The 'Maniacs Meet 09
Raijin's Log

Mech's Meet #3. This one turned out to be an adventure. Despite the plans beginning immediately after the last one, we ended up deciding a lot of our moves on the fly resulting in unfortunate complications, but we managed to have a lot of fun regardless. The planning itself deserves its own rundown this time.

1.The Planning

The plan began with a simple observation at last year's gathering which took place in Toronto, just as it did the year before. The second meet saw less attendance than the first, with the line conspicuously drawn at the Canada/US border. All the Canadians made it, but none of the Americans due to various difficulties on their part. To make things more difficult, 2009 had to be the year they started requiring Passports to cross that border. With the economy getting worse and Hardman getting married, it didn't look like the American team members would have any more luck making it to Toronto the following year, so we resolved to make it easier on them by bringing the Canadians down to their neck of the woods. Rich, Hard, and Classi were all living in or around Michigan at the time, so that seemed like the ideal target.

Well, a lot can happen in a year, and the first added complication popped up as early as October. Due to family issues, Classi was forced to move from her home and awesome job in Indiana aaalll the way to Florida of all places. So much for Michigan as the sweet spot. Well, Florida actually sounded like a nicer (albeit more expensive) place to take a vacation than Michigan, so for a while there was talk about aiming for there instead. Aside from Lennon all the way out in New Zealand, Classi was the only team member who hadn't yet made it to a gathering so we really wanted to find a way to accomodate her. With Classi becoming harder to contact and summer already arriving, we ultimately had to make a decision and settled on Michigan. Rich gave us a few important tourist points, letting us know hanging out in Detroit would be a bad idea all around, but thankfully there was a nice German community called Frankenmuth nearby where we could go instead.

So the destination was settled. We still needed a timeframe. As Gauntlet said many, many times, "We really should have planned around an event." God, I got tired of him saying that. Settling on a timeframe WAS complicated though. We were considering July until June swept by. Then, by process of elimination we found we were all free from other appointments at the end of August. We originally wanted to make it to Michigan on Saturday August 22nd, and us Canadians plotted to first meet up in Toronto then take the Greyhound bus down together. Then it turned out Topman couldn't head to Toronto until Sunday, so we knocked it back a day. Then it turned out Topman couldn't make it to Toronto until Sunday afternoon, so we knocked it back another day. We briefly considered taking an all-nighter bus to arrive in Detroit early morning, but Rich strongly advised against doing anything in Detroit outside daylight hours or depriving ourselves of sleep for the sake of getting together just a little sooner. So we finally settled on a Monday morning bus trip, arriving in the afternoon. Of course I'd already bought my plane tickets, thus landing me at Gauntlet's on Saturday for no reason. So yeah, our scheduling was screwy, and we didn't settle it until the last couple months.

So we eventually got all our travel plans in place. Meanwhile, Classi was getting more and more elusive. Around June, her sister GemmyNi slightly resurfaced, giving us a go-between for our last chance to accomodate her. As a bonus, Gemmy was quite enthusiastic about meeting the team too. It looked like we might have had an in, just a ridiculously complicated one. For a few weeks it looked like we missed our window of opportunity and Classi definitely wasn't coming. Then in the last month Gemmy informed that both of them could make it. Classi was in the process of moving into a new place and had no internet or phone, so Gemmy had to call Classi's friend to get in touch with Classi then relay the information back to me so I could relay that info to the team and back and forth again. Then Gemmy too stopped checking in at the forums often enough, forcing me to try the phone numbers she provided to get in touch with her, one of which was out of minutes and the other kept giving me a generic answering machine message. I finally reached her to confirm the plans for accomodations two weeks before the gathering, allowing us to reserve a couple rooms at the local hotel. Man, was that cutting things close. Oh, but they still had to buy Classi's bus ticket to get her up from Florida, at the last minute. They didn't even know how they were getting to Frankenmuth. We finally figured THAT out the day before. Fun!

