by Brenda F./Jackie H.
We arrived at the airport in Bloomington, MN on the morning of Wednesday, July 9th. As we made our way to rendezvous with the hotel shuttle, our “family reunion” began in earnest as we met up with Carole and Sandy. Although the four of us had not seen each other since last year, it was as if no time had passed at all. While waiting for the hotel shuttle, we shared stories about our families, work, vacation and excitement and expectations for the week ahead.
Upon our arrival at the hotel, we were greeted by a myriad of extended family members busy working behind the scenes in preparation for the weekend festivities. No matter whether you have never been to a BATB convention, have not been for a while, or go every year, you instinctively know when you get to the hotel lobby doors that you are home. Everyone is excited to see you (and you them). There are heart-felt hugs and kisses all around. You are truly part of one another – one family, one community. How long to Calgary?!?
After an hour or so, Renee and Lisa arrived at the hotel. As the four of us could not check-in right away, we stored our luggage and found our way to the Mall of America (a trip that the two of us would repeat on foot at least six times during the weekend!!!). The four of us ate at the aptly named Twin Cities Grille. The restaurant featured homemade comfort foods including delicious crispy grilled flatbreads. The portion sizes were also extraordinary – especially the desserts. Brenda’s slice of chocolate cake alone could have fed our entire party.
After lunch, the four of us stopped at one of several Mall of America souvenir shops and a couple of other stores. Then it was back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage and unpack. The two of us then returned to the Mall during the afternoon and evening hours spending time in The Lego Store which featured eight larger than life models including a LEGO robot towering over 34 feet tall and a giant Pick-A-Brick wall with 180 different Lego elements to choose from. Another highlight was the Rain Forest Café where Devin the Lion was born. Devin would later accompany us to various events throughout the convention dressed in his Mall of America t-shirt, blue jeans, red, white and blue sneakers, ball cap and shades. As a tribute to his namesake, Devin will be traveling with us to all future BATB conventions so look for him in Calgary, eh!!! Another highlight (for Brenda) was Nickelodeon Universe, the mall’s amusement park, featuring close to 30 rides including, in part, a carousel, Ferris wheel, log chute, and several different types of roller coasters including the Rock Burton Plunge (which looks and feels like you go straight up only to go straight down). Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, an 18-hole miniature golf course, featuring life-size moose, horses and more, was also fun. We toasted the end of a terrific day with drinks and appetizers at the mall’s Cadillac Ranch All-American Bar and Grill.
The majority of the day on Thursday, July 10th, was spent in preparation for the upcoming con activities. For dinner, we, along with Melissa and Helene, enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner in the restaurant adjacent to the hotel. During the evening hours, there were games and meet and greet activities including a welcome surprise for the newest members of our extended family, the con virgins. Chesapeake Helpers furnished the evening’s refreshments including cake and soda. This allowed us the opportunity to celebrate with all our members in attendance the Club’s 25th anniversary!!! Thanks to all for your congratulatory remarks, friendship and well wishes. Here’s to another 25 years!!!
The 2014 BATB convention “officially” began with opening ceremonies on Friday, July 11th. Pat and Winter co-emceed the convention. They both were marvelous… simply marvelous. Next, Rosemarie led the first of three icebreaker activities we would participate in during the convention. Afterward, Pat L. hosted BATB Pyramid, one of several BATB themed game shows held throughout the weekend. Other morning highlights included a FanFic Writing panel and Tunnel Family Feud. At noon, Michelle revealed that the 2015 BATB convention will be held in Calgary, Alberta CANADA!!! Can’t wait… count us in!!!
For lunch, con attendees enjoyed a make your own sandwich bar. Representatives from Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless, the designated convention charity, were also on hand providing information about their worthwhile organization. The remainder of the day included a bevy of activities including BATB Wheel of Fortune, Dirty Minds and Beast Bingo. There were also crafts, including BATB photo coasters, and a panel discussion comparing B&B versions.
The evening festivities kicked off with a Northern buffet dinner followed by the costume and talent show. Highlights of the talent show included songs from Les Miserables and the Disney movie Frozen, a comedic reading and a pirate skit. Chesapeake Helpers closed the show with a (no-talent) Tribute to an American Classic complete with fireworks display. Thanks to all for sharing your talents with all of us, for making all of us laugh and for pulling at all of our heartstrings (alright, admit it, there may have been a tear or two.) The night ended with a viewing of a recent French Beauty and the Beast film (thanks Claire!!!) followed by drinks with a gang of other con attendees in the nearby restaurant.
