this year’s excursion, I had seven new tapes, four of which were labeled ‘Music to Speed on Interstate 5 By’. This trip marked Stephanie’s first time to AX, and also the first time she’s ever driven with me on Interstate 5 (which is an experience of both spiritual and emotional proportions). She’s screamed before about the way I drive, and suffice to say, the I-5 pipe is quite literally a straight line drawn downward from Sacramento to Los Angeles. The speed limit is posted at 70mph, but I like to go a little above that (little being equal to about thirty mph). The first song on the first tape was aptly named ‘100mph no Yuuki’ (for those of you who’re Japanese-impaired, that’s roughly translated to ‘Bravery/Courage at 100mph’), and yes it was dedicated to her.

So, the night before, we picked up Todd, and headed back to our apartment, where we planned on waking up at 4am, and heading out the door by 6am. Well, the first little snag occurred when Todd couldn’t be picked up until almost 11pm. This meant that I would get less than enough sleep for the drive south. Stephanie made me set my alarm for 5am, instead or else I’m not getting in the car with you. Fine, no big deal, as soon as my head hits the pillow, I lie awake for a bit and listen to the TV, which is playing Ranma Nibunnoichi. I finally fall asleep around 1am.

:

5am, July 2, 1998. My alarm goes off, and I only open a single eye to read the red LED clock tell me I’m supposed to be driving in less than an hour. I get up, shower and shave, then rouse Stephanie. Todd, it seems, couldn’t sleep soundly, and kept drifting in and out of his sleep state for four hours. He was awake fully by the time I got out of the shower, and made my life a little easier.

Forty-five minutes later, we were all ready to go. I relish in a few things before every Anime Expo trip thus far. I clean my car thoroughly, within and without. I do this the day before, because when I walk down to the car the next morning, it always looks really good in the light of dawn. The little sunlight that bounces off the clean and waxed surface of my little Toyota just makes me smile and admire it. Anyway, enough indulging, bags need to be packed, and in my clean trunk, we do just that.

By the time six-thirty rolled around, we had already purchased Stephanie’s much-needed Double Iced Mocha and heading out for the open road. Many of the songs we listened to on the state and U.S. highways leading up to I-5 were from the Hayashibara Megumi set, and by the time we finished the first in my I-5 tape collection, Stephanie’s tolerance was breached and she screamed for something she recognized. Luckily, Todd had made a ‘Stephanie Relief Tape’ comprised of Disney and other domestic animation soundtracks, and of course his favorite artist, Alanis Morisette. You see you can’t go on a four-hour plus trip with a screaming fiancée in the passenger seat. It’s not good for the driver’s nerves to be frayed while traveling at the speed of light on the American version of the German autobahn. Events tend to get ugly after the first five seconds, and relationships can dangle on the decision of the driver. But, we’re getting ahead of the saga…

Before the screaming began, we made it down to Coalinga, the marked and beloved halfway point every year. It’s the only point on I-5 that has every single fast food restaurant, a Denny’s, seven gas stations (one of which was closed). Chevron, my favorite station, was the one being remodeled, so I had to settle for 76. We ate at Carl’s Jr, and we had lunch even though it was really time for breakfast. The conversation over this brunch-ish type meal of ours included such topics as the travel habits of our respective parents.

Speeding along at 95mph (and yes, for those of you who asked, the Tercel can sustain 105mph for about a mile before she starts to shudder), we were singing to Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Ponchahontas, and Lion King. Yes, even I sung along (quit yer laughing). On the way down, we witnessed about eight or nine Ford Windstars all in a row, and in different colors. This caused Todd to ask the question: “Does Ford have a certain customer program like Saturn does, where all of them like get together and have parties?”

We made pretty good time, all in all, breaching the city limits of Los Angeles just a quarter before noon. But Anaheim is on the other side of the city of angels, so it’s yet another hour until we actually made it to the hotel. Now, Stephanie’s not a native Californian, and she has yet to experience an earthquake. As we drive under some of the retrofitted overpasses, you can see the wooden planks holding up the concrete, and I note how shaky they look, and how bad it would be if an earthquake were to strike at that moment. Anxiety and panic reach new heights as Stephanie’s arms flail about and managed to beat a few red marks into my arm.

