When Alaska Bill Beat Out Gen Con

Me, Bill, and my brother Scott. We just finished scouring Vintage Vinyl and were heading to Blueberry Hill for a burger.

Me, Bill, and my brother Scott. We just finished scouring Vintage Vinyl and were heading to Blueberry Hill for a burger.

This was the year I was going to do it. I was going to Gen Con. If you have kept up with this blog, you know I am not much of a convention guy, but the last couple years at Geekway to the West have accelerated a change in my attitude toward large groups of people in one space, for one thing. I was heading straight to the top. Four days of trying to get to the heart of the gaming industry and community. it was going to be my Fear and Loathing, sans the drugs and bats. Then I got this text,

“…been thinking about you the past few weeks. I just got a turntable and a few records – lovin’ it. Also wanted to let you know I’m coming down July 18th to August 2nd…I’m  planning on heading to St. Louis around the 29th.”

It was one of my closest friends, Alaska Bill. About 15 years ago, Bill did something a lot of people talk about doing, but few ever actually do. He sold everything he owned, except for what could fit on a small trailer, and moved to Prince of Wales Island in the southern-most part of Alaska to teach and fish. He’s been there since and every day seems to be the grand adventure he hoped it would. Before he left for Alaska, there were a multitude of evenings taken up with beers, records, and conversation. After he left, there were phone calls deep into the morning hours. And beers. And records. Also, lots of conversation.

We don’t keep in touch like we used to. Time, age, kids, and adventures always seem to fill the days, leaving only crawl spaces of time available for a phone call. He also lives in a cabin in the woods, where even the Verizon, “Can you hear me now” guy is too scared to walk, so cell phone reception is hit or miss. This issue is also not helped much by the three-hour time difference. I am finishing things up and getting ready for bed just about the time he is finishing dinner and thinking about his evening. There is one other thing. We are both verbose. From the night we met, which oddly enough I remember with the detail of a something reserved for a first date or wedding, I don’t think we’ve had a conversation last less than 60 minutes. There may be the odd five to ten minute discussions, but those were mostly to plan our next, much longer gab session.

Gen Con was off my calendar before I could finish typing a response. It could wait another year as it had been several since I saw Bill. I won’t go into detail about what we did, because this post isn’t about that. In short, we fell back in step as we always do. Joined by my brother – which was a super cool since time escapes us as well – we partook in coffee and beers, LOTS of music, and a good deal of rummaging around record store racks. We played a few games of pinball and throughout all of it, there was an abundance of talking. Serious talk. Absolutely not serious talk. More than a bit of swearing, and a few moments of comfortable silence.

It was originally four days that I was going to spend making new friends, playing games and trying to get at the heart of what makes Gen Con tick. It turned out to be four days spent with an old friend. Catching up, moving forward, and getting at the heart of what makes us tick. It was a magnificent slice of time and made me realize how much I miss our time together. One could compare it somewhat to gaming, really. We spend all this time shoehorning in new games to our schedule, that we sometimes keep the old favorites on the shelf, only taking a bit of time to glance at them as we rip off the cellophane on the latest and greatest. We don’t make time to fit them back in, but when they find a place on your table, there is that slow wash that creeps over you, that smile from the inside that runs from deep in your brain and flows down through your soul, and you feel right again. Funny that people don’t always hold that feeling for longer. Find the time to call that friend or get that great old game out.

Bill wanted to try out some of the games I kept blathering about and we were going to carve out some serious gaming time, but four days wasn’t quite enough for us to squeeze everything in. It never is. We talked a lot about them though, and he was intrigued. Just before he left, we were able to squeeze in a quick game of Sushi Go! and King of Tokyo. As a gamer that really enjoys introducing new folks to the hobby, I took a lot of satisfaction in hearing him, after playing King of Tokyo, exclaim, “That was really cool. I didn’t know games like this existed.” There is so much more, brother. So much more.

I imagine that my experience was not too dissimilar from those at Gen Con. It was four days of non-stop fun and friendship. When he left on Sunday I was exhausted and happy, with a side of melancholy. Probably at the same time and in parallel with the feelings of all the gamers meandering out of the Indianapolis city limits. Bill hopes to be down again next year and we already have several ideas to take up the time, games included. He is also thinking about starting a game club for his middle school kids. I hope he does and would love to help him with the idea. He might end up with a package or two, up in that cabin in the woods.

And I will make the time to keep in touch.

We’ll meet next year, Gen Con.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s