Home from Vegas, and head down in work.

The GAMA Trade Show (GTS) seemed grand enough. I say “seemed,” because, as previously noted, I was out of commish for a couple of days, thanks to a well-documented bout of food poisoning that left me two-for-four as far as conventions involving severe gastric distress go this year. Look out, CONvergeance, I’m gunning for you, next.

As regular (no pun intended) readers know, I also suffer from a stage fright-like thing I get before any panel or appearance I have to make. That’s what I get for choosing cartooning as a career, hoping to spend my days blissfully hiding behind a drawing table.

Fortunately, the Lovely and Talented Judith was with me this trip, which always makes things better. Unfortunately, she also came down with the food poisoning, roughly 24 hours after it hit me. And yes, according to My Sister The Doctor, it was indeed food poisoning, and not the stomach flu. She’s quite sure about this as she got it, too. Heal thyself physician, indeed.

Yet there was much good from the trip. It was fantastic, meeting up with so many old friends. No amount of convention fright can put a damper on the feeling you get, seeing a dear acquaintance again for the first time in years. Pulling back from the con scene, as I have these last few years, I have fewer and fewer chances to see folks I truly care about. It’s an odd business, this cartooning thing. You make up stories about fictitious relationships, while those that are palpable and real seem to slip from your grasp.

This is a time of change, for me, on several fronts, personal and professional. I don’t deal well with change, no matter how spiffy-keen it may be, no matter how quickly it may be thrust on you. So my impressions of GTS are filtered through a scanner, darkly.

Overall, the show appeared to be quite the success. Not an out-of-the-park home run, perhaps, but a solid double that may yet prove to have been stretched into a triple. There was a sense of excitement about the floor, despite no “Next Big New Thing” on apparent display. From what I heard, show attendance was down from last year, but others told me that the number of legitimate shops seemed about the same: what was missing were the extra staff some stores would bring, or the faux retailers, there for the swag. The giant hit some folks predicted from Games Expo certainly didn’t seem to materialize.

Bally’s was a terrific location, in my hobbled opinion. It was nice – especially in my gastro-intestinal state – not having to walk a mile to the convention floor, and the two exhibition rooms, for all intents and purposes, appeared as one, near as dammit.

Minis geek that I am, I was buzzed on the line of prepainted microtanks that Fantasy Flight Games is distributing. The individual models have been around for a while, but FFG is repackaging them to make them immensely gamer-friendly. Plus, infantry will finally be available. Imagine being able to come up with a Flames of War or Command Decision army for roughly $60 in one afternoon.

With two young nephews and a niece, Blue Oranges’ line of kid-friendly puzzles and games was equally impressive. Birthdays and Christmases for the next few years have been solved in one easy stop.

It’s not often enough I get to meet up with Steve Jackson Games’ Steve Jackson hisself, and we had much to discuss. The prototype for Munchkin Quest (the Munchkin boardgame – pics next week) looked splendid. I believe that’s slated for release some time in the Autumn. Five new Munchkin promo cards I did were included in the Very Nifty Stacked Deck Rigged Demo Munchkin pack. Freebie bottles of Munchkin Water, on the other hand, sat unwanted and unloved, as SJG was informed they couldn’t be given out, as it violated the convention center’s vendor agreement. Yes, you heard it here first: giving away water in the middle of the desert can be illegal.

Cineplexity continues to be the big draw at Out of the Box, though 10 Days in Asia looks spiffy. All four 10 Days games are now at the printers, with larger, more detailed boards. Life is good.

…or at least, good to the point where, due the aforementioned food poisoning, we had to cancel reservations to some Very Good Restaurants, including Nobu and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. On the plus side, Nichole Lindroos and Hal Mangold were able to take our Nobu slot, so they didn’t go to waste.

Unfortunately, the one foodie destination we did make it to appeared to have a very off-night. Lotus of Siam has been written up everywhere from Gourmet to USA Today as the best Thai restaurant in the country. Friends whose taste I trust absolutely trust rave about it, and we were lucky enough to get a table for three the day after GTS, simply by showing up and waiting a mere 20 minutes. Try that at the French Laundry or Chez Panisse.

The food, heartbreakingly, was hit or miss this Friday night, at least for us. And the misses were such that it appeared something was very wrong in the kitchen. Of the three appetizers (Nam Koa Tod – Minced sour sausage mixed with green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, crispy rice and lime juice; Nua Dad Deaw, Beef Jerky Issay Style – Deep fried marinated beef, served with spicy home made sauce; and Bankok Style Tom Kah Kai – sliced chicken and coconut milk soup, a staple on many a Thai menu stateside), the sausage and rice was incredibly salty, while the soup was inedibly so. This was a pity, as the flavors apparent beneath the salt were complex and interesting, far more so than in most of the Tom Kah Kais you find these days.

The three main courses fared better. A Pad Thai was simply excellent, by far the best I’d ever tasted. “but it’s just Pad Thai,” I caught myself thinking, before realizing that I tend to judge Italian and French restaurants by how well they do the basics (Arabiata sauces, Steak Frites, etc), so why should a Thai establishment be any different?

Similarly, an Issay style beef curry over egg noodles was fascinating and deep, though it was by far spicier than other dishes we ordered at the same heat level. Unfortunately, the PLAR DOOK YANG NUM TOK (Sliced charbroiled catfish fillet, topped with spicy sauce, served on bed of sliced cabbage) was again almost inedibly salty.

The sticky rice with mango and coconut ice creams ordered for dessert were pitch-perfect, yet the overall feeling was that a return trip was necessary one day. While the expectations were truly great, and perhaps near-impossible to live up to, this was certainly a meal where, were it not for the restaurant’s reputation, we’d write it off as a total loss.

The highlight of my free time was the trip to see the Beatles Love, the latest Cirque Du Soleil extravaganza, at the Mirage. Honestly, the main reason so many new hotels are going up in Vegas is probably to house itinerant Cirque Du Soleil performers, who must now outnumber Las Vegas natives by two-to-one, minimum. If there’s an immigration problem in Nevada, my money’s not on Mexicans but French Canadians. Look for poutine huts to pop up beside taco carts in the near future.

For me, a little Cirque Du Soleil goes a long, long way, but I must say, Love was stunning. It helps that I’m a Beatles nut, of course, but the show simply blew me away. The opening transition between “Because” and Get Back” was exhilarating, and the show seldom slowed down from there. Though I’d have preferred a few more relative obscurities (“Rain” and “Hey Bulldog” could easily have replaced the likes of “Drive My Car”) – and what was with the yellow Wellingtons for “Lady Madonna”? – it was a spectacular night of sight and sound. The only off-note was sounded with “Blackbird,” given a “humorous” treatment that proved why few pseudo-intellectuals make it in the comedy world.

Still, even lightweight fare like “Octopus’ Garden” was transformed into something magical, and “Within You Without You/ Tomorrow Never Knows” contained a special effect that was simply breathtaking. Rollerblading for “Help”? It worked, too. Musically and aurally, the much-ballyhooed mashes and remixes by George and Giles Martin lived up to the hype. Beautiful and daring, indeed. Enough so that I bought a “Meet the Beatles” T-shirt, and suddenly thought how neat it would be to own some Beatles cartoon action figures.

Yes, I was in a strange mood the entire week. Between this, the culinary passes we had to take, the missed time with friends and a cancelled day-trip to Zion National Park, the Vegas foray left me wanting a do-over.

With tickets to Love again, of course.

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