Well what do you know, the whole box robot thing actually happened. Back when I was finishing my first screenplay in 2003 I added a bit about a guy wandering around the background of a scene in a badly made cardboard robot costume… who knew it might be funnier in real life? Heck, we even won a prize. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you don’t know what I’m talking about click over and read the article “Box Robot Flashmob Challenge” first. The rest of you who are up to speed can do a slam cut to: The Marriott Marquis, downtown Atlanta, Labor Day Weekend, Dragon*Con. I found myself sitting on the Garden Level lobby of the remarkable Marriott Marquis hotel…
…an hour before my Box Robot Flash Mob was set to begin. The hotel hummed with the roar of a thousand crazed convention goers and my head buzzed right along with them, full of doubts about going through with the cardboard costume thing. While I had logistically prepared for the event (paper tape, craft knife and markers), I hadn’t spiritually prepared myself for the reality of making and wearing my own costume on-site. Adding to my uncertainty was the fact that I was going to be doing this alone since it turned out that the friend who had originally talked me into wearing a costume had a prior engagement: his daughter’s birthday.
In the midst of my time of doubt I was sent a sign…. a sign in the form of a guy I knew from the sound department on “Sweet Home Alabama”: Todd Sayre. I looked up to see Todd loping after a slender-but-busty blonde woman in aquamarine pedal pushers, her flyaway Farah Fawcett hairdo gliding on the breeze. From the way that Todd was chasing her it appeared that she’d stolen his wallet or perhaps suggested to him that the planet was about to blow up and that he’d best stick close behind her if he wanted to make it off-world alive. Dude was really moving when I shouted his name. He stopped chasing her slowly, grudgingly, like when you yell at your dog to stop chasing a squirrel… you know: “Oh, alright… but I’ll have you know that I could’ve caught that thing if you hadn’t stopped me.”
As it turns out, Todd wasn’t chasing the woman at all. No, he just thought she might have been a potential celebrity and wanted to see her from the front…. just for confirmation you understand… not chasing at all. No…. ummm…. Anyway. Todd’s pretty new to the whole convention thing and let me take this time to say that I’d be happy to introduce him to any ladies out there who might be interested in meeting a real person from one of my stories. You’d really save us all a lot of worry if you could keep him distracted with your own feminine charms long enough to stop him from chasing potential celebrities around hotels. Really. Truly. Please.
Fortunately for me, Todd had spoken to Elliott and was up to speed on the whole Box Robot thing and agreed to participate which was a HUGE relief. After all, one person dressing as a cardboard robot is a sure call for help. Two people dressing as cardboard robots isn’t strange at all. No.
Strange or not, we needed cardboard and time wasn’t on our side. We made an erratic beeline toward Peachtree Center then split up to begin asking the assorted stores and restaurants for their spare cardboard boxes. I decided for the “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” approach so I walked up and bought a brownie from a man at a cookie stand on the corner. As he handed me the change from my purchase I casually, nonchalantly, slyly inquired as to the availability of any cardboard boxes that might happen to be loitering about his fine establishment gathering dust and being generally in the way. The guy stared at me for a beat then shook his head in that universal way that indicates that he didn’t speak English.
Fine. Not at all embarrassing. I didn’t need his stupid foreign cardboard boxes anyway.
As I turned to find another store I ran into Todd who already had three or four big boxes that he’d scored from the Dairy Queen. I was SO going to lose this scavenger hunt. While I was trying the polite consumer method, Todd was scoring boxes like crazy (a provider trait that you single ladies out there should take note of should you want me to introduce you to Todd). All of the food places I checked had already taken their trash to the dumpster or were too busy to help. Thankfully, the girl working at Barnes & Noble gave me three small boxes from the back room. Having those three little boxes made it a lot easier to go up to store owners and ask them for their empty boxes. It essentially authorized my quest for cardboard to the other shop owners, making me a legitimate consumer in the stiffened paper products marketplace.
I called those three boxes my “starter boxes”. It didn’t matter, Todd had four times as many boxes as me.
