What a journey!
We are home from an epic and amazing cross country trip that was our spring con season, but the adventure started way before then. It’s been an amazing year so far for us here at Airship Isabella. It started last year, actually, but we didn’t really ramp up the process until January 1st. The first two weeks of January were spent building an epic project that I can’t talk about, but if the inklings that I have been getting are any indications, I will have something to show you guys soon of that. Suffice it to say, it was our first “big boy” contract and our first venture into working with some really big and well known companies. It went splendidly, and we delivered our contract 10 days ahead of schedule. Not a bad way to start the year, but though we didn’t know it, it was just the beginning. On a particularly good day where we had earned enough at the market to have the company owe us dinner, we got an email from Drew Hall with the production, Aether.
Unbeknownst to us, our illustrious captain had answered a casting call for a steampunk inspired short being shot in Alabama. They were asking for steampunk extras with their own gear. Paid gig. Why not. In his eyes, it was a guaranteed paycheck for the crew and a fun way to pass the week. What it turned into was a whirlwind introduction to the movie industry as crew. It started with a gun holster and ended with our entire shop and the physical history of ASI on set and eventually on screen next to a handful of our hand built custom props. It turns out that the broken, beaten and abused gear of 5 years worth of wear and touring was exactly what they were looking for as accessories. When you see the piece after it’s release, look for all incarnations of Captain Whittaker’s top hat. He has had three. All were used in the filming. 🙂 The email came in on January 19h and we worked nonstop on the project through filming on February 12th. It was unexpected, wonderful and fabulous. We met people who had won awards for work that shaped our childhood and adult life. Broke bread with people who quit jobs that we could only dream about to work on this project. And were offered opportunities that only weeks before had seemed unattainable. I’m not going to lie. It was surreal, and it continues to be so.
We came home from Alabama so excited we couldn’t see straight…right into a flood of commissions and work. With our tour start date of February 27th looming in the very near future, we put our heads down and started plowing through the work and getting ready to hit the road for our longest run since 2012 and mileage wise, our longest run ever. Now I’m convinced
that God has a sense of humor and it is sometimes as dark as ours. Less than a week after getting home from Alabama, Mr. Fox came down with symptoms of the flu. I quickly followed suit. It wasn’t too bad as far as a flu goes, but there just wasn’t time to be sick. We had scheduled a photo shoot with the amazing William Colgin for that week, and though it really made me sad, Mr. Fox and I had to bow out. It was super cold that day, and with being sick, it just wasn’t in the cards for us. Cedric, Lulu, Zombie, Lumi and Suzo went to meet him and I am super jealous and happy with the shots they got.
William always makes us look so awesome! We managed to get what we needed to get done, though a bit slowly and with lots of help from the non-incapacitated members of the crew. In the end it was just enough time to bring us up to speed and pack, but not a bit more. Mr. Fox had recovered and I was just starting to feel better on the 27th when we packed up the Fang Van and headed for our first stop, Tampa, Florida for the very first Endless Night event being held in that city.
I want to start with the venue. Oh. My. God. If you have never been to the Castle in Tampa, you have to go. I didn’t even know goth bars like that still existed. The ambiance, decor and staff are fantastic. The Endless Night krewe did a great job
with setting the mood and hosting, and the event was really enjoyable. The costumes were top notch, and the entertainment was great. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a party or a club type person. I generally don’t like the atmosphere or the vibe of most places or events of that nature. Nothing personal towards them. It’s just not my thing. But this event was fun. The vibe was great. The people were great and I was happy to be there…until they turned the air conditioning down so cold that I could see my breathe. This wouldn’t have been a huge deal if I had been at 100% but I was just coming back from the flu. I had fun, but the 6 hours I spent in, I kid you not, a room in the upper 30’s temp range, did me in. As miserable as I was physically, I was still in awe of this AC system. No really, when I remodel our shop, I want the number of the company that built that unit. I didn’t even know you could get a room that big that cold and it not be a freezer. When I woke up at the hotel on March 1st, I was sick as a dog. We drove the 12 hours back to New Orleans for the two days before we had to leave for Tucson, and I crawled into bed with a high fever, breathing trouble and no voice. Final verdict, secondary bronchitis. I have always been an overachiever. But these events are scheduled a year in advance, and sick or not, we left for Tucson at 6am on March 3rd. The trouble with traveling and living in close quarters with people is that there is no way to avoid each other. While the bronchitis wasn’t contagious, the initial flu was.