One P.M. marks our entry into the Hilton, and the valet attendant took my beloved vehicle to God only knows where. We check in, and find out that the registration desk is sucking our funds dry with the cash deposits. We end up forking over about eight hundred dollars in a matter of seconds, all the while my face losing its smile and gaining that trademarked Unhappy” look. But I let it pass for the moment, because all of us are travel-weary and want to use the restroom or catch a nap. AX pre-registration occurs at 8pm, so we had quite some time before we were to go to the second level and get our badges for the weekend. I napped for a few hours, and woke up.

I went downstairs to see guest services, and they redirected me to the front desk. At the front desk is this young-looking girl, who I’m quite sure hasn’t graduated from high school, yet. I took a deep breath, and the anger and distress from earlier had subsided somewhat from the initial witnessing of the passing of nearly a grand in cash, some of which we planned to use to survive for three days and use to come back home. I explained the predicament to the girl, and she deferred to an assistant manager. Surprisingly enough, he looked younger than the girl did, and I had to get a tad bitter with my tone and my shock at having to foot a $600 bill for a room that only cost $125 a night. I wasn’t aware the tax was quite that high. The problem was resolved of course, I got some of my money back.

We got a bit of dinner around 8pm, and wanted to wait for the pre-reg lines to die down a bit. Hamburgers which cost roughly seven bucks in the restaurant, but they’re a bit more expensive if you order them room service (Todd paid out 16 dollars for a twelve-inch pizza from Dominoes!). Hamburgers were the cheapest food item on the menu, both in the restaurant and on the room service menu. Afterward, we joined the masses (later, I found out that over twelve hundred were registered beforehand, so the lines weren’t going to die down at all), got our badges and returned to our respective rooms. Todd hung out with us for a bit, as we poured through the AX programming information guides. We all made our respective plans for the weekend, seeing what the different screening areas were going to show at certain times.

By the time midnight rolled around, Stephanie was drifting away, and because of my nap from earlier, I stayed awake until sleep finally claimed me around 3am. Oh, and Ken finally did make it in just as I was about to finally sleep. He rang my room, just let me know he was in, and then told me to go to sleep. Who am I to argue?

AX Day One: “Thrillhouse” or Burgerlon 5.

Todd called to wake me at just after 7am, so my little nap ended, and I got up to meet him and head down to the exhibit hall to meet Ken. Emily Wong, who is a friend and one of the dealers, let us in, and gave us exhibitors badges so we could get in before they opened. Of course, in returned, we helped her set up her tables and organized. When we got the small van unloaded, Ken, Todd and I hopped in to drive it back to their motel, and get his car so we didn’t have to lug the van around everywhere. Unfortunately, the van’s battery died, and we had no way to move it, regardless of how many times the Hilton’s people asked us to. After a half-hour of trying to get it started, one of the other dealers who needed the spot let us jump the van off his rental Jeep, and finally, we were on our way.

We parked the van, and then pulled out and then immediately made a right into a restaurant, which I hadn’t been to in over a decade. Tiffy’s, this little corner restaurant in between all of the hotels surrounding Disneyland, was the place we decided to have breakfast at. Ken ordered Eggs Benedict, I ordered a stack of pancakes, and Todd ordered a burger with a side of hash browns. After looking at him weirdly for a few minutes, we had small talk, and then ate. Mind you, I hadn’t seen Ken in over a week, and Todd and I might’ve driven down together, but we were conversing back and forth as if we hadn’t seen each other in months. Many things can be said about Anime Expo. It’s hot, crowded, disorganized, and sometimes disappoints you by making last minute programming changes. But the really cool thing about being at AX, is the fact that I get to see some friends I wait all year to see, or spend some time with friends that I see all the time. Todd and Ken, they’re probably the closest people I’ve got to brothers, and the time that I spend with them, I store those really good memories deep down inside where I can get at them when I feel the need to reminisce. So, the breakfast was consumed in short fashion and by the time 10:30am rolled around, we headed back to the convention and met up with Emily.

