A Visit to BrickFair!
For those of you who know me personally, this is no real revelation. But for many of you reading this site, you may be surprised to know that I’m an AFOL: An Adult Fan of Lego. I confessed my lifelong love affair with plastic bricks a while back on Needless Things, but this may be the first time I’ve ever discussed it here on this site.
As a certified AFOL, I do a lot of things to feed my hobby. I have a LEGO room in my house, after all. I’m a member of a local LUG, or Lego User’s Group. And as I am wont to do each year in mid-January, I drove 150 miles earlier today to attend BrickFair, an annual LEGO convention held at the Birmingham Convention Center. Now, mind you, this isn’t an event strictly for AFOLs – it’s got stuff for all ages of LEGO enthusiast. But the people who make it happen are people just like me: AFOLs. And if you ever wanted to see a LEGO Minifigure version of Shane from The Walking Dead dismembering ABS plastic zombies, or a two-inch tall Village People tucked away in the middle of a classic late 70s LEGO display, then this is the place for you.
But first, a word of warning: It’s in Alabama. And I know that I can’t say much, since I live just one state east in Georgia, but Alabama and all the things they say about Alabama are pretty much true. I mean, sure, a little hyperbole here and there is bound to happen, but The Heart of Dixie didn’t get its country bumpkin reputation out of thin air. I can drive just a couple hours to a place to hear accents so southern that they sound like they’re barely English. I can find trucks parked at the local Olive Garden wrapped entirely in RealTree™ camouflage. I can see more Confederate battle emblems in a day than I can American flags.
Thankfully, BrickFair attracts guests from all over the country. Lego User Groups from Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas usually have displays, and vendors from up and down the East Coast are there to sell their wares. The only real hazard is navigating your way through a sea of children, which you sort of have to expect at an event like this. Sure, the event is put on by AFOLs, but when it comes down to it, this is a product made for kids.
My journey began with a few cups of coffee, a Taco Bell Steak and Egg Crunchwrap that barely had any steak and pretty much no crunch to its wrap, and the glory of being able to sleep in an extra hour due to the fact that I time travel an hour back in time when I hit the Alabama border. After a little Ramones for my morning driving music, I arrived at the convention center just shy of its 11AM CST opening. Lines moved fairly quickly, and before long I was checking out the GFLUG (Greater Florida LEGO Users Group) train display.
If you grew up in the era I did and played with LEGO, you remember LEGO “Town” buildings. They were small, had no back wall, and pretty much only vaguely resembled whatever they were meant to represent. The ones in today’s “City” line aren’t much better. When you see a large train display, that’s not what you get. Scale models of familiar buildings such as Waffle Houses and Best Buys and QuikTrips and even the New York Yankees Spring Training Facility adorned the GFLUG display, and they’re an impressive sight.
Getting into some of the other train displays, buildings got even bigger. Skyscrapers, gigantic hotels, scale model movie theaters – these are just a few of the things that AFOLs haul hundreds of miles to display for a single weekend in January each year. And trains aren’t the only thing on display here – there’s plenty of other themes. Castle, space, pirates, and specialized themes like LEGO Bionicle and LEGO Friends get their own share of space.
What really seems to draw the crowd, though, is when LEGO fans devote their time and resources to paying homage to their favorite icons of pop culture. You want to see a ten-by three-foot Battle of Hoth depicted in only LEGO bricks? How about all of Hobbiton built on multiple levels? Jurassic Park being frightening before dark? Well, sure, you can go to a LEGO theme park and see some pretty kick ass displays in their Miniland section, but those are glued together (fear the KrAGle!) and permanently attached to the ground. These are modular and fully portable and run the risk of being reduced to a stack of disheveled bricks if the wrong snot-nosed kid disobeys the countless instructions to look and not touch. And as a side note, to the guy running the train display with the GoPro camera who watched some bratty punk kid put his hand out and block a moving train and quite possibly become the reason why the camera failed, you had far more patience than I would and should probably be canonized as a Saint in the church of brick.
And of course, there’s the vendors. I have a love/hate relation with these folks. On one hand, it’s fine to make a buck off of a hot commodity like LEGO bricks. But having been privy to some of the forums these so-called “investors” creep around on the internets, the tactics some of them use make me never want to dip into the secondary market again. But occasionally, you find one who does things the right way, and can help you get your hands on that part you need to finish whatever project you’ve been working on for the past few months. Or maybe that’s just me.
When it all comes down to it, I’m a pretty jaded elitist when it comes to this hobby. I hate off-brand knockoff construction toys, cringe whenever hearing people say “Legos”, and roll my eyes every single goddamned time someone makes a crack about how much it hurts to step on a LEGO brick. But each year in January, I have one day that I know I’m going to thoroughly enjoy, and it’s BrickFair.