The first leg of our journey took us to Junction, Texas and the Fox family ranch. We set out predawn for West Texas knowing that a winter system was trying to beat us there, but we were bound and determined to get there before that happened. The two New Orleans cars separated ways in Houston. One going straight to Junction. The other making a detour to Victoria to drop off my son at my mother’s house for the three week run. Sam switched from self directed home schooling to online schooling this year, and the threat of little or intermittent internet on the road and trips that would keep him in the car for days at a time were not conducive to keeping up. He opted for an extended grandparent/cousin visit instead. That put us about an hour behind the trail car. We were just leaving my mother’s house when the first warning rang on our phone.
When we had left, the weather services said that they were expecting inclement weather after midnight. The first warning we heard had moved that time to 9pm. At that point, if everything went well, we would make it at 8:30. Ok, fine. Cutting it a little close, but still enough time to drag our night clothes into the warm house before the snow and ice. Just outside of San Antonio, about an hour from our destination, the snow flurries started. While some of them were impressive for the area, we didn’t hit any ice on the road, and we made it to Junction without incident if a little peeved at the weather forecasters. In Junction, we met up with some of the Austin crew, Tank, Nika, Kitty and Atti for the second leg of the trip to Arizona. Their trip in was a little hairier.
We had planned to leave Junction for the 15 hour trip to Tucson at 7am. The frozen road that morning disagreed. We ended up leaving at 9am in a frozen, but melting winter scene. The first couple of hours were beautiful if scary at times. Adding to the list of things I didn’t know about winter is that when West Texas is frozen and covered in snow and ice, the entire place looks like it is in greyscale. No color at all. Just shades of white, grey and black. It was really beautiful and really weird. We knew that we needed a tire for the trailer and planned to make our customary stop at the Fort Stockton Tractor Supply to get a spare and a new tire. Apparently, we were a little off on our timing…again. And for the third year in a row, we found ourselves on the side of I-10 changing a trailer tire. We learned from our previous experience where we nearly had to trade Becca for a tire in a town that resembled Novak more than a little bit, to carry a spare. And we limped the 25 miles to our planned stop to change out the flat. On the way out, we had to stop for gas in Fort Hamilton…our Novak. As we stopped at the gas station in the middle of no where, there sat a stand….with a whole host of tires for sale including ones that would work for the trailer. I guess we weren’t the only ones who had been in a position of talking about trading our crew for a tire. 🙂 Once we passed out of West Texas, the weather turned warmer and we made good time. If you are ever passing through Demming, New Mexico, I highly recommend Taco Mirasol. It was one of the highlights of the trip. Not fine dining by any stretch, but the homemade horchata alone was worth the stop! Sometime between Demming and Tucson, Cedric started getting sick. By the time we checked into the hotel, we were going through cold and flu medicine like water.
