As I've stated before, I'm a fan of the Potter books and movies. But one thing I've never done -- EVER -- was go to the bookstore at midnight on the night a book was released. But between the constant Potter bookstore updates on the news and having just seen the new movie, Potter was on my mind on Friday night. Hence, it came to be that I found myself driving to the local Barnes & Noble at 11:30 p.m. in Boynton Beach (Florida).
I got out of my car and looked, from a distance, at the Barnes & Noble, with its jam-packed parking lot, its four (four!) police cruisers and the restless crowd that resided both in and out of the store. I started my trek. I felt like Frodo heading to Mordor, the shame of going to Barnes & Noble at midnight to pick up a Potter book deepening with every step.
There was a crowded mess of people outside the store entrance and for a minute I was worried that I would have to wait in line to get in. However I saw an opening, took my shot, and slipped inside. Now, I was shocked that I didn't see anyone dress up for the midnight showing of Order of the Phoenix, but I got used to the idea that the Potter series had grown up and so had its fans.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The fanatics were out in full, unabashed force. I saw a Hagrid walking on stilts. I saw about four little Harry Potter kids. I saw a Professor Trelawney, a Severus Snape, about three McGonagalls. I saw adults in cloaks. I saw wands and wizard hats, Gryffindor banners ...
Every aisle in this expansive store was filled with Potterheads sitting, waiting, praying, laughing, sleeping, chatting or otherwise zoning out. Everyone's space was being invaded and I didn't know where to stand. Every time I stopped moving, I only felt like I was in somebody's way so I just kept moving, like a shark. If I stopped, I died. And moving about the store, I felt like a kid at a carnival, my mouth agape at all the freakish wonders. This, finally, was what I expected to see at that midnight screening.Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Moments before midnight, a Barnes & Noble employee invited everyone in the store to join in "the countdown." It didn't even need any explanation. It was the countdown. You know ... the countdown. This is the moment where I realized that for many of these Potterheads, this was not simply a place to purchase a book. This was a gathering, a congregation for cultish activities. I had half a mind to phone the F.B.I... people were going to die tonight. Five ... four ... three ... two ... one ...
The place exploded with cheers. Kids were jumping up-and-down together, others clapped. I saw a couple of teenage girls hug each other and I swear one of them had tears in their eyes.
They started calling people up by color... "Will the customers with the blue cards please come up now?" My only intelligent response was, "Huh?" I saw a lady next to me holding a red card. I asked her what the cards were about and she said you got them outside the store before you came in. That explained the crowd outside. She showed me a paper that listed twelve colors, white being the last. The way things were moving, white cardholders looked to collect their book in about three hours.
I didn't even know about the color coded cards, damn it! I was completely out of my element. I made for the door and tried to be as "normal" as possible.
I rushed to my car, my heart pounding. By chance, I saw a familiar-looking girl walking to her Jetta. It was my friend, Jen, and I called out to her. She expressed her disappointment with not getting the book (she wasn't about to wait all night either). Feeling chivalrous, I suggested we make one more effort at the Super Wal-Mart. That place is a carnival 365 days a year.
At Wal-Mart we found a table of the new Potter books back at the media section. The quest for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had become addictive by now. I licked my chops and went to grab a copy when an employee told me I needed a bracelet first. I sized the woman up, to see if I could take her. I'm unashamed to admit she was a whole lot bigger than me, though, and the Harry Potter lightening tattoo on her forehead (no, really) -- which I at first mistook for a lesion -- was intimidating enough. We took the bracelets. I reached for the book and she barked at me again.
"You have to get in line, first."
Eventually, Jen and I showed our bracelets and got our books for the low, low bargain price of $18.96. There will be no more Potter nights quite like the one I experienced Friday. The blue card, green card people are all but gone and to where, I may never know. I know only that I survived it, like the Romans who basked in the morning sun the days after the great fires of Nero were quenched. My quest was over and all I got was this stupid red, rubber bracelet that read "Gryffindor" to go along with one great read.
Potter books may be over, but nights like these last forever. It's a good thing we have two more movies left. This town may have some more excitement in it yet.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dre writes three times a week for Film.com. He's a self-loathing Potterhead. E-mail him!