Ken, Todd, and I used some time to explore the dealer’s room, and we were walking down one row. One of the exhibitors who happened to be there was a comic book store named ‘Thrill Books’. Well, since Todd was wandering ahead of us, I turned to Ken, and related the episode of the Simpsons where Bart attempts to shoplift a video game. During the episode, Milhouse gets a copy of his birthday and they show him entering his name. Ken loves to trash Milhouse (as much as Bart does), and remembered that when Milhouse entered his name, he tried to make it sound cool, and typed in ‘Thrill-house’. Ken began to randomly spout the word ‘Thrillhouse’ as we kept exploring.

An hour later, Emily and her crew of workers lack of breakfast had caught up with all of them, and she promptly sent us off to get them some food, so they wouldn’t starve to death. We caught up with Stephanie and Delany Brittain who’re on their way down looking for us.

I did one of the few things I’ve always wanted to do whenever I check into a hotel. I hadn’t been able to do it before, because the LAX Hilton and the Anaheim Mariott all had self-parking available. But when we had arrived a day earlier, the self-parking lot was closed off, and I had to go valet.

Unfortunately, I left my valet claim check up in the room, so we had to go up and get it. While we (Ken, Todd, and myself, since Stephanie and Delany wanted to go get iced mocha and cigarettes) walked up, Todd chose to begin talking about his badge. This year, Todd had the longest name at the convention (Todd ‘The Original Lost Boy’ James). Because of lengthy name, the font they used to print his badge out was smaller in size. I mentioned that if they hadn’t, it’d probably come out looking like “Todd ‘The Original Lost Bo”, instead.

We finally got back down (Hey, it’s twelve floors round trip) to the lobby, and I whipped out my claim check and asked for my car. It was really cool! I got in with Ken, Stephanie, and Delany, and we jetted off to Carl’s Junior (yes, again). I actually ordered seven special value meals (all hamburgers), along with other food that some people wanted. Another one of those cool things you’ve always wanted to try when you drove up to a drive-through speaker box.

After we came back and distributed all the food, we had to hoof it big time to the focus panel for veteran voice actor Kamiya Akira. Kamiya-san was the voice for Urusei Yatsura’s Mendou Shuutaro, City Hunter’s Ryo Saeba, and Bannou Bunka Neko Musume’s Natsume Kyuusaku. He was funny and bright, had a good sense of humor and knew how to make the crowd cheer and laugh. Even Stephanie found him a good speaker, even though he had to speak through a translator. He spoke of how much he appreciated the North American fans, and how excited he was to come to the convention again. Apparently, the Japanese seiyuu (voice actors/actresses) don’t really get to hear about how well-received Anime is in the United States. In fact, many of the seiyuu don’t even get copies of their work after they’ve finished it. Kamiya-san had to purchase copies of Urusei Yatsura and City Hunter in the dealer’s room before attending his panel! We put our raffle tickets in for his autograph, and all five of us won! Since the signing wasn’t to be held until later on, Stephanie, Todd, and Delany slipped out to watch Shin Seiki Evangelion in one of the video rooms, and I went back into the dealer’s room to hang out with Ken, who wanted to run a few orbits to see the other booths. I stopped by the UCI Anime Store booth and purchased my copy of Hayashibara Megumi’s Enfleurage, to add to my little Megumi album collection. For those of you who don’t understand, Hayashibara-sama is my favorite Japanese singing star. She’s got a great voice, and not only sings, but also does the voice for many of my favorite Anime characters. Both Todd and myself are huge fans of hers and we keep on wishing for her to attend of the Anime Expos in the future, so we can get her autograph and tell her how much we absolutely adore her. I left to meet up with Delany and Stephanie with Ken to get in the line to get Kamiya-san’s autograph. I had him sign a Ryo Saeba City Hunter pencil board, and Stephanie had him sign her programming guide. When he gave my pencil board back, I thanked him in his native tongue and he smiled back at me. Truly a very gracious man, in every respect.

Well, I was still on my high, and wandered back into the dealer’s hall, to bask in my newfound prize. Delany, who’s writing an anime fan fiction series with me, and I wanted to go to the fanfic panel discussion at 4pm, so shortly before then, we headed up to the fourth floor and found out it had been moved to six o’clock. Since it was dinnertime, we all (Stephanie, included) went back up to our room, and ordered room service (half-pound burgers). We ate and discussed unix environments versus Windows and such, until it was time to go back down and hit the fanfic panel.

After the fanfic panel, we just decided to come back upstairs (we’d all been walking around for quite some time and our poor footsies were screaming in agony). Stephanie had wanted to see the Gun Smith Cats in Japanese, so she left around 7:30 to go down, while Delany and I poured over the plans for our collaborative efforts. Before Stephanie returned, I turned to Delany amidst our conversation and predicted that she would remark she enjoyed the English dialogue better. Lo and behold, as soon as she wandered back in, “I liked the English version better.” We had a good laugh, and Stephanie smiled because I knew her that well.

This year, Anime Expo decided to add a new event to their Friday night programming schedule. A dance. Well, I wanted to go, and Stephanie did, too, so all three of us went down around 9:30pm, and walked in. Dancing was occurring, and in the center of this thriving group, were fully-dressed Sailor Senshi. All of them, with the noticeable exception of Sailor Mars (my favorite Sailor), were jumping around and dancing with everyone. There was a decidedly fulfilling atmosphere of hundreds of otaku having a really good time jumping around and being themselves. Stephanie noted that seeing the Sailor Senshi dance around like that made her think of the seventh level of hell. She also noted (with logic) that drunk otaku wasn’t one of the memories she wanted to bring back with her when thinking back on Anime Expo 98. I concurred.

Delany wanted to hang back, and we were fatigued. So we left him there, and agreed to meet the next morning.

AX Day Two: Deep(-Fried) Burger 9 (On a Honeywheat Bun) or Shin Seiki Hamburgelion

Unfortunately, I overslept my mark, which was supposed to be around 7:30am. Instead, I stumbled out of bed slightly before 10am, and then made it down to the promenade about an hour later. The first thing we did, was hit the dealer’s room to check in with Emily and Ken. It was there that we met up with both Todd and Delany. While we were there, I picked up an Ayanami Rei silkscreen for the living room that I knew Stephanie would really like.

Ken had to drive a friend of his to the hospital for an injury that flared up yesterday. So the four of us (Todd, Stephanie, Delany, and myself) went to the hotel restaurant for our morning monetary gouging (also known as breakfast, although at this time of day, it was more lunch). Again, we all had burgers, with the exception of Stephanie, who chose a freak route and went with a hot turkey sandwich. After lunch, Stephanie and Delany went upstairs to the room to smoke, while Todd and I headed into the dealer’s room for a bit before heading up to the fourth floor to the first panel, which dealt with an anime PC game demo.

The person hosting the demo was an online friend of ours, Jeremy Blackman. Hes one of the programmers at Monolith Productions, Ltd. Shogo, the game he demo’ed for the crowd looked positively awesome, and although the system requirements a tad steep, I’m looking forward to buying a copy of it. Although it was loosely anime-based, the theme was more for mecha fans than anyone else, and it looked like a melding of Doom and Mechwarrior.

Afterward, Delany and I left the panel conference with Jeremy, who took us up to his room so I could hear the song he had been complaining about for the last two weeks. It was pretty good, although I thought it was a bit too peppy for the mode of the game (which is dark and somber). But when he explained it was the ending theme, then it made sense (it did, trust me). We spent about an hour talking with him, before we decided to go back down for the A.D. Vision discussion panel with the president and vice-president of the anime distribution company which is based in Houston, Texas. Hearing about all the neat titles they’ve grabbed for the next couple of years (including City Hunter, and Airbats 2!), I kept posing questions regarding the respective ship dates. Also, we found out about the whole Evangelion project (if you’re truly intrigued, I suggest you ask Stephanie about it), and where it’s heading in the next year or so.

