Heroes and Villains NYNJ: The Epic Blizzard of 2016

As Chris and I set out from Cincinnati in our Prius, I had no idea what to expect of the coming weekend. Would the blizzard hit? Would anyone show up? Would Heroes and Villains be as awesome as other cons I’ve attended? Would volunteering be fun and exciting, or would I feel like I was missing out? As it turned out, the blizzard did hit and not everyone showed up. But despite the circumstances, HVFF, Nocking Point, Stephen Amell and John Barrowman FAR exceeded my expectations for a con, and volunteering at this con led to the most fun and rewarding con experience of my life!

Chris and I arrived in Secaucus, NJ late (LATE) Thursday night/Friday morning, as we wanted to get ahead of the storm and we wanted to volunteer Friday morning to help get the con set up. This ended up being an amazing life choice, as pre-con was loads of fun, and I was very happy not to have to deal with travel hysteria that gripped the region on Friday. I also got a response from Barrowman on Twitter Thursday night after saying we were ready to party, which was an awesome way to kick things off. 😉 When we arrived at pre-con, we were directed to set up those giant flags that you see all over con floors. You know, these:

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As we put together the flags, we spent some time meeting some new people, making jokes on how we could kill vampires with the flag pieces, and then having some faux sword fights with the long poles, and eventually got everything together and looking pretty. Next it waIMG_3782-001s time to set up the lines for the celebrity booths. Gee, guess whose booth I ended up at? 🙂 While setting up Stephen’s booth is an awesome story to be able to tell, getting it together was actually the stuff of nightmares… and I was quite sure they were going to kick us out for bollocksing up their most important booth because it took us forever to get that thing together as it was supposed to be. His booth had four different lines (Platinum/gold, Celebrity VIP, VIP, general admission) that all kind of wove around each other, and I’m convinced IMG_3785-001that those silver corral line… thingies (see picture) were made by Satan. While it took far, far longer than it should’ve, and required exceptional amounts of colorful profanity, we did eventually get it together, and it looked pretty darn nice, if I do say so myself! After surviving that mess, we were asked to go fix another booth’s line set up (a shock to me, as I was expecting to get the boot for taking forever at Stephen’s…), and so off we went to David Mazouz’s booth to figure out the issue and set it up.

In the course of David Mazouz’s booth shenanigans (btw, it wasn’t set up according to the plan because there wasn’t enough space… we had to get creative to make it look like the plans, but we did it!), we realized that there were a bunch more booths that also needed to be set up. We also realized that we did not even come close to having enough supplies to do so. It was at this point that we had to start stealing from other booths (while keeping IMG_3790-001them looking professional), and rigging things to look decent while keeping them to plan which was… interesting to say the least. I eventually helped with Robin Lord Taylor’s booth, and then went down and set up the “special mystery guest’s” big booth (which I think was probably Stardust’s, which is just tragic because I would’ve love to have seen that showdown…). By the time we got to the mystery guest’s booth we were truly baffled as to how we were supposed to put the queues together with no supplies, so we just hung out for a while hoping for a miracle – which ended up being a lot of fun because I got some time to chat and connect with some awesome new friends! Miraculously… Chris eventually found a whole bunch of new queue supplies, so off we went! With that many people, getting that last booth set up was super easy, and we were so proud of ourselves, Chris decided to give our group a name – the BOOTH BANDITS!

After that, the rest of the evening was fairly low key. Chris and I had dinner, and Esty made it to the hotel. Yay! We followed the Heroes and Villains account on Twitter and Facebook neurotically, as well as checking with Stephen constantly for updates as well. Before the snow had even started in Secaucus, Gov. Christie declared a State of Emergency, effectively cancelling the con for the next day. While ultimately it seemed to the be the right decision, when we hadn’t even seen a snow flake yet, it was hard not to be super irritated (as Stephen seemed to be) at the decision. Even knowing we didn’t have to be up at 5am to get to orientation by 7am, we still decided to go to bed early, with a lot of sad feels due to driving all that way, spending all that time on set up, and not having a con after all.