The morning of Saturday, July 12th, began with an icebreaker activity followed by crafts (BATB Christmas ornament), panels (Drawing Vincent, George R.R. Martin archives) and games (BATB Jeopardy and BATB Password). Lunch consisted of a delicious Mexican buffet followed by Beast Bingo. Although David Greenlee could not attend due to illness (thankfully, nothing serious), he was kind enough to participate by Skype. Thanks David!!!
Saturday evening, always a highlight of BATB cons because of the traditional Summerfest banquet, was extra special this year. After dinner, those who desired (including us) had the opportunity to participate in several group folk dances. The scene, with the camaraderie and gaiety, was truly reminiscent of the tunnel community.
Afterward, we all got down to business to raise money for the designated charity. As Deb was unable to attend this year (we missed you Deb!!!), Laura served as our auctioneer. She did a wonderful job keeping the crowd engaged and vested. Laura’s and JoAnn’s hip/belly bumps were also entertaining and their off stage kiss we are sure will become legendary throughout BATB fandom. We recently read that the convention raised over $14,000 on behalf of the charity. Thanks to all who gave of their time and money for a very worthwhile cause.
On Sunday, July 13th (the last official day of the convention), we enjoyed a delicious breakfast followed by two separate panels on BATB and creature trivia. The remainder of the morning featured the art auction and another round of Dirty Minds. In the afternoon, there was a tea, a third round of Beast Bingo and an all inclusive discussion on what attracts people to BATB. The closing ceremonies, which tend to be somewhat of a somber occasion, were a little less so this year as some were looking forward to the performance of My Fair Lady at the Guthrie Theater later in the evening and others were looking ahead to the add-ons. We and others eased our pain with another trip to the Mall and dinner at the Cadillac Ranch.
On Monday, July 14th, we joined our fellow con-goers on the gangster bus tour around the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. A highlight of the trip was the Minnehaha Falls in Minnehaha Park in downtown Minneapolis which was spectacular due to the recent heavy rains. After the bus tour, we enjoyed the margarita/taco cruise on the Mississippi River. Thanks to Carole, Sandy and Pat for being such great tablemates.
Upon getting to the hotel later that night, we, along with Carole, Claire, Pat, Rose [con virgin] and Sandy, went out for drinks/dinner. We enjoyed talking to Rose and getting her perspective on the show as well as the convention. We truly enjoyed reading her recent con report. We hope to have the opportunity to see Rose at future conventions!!!
On Tuesday, July 15th, we rendezvoused with our other travel mates at 8:00 am as we set out for the Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, Wisconsin. The weather was unseasonably cool so the majority of us made a beeline for the gift shop to purchase sweatshirts and long sleeve tees. Many of us got varying colors of the same sweatshirt with the cave’s logo and the words “Life is Better Underground” and “Adventures Above and Below.” You could almost hear the clanging of pipes throughout the various caverns, passageways and tunnels. Oh, Vincent… here kitty, kitty, kitty…
After touring the cave, we enjoyed a picnic style lunch under the tent set up for us in a nearby field. Then it was back on the bus to return to St. Paul where we visited the Wabasha Street Caves. We could picture the show’s tunnel community holding a Winterfest celebration there. What a fantastic way to close the convention!!!
Upon returning to the hotel on our final night in Bloomington, we went to the Mall for one last hurrah! While there, we took a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium. The tour included an opportunity to visit the kitchen area where all the food for the myriad of sea creatures is received, prepared and stored. We also visited the veterinary clinic where the sea creatures’ health is monitored and their illnesses treated. We then got to journey to the top of the three major aquarium tanks to get a bird’s eye view of the sea life fifteen feet below us. Afterward, we toured the aquarium’s many displays and saw jellyfish, octopus, sharks, seahorses, stingrays, sea turtles and a host (approximately 10,000) other sea creatures in the 1.3 million gallon aquarium. We closed the mall with dinner at Kokomo’s Island Café, a tropical themed restaurant offering an atmosphere reminiscent of an island getaway. For a moment, we forgot about the cool weather (and even that we were in Minnesota) as we dined among the palm trees, tiki torches and calypso music. But, eventually, it was back to reality and the realization we had some packing to do for our return home the next day.
Thanks to all who made the 2014 BATB convention such a success. A special thanks to Je for her unselfish expanse of time and energy to ensure that every one of us had a memorable time. Thanks also to everyone who led and/or participated in all the planned activities which made each day so jam packed. We look forward to seeing all of you again in Calgary and hope that those who were not able to attend this year’s con will be able to come to Canada next year.