While the panel was very interesting, and the one following was pretty fun (voice acting workshop), I had decided to go upstairs to try and rest up, as my eyes were getting droopy and my feet aching. Stephanie accompanied me, and she looked pretty zonked herself. But when we got up to the room, I laid down on the bed and didn’t feel as exhausted as I thought I had been. Stephanie was practically snoring, so I left and went back downstairs to the dealers room to meet up with Todd.

Stephanie had made plans to attend an Evangelion fan panel at ten, and she asked me to come up to the room at a little before nine oclock. By the time I got down to the dealers room, it was a little before seven, and although dinner at Noodle Planet (see last years log) sounded good, I didn’t think wed make it back in time for me to go upstairs and make sure Stephanie was all right. Instead, I pulled my car out of valet, went to McDonalds (for hamburgers), and came back.

Todd went with me, and we ate in his room, watching the X-Files until 8pm, and just before the Fox network finished showing their show about how we try to thin out the gene pool (It was a special about Daredevils), I went back to the room, woke up Stephanie, and we went down to the restaurant in the lobby to have a little something before the panel at 10. Guess what Stephanie had? That’s right! A burger.

The Evangelion fan panel had disappeared from the programming schedule, but Stephanie wanted to peek in on the room, to make sure that it wasn’t just a misprint. Sure enough, there were people gathered, but the AX staff locked them out of the room. Joining them in the hall, we decided to use the lounge area nearby, which bridged between the two conference levels. We discussed the series, and tried to make it clear that we hadnt seen the ending of the television series, yet. But we had fun talking about our favorite characters, and made some new friends. That’s what AX is all about. Many of the people you meet there end up becoming your friends in the future, because as you continue to go every year, its when you see them.

Once the panel sort of adjourned, we found our way down to the promenade again, because my absolute favorite part of the convention was about to begin. The Annual Music Video Awards! Every year, fans edit scenes from their favorite anime series or movies, and set it to domestic music. Last year, Dragonball, Ranma, Tenchi, and quite a few others were spliced together with the popular Village People tune, Macho Man. Of course, last year, there were no more than four entries and the place in which it was held wasn’t really all that big.

This year, it was held in the largest video auditorium, and had a line which ran from the entrance almost all the way to the other side of the hotel building. I almost didn’t go in, but a few friends persuaded me to wait in line, and believe me, it was definitely worth it. I think that I busted all my guts watching this years entries (which numbered to 32), except that by the time that the twenty-eighth entry appeared, I had to find my way out, due to fatigue. So at 1:30am, I finally went to sleep.

AX Day Three: Adventures End or Attack of the Killer Burgers

The Anaheim Hilton required us to check out of our rooms by noon. So when we woke up at 11:20am, you can imagine the state of panic we were in. As much as we enjoyed staying in the room, we couldn’t afford another $125. Rushing around and picking up clothes, our loot, and our other possessions, we hit the corridor at five before noon (to my amazement). We made it down in time to the registration desk to checkout, and then placed our bags in the valet-parked car.

Wandering back into the dealers room to find Todd, we headed over to one of the video rooms to watch Galaxy Fraulein Yuna OAV 1 and 2, and Stephanie found out on the way over that Evangelion was cancelled for the day, because A.D. Vision was leaving early and no one was going to be there to collect the tapes afterward. Distraught she was, coming out of the Yuna showing, and it was then that we decided to call it a year.

We went back to the dealers room to say our goodbyes to Emily and Ken, along with Delany. I checked out my car completely for the day, and then we went to gas up and have a bite to eat at McDonalds where I ordered (oh come on, guess!) burgers!

That’s right, start off with a burger, and so why not end it with a burger? I had two! Todd had three Filet O Fish, and Stephanie had a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. And with those burgers digesting we set off toward the beginning.

What I Came Back With:

Hayashibara Megumi CD: Enfleurage
Shin Seiki Evangelion Silkscreen: Ayanami Rei
City Hunter Ryo Saeba Pencilboard (autographed by Kamiya Akira)