When I woke up on Saturday, I immediately checked my phone to see what happenings snOMG gifmay be going on that day (as I knew that both the nerds AND the guests wouldn’t just stay in their hotel room all day…), and I was not disappointed. Barrowman had already been on Facebook live, challenging Stephen to a snow angel making contest and requesting we tweet our snow-bound activities to him and Stephen, and Alyssa had made an event with the nerds to continue the party, which appeared to be starting at 11am at our hotel – nice! We (Chris, Esty, and I) took lots of selfies (we do what John Barrowman tells us to!), and then headed downstairs to have breakfast, meet fellow geeks, see Lord Mesa, ooo and aaah over the CRAZY snowfall hapNerd Party-001pening outside the windows (see gif), and find the party. When we got downstairs at 11, the place was WILD! Nerds everywhere! People did NOT let the lack of con stop them from getting in full cosplay and hanging out and partying with other con-goers. We ended up standing in line waiting to get a sketch from Lord Mesa for about an hour before we decided that we probably weren’t going to make it to the front of his line before he left for the Embassy Suites. BUT, that time was not wasted by any stretch, as we met lots of cool people, including Amy and Gloria, who went ended up hanging out with for much of the day!

Since it seemed like the party was moving to the Embassy (as was Lord Mesa), we (Chris, Esty, Amy, Gloria, and I) decided to get our gear on and head out into the snow. I can tell IMG_3822-001you that stories of the blizzard were NOT overstated – it was CRAZY out there! The temperature wasn’t all that bad, but the howling winds (especially in the wind tunnel between the Hyatt and the Embassy) were significant. But once we arrived at the Embassy, we realized that the party was definitely there. Vendors were set up with their wares, selling to would be con goers, a full group of Team Arrow cosplayers were there taking pictures, and groups of people were just all over the pace hanging out and enjoying themselves. Somehow we managed to get a table, and Chris luckily had a deck of Fluxx cards with him, so we set up and played cards which was loads of fun! It felt like summer camp – except with sci-fi nerds in the middle of a blizzard. 😉 Food was scarce, but luckily I had packed a bunch of trail mix and protein bars, so we snacked, chatted about life, superheroes, and academia, laughed, and played cards for hours! I had perhaps hoped that John and Stephen would come down to the hotel lobby (we still weren’t sure where they were at this point), but no such luck. But it didn’t matter, because we were still having a great time. 🙂

At some point during the day, Stephen finally tweeted a picture of himself and Drew standing in the snow by BW3. Not being from the area, we had no idea where that was, but we did realize that we were starving to death. We looked at the restaurants around, and not wanting to walk far we decided to head towards Carrabba’s. As we approached (climbing through giant snowdrifts… fun!), we all kind of noticed that where we were was right where Stephen had taken that earlier picture. I had assumed that he would’ve taken that picture on his way out of the area, but as we approached the doors to Carrabba’s and found COMPLETE INSANITY, we realized that was not the case! Someone standing outside mentioned that Stephen was in there with his family, and said that people wereStephen Drew Snow mobbing him, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when we walked in… but there Stephen was, along with Robbie, Drew, and a bunch of other folks at a table easily seen from the front of the restaurant. So they weren’t exactly hiding. Nor did they seem to be getting mobbed though… I’m sure some people had gone up to say hi, but by and large so far as I could see, everyone seemed respectful. We put our name in for a table (and made some sympathetic gestures towards the servers because WOW they were slammed!), and then hung out. I didn’t want to act like a creepy stalker by staring at Stephen and the rest of their crew, but since we stood waiting for over an hour easily, there really wasn’t much else to do. Not too long after we’d started waiting, though, John and Katrina (Law) showed up, and once he was there I didn’t feel too bad about watching things, as whenever John is in the room (especially when he’s with Stephen!), they’re always putting on a show. And it was quite the show they put on! I can’t remember what happened when, but here are the highlights (in no particular order):