Even miserable, coughing and sick, Wild Wild West Con is an amazing event. The 3 day con held at Old Tucson Studios is the kind of thing that steampunks everywhere dream about doing and participating in. The setting, the people, the camaraderie…all as far as I’m concerned are the best out there. It was really good to see old friends and make new ones…I’m looking at you L.O.S.E.R! The staff made a last minute change to the schedule for us to be able to premiere the first behind the scenes look at Aether, the short we were working on in February. Drew happened to be passing through on Saturday coming back from Los Angeles and we had a chance to show him around the con and introduce him to some of the things that we do. On Sunday, we turned on the projector and watched to see what the community and attendees thought and did. They were all over it, and super excited. It was good to see, and really encouraging to the production team back in Alabama. Cedric managed to host his panels, keep going and still be friendly even though he was loosing his voice and felt like crap, but by the end of the weekend, the crud had started letting go of both of us. While not 100%, it was the first time I had felt partially human since before we had left for Tampa. We were invited by Robert Levin to do a photo shoot on Monday with Jim Kelso and we were invited to go visit Kim Bailey in Phoenix on Tuesday. While we didn’t have a lot of time, we also didn’t want to miss the opportunities.
On Monday morning we made our way to Mr. Kelso’s studio and spent most of the day working with him. He was great to work with and the studio was awesome! At about 4pm we loaded our gear back in the truck and traveled 2 hours north to Phoenix. As a point of note, when we travel, we normally stay with friends and family. This trip was taking us way outside of our normal range, and for the first time in ASI travel history we were booking hotels along the way. We stay at hotels at our destinations, but not normally sight unseen, we don’t know anyone here, stop for the night hotels. So this was new for us…and there was a learning curve. In Phoenix, we booked a hotel based on travelocity reviews, and I will give them this…the hotel was clean. The bed was comfy, and the plumbing worked. On most days, that’s all we really care about. Except maybe it would have been nice to note the normal clientele is not necessarily non-wealthy travelers just looking for a place to sleep comfortably. It started with trying not to run over the screaming toddler who was playing with a group of unsupervised children in the parking lot when we pulled in. This should have been a clue. But we brushed it off as people traveling with children, and maybe not being the best parents in the world. As it got dark, the place got a little rougher. And by a little rougher, I mean I’m pretty sure there was a meth lab two doors down. There was a guy that stood by our truck in the parking lot and talked to himself from about 9pm til 3am and literally didn’t move once. There were the shady characters going in out of the assumed meth lab and the obvious druggy who walked back and forth down the corridor at least 4 times before working up the courage to knock on that door. Then when Lulu and Zombie pulled back the sheets to go to bed that night, they noticed the bed had a spot that was a little
different. Upon further inspection, they realized that the different feeling to that spot had to due with the MULTIPLE STAB WOUNDS on the mattress. We normally call road side inns, shank me shacks…this one really was a shanked me shack. Nobody slept great that night in spite of the relative comfort of the room. Upon leaving, Becca couldn’t help but note the hotel cleaning crew wearing what appeared to be no BS rubber gas masks to clean the room two doors down. Still going with meth lab. We pulled out of the hotel before 9am and headed to go visit a legend.
For those of you who don’t know who Kim Bailey is, among many things including being a great human being, he is well known for being the designer of the original Borg cube and the Stargate on SG1. He graciously invited us to come visit his home while we were in Arizona, and he was kind enough to sit down and talk to us for several hours about his time in the movie and television industry and to give us some pointers and tips for what we are about to get into. And on a personal note, he got me. For the first time in 5 years of meeting people with pedigrees that cause people to gush, I have managed to not fan girl. I was prepared for Star Trek, Star Wars, SG1, stories about directors and production meetings. I was ready for that. I didn’t realize he wrote one of my favorite episodes of MASH. And for about 10 seconds I lost my crap before I was able to reign it in and regain composure. Damn it! My spotless track record, ruined! I knew there would come a day when something would get me to say the words “Oh my god, you did that?! That’s my favorite episode/scene/character/book! That is so awesome!” and bounce on my seat like a 5 year old. I just didn’t realize it would be that day. It didn’t last long, but the crew got a huge kick out of it. HA! The ice queen broke character! I can’t help but grin. What a great day. We left with hugs and promises to not be strangers, and we headed on towards Covington, KY.
