A few days ago, I fell down a bit of a YouTube rabbit hole: I started watching a number of YouTube Shorts that just happened to be filmed in abandoned buildings. One was a low income housing complex, another was a school–with pictures of some of the students still tacked to some of the bulletin boards–another had been the headquarters of Sears and Allstate, there was an empty hospital and a couple of abandoned malls. But one particular video gave me pause. I had to watch it a few times but when I did, I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach.
If that resort looks slightly familiar, it might be because you’re a Transformers nerd: it was Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois and the venue for BotCon 2015, which was just seven years ago.
Here’s a brief history of the resort, if you’re interested. Kayak has some pictures of the various buildings and rooms. But apparently, it was purchased by an investment company in 2014 and a bid to auction it off fell through six years later, so the resort was shuttered on March 1st, 2020. But that’s not the worst of it.
Apparently, there was a fire that damaged a number of the buildings and the Chicago Tribune has a few photos of the damage. It happened only a few weeks ago, back in May, around a week before Memorial Day.
I honestly had no idea that the place had been shuttered. I didn’t know it had happened recently, either.
It’s downright heartbreaking for me to see; it feels like only yesterday we were there in Illinois, keeping an eye on the weather, going to the Kane County Cougars games and driving to Pheasant Run Resort to take in BotCon. We were having an absolute blast; I was hanging out with my friends, Prime and I were buying merchandise, I got to see the Timber Rattlers while they were on a road trip, I got to tour the area a bit, it was a lot of fun.
It also feels like I won’t be feeling that way again. It feels like losing Pheasant Run, as well as BotCon, is tantamount to a pair of doors shutting and never opening again.
The convention in 2015 was the second to last convention run by Fun Publications. The last one was less than a year later, in 2016.
We all remember what happened in 2016. All of us.
That’s when things turned sour; Prime and I started to notice things about the fandom, about other people, about the general public and climate of this country. They weren’t good things, either. They were downright awful and toxic, to be quite honest. The pandemic only made things so much worse.
They also haven’t gotten better. Being a Transformers nerd has done a lot for me, but the fandom in and of itself hasn’t. At least, not in the last several years. I’ve noticed a lot of toxicity, which seems to be getting worse as time passes.
Losing a past venue for BotCon feels like I’ve lost a part of my past, like a small piece of me left with it. But it’s more than that.
This feels far more symbolic: it’s as if the universe itself is saying that there’s literally no going back. Not to the way the world was before the pandemic. Not to the way the fandom was in the earlier days. Not to the way our nation might have pretended to be. None of it. It’s gone. It will never come back.
We can never go back. Ever. Too much has changed and not for the better. Or made it was all just a crumbling façade and I was simply too naïve to notice.