  • John made a video recording of all of us at the restaurant and put it on Facebook.
  • John Face-timed Scott and had all of us say hi.
  • Stephen and John were both all over the restaurant saying hi and chatting with people, both at their table and with others who seemed to be just like us (snowed out con-goers). John at first said no selfies (because it was JAM PACKED), but he, Stephen, Robbie, and Katrina eventually did start taking selfies, and seemed totally open to talking to everyone.
  • Katrina took some selfies, inside, but she and John were both in and out a lot, doing Periscope and Facebook live from out in the blizzard! I know both of them also did selfies outside – I watched John doing some outside while it was still CRAZY snowing, and I got one with Katrina later myself!
  • This one I can’t speak the legitimacy of, as I didn’t hear it first-hand, but it seems that at some point people were told to wait for tables outside, and John spoke the manager to make sure they were brought in so they didn’t, ya know, freeze to death. I did see/hear John come over and check on everyone to make sure everyone was okay. Because he’s awesome.

Somewhere in this madness we did manage to get a table, and we actually managed to get some food as well! Our server (who I discovered from Stephen’s Facebook post after the con was named Shawn) was awesome and funny and kept his cool AND sense of humor despite the CRAZY circumstances. Thanks, Shawn! Stephen passed our table multiple times, as we were sitting next to the bathroom, but we didn’t really talk to him because… bathroom (we strived to not be creepy and I think/hope we succeeded). Chris, Esty, and I were also going to the Nocking Point party that evening, so we figured we’d get our chance then. After we finished eating, Esty and I decided to hang out for one more drink, while Chris went to take a nap, and Amy and Gloria headed back to their hotel. My vodka and cranberry juice was more like pink vodka (WOO), but the bar tenders were amazing and we met some more awesome con goers and had a great time chatting with them. We still didn’t approach John or Stephen because of the party later, but it was an amazing time hanging out, watching them interact with others, and meeting more cool nerds!

Eventually we decided it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for the Nocking Point party, and so we (and a fellow con volunteer and generally awesome person Jen) decided to head back to the hotel together. Just as we stepped outside, we saw several IMG_3851-001people holding hands, clearly getting ready to do some snow angels. And upon closer inspection, one of them was Katrina Law, who immediately invited us to come do snow angels with her! Uhhhh… okay! Someone had a phone and was taking video of that, but I’ve searched YouTube and can’t find it… if anyone can find it, please send it my way! After the snow angels came a snow ball fight, as Katrina just started throwing them (see video)! She was also awesome enough to take a selfie with me, even though I was a freezing mess and it took me forever to get the camera on camera and off video mode. She laughed with me and waited, rather than racing off… she is the sweetest thing. Thanks, Katrina!

After that, we did head back to the hotel and got prepared for the Nocking Point party. At this point I think it needs to be stated for the record that not only did I wear a dress (not something that happens often), but I wore a dress OUT INTO A BLIZZARD. Only for you, Amell. 😉 We made it to the Expo Center (without me falling in a snow drift with bare legs… win), and got in line. While we were still in the lobby, John came out and got up on IMG_3852-001a chair to let us know that they would not be taking selfies (darn it), and that we should be prepared for ANYTHING (cryptic). Upon walking into the party, we were met by Stephen at the door on a hover board. He said he’d never been on one before, but looked incredibly comfortable with it, and rode along with us as we walked to the party area (which was the panel area of the con floor). Once we made it to the party area, we were given our fancy NP wine glasses with drink tickets, and off we went. Before getting wine, I went and got a t-shirt because I wanted to make sure they didn’t sell out. There were a LOT of people there VIP… so much so that it seems almost everyone who had a VIP ticket madeIMG_3857-001 it (which makes sense because those damn things were expensive!). I got my shirt, then Chris and I stood in the line for wine. When we got to the front, Drew was pouring, and Stephen was standing off to the side. Stephen got Chris’ attention to compliment him on his kilt, and so Chris shook his hand and we stopped and chatted for a bit. Chris told Stephen we helped build his booth (which of course made me hope beyond hope that the damn thing didn’t fall down the next day… LOL), and Stephen thanked us. He shook Chris’ hand again, and then mine… I would’ve given him a hug, but I was holding TWO glasses of wine, and so had to be very, very careful to be able to shake Stephen’s hand without dumping red wine down my dress. 😉