The plan was to make it to Albuquerque. The mountains had other ideas. When we left Phoenix it was 90 degrees. Within an hour and a half of driving, it was 37 and we had climbed to 5000 feet. To get to the road we wanted to be on, we had another 6500 feet of elevation to go. Point of note, we are coastal kids. Hawk and I grew up minutes from the Gulf of Mexico and have spent most of our lives living in coastal towns. While I adore the mountains, I fully admit to having little to no knowledge of how to deal with them. Like, oh I don’t know, the need to turn off your ac to avoid overheating while pulling a heavy trailer up the mountains. Luckily, the truck was a trooper. We let her cool off. Took the roads a little slower and rolled
down the windows, and we were fine. It did however slow us WAY down. We finally made it to 11,500 feet and took a right. We passed snow and elk, lots of elk. Drove through some of the prettiest country on the trip and for the first time in ages, I was able to breath. I don’t know if it was the elevation or the clean air, but my lungs finally cleared up. We didn’t make Albuquerque but we got close. And we saw a sign for the Sands Motel on Route 66 in Grants, NM and we decided to make a detour. We stayed two doors down from the Elvis room, and just enjoyed the hell out of staying at a place that people have written songs about. While also a shank me shack, this one was just fine. It was roomy and comfortable and everyone slept like babies. We also learned to look before you pull out your credit card. Before dawn the next day, we were off again.
We came out of the mountains and into the plains. We passed within 30 miles of our final stop on the journey, Borger, Texas, only to shoot right past it and on to Tulsa, OK. The trip was quiet and uneventful as far as travel goes, but on this leg of the trip we started getting phone calls. Exciting phone calls. From four separate entities with good, better and OMFG level news. The trip was punctuated with cheering and tears of excitement. And then long discussions of the complexities that we are about to face. And suddenly a lot of what Kim Bailey had said to us made a lot more sense. I don’t know if he knew we were about to get those calls, or if he just has really incredible timing. Regardless, I was even more glad that we had the chance to visit. We had originally intended to stop and stay with friends in Tulsa, but at the last minute, there was an emergency in their family, so we were back to looking for hotels. Everyone was a little leery, but we found a small, but well appointed and very inexpensive hotel that was actually just as nice as the Marriott we ended up at in Covingtion. The art department set up shop in that little motel, and worked until 3am. The rest of us rested to take first driving shift at 8am.
Upon mapping our route for the day, Mr. Fox realized that we were going to be passing through St. Louis, and asked to stop for pictures by the arches. We didn’t have as long a journey that day as most, so we said sure! We headed to the Ozarks and stopped in Springfield, where I was able to finally show my southern compatriots why I hate snow. Sure enough there in the 75 degree parking lot were 3 foot high piles of nasty stinky snow. When I lived in Maryland for a very short period of time, I learned to despise the stuff. I would tell my kids and my husband stories of the 15 foot tall pile of mud, salt, snow and garbage that was the bane to my nostrils in DC in the spring. They thought exactly what I did being from the south…but it will melt! No. No it doesn’t. Not until May. All they could say standing in awe that they were not wearing jackets or cold looking at a pile of resistant snow was…EWWWWWW! My thoughts exactly.
We made it to St. Louis right around rush hour, and cued up the GPS to get us to the park in front of the arches. It was here that we discovered our left blinker had decided to stop working. It was also here that we discovered that Google maps is the devil. We were attempting to navigate a full sized truck and an 8 foot trailer trough downtown St. Louis with a trail car. We did pretty good except for the signal issue until we got right up to the park. We followed the directions Google maps gave us…and crossed a bridge that dumped us on ground streets in East St. Louis. For those of you who have never been there, DON’T DO IT! DON’T GO! We live in New Orleans. We shop in Holly Grove. We shop in the 8th and 9th wards because that’s where some of the best deals are. We have seen and we know ghettos. We have experience with rough neighborhoods. But this was something new. This wasn’t a ghetto. This was a war zone. It looked like the buildings had been blown apart. Some were just sitting there smoking with no fire department presence at all. It wasn’t that the buildings were old or dilapidated…they were destroyed. We high tailed it out of there, and tried to get to the arches again. This time we realized where google was trying to kill us and made the right turn. But to no avail. They wouldn’t allow trailers, so we continued on. Through Illinois where we encountered our first frozen pond. Zombie asked…Does that water look funny to you? Is that pond frozen? And Lulu’s response was priceless…Unless all of those ducks are Jesus ducks, then I’m going to say that pond is frozen…as a group of ducks waddled across the hopefully frozen water. From Illinois into Indiana and from Indiana into Kentucky. We arrived in Covington at around 1am and found our hotel on the Ohio river beautifully inviting. We crawled into bed and prepared for an early morning for the first day of A&G.
