Early in August, 2019, five members of the Mechanical Maniacs gathered in Welland, Ontario for their traditional summer Mechs Meet. This year's gathering was a bit of an auspicious one. For one thing, it had been a while since we got five of us all in one place, and it was the first time Ben was there for the full time, though for a shorter visit. It was basically just the weekend, but we still found enough time to pay a visit to Niagara, have some delicious meals, and play games of the video and board varieties.
Normally for Ontario meetups, Gauntlet is available to drive everyone around once they gather there, but he was extra busy this time, so the others had to reach their destination their own way. Sparkman drove in from New Hampshire as usual in his roadtrip-seasoned car. Hardman flew from Alberta to Toronto and took a bus from there, and Snakeman flew from Saskatchewan to Toronto and rented a car to make the trip around Lake Ontario himself.
Snakeman: There's a closer airport in Hamilton, why can't I get a flight directly there?
Hardman: It's a long wait in between the plane and the bus. Maybe I should have brought my Switch.
Snakeman: Every sensible travel option demands at least five hours of added time due to connecting flights or waiting on bus schedules. Screw it, I'm renting a car for the first time in my life. How bad could it be?
Rental Guy: Please sign here to confirm our damage inspection is accurate.
Snakeman: Oh, sure. I can probably trust this agency to be honest about how many scratches it has before and after the trip. I barely need to pay attention to the condition of this car on my own.
On Friday we converged at the local Travelodge to catch up and enjoyed a nice meal along with Shadow and Needle's friends and family at the nearby diner.
Sparkman: Except me, who's still stuck in traffic because of an accident on the highway ... in New York.
Shadowman: Ben! I hardly recognized you without your beard. And Snake! I hardly recognized you WITH a beard.
Hardman: We switched.
Snakeman: It's been a while, Needle! Still exercising your skills making fancy outfits?
Needlegal: Of course! In fact, there's a certain dress I helped make for someone that will be making its big debut tomorrow.
Shadowman: I have not seen it yet. For reasons.
After filling up on dessert, Ben and Snake returned to the hotel to wait for Spark and play some games on Snake's Switch, including Mega Man 11.
Snakeman: It's part of our tradition that we play a Mega Man game or at least a MegaMan-like game during the Meet. It's the first time in years there was a brand new actual one and it's too bad there's so little time and so few people to play it with.
Hardman: We won't let that stop us. Oof. The spikes in Acid Man's stage though. Those might stop us. Multiple times.
Snakeman: What is it about playing during a Meet that seems to make these levels so much harder than normal? Is it that we only find the time late at night when we're too sleepy and sloppy?
Hardman: Nah, you probably just suck at it... I can't finish this stage. You do it.
Ben retired to his own room shortly before Spark arrived to the room he was sharing with Snake. Spark's trip took even longer than expected since the hotel address in the chat was wrong and as far as he knew, he didn't have international data coverage on his phone.
Sparkman: 70 Niagara Street, huh?
Shadowman: ....I'm not following you.
Sparkman: The address you sent me to last night?
Shadowman: Huh? Oh!! It was 870 Niagara Street. Oops. Guess my phone didn't type in the 8 for some reason. My bad.
Sparkman: Stranded in the middle of Canada by Autocorrect...What wild ride our trips turn out to be.
By then it was pretty much time for bed, so the momentous first in-person meeting between Hard and Spark would have to wait for the morning.
Sparkman: (getting up to answer the door) Oh. Hi?
Hardman: Oh. Good morning. I'm ... Hardman.
Sparkman: Right... uh... Spark. (Didn't he have a beard?)
Snakeman: (Still in bed half asleep) Oh. Allow me to introduczzzzz...
Saturday was the focal point of the gathering. Once we had our breakfast, Spark, Hard, and Snake got in Spark's car to head over to Niagara to check out the eagerly anticipated attraction: Bird Kingdom! The big indoor aviary had lots of things to see besides birds, making it a surprisingly good place to continue our MM-themed scavenger hunts.