After that we walked around and mingled, and chatted with several different people over the course of the party, including my girl Jennifer from Twitter who SOMEHOW I didn’t remember to get a selfie with! Ungh! Each group of people that I chatted with needed a wine refill, so I ended up standing with them and ultimately chugging my wine once we got to the front so that I could get my refill. This meant that I was rather drunk rather quickly. Oh, darn. 😉 Most of the time my wine was filled by Drew, which was awesome, though at one point John was filling glasses as well (though he didn’t fill mine).

Eventually, after I’d imbibed a fair amount of the Nocking Point white (which was delightful, btw, though I do wish they’d had a sweeter option.. maybe next time?), John and Stephen got up on stage. I cannot properly put into words the magic that happens when these two get together. After having seen them sing together in Louisville, in which they were drunk and everything seemed spontaneous and yet RIDICULOUSLY just… epic, I knew that seeing them together in a planned and controlled atmosphere was going to be amazing. And I was right. I will post the two videos I was able to take below, because a video is worth a million words. At some point my phone ran out of room (seriously the nightmare scenario… Stephen Amell and John Barrowman live on stage in front of me and my phone can’t record… GAH), but I was able to get the first 40 minutes (Do You Want to Build a Snowman, the Q&A, 1000 Years, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You), and then Esty and I shared the duties of recording the rest on her phone. I’ll put a link her videos up too, because I recommend you watch them ALL. 🙂

(To watch the rest, click here!)

After the boys were done on stage, we did more mingling, dancing and chatting. If you watched the videos, you may have heard several glasses break while they were performing, which is something that happened throughout the night. I felt awful every time I heard it, because our custom glasses were beautiful! At one point, Jen and I decided to jam out and started dancing like lunatics because… it’s a party, right? But then… her glass dropped and shattered. We were horrified! I felt soooooo awful…. But then just a moment later, a volunteer arrived like a fairy wineglass godmother and gave her a new one! How awesome is that?? I was so impressed by that… Stephen and Drew and all the Nocking Point people really went out of their way to put on an amazing party, even with the challenging circumstances, and they even anticipated the drunken loss of wine glasses!

And speaking of putting on an amazing party, Jen had wanted to meet Stephen because she had taken up archery lessons because of his inspiration, which I thought was amazing. She had a picture of a really bad ass target from archery lessons she’d hit recently that she was super proud of, and just wanted the opportunity to tell Stephen about it and show him the picture. But of course Stephen was all over the party, and had a flock of fangirls following him wherever he went so he was tough to access. But… as Jen and I were standing there chatting, Stephen just happened to walk by and seemed relatively free. I told Jen she should go take her chance and talk to him, but of course she was nervous. Well, it’s way easier to not be nervous when I’m not the one that’s going to talk to him, plus I’ve officially seen Stephen in action enough now to know that he’s a super cool and chill guy, so there’s no need to be incredibly star struck around him. So…. I pushed her, both verbally and eventually physically to go up to him. And she did! She got to tell him about her archery classes, show him her target, and he was super positive about it and impressed with her aim. If I had been thinking more clearly (read: less drunk) I would’ve thought to take a picture of her talking to him, but I was so happy she got her chance that I just stood there grinning like a loon. She was one happy fangirl after that, and so was I!

The rest of the party was more mingling, dancing, and chatting, and was an all-around good time. I had wanted to try to talk to John, but he tended to scurry off whenever I gotIMG_3948 (Edited)-001 close to him. Somewhere towards the end of the evening, Stephen ended up by the photo backdrop, and started taking selfies. Esty and I just happened to be standing right there when that started, so we were lucky enough to get our chances! I continue to be impressed by how people do want Stephen’s attention and are willing to follow him around all night, but DON’T mob him to the point that he can’t do these kinds of parties and mingle like a normal person. He does what he can, leaves when he needs to, the crowd follows security’s lead, and in my experiences so far everything seems to go well. Thanks, fandom!

