-Yet another note. Obviously, I wrote this a while ago, but it's taken me this long to load up the photos. There are NO SPOILERS here. This is a happy spoiler-free post, so read on with gusto! Also, I hate Blogger's photo assist and it hates me back, so sorry if some of the formatting is screwed up, frown.-
The place - Powell's City of Books, the one of the largest independent bookstores in the world, whose main store occupies a whole city block in downtown Portland. For the release party they had closed off a whole street on one side of the building, and by the time we arrived, circa 7:30pm, it was already half-filled with a zig-zagging line of people. A quick trip to Whole Foods and back to the line, where thanks to a costumed employee holding a tall flagged pole we found the end, settled onto the pavement, and laid out our spread of sushi, cherries, candied walnuts, gourmet chips, chocolate, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Jelly Beans, and Blood Pops, determined not to go hungry in the remaining hours.
Photo caption - An entire block of Harry Potter fanatics. Good times.
The street was crammed full of characters. The first in line, a couple who had arrived the night before, watched the crowd serenely from the opening in their tent. Next in line was a man holding a sign from the Portland Literary Club, followed closely by a chattering group of Gryffindor girls. Nearly everyone was in costume, mostly dressed as students or teachers, including such stand-outs as a man with a baby dragon on his shoulder, a wizard on stilts, a woman stroking a pet toad, an entire Quiddich team, and Powell's official Dumbledore, Professor McGonegal, and Professor Sprout, who were posing for pictures. The standout of all standouts, however, was Hagrid, who towered high above everyone else. (I still can't figure out how he did it. He must have been that tall to begin with.) He was the best to watch, certainly the easiest to find. And he was great fun to chat with, especially as he attempted to imitate - poorly - Hagrid's accent. W and I jumped up at the sight of him and sang, "Hagrid is fun to hug! Hagrid is full of love! Just don't get stuck in Hagrid's beard!"
Photo Caption - Yes Virginia. Half-giants really do exist. Yeeks.
Soon the rest of the closed block was full. The line curved out of sight around the side of the bookstore. As we sat eating, we began to chat with the fellow directly behind us in line, a visitor from New Orleans. We tossed around book theories for a while until the Morris dancers, who came prancing and clattering their sticks only a few feet away, distracted our attention. Shortly after they had jingled themselves into exhaustion, they were replaced by the fire jugglers, who rather than separating themselves from the crowd plunged into the middle of it, shifting the already shaky line structure into near chaos. In their wake followed magicians, fake fortune tellers, and face painters, all roaming wildly throughout the jostle. "Remember!" the MC called through his scratchy microphone, "Every time you cut in line, a baby hippogriff dies!"
Photo caption - The second group in line, kindly holding up a sign for any confused person who thought it was...the line for something else?
Periodically the MC would climb to the main stage and announce where the end of the line was: One block away... two blocks away... three blocks away. One of the Powell employees wrote on her blog:
'A few passersby quizzed me about The Event and their reactions to the crowd and the traffic ranged from perplexed to bemused. "All this for one book?" was the refrain of the night. I occasionally considered replying with something like, "For a bunch of guys in short shorts bouncing a ball up and down a court and occasionally popping it through a net, traffic jams and crowds would seem normal, but for an extended narrative that draws on folklore and carries subtexts of power, societal alienation, and primal fear, it's bizarre?"'
The night threatened rain, and we Prepared People patted our closed umbrellas smugly. Rain in July? Well, it is Oregon, after all. No chill was dampening the mood, as a fire eater climbed the stage to general applause. W and I tried the Blood Pops for the first time, both agreeing that they were the very exact flavor of synthetic strawberry syrup. A group of Gryffindor brats cut the queue in front of us (several hippogriffs kicked the bucket) and began to play 20 questions. (Answer: The Sorting Hat.) Nearby one of the many Harry Potters was crouched down with chalk, drawing Snitches on as much pavement as he could reach.
Eleven-o-clock, and the store closed its main door for the final hour. The crowd grew tense, more excited, and yet everyone was still as polite as could be, joking and yelling compliments and shouting "I love you, Harry!" and "Voldemort sucks!" Voldemort himself, or at least a man dressed as him, was serenely holding a tiny baby with a lightening bolt scar. (He made an appearance in another form when a bald man drew a scary face on the back of his head with a ball point pen to the cheers of approving onlookers.) The MC mounted the stage once more to announce that the books had arrived in the store. The street exploded with cheering and applause.
"A very special vehicle is about to arrive," announced the MC, "and if you all sit down, you'll be able to see it!" The crowd nearest him sat, an effect which rippled away in both directions to the edges of the block, and yet somehow the people at the very ends didn't catch on. "Sit down, please!" begged the MC, a chant which the crowd quickly adopted. "Sit down! Sit down!" And now W gave me my favorite moment of the night, because she suddenly shouted in her mom voice, five times louder than anyone else in the crowd, "SIT DOWN!! SIT DOWN!!! S-I-T, SIT DOWN!!" Everyone stopped and became very quiet, except for me and a woman immediately next to me, who both began roaring with laughter, me so hard that tears streamed out of my eyes. Hooray, W!! Sonorus!
MLS, you would be proud. As per the suggestion on your blog, at one point when I was dragged up onto the main stage I gestured at the front door and shouted "Alohamora!" Strangely, they really did open the door shortly after that. Coincidence? (I was sad to learn after I got off the stage that the crowd was cheering for the open door, and not me. Oh, poor deflated ego!)
I was a little confused about the real opening, because at the time I was in transit through the crowd, but I think it went something like this - Dumbledore appeared riding in a carriage pulled by white horses, holding an enormous silver key over his head. The carriage circled the block once, then came to a stop at the end of the street. Dumbledore hopped out, followed by the rest of the Hogwart's staff, and carried the key to the store, past platforms 9 and 10 (which had been set up on the outside), all the way to the main door, labelled Platform 9 3/4. To the cheers and waves of the frenzied crowd, he turned the handle. The doors burst open with light and smoke, and... weeeee! We were moving!
Photo caption - Hey, check it! Dumbledore's got a really big key! Look how happy he is with his really big key!
The first few people came out of the store with books raised high in hand. "RAAAH!" cheered the crowd. A car drove by honking, a hand holding the book out through the sunroof. "YAAAY!" the crowd shouted. Despite the excitement, there was not a single rude person to be found, and I think everyone would have done a group hug had we not been moving. The face painter came by one last time, and W reached out to snag her. "I'm only doing little pictures now," the painter said, "Snitches and owls and Dobby..."
"I want Dobby!" said W. The resulting "Dobby" ended up looking, by my estimation, like a grumpy Kreacher with his arms pulled off. 8')
Photo caption - HOHYEEEAH! BROO BRAA! (Translated: "Oh look, my friend. We appear to have reached the door.")
When W and I reached Platform 9 3/4 a short time later (foaming at the mouths, fainting, etcetera), we were met by a conductor outside and a Dementor inside, both who showed us the way to go. (W said, "I'm not going to argue with a Dementor!" The Dementor tapped his head as though to say, "Smart thinking.") After being outside in the misty dark for so long, the inside of Powell's was ablaze with light and color. We passed underneath a replica of Fawkes, weaving down to the stacks of prized books while the people in the long line outside ogled at us through the windows. It was a blur. "Here, take a box! Take a USED BOX!" one of the employees was shouting, shoving the Harry Potter-branded cardboard into the crowd. Madness loomed in the air. "Do you want a bag?" the cashier asked. "Duuuh..." I said, my brain a piddly mush.
Photo caption - Booooks... Shiny, tasty, booooooks....
Ordinarily, immediately after purchasing such a spoiler-prone book, I would have high-tailed it out of there as quick as possible... but there was another line to get the book signed by Dumbledore and McGonegal and have it stamped with the official release date, so I opted for the dangerous option of standing amongst people who were already flipping through. One girl said, "There's a chapter... blah blah... dragon something..." after which I immediately shoved ear plugs in and began going hum hum hum, shut up stupid people, hum hum. W said she had overheard a woman who immediately turned to the last page STUPID STUPID PEOPLE!
Photo caption - In case anyone was wondering where Voldemort was... Well, he was buying his'self a book, wasn't he? ("Gee, I hope I win," he was saying.)
Needless to say - freaking. awesome. I haven't had so much fun in a longly long time. All that, and the best part was that we hadn't even opened the book yet!
For that anticipated event, we first swung by the famous and sketchy 24-hour Voodoo Doughnuts, where I snagged one of their signature creations, a maple bar topped with bacon slices, and then wearily crossed the river to an all night coffee house, mysteriously themed like a Colorado cabin. With doughnuts and coffee, W and I kicked up our feet on the couches and turned to page 1...
Photo caption - Yes, I said a maple bar with bacon. You'd be surprised what sounds good at 4:30 in the morning...