A Return to Conventions – Chicago TARDIS 2021

Remember how I used to blog about conventions? Remember when traveling was still a thing? Okay, I realize things have gotten somewhat better, but the ongoing COVID pandemic, especially that lovely new Omicron variant, continues to make travel somewhat problematic. But with our trip to NYC in September, I took my first steps back into the travel world, so I was excited to continue easin’ on down the road in November. Quite literally down the road, with a road trip to Chicago TARDIS!

If Chicago TARDIS sounds familiar, it should because it’s one of my favorite Doctor Who conventions. Of course, I haven’t been to it since 2019 because of the aforementioned pandemic, so I was especially happy to make my return in 2021. I’ll admit I was a little nervous about it, since conventions involve a lot of people milling around a hotel over a long weekend, but with both mask and vaccination/testing requirements in place, I felt like it would be as safe as possible. Also, the fact that I was driving rather than flying meant that I didn’t have to worry about any airport/airplane interactions (even though I think our NYC travel went very well and we had no issues).

As you may remember, Chicago TARDIS happens over Thanksgiving weekend each year, which may seem odd, but it’s a Chicago tradition to have a convention that weekend (dating back to the early 1980s), so it feels normal for those of us who attend. In previous years, I’ve arrived on either Thanksgiving itself or the next day, usually driving (though I’ve flown once or twice, as I did from London in 2016). This year, I hit the road on Thanksgiving Day again, making the 6ish-hour drive on my own. The drive was thankfully uneventful, with no issues or bad weather to slow me down. It does always seem like driving on Thanksgiving (or probably any major holiday) is a little weird and kind of quiet, though I did still see a fair number of other cars on the road throughout the day. With only a stop or two along the way, I soon reached the Westin Chicago Lombard, my home for the weekend. The convention has been in this hotel since 2008 (I think), so I’ve been there several times. It’s a good, clean hotel, but I feel like it’s starting to show its age a bit. I would be surprised if it doesn’t get a remodel or at least a facelift of some kind soon! I opted to get a larger, corner suite again this year (same as I did in 2019), giving me plenty of space, especially knowing I would have friends stopping by to hang out throughout the weekend. Check out the photos below!

Not much to see here, but this is the entry area just inside the door.
Looking at the entire sleeping/living area.
Another view of the room, this time from the other direction.
Big bathroom!
I was wondering if this random sculpture would still be in the bathroom (across from the toilet) and indeed it was!
Not the view from my room, but I did notice this nice view of Chicago from a hallway.

Now, how about the convention? After having to cancel in 2020 (along with most events in the world, but to be fair, the Chicago TARDIS team put on a nice virtual convention!) and with travel still difficult, especially from the UK (where most Doctor Who guests come from, since it’s a British show), this year’s convention was always going to be a smaller affair, but I was hoping it would still be fun. Happily, I was right! While this convention isn’t as big as, say, Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, it’s certainly a big regional convention that has had upward of a couple thousand attendees in previous years, so I was a little nervous about crowd size while we’re still in a pandemic. There were around a dozen guests there for panels, photos, autographs, etc. throughout the weekend, along with at least a few hundred attendees (I never heard an exact number), which actually worked out nicely because it kept things from feeling too cramped and allowed people to still maintain some social distance. The vibe of the weekend was definitely more low-key than in previous years, but it was still fun! Nice guests, attendees who were grateful to see some of the stars of their favorite TV show, and lots of time for me to hang out with several friends. And that’s what conventions are really about for me anyway! Oh, and as with previous years, I was once again “working” at this convention as a guest liaison. You know, it’s that job I do at most conventions I attend where I help guests get where they need to be, make sure they have what they need, keep them from wandering away, etc. 🙂 This year, I worked with Clem So, who has tons of credits as a background actor in a variety of films and TV shows, including Doctor Who. He was great to work with and attendees had a fun time interacting with him!

Even though convention weekends usually involve staying inside the hotel most of the time, some friends and I did manage to leave for meals a few times. That was more of a necessity this year anyway, since the hotel bar and restaurants had pretty limited hours throughout the weekend. We made sure to pay a return visit to Marinella, a little Italian place about 15 minutes from the hotel that a couple of my friends discovered on a previous trip to the convention. We’ve gone there for Sunday night dinner (after the convention ends) the last couple of years now, so I’m hoping the tradition continues as the food and service are great! We also found a fun, new place called Tong’s Tiki Hut that was the perfect place for Saturday dinner! Neat vibe, fun drinks, and tasty food. Hopefully we’ll return there, too!

I tried to remember to take a few more photos this year!

At the Thursday evening meeting with convention staff.
A neat Key to Time replica in the main programming room.
My annual photo of the TARDIS, this time with added Dalek.
There are tons of great signatures from guests who have attended this convention over the years!
Masked selfie with the TARDIS!
Another Dalek!
A photo of the dealer’s room just after it opened on Friday. Fewer people this year for sure, but there were still a lot of visitors to this space over the weekend.
My friend Elijah interviewing Clem and two other guests on the main stage.
Poking my head into the video room, which showed Doctor Who content all hours of the day.
Stopping into a panel in one of the smaller function rooms.
Sneaking a picture during of one of the photo sessions.
Folks lined up for Clem’s autograph.
Clem in the photo studio with two Clockwork Droids. He played one himself in the episode Deep Breath!
This Cyber-head was a little…disconcerting.
Another selfie, this time with the official convention mask.
Another panel on the main stage, this time moderated by my friend Ken.
Guests gathering in the green room before the closing ceremony.
Some of those same guests on stage, saying goodbye to everyone for another year.
I only got a couple “official” photos this year. Of course, one had to be with Clem, since I worked with him! Note that we were allowed to take off masks for photos (and then put them right back on).
I’ve taken photos with both of these gentlemen before, but figured I’d take another one.

And that was the end of Chicago TARDIS 2021! I hit the road on Monday morning and had another uneventful drive home, with plenty of Spotify to keep me company.

I’m really glad Chicago TARDIS was able to safely return this year and I’m even more glad I was able to be part of it. While things continue to be problematic with COVID, it’s really nice to have these moments to get a little travel in and see friends. Hopefully things will continue to be okay for Gallifrey One in a couple of months as I’m planning on returning there for it! Watch this space to see how it goes. 🙂

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!