PAX East starts tomorrow, and I’m going to be there day one. Also there will be many people not familiar with Boston. As a long-time resident, and attendee at last year’s PAX East, here’s what you need to know to get the most out of the convention and surrounding environs.
First of all, anybody who insists on driving there will discover it’s not as easy as it looks. The Boston Convention Center, or BCEC, is located in Boston’s Seaport district, which is a pain in the ass to get to by car even when there isn’t a major convention going on. There are highways, but no easy on or off access points: The area is laid out weirdly even by the standards of Boston. Furthermore, parking in Boston proper qualifies as usurious on the best of days. If you’re driving, save yourself a lot of time and aggravation: Park outside the city and take public transit, known as the MBTA or the T.
UPDATE: Apparently the World of Wheels auto show will also be at the Seaport, so driving is going to be that much uglier.
The BCEC is roughly five to ten minutes’ walking distance from two MBTA stops: South Station on the Red Line and World Trade Center on the Silver Line. Unless you go straight from Logan Airport to the BCEC, you will probably be stuck taking the Red Line to the Silver. Either way, get a CharlieCard, a plastic card with an RFID chip in it: The card itself is free, it’s the cheapest way to use the T, and it’ll run you $2 a pop to ride the train.
Finally, download an app for both buses and subway to get times and have a map to refer to: It will save you untold amounts of aggravation, especially since most Bostonians think less in terms of neighborhoods and more in terms of T stops when giving directions.
What You’ll Need
- A good winter coat. Boston has gotten several snow storms over the past few weeks and the weekend of PAX East promises to be freezing. Also, you’re near the ocean, with all the fun temperature drops that indicates. Dress accordingly, and bring money for coat check.
- Good walking shoes. The BCEC is enormous and PAX East takes up the entire floor, as well as three stories of conference rooms. You will be on foot, so plan accordingly.
- Money. There’s a lot of stuff you can buy on the floor, not just video games but toys, tabletop games, card games, you name it. You will also need it to pay coat check fees, buy food, etc.
- A cellphone charger. You can find outlets fairly easily in the BCEC, and you’ll probably burn through your cell phone at full charge in a day.
- A cellular modem. Last year, the BCEC’s wireless system collapsed under the strain: History is likely to repeat itself.
- A portable gaming system, card games, and other stuff to amuse yourself and friends. The lines to get into the major booths are long, and you’ll have time to kill. Cards Against Humanity is a particular favorite.
- Photography equipment. Trust me, there’s a lot, from cosplayers to booths to tabletop, that you’re going to want to photograph.
- Some form of comfortable bag system to lug this stuff. Myself, I’ll be rocking the Runnur.
Plan Of Attack
The convention is huge, there’s lots to do, so keep it simple. If you’ve got a one-day pass, or are just pressed for time, don’t wait in line for the theater screenings unless there’s a demo: All that stuff is up on YouTube Monday anyway. You can easily hit all the booths in a few hours, and I recommend walking around, seeing what’s available, and then picking any lines you want to get into.
Make a point to visit the indie developers: That’s where you’ll find the most unique games and be able to talk to developers directly. Also make time to visit the tabletop area, especially if you have a few friends with you. Finally, remember that there’s free console play; if there’s a game you wanted to try, they probably have it.
Food and Drink
The most common stumbling block in Boston is coffee. There are plenty of Starbucks and even more Dunkin’ Donuts: In the heart of Boston, there are Dunky’s almost every block, down alleys, up side streets, and so on. But if you go to your average Dunky’s and order a large regular, you will get a large coffee with cream and sugar. So be specific in your coffee order.
Also, budget time and money to eat out for dinner. Restaurants near the BCEC especially will be jammed, so be adventurous and go into the city. Boston has an absolutely enormous number of great restaurants aimed at everybody from broke college students to high-end food snobs, generally clustered around T stops, and also a total lack of low-end dine-in chains: You will not find an Applebee’s or a Chili’s anywhere near the BCEC. If you’re willing to spend a little money and go a little out of your way, I recommend Jacob Wirth in the Theater District, Silvertone in Downtown Crossing, and Stoddard’s Fine Food And Ale, also in Downtown Crossing.
Also, yes, the bars close at 2am. This is well after the trains stop running, so if you make a night of it, make sure you have cab fare.
If you haven’t booked by now the best you’ll find is across the Charles river, probably something in Cambridge or Somerville. My advice is to look at the local police blotter before booking a room: Cheap motels tend to be where drug busts and prostitution arrests go down in the area.
And Finally, Safety
Boston is not actually that violent or dangerous a city, and PAX East is nowhere near its supposed “dangerous” parts anyway. Contrary to popular belief, you will not be beaten in the street by an angry mob for wearing a Yankees hat; generally that happens because a Yankees fan visits South Boston drunkenly looking for a fight, and some locals drunkenly oblige him.
That said, follow your common sense: Travel in groups with friends, use a map, stick to areas that you know or hang with a friend who knows the area.
Do that, and you’ll have a fun, and safe, time at PAX East. See you there!