Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The journey's a drag, and so is the destination

Now that I've had a few days to recover, I want to tell you the story of my weekend. It was, mildly put, quite the adventure.

The International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE for short) is a conference and festival that celebrates drag king and queer culture in general. Held every year since 1998, when the first IDKE was put together in Columbus, Ohio, it has since bounced from city to city and grown exponentially in size. This year being the tenth anniversary, it returned to its home city, and I decided to go (this was my third IDKE, the others being last year's in Vancouver, Canada and IDKE 6 in Chicago). But whereas last year I went as a performer with my sister's troupe from Chicago, this year I was just going to observe and have a good time. And it was a damn good thing, too, as had I been performing, my weekend would have been even more stressful than it already was.

Friday morning, me and the fella jumped into my "trusty" minivan and headed southeast along the interstate, bound for Ohio. Our journey was relatively uneventful--just filled with abominable tolls in Illinois--until we hit the outskirts of Richmond, Indiana, near the border with Ohio. It was at that point that my fella, then in the driver's seat, noticed the "check engine" light come on. I gazed over at the various gauges on the dashboard and noticed, with some alarm, that the engine heat level had skyrocketed. We immediately looked for a place to pull over, settled on the nearest gas station, and upon stopping noticed a great deal of steam wafting out from under the hood.

Not good.

I opened her up and took a gander at my suffering van's insides: there was a hissing noise, as though some liquid were being released and immediately superheated. I noticed some unpleasant looking green stuff splattered across various of the hoses and bits near the waterpump, but as I am not an expert on the inner workings of car engines, I didn't really know what to make of it.

Hoping beyond hope that it was a simple matter of being low on oil, we poured a container of the stuff down the pipes and crossed our fingers as we got back in and started her back up. Sadly, and perhaps rather predictably, the engine temperature shot right back up, so we cruised down the road into town looking for an actual service station. Fortunately, there was a small, honest-to-goodness mom and pop place nearby, and they took us in. Unfortunately, it turned out that both my water pump and some crazy big hose had gone bad, and even worse, they'd have to order the new hose because there weren't any in town. That's the price I pay for driving a Mazda, I guess.

What this meant was that 1) we'd need to leave the minivan at the shop for the week so they could order the part and do the work, and 2) we'd also need to rent a car to get us the rest of the way to Columbus. Our luck was working hard to balance itself out, though, as a local dealership had a special for that shop where they'd pick us up and rent us a car for $25 a day. Naturally, we took them up on it, and were shortly back on our way.

In the midst of all that, several worried phonecalls came in from various concerned parties--my sister, our friends the Mad Kings, who were also headed to Columbus--with many generous offers to come pick us up if need be. We were grateful for the offers, but yet more grateful that we were able to rent a car instead of putting our friends out by having them drive two hours back to come get us.

The delay meant that we didn't get into Columbus until around 9, which was when the evening's entertainment was scheduled to start. Dragdom is the "open mic" night of the conference, when anyone and everyone can sign up to perform. We were bummed to miss the first half of it, but happy to get to see anything at all at that point. The event was held in a place called the Wall Street Nightclub, which was apparently the location of the first year's Showcase event (Showcase being the final night's big blowout, where you have to apply well ahead of time to get on stage). The acts were great and wonderfully diverse: a group did a Batman and Robin gettin' it on piece, a solo act did a hilarious burlesque-ish piece to a song I must find (innuendo involving used furniture sales), another solo artist was done up like some crazy cross between Klaus Nomi and Nosferatu, etc etc.

We had a good time, but were pretty damn exhausted by the end and decided to go straight back to our hotel rather than stay out for any afterparties.

Saturday dawned clear and cool, and we (thankfully) had all day before needing to be anywhere. After handing off some props we'd brought up for the Mad Kings, the fella and I headed out to explore fabulous Columbus. We ate amazing pancakes and drank good tea at a local tea shop, discovered a really cool bike and clothing shop where a friendly sales clerk chatted with us about what to see and do in Columbus, strolled through the scenic German Village area, and explored some rundown factory areas where I took a billion pictures.

At some point while we were off enjoying ourselves, our performer friends were not having such a good time. Props were breaking, communication from the organizers left something to be desired, and folks were just plum stressed out. I had enough to deal with in the fire I was soon going to have to set to my credit card because of the van, so I thanked my lucky stars that I'd decided not to perform this year.

Despite all of the trials and tribulations that led up to it, however, the actual Showcase event went off with almost no hitches, and the acts were wildly entertaining pretty much across the board. I was especially proud of the contingent of Mad Kings who went on, as this was their very first IDKE and they represented Madison well. My sister and her Chicaco cohorts put on a superb and visually stunning piece (as usual) involving more liquid latex than you could shake a stick at. Tamale, who was the fantastic emcee of "Hot Mess" here in Madison back in July, did some impressive fire spinning. There were performers from all over the US, plus some that had even come from Canada, France, Italy, and even New Zealand.

What's been great to see at more recent drag king events is the embrace and inclusion of more burlesque and cabaret elements, with even hardcore kings stripping down, plus sword and fire dancers, live singing and rapping, and just about anything else you could think of. It's fantastic.

After four hours of being on my feet and snapping away in the front row, I was pretty beat. So instead of getting my dance on after the show, I sat, content, and simply watched the people around me celebrating.

The openness and creativity of that community is, simply put, both awe inspiring and comforting.

We had to return our rental car to the dealership in Richmond the next day, so we rented yet another car while still in Columbus so we'd have a way to get back to Madison once that was done. The trip back was, happily, without incident, but I now have to drive back to Indiana this weekend to pick up my hopefully fixed minivan. It was worth it to see the great performances, but I certainly could have done without the added expense and hassle. Ah well, chalk it up to experience, right?

Next year, I'll have to get the ol' girl a full check up beforehand: we're off to the desert in 2009!

For the full photo set (with more to be added soon) from my IDKE adventures, check out my Flickr page.


M Big Mistake said...

I know that we don't know each other...but if you need a place to stay in Indiana my partner lives about a mile off the toll way in South Bend and I could probably convince her to take you in.

Emily said...

I appreciate the offer! I'm only going to be in Indiana long enough to pick up the car (hopefully) and then headed back, though, so--fingers crossed--shouldn't need to spend the night there. Thanks anyway! :)

The Lost Albatross