We finished up at the store called “GA Electronics & Gifts” where the owner, a man named Morris, gave us our most important cardboard of all: our cardboard torsos. Here’s to you Morris!! Off we trudged to the deck outside of the Hyatt’s main bar where we hastily assembled our costumes to the bemusement of a small group of convention attendees. At the appropriate time we slipped into our badly made costumes and headed inside. The crowd’s reaction slowly fixed on us as we clumsily clomped between the tall tables toward the bar. By the time we made it to an open space people were staring at us, some of them laughing out loud, some of them taking pictures – like the reporter I know from “HowStuffWorks.com” who even asked us to say something which must have certainly been unintelligible. The best I could manage were loud “meeps” and “moops”. When Todd started jumping up and down and flapping his arms like a baby chick the girls squealed with delight. That move was immediately added to my own repertoire.
If you’ve read the previous article about the flash mob schedule you’ll know that we had to do specific things at specific times…. the only problem was that we couldn’t bend our arms to check our watches to see what time it was… our arms were made from a dingy Dairy Queen box that we’d neglected to articulate (meaning that the arms didn’t BEND). So we sang and we clapped and we beeped and we left and went downstairs. Everywhere we went we brought a little ray of cardboard sunshine. Later that night Elliott voiced his fear that some people might interpret our costumes as an insult to everyone who’d spent a lot of time and effort crafting their costumes but from the reaction we were getting people LOVED the cardboard robots. Later I found that a stormtrooper had scribbled “scout trooper Jaster” on the side of my robot head. I don’t know if that made me an honorary Imperial or if that was his autograph.
After an hour of bouncing around in those boxes (mine has the big toothy grin) we got hot and decided to put them in my car which was parked under the Hilton. We’d made it almost all the way through the lobby of the Hilton, almost to the elevator down to the the parking garage, when the Bell Captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker with the announcement: “Attention Please, Attention Please: All Cardboard Boxes Please Report to the Loading Dock, repeat, All Cardboard Boxes Please Report to the Loading Dock.”
I am *not* making that up. It couldn’t have been funnier.
Except for later that night when Alfeo Dixon showed up and wanted to go cardboard roboting wearing Todd’s suit. We suited up in the parking garage, went upstairs and crashed Trader Vic’s (lots of pictures taken by people there), then we crashed the fancy upstairs costume photo area of the Hyatt (where we had an enormous photo-op encounter with a fancier light-up cardboard robot), next we crashed something called the Buffy Prom (where there was much robot dancing) and finally we crashed a bar with near disastrous consequences (Elliott having slipped into Todd’s costume by this time). I’m told that the next evening at the big costume contest Elliott and his wife Kim sat next to a woman in the audience who started telling them all about the cardboard robots that she’d seen at the convention the day before.
The best part of all may have been when I happened to walk by the hallway costume contest results board on Monday and discovered that we’d been selected as the Judges’ Favorite. On behalf of our troupe I’d like to thank the judges and hand out some awards of my own; I’m calling them CardBottie Awards: The first CardBottie Award goes to Todd Sayre for his diligent cardboard gathering skills and his engineering prowess on the forward visioning systems for the robot suits (which basically means that he cut the head holes in the top of the boxes just right… in the middle). Todd is to be commended for his stalwart efforts to get us into a photograph with every hot girl in sight. If someone could be so kind as to point SithVixen to my site to read this article she needs to know that there’s a kind heart under that dingy cardboard exterior even though his bot’s serial number is I-124Q. I’m just sayin’ is all….
The second CardBottie Award goes to Alfeo Dixon, first-time sci-fi convention attendee and general horn-dog about town. Alfeo’s CardBottie goes for his use of a beaver-festooned trucker cap taped to the top of his robot’s head and for the incredible spit-take he did (inside his helmet mind you) after I shoved the straw from his mai-tai into his eye and up his nose while trying to give him a drink at Trader Vic’s (remember, 1st generation cardboard robot arms don’t bend). Alfeo is also recognized for his portrayal of a “redneck robot” as cited by the drunk guy in front of the Hyatt.
The third CardBottie Award goes to Elliott Boswell who is as convinced that this was his idea as I am that it was mine. I, however, have the power of the internet on my side and since I’m handing out these Cardbottie Awards I am pleased to award Elliott with Best Portrayal of an Out-of-Control Cardboard Robot. Suffice to say that when Elliott goes into character he goes high octane.
If we posed with you, danced with you, stepped on your toes, peed with you, knocked paintings off your walls, rode the elevator with you or crashed your events in any way, we truly enjoyed it.