Sunday, June 18, 2006

Final Day!

So it's nearly four weeks later and I'm finally wrapping up this story. Part of the delay was about uploading my pictures, so if you want to head straight there, click here for the plain old bouncing around the park pictures and here for the pictures related to the Model Builder Search itself.

The final morning saw gorgeous, pitch-perfect weather. Most of us walked from the hotel, gathering in our red polos to discuss our common level of edginess. I said something I'd repeat several times during the course of the day, sometimes to the same people twice: that I'd slept like a baby, but one of those babies who wakes up every few hours screaming.
Did I imagine I'd get to say it on camera? Sigh. Yeah, I did.

As they led us through the park, four guys in waders were cleaning up the waterways of Miniland. Here I'd been thinking of human/Miniland interaction in terms of monster rampage, when actually these guys were like mildly bored, benevolent giants. We got to the Skipper School, which is a boat ride with a big round plaza in front of it that would be the build-off site. We were introduced to the emcee, who was a really enthusiastic actor-type guy, we got a rundown of the events and then we waited around some more. San Francisco finalist Jarad Barkdol (on the left) had a whole bunch of family there, and his mom gave me some sunscreen. It didn't occur to me to put any on the back of my neck. It would have been cool if I had.

When they let us into the building space, I grabbed a couple complimentary cookies and water bottles, set up my two good luck charms and my clock. On my table was the bin of bricks I'd picked out the previous morning; on tables around the edge of the plaza there were several bigger bins of bricks any of us could use. The Legoland staff were moving around these bins, dumping out little paper bags of the basic 2x4 brick in some of the less common colors: medium violet, brown, tan. I took a look at the top of my bin of bricks (no touching yet), searching for clues. Suddenly, Deee-lite's Groove is in the Heart kicked onto the speakers. This would be the beginning of a loop of songs I would get to hear many, many times over the next few hours. This would be my introduction to Avril Lavigne's Sk8er Boi, which I actually went online and bought a couple days later.

Finally, they counted down from ten and we were off, I tipped my bucket out into a left and right pile, spilling wide plumes of bricks off the edges of the table. Then I zipped to the nearest group table -- I needed yellow slopes for M's and N. Three or four other guys were there, too, pawing through the three big bins, but I didn't see who anyone was because my eyes were on the bricks. Eyeing the middle bin, I said "Wanna dump one of these out?" to the anonymous pairs of hands in front of me. "No," and seconds later, "yeah, let's dump it." Together we flipped it -- Crash! Man, if that isn't one of the best noises ever.

Now there was a mound of bricks the size of a grouper on the table. I started grabbing, my method directed and raw at the same time. I'd spot a yellow slope piece and I'd grab a fistful of bricks with that piece at the center, throw em into my now-empty personal bin and scout out some more. Back at the table I started putting the letters together. Since the bottom row was two studs deep, there were some configuration options. So I worked them options while I pawed through the pile, pawing, pawing. The sun was so bright and high by now I couldn't properly see the bricks in my shadow, so I had to bounce back and forth as I pawed, not realizing I was perfectly displaying my neck to eeevil sun rays. Both my neck and the backs of my ears (ouch!) stung for almost a week.

"He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy..." I heard the emcee working the crowd at one point, asking Jarad's little brother (who was 10 or 11, maybe) if he and Jarad played with Legos a lot growing up. Seconds later the guy realized the kid was still growing up and veered off the question. A few spectators gathered on the other side of the ropes, the emcee explaining to passersby what was going on. The batch of songs kept playing: Madonna's 'Music,' something by the Jackson Five...was the Tequila song in there? It was fun and nerve-wracking at the same time, being that deep into the Lego Zone. Look at how serious I look in this picture. I barely remember that being taken.

Two hours later I'd cranked out this. Pretty much how I'd planned it, except I'd wanted to do three big aliens instead of two. The theme was "something you'd like to see in the park." I was lucky enough to see the park Sunday afternoon before that was announced, and even then noted to myself that there was a shortage of space stuff. There's a Cape Kennedy in miniland Florida, and Bionicles are sort of spacey, I guess. One of the activities in the Imagination Zone involved Mars and astronauts, but no Martians that I could see. The axis point around my life in Lego has always been space-themed, and here was a park that had a little space, but no extra-terrestrials. The only one I spotted was a 3-foot tall U.F.O. alien waiting for phone booth in Fun Town. He was standing in front of this diver guy, who I snapped because of this gleefully happy octopus on his leg.

Once they called time, we had some more waiting to come. This was much more relaxed waiting, however, since the main effort of the day was behind us. I found Tami and her friend Paul in the crowd of spectators and we talked over the velvet rope. I scoped out the other models and saw some amazing, amazing stuff. Tied for my personal favorite was this dragon by Anderson Grubb... ...and this alien head by Ryan Ziegelbauer. I seriously want that alien head on my wall.