Snakeman: There are snakes! Of course. Every good aviary needs to have its share of snakes. Just like petting zoos, aquariums, and birthday parties.
Sparkman: And turtles! Ha ha. Look. Those turtles are doin' it.
Hardman: There had just better be a peacock somewhere around here. I'm counting on that peacock.
Sparkman: Apparently not, but they have an Egyptian archaelogical exhibit for some reason? So... Pharaoh Woman reference found, I guess?
Hardman: Where are the actual birds?
Snakeman: There's a bunch of the winged little guys in that cage over there.
Hardman: Those are bats.
Snakeman: Those are probably a type of bird.
Hardman: No they're not. WHERE ARE THE BIRDS?
Just past the bats, the tour exits out into the big central aviary filled with all types of exotic birds. The guys even got to enter an area where they could take part in feeding the lorikeets, a process that involves standing perfectly still while holding little cups as colourful birds swarm all over you.
Snakeman: Huh. This is actually pretty nice. I finally understand the appeal of birds as pets. How about you?
Hardman: This jerk screeched in my ear. I hate birds now. Free me from this hell.
Once finished with Bird Kingdom, we were getting pretty hungry, but we were also right next to Niagara Falls and it didn't seem right not to check it out while we were there.
Snakeman: Eh. Must we? I've never been that fascinated by the falls and it's always just so crowded.
Sparkman: Come on! Ben hasn't seen 'em yet.
Hardman: We got time, don't we?
However, driving slowly down the street from Bird Kingdom, it quickly became evident there was nowhere to park.
Sparkman: Oops. We probably shoulda stayed parked at Bird Kingdom and walked from there.
Snakeman: The traffic is so bad it's kinda like parking.
Hardman: I guess... I can almost see the falls out the car window while we roll by...
Sparkman: Well, that was a bust. We still have time for lunch though. Remember that burger joint from last time? The Works?
Snakeman: Aww yeah, that place was so good. Ben, you have to try those burgers.
Hardman: Alright, I'm starving, so let's go!
Sparkman: It's just down the road we're about to turn onto riiight no oh god no how can the traffic be backed that far up?
Snakeman: The only vehicles moving are the ones making illegal u-turns to escape from the jam.
Hardman: We're not going to make it on time, are we?
Sparkman: Uhh... Oh look. There's a Subway. Let's just ... eat fresh.
Snakeman: Niagara Falls Subway: For when it's just time to give up.
We had to get back to Pelham after lunch for the afternoon's scheduled event, but the time we saved avoiding traffic gave us a little extra time for video games. Aside from MM11, Snake's Switch had a few more multiplayer games to try out, including Cadence of Hyrule, Towerfall, and Lethal League Blaze.
Snakeman: These are really fun once you get the hang of them.
Sparkman: Okay, but no time for that... Start up Super Bomberman R. Ben still needs to meet...
Snakeman: Oh no...
Hardman: What? What is it?
Black Bomber: I bet you'll never forget... the BEAUTIFUL. BLACK. BOMBER.
Hardman: ...The hell?
Sparkman: HAHAHAHAHA! I love that guy.
We took turns on the MM11 run throughout the weekend, but time was short once we reached Skull Castle. So we just switched to the already completed save file to waltz through the last couple stages with the god-moding Cooling System Infinity item.
Megaman: (Blasting through defenseless frozen enemies the whole way) This doesn't seem fair.
Snakeman: It's more fun this way.
Sparkman: Isn't it usually G that pushes for cheating?
Snakeman: It's a legit item in the game you only get after beating it, so it's not really cheating.
Sparkman: It's still cheating at our "beat a Mega Man game during the Meet" task, though.
Snakeman: Oh, sure. Totally.