We had spent so long on the road and had such good sales at WWWC4 that I was completely out of goggles and hadn’t had a chance to build. Also in our epic trip across the country, not one of our motels had had a working washing machine. So I took off the first day of the con to build goggles and to defunkify the crews cloths. It’s kind of a weird thing to pull out power tools in a hotel room, but it is kind of part of the gig on long runs when you don’t have a friend’s yard or garage to set up in. Becca and Kitty ran the character building panel for me and did a great job. Sometime during the day, what had started as one gnarly spider bite on Zombie’s forehead that went away after a good nights sleep and benedryl, turned into three more the morning we got to A&G. One on the side of his face, and two on his arms. The one on his arm was swollen to the size of a baseball. We sent him to the con med station, and they made sure it didn’t get any worse while threatening to take him to the hospital. We gave him benedryl and went to bed early to catch up on the sleep missed the day before. We woke to the sound of scraping metal and Becca asking for the cold medicine. Upon looking out our window
we saw the work crews putting the levee in place for the river. Being from New Orleans, you know that that is never a good time. Sure enough, the river started to rise and by that evening it was to the levee walls and rising. From the 15th floor con suite we could look down the side of the levee and see, sitting there quietly right next to the levee, our truck and trailer. Suddenly this didn’t seem like a great day. But the river slowed down rising that night. We had a wonderful time with the people at A&G and they once again showed us why they are one of our favorite cons. The people who run it are good people and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s always a laugh when you get to see your boss dressed and acting as peewee herman fight in a wrestling match. These guys are a hoot. Our guest relations person, Ken took wonderful care of us and made a point to make sure my daughter got fed and Zombie was taken care of when he was hurting. On Monday morning, we loaded up our gear and headed out yet again. . And right on our heels within less than 24 hours of us leaving, the Ohio river ran into the streets. Thank you, river, for waiting and not making this THAT kind of story.
To this point we had traveled, over 5000 miles in 2 ½ weeks. The original plan was to drive straight through to Dublin, Texas and our north Texas hideout. But as we learned over the course of 2 ½ weeks, flexibility is key. We were tired and worn and road weary. As we rolled through Little Rock, Arkansas, we decided we were done. We stopped over in Bryant, Arkansas to rest. We finished the remaining 6 hours in record time and what seemed like an incredibly short driving day to us. We spent 4 days relaxing in Dublin and went to visit Mr. Fox’s parents. Well, kind of relaxing. We had gotten an order on the road for another prop for a television show that was really outside of our wheel house. Watching these guys work in these styles was hysterical. Suffice it to say, Zombie was really funny dealing with really girly. But he got it done though it needed some adjustments when we got home. And we learned a little about the limitations of working on the road. We were able to sleep in for the first time in 2 weeks. 11Am has never been so sweet! And the biggest plus of all? 4 days of home cooked meals. You don’t think about it on the road or plan for it really, but eating at restaurants gets really old, really fast. We are a large group of people, so we don’t tend to eat out much. And fast food isn’t really part of our diet. I would just like to say for the record, I’m really glad for that. I really don’t like fast food. But on the road, if you don’t have thousands of dollars to throw at sit down restaurants, it’s what you get. Even if we did have the money, we never had the time. Our solution was to stop at grocery stores for cold food instead. But even that gets old after a while.
