It is time for the tale of the third and most thrilling part of Saturday in Chicago.
Fred and I hopped on the red line and rode it all the way down to a station that allowed us to transfer to the green line. Our plan was to take the green line to a stop a couple of blocks away from the Museum of Science and Industry, where we had tickets to Harry Potter: the Exhibition.
The first thing that went wrong was that we foolishly stepped onto an orange train without even looking. Thankfully, we had realized our error by the first stop, so we got off at the station, took an orange back, and got on a green train. (Imagine all of this with about ten minutes of wait time at each station.)
Once we realized that the train was taking awhile to get to each stop and we had quite a few to go, I had the brilliant idea to get off at the next stop and just hail a cab to our destination.
Except that our next stop was the end of Indiana Avenue on the south side of Chicago.
If you didn't say "yikes," feel free to do so now.
It took mere seconds for me to realize that my shot-in-the-dark decision to get off the train was a flop (read: death wish). There were no cabs or fine, upstanding citizens about - only people who stared at and harassed us. So we began to walk. And walk. And jog. And wheeze. And walk again.
All the while, we're calling/texting my husband and Fred's sister, Gloria, who were meeting us at the exhibition. They were still on the train, too, and it didn't look like they were going to arrive anytime soon. Please read Ryan's account here.
I Googled cab companies (insert iPhone plug - seriously, they are AMAZING and I don't care how yuppie I sound) but there was a 45- to 60-minute wait time. My iPhone told me that it was a 2.9-mile, 56-minute walk to the museum from where we were. This was around 8:10pm. Our tickets were for 8:00. By the time we would get there, the exhibit would have already closed.
Most of me accepted this and I teared up, telling Ryan to just go in and enjoy himself because by then it was a choice of wasting $40 or $80, and it'd be better for two people to see it than none. He said "okay," and that he was sorry and he loved me. There was still a tiny part of me that thought, "No, it doesn't happen this way. It can't."
What felt like an hour but was really about twenty minutes later, my phone was near battery death (how could this get any worse?) and Gloria had contacted Fred, saying that they couldn't bring themselves to go into the exhibit and that they were going to try to get a cab to come find us. Now I had TWO groups of people for whom to be sad.
We saw a cop drive by and I stopped, saying, "Maybe he'll give us a ride!" He made eye contact with me, then waved and kept driving. I wasn't sure if that meant "S'up" or "Stay there, I'll turn around and come help you" but before I could wonder much longer, the angels started to sing as a cab drove by.
I wildly hailed it and we ran across the street and jumped in. HALLELUJAH! It was about 8:35 at this point, but my heart began to beat faster as we neared the museum. I used the last juice my trusty iPhone had in it to text Ryan that we were on our way. We met Ryan and Gloria out front at 8:50, exchanged relieved hugs, and RAN into the museum. It was mostly dark and the only reason anyone was around was because prom was being held in the museum. The security guards looked at us like we were nuts for only having arrived and still thinking we were going to get in as the building closed at 9:00, but they directed us to the exhibit.
Now, imagine four flushed, sweaty, wide-eyed people frantically showing up at the entrance to the exhibition right before they were to shut down. We were greeted by a sweet lady with a British accent. She was extremely sympathetic but made no guarantees. She hesitantly said into her walkie-talkie, "Clinton? We've just had a group of four arrive..." I felt so awful. I BEGGED myself not to cry.
The kind lady (who looked like a grown up Ginny Weasley) made polite small talk with us, asking us where we were from, listening to our summary of the terrible time we had getting there, etc. Then a man who also had a British accent (they all did, so imagine that from here on out - it helps, I promise!) showed up with a big smile and...took our tickets. He explained that one of the tour guides had agreed to stay late and walk us through the first half. We thanked him repeatedly, grateful for ANYTHING at this point. He took us into a room and said, "You're gonna love this" as some clips from the Harry Potter movies began to play. When that was over, a big door opened up and a man in a long black cape holding a lantern said, "Come on, first years this way!" Once again, I had to talk myself down from bursting into tears. They were putting on this show just for us.
The first lady we'd met was around the corner, this time in a cape and holding the Sorting Hat. I muttered to Ryan, "Please don't let them sort me." I was still reeling from our trip there, close to making myself look like a blubbering idiot, and the Sorting Hat isn't exactly flattering even on a smiling face. Fred and Gloria were sorted (Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, respectively), then we met our tour guide, JD.
JD was enthusiastic and also very sympathetic to our plight. He told us that the tour would have to be quick and we were definitely okay with that, making sure he knew how thankful we were that he'd stayed for us. The tour began.
Oh, my goodness. The costumes! The props! The sets! I don't know what I'd been expecting, but this was WAY above and beyond whatever had been in my mind. Nothing was a replica. EVERYTHING was straight from the movies - and there was SO MUCH of it! Now, you're all going to hate me for two reasons:
1) There was no photography allowed so I don't have any pictures.
2) This exhibition was so wonderful that I'm making you go yourself, so I'm not giving out details of what I saw there. Trust me, it's for your own good. I once went to an exhibit that was not fun or exciting at all because by the time everyone told me what it was like, nothing was a surprise. The exhibition ends in September. I'll tell all in October if you still want to know, because I will be sad for you if you cannot go.
One thing I WILL tell you about for the purpose of knowing when it all truly turned around for me is the mandrakes. I hope you've read the Harry Potter books - this is one of the rare cases that I will state that I am TRULY sorry for you if you haven't and refuse to read them - or at least seen the movies so you know the hilarious creatures to which I am referring. In Herbology, the students have to put on earmuffs and transfer baby mandrakes into different pots, not allowing themselves to hear the screams of the upset roots. (The cries of the adults are fatal; the cries of the babies are not but are still harmful.) We weren't given earmuffs - probably because it would have required way too many pairs, or because we were running low on time - but we got to pull the mandrakes up out of their pots and hear them scream! Trust me when I say that this was SO cute that I couldn't help but laugh, and I was in good spirits from then on. Thank you, mandrakes. I'm seriously considering getting a tattoo of you. No, for real.
Can you believe it? JD ended up guiding us through the ENTIRE exhibit. Ryan heard him whisper to someone else, "That was actually fun!" We bought plenty of memorabilia at the gift store. Ryan even got me a replica of Hermione's wand because I'd had such a rough night. (Awwwwwww.) Then we were on our way.
I need to say right now that the kindness and generosity of the people at Harry Potter: the Exhibition humbles me and blows me away. Paint me all colors of cheesy, but my heart was swollen with pride at being a Harry Potter fan after what these people did for us.
Our horrible night had turned into one of the most memorable and fantastic nights EVER. And I've even got a surprise for you...
The flying car was in the lobby, not in the "No photos allowed" exhibit, so I snapped away :)
High on gratitude and satisfaction, we made our way out of the museum and saw a bus sitting in front. We hopped on and took it to the nearest train station. Were I not so excited from the thrill we'd just had, I would have been a tad more put off by this:
Our deprived-of-HP-knowledge-and-therefore-inevitable-fandom friends had been hanging out at Navy Pier. We got off the train and walked a long way (again, but this time with euphoria on our side) to meet them there. None of us had had dinner and it was after 10:00 by this time, so we were starving. We ate at none other than my favorite gimmick restaurant, Bubba Gump's.
It was the PERFECT ending to a day full of extreme lows and highs.