Why Road Trips Are Fun

We had a players’ gathering. Well, not ‘we’ so much as ‘they’ – Blackspire Guard, the guild I belong to in DAoC.

Phil’s been telling me about it for months now (he’s one of the Big Giant Heads of the guild). But you know me – so many important things to remember (like wearing pants when I leave the house) that I can’t be bothered to keep track of important dates. That is what my calendar is for!

Death says, “Where is your calendar, by the way?”
You say, “Erm…it was there a minute ago…”

Anyway, I’m not good at keeping up on events. I’ve had the reminder for Kwipette’s birthday tattooed on my forearm to make sure I remember it, in fact. And you don’t even want to know what I do to remember our anniversary…

Anyway, the big day is coming, Phil reminds me twenty times this week. Anson also chimes in with his tiny little voice. Normally I ignore him, but since he’s also gnawing on my ankles quite rabidly, I pay him some attention. He and Tyros are going down Friday night – probably to get in some fun before I can show up and start making fun of them. Or get them all killed, one or the other.

But anyway – Phil reminds me about it, and Darve’s coming along with us, too. Being all part of the guild, see.

Now, a road trip – especially a road trip for a geek event that is less than two hours away – is a fine activity. The Guard has always taken good care of me, and doesn’t even laugh that loudly (anymore) when I get killed in one of my more… unusual… manners. So I’m actually very eager to meet a lot of these people. I don’t play DAoC very often any more, but I still follow along with Guild activities on the boards. I still don’t understand half of what they’re talking about, either, so not much has changed…

Where was I? Oh, yes – Phil has finally reminded me enough that I actually remember and agree to go along. Not having played DAoC much lately, I’m a tad apprehensive, because I doubted too many of the members would remember me. Or, if they did, the only thing they’d remember is my incessant whining about my name change. But I like meeting other geeks on principle, really, because they’re usually a lot of fun.

The one thing I failed to take into account is that in order to be down there in the morning, we’d be leaving Lancaster earlier in the morning. Like, 8am earlier. On a Saturday. I don’t know what your Saturdays consist of, but you can bet that mine involve a healthy dose of attempting to make up for the lack of sleep from the preceding week.

So we can now assume that I am not, by definition, operating in a fully functional mode now. The good part of this is that Kwipette ran to Market for me Friday afternoon and picked up jerky, so I had at least one of my regular companions for the day.

I arrive at Phil’s house unbelievably on time. He and Darve were sitting around discussing the best method of waking me up – whether they should just call over to my place, or drive over with the air horn. So it was a good thing I woke up on my own, I guess.

We load our gear (cameras for them, beef jerky for me) into Phil’s van. Darve goes to his truck to get THE CONTRAPTION, and Phil and I chat briefly as he looks for his phone. I assume that he’s trying to find his cellphone, which I keenly point out to him is clipped to his belt. No, he says, he’s looking for his home phone so that he can “call up to” his wife. I puzzle for this a bit until he explains to me that Mrs. Ian is on the third floor of their home, while he is on the first. So in order to tell her he’s leaving now, he’s going to CALL HER ON THE TELEPHONE TO LET HER KNOW HE IS LEAVING. Before I can even come CLOSE to proper mockery, he cuts me off with a “don’t you dare start!” and makes the long, arduous climb to the heavens to bid his wife goodbye for the day. I asked him if he wanted some Sherpas and pack mules for the trip up, and his response wasn’t really fit to print here.

I then went outside to see if Darve needed any help loading THE CONTRAPTION. Oh, wait – that’s a lie. I actually climbed into the back of the van and tried hard to fall asleep. This was made difficult by the sounds of Darve backing up the 10-ton crane it took to load THE CONTRAPTION into the back of the van.