The judges discussed things for a long time before they lined us all up. Mercedes from the PR office directed us to stand closer together and also to spread out. What she meant by "spread out" was to stand in a staggered sort of way, so we weren't right behind someone, but that's how it came out. "Tighten it up, and spead out!" At the last second I ran back to my table so I could give my camera to Tami. They read everyone's name off and we each got a...a big envelope with...I have a hard time saying this with a straight face, ahem: a Certificate of Participation. (Giggle) No, I know it's cool, you should commemorate things with something official, but we got so many Lego bricks out of this trip, plus the hotel and everything, it hardly seemed necessary. Plus, "Certificate of Participation?" Is that the kind of thing you find all over Bart Simpson's bedroom wall, or what?

We reformed our line on the other side of the stage and finally they read off the four finalists. When they read off the last one, I felt two emotions in rapid succession. The first was a ripple of disappointment in my stomach which, by the time it reached my knees, gave way to the relief that's been my core feeling on the outcome ever since. Sure, I still want that job, but I was a lot more anxious about moving than I'd been admitting to myself.

Looking back, the letters were a mistake. Part of my strategy was that once I'd finished the letters, I could keep on making smaller and smaller monsters and completely fill up my time. While that part worked out, the letters were too small and intricate for the task and took way too long. Were I to re-build off this same concept, I'd do something like a pair of miniland figures approaching some big, purple tentacled alien building, probably with a mouth for a door. Maybe a couple other creatures milling around. That way I'd have a ton of those gorgeous medium violet bricks now, ha ha.

But really, when I consider the four finalists and ask if my imaginary do-over model would've put me up there, I'm pretty sure the answer's still no. Looking at my parrot head and my rocket, I notice that back then I was aiming for a more "macro" vibe than the stuff I usually make. Should I have tried to tailor my thing to be more Legolandish? It doesn't feel that way. They wanted to meet us and see what we were about, whatever Lego vectors we rode.

Tami gave me a comforting, vise-like hug and we went to Brickolini's pizza to use the twenty dollar gift certificate they had just given me. I made a bunch of phone calls about the bad news, but tried to make it clear that the news wasn't really all that bad. I later learned that certain members of my fan club took it harder than I did when I didn't get it. Thanks, guys. I love you for that.

Well, it was an awesome trip, and here's why. Everybody I know was so unbelievably thoughtful and supportive. I got tons of phone calls, emails and blog comments both before and after the winner was announced. I feel so lucky to be the focus of all that love, and these days I find it easy to think of everybody pulling for me all the time, not just when I'm riding some crazy lego dragon.

And what a great group of people to compete with! I've seriously got to do some conventions after this, because hanging out with fellow Lego freakazoids was a riot.

Dennis White and his girlfriend Misty were in the limo with us on the first day. Their warmth and energy was infectious. I got to watch Dennis and Matt trade lore about Star Wars Lego fansite From Bricks to Bothans across the length of the limo. As a matter of fact, the first thing I did when I got home was use Matt's brilliantly simple method for making a 3-legged R2D2. See Matt's SW droids on Brickshelf to see how he got R2's head to spin.

For his model, Dennis made an ant farm for people to play in. I absolutely love this ant, but I thought the guy in the bee suit (not pictured) was an angel. My bad, Dennis. I was sun-addled.

Joseph Petkoff gets the nod for fastest building ever -- look at the size of this thing! They gave us one big baseplate, but that big blue square could probably hold four of them. Unbelievable.Here's a shot of the inside.

Arthur Gugick's piece was a demonstration of yet another Lego connection possibility I was unaware of, and how to use it. Check out his Brickshelf page for some gorgeous models of real-life landmarks.

Gary McIntire convinced me to stop watching the NW AFOLs from the web and hit NW Brickcon in person this year. He made these giant play-on Lego pieces.

By the end of the event I had talked to every finalist except, ironically, Jason the winner. Which I guess means I'm kind of a jinx. I was able to give him a quick congratulatory handshake when I visited the model shop later, but his new boss Pat already had him running around.

(The last finalist I spoke to was Hanif, right before the build-off. Unfortunately, since they had both made parrots at their auditions, I had him confused with this guy, an SF hopeful who was in the "Second Chance" group. Sorry about that, Hanif. Neither you nor your parrot look a heck of lot like that guy, so I don't know what I was thinking.)

If I'm right the actual Second Chance winner was Mathew Clayson, who was nice enough to walk me through the various useful Clikit pieces while we were in the clubhouse. Mathew made Big Bugs Playing Soccer, which I found quite charming. Check out the ref!

Of course these are only a few of the people and moments that made this so good. I want to give big hugs to my friends and family for pulling for me, and big thanks to Legoland and my fellow finalists for making the experience such a big bucket of fun. And finally, because the official term is never "Legos," but rather "Lego" or "Lego bricks," I just wanna say...

Legos legos legos legos!!! Legos, ha ha! I don't work for you! Legos legos legos legos!!!

Day Two

Today we walked to the park from the hotel (which is across the street). We got rained on slightly. Our first stop was the Lego Clubhouse, where they house the gazillions of bricks we had to choose from to be our core supply for the build-off tomorrow. We had an hour, and most everyone spent the last half hour sitting at the little tables tinkering. It's what we do.