One last event of note at the Nocking Point party is that, towards the end, my 3-year-old daughter who was with my parents and sister for the weekend, was getting ready to go to bed and wanted to Facetime. It was an interesting place for a video call, but I called her anyway and chatted with her as best I could. As we were talking, Stephen once again got on stage, and since my daughter is a HARD CORE superhero nerd, I let her watch him… and she was SO EXCITED to see the Green Arrow singing! She wanted to say hi to him, but after his number he said we all had to go. I tried to get close to him with the phone, but wasn’t able to get Stephen’s attention (because he was getting mobbed), but Zoey was super excited to be able to see him up close, even if he didn’t say hi. Thanks for making my kid’s night without even knowing it, Stephen! And thanks to Stephen, Drew, John, and all the Nocking Point folks for taking the time to interact with us, perform for us, and throw a damn fine party in the middle of a blizzard!

After the NP Party, we trudged back through the snow and immediately headed to bed, as volunteer orientation – for the con that was TOTALLY HAPPENING SUNDAY! WOO!! – was at 7am, which meant we needed to be up SUPER early to be ready. I can’t say I was at all happy to hear the alarm go off at 5:30am, but we got our breakfast, coffee, and Tylenol (because… wine) and headed over to the Expo center. BIG thanks, btw, to all the people who spent so much time clearing off the steps over there, because that had to be cold, grueling work, and everything looked fantastic!

I don’t remember all that much about the morning, because the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet, but I do remember orientation having a lot of thumpa-thumpa music, which seemed… an interesting choice for 7am with a lot of hungover people, but I’m sure was to try to get us energized. 😉 By this point I had seen my assignment, which was working John Barrowman’s booth (WOOOOOHOOOO). To say I was excited was a slight understatement. 😉 After getting our shirts and all our goodies, and listening to the orientation with Brad and Mike (of which the primary messages appeared to be HAVE FUN, #DontBeWeird & #BeWeirdDontBeCreepy), off I went to Barrowman’s booth.

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A lot of folks at Barrowman’s booth seemed to be con volunteer veterans, so as a newbie I took a back seat and went where I was directed. The very last thing on this earth I wanted to do was anything that might be subpar for John, so I asked a million questions and tried to learn from the veterans as quickly as I could. I was placed at the “front” of the line (which is really the back), meaning that we stood outside the booth and queues and answered questions and directed people, as well as giving out line tickets to save people’s places in line (without them having to stand there) when the lines got too long. We were the first face they saw at the booth, and I took that position very seriously. At first I was apprehensive because I was afraid that it would be so chaotic that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but as much as the chaos WAS real, it ended up being just the most fun thing I’ve ever done at a con. Working in line control gave me an excuse to talk to EVERYONE. I complimented everyone’s costumes, talked to kids, fangirled with all the fans (of both genders, I might add), and had a generally awesome time. John is SUCH an amazing person to meet at a con – he’s so genuine and fun – that even if people were frustrated at wait times, or the general chaos of a post-blizzard-cancellation-con schedule, once they got their time with John they all came out with THE BIGGEST grins on their faces. It was a true joy to watch. And the fact that whenever I got a break, both John and Stephen were within eyeshot and at times looking at them was actually doing my job? Weeeell, those moments weren’t so bad either. 😉

One of my favorite experiences from the con was with a Japanese girl who came to see John. My fellow line control guru Ben and I were working the line at that point, and I think each of us independently noticed this young girl standing there looking incredibly nervous. I checked in with her, and I think Ben did too, and as time passed, she continued to stand there looking completely terrified. When the line settled down a bit, Ben and I talked to her and started to hear her story. It turns out that she is from Japan, and learned IMG_3958English specifically because of John Barrowman in Torchwood, and today was her birthday and meeting him was her birthday present. But now that she was here, she was completely paralyzed. She was shaking, teary.. the whole bit. So Ben and I continued to talk to her and ease her into things in between helping other con-goers. Eventually we had her convinced, though she was still terrified… but I told her in no uncertain terms that John Barrowman is AMAZING, she had nothing to be nervous about, and that when she got up there if she was too nervous to talk, John would. So I gently led her to the line and made her stay there. When she came out, she was in tears but had THE BIGGEST grin on her face! She was so so so so happy… she hugged Ben and I, repeatedly thanked us, took selfies with us, thanked us some more, bowed to us… she was SO happy, and it was just the most awesome thing ever. When I told my husband about it later in the day but before the end of the con, he mentioned that he too had worked with a young Japanese girl that was super nervous to come into the con itself and wondered if it was the same girl. Apparently she later found him again (he was working at the information desk at the front) to show him her photo op with Barrowman (she showed us too – it was AWESOME – there was groping! LOL), and he asked her about me. When she realized that we were married – two of the people that had helped her so much that day – he said her head nearly exploded from excitement! She came back to the booth multiple times throughout the day to give us hugs/bows/thanks and to check in. She was the sweetest thing, and watching her dream come true that day was absolutely incredible!

Before coming to the con, the one photo op I was planning to do was a full Arrow cast picture, which I was splitting with a ton of other volunteers. However, because of the storm, most of the Arrow cast wasn’t able to come, nor were the people I was going to split the picture with. So I had resigned myself to not getting any photo ops… until Chris told me that he’d gotten a free photo op for “being him” (whatever that means… LOL!). So… after conferring with Esty, we decided to get the photo op that seemed to best suit our collective fangirl/fanboy statuses: and what happened is pictured below:

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Best. Photo Op. EVER! P.S. I also hugged John after the picture was taken. I hope I wasn’t weird, but I’ve been dying to hug the man since the dawn of time and with him finally that close I could no longer resist. Love you John!

The rest of the con was loads of fun. I got a few breaks to go buy some amazing things (pictures below), the most important/exciting of which was that I got a print from Lord Mesa! I am SUCH a huge fan of his… and had been attempting to stalk him all weekend to no avail. Being able to get a print from him – especially because it was his version of the cast photo from Louisville, which was one of the best weekends of my LIFE – was perfect! And of course he was awesome enough to sign it for me. 🙂 During the times when John was at photo op and panel, I also got to see a little bit more of the con, and buy some goodies (both for myself and for some friends), so here are some of the highlights:

At the end of the con, we were allowed to get two autographs from celebs that were still there and willing to sign. This is supposed to happen between 4-5, but since John’s booth was so insane and he was signing up until 5 on the nose, I didn’t get to attempt any autographs until after the con was closed. John didn’t have time to sign for too many volunteers, but he did sign for those of us who worked his booth (including personalizing – have I mentioned how much I love him?). I was also able to track down Robbie Amell (squee!), and Lord Mesa (more squee!) to sign, so I was a happy girl. 🙂

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After the con closed and celeb autographs were done, we set to work tearing down the con. I will admit that I had some feels tearing down all of our beautiful flags, and those damn queues that I had spent so much time working to put up, but it was still fun hanging out with con friends we’d made throughout the weekend, and being able to help out the staff. Once the con was packed up, we chatted for awhile, sharing our experiences that day with other volunteers, and then ultimately went back to the hotel.

We said goodbye that evening to Esty, as she had to pack up to travel home. Luckily she doesn’t live far, but it was still sad to see her leaving, and to have the weekend coming to a close. As Chris and I packed up to leave the next morning, we were both able to reflect on the weekend and see how much fun we’d had volunteering, and how much more a part of the con we’d felt doing so. After attending Wizard World Louisville, I had worried that nothing would ever be able to top it. While not necessarily surprising, it was awesome to truly now know that any and all cons where the Arrow cast are are basically amazing.

To Stephen, John, Brad, Mike, the Heroes and Villains staff, all of Nocking Point, as well as the Secaucus Hyatt and Embassy Suites, and Carrabba’s…. thank you. What could’ve been a complete nightmare with tears and disappointment ended up being yet another of the most epic times of my life. To this fangirl, you guys are truly super heroes. ❤

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