Well, okay, I exaggerate a little there. But this thing – there was a nitrous tank, some other tank, and a massive cooler. Full of beer. And they were putting it into the back of the van – with me. Before we speculate on that, let me explain a bit: Darve is a home-brewer. He makes some damn fine beer, and several most delicious blends of mead. I’d go into details about what they’re actually called and such, but I don’t really remember what the true names of them are. I’d have to introduce them to you as “Make Me Think I’m a Bug That Tries To Hide The Furniture” Brew and “Leaves Me Comatose For A Week” Ale and the like. So we’ll skip the formalities, if you don’t mind.

This was a contraption, though. Phil expressed some concern over getting stopped by the police with what looked like a small hydrogen bomb in the back of his van. I helped by instantly assuming a Middle-Eastern accent and screaming about “Death to Imperialist Dogs!”

So Phil was already a bit flustered.

We departed and began our happy adventure. After driving for, oh, I dunno – an HOUR, we turned around and went back for the directions. To compensate for Phil’s frayed nerves, I composed the Happy Driving Song on the spot. The lyrics went something like this:

This is the Happy Driving Song,
Won’t you help and sing along!
We’re going to meet the Blackspire Guard
To find our way, we’ll try hard!
Not getting stopped would be nice,
‘Cause we can’t explain The Device!
It looks like a bomb, but never fear,
‘Cause it’s filled with tasty beer!

Phil carefully explained to me he would let go of my throat if I stopped singing. Being the shrewd negotiator that I am, I countered by offering to stop singing only if he let go of my throat AND stopped kicking my groin. He folded, and order was returned to the van. And the van was returned to the garage, so that Phil could run in and get directions. While Phil ran in, I tried to convince Darve how fun it would be if we peed on Phil’s seat. Darve turned this idea down. Some people.

Phil returned and we were off like a prom dress! To celebrate the occasion of our departure, I was about to compose another song, but Phil pointed menacingly to a fork he was carrying and then to my groin. I got the picture.

It was raining hard for the drive. If we had seen an ark cruise by us, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Phil compensated for this by slowing to 90 miles an hour. Which wouldn’t be so bad if Phil had any concept of slowing down, but to Phil there are only two modes of transportation: speeding up and stopping. If someone pulled out in front of us or was foolish enough to slow down to turn, he would compensate by stopping. The idea of going into the other lane to pass them was strange and foreign to him. I mentioned it briefly, but he countered by stating the obvious – there was a yellow line on the road, and if we dared to cross that, special black ops teams would be dispatched to kill our families. I wanted none of that, so I stuck to gripping the back of Darve’s seat and shrieking like a girl any time something got in our way.

We finally made it onto the highway, and that’s where the fun really began. Phil began camping the passing lane. Any cars that spawned there were instantly crushed beneath our tires to the accompanying sounds of Darve’s giggling and my pitiful shrieks from the back seat. At one point I invented a new deity when Phil suddenly noticed a car that had been in the left-hand breakdown lane for quite some time but only now had the decency to come to his attention when we were barely two miles from it. This rude surprise resulted in Phil’s almost cursing, gripping the steering wheel with both hands tighter than my grip on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at a Richard Simmons camp, and coming THAT close to changing lanes. This new deity I invented was in charge of controlling your bladder in frightening situations, such as being surrounded by pygmy cannibal hordes, grenades landing next to you, Mormons ringing your doorbell, or being in Phil’s van during a downpour on the highway traveling at 100 miles an hour when he notices something that will pass four feet to his left if he doesn’t act quickly!

Some of you might ask why, if Phil is such a frightening driver, we allow ourselves to be transported in such a fashion? Well, the truth is, as terrible and unholy as Phil is as a driver, he is far, FAR worse as a passenger. Remember those episodes of the A-Team where they’d have to sedate Mr. T to get him to ride in an airplane? We have to do the same thing to get Phil to ride along anyplace. And sadly, the A-Team ended far too soon before giving us an opportunity to learn enough clever methods of slipping someone knock-out medicine. Phil now knows all of our methods, so we are forced to stoop to such blasé schemes as shooting him with tasers and stun guns until he goes down. And if you know Clerics, they’re not the sort to take being tasered gently.

