8:30am, April 30, 1999 A New Day! Still raining, but new none the less.
I awoke ready to take in all that Day 1 of the Celebration had to offer. After a much needed shower I unpacked and took a quick look at the folder the front desk clerk had given me upon my bleary-eyed check in the night before. Upon opening the folder I realized the joy that one who had never stayed at a Doubletree Hotel could only have after a long trip and a short-night’s sleep…
there were COOKIES in there! Two, huge, chocolate chip cookies!
I really must have been a mess the night before to have missed them. I then realized my first challenge of the day was already met – finding breakfast. Coffee, fresh from the in-room coffee maker. A cereal bar – I packed a few for snacking. A chocolate chip cookie, big and very rich. And I didn’t have to spend a dime. Great Day In The Mornin’!
After my feast I donned my Star Wars ball cap, rain jacket and backpack and headed down the hall to the elevators. Shuttles to the Wings Over The Rockies Air And Space Museum were leaving every twenty minutes – or so said the information in my cookie-laiden information folder. As I left my room I wondered how many fellow fans were at my hotel. No one on the plane seemed to be sporting any Star Wars gear or even mentioned the con and I found the hotel lobby rather empty when I arrived in the wee hours. Upon arriving at the elevators, I saw no one. I was either late or very early. The door opened as soon as I pressed the down button and I stepped in. Just as the door began to close I heard approaching footsteps and a voice … “hold the door please?!” I did. After a moment, a flowing brown robe turned the corner and stepped into the elevator. I’d be riding with a Jedi this morning. He saw my Star Wars cap and we both just smiled. I complimented his light saber hilt on the ride down. He explained how it was all machined metal, no re used parts. He unhooked it and handed it to me to check out. It was heavy, and very well made. No sooner did I hand it back than the elevator doors opened. First floor!
The quiet hotel lobby of the night before was now bustling. My Jedi friend and I quickly lost each other in the crowd but fans were everywhere. I had never seen such a huge gathering of Star Wars faithful. Kids in all manner of costume. Adults in t shirts and the occasional Darth Vader helmet or Jedi robe. Looking back, there were generally not a lot of costumes. The high quality armor, body paint and weapon props were not as widespread as they are now. Then again, clothing does not make the geek. The sentiment and loyalty of this crowd was palpable, and I wasn’t even at the convention yet.
Shuttle busses were now running and I needed a place in line. The convention officially opened at noon but the bus ride would take a while and registration… who knows. I followed signs and the crowd to the bus stop – which didn’t have any cover from the downpour that, surprisingly, wasn’t letting up. The rain prompted a temporary solution, we waited in the lobby. There was still time before the next bus so conversation popped up at random – fans getting to know fans. Everything from ‘where are you from?’ to ‘how many times did you see Episode IV in the theater?’ This was why I made the trip. Props to the event and all the wonders that await but there was nothing, NOTHING like being among so many people who shared this common bond. I kept thinking about my friend and fellow Star Wars nut John who, sadly, could not make it to the festivities. The only thing that could have made it cooler was to have my friend among all these friends.
I recall discussing The Matrix with a couple from, I think, Pennsylvania. Bad writing but great story, awesome effects but questionable acting – it’s almost like Star Wars AND there will be sequals! ‘I bet they will be good,’ said the husband. Yeah, well, time has a way of beating the crap out of many an observation; from ‘can’t wait for the Matrix II’ to ‘Jar Jar looks like an AWESOME character.’
The bus arrived just as the rain let up. We filed on, sat down, then off we went. It was crowded but no one cared, more time for conversation. I chatted with Rob, the guy in the seat next to me. He was a Star Wars toy collector from way back. We talked about the evolution of the industry, the detail in the new sculpts but that they just didn’t look as cool as the first ones we ever saw. Fans getting to know fans.
The bus arrived just in time for it to start raining again. The ground was barely visible for the crowd that moved from the bus stop to The Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum. The overcast skies didn’t dampen their spirit, which was a shame because the lines were friggin ridiculous. I don’t recall the registration process, which leads me to believe it went smoothly. Rob and I managed to stay in touch through the registration mob so we continued on to the convention grounds, looking over the event list and taking in the sights.
Most of the day was spent waiting in lines. All of which were outside and the rain rarely let up. But it was worth it. While waiting for the opening ceremonies: Anthony Daniels walked by the line and said hello, an impromtu trivia contest broke out, Chewbacca walked by (I heard it was an employee wearing one of the actual ILM prop suits but it was never verified) and a friendly security guard made jokes and told stories about his former job as a bar bouncer.
The presentations included: Video greetings from cast and crew, and George. Behind the scenes footage and new trailer material (the crowd took particular interest in the Philly Blunts shirt Ewan McGregor wore in the video footage of his lightsaber stunt training). Doug Chiang and Trisha Biggar talking about design and costuming. Rick McCallum talking about being the producer of a Star Wars film and the F’ing sandstorms they had to put up with while filming on location (Rick’s colorful like that).
The hangars of the air and space museum housed ILM prop displays, the merchandise area and various sponsor displays. Everything from free kids meal toys to posters to books to drink cups was up for grabs. Most of it went real fast. Life size Star Wars characters made of Legos stood guard at one end, pinball machines and video games instigated more lines at another end. Somewhere in the middle sat a full sized X Wing fighter. And I thought the machined light saber hilt was cool! Also, costumes were easier to find in this location. A girl in a Slave Leia outfit received her share of attention, a very well painted Darth Maul prowled the exhibitor floor and, of course, Jedi roamed the grounds.
Sooner or later, it got late. Very late. Time flies when you’re chatting and waiting in line and staring in amazement and… not eating. I hadn’t had a bit to eat since breakfast and my head was starting to hurt. No restaurants had we at the first Celebration. No food courts to retreat to. There were Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC kiosks set up outside the exhibitor hangar. Yep, outside. Mud, rain, lines and Taco Bell. A couple beef burritos and a Pepsi were inhaled and then it was off to check out the vendor tent for a few minutes until closing time.
While checking out the collectibles, and then on the bus, the headache came back. This is what sometimes happens when one waits way too long to eat and then gorges on junk. I felt progressively worse as the headache became a stomach ache. I held it together until we got to the hotel. When I could finally get off the bus I started feeling normal, then not. I made it into the lobby and into a door labeled “washroom” hoping for an actual bathroom. It was, however, a washroom. Sinks only. I didn’t have time to rationalize the absurdity of the situation, the chicks cannot hold the smoke and I could not hold the burrito. Needless to say, nature took it’s backward course into one of the sinks and I soon felt well enough to make it back to my room for some Tylenol and a nap.
The nap turned into all out sleep and I awoke at 3am needing something to munch on. Fortunately I only ate one cookie the previous morning and it’s cousin was waiting for me on the table. I spent the next half hour watching random television stations as I drank a Coke, ate my cookie and went over the previous day in my mind. All in all, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Bring on Day 2!
… to be continued.