I’ve Got Mask Mania

Okay, I’ve gone on poetic diatribes about why people should be wearing masks and social distancing during a pandemic, but can I just take a moment to talk about how much I actually love masks? It sucks if you don’t enjoy wearing one, but holy hell, I’m having so much fun with my masks. There are just so many reasons for me to wear a mask, that I thought I’d spend today sharing with you, my Above Average readers, why I, your Below Average Blogger, think they’re awesome.

It Makes Me Feel Like a Costumed Vigilante

Granted, a lot of super heroes don’t actually wear face coverings, such as Superman with his perfectly chiseled features and piercing blue eyes.

But a lot of stellar heroes do wear masks, like Spider-Man, The Question, and Sister Night. And even though I’m nowhere near them in terms of coolness, wearing a mask makes me feel like I could (in theory) be a hero.

Is this childish?

Heck yes.

Do I care?

Not in the slightest.

Masks Hide My Least Favorite Features

I’m honestly not too fond of my face.

You know how sometimes hearing your voice recorded and played back to you is thoroughly off-putting?

That’s what it feels like to see my face sometimes.

Just as my voice sounds like it doesn’t belong in my throat, I occasionally don’t really connect with the face I see in the mirror. It’s me, but it doesn’t look like me.

Side note: This is incredibly strange to actually type out. It makes me sound a tad psychotic. Don’t worry. I’m perfectly fine. These are just errant thoughts I occasionally get. (Oh geez, that sounds exactly like what a psychotic person would say to explain this away.)

A mask covers the majority of my face, leaving only my eyes to stare out. (Which is fine by me. My eyes are below average and good-humored, which totally jives with how I perceive myself.)

It’s a Gracious Gesture Toward Others

Lately, I’ve been working on my bows, so that I can perfect a pandemic-era salutation. It’s actually harder than it sounds. You want to come across as gracious, while not looking like you’re being abysmally subservient.

And a mask is the perfect thing to complement my courtesy in bowing.

See, what a lot of people don’t seem to get is that masks aren’t intended to protect you from getting sick. Masks are intended to protect others. When I wear a mask, I’m wearing it on the off chance I’m an asymptomatic carrier. It is a symbol of my respect and regard for others around me.

And that kind of civility really appeals to me.

I Get To Look Like Richard Nixon

Okay, Nixon is definitely not my favorite US president. In fact, he’s somewhere near the bottom in a ranking of every president that ever took the Presidential Oath of Office.

But I do enjoy coming back inside after a summer walk with my mask (I live in a place with temperatures consistently 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter), taking off my mask in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at the slick sheen of sweat on my upper lip, and then caustically muttering, “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal” like Frank Langella from Frost/Nixon.

It’s funny.

They Come in Different Colors

Personally, I did not go on a mask spending-spree when social distancing was put into effect in March.

However, both my mother and her sisters went absolutely nuts buying a bunch of masks, of all colors and types.

My mother got me some homemade ones from a friend of hers, and those come in navy blue, light blue with rainbow flowers, light grey with white spirals, and black. She also got a few from some stores, including a plain white and a bright red.

My tias (aunts), always looking at the heights of fashion, got me silk and cotton masks made by designer Johnny Was.

Fucking silk.

I didn’t know who the heck Johnny Was was, but he makes some damn fine masks. I feel uber cool wearing his pleated and floral wares.

If you find yourself traveling during this time, be sure to do yourself and others a favor by wearing a mask when out in public. It is not only the decent thing to do, but it is the fun thing to do, too.

I think I’m going to keep on wearing masks in the future. I’ve grown rather fond of it.

I mean, clearly, since I just wrote an entire blog post about it.

The Death of Travel Plans

For those of you who have stuck with me after all this time, you should know by now that I mainly talk about five things: books, movies, video games, my bird, and random stuff that pops into my head. However, if you’ve visited the homepage of my blog, you might have noticed there is a little-used “Travel” category there too.

See, when I started this stupid bloggy thing, I imagined I would have a few trips that I could write about from time to time. Small getaways with friends, vacations with families, and special gaming conventions would all become fodder for this blogging category.

Yeah, 2020 really put a lid on those ideas.

As with everyone else who is social distancing and “sheltering at home,” my travel plans went out the window with the rise of COVID-19.

Normally, I actually wouldn’t mind. For one thing, a decrease in travel content translates to an increase in movie/book/video game content for the blog. For another, I’m a homebody. I don’t go places for fun very often.

But this was going to be the summer my sister and I went on a big adventure.

We had made plans (as in bought plane tickets, booked hotel rooms, and everything) to go to New York, Ireland, and Iceland this summer. While I might not have a major travel bug, my sister does, and I’m her favorite traveling companion. We were going to paint the globe red with our antics.

So that’s basically not going to happen now.

It’s the smart and safe thing to do. Now is not the time to be meeting new people and touching countless surfaces on a quest. I told my sister as much when the first coronavirus whispers were starting.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be let down by it, right?

Anybody who has had to stuff plans for this summer (and this coming fall too, I bet) down the drain knows this dismay, this pang that hits your gut when you have to make the executive decision to not do something you wanted to do. It sucks.

And there’s not really a bright side to the situation aside from not getting yourself and others sick.

It’s at this point in time that I’m going to turn to one of my all-time favorite coping mechanisms, and that’s screaming into the void.

This evening, I’m going to take a very long walk. I have open fields of dirt for miles not fifteen minutes from where I live. (I live in an agricultural town, if you must know.) After walking for so long that I’m dead tired, I’m going to stop in a place where no one is around. Then I’m going to yell at the sunset.

I’m not mad at the sunset or anything. But the sunset won’t call me a whiner with first-world problems as I vent my disappointment in one nice, long shout.

And then I’ll go home and patiently wait for the time when I can go traveling with my sister once again.

A Trip to Balboa Park

I’m normally a very solitary person, but when it comes to day trips, there is nothing better than traveling with friends.

Yesterday, Mia, Bubba, and I went to Balboa Park in San Diego. I had an absolutely fantastic time, and even though the museums and gardens were fun, the main reason for that is because my friends were with me. Together, we had a blast, a riot, and all those other words that mean a good time.

We woke up insanely early (Mia would call it an ungodly hour), even though most of the museums didn’t open until 10 am. We killed time at 6 in the morning at Mission Beach.

Since we don’t live close to the ocean (in fact we live in a veritable desert) Bubba and I took this opportunity to stride into the water. That early in the morning, the water was cold, but we didn’t care.

Well, we did, we froze our elbows off, but we pushed forward anyway.

Wincing and yelping with every frigid wave that hit us, the three of us collected shells to while away the time.

Afterwards, we changed into less wet clothes and stopped off at a place called Olive Tree Market before going to Balboa. That market makes the most amazing sandwiches I’ve ever had. I got this one called the Picasso. It’s this pesto chicken monstrosity that’s to die for.

Bubba and Mia let me take a picture to showcase the deliciousness of the sandwiches.

You know you have good friends when they let you take a pic of them in a pose mid-bite.

After those stomach-pleasing sandwiches, we drove on to Balboa Park.

As soon as we arrived, the most magical thing happened. Two friendly squirrels approached us.

Some people say I’m far too taken with little animals (you know who you are), but at that moment, I wasn’t paying attention to those people’s voices in my head. Those squirrels were begging to be AWWWWWWW-ed over.

The squirrels distracted us for a while, but the gardens and museums soon pulled us away.

For those of you who don’t know, Balboa Park is essentially a collection of museums and gardens in one location. There are a minimum of sixteen museums there. During our trip, we only visited five places.

The first stop on our journey was the Botanical Building. It’s a huge building comprised entirely of slats, allowing filtered sunlight to shine through the roof. Plants are everywhere, obviously, and the smell is fantastic. You’re in shade most of the time thanks to the lush foliage. Bubba, Mia, and I had fun ambling through the garden. We especially liked the Scratch-and-Sniff section, filled with small plants you can touch and smell. One of them smelled exactly like maple syrup.

After having our fill of chlorophyll, we made our way to the Museum of Natural History. We spent a huge amount of time there because we got so distracted by the exhibits. A lot of them were designed with kids in mind, and…well, that kind of catered to us. Bubba and I spent an embarrassing amount of time playing with these plastic skulls with movable jaws (meant to demonstrate differences in bone structure), making them lip-synch to us singing Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling .”

Mia, who had recently visited the museum, led us to a section on the third floor with a book collection. It contained a bunch of old books people wrote when they were observing natural phenomena. The one that caught my eye the most was one about trapdoor spiders. A man named Lee Passmore wrote about them, and he actually made me interested enough to consider finding more of his work later on.

We also visited a section that showcased a bunch of dead animals in jars. That was…creepy. But fun at the same time.

After realizing we couldn’t spend as much time in a single museum as we had if we wanted to see more, we moved on to the Science Center. That place is awesome. When I was a kid, my parents took me there a couple of times. It’s mainly geared toward kids, but, as we already know, that didn’t deter Mia, Bubba, or me.

We fiddled with electronic devices, practiced Morse Code, studied optical illusions, participated in a marble vortex of death, whispered to each other across a large room using echo devices, tossed discs onto a larger spinning disc, experimented with solar power, all that jazz. It was the most interactive portion of our trip.

However, the museum I was most excited for was the San Diego Museum of Art. The first time I had ever visited Balboa Park, we went to this museum and looked at all the pieces in their turn. None of them really called to me because I was an ignorant child who much preferred the Science Center’s activities to staring at portraits. Plus, things like Abstract Expressionism annoy me.

However, there was one piece of art I absolutely adored. The moment I looked at it, I was hypnotized, unable to look away. It oozed majesty, mystery, and integrity.

It’s called “Caged Pie.”

So during this trip, the one thing I knew I had to do was find it again. Bubba, Mia, and I explored every gallery, and in each room, I searched for Caged Pie. When I found it, it was everything I hoped it would be. You could see the even white brush strokes in the background, the dark colors of the pie juices, and the edges of the glass cage.

I don’t know what the picture “means.” I just know that I like it.

We saw other pieces of art at the museum, but that was the one I anticipated the most. I went to the museum’s gift shop afterwards and bought five postcards of Caged Pie for myself.

We were getting very tired with all the walking around at this point. So we decided to cap our trip with a peaceful amble through the Japanese Friendship Garden. I wish we had more time to appreciate the elegance of the garden, but the walk was still enjoyable. There were at least two koi ponds, filled with brilliantly colored koi, a bonsai tree altar, and rock pathways galore.

The only thing that “marred” our time in the garden was the man playing the organ in the amphitheater nearby. The Japanese Friendship Garden is right next to this open-air organ. Whoever was playing it was playing frenzied renditions of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite. It ruined the mood, but it did make us laugh.

And at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with a few laughs.

I’m a Horrible Packer

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling.

And by traveling, I just mean going from location to location for specific events that I’ve had planned for this summer (e.g., E3, house-sitting, pet-sitting, conferences, etc.). I’m not exactly backpacking in Europe.

Anyways, all this traveling has made me realize a rather immutable law of nature.

I’m a terrible packer.

It’s true. I’m the worst. I just can’t seem to get the hang of consolidating. No matter how hard I try, my belongings just seem to spread out. It’s as if that’s their natural state or something.

Plus, I’m also one of those god-awful persons who pack bags within bags. It started as a wish to not get lotion all over other items in my suitcase, but the habit just exploded. I now have a toiletry bag, a dentistry bag, a dirty clothes bag, a chargers/cables bag, a computer bag, and a book bag to place in my bigger travelling bags, i.e. my suitcases. (Suitcases plural!)

Oh, don’t get me started on my book bag.

See, I like to read lots of books at the same time. It’s my favorite way to read. So my book bag is this large duffle I lug around with me that holds eighteen books I alternate reading from chapter to chapter. I hate going anywhere without my book bag because it is my primary source of entertainment. What would I do without my books? Stare into nothingness?

Needless to say, the book bag takes up a lot of space when I travel. The bag is pretty big. It has to be to hold eighteen books. The book bag is cumbersome defined.

Plus, I’m a terrible folder of clothes. They get all bunchy and wrinkled and take up more space in my suitcase than if I just plopped them in there willy-nilly.

So I know blogs are normally intended as a friendly resource to the average reader. People follow blogs that contain helpful or interesting information they can use or enjoy, be that movie reviews or lifestyle options.

But this is The Below Average Blog, and I clearly don’t follow that format.

So instead of making great packing advice available to you, like an above average (hell, as an average) blogger would do, I’m going to BEG YOU to please give me packing tips in order to put my travels in order. I need to be a better packer, for my sake as well as for the sake of the people traveling with me!

E3 Day Three: Birthday Bliss

I woke up especially early for the final day of E3.

I woke up every day of E3 pretty early, but the third day was the day I practically anticipated the alarm.

The last day of the expo worked differently than the ones that had gone before it. Previously, industry and media badge-holders got a few extra hours on the exhibit floors before the plebeian (I’m joking) gamer badge-holders were allowed in. On Thursday, industry, media, and gamer badge-holders could all enter at the same time.

That meant all bets were off when it came time to line up for those game demos.

So even though my burrow of blankets was begging to be stayed in, I got up at the ass-crack of dawn to be one of the first people in line.

You see, there was one thing I had yet to do at E3.

I had not played the Doom Eternal demo.

I know, I know. ‘Amanda, how could you go to E3 as a professed Doom lover and not bum-rush the Doom Eternal demo first thing?’

Cut me some slack. It was my first E3, and I was awed by all the games and forgot to pay attention to demo scheduling. I kind of wandered around and played the games that fell into my lap.

Anyways, the Doom Eternal demo was the one thing I wanted to do that day. If I got to play that demo, then I could leave the expo happy. It was my sole objective for Thursday. Anything else accomplished would be considered a bonus.

I arrived at the convention center at the perfect time. Only about twelve people were clustered around the entrance to the exhibit hall. However, it was almost as if my coming heralded the surge of gamer badge-holders. A wave of people, mostly men, shuffled into line behind and around me. In fact, the line became more of a circular mob instead of an actual straight line.

Now, I’m not normally a super chatty person, but there’s something comforting about being surrounded by people you know without a doubt have the same interests as you.

So I made friends with the men standing next to me, talking giddily about how much I wanted to play Doom Eternal (as clearly evidenced by my Doom Eternal shirt) and how much fun I had been having at E3 from the get-go. I even let drop the fact that it was my birthday and got a chorus of “Happy Birthdays!” from these complete strangers, which was freakin’ sweet.

Now the guys around me encompassed the entire spectrum of male gamers. There were skinny boys without an ounce of meat to their bodies, guys with glasses shoved up to the highest point on the bridge of their nose, heavy-set males with tangly beards, muscular dude-bros with tattoos etched across their arms. But we were all united in our love for games.

And our determination to race forward to our favorites.

One of the guys next to me, a guy in a tank top with tattoos on his arm, was also planning to rush toward Doom Eternal just like me. He and his much smaller friend were aching to play it as much as I was.

Side note: That’s a lie. NO ONE was aching to play Doom Eternal as much as I was!

I made a joke about how I would use his body as a ram and shield in my own push to get to the demo. And he was just totally chill about. “Yeah, man, go ahead. You do what you have to do.”

His smaller friend nodded and grinned. He said, “That’s what I’m planning to do.”

And when the exhibit floors were opened, that’s almost exactly what happened. The three of us formed a javelin that pierced through the crowds. The tank-top guy in front was the tip and the smaller guy and me were the shaft. (Please, no dirty jokes.)

Eventually, I broke formation because I was too much of a pussy to run. But the three of us made it to the Doom Eternal demo, and when I took a seat next to the guys who had run ahead of me, they let out a cheer and yelled, “Happy birthday!” again. I was tickle-pink with happiness. Even more so when the tattoo guy mentioned that if I had not gotten a spot to play the demo, he would have given his up to me because he knew how much I wanted to play.

I swear, beneath the layers of sweat, insecurity, arrogance, nerdiness, or awkwardness that gamers throw up around themselves, there are some truly kind people.

The Doom Eternal demo was everything I hoped it would be. Fast-paced, demon-slaying action that refused to let up. Even the quiet moments felt bad-ass. The changes to the control scheme have all been altered to make the gameplay even more rapid than it already was. I’m totes excited for it (please excuse the “totes”), and when it comes out in November, I’m going to be pumped as hell.

Side note: Get it? “Pumped as hell?” Doom? Hell?

Ken and German, who were running late, caught up with me after the demo. We added a newcomer to our group, named Vien. Vien had been one of the gamer badge-holders in line with me alongside tank-top guy and his friend. I invited him to hang out with us, and he agreed.

He took us to play Harvest Moon, which was a lot of fun. The farming techniques are as fake as ever, but they are doubly entertaining. Plus, for playing the demo, we got a sweet sheep keychain.

Vien and German then lined up to try out Catherine: Full Body. While they were in line for that, I went to the indie game section to play Hot Swap just one more time. I also got to play another intriguing indie game called Manifold Garden. It was a puzzle game designed to mess with your typical perspective in a video game. Walls and ceilings could become a floor at the press of a button.

After a mind-bending time with Manifold Garden, I returned to German and Vien at the Catherine line. (Ken had gone to see Elon Musk’s panel at the Novo.) I was able to stand behind them while they played and observed the insanity of Catherine: Full Body’s gameplay mechanics and level design. German was playing the demo on normal, and he could not complete it. (He’s a fantastic gamer; I’m not trying to bash on his skills.)

Vien did not join me, German, and Ken for lunch, opting to go stand in line for the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint demo. Ken, tired from days of walking around, decided to call it quits on the expo after we had food. We promised to stay in touch, and then German and I went back to the convention center without him.

We met up with Vien at the Ghost Recon section, where he was barely at the front of the line. I watched him play from behind as German went to try out Monster Hunter’s Iceborne expansion again. Afterwards, Vien told me he wasn’t a big fan of the demo, but he also explained that Ghost Recon’s type of strategy wasn’t his style.

The three of us called it quits after kerfuffling around some old arcade games. There was a section in the South Hall devoted to old games like Contra, the original Donkey Kong, and Centipede. We didn’t plan to end our time this way, but it was fitting that we finished E3, the temple of upcoming games, by playing some classics.

This day was honestly one of the happiest days of my life. I can’t remember feeling so content and excited before. I mean, I’m sure there might have been days like that when I was a kid, but those times are a thing of the past now. Exiting the convention center, I was feeling nothing but pure bliss.

Which is probably why it was so hilarious when, shortly after leaving the expo, I tripped while walking on the sidewalk and tore my pants, scraped my palm and my knee, and bruised my ego.

But you know what?

I felt so happy, not even that fall could bring me down (figuratively speaking since I did actually hit the ground).

I picked myself up with a grin, examined the new hole in my pants, and then walked on.

E3 Day Two: Networking on VR Dance Floors

My second day at E3 was far more mellow than my first day. First of all, I wasn’t as panicky as I was before. I was steeped in pleasant determination to experience all I could, and I had general expectations of what the expo could offer me.

My initial enthusiasm was still bolstering me (and powering me through hours of walking and standing).

Ken, German, and I met up once again to traverse the floors together as a three-man pack. We started our day by taking a look at Crystal Dynamics Marvel’s Avengers game. The line to check out the demo was inordinately long, and according to some fellow line-standers, it was because the system for getting people to see the demo was highly ineffective.

The demo itself was about thirty minutes long, and the turnover rate for attendees was minuscule.

I struck up a conversation with the people ahead of us. The main topic of discussion: how terrible the lines at E3 are now.

Side note: As a first-time E3 attendee, I couldn’t say much as to what the lines were like before.

We also talked about how media badge-holders are given more privileges than industry badge-holders. I felt like one blessed duckling.

The demo for Marvel’s Avengers was…interesting. It showcased fast-paced action, but the combat felt a tad uninspired, even with the different members of the Avengers at their disposal. Plus, set-pieces seemed more important than engaging gameplay.

Another disappointing factor was that the demo was played by a developer nearby instead of by the people attending it. Too many of the demos at E3 were like that. Instead of allowing attendees to play the game for themselves, attendees were seated in closed-off rooms to watch someone else play it or a prerecorded demo.

After the Marvel’s Avengers demo, my group and I toured the gaming chair area. We tried out $1300 chairs (complete with lumbar support). Those chairs felt heavenly, but I doubt I’d ever splurge and get one for myself. That would mortally wound my wallet. Plus, I have an incurable penchant for sitting on the floor.

Eventually, we ambled over to the Monster Hunter: World section, where they were giving attendees a chance to play the upcoming Iceborne expansion.

Side note: Now, see? That’s how you do a demo.

I have never played a Monster Hunter game, but thanks to knowledge from Ken and German, and a natural sense of caution born from dipping my toes into Dark Souls games, I was able to participate and contribute to a four-person hunt.

Ken did a wonderful job of keeping an eye out for our team, popping health boosters for us if he noticed any one of our health bars dipping into dangerous territory. German was perhaps the more experimentive of our group. He liked to grapple onto the beast’s face, play around with his weapons, and things like that. We also had a rando play with us in order to fill out our group.

It was an honest blast trekking through the snow and bringing down that Tigrex.

Side note: Whenever we got a tad bored with the exhibit floor, we would hop back to the Iceborne demo and play it again.

We later meandered over to this one demo section that looked deserted compared to other booths. THQ Nordic’s Wreckfest appeared to be the one game no one really wanted to play. So of course we all hopped on to play it because it was available.

Racing games have never been my jam. I don’t get into them the way I know some avid fans do. However, Wreckfest’s lawn mower battle mode was quite enjoyable. Driving around on my little green lawnmower (in first person) trying to demolish other lawnmowers was definitely entertaining.

Part of the reason Wreckfest was abandoned on the exhibit floor was because THQ Nordic had set up the demo for Destroy All Humans! right next door. Everyone wanted to check out that upcoming action game instead.

Which is exactly what Ken, German, and I ended up doing.

German played the demo, and Ken and I stood behind him. The game looks to be of the same nature as its predecessors, with an updated look and control scheme. Humor is clearly its forte.

Near THQ Nordic’s section, a small VR station was set up. Hardly anyone was there, which is a shame because this was the most calming experience you could hope for in the middle of a crowded expo. A woman had made a VR game that was comprised of nothing but writing messages with a controller for other people to find.

The atmosphere was delightfully ethereal, with purple trees and green rivers comprising the background. And there was something really satisfying about writing out short messages using your hand as if a spray can was in it.

The three of us spent some time in this VR world, and it was particularly hilarious when Ken nearly clocked the exhibitor in the head as he left an exuberant statement.

We paused for a lunch break right around this time. The food at the convention center was ridiculously expensive, so German found us this neat little taco shop that was hidden away by some construction. Those tacos were the best goddamn tacos I ever had.

Outside the restaurant, an ominous ice cream truck was blaring creepy ice-cream-truck music. The reason the truck was so scary was because it was painted entirely black. When we approached it, though, we realized the whole thing was a gimmick. The Mortal Kombat 11 people were giving out free ice cream to people. If you took an ice cream, they gave you a wristband. The wristband would allow you to skip the line for Mortal Kombat 11 within the exhibit hall.

This seemed like a pretty good deal, so Ken, German, and I took some ice cream and received our wristbands. Sure enough, when we were back in the convention center, we were able to play some Mortal Kombat 11 without waiting at all. I played as D’Vorah and lost horribly.

At this point, the day was drawing to a close, and we were all pooped. German got us into this one last event in the South Hall. This one VR booth had this strange, club setting, complete with scantily-clad girls dancing around it. It looked like they were pitching the idea of clubbing through VR.

I was skeptical of the whole thing because it looked like a blatant attempt to grab male gamers’ attention with gyrating ladies in skin-tight clothes. But since German got us the tickets for free, I went along with it.

It actually ended up being pretty nifty. They hooked us into a connected VR space. We could see each other in a virtual world while we were separated in the physical world. German and I could wave hello to each other virtually.

The movement in this dance floor setting was insanely intuitive too. You could move yourself with a toggle, which was a fairly slow way to do it, or you could teleport yourself by aiming your controller where you wanted to go and clicking.

When one of the dancing ladies came to take off the VR headset and halter, I seriously wished my time with the “game” could have lasted longer.

For the longest time, I’ve been one of those doubters of VR, but after spending some more time with it, I think I could get used to interacting with people on a virtual dance floor.

E3 Day One: Sore Legs and a Happy Heart

On the morning of June 11, I got dropped off in front of the LA Convention Center close to 7:30 a.m. The doors to the exhibit floor did not open until 11. I was insanely early.

I didn’t care.

Seriously, I was just thrilled to the core to be going to E3 2019 (Electronic Entertainment Expo). It was summer in the middle of downtown LA with cars exuding exhaust all around me, but I breathed that air like it was crisp, mountain air.

You guys, it felt like home.

I spent hours before the South and West Halls opened walking around the exterior of the Convention Center. I figured out the different points of entry that I, as a Media badge-holder, could gain access to. I also located exactly where the entrance to the Novo (a meeting room set apart from the Convention Center) was by the Microsoft Theater.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous walking around by myself. I had no one to bounce ideas off of when it came to scheduling my day or contemplating if I was lost. But I figured I would make do, come what may.

Luckily, the E3 gods decided to have mercy on me.

Almost immediately after I returned to the entrance of the South Hall, ready to storm the exhibit floor, I met some fellows, and we formed a party right then and there. All three of us were loners, solo attendees of E3, and that fact bonded us. With an unspoken/spoken agreement, we decided to tour the halls together.

My E3 buddies were called Ken Mood and German Sanchez. Ken was an eager first-timer like me, with a penchant for livestreaming his experiences using his interesting new phone. German was a photographer, with a penchant for practical purchasing and an eye for great camera equipment.

After we officially grouped up, we did everything as a team.

Side note: So when I say “I,” there is a high probability that I mean “we.”

We attended two panels at the Novo, one for Gears 5 and the other for Doom Eternal.

The Gears panel was an absolute riot. The voice actors for JD, Marcus, Kait, and Del showed up, and they riffed off of each other for thirty minutes straight. Toward the end of the panel, it came time for questions from the audience. This one guy got the microphone and asked the stupidest question ever.

“What is Kait’s sexual preference?”

Seriously? Are you kidding me? What kind of question is that? None of the dude characters are getting that question.

Luckily, the indefatigable John DiMaggio (voice of Marcus Fenix) had the perfect response to this poorly phrased question. If you look for it, you can actually find a video of the moment. AND, if you look at the crowd, you can see me in the corner.

Side note: Danny, don’t you dare actually post the video here. I commented on it, and that’s enough.

The Doom Eternal panel was much more mellow and informative. I am legit excited for this game. I’m more thrilled than I can say that it’s coming out this year. I don’t have to wait for Doom-slaying.

I spent a lot of the first day, shamefully so, buying merch and swag for myself and my family. Mostly for myself, I’m sorry to say. I do want to state that I don’t normally spend a lot on useless things. But I got suckered in hardcore at E3. What am I supposed to do when a Doom Eternal pin is begging to be bought?! Or a Master Chief polo shirt is dying to be worn?!

German was a much more practical buyer. I think the only thing he bought was a Satisfye Nintendo Switch grip accessory. As a new owner of a Switch (THANKS BUBBA), I don’t have a full understanding of how it feels to hold the controls, but the Satisfye grips appear to make it a lot more comfortable. They attach to the Joy-Cons, making it easier for larger hands to hold the device.

Speaking of Nintendo, their section in the West Hall was packed. And when I say packed, I mean packed. Throngs of people crowded the brightly colored booths. That’s one thing that Nintendo definitely has in its favor. Whereas a company like Bethesda has these dark and gritty displays, Nintendo’s displays are naturally eye-catching, with unabashed reds and yellows.

The three of us tried getting in to check out Luigi’s Mansion 3, but the line was exorbitantly long. Not even my media badge could help us out.

We also stopped by the Microsoft Theater to check out the Xbox Experience. The ambiance of that place is intense. It’s a massive auditorium, with game consoles stuffed on the stage. The line to get onto there was pretty short, but none of the games were new. Unfortunately for me, Ori and the Will of the Wisps was not being demo-ed.

The cool thing about the Xbox area was honestly just the atmosphere. Green spotlights streaked the air with brightness, making the whole area seem like a promotion for the Xbox. Was it blatant marketing? Maybe. Was I okay with it? Heck yes.

By far, the best game I tried out that day was a game called Hot Swap. And the funny thing is, it was an indie game. But I’m telling you guys, it was so innovative and so engaging. I’m going to try and explain it to you as best I can.

It’s a cooperative game, requiring two players to play. On the screen is a basic image of a small ship with six cannons, three on each side, sailing the ocean. For controlling the ship, each player has a rectangular board in front of them. These rectangles each have square indentations where blocky input cubes can be placed. These input cubes have different configurations on the top.

For example, one cube has a typical steering wheel for an old-timey-y ship. Another has a button with a fire symbol on it. Yet another has a lever that moves back and forth.

These cubes can be moved around easily, placed on one player’s board in a second and then picked up and moved to the other player’s board in the next. And that’s the basics of the gameplay. These two players, swapping out the input cubes as needed, have to control a small ship, find treasure, and fire at enemy boats.

Hot Swap was remarkably engaging. I seriously did not want to stop playing. If I could, I would have stayed there for hours. If it ever releases to a wider audience, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was so much fun, with such a simple premise.

The collaboration between the two players, or lack thereof, was hilarious. When I played with Ken and German (I got to play twice), we were shouting at each other, demanding that we pass over the Load the Cannon input cube, and then whining about who would have the Steering Wheel cube. At one point, German held on to the Fire the Cannon cube for far longer than necessary, and I’m pretty sure Ken forgot to use the Fire Suppression cube properly.

I closed the evening off with a visit to the Psychonauts 2 demo. It was a prerecorded demo of gameplay, but it was fun to watch. I was originally shown the first Psychonauts by my brother-in-law, Carlos. The sequel looks to uphold the same standards of humor, which I definitely appreciate. As a psychic secret agent, it’s par for the course for you to fight against an enemy’s mental “doubts” and “regrets.”

Of course, all this walking and standing around killed my leg and foot muscles. My shoulders were aching, too, from carrying around my purse with my notebooks and stuff.

But my sore legs could not take away from the happiness blooming in my heart.

God, that sounds corny.


Okay, so I don’t have the actual media badge for E3 in my possession yet.

But I do have my media registration for E3 confirmed, which means I’ll be able to pick up the physical badge on June 9.

You guys, I’m so excited.

For those of you who don’t know, E3 stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo. It’s basically Comic Con for video games. It’ll have game demos, press conferences, and panels galore.

This will be my first time attending.

I can’t even find the proper words to convey how thrilled I am. I feel like jumping up and down around my house in joy.

I’m so excited!

And also nervous.

This won’t be like San Diego Comic Con, where I know what to expect and how to plan for it. I have no idea what to expect for E3.

Anybody who knows me knows I don’t like unplanned adventures. I prefer stability and pre-planned adventures. But I’m going to swallow back my trepidation and step out of my comfort zone.

Because this is E-motherflubbing-3.

Expect in-depth posts about my experiences attending E3 2019 after the event happens (so after June 11-13). I promise to describe everything I can in detail. Well, more detail than I normally do.

Also, if anyone who has been before reads this, could you please tell me any tips about going to E3. I’m a clueless, Below Average person.

Side note: Maybe I should start calling myself a BAP. And this blog could be the BAB.

Side side note: Whoops, bad idea. After a quick Google search, I have found out that “bap” means a woman’s breast. Never mind.

Side side side note: Heck, maybe I should just embrace it. Bap. Bap. Bap.

A Monument to Her Wins: My First Time in Utah

My sister is a powerhouse!

She goes on runs as often as she can and signs herself up for these exhausting 10Ks and half-marathons and actually follows through on them. For some of my more athletic readers, this is no reason to call her a powerhouse. Plenty of people are runners.

But Alya is absolutely deserving of the word. She’s the most awesome person in the world, and I think she’s the best at everything.

Side note: I am not an athletic person. I am a pudgy person who likes to hunker down and remain sedentary.

My sister signed herself up for a half-marathon taking place near Moab, Utah. The run boasted a steady decline for a road and a fantastic vista of the Canyonlands National Park in the distance.

Alya invited me and my boyfriend to go along with her and her husband, and thus our adventure into Utah began! The San Francisco Team was back! (See here for the SF Trip.)

Accompanying my sister to Utah was my first time visiting that state. All I knew about it came from movies, TV shows, and comedy sketches. The sum total of my knowledge about Utah kind of boiled down to the fact that it was filled with Mormons.

I learned it is also filled with epic mountains.

We decided to drive into Utah instead of flying. This gave us an opportunity to witness the transformation of desert landscapes, from California to Arizona to Utah. People might think that after seeing one desert you’ve seen them all. Not so. They are all wildly different.

Utah’s landscape definitely stood out from the blending desert scenes we drove past. We traveled through Monument Valley on our way to Moab, and our trip would have been the poorer if we hadn’t made that choice. The ground is mostly flat except for these massive buttes. I had never seen a butte in my life until that day. They were like a herd of monoliths reaching for the sky. The only way they go is up. Verticality is king. Mountains in general can make you feel small. Those buttes in Monument Valley make you feel inconsequential.

Moab was a nice town, oriented for out-of-towners. It does have a touch of “Utah” about it though. Public places close extremely early by California standards, with most restaurants calling it quits around 8 PM. And bars seemed few and far between, i.e. there were only two real bars that we saw while there.

Not that we did much drinking. Alya had a run to prepare for. I couldn’t accompany her for the half-marathon, but she told me all about it.

The view was fantastic. While jogging forward, the road swept away from her like a ribbon. Drums beat along the way, a new experience for Alya during a run. But since she forgot to download some songs on her phone ahead of time, they were a pleasant replacement. The pounding rhythm gave her a burst of adrenaline.

I waited for her by the finish line, and together we walked back to the hotel while drinking some chocolate milk. The boys had stayed asleep in the room. We joined them and then went out for lunch.

Our stay in Utah was only for three days. However, since she wanted to thank us for coming with her for the drive, Alya got us a plane tour of the Arches National Park right before we left. That was the second time I had ever flown in an airplane. The first time was ages ago.

I’m not going to lie, I was kind of nervous. It was a small plane, so the ride up was not as smooth as a large commercial flight. But the view was totally worth it.

The tour guide kept telling us stories of all the horrible accidents that had occurred in the park, accidents that required him to fly in and rescue people while working there. That was hilarious. He told a real good story. I hope that I can learn to tell stories that engaging in the future.

Going to Utah made me realize how much there is to explore in my own country. My sister might dream of traveling to Europe, but there is so much I’m still missing out on this continent alone.

The Cabin in the Woods (Not the Horror Kind)

My sister decided to treat her in-laws and her nuclear family to a trip to Mount Lemmon. She rented a cabin in the woods for three days for a nice winter getaway.

You may or may not know this about me and my family, but we are desert creatures, born to withstand 115 degree weather in the peak of summer. Our winters are usually chilly, but that’s about it.

During our stay on Mount Lemmon, the mountain was covered in snow.

Our party consisted of three groups:

  1. Alya’s group: Alya, my sister, headed the first group, with her husband, Carlos, and her puppy, Ushi. Alya planned the whole trip, so she was the keeper of information. Carlos was the only person who owned a set of tire chains “on the off chance there’s snow.” (There for sure was snow.) Ushi is a Saint Bernard/Great Pyrenees mix. This would be her first time in snow, her natural element.
  2. Paty’s group: Paty is Carlos’ mom. She had brought along for the trip her sister, her husband, and her youngest son, Christian. Both Paty and her sister Choco are peas in a pod. They like to do everything together. However, they are both surprisingly different in their personalities. Paty is more carefree and spontaneous. Choco is structured and precise. Paty’s husband, Enrique, is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. And Christian was actually a classmate of mine in high school. We’re the same age. He’s a goofy gooferton. His goal for the Mount Lemmon trip, he said at the beginning, was to “eat shit” in the snow. By that, he meant that he wanted an epic slip on ice or a disastrous sledding accident to happen to him.
  3. My group: My mom and dad came on this trip with us, as did my boyfriend, Danny. My mom was suitably anxious about the complications of snow, but excited by the concept of a winter vacation. My dad was incredibly excited. He grew up in New Jersey, so he hadn’t seen good snow in years after he moved to the desert with my mom. Danny and I hadn’t seen each other since October (we’re a long-distance couple), so this cabin trip was a good way to hang out with each other. Plus, it would be our first snow.

We caravanned up the mountain in our three cars. My group was the last to make it up because we stopped at the side of the road to play with some snow collected there. You have to understand, I never get to see snow. The most I’ve seen collected is maybe ankle high, more ice than snow, and gone in a day or two. The snow on Mount Lemmon was powdery and went up to my knees. I was thrilled.

The party eventually parked together by the general store near the top of the mountain. The town we were staying at was called Summerhaven, which seemed a pretty funny name for a place covered in a thick blanket of ice fluff. We all got out of the cars and convened. We had to figure out what to do next. The cabin was available to us at 4pm. We had arrived on the mountain early, at 11am.

This didn’t bother us much, initially. There was freakin’ snow on the ground! The amount of times we had collectively seen even a meager pile of snow on the ground could be counted on one hand. Alya, Christian, Carlos, and Ushi frolicked in the snow while we waited. The elder members of our group hung out at a nearby restaurant. I walked around in a circle just to hear the snow crunch. Danny took a nap in one of the cars.

At around 1pm, a miracle happened. Snow started to fall. I bet there are going to be some people who read this who have lived with snow their whole lives.

That’s not me.

I had never seen snow fall from the sky before. Ever.

It was dizzying. Tiny specks of white swirled down and around us. I could feel the small impacts of flakes hitting my lips. The whole world turned grey, and while that may sound bleak, let me assure you that it felt wondrous.

Of course, after all that wonder, the cold started to seep in. My nose began to burn with cold. My fingertips ached within my gloves. The cold pierced through my clothes. It was all so magically painful.

My mom wanted to head to the cabin as soon as the snow started falling. However, my father stubbornly insisted that we remain at the general store a while longer. He said that it would not be comfortable to wait around outside a cabin in the woods for two hours.

So we stayed.

And the snowfall got heavier.

At 3:45 pm, a loudspeaker began declaring that anybody who wished to leave the mountain should do so immediately. It was only then that we decided to try to head to the cabin.

We ran into problems immediately.

Firstly, Alya’s GPS led her in the wrong direction. It kept saying the cabin was directly east of us, when in actuality (as Danny’s map told him), it was south of us.

The second problem was the snow. Not only did I get to experience my first snowfall, I got to experience my first heavy snowfall. You could hardly see in front of you anymore. The roads became thickly packed with snow, and Carlos’ car was the only one that had chains. We tried driving in the snow in an unchained car once, but the slippage freaked us out so much, we returned to the general store’s parking lot.

A plan was soon formed. Alya, Carlos, Danny, and Christian would try driving to the cabin in Carlos’ car. The rest of us would wait in our cars by the general store. I definitely drew the short straw in this regard. As I’ll tell you in a moment, they got to experience an adventure.

I had to stay in a car surrounded by snow with a rapidly panicking mother.

As the sky grew darker and the snow wrapped itself around us, my mom began to doubt our chances of survival. She kept asking me if I thought we would “make it.” She also wondered if the group that had gone to the cabin would become lost and frozen in the woods. I had to endure about 45 minutes of this.

Meanwhile, my sister and her scouting party were having tons of fun. There was a very steep hill that led directly to the cabin. However, after seeing another car slide all the way down the hill, out of control, they decided not to try their luck, even with the chains on. Carlos and Danny went on foot up the hill to see if they could find the cabin. Alya and Christian stayed in the car.

Alya told me it was creepy being in the car because they could see other people walking past them, like ghosts out of the darkness. These people were probably just residents trying to make their way home. But the atmosphere of a snowy night brings a sense of terror all on its own without any monsters necessary.

I think Danny and Carlos had the worse time of it though. The steepness of the hill caused Danny to slip at least four times. Eventually, Danny and Carlos found what they thought was the cabin. The address given to us for the cabin turned out to be incorrect, so they weren’t sure if the cabin was the right one. Regardless, Danny and Carlos made the executive decision that no matter who that cabin belonged to, we were going to stay there.

On the way back down, Carlos and Danny ran into the landlord in his truck. He told them that he could show them another route to the cabin, longer, but less steep. He gestured for them to hop onto the back of the pick-up so he could drive them to the alternate road. Despite initial misgivings about being in the bed of a truck during a snowy evening, Danny and Carlos clambered onto the truck.

And then the truck fell into a ditch and got stuck.

While driving to the route, the landlord stopped to say hello to some passersby in the snow. That pause in driving forward was his downfall. The truck slid backwards after losing its momentum, and Danny and Carlos had to walk back to the car anyways with only a faint notion of where the alternate route lay.

Then began the shuttling. Carlos and Danny returned to the car and they all drove back to the parking lot. The sky was black by the time they drove in. Paty, Choco, and my mom made the first trip to the cabin with Carlos while the rest of us still waited by the general store. The next trip included me, Alya, Ushi, and Christian. The final trip had my dad, Enrique, and Danny.

After a long, tiring, freezing, and dark journey, we were all in the cabin.

The place was delightful. There were two bedrooms with bunk beds in each, and two pull-out beds in the living room. The place was warm because of heating vents in the floor. Poor Ushi did not appreciate these vents as much as we did. They made her nervous, so she kind of spent her cabin-time in a perpetual state of nervousness.

We all went to bed exhausted, but at least we had beds and did not have to sleep in a car in a parking lot in the snow.

The morning came ripe with excitement. Alya and I were eager to go out into the snow to play. We walked to the general store with Ushi and Danny almost as soon as we were dressed.

I want to say that my favorite thing about snow is how it sounds when you step on it. It crunches under your shoes (god forbid you’re stepping on snow in your bare feet) with more oomph than dirt. The snow on Mount Lemmon was of a powdery consistency. We couldn’t make snowballs very well at all. But it was prime sledding snow.

Alya bought a cheap plastic sled at the general store. Then, Christian, Alya, and I took turns sledding down a hill. (Danny opted out and instead very responsibly dug out the cars we had had to abandon at the general store’s parking lot.)

The sledding was fun. Our sled was not top-quality, and we were not expert sledders. But we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. Christian got his chance to eat shit when he tried sledding face first. He went off the path in a shower of snow dust. Ushi looked like she had fun too, jumping in and around snow lumps. Alya and I had our own troubles when we tried sledding together and the sled barrel-rolled down the last fourth of the hill. I hurt my arm something fierce, but that was nothing compared to the feeling of having snow cover my entire head. After that, we were all suitably chastened to return to the cabin.

Alya, Ushi, and I walked to the cabin instead of taking the proffered ride from Carlos when he came down to check on us. More time in the snow before resting would be great, we thought.

Unfortunately, the cold from the snow set in halfway through our trek back up. We had to climb that steep hill Danny slipped on so many times. It felt like my childhood asthma came back with a vengeance. Plus, neither Alya nor I had brought snow pants to the mountain. I was wearing jeans. By the time we reached the top of the hill, the lower half of my pants were encrusted with snow. They were stiff with frost.

Alya and I went back to the cabin and napped.

For the rest of the day, we went out to play in sporadic bursts. Carlos and Christian tried building a snow fort. I tried building snowmen. The snow was really too powdery to hold any form whatsoever. My snowmen (I made eight) were less than a foot high and were tremulous figures to boot.)

I didn’t get much sleep the next day because Alya tried getting Ushi to go to the bathroom early in the morning. Unfortunately, Ushi was terrified of walking over a vent, so she scrabbled around and lunged away from Alya when she got close to one. She ended up jumping on top of one of the pull-out beds where Enrique and Paty were sleeping. Enrique woke up with a start, thinking a bear had got into the cabin and attacked him.

All in all, the cabin time was great. Each night spent there was perfect. We played dominoes, Jenga, and Scrabble when we were inside and leapt around like crazy people when we were outside. Alya felt guilty about the cabin trip at first, because it started out so tumultuously and all that, but she needn’t have worried so much. It was fun,

And while my ardor for snow may have thawed a little thanks to my ill-preparedness for it, I’m sure it will spring up again.

At least it will once my nose has recovered.

You guys can call me Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for now.