The other reason is that Phil’s got a pretty bitchin’ van. And I’m far too lazy to drive that far.

So there we are on the highway, driving sailing through the worst downpour in a hundred years. Darve is in charge of directions, so it’s his job to call out things like, “that turn we just passed was the one you wanted” or “this area’s not on any map we have” or even “Kwip if you ask one more friggin’ time if we’re there yet, I’ll stab you in the throat myself!” We were given a small respite briefly when we crossed through some tunnel – Fort McHenry tunnel or something? It was a long enough break for us to pry Phil’s finger’s off of the steering wheel. He instantly went for my throat, but luckily we emerged back into the deluge and he had to go back to driving sailing.

Unbelievably enough, Yahoo gave us directions that were accurate enough to get us right to Maergain and Jazmyn’s house in only three hours! Although Yahoo said the trip would take us about an hour and 45 minutes, it actually took us closer to two and a half hours. Even with Phil setting the cruise control to 130 miles an hour. Apparently Yahoo doesn’t take into account biblical rains, missed turns and bathroom stops every two miles (yes, I have a little girly bladder, mock away). I’m considering some sort of lawsuit against them for this blatant oversight and obvious discrimination.

But – we arrived! Let me just tell you: if you’re any sort of respectable geek, Maer and Jaz have a home you would kill for. Believe me – if it weren’t for that left hook of Jaz’s and some surprisingly accurate groin shots with a frying pan, I would be writing this from a brand new Casa de Kwiplings.

First is a crafting room from which Jaz constructs costumes that would have any anime fan collapsing on the floor and drooling in catatonic amazement (six foot wings on that costume! With actual raven feathers! RAVEN FEATHERS, for Gord’s sake! I can’t even imagine what it would take to be able to conceive of some of the costumes she put together, let alone the actual skill to do so!). Next to that room is their computer room, with two computers for each of them and a fifth computer that is for – well, I don’t know. But it was a FIFTH computer, that’s the important bit here. And I heard a dirty rumor that they actually have MORE than that, I just didn’t see them… I dunno, maybe they had SkyNet in there. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.

The living room had big bookshelves with just about every gaming system ever in them – yes, even Call of Cthulhu! I wasn’t allowed near them, though. Apparently, dry-humping a bookshelf full of gaming books is considered rude where they come from. I had to remember I was south of the Mason-Dixon, so new rules might apply.

While we engaged in watching some of the greatest Sci-Fi ever
put to DVD (Treasure Planet), I was working on a plan to
convince Maer & Jaz to adopt me.

Downstairs – oh, be still my beating heart. Look, I’m not by any stretch of the imagination into what people refer to as miniature gaming. But they had an entire room for Warhammer. The walls were done in this cool stone, and then lined with shelves hosting hundreds – perhaps even thousands of miniatures! There were houses, landscapes, temples – and the centerpiece of this room was a massive table that must’ve been captured from some WWII strategy room or something. That thing wouldn’t have looked out of place in a strategic command center – it was like God’s very own Risk board or something. Let me put it this way: that table was bigger than my ass. Yes. By an order of magnitude.

Finally, the entertainment room. It wasn’t a huge room, as these things go. But it had a very respectable-sized tv in it, a kick-ass theater system, and – most importantly – the walls were LINED with great flicks! From about halfway up the wall to the top, there were DVDs and VHS tapes of anything that is worth having. B5! They had the B5 Season: One DVD! And anime? I don’t know anything about anime, but if Ramen (whom I refer to when such a question arises) were present, I believe her exact words would have been “Holy shit!”

Things were starting to go badly when Maer explained the rules
he was going to insist upon for the next gathering, and
rules 1 through 10 were “No Kwip”

Jaz, being the wonder of any household skills imaginable, was already hard at work cooking breakfast for everyone. Pancakes! She was cooking pancakes for people, and she wasn’t even being paid! Not only was she cooking for people, but her and Maer had opened their home up to guests! To sleep at! And not just any guests – they actually let Tyros and Anson sleep over! This was beyond bizarre. I felt like I had stepped through the looking glass into some fantasy world, where geekdom is a respectable hobby and asking someone what level their main is passes as a perfectly normal and acceptable opening conversation piece.

