Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Part Two Of The Trip To The Last Official GI Joe Convention

The PopCulteer
August 3, 2018

Welcome to part two of the epic Tennessee Travelogue. At the end of part one, after checking out of the second hotel on our trip, we had just spent a couple of hours taking in the wonders of McKay’s Bookstore in Knoxville, and then spent about another hour visiting Nostalgia, a really cool vintage store with a pop culture bent. Having performed our morning retail therapy, we then made our way South to Chattanooga.

Right before we reached our destination we made a little side trip. Just North of Chattanooga, from Interstate 75 you can see what looks like a huge Knife outlet store. It is actually The Knife Shoppe at Frost Cutlery, and it’s a pretty cool place to check out.

Let me explain that Mel and I have an appreciation for well-made knives. One year for Christmas I got Mel a reproduction of Michonne’s Katana from The Walking Dead, and I somehow wound up on the Bud K mailing list and started getting their catalogs. It was filled with cool stuff, but when I ordered from them I discovered that much of what they sold was made in China, and I was also turned off by the far-right-wing poltical novelties and confederate flag stuff that pollutes their catalog and website, so I chose to stop doing business with them.

We didn’t know what to expect from The Knife Shoppe, and expected pretty much the same as Bud K, but we were very pleasantly surprised. The confederate stuff was minimal for a store in Tennessee, and all of their knives were not only made in the USA…they were made right next door at the factory!

We were in there for quite some time. I wound up buying a cool Bowie Knife, Mel got a pretty folding knife and we grabbed a surprise box of knives because I’m a sucker for surprise boxes, so our friends can probably expect some sharp gifts for the holidays this year. If you’re heading down I 75 and have some time to spare, The Knife Shoppe is a fun place to visit.

Here’s a wide-angle shot of the friendly store filled with all sorts of sharp, pointy weapons.

Of particular note is the nearly twelve-and-one-half-foot-long, 900 pound Bowie Knife.

After leaving The Knife Shoppe it was a short drive to hotel number three on this trip, which was the Hilton Garden Inn in Chattanooga where we’ve been stopping on our way to ToyLanta for a few years now. We checked in and then ran out for dinner and a quick visit to Toys R Us during their final week in business.

That visit was pretty depressing. It had started raining hard as we pulled up and Mel stayed in the car while I went in to the mostly-deserted and depleted store. I made a token purchase, and to be honest I don’t remember exactly what I bought, but it was cheap and did not turn out to be the last thing I ever bought at TRU.That’s a scene from the store at the right.

Following that, and still in the downpour, Mel and I decided to hit the nearby Guitar Center, just out of curiosity. We don’t have one of these locally, and the chain is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about while we had the chance.

What we found was a store with a decent selection and okay prices. We also found that it played host to a large group of either musicians or employees who were heavily involved with expressing themselves loudly on some of the instruments, oblivious to the fact that they had little, if any, talent. Mel could not try out any of the keyboards because some guy was pounding out the worst dreck imaginable on a synth cranked up to eleven. I couldn’t get close enough to some of the guitars to examine the prices because of someone who appeared to be auditioning for the lead guitar chair in the Portsmouth Sinfonia. We were going to try to retreat to safety in the percussion room, but backed out quick when we heard what sounded like a completely arhythmic attempt to rape a set of bongos.

We found a safe, quiet place to eat dinner and wound up back at the hotel to rest up for the next day, when I would finally go to my first (and last ever) Official GI Joe Convention.

Last week I explained how I used to work for the GI Joe Club years ago, and would have been comped to go to the conventions then, but was unable to travel because I was the full-time caregiver for my disabled mother. I’d worked for Brian Savage for a few years, almost twenty years ago, and had never met him in person. This was a bittersweet big deal for me.

I should also point out that, being a recent convert to the ways of the smartphone, on this trip I used the navigation function, much like normal adults do in this century, and it made life much easier.

We woke up the next morning, checked out of the hotel, had breakfast and found our way (rather easily) to the huge Chattanooga Convention Center. Of course, we got there before we could get in to the show. Your PopCulteer is nothing if not habitually early. Luckily we ran into out buddies from ToyLanta, and hung out with Mike Gardner (with yours truly, at left), Scott and Charlotte Beckmann, Buddy Finethy, Brian Becker, Steve Bugg, Jack Hall and many other good friends that I didn’t get photos of and won’t mention because I don’t remember whether I saw them in Chattanooga, or last week in Louisville (this is what happens when you wait more than a month to write about a toy convention).

After spending just a bit too much time hanging out, we discovered that there was a very long line to get in before we could make our way inside. The better part of an hour later, we were able to pay to get in. That hour flew by because we got to hang out with fellow Joe fans and cosplayers and everybody seemed to be in a really good mood.

The line, wrapping around a hall, and then going on for a bit after that before we got in.

Once inside, I made a beeline for the GI Joe Club booth, where I plunked down my money for a complete set of “As Seen On TV” black and white GI Joes, plus a couple of extra acccessory sets I needed. Eventually I’ll get around to posting reviews of this cool stuff.  I decided to pass on this year’s convention set because it just didn’t connect with me.  It’s a great set, but I’m cutting down on collecting military sets, prefering the Adventure Team stuff.

