Looks like we won't be making it to our destination.
Every year, for the past several, Mrs. Pincus and I attend The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention or MANC for those in the know. MANC is a three-day gathering of folks around my age (or older) who need to be reminded of the glory days of their youth. Days filled with simple toys like puzzles and board games and simple entertainment like heroic TV Westerns and gentle family comedies. MANC fills that need in spades. Taking over event facilities at the Delta Hotel in Hunt Valley, Maryland, MANC is jam-packed with vendors offering all sorts of pop culture treasures from the past fifty, sixty... even seventy years. Along with the vendors, MANC plays host to a bevy of celebrities —beloved to me and my peers, but nearly unknown to the members of the generations after mine. Sometimes explaining to younger people who some of these personalities are is not worth the trouble, but their names and shows are instantly recognizable to us "baby boomers." At past conventions, we met Oscar winners Patty Duke and Shirley Jones, TV heartthrobs Ron Ely and Tina Cole, movie stars Robert Loggia and Britt Ekland and many, many more. (I've written about MANC several times... here, here and here, too.)
When my wife and I first attended this convention, it was one of several that I frequented to feed a little hobby that I started nearly twenty-five years ago — collecting autographed pictures. The set up at these conventions and collector shows is a little unnerving and it's one of the negative aspects for Mrs. Pincus. (She finds it a bit on the creepy side.) Celebrities are seated at tables covered with 8 x 10 glossies depicting highlights of their careers. For a nominal fee, fans can spend a few fleeting moments with their "idols" and take home a personally-inscribed souvenir of the encounter. The unwritten rules have changed considerably since I purchased my first autographed photo (for five dollars) of Butch Patrick, little "Eddie" on the 1960s horror send-up The Munsters. Over the years, the prices have escalated at an unreasonable and baseless rate. The celebrities now come complete with a menu of ala carte services on every table, delineating the cost of an autographed photo, an autograph on an item that you brought to the show, a photo of the celebrity, a photo of you with the celebrity or any combination of the above. (Some have even broken it down further, with different prices for black & white glossies or color.) I have amassed quite an array of photos and the fame of these celebrities ranges from Tom Hanks and Gene Kelly to my wife's cousin who is a field reporter for the NBC affiliate in Virginia Beach. (Hey, he's got more Emmy Awards than you do!) I also accumulated quite a few amusing anecdotes (good and not-so-good) about my "brushes with greatness" that I have related for years. I look forward to MANC every year to add to both collections.
However, this past February, I lost my job. Although I was eligible to collect unemployment insurance, Mrs. Pincus and I were justifiably panicked. We immediately cut back on expenses where we could. Luckily, Mrs. Pincus's eBay business was thriving. We were prompted to assess our possessions and begin selling non-essential items. Items that were tucked away in closets or gathering dust in a corner were the first sacrifices. Next was our collection of advertising figurines and plush characters, followed by our Flintstones and Superman collectibles. Then, we made the difficult decision to purge our extensive Disney collection. As discussed earlier on this blog, liquidating a thirty-plus year assemblage of thousands of pieces of Disney memorabilia was a mixed-bag of emotions. At first, I was very discerning about which items I selected to be offered for sale. But as more items sold and more inquiries about the items were received, I gained a new (and surprising) outlook. Now, I was on a mission! Every weekend, Mrs. P and I sat side-by-side at our computers and listed item after item on eBay at a breakneck rate. Seven months later, the shelves are shockingly bare and the "famous" Pincus Disney collection is unrecognizable. Even though I secured new employment in April, we have not ceased our goal of seeing that room empty for the first time in thirty years. Plus, we are having a great time spending time together and seeing what sells.
So, based on our efforts to sell off our Disney collection, I couldn't justify spending money on autographed photos. For whatever reason, the once-prominent collector in me has vanished. Gone. All done. I still want to meet the celebrities. I just don't feel the need to spend upwards of thirty dollars to have them drag a Sharpie across a photograph of a role that made them semi-famous a lifetime ago. Instead, I drew a bunch of portraits of this year's guests and made a plan to distribute them to their subjects, offering a few words of praise and appreciation. I have done this in the past, and sometimes — sometimes — I appealed to the particular celebrity enough that I got an autographed picture in exchange for my portrait. (Cindy Williams, Jay North and Stanley Livingston each complimented my talent.) So, I made my decision to end my collecting of autographed pictures.... unless I can get them free of charge... which I have. And, again, instead of being upset, I found the decision very freeing. The pressure was off. The sort-of guilt I felt in the past over spending hard-earned cash for something that brought brief pleasure and really no actual value was gone. Now I would really enjoy this year's convention in a different way.
Just after I purchased tickets online for MANC, Mrs. Pincus and I decided to stretch out the weekend of the convention into a little vacation. We planned to head further south at the show's conclusion, driving as far as we liked, getting a hotel room for the night and then continuing on the next morning. Our ultimate destination was South of the Border, the kitschy tourist oasis that lights up I-95 in Dillon, South Carolina. While some travelers zoom right past the place, we love it. Sure it's hokey and silly and filled with cheap, useless souvenirs that we never buy. Sure, it proliferates racist stereotypes with its numerous billboards featuring mascot Pedro, a cartoon Mexican of the highest insult. But, we love the nostalgic aspect of a place that really shouldn't exist in this day and age. A place that just seems out of place.
But, alas, our plans for a Southern road trip were dashed by the onslaught of Hurricane Florence, a fluctuating Category 3 storm that couldn't decide on which path to take. National and local weather services painted a bleak scenario, making predictions just short of a tidal wave washing away the entire Eastern United States. It appeared that Wilmington, North Carolina and surrounding areas would be bearing the brunt of Florence's anger. Dillon lies 90 miles west of Wilmington — and seems to be the shortest distance between two points. We didn't wish to be anywhere near the chaos of both the storm and the residents vacating their homes. MANC is held just north of Baltimore, Maryland — well out of the predicted storm zone and would only experience just a little rain. And as they say, "into one's life, a little rain must fall."
I'm okay with a little rain.
(Next week: Close encounters of the celebrity kind)