Barfly - Geeknic

At Dragon*Con, everybody’s a star

Ronald Reagan is break dancing while Jimmy Carter is steadying his purple drank. Lara Croft is dry-humping a girl pressed against a glass window 30 stories up, with downtown Atlanta as the sparkling backdrop. And Johnny Utah, well, he is in a wet suit simply trying to explain to people, over the blaring “Teach Me How to Dougie” anthem, that he is an undercover FBI agent.

In walks a gentleman with two Papa John’s pizzas and a quizzical look: “Am I in the right room?”

Possibly. But checking for the correct universe might be more apropos.

There’s a humongous glowing UFO perched atop the Hyatt Regency, once this city’s tallest and proudest oddity, the former revolving restaurant Polaris is now an empty vessel. But one weekend a year the futuristic relic shines like an illuminated Batman symbol, calling all that is science fiction to transform into nonfiction and walk amongst allies and gawkers alike.

It’s Labor Day weekend and it’s the annual gathering of techies and drunken Trekkies. Dragon*Con — the assemblage of thousands of like-minded, socially awkward and self-professed nerds — is a circus of strange, and sometimes uncomfortable, organized chaos. For the local (and, by comparison, normal) adventure seekers, it provides a level of people-watching equal only to visiting a Walmart on Mars.

Through the throngs of freaks and geeks mingling in the streets outside the downtown hotels, and up the escalators of the Marriott Marquis, the sight of the atrium grows more dizzying with every motorized climb. The roar of the crowd builds and then you are there, at the radiant and welcoming epicenter of Geeknic.

There are standard stormtroopers, Ghostbusters, scantily clad alien princesses, and dominatrices with daddy issues. Any character the mind can conjure — from Ewoks to Eddie Haskel — Nerdi Gras has it.

And by divine design, this weekend collides perfectly with the ACC/SEC Chick-fil-A Kickoff of college football. There’s nothing more picturesque than a wayward LSU fan, cautious and confused, making his way through the comedic cavalcade while clinging to a Bud Light. You want to put your arms around them all and reaffirm their worst fears: “Man, ever since President Obama got elected, it’s been like this every weekend.”

But that would be too cruel. This weekend is about having fun and letting inhibitions go — no matter how annoying it is to stand beside a flamboyant Jack Sparrow in a crowded bar ordering marked-up tourist rum without breaking character; or how ridiculous it is to see Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s slump on a wall in a bar for two hours as passersby take pics. It’s beautifully ironic, yet painfully sad. The same can be said for the seriousness that people commit to whether or a not an 18-year-old student athlete is scoring touchdowns for their alma mater on a Saturday afternoon. It’s all relative.

As the hour grows stranger, the lightweights drop out. Following Point Break ex-presidents Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and LBJ into a random suite, we’re eventually kicked out by Marriott’s security detail. But not before Keanu and the boys bank rob some Jäger Bombs from the open bar.

Back out onto Courtland Avenue, the morning sun is near. The streets have calmed but the alien saucer atop the Hyatt still glows. The surreal, shutdown landmark is quite useless nowadays, but from the spirits ingested and the absurdities that have been witnessed, it’s all too easy to imagine the weekend weirdos calmly ascending to the top of the hotel and boarding the vessel, erupting with smoke and cheesy ’80s laser beams, as they’re whisked away, back to their mundane reality.

From the mothership to their mother’s basement, however fleeting, this was their Super Bowl.