Once I loaded myself down with stuff from the club, I began to make my way through the dealer’s area. About three minutes in I ran into Mark Otnes, of Patches of Pride and The Joe Report fame, who proceeded to interview me, unaware that I’d basically just gotten there. You can read that interview HERE, and I swiped Mark’s photo of me for the head of this post. Mark does an incredible job of covering the Joe scene, and his blog is a must-read for action figure devotees.

Mel and I made our way around the vendor floor, buying a few things and running into more friends from ToyLanta. We decided to deposit what I’d bought so far in the car, so we made a quick trip to the parking garage and then went back in.

Charlotte Beckmann and Brian Becker, wisely taking a break.

Scott Beckmann and Steve Bugg, happy to be there.

I’d been told by my buddies at ToyLanta that if I didn’t want to mess with the after-hours events, I could probably see everything I wanted to see in four hours. They were right. This is no knock on the club on the convention. This was the most professionally-run toy convention I’ve ever attended. The only hitch was that it was devoted to all permutations of GI Joe, and that meant that probably 80% of the vendors and guests were dedicated to the Real American Hero Joes, which I respect, but do not collect. They just came out too late to be a part of my childhood.

After making another pass around the dealers room, Mel and I settled in one of the many comfortable couches in the convention center to wait for the other big event I wanted to be part of, the “Name Your Price” sale, where the Club dumps out copious amounts of oddities and leftovers from their warehouse and you cram what you want in a bag and haggle over the price.

While waiting for the sale, I noticed that, sitting across the hall from me, was Jim Beard, whose Captain Action pulp novel I’d reviewed here in PopCult, and who had just published a new book that was a collection of essays about GI Joe, written by some of the top experts on Joe, and edited by Jim. I walked over and introduced myself and bought a copy of the book, and it’s on my long list of things to review here in the blog.

I was first in line for the sale, which involved standing in line for half an hour or so, and I got a small, but swell bag of goodies, including some super-articulated Joes with unpainted heads and a nude Counter Culture Adventurer figure who needs some hair repairs, and with that, I was pretty much spent.

Waiting in line for the big sale, I did get to meet Brian Savage and Lanny Latham, from the Official GI Joe Club, albiet briefly, and I didn’t really get to socialize any with them. Still, it was cool to finally get to shake their hands. It was wild attending this convention as a complete civilian, too. I did not take many photos or shoot any video. I just wanted to soak in the experience.

I did grab just a few photos of the floor of the convention, so let’s take a look at those…

The cosplayers were not all deadly serious.

These guys were pretty much like the Ghostbusters WV crew, only they dress like GI Joe: RAH guys. All for a good cause.

The vendor’s room occasionally got crowded.

Master artist, Larry Selman, and some of the work he’s had printed on GI Joe Classic Collection boxes.

More wheeling and dealing went on in every corner of the hall.

I haven’t mentioned before how this trip was undertaken with my newfound knowledge of how Myasthenia Gravis gets worse in extreme heat. Most of this trip took place during an extreme heatwave. I was able to pace myself and have a wonderful time, but the convention marked day four of the trip, and standing in line to get in to the convention, plus standing in line for the sale, did a number on me, and by 3 PM I was ready to head out. We said our goodbyes and jumped in the car for the drive back home.

Along the way, we stopped in Richmond, Kentucky for one last hotel stay. This town was chosen so that we could stick our heads into a Meijers store and a Peddler’s Mall before heading home the next morning, and we did, and it was fun. I even found a Marx Comanche horse for cheap at the Peddler’s Mall right before we headed out on the final leg of our journey.

We made our usualy stop at Big Boy in Winchester, KY for lunch, and made a final stop at the Barboursville Toys R Us, and we were home in the afternoon. It was a great trip. I was happy to be part of the final Official GI Joe Convention, and I’m wondering what the future holds for Fun Publications, Brian’s company that’s run the GI Joe Club and put on the conventions for so many years. There are few organizations in this country who can put on a toy show this well (Fun Publication also ran the Transformers club and BotCon until recently), and it’ll be interesting to see what they decide to do after the Official GI Joe Collector’s Club winds down at the end of the year.

GI Joe Collectors won’t have to go without a convention, though. There’s still ToyLanta, which began life as “JoeLanta” and is still very GI Joe-oriented, plus the Kentuckiana GI Joe Toy Expo is picking up steam after its recently-concluded fifth show, and the Dallas-Fort Worth GI Joe club puts on an annual show that people rave about. Fans of the small-scale GI Joes have CoilCon coming up to look forward to. There’s a new show in Harrisburg, PA next month that fans are really excited about, and new regional shows are popping up all over. Even with Hasbro leaving GI Joe on the backburner the hobby seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.

Anyway, that is the long-delayed tale of our big trip to Chattanooga for the final Official GI Joe Convention. Please check PopCult for more fresh content every day, and visit our internet radio station, The AIR, which brings you the coolest music and talk on the face of the planet…at least we think so.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    I’m glad you were able to attend the JoeCon, Rudy. I wish I could have. That book from Jim Beard looks fascinating!

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