We didn't spend all our downtime on video games, of course. On Sunday morning before heading our separate ways, we got one session in on one of Spark's board games too. He brought previously played games Endangered Orphans and Hotshots, but with only time for one, we went with the new offering, Betrayal at House on the Hill. As a game about some hapless fools working together to explore a haunted house, it started out feeling very similar to another we played last year, Mansions of Madness. Except while that was a fully cooperative experience, Betrayal hit a point where, as the name implies, it isn't so cooperative any more.
Sparkman: Alright, I'll be the jock. If Snake is being the nosey lady and Ben is the creepy little girl, I guess that makes us some kind of weird family practicing some child-endangering B&E.
Snakeman: Wow, I found this skeleton key item early on. I guess that makes me the Master of Unlocking.
Hardman: I may be wandering the second floor on my own while my irresponsible parents get lost in the basement, but this shotgun I found should keep me safe.
Sparkman: Hello? Could somebody come help me remove this darkness curse? I'm stuck moving only one space at a time and the mysterious stray cat and random hobo following me around are no help whatsoever.
Snakeman: In a few turns, honey. The kid found a locked armory somewhere upstairs and this key and I are gonna go clean house.
Hardman: Y'know, aside from that one inevitable bathtub jumpscare, the trap door into the dungeon, and dad's flashlight running out of batteries, this house hasn't been all that haunted. Where's the challenge?
Sparkman: Just wait until someone draws enough Omen cards. That's when things pop off.
Eventually, the Haunt event begins! By whatever arcane math is in play, Snakeman is determined to be the traitor and is given a new set of instructions and win conditions.
Snakeman: Huh. Now I'm extra glad I decided to be a jerk and raid the armory instead of helping my teammate repair his flashlight!
Sparkman: Oh, great. Ben, sweetie, I'm afraid mommy has suddenly become possessed by a murderous spirit and is determined to make sure we never leave this house alive, so we're going to have to kill her with your shotgun, okay?
Girl: Ben's over there. I'm a different creepy little girl that showed up and now you have to rescue me from this ghost monster thing before you leave.
Hardman: Well, this is needlessly confusing.
Snakeman: Better hurry up, guys! I've rigged the mansion to explode and I'm also using my master key to lock all the doors on you.
Sparkman: This couldn't be more rigged.
Spark and Hard succeed in rescuing the other creepy child from the basement ghost, but don't even make it back to the main floor before everything explodes and everyone dies.
Snakeman: Haha! I win!
Hardman: You died too, asshole!
Snakeman: Yeah, but I was supposed to. That was really fun at the end.
Sparkman: If you get to be the traitor, anyway...
Hardman: I sure wish I could go insane and murder you all with a fiery explosion. Also, I wouldn't mind playing this game again some time.
Spark got back on the road to the States Sunday afternoon while Snake gave Ben a ride back to Toronto. Along the way, they checked out some different comic shops reccommended by Gauntlet and his local friends since Snake was on the hunt for some obscure old issues that he couldn't find in his own neck of the woods.
Snakeman: Thanks for helping me dig through some longboxes. I know it's not the most exciting way to spend your last day of the Meet.
Hardman: Dunno if anything I want will catch my eye, but at least some of these dumb forgotten 90s comics are hilarious to look at.
Snakeman: Okay, so out of our three stops, the one place had too many unorganized boxes to sift through in one sitting, the second one turned out to be closed down and abandoned, and the last one had renovations in progress in the back-issue storage area so they were off-limits. So much for that plan.
Hardman: You probably should have just taken Gauntlet's suggestion and found scans online.
Snakeman: But I wanted to obtain them legitimately...
Shadowman: It's really easy to find scans though. Look, I found all the issues you were looking for in, like, thirty seconds. How many hours of driving around Oakville and Toronto did you waste today?
Snakeman: ...You know, you might be onto something with this "cheating" thing...
Overall it was a short but memorable weekend. It's always great to see everyone and there are always new things to do even in familiar locales. As we get older and and gain new responsibilities, it gets harder and harder to coordinate gatherings like this so we have to appreciate them each to the fullest.
Oh yeah, there was that one other thing on Saturday. Gauntlet got married. That was pretty special.