Shad thinks that Anson is looking at the computer. Hee.

I know there are a number of guild members of Blackspire. What I didn’t know is that many of them are completely insane. People arrived there from Canada! That involved flying in a plane to get down here – just to meet their fellow players! And this wasn’t even a sponsored event – nobody was giving away free loot or anything! Let me go one step further into this strange world – not only were there about two dozen of us there, but there were GIRLS there, too! And they were HAWT! At one point, my mind began refusing to process information, being far too overwhelmed by the amount of contradictory statements being thrown at it.

The crowd continued to grow, too. By about 4pm, there were about two dozen of us there, talking, laughing, seeing how high we could make Anson jump with his stubby little legs, eating large amounts of food, drinking…er, actually, I did most of those last two. There was SOOOO much goodness abundant. And then Jaz made that fateful mistake. Nobody knew until it was too late. Kwipette normally takes charge of warning people about this, but she wasn’t around to protect anyone. Phil was off somewhere trying to explain why he STILL wasn’t 50th level, so he couldn’t do anything about it. Nobody else was alert enough to the danger to stop Jaz in time. Before anyone realized it, Jaz had…. she… she…

She baked a cake. A CHOCOLATE cake.

The first warning anyone got was the shuddering of the building as I came charging up the stairs from the entertainment room, nostrils flaring. People were knocked down, I think I trampled Anson – and there, there it was, on the table. It had CHOCOLATE ICING.

You can’t tell here, but my left hand is elbow-deep in
cake goodness. I was just beginning to smear it on my
body when this shot was taken.

Belatedly, some people realized something was wrong. Guild members tried to tackle me. Tranquilizer darts were fired, nets thrown – all of it to no avail. Before anyone could stop me, I had leapt on to the table and was making sweet, sweet love to the chocolate cake. That cake… mmmm… I’m not sure what happened the next couple of hours, as I was in a happy land I like to call, “Chocolate.”

If that wasn’t really horrific enough, someone had brought this incredibly delicious pork loin. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: who brings a pork loin to a cookout?

I’ll tell you who: the Angel of Goodness, that’s who.

 

I’m no expert on loins, pork or otherwise. And frankly, that’s not really a title I’m striving for. But this thing was so incredibly tasty, I can no longer watch a Babe the Pig movie without drooling. There was some sort of seasoning involved, I’m reasonably certain. It might possibly have been crack, it was that addicting. When I got so desperate that I was sniffing the inside of the wrapping it came in, we knew there was a problem…

Finally, we had trashed partied enough at Maer & Jaz’s and moved on to Jillians. For those of you not familiar with such a place, Jillians is like a Dave & Busters. Basically, it’s a huge bar/restaurant/arcade/arcade/arcade. And it’s huge. No, really – HUGE. Look at this map of the place if you don’t believe me. Big, huh?

The thing about this place being huge… Jillians is attached to a massive mall. Also attached to this mall is a 24-screen movie complex. And attached to the whole thing is a parking lot, which I lovingly refer to as “a fucking idiots idea of ‘ample room’.” In a massive entertainment place like this, call me radical, but I’d firmly expect to be able to come and maybe have to park far away. However, I would not expect to have to park on curbs, grass, sidewalks, pedestrians, or other vehicles. All of which we witnessed as we drove around looking for a parking space. Phil finally solved this dilemma by ramming a car out of a spot (and into a car full of nuns, but that’s another story – one that’s currently under investigation, so if anyone asks, we were in California that day, okay?). We then commandeered that spot as our own and even urinated on the lines to mark it.

Inside Jillians…woof. Someday, I really would like to be famous. I’d like people to come up to me and know who I am. I’d like to be surrounded by crowds of people, all eager to meet me.