2.The Pre-Meeting

So before Frankenmuth, the Canadians were too meet up at Gauntlet's/Needle's. I flew down on Saturday and stayed over at their house. Got a bit airsick and then got more carsick thanks to Gauntlet's crazy driving. We played video games, looked at site projects, ate at Celadon's, went shopping, etc. It was a pretty simple first night until Needle found out she was running late for her friend's birthday party and the Toronto area's troublesome travel system coupled with Needle's need for special accomodations meant her original public transportation plan was out and it was up to Gauntlet to drive her out to Toronto late at night. We really didn't figure we'd do so much driving back and forth at this point, but we'd get used to it as the trip wore on.

Instead of the couch, I got to sleep in the guest/hamster room this time. I slept fine until 2am when the hamster started running on its wheel and wouldn't stop. I was feeling too tired to move, but eventually mustered the strength to get up and move the cage out to the vacant room across the hall. Slept quite well after that.

Still managed to get up too early Sunday morning. In the den I found Gauntlet's copy of the Megaman X Collection. The previous year we broke it out for just a bit at the end so I could play X3 for the first time in forever (I don't have a PS2 and only ever rented X2 and X3 for the SNES before my only local rental place burned down years ago), and at the time failed to survive the Sigma Virus' final chase scene. I felt like a second chance and this time I pretty much breezed through the final stages before Gauntlet got up.

After I cleared X3, I found virtually no special features unlocked. The now-awake Gauntlet confessed he had barely played this collection at all. You can start to see why we'd end up playing this a lot over the course of the meet. I felt like trying out Battle&Chase, but of course it wasn't unlocked yet. While Gauntlet went to look up the prerequisites for that online, I opted for an impromptu speedrun of my favourite, MMX1. Turned out to be the right move as we only needed to finish X1-3 to unlock the racing game. X2 quickly fell after its brothers, giving us time to try out B&C before Topman even got close to joining us.

There was another bit of bad coordination as Top first tried to inform G of his imminent arrival by texting him. Too bad Gauntlet never carries his phone, so that was pointless. We were starting to expect him anyway, so I called him with my phone to find out where he was. He was ready to take the GO Train, and somehow managed to find his way onto the right one despite the obscure, misleading information on the tickets. Gauntlet advised him to call us when he got to a certain station, which led to some concern when he passed a station Gauntlet had never heard of, but was evidently on the right track. It led to quite a bit of arguing over whether Top heard "Curtis" or "Credit" at the stop...but the important thing is that he ended up at the right place at the right time.

Next, we got our first pizza of the week that would turn out to involve far too much pizza. Then it was back to the Technodrome for more revelry. We cleared MMX4 and did some more B&C. Turned out Top had some experience with the Japanese version of B&C and was a lot of help in getting us through the Grand Prix I'd foolishly started as Megaman (turns out we should have picked Napalm or Shadow for an easier time). It was lots of fun.

Checking online, we'd also found out Classi and Gemmy were indeed already in Michigan, but their original plan to bus to Frankenmuth would take forever due to the bus' crazy loopy path. They would instead bus to Detroit where Rich would pick them up same as the rest of us, only a few hours apart, on separate trips. That may sound badly organized, but there was no way Rich's rental car would fit all seven of us at once anyway, so it was surprisingly the best option.

As for us, we knew we had to get up early, but for some reason stayed up a little late anyway (Top slept on the couch I had last year, so we'd effectively switched places). The plan was to get up at 5:30 or something but in typical fashion for me I stopped the alarm, told myself I would only relax in bed for a minute before getting up, then slept in for 45 minutes before Gauntlet woke me up again with the fifteen-minute warning, meaning I'd missed my chance for a shower. Bah.

We got a ride to the GO train, took the GO train to Toronto, then took a taxi for a few blocks to the Greyhound station. Well, I'd covered my "planes, trains, and automobiles" quota for the trip and it still hadn't technically began.

