Brickworld Trip Wrapup

This is the rest of my travel journal from Brickworld 2011 LEGO convention in Chicago. I’ve been home from Chicago for two days now, but it’s time to wrap up the journal. My previous installment took us up to Friday afternoon, before I even started taking photos of the exhibits. Carrying forward from that point:

I spent an hour or two photographing everything in the Lake Michigan ballroom, and afterward was feeling really tired, achy, and hungry. So I set my computer to the task of uploading all those photos, and headed out for dinner.

I walked down Milwaukee Ave to where I knew there was a lot of retail and restaurants, at least fast food. I was hungry for something like fish & chips, greasy and salty and filling, but I spotted a little sushi place in a strip mall and decided to check that out. It turned out to be expensive too (Food around there is super expensive! At first I thought it was the hotel, but everywhere seems to be pricey) but I had a large platter of tempura shrimp and vegetables, and a couple pieces of sushi. The food was decent, but I’ve had much better. The place was called “Sushi Gallery.”

After dinner I stopped at Walgreen’s for a few snacks and beverages, and walked back to the hotel. The roads around here are really bad when it comes to sidewalks. Milwaukee Ave has sidewalks on both sides up until about 50 feet from the intersection where I needed to cross for the hotel. I had to walk on the grass (which was luckily dry) to get to the intersection, then after crossing at the crosswalk (at least they had that) I had to walk on the grass again as there was no sidewalk leading up to the hotel entrance (though with a slight detour I could have walked across the parking lot). In California, there would have been more complete sidewalkage, I am sure.

When I got back to my computer it had finished uploading all the photos so I spent some time fixing the ones that were rotated 90 degrees one way or the other. I left my computer and most of my stuff in the hotel room and went to tackle the Ravinia ballroom.

I stayed up late Friday night until around 2am taking pictures in Ravinia, and still didn’t finish. I got up in the morning in time to finish taking pictures there, which I did, but not before I ran into some technological issues. Late at night when I was trying to dump my camera I ran out of disk space. So Saturday morning I was talking to one of the guys from the local train club and he offered to take me to Wal-Mart. I bought a 1TB small hard disk and a large cheap suitcase for all the LEGO sets I had bought.

I copied all my files to the new disk, but it’s really slow. I’m not sure why but it seems USB activity on my computer is significantly affected by its presence (I think it’s not capable of talking USB to two devices at once, and my laptop’s memory card reader slot counts as USB). Every time I take a picture it saves both a 10 megapixel JPG file and a RAW file – the latter being several times larger than its corresponding JPG, containing the original data captured by the camera for post processing purposes. I’m considering turning off the RAW feature when I take pictures at events like this but it still seems like a good idea in case I ever need to go back and reprocess a picture.

Anyway, once the crowds came pouring in, I spent a lot of time in the hotel room, where I managed to get all the LEGO sets I’d bought into the suitcase – by removing them from their boxes and putting them into extra plastic bags that I’d got from the LEGO store. I did go down and take some pictures though, to show what it’s like full of people. Once the crowds left I went over to the next ballroom, Botanic Garden, and took pictures of the models there. One large display in the center of the room was being torn down while I was there – someone had received news that a family member was in the hospital, and he had to go right away. One other thing that won’t come through in the photos is the Christmas music that was constantly coming out of one holiday-themed display. The owner of the display was nowhere to be found, but the music was pretty pervasive throughout the room. Christmas music, especially highly religious songs, should not be played in a secular public event in June, full stop.

While I was taking pictures in that room, the announcement came over the PA for all attendees to gather in front of the hotel for a group photo by Joe Meno, editor of BrickJournal. We stood on and in front of the fountain by the hotel entrance and smiled on the count of 3, then I went back inside to take more pictures in Botanic Garden, and back to my room to download them onto my computer and hard drive.

Saturday night at 10pm, one of the best things about Brickworld happened – the World of Lights and Sound. The “World of Lights” was started two years ago, when I came to Brickworld for the first time in 2009, and now they’ve added sound to it. It’s promoted by LifeLites, a company that produces white LED lamps for use in LEGO models. Lots of people added the lights to their creations and when 10pm on Saturday rolled around, the room lights were turned off, leaving the models to shine for all to appreciate.

Most of the models were unlit, but those that were did some pretty amazing things. Some people used black light, which causes transparent LEGO parts (especially the transparent greenish yellow color) to glow. Many of the town buildings were lit, and a few of the vehicles (such as trains) had interior lighting and/or running lights. There were some mosaics built out of transparent colored parts (like stained glass) that were backlit to good effect.

There was a contest, sponsored by LifeLites, and by far the most popular (and, as it turned out later during the closing ceremonies, winning) entry was the Star Wars Death Star Disco model. It was filled with all kinds of lights including in the dance floor, and was accompanied by a playlist of disco music. On the dance floor Princes Leia was getting down with Darth Vader while a variety of Star Wars characters were standing around in various poses.

Also announced in the closing ceremonies: Next year they’re adding “and Motion” to the “World of Lights” theme.

I stayed up way too late that night. I had a lot of technical difficulties with my pictures stemming from the disorganization that came about due to filling up my laptop’s disk. It turns out that a few files from the Ravinia Ballroom were filed under Lake Michigan by mistake, but only on my hard disk (not on Flickr). I noticed there was a discrepancy in the number of photos in the Lake Michigan folder on my computer and the set on Flickr, so I uploaded them to Flickr and filed them under Lake Michigan … only to look at them and realize they were really in Ravinia. So I deleted them from Flickr. And then I realized that I had not uploaded them under Ravinia either, and should have just edited the descriptions instead of deleting them. So next I undertook a full scale audit to verify the location of each image, check where it was on Flickr compared to on my hard drive, and then to upload whatever’s missing. This took many hours, largely because I keep stopping what I’m doing to chat with people, and I stayed up until about 3am to do it.