On Friday morning we woke up to thunderstorms. We waited for them to calm down to leave for Borger. At the hideout, the roads are dirt and mud is a real problem. When you are trying to pull a loaded down trailer down a windy slick dirt road it gets dicey. We very nearly got stuck and still have the huge amount of dirt splatter all the way down the trailer that we got peeling out in the yard. Zombie realized that while you can’t go slow down the dirt road…too fast is also a problem. Luckily there are no deep ditches on the road out of the hideout. Once we escaped the mudpits,we had a pretty quiet trip, and found ourselves crossing a spot on I-40 that we had crossed going the other direction. Almost done. We checked into the hotel. Got caught up on some paper work and got ready for the last event of the run.
Borger, Texas is a small town in far north Texas just south of the Oklahoma border. It boasts a whopping 15,000 people, and I’m pretty sure Borger Comic Con had every single resident under the age of 24 in the town present on Saturday. The con was well attended for the area, and I can honestly say I’ve seen cons in places with 100 times as many residents get 1/5th of the attendees. The guys out there did a really good job. We also had the largest attendance of an Aether panel that we had seen on the trip. A quick head count in the room showed at least 100 people, but there were more standing all around the edges. We got to see Marquis of Vaudeville play which is always a treat, and we got a rare chance to actually sit and visit with Toby and Genevieve for hours. We didn’t get to sleep until the early morning hours.
The next day we were up before breakfast, packed, fed and ready for the long road home. 1100 miles to go. We drove to Victoria, Texas to visit my family and pick up Sam and drop off Becca and Kitty. We left Becca with her parents in Seguin, and rolled on to Victoria. We ended up turning onto their road at about 12:30 at night. You see, my parents and sister and brother and law don’t believe in living around people or in town. I grew up in the middle of nowhere where you had to go down dirt roads 30 miles from civilization to get to your house. They have moved since then, but the move was just down a different dirt road in a different county. The first time I went there, my mother told me to watch out for the zebras. I thought she was being funny. She was serious. But the night we were driving in, it wasn’t the zebras that were the problem. It was the deer. As we rounded a corner, 5 deer were lined up across the road. Two on the left hand side. One in the middle and two on the right. We had a choice. Two or one. Sorry lone deer. Luckily the truck has a brush guard and the only damage was a dented bumper and fog light. Also on the lucky side is that the deer flew away from the truck when we hit it so it neither went
under the truck and then the trailer…which would have been a VERY bad day or around the truck, into the little car of crew behind us…which also would have been a very bad day. Regardless, it was definitely a bad day for the deer. The next day, we visited with my family. Told them of all of our adventures and took the girls to go get ice cream as is our custom. We stayed up late laughing and telling stories and introducing my mom to the term troll. It was a lovely way to spend our last day on the road. Morning came, and we were off again. The trip home was fast and before we knew it we were crossing the bridge into New Orleans. I’ve never been so glad to see my crazy psycho dog and to sleep in my 15 year old bed. By the end of the trip we had logged 150 hours of actual drive time, 26 days on the road, 4 events and roughly 7300 miles traveled. It was the longest continuous trip ASI has made to date.
Even as I write this after only having been home for a day and a half, the journey continues. We came home to appointments with television studios and more exciting projects on the horizon. While I was writing this we received notice that the project I talked about from January is being debuted in a popular tourist destination in Nevada in less than a month. Aether is moving along at full tilt, and there are other projects that I’m not even talking about where if everything goes through, we may be loosing our Captain for a month to some folks in LA. But for now, we are home. Right now, anything is possible. After 4 weeks on the road and over 7000 miles, even the insane amount of work that sits in front of us looks easy. We are up to our eyeballs in awesome, and I couldn’t be happier. This has been one hell of a year so far, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of it has in store for us.