The Bus Station was a madhouse. There were a lot of buses and a LOT of people lining up to get on them. We managed to find the line for our bus soon enough. There were already a couple dozen people ahead of us an hour before departure time, and the line was quickly growing behind after we grabbed our spot in it. Top picked a good time to mention that the fine print on the Greyhound site warned that people with tickets weren't guaranteed a spot on the bus, and seats were first come first serve. Needle and Top had to up the tension by taking short excursions from the line that turned into long excursions making us think they were going to miss the boarding. By the time the bus doors opened, the line stretched way back to the wall and twisted back around again. There looked to be about four times as many people wanting to get on the bus than would fit. We were certainly lucky we got there when we did. A few minutes later and we would have been past the cutoff point.

It was a cramped bus at first, but about half the people got off in London, and more people were getting off the closer we got to the border. There were some delays in the form of traffic, construction, and a fifteen minute break in London that turned out to be an hour break (we COULD have bought lunch at the understaffed Subway, but only grabbed chips because we thought we had no time).

Then we had to face the bad-cop/bad-cop interrogations of the border guards. We had to answer tough questions like the name of the place we were going ("Franken...furter?") and the real name of the guy we were meeting ("What's his name?" "Rich" "What's his last name?" "Um...Rich?"), and even after we were all cleared and back on the bus, we had to wait about another half-hour for this one couple carrying about twice their collective body-weight in luggage.

We made it to Detroit. We got to see the nice part of the city which seemed to comprise this one street next to the border, filled with interesting public works of art, like the giant metal sculpture of a fist pointed at Canada. What's the message with that piece. I wonder? Anyway, the nice part lasted for about two blocks and then we were in slumsville, and a couple blocks after that, the bus station (why not put it at the border?).

3.To Frankenmuth

Because of our numerous delays, we were about an hour late, but Rich was patiently waiting for us. We only had to dodge a few bums and opium dealers to make it to the rental Mazda and get on our way. Incidently, seems opium is making a comeback. That stuff. They don't even know.

Apparently an hour and a half was the short drive time we were supposed to expect between Detroit an Frankenmuth, and since Rich had to drive all the way back to Detroit to get Classi and Gemmy and bring them back, that was 4.5 hours of drive time for him. Top offered to keep him company on the long drive back while G, Needle, and I opted to guard the hotel rooms.

Frankenmuth was a lovely place. On our drive through we saw a lot of quaint and clean scenery, spotted the festive CHRISTmas Village (it's important to emphasize the "CHRIST" apparently), and crossed the wooden covered bridge that led to the Bavarian Inn. Check-in was kinda complicated as we insisted on splitting the bill seven ways and they couldn't lump the costs of both rooms together, but that was only really a problem for the desk staff and the people in line behind us. Hah.

Our adjacent rooms were on the second floor and the hall-balcony overlooked the ever-deserted "adults-only" pool and courtyard. We were quite amused by the names of the rooms we got: "Frankenlust Suite" and "Frankenhilf Suite". The stories behind those names are apparently more boring than they sound.

The cardkeys were tricky. We thought there was something wrong with them at first but apparently we just needed the magic touch, which meant they only worked about ten percent of the time. We managed to get into Frankenlust luckily enough and while Top went downstairs to sort the card thing out, we found the exterior balcony at the back, discovered the other room's door on that side was unlocked, and moved in that way. We arbitrarily decided the four guys would take the first room (lust) and the three girls would take hilf. Gauntlet and I each got one of the beds, Rich grabbed the couch, and Top opted to take the floor, as he claimed he possessed the ability to sleep anywhere. He still complained about the floor over the course of the trip though.

Once settled in, we went and found the Inn's Family Fun Center and its unappetizingly-named concession "Ratzkeller". We got lunch, tried Frankenmuth's own special root beer (made with beet sugar and honey rather than the usual corn syrup. Absolutely delicious, though expensive), and then Rich and Top finally hit the road again to go pick up the sisters. With at least three more hours to kill, the rest of us went for a walk to see what else Frankenmuth had to offer.

