Saturday, Aug. 9, 3.45 p.m.: I pass the entrance to the Town & Country Resort in Mission Valley twice because the marquee says "Welcome National Catholic Singles Convention." I pull over to check the confirmation email on my phone: Yes, Winkie Con—the annual convention dedicated to L. Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz—is being held here. I don't fault Town & Country for not wanting "Winkie Con" on its marquee.
3:55 p.m.: I park nearly a quarter of a mile away in an empty lot. My bank account has $2 in it. I can't even afford to pay for parking at Town & Country. You'd think I'd use this moment—walking along Hotel Circle North, broke and on my way to something called Winkie Con—as a moment of reflection, but nope. In my mind, "National Catholic Singles Convention" has somehow become "Hot Christian Singles Convention," and I keep repeating that over in my head.
4:05 p.m.: Despite having driven by hundreds of times, this is the first time I've stepped foot in the Town & Country, and I'm overcome with the post-apocalyptic shittiness of it. It's an oasis of rot, monitored by pseudo tycoons who rove through on electric golf carts. Faded maps direct me through the compound like it's a dying theme park. However, this feels oddly appropriate for a Wizard of Oz convention, and a twinge of sour excitement enters my gut, a feeling similar to riding the ridge of a dream before it becomes a nightmare.
4:10 p.m.: I arrive at the registration office and two con workers greet me. I tell them I'm "press," which immediately sounds self-important and snobby at Winkie Con. "From CityBeat," I clarify, to which they respond with a jovial "Ahh, welcome!" This immediately makes me uncomfortable because it brings me no pleasure hating on good people's niche interests, but I already know that I'm going to hate Winkie Con.
4:10:27 p.m.: "Ryan Craig Bradford? Yes, I laminated your pass myself this morning." He hands me my pass, beaming. Great.
4:10:35 p.m.: I ask how the con's been going so far. "Great!" he responds and then tells me about a horror-author appearance that he's helping to organize in October. "She was writing about vampires way before Anne Rice," he says. I don't know how we've gotten on this topic so fast, but I nod in agreement.
4:10:45 p.m.: Yeah, fuck Anne Rice, I think.
4:11 p.m.: The man hands me a yellow lanyard. "Yellow is the favored color of the Winkies, residents of the Western quadrant of Oz," he says. I find it strange and a little endearing that so much thought was put into the flimsy piece of fabric between my fingers, but also feel that "Yellow for the yellow brick road," would be a far more efficient explanation.
4:11:37 p.m.: "And our Ozpitality suite is right across from the pool, where you'll find sodas, coffee and munchies."
4:11:38 p.m.: I create a right angle with my arm and jab my elbow down in a celebratory fist pump.
4:12 p.m.: I walk toward the "Ozpitality" suite. Sodas? Munchies? Hell yes, I think. Maybe I won't hate Winkie Con after all.
4:13 p.m.: I hate Winkie Con.
4:13:01 p.m.: Shiny plastic covers the carpet of the Ozpitality suite, protecting it against blood, vomit or any other Ozian secretions. The room is dark. There are balloons; they are anything but festive. Styrofoam bowls of Nerds candy litter all surfaces. A tired man in a green suit and top hat sitting in the corner informs me that sodas are in the "tub."
4:13:02 p.m.: "The tub?" I ask.
4:13:03 p.m.: "Yeah, the bathtub in the bathroom," he says. Tub, my mind repeats. Not a cooler, not an ice bucket, but a tub.
4:13:03-4:13:06 p.m.: Approximately three seconds of shuddering.
4:14 p.m.: Indeed, sodas rest in an iced tub; a blue tarp flows over the sides and reminds me of every movie involving organ harvesting. The toilet next to the tub has tape securing the lid. Someone has also used the green tape to spell out "No Wiz" on the toilet seat. I choose Cherry Pepsi.
4:20 p.m.: I roam the vendor floor, where artists hock Ozian comic-book fan fiction and book collectors sell original L. Frank Baum books for upwards of $300. It's at this point that I realize that I've probably seen The Wizard of Oz, in its entirety, only three or four times in my life. I imagine the harassment that would come from approaching someone at Winkie Con and asking, "So, what's up with 'The Wizard of Oz'?" I deem the chastisement not worth it. Surprisingly, this is the first time today where I assess the trajectory, success and overall quality of my decisions.
4:23 p.m.: I see a large Cowardly Lion sitting in a corner with a scarily detailed costume. He's eating gas-station nachos.
4:25 p.m.: I retreat to a courtyard. A lone cameraman from KUSI interviews people about their Winkie Con experience. I pretend to text so he won't talk to me. He stops a man in a black suit and top hat leading a Toto dog on a leash. The man picks the dog up and asks: "Do you know where the wicked witch is? Do you know where the witch is?" The dog does nothing. "He usually barks," he says to the KUSI cameraman.
4:31 p.m.: I look for a receptacle for my Cherry Pepsi can. I head back to the vendor floor and see someone wiping nacho cheese off the Cowardly Lion's mask—like, dab-dabbing it. Another shudder passes through me.
4:32 p.m.: I'm out of here. There's no place like home, I think. I repeat: There's no place like home. There's no place like Hot Christian Singles.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford