Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This Ain't No Stinkin' Wand?!?! The Harry Potter Midnight Party (no spoilers, don't worry)

As stated previously, I will wait a while before sharing my thoughts on the final Harry Potter book (which I did finish reading in 11 hours on the 21st)... but for now, here's my debrief on the midnight book release party.

And even if you don't read the Harry Potter books (you are missing out...)... I think you will enjoy this post.

The preparation
On Friday, I took a nap in the evening in order to be fresh and alert when it came time to depart for the Harry Potter midnight party. Usually it takes me about 3 hours to actually fall asleep - so I faintly remember being really excited that I could feel myself drifting off after having only been in bed for about 25 minutes.

But then, a huge "BOOOOOMMMMM!!!!" startled me back into consciousness, my dog jumped up, and a few seconds later I could hear the alarm going off in my building's storage room - it was the alarm on the sump pump.

I pulled myself onto my feet and then realized that my clock wasn't working. Nor were the lights... or the phone... or the Internet connection. Everything was out - the loud boom must have either been the cause or the result of a massive power outage. Cursing myself that I hadn't charged my cell phone, I used some of its remaining battery to call my upstairs neighbor to ensure that it wasn't just my unit having problems. He, too, figured it was an issue for the whole block. And the second I hung up with him, ambulances and sirens started blaring down the street - I felt bad for all the people inevitably stuck in high-rise elevators.

Then my thoughts turned toward the party that was supposed to take place in a mere six hours - oh no! The Borders store in my neighborhood may have also been affected by the outage! What if they couldn't ring up the sales that night?!?! What if they couldn't have the party... WHAT IF I COULDN'T GET MY BOOK????

While I was shutting off the sump pump alarm and then consoling myself with cookies & cream ice cream (why let it go to waste if everything in the freezer was going to melt?), I started devising a Plan B. It involved stalking little children coming out of other bookstores after midnight in surrounding neighborhoods. But luckily, 45 minutes later, lights flew back on, electronics started blinking, and I heaved a sigh of relief. And then went back to bed.

I was lucky enough to be joined by MB, a fellow nerd and Harry Potter fan, for the shindig. While I had reserved my copy of The Deathly Hallows several months ago at the Borders in my 'hood, she had hers being delivered on Saturday from I convinced her, however, that this was a historic cultural event and that she therefore must experience it with me - with the added bonus of getting the book earlier and being able to read it for a few hours the next morning before her B&N shipment arrived (every minute counts!).

Alas, when she called Borders the day prior to the party, they said that they had shut the reservation list two weeks ago, and that she would therefore have to be on the "wait list," and was not guaranteed a book. She was nice enough to put an order of two books under her name on the wait list (the other was for my husband who suddenly realized that he didn't want to wait for me to finish the book - he wanted us to read it simultaneously). Since the Borders employee had told MB that they had so many people on the reservation list that they expected to not get through ringing up those people until 3 AM, we were prepared for a long night (hence my nap).

Aside from reservation lists and wait lists, Borders also devised a wristband system to attempt to control all the eager readers and keep them from bum-rushing the registers at midnight. They started doling out wristbands at 9 AM Friday morning, and the color that you got would determine what "wave" you would be a part of in the line. It just so happened that MB was going to be working from home that day, so she was nice enough to go to the store, assume my identity and score a wristband in the second wave for me. We were all set to go and planned to meet at the store at 11 PM - early enough to experience the mayhem but late enough to not get sick of everyone by the time midnight rolled around.

The event
It was less crowded than we had expected... but then we realized that they had separated out all of the holders of the different colors of wristbands onto different levels of the store (there are three levels), so alas, true Harry Hysteria was not going to be ours to witness. They had balloons and decorations all around, but since the silver wristband-holders were told to go downstairs, we didn't waste time in checking out the scene - we wanted to get in line. I was told that I would get my poster and my wand (promised in the email touting the event) at check-out. I thought that was lame because I wanted to play with the wand right away!

We went downstairs... there was a snaking trail of clear masking tape that wound all around the "Movies and Music" section of the lower level - about half of it was already occupied, so we got in line behind a teenage girl who appeared to be wearing some sort of ball gown, and her mother, who looked almost exactly like Professor Trelawney. They are both in the picture to the left, although the mom is kind of hidden. Only a handful of people had on costumes... one woman had a school outfit and a "Potter Stinks!" button, another had a "Weird Sisters" concert t-shirt, a group of friends wore Harry glasses and lightning bolt scars.

We waited and waited and waited. I saw that Trelawney had some stickers, so I ran upstairs to see if they were giving them out up there. Score! A Borders employee gave me two sets of stickers (one for me, one for MB) - one to wear if you thought Snape would turn out to be good, and one if you thought he was bad. You can see them in the picture at the beginning of this post.

They also gave out raffle coupons to everyone (the prize was to jump ahead in the line and be the first one to get the book) and little glow-sticks (both also pictured at the top of this post).

One of the funniest aspects of the night was the Borders employee who kept coming over the loudspeaker and shouting orders at everyone. I have his speech memorized still, nearly a week later: "SILVER WRISTBANDS!!!! Silver wristbands, you should be downstairs in Movies & Music. But if you have a silver DOT, not a wristband but a silver DOT, you are on the WAIT LIST and must wait until everyone in the reservations line has gotten their book before we call you. Once again, silver DOTS, not wristbands but DOTS, are on the wait list."

This announcement, or some variant of the same message, was hollered over the speakers about every 10 minutes. The best was when he came on and said, "ORANGE wristbands... I'm assuming you are smart enough to know that you are the first wave and should be in line on the main floor."

Uhhh... obviously not everyone was smart enough to know that if he had to make the announcement. Another excellent tirade was: "IF YOU MISS YOUR WAVE... IF YOUR COLOR HAS ALREADY GONE THROUGH THE LINE AND YOU HAVE MISSED IT... then you will need to get at the back of the LAST LINE in order to get your book!!!!" Groans all around. This guy was evil!!! That would be just rude if you had an orange wristband and missed the first wave and were made to wait three more hours for everyone else to go through? Damn, the Borders employees were hard-core! They must be on the side of He Who Must Not Be Named!

As it neared midnight, the same guy got on the microphone and announced that they knew that they were going to sell out of all of the books that they had, so if anyone had just walked into the store who wasn't on the reservation list or the wait list, they should just leave and come back the next day to see if any more books were delivered. He also said that it was not a guarantee that people on the wait list would get a book. MB and I looked at each other worriedly... I didn't want her to have spent hours waiting in line with me to NOT get a book!?!?! We would find a way!!! Unfortunately, believe it or not, I only saw two or three younger kids at the party, so there wasn't really anyone I could accost to steal a book from later. Everyone was college age or much older.

Now we come to my favorite part of the night. Two guys that were probably in their late teens or early 20s (I'm not good at guessing ages), who can be seen in the picture above, came up to hang with Trelawney and Ball Gown Chick. They didn't know them, I believe they just wanted to talk to other people who had dressed up. The guys had made a half-ass effort at costumes... they had on extremely wrinkly white button-downs, ties and "broomsticks" (one was a mop, one was a crappy plastic broom).

At first I thought they were nice guys and that they were just extremely excited about the book coming out. When I passed by them with my "Trust Snape" sticker displayed proudly on my arm, one of them muttered, "Snape is a goddamn traitor." He said it so seriously that I got the biggest kick out of it, and MB and I thought they were hilarious. But then I overheard some of the conversation they were having - or should I say - the ARGUMENT they were having, with people around us. They started off by loudly proclaiming the fact that they had placed bets on an event that would happen in the book, making a girl standing behind them literally yelp and plead them to not say any more (and no, it wasn't about whether Harry lived or died, it was something more detailed than that). I can tell you now that what they predicted with such assurance did NOT come to pass in the story, but at the time even I was thinking, "Wow, I cannot believe they just said that." While they honored the request not to shout out any other potential spoilers and didn't move on to any new topics, they did continue to make an argument for why their previously predicted event in the book would indeed happen. After Trelawney and Ball Gown Chick fought back with logical reasoning, the guy on the right in the picture hollered, "Do you KNOW the mind of a wizard?!?!?" They then got into a heated discussion - and I have to admit, they knew their facts about the characters. The battle ended with them mumbling something about "glass ceilings for witches" and then a Borders employee came and made them get back to their place in line because they were disturbing the peace.

The countdown
Annoying Speaker Guy got back on the microphone as midnight neared. He ordered everyone to activate their glow-sticks, and that they were going to turn off the lights. Sweet! This was gonna rock!

Well, it sucked. I swear to you, they turned off ONE light bulb. I'm sure there was some lame fire code restriction that prevented them from engulfing the store in darkness, but it really, really ruined the effect to have everyone waving their glow-sticks around in a fully-lighted room.

Then they did the raffle drawing... and no one on my floor won.



Let's just say that that guy isn't going to be taking over Dick Clark or Ryan Seacrest's spot on New Year's Rockin' Eve any time soon... once again, since we were separated from everyone else in the store, it was kind of anti-climactic. Give me my book, already!