Sunday morning, I went downstairs just in time to take photos of the vendor’s room before it opened up to the public. I brought all the LEGO store bags I had left over, including the extra ones I was given to help pack my things, and gave them to Larry Pienazek and his wife. Larry is a friend and long distance (Michigan) BayLUG member whom I’ve known for as long as I’ve been into LEGO, and they are selling off some of their excess inventory of older LEGO sets. They gave me a small set by way of thanks, which was really nice.

I also sat down with Jim Foulds in the LEGO booth for quite a while and we talked about the LEGO conventions. We discussed some of the differences between the various conventions and I asked him for feedback on Bricks by the Bay. He suggested having more group activities, and we talked at length about how to lay out the vendor room and deal with the crowds of kids who act like ants looking for Brickarms.

Afterward I went off in search of a quiet place to work some more on the photo organization and uploading. I went over to the build room, where kids were given a chance to build whatever they wanted out of a huge quantity of dark grey 2×4 bricks. I plugged my laptop in and uploaded the remaining photos that were missing, deleted some duplicates, and rotated ones that were sideways. Partway through the process of fixing sideways pictures, my laptop died due to lack of battery power. Turns out the outlet I was using was dead! Something similar happened Saturday night too, with an outlet in the hallway. I ran into a hotel employee who asked how I was doing and I told him about the dead outlets. Then I went up to the hotel room where I finished the job (but I couldn’t upload photos over the cellular connection I was using) and ate some Fritos and had a quick chat with Valerie on the phone.

After the public left, everyone set about tearing down their models. Having no models on display, teardown was a breeze for me :-)

I was in the vendor room when the public hours ended and teardown began. I talked to several vendors about coming to sell at Bricks by the Bay, and about possible sponsorship opportunities. I also went over to the next room where Vincent Kessels (the guy from Holland who had agreed to go on the boat tour with me the next day) was taking down his things, and talked to him for a bit. But then they locked down the ballrooms and we gathered in the Ravinia room for closing ceremonies.

In Ravinia they had taken down all the tables in one corner of the ballroom and set up a video screen and chairs facing it for closing ceremonies. That area had been largely free of tables anyway, as it had some floor-based robotics exhibits (including the giant chess and Robo Rally boards). The winners in several categories of MOC contests were announced, along with instructions for the final door prize giveaways.

After that I arranged for a taxi to the train station for our trip into Chicago, leaving the airport at 7am to catch a 7:30 train, and went up to my room. I organized my things a bit, read a bit, and took a little nap, until Mariann came in and started talking about dinner. We went down to the lobby and met up with a group of people, 10 in all, and all agreed to go get dinner. We sent two people to scout ahead to see if we could get a table at the Cooper’s Hawk restaurant next to the hotel. They reported success so we all trooped across the parking lot and sat down. The service was rather slow, but the food was excellent. I had salmon with asparagus and broccoli (special version of their salmon dish meant to be dairy-free). As we were leaving we tried to pay for our meal, only to be told it had been taken care of. Apparently one of the people in our group had quietly settled the bill (and this was not a cheap restaurant, especially with the alcohol some of the people had to drink with their meals!) and disappeared.

After dinner I packed up my belongings as much as possible and went to bed.

In the morning we checked out of the hotel. We had a bellhop take our bags out of the room and stack them in the taxi (a minivan, thankfully). Vincent met Mariann and me in the lobby and we left a little late, due to some trouble working out how to split the bill and still give Mariann her receipt for tax purposes.

When we arrived at the train station, we paid the cab in cash and went inside to get the tickets and as we were fumbling with our money we heard the train arrive. We were planning to get on a train that left at 7:30am, and it was the last train to Chicago for the day so we couldn’t afford to miss it. In a panic we got the tickets and rushed aboard, where we settled the splitting of the taxi and train fares… my brain does not work well for doing arithmetic on so little sleep :-)

Eventually we got to Union Station a bit earlier than planned, and I figured out that we had actually gotten on the penultimate train, which was apparently running about five minutes late! We found the luggage lockers and put our bags away for the day, then headed out to see the city. We took the El train for a couple of stops, just so we could say we did it, and then walked to a Corner Bakery cafe that was across the river from where Vincent said the boat tour left.

We left the restaurant with just enough time for a leisurely stroll across the river and down to the dock… only it turned out that he was talking about a different boat tour company, and ours was another three long blocks or so away! I called them to confirm their location as we were walking there, and realized the error. But as we jog/walked to the correct location I realized we weren’t going to make it there by 10, so I called them and told them we were just a block away and they said they would hold it for us. We got there a few minutes after 10, bought our tickets, and went aboard.

The boat tour was great. The weather was a little questionable – warm, but with an intermittent light drizzle. We sat under a canopy, but there were open seats in the front row so we could still have a great view. The tour guide explained about the different architects and styles of the various skyscrapers along the river, mixed with history about the city and the river. The tour lasted 90 minutes and included excursions up both the north and south forks.

After the boat tour, we had some time to kill, since it was 11:30 and Mariann and I didn’t have to be at the airport until 2:30 or so. We walked over to Navy Pier and wandered around it, admiring the stained glass window exhibit and having lunch. We took a taxi back to the Union Station and Mariann and I got our luggage. Vincent helped us schlep our luggage over to the El train, which Mariann rode to Midway airport where we got on our respective flights and went home. (Vincent had a later flight to Amsterdam out of O’Hare.)