Between the Inn and the covered bridge, we found a small aviary with chickens and peacocks, among other, smaller birds. Our room windows were basically facing this birdhouse and the roosters would end up bugging us a lot throughout the trip (they don't just crow once in the morning, y'know), but we had a bit of fun feeding them grass, watching them ignore the birdseed I paid 25¢ for, and watching one of the peacocks put on its spread-tail mating display for his corresponding peahen while she just went on pecking at the dirt like he wasn't even there, even after he awkwardly backed into her. Hilarious.

Across the bridge was full-blown tourist town. We saw a lot of gift shops and chocolate shops and gift/chocolate shops, and...actually all the shops were selling chololate somehow. That's the Germans for you. I can't say I was too enthusiastic about any of the gift shop browsing, as it was mostly the same stuff you see at any gift shop in the world. Needle sure enjoyed it at least. Whether it was a fairy statuette giving her cosplay ideas, antique machines inspiring her steampunk interests, or just something cute/shiny, she had plenty motivation to browse. Gauntlet and I? Not so much. It was a way to kill time though. Once it started to get dark we headed back, catching some of the free musical entertainment along the way, then settled in some more in the rooms by watching the Dexter Season 3 DVD on a laptop.

Quite a bit past the three-hour point. The sounds of cardkey struggles at the door signalled the arrival of our last guests. Finally time to meet ClassiCal and GemmyNi!

4.Mechs Meet in Full Swing

The seven of us now assembled would turn out to be our full attendance. We tried contacting Hardman to tell him to drop in (he actually lives relatively close by), but it was no good. We had planned on counting Gemmy as Geminiman making it the first fully-assembled MM3 meet, but even that dream was shattered. At least we'd matched our attendance from the first meet, just switching out Classi for Hard and including Gemmy as our single guest-star we always seem to have. We didn't forget about our actual Geminiman either, and tried to grab Lennon on MSN a couple times, but it looked like the lack of scheduling and planning was not in our favour for that one. Next time, next time.

The rest of the first night was really fun. We got the PS2 hooked up in the girls' room, as their TV had hookups in the front and seemed to work quite well with the systems (sorry, no hotel TV trashing this time). After a bit of button-mashing fun with Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, we watched the rest of the Dexter DVD there while also drawing random stuff, sharing artwork, and shooting the breeze. The neighbours didn't seem to appreciate it though. The walls in that Inn were paper-thin and we got some knocks in the wall a couple times while being obnoxiously loud throughout the night.

Gemmy was the first to head off to bed as she claimed to have an important sleep-schedule (yet it didn't stop her and the other girls from talking and giggling sleep-over style well throughout each of the nights and sleeping-in each morning). Of course with Dexter and its frequent gratuitous sex scenes blaring in her room, she went and settled in MY bed in the meantime, and she wasn't in a big rush to move when the rest of us started getting ready to pack it in.

In retrospect, it probably would have been simpler all-around just to have everybody switch rooms. Big reason being that the next morning, the guys were the first ones up, and some of us would have liked to pass the time with the Playstation that was still hooked up in the other room where people were still sleeping. We later figured to move the PS2 into the guys' room, but it turns out our TV sucked. It took us forever to figure out how to get the auxiliary signal and once the games were playing the screen kept resetting every time there was a big flash. And none of the girls seemed as interested in playing the video games for some reason.

Oh well, with no PS2 to play early on Tuesday morning, Gauntlet got his classic roms set up on the laptop instead. MMV for Gameboy kinda humiliated us. Top was doing much better on his DS-emulated version. Rich, Gauntlet, and I blamed the MadCatz controller we had to deal with. Once the PS2 was transferred to our room, we continued our work with the X collection, clearing X5 easily thanks to the cheat to get the Ultimate armor right from the start. As the gathering swept by we started to neglect the rest of it and only managed to squeeze in a couple stages each of X6, X7, and X8, but at least we can say they were all played at some point. This was actually my first shot at playing X7 and X8, which I'd been looking forward to for a long time. Can't say I was too impressed by 7, but 8 sure left me wanting more.

We also played Metal Gear Solid 4 (Well Rich did, naturally), and MM3 got another semi-speedrun but we weren't quite organized for it, and of course some more Battle&Chase. The best part was on Tuesday evening while Top started a new Grand Prix with Napalmman while our old friend Full Metal Jacket played on the laptop. We just turned down the game volume and let the movie dialogue serve as our soundtrack. Napalman driving his tank around tossing bombs at everyone while screaming like R. Lee Ermey was just the perfect way to experience it.

Speaking of things to watch from the first meet, remember how we failed to get the Mario Bros. Movie working at a critical juncture? Well it worked this time. It was Rich's special 200th viewing since he started keeping count and this time he got to share the misery with us. If you hadn't watched the movie 200 times, you probably wouldn't notice things like the explicit use of brakes in a vehicle during a chase scene mere seconds before that same vehicle is said to have no brakes whatsoever. Thankfully, we had Rich to guide us through it. For my part, it was the third time I'd seen the movie, second time in English.

Not sure what brought it up, but we also had to watch Dr.Horrible's Sing-Along Blog that night. Apparently Rich hadn't seen it yet. Others had seen it plenty of times. At least Needle had seen it enough to take the "sing-along" part literally. It was good though, she had a lovely voice for parts such as "You're Gonna Die."

Incidently, that song was playing through my head as I woke up the next morning ("It's a brand new day and the sun is high..."), and appropriately enough, that was the day we played Cutthroat Caverns! As a recap, Top works in a board game store so he gets to try out a lot of good ones and then teach them to other people, like us. Last year we took on Cutthroat Caverns in which the players cooperate to fight their way through nasty monsters while subtly trying to one-up each other, get the presitge for the kills, and be the last man standing at the end. Top claimed back then that hardly anyone's character ever died during the course of the game.

My character was the only one that died.

This year, I was ready to make up for that. I stocked up on defensive cards, did whatever I could to keep my hit points high, avoided rousing the ire of the other players, and actually played quite well.

My character was the only one that died. AGAIN.

I guess I was actually playing TOO well. I was racking up the monster kills early on, getting all the prestige. That meant everyone had motivation to use their backstabbing damage-redirecting moves to make my health go from 95% to 0 within two encounters and all my defensive strategies were trumped by their asshole strategies. I wasn't even trying that hard to get the early prestige. I swear there were a couple times where the others deliberately passed up a chance to snipe my kill. They were out to get me from the start, damnit. I had to go for a walk to shake off the feeling of failure.

After that, we tried another, similar game. Shadow Hunters. A game where dying was commonplace and you could still win if you were dead. As you can imagine, I was all for that. We played Shadow Hunters a lot and I even got to win a couple times. At the start of a round of this game, everyone's character is secret and the objective is to find out who's who so you know who to kill to win, and who not to kill because they're on your side. You've got strong and evil Shadows that want to kill the righteous and holy Hunters and vice versa. There are also Neutrals who each have their own special objective like sweet little girl Allie who just wants to be alive at the end of the game, psycho killer Charles who wants the third kill or higher ("Get out of my head Chaaarrrles!"), and crazy suicidal Daniel that wants to be the first to die.

Top was experienced enough with the game to spot character behaviour pretty quickly, as you could assume Charles will go and attack people indiscriminately, and Allie will be pretty defensive and not rock the boat. The rest of us weren't so experienced and inadvertently defied those preconceptions. Gemmy rather hilariously went on a killing rampage at one point, convincing Top she was Charles, but she turned out to be Allie. It gets funnier when you start collecting the equipment cards and make assumptions about how they combine. If you have a chainsaw, a shotgun, and a machine-gun, what do you do with them? Why, combine them into a rapid-fire chainsaw-shotgun of course! It's a gun that shoots chainsaws, weilded by a cute little girl named Allie that doesn't want to die so she's taking everyone else down first, played by Gemmy.