Less than twenty minutes later, the Silver Wristbands' time had come - they herded us upstairs. But then we just had to wait and wait and wait some more in the long line that stretched across the main level. I ran to see if they had the rice-krispie-treat-lightning-bolt-thing that they had for the Book Six party, but alas, they only had all the typical Harry Potter goodies that you can buy anywhere at any time, so I was disappointed.

But that was not my biggest disappointment of the night. As we neared the registers, I stopped a Borders employee who was carrying around a wand.

"So, we get our wands at the check-out, right?"
She stared blankly. "What do you mean?"
"On the email invite, it said that you get a free wand."
She held up the glow-stick that hung around her neck. "This is the wand."


The lame-ass GLOW-STICK was the WAND?!?!?! No it wasn't?!!!! NO IT WASN'T!!!!
Never in a million years would anyone mistake that little teeny thing for a wand (look up at the top picture again - you cannot deny it!).

I was fuming.

But my anger quickly dissipated as I became the next in line. I spotted a sign at each register that said "No more than three books per guest." I looked at MB, who would not be able to get her book (or my husband's) for hours still, as they were checking wristbands at the registers, and she was on the wait list.

It was my turn. I strode up to the register and confidently stated, "I have three."
"Let me see your wristband."
"Do you have your reservation number?"
Check! I pulled out my sticky note containing the number. He barely glanced at it.

He loaded up the books on to the counter, I paid and then whisked them all into my backpack, and then MB and I headed out of the store and waited until we were in the clear to celebrate our victory. MB got her book and my husband would owe me big-time for securing him one as well. And I got my poster (what I'm going to do with it, exactly, I haven't figured out. Perhaps paint it while it's still rolled up to look like a wand?).

The aftermath
It was a triumphant night. MB and I made plans to check in with each other during the day on Saturday to compare progress and thoughts on what had transpired in the book. She went her way and I went mine.

It was a dark, dark night. I made sure to take off my Snape sticker so as to not alert any ne'er-do-wells to the fact that I had just left the Harry Potter party. However, I forgot that I still had the frickin' glow-stick - OH, EXCUSE ME, WAND - hanging around my neck... besides the fact that I was carrying a huge poster and being weighed down by two ginormous books in my backpack.

I crossed in front of a semi-sketchy bar on the way back to my place. Two guys, probably in their late 30s, were standing in front of the entrance. I could tell that they had been eying me for some time as I approached. One of them yelled out to me:
"Is it ON you?"
Oh, crap.
I just pursed my lips into a weak smile and walked a bit faster.
"Holy shit, is it ON YOU right now? Do you have Harry Potter in your backpack?"
Awwww, CRAP. Now I really needed a wand! Where were those broomstick and mop guys to protect me?!?!

But it was OK. As I was safely past them, they shouted out one last question:
"Just take it out, flip to the last page and tell me what happens... PLEASE!?!?!?"

See, EVERYONE loves Harry Potter.

I got home around 1 AM... not bad at all. I put the books out on the kitchen table, arranged my stickers, poster and faux-wand next to the books and got ready for bed. I know this sounds lame because I am a grown woman, but the party really was fun and I DID feel like I was part of some international cultural event. These books are going to be loved forever and each of them was only released for the first time ONCE.

A shout-out to MB for going with me, a shout-out to ComEd for restoring the electricity in time, and a shout-out to everyone who loves Harry Potter and who read it or is reading it as anxiously as I did. My write-up on the book itself will come in about a week, and if you haven't read it by then, well, then you are slow!

- e


maikib said...

hurray for E and her confidence in securing three books (what would i have done, seeing as my "preorder mail delivery" didn't arrive until MONDAY!!! GASP!!! Sorry i haven't responded until now-- lcd died on my trusty apple and it took two weeks to get it back!! enjoyed the par-tay and better yet, the marathon read the next day. whoohoo! love h.p.... and i'm glad that i'm still a nerd...

The Mean Bookstore Girl said...

Hey E-

I realize that this is sooooo after the fact that it's not even funny, but I still felt compelled to comment.

I don't know if you had any independent bookstores in your neighborhood, but you should have gone to one of their release parties.

At my store, we had a carnival style party with games like "Moaning Myrtle's Toilet Toss" and "Find the Horcrux" and half a dozen more, a costume contest, actors from the local theater walking around in character, really fun prizes as well as good stuff for sale, some of it hand made, and it was all free and nobody was separated. We gauranteed books for everybody, whether they had reserved them early or not. And because our system was user friendly, everyone got their books and were headed for home in just 20 minutes (650+ books passed out.)

I know it doesn't do any good for you now, but now you know- we indies get to rock it.

So if there is another book series you're really into, that's pretty popular, chances are good your local indie might have a party for it. We had one for the last 2 books in the Twilight saga, we're doing one in celebration of Watchmen coming out, etc...