Jillians was like that, only instead of people knowing who I was, they all thought my name was Ass Face and would address me as such: “Out of the way, Ass Face!” And instead of being eager to meet me, they were actually eager to get as close to me as possible without taking off any of my clothes.

If you don’t know me, well, let me just clarify: I don’t really like crowded places. Or noisy places. Or anyplace where I might get touched by someone I don’t know. Jillians failed on all three points. It was crowded, it was noisy, and it was full of people that would routinely rub their ass against mine and not even excuse themselves. Or tip me.

The best part was that there was another DC Players Gathering going on that I didn’t know about. So there was a small group of Mids there – Mids! – and we rolled up on them 30 thick, yo! I think it was the first time in a long time we’ve ever outnumbered Mids. They were amazingly cool, though. They let us join them at their tables and then we sat around trying to start a fight with any Shadowbane players that might be nearby…

I have to admit at being a bit disappointed in the game selection at Jillians. There were a couple of fun ones – Time Crisis, I think the one is called. But overall, most of their games were these silly racing games that not only did NOT allow you to ram your opponents, but they didn’t even include any machine guns OR missiles! However, there were two things working in Jillians favor: the first was their serving of a toxic substance cleverly disguised as an orange drink. The second was the firemen game. This game consisted of large hoses that you and a friend operated while doing battle with – well, fire. But the amount of peeing jokes you can do in a firefighting game, especially after a dozen orange drinks, is truly staggering. 

The evening there ended with some stirring rounds of a game called Hi-Life (I think?). This is a strange sort of bowling game. You control a bowling ball in a variety of scenes on a massive screen in front of you by rapidly spinning a large ball. Think of one of those track balls, only the size of a bowling ball. The scenes your bowling through include a forest, a busy downtown street – but nothing so mundane as a bowling alley! It’s quite fun. Of course then Shad SOUNDLY trounced me at this quick-draw game, destroying both my ego and my sense of masculinity, all in one foul swoop.

Finally, sadly, horrifically – it was time to go. Oh, we didn’t know it’d be horrific at first; we just thought we’d be facing another long drive home at worse. We said our farewells, hugged and kissed everyone (or tried to – Shad was a little TOO quick with the mace for me), and left for our exciting return trip. Getting out of the parking lot was roughly equivalent to playing a game of Tetris on the 10,000th level. While wearing oven mitts. And being beaten in the face with a mallet. But we finally cut off our last old lady, and out the parking lot we went! Now to get to the highway…

The thing to keep in mind is that we were leaving from a place we did not drive directly to. Most people, when faced with such a decision, would do something silly like, oh, I dunno, look at a map. Or maybe even be so radical as to drive back to the place the drove to in the first place so they could just reverse the directions. Or maybe, just maybe – you’d look at the signs as you left, looking for the highway you wanted to take you back home.

Not us! Phil and Darve felt completely confident that we could make it back with little problem. What I didn’t know is that in their language, “little problem” meant “we don’t know where the hell we’re going and are about to descend to the deepest level of hell, possibly continuing on to New Jersey, before we get desperate enough to actually look at the map.” I didn’t have any idea where we were going either, of course, but my idea consisted of looking for the place we came in at and reversing the directions. Simple. I like simple.

Phil, however, likes complex. Making statements like, “if we keep going this direction, we have to hit the highway SOME time…” he drove us off into the night. Instead of being safe and secure on a highway, we were now on the backwoods of Maryland, which I believe shows up on maps as “Bum Fuck Egypt” When we would come to an intersection, we’d pause for a moment and all stare in quiet horror at the idea of making a turn. I would say “right” and Phil would invariably turn left. This system of navigation was working fine for him. For a bit.

Remember in the beginning of this story (if you can remember back that long ago) when I was talking about the rains of biblical proportions? Well it turns out that once that water hits the ground, it doesn’t just go away like some of us like to believe. No, that water collects with other water, and makes what some people refer to as a “flood.” This, in turn, creates what are known in some areas as “flooded streets.”

We meet these. The first one was just a big puddle across the road that we barely noticed until we hydroplaned across it. The second was a hair deeper – about oh, let’s call it a FOOT to be fair. Finally, we came to the river.

“Dude, we can TOTALLY make that.”

Now the river USED to flow somewhere under the road. I assume there was a bridge under that rushing torrent somewhere. Phil was pretty shaken, muttering something about “never cross running water.” I took this to mean he was actually a vampire, but it turns out he was of the belief that automobiles aren’t really safe when they’re driven across large bodies of water. Especially large bodies of water that have foaming rapids in them.

We took some time to carefully discuss what we should do next. Phil was of the opinion we should turn around. Darve was also of the opinion that we should turn around. I, on the other hand, was of the opinion that they were a couple of big girly-girls, and if they’d only stop being such nancy boys, we could punch the throttle and make the half-mile wide span of river road.

I carefully explained my opinion to my travel mates.

“Well?”
“Well what?”
“Go forward!”
“What? Are you insane? We would never make it across!”
“Bah, don’t be such a wimp! We could make that – I bet it’s barely six inches deep!”

At this point, an ENTIRE TREE – about 100 feet long – floated by in the river road. This shook their resolve a bit.

“…”
“That current washed away a TREE.”
“Wow. Sure did.”
“A giant, huge BIG tree.”
“Yup.”
“And you want us to drive across it.”
“Yes.”
“…care to explain your reasoning?”
“Simple: the tree didn’t have FOUR WHEEL DRIVE, BABY!”

At this point, Darve, our faithful Magellan of the trip, broke down and consulted the map. According to his calculations, if we turned around and took the right (which I told them to in the first place!), we would cross over the highway a few miles up the road.

And you know what? We did cross over the highway! And a few miles after that, we crossed it again!

It appeared that while the highway was perfectly willing to accept the governing of the space-time continuum and appear at regular intervals, it was not at all inclined to have anything even remotely close to an “entrance ramp” sort of relationship with our road. After about the 500th time of crossing over it, Phil finally solved the dilemma by driving down the embankment and creating our very own special entrance ramp. When I attempted to point out the contradiction of nature in his choosing to wantonly defy the massive force of gravity by driving down a vertical embankment, and yet refuse to risk the pathetic pull of a tiny little current, he became defensive and began making vague threats about his boot and certain orifices.

Once we began drawing near Lancaster county, we assumed we were approaching the position some refer to as ‘safe.’ However, Fate likes to laugh as much as the next Incarnation, so played a couple of last-minute tricks on us. First, we drove through a batch of fog that I honestly expected to come through and find Nyarthlotep waiting for us on the other side. And then, just when I had grown accustomed to Phil’s method of driving through the fog (accelerate to 60 mph – brake – accelerate again to 60 mph – brake – etc, etc), he threw a new trick at me.

We safely traversed the fog, so Fate called on her buddy Nature to fire a raccoon across our path. It was about a good mile ahead of us when Phil spotted it and reacted with those lightning reflexes (gained by sitting behind a party in a fight and hitting the “heal group” spell every minute): he stomped on the brakes, shrieked like a little girl, and then firmly planted his feet on the windshield, pulling back on the steering wheel. I’m not sure, but I think Phil’s been playing a bit too much Jumpgate lately. Pulling back on the wheel in that game might have beneficial results there, but in the real world, all it does is deploy your airbag in a vastly humorous fashion and give the smart-ass in the backseat even MORE material to write about.

The raccoon, for those of you wondering, stopped, looked at us, giggled, shook it’s butt a bit, and then leisurely strolled off the road.

All in all, it was a great trip. I had a wonderful time, and it was very cool to finally be able to put faces with names. Er… at least the names of the girls. I remember all of them because, well, they were hot. The guys… I think there was somebody named Maer there, and he possibly owned the house?

If you are interested in the coolness that is Blackspire Guard, stop by and check out www.blackspire.org. You’ll see it hasn’t been updated in about fifty years, and you can then pop over to the forums and heckle Phil a good bit about that. He likes that.

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