Then we had our interview and two building challenges. The interviews were conducted by HR staffers Kim and Heather (as a team), HR guy Marcus, and Pat the model shop boss. I got Kim and Heather, who were totally friendly. I talked about my career history and they wrote a lot of stuff down. When the big question came, "why should we pick you?" I opened with "I'm a lateral thinker," and while they were writing that down I froze for a second. Then, while they were still writing, the internal flywheel started spinning again and I rattled off the rest of the spiel that I'd been gathering in my head over the last week or two. I think I did that "selling myself" thing with more push than in any other job interview I've ever had. I even said "I get people to like me quickly" or something like that, which I had some post-interview mini qualms about. Buuut, what the heck, it's true. I'm charming, it's an asset. What can I say?

I went back to the little waiting room, thinking I still had to talk to Pat and Marcus. Then, in a bit of casual conversation I figured out everyone only got one interview, with one of the interviewers. My dawning relief was so bewildering, my confirmation of this came out "you blean we just must have one interview, to us?" Well, great! (Also good was my realization that I hadn't held anything back, thinking there was more to do. I was aiming to impress everyone equally).

The time limit for both building challenges was 55 minutes. The first building challenge was to make an egg. Everyone got to sit in front of this gorgeously organized set of bins. Plates, from 1x1 to 1x8, then 2x2 to 2x8, then the brick versions of the same pieces. I went for the green, cuz green is pretty. I asked if I could listen to my iPod, which I did. When I was worried I wasn't going to finish the egg, I thought "oh great, it's going to look like I was too busy fiddling with my iPod to do the task." I had a couple spots where I needed to pull stuff off and rethink. Then, as I was closing in on the top, I was certain each downward push was going to implode the whole thing. I reminded myself that I'd built animation props out of much flimsier materials, that I had the right touch if I just concentrated. (The guy next to me started his from the top first, which I wished I'd thought of.) But in the end I actually had enough time to sort the unused pieces back into their bins. Sorting, of course, is the other great joy of Lego freakery.

The second challenge was to make a face out of bricks, at least six inches high. This guy just makes it. We had a full range of yellow pieces and some selected black and white ones. Right away I decided to make him winking (or grimacing in pain, you decide), which was a good application of my "don't forget the hook" point I realized after going on KRON that time. Although I came up right against the time limit, this was a much more relaxed experience. (There's another pic of this guy in the last post, if you scroll down. I used the flash, so you can tell his teeth are white).

On my way back to the hotel I saw I had a message from the always delightful Tami, saying she was blowing off work to come hang out at the park with me. We scoped the place really good, making sure the thing I'm going to do for my build-off piece tomorrow wasn't represented anywhere. It isn't, but I can't tell you what it is yet. It turned out that one of Tami's ideas while we were brainstorming last night, to rep some works of fine art in Lego...they had that idea already. So obviously it was a good idea -- just shows you how good it is to have her brain on my side. You'll notice that blue light saber floating in space, that's so the kids can pose fighting the D-man. But Tami's a hugger, not a fighter.

It's been a full day. I took a nap, ate some steak, and now I'm going to practice for my piece tomorrow. Thank you so much for all the attention and good wishes, all of you. I can feel you sending me good vibes all the way from here, and it's the best thing ever, I mean it. I might not get the top spot tomorrow, but right now I feel like I can't lose.

Here's a few photos from my wanderings today and yesterday.

This is the first thing I want to copy when I get home. Big, beautiful bass. Or salmon. Trout?

If this ever actually happened in nature, it would be unstoppable.

Miniland's Embarcadero Center. This feels incomplete without a little Jonah and Marly running around in it.

The dinosaurs are heartbreakingly pretty. Fantastic colors.

Something about the bottom of this guy's jaw -- I love it!

The mini Smithsonian might be my favorite structure in all of miniland.

I love how this isn't just a big basilisk, it's a giant version of the toy of the basilisk. And he seems to be snaking out of the dirt. Sssss!

Interviews, tests

Done with the first hurdle! We had to make an egg and a face. My egg was touch and go for a bit there, I wasn't sure if I was gonna finish. And I was sure I was going to collapse the whole thing when I did the top.

The face is a little blocky, I admit, but he's winking. Get it?

Day One

I'm too shagged to write much, but here are some highlights of the day.

Check me out! First time in a stretch limo. As good as advertised.

This kid was considering going Godzilla on DC, but his dad said "don't even think about it." Darn!

I am quite literally pressed against the glass for this one, longingly looking inside. That's the model shop. One wall is a big window, so the magic is viewable to the public. Just don't knock on the glass, the fish don't like it.

More super-coolness.


Monday is interviews and building tests. Tuesday is the final build-off. Two hours to do a "what would you add to the park" model. Hmmmm.

Winner and three contenders are announced at 1:30 pm California time on Tuesday.

Thanks for all the calls and support. My friends and family totally rule. That's you guys, you rule!