You were supposed to figure out alliances based on the information-gathering hermit cards. Some players had different strategies though. Needle for instance didn't seem to care who was who, she just automatically sided with her brother, and she was usually right as they were almost always either both Hunters or both Shadows. Pacifist Classi was always reluctant to attack anyone, even when all the cards were revealed and it was obvious who her enemies were. Gemmy, as I mentioned, didn't care who was who either, she just attacked indiscriminately. Gauntlet was a packrat, he'd almost always go for the equipment cards and just horde them, making him extremely dangerous even though he rarely made a move to attack unless we were already attacking him because we were afraid of his arsenal of axe-lance-knife-guns. Oh, and let's not forget that damn Holy Heavy Robe, which nerfed your attacks while boosting your defense. That thing was just tedious, but everyone seemed to fight over it. Much of the gameplay allowed for such flexibility (infinite choices, infinite pleasures). We tricked each other, killed each other, healed each other, screwed each other over, and blew up churches with dynamite. It was a lot more fun than Cutthroat Caverns.

Plenty of good restaurants to choose from. Ratzkeller was the closest and fastest but we tried to avoid it because the nearby fun center arcade included a Flip2Win machine that played the same fanfare every few seconds. I couldn't understand how the employees there hadn't gone insane, but I could see even them twitch a little whenever the tune played. Just on the floor below our rooms was Oma's restaurant, a place where the staff was nice enough to serve us even though we walked in right at closing time at about 9pm. Around that time, the lights kept flickering on and off and strange cries were coming from the kitchen. We didn't see blood coming from the walls, but it seemed like someone or something did want us to leave. They had crayons at the table though, and paper placemats for drawing on. At first we thought the placemats were just red, then when Classi passed hers to show it to Gemmy, we noticed that the flip-sides were white. Bah. The Inn had its own namesake restaurant, though oddly not in the same building. We had to cross the river to get to it, but they had that famous melt-in-your-mouth Frankenmuth chicken Rich was telling us so much about. When it was getting late and we were getting hungry but didn't want to leave the rooms, the girls would go down to the Ratzkeller or someplace to pick up a pizza and fudge. There was no shortage of pizza, and by the end of the week we were all pretty sick of it. If there's one thing that stood out with all the eating we did over the course of the meet, it was the phrase "gluten-free". I'd never heard of this allergy that makes bread and grain-based products poisonous before, but apparently it's so commonplace that both Needle and Gemmy have it. All the restaurants had gluten-free menus, though not necessarily with gluten-free things on them. The guy at the Ratzkeller claimed that Frankenmuth was really progressive on the gluten-free thing though, so much that we were supposedly just a week late for a big gluten-free conference held right there in Frankenmuth. I had to call BS on that.

What else did we do? Well of course there was a pool right under our rooms. Kind of a boring pool with no diving board or pool toys and a lukewarm hot-tub, but it was relaxing enough. We also could have tried the Fun Center's pool but it looked about the same and kids were allowed in that one so it was a lot busier, plus it was a longer walk to reach it. If we really wanted some good swimming we could have driven down the road to the big indoor waterpark we saw coming in, but the boring one below our rooms was good enough for everyone.

Before swimming, Top liked to work up a sweat on the DDR machine in the Fun Center's arcade. Goddamn but he's good on that thing. Rich gave a fairly decent opening act on beginner mode, but then Topman spun in and tore the machine to pieces on its highest setting, proving to all of us he could not have ended up with a more appropriate robot master identity. The rest of us passed the time in the fun center with a couple games of pool. I really should have been the expert here because I have a pool table in my basement, but we never use it so I sucked, go figure. Gauntlet was the good one of the group. At first he looked like he didn't know what the hell he was doing, but it turned out he was just hustling us. That's Gauntlet for you. Needle was pretty good with the pool cue herself, but she didn't play with us, instead she showed off some moves she'd been learning in fencing lessons and taught G and I how to "flower", a pretty simple and unnecessary move that Gauntlet managed to have a lot of difficulty with.

Speaking of I ran out of good segues a couple paragraphs back, time to just list off the rest of the noteworthy things over Tuesday and Wednesday. So we watched stuff. Too much stuff. We kept thinking of random YouTube videos we had to bring up, plus Rich brought a bunch of DVDs besides Mario Bros. that we didn't have nearly enough time for. There were a few episodes of Cromartie High. That show got us thinking of Sealab 2021, so we watched a few episodes of that. Not sure how it came up, but Gauntlet claimed to have never seen the Log Driver's Waltz video, calling into doubt his Canadian citizenship, so we brought that up for everyone to see. There were videos of Street Fighter movie M.Bison quotes (For us, it was Tuesday), that Dark Knight Joker interrogation spoof, Shoes, Photoshop Disasters, Mega64 stuff, and probably a bunch of other random things I can't possibly remember.

A little about our various sleeping schedules: we were a bad match for seven people cramming into two rooms. Gauntlet and Needle were from a family of insomniacs, check. Needle and Rich both tend to sleep under four hours a night and get up insanely early, check. Gemmy, as mentioned earlier has to be in bed by 11, but she also has to get up in the middle of the night to talk to people along with her sister, check. Top can fall asleep in the most uncomfortable circumstances at the drop of a hat, well that was convenient. I thought I was a light sleeper and could be awakened by the slightest noise, but apparently that only applies to early mornings when I'm just half asleep, because I supposedly missed a couple obvious disturbances in the middle of Tuesday night. At a couple points Rich's phantom laptop turned itself on, waking only Topman up and freaking him out. Then there was the part where Classi snuck into our room to get back a coffee stirrer she'd left in there and woke NOBODY up (yeah they needed coffee in the middle of the night, that's how ridiculous the girls' sleep schedules were). It was a bit of an embarrassment to our MM3 identities, as Spark out-ninja'd Shadowman and evaded the keen senses of Snakeman. I also failed to adequately ninja myself early each morning as I got up first to take my shower, inevitably waking everyone else up regardless of how smooth and stealthy I tried to be. It didn't help that the sink was outside the bathroom for some reason. Then, because the girls were awake most of the night, they slept-in a lot. Classi was in bed until noon on Wednesday.

On our last night in Frankenmuth we split up a bit to do our own last-minute activities. Rich stayed in to do the MM3 speedrun (something the rest of us didn't notice we were supposed to all do together), Top and Gemmy went for some more arcade and swimming fun, while Gauntlet, Classi, Needle, and I went for one more siteseeing walk. Our walk started with a bit more giftshop browsing, but took an interesting turn when we ran into our big friend Ben.

The carriage drivers told us Ben was 1200 lbs. and some other stuff that I don't remember. Ben took us for a ride around the inn, down the covered bridge, right into speeding traffic, past some more apparently awesome giftshops that caught Needle's eye ("Pewter Kingdom? Oh, we have to go there!"), and eventually back where we started. It was a surprisingly nice and romantic way to wrap up our last night in the beautiful town.

5.Heading Home

Before checking out of the hotel we had an opportunity to fill out one of those evaluation forms. We passed up the chance, but in retrospect we probably should have complained about the paper-thin walls, the hot-tub that wasn't so hot, the frustrating cardkeys, and most importantly the dangerous shower that cut Needle's finger and put a big red gash in Classi's arm. Oh well, I guess future guests will just have to pay for our polite, forgiving nature.

Thursday was a bit of a panic. We were working out our schedule the night before and figured that in order to get everyone where they needed to go, we all had to be up at 7:30, ready by 8:30, get Classi and Gemmy on the road to the bus station in Detroit by 10:00, check out of the hotel by 11:00, kill time for three hours while Rich and Top drove to Detroit and back to pick the rest of us up again, then after a brief lunch, drive back to the bus station so we could get there by 3:45 and wait for our 4:45 departure. Turns out our scrambling was entirely unnecessary though. Unlike in Toronto, there was no huge lineup for our bus. There were only like five other people boarding it besides us! Classi and Gemmy ended up arriving way too early for their bus as well. We could have added at least another hour to our time together, but I guess better safe than sorry. We had no way of knowing Toronto was the bad example. Hell, we assumed there would be even MORE people scrambling to get out of Detroit!

As the bus was heading back to the border, we kept an eye out for the big metal fist so we could get a picture of it. Unfortunately we were looking on the wrong side of the road so we missed the fist. Gauntlet was pissed that we missed the fist, it was on his list. We felt so dissed, at least we got the gist, though you can't even see the wrist. Oh well, at least we'd kissed Detroit goodbye.

Canadian customs was amusingly lax compared to the madness of their US counterparts. They didn't even need us to get our bags out from under the bus or to x-ray our carry-ons, it was calm and quiet inside the office as opposed to full of stern shouting and chattering, and the customs officers were all polite and cordial and didn't give us accusing glares when we had a bit of trouble explaining what we were up to.

Then another six-hour bus trip of reading, drawing, and plotting. Near the end we found out there would be a stop in Hamilton which gave Needle an idea to call her friend Mike to pick us up there in his van for a quick ride direct to home base, which shaved an hour off our trip had we stayed on until Toronto. So we got to meet Mike and his unintuitively seatless van as well as see Hamilton, the Detroit of Canada. Gotta say Hamilton was nicer.

The next morning, we tried out one more of Top's games, Fairy Tale. It was made by the same people as Shadow Hunters, but it wasn't nearly as violent. The objective was basically to collect a set of cards by the end of four rounds, adding up points for special combinations and conditions. It gave me another oppotunity to disgrace my Math major rep by losing count of my points over and over, and adding a couple cards twice to give myself a much higher score than possible. It wasn't quite the fun of Shadow Hunters, but it was certainly better for four people.

It was Friday, the day our old gathering event FanExpo was starting in Toronto, and Top opted to delay his departure for a few hours so he could go check it out. I didn't have the luxury of that choice with my plane ticket, so I had to miss out. I only got a chance to see bits and pieces of Needle's infamous Steampunk Phoenix costume before G whisked us away to our destinations.

From what I hear, attendance at the Con was up by a few thousand from last year, and Top was still waiting in line by the time G and Needle got there with their special skip-the-line Passes. Needle kindly (and probably rule-breakingly) lent her Pass to Top so he could go quickly check all the dealer tables he wanted before heading home himself.

As for me, motion sickness again. I was feeling it creeping up as soon as I woke up that morning, which was good as it gave me the foresight to bum some gravol off of Needle to take before getting on the plane. I still had to suffer through Gauntlet's crazy driving though, I was dying of dizziness by the time I got to the airport. But then I nursed a ginger-ale and took the gravol at the last moment and the plane went surprisingly smooth, didn't feel the slightest discomfort, I even got some sleep on the way.

6.Until Next Year

There may not have been any exciting events to plan around and from Needle's impromptu shuttle-drive at the beginning to the early Hamilton transfer at the end, we just kept on coming up with plans at the last minute, but to me this felt like the best gathering yet. Meeting Classi and Gemmy was so great, everyone got along so well, and just hanging out in the hotel room playing board games turned out to be a much better group activity than separately wandering around a crowded convention hall lost and confused.

Next year is still up in the air. There's a good chance we'll shoot for Michigan again, and hopefully get everyone from this last meet plus Hardman and even more guest stars if all goes well. After that, can you believe there's already talk about Mech's Meet 2011? We're thinking of something a little bigger that's going to take two years to prepare for, and hopefully even our ever-distant Geminiman will finally be able to join in.

Until we figure out whatever the Ratzkeller's mascot was supposed to be, we are...The Mechanical Maniacs!

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Gatherings: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019


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