Wednesday, September 26, 2001
Chicago, Illinois, Thursday September 20th - Sunday September 23rd 2001

By Eledhwen, and starring in alphabetical order: Corsair of Umbar, Mrs Corsair, Daisy Took, Draupne, Eledhwen, Gaffer, Mrs Gaffer, Glaze, Hengist, Kyriel, Nymaz, Patty, Mr Patty, Pteppic and Summer’s End.

It all began sometime last year, when someone suggested we should all meet up. Chicago was mentioned. The organisation began, and finally on a lovely September day the plans came to fruition.

The first Tornado to arrive in the Windy City was Draupne, followed the next day by Kyriel, Pteppic and myself. We met at Chicago O’Hare with excited hugs and heavy bags and hurried into downtown to find Draupne at the youth hostel. This was easy. Getting keys and a room together was not. Beginning with a misunderstanding over room numbers, leading into keys that didn’t work and a room that was all male, we succeeded in completely confusing the poor receptionist. However eventually we did get a room, all the keys did work, and we set off to the library to find a computer and let the other partygoers we’d arrived safely.

Dinner, deep dish Chicago pizza, began to erode away my voice through laughing and talking far too much. The conversation moved easily from one subject to another, halting at one point on the pronunciation of ‘Smaug’, at another on the unusual beliefs of the Icelandic people, and so on and so forth.

Friday morning saw us up and about and looking for breakfast, Kyriel’s search for bagels finally ending in muffins for all back at the hostel; unqualified success for the two members of B.R.A., the aim of which is to ban bagels. By this stage comparisons between the comments from guidebooks, stereotypes and the reality of genuine Americans were being made by the Europeans in the party - having discovered that our friends across the pond apparently need a 50cm radius of personal space, we concentrated on making poor Kyriel feel uncomfortable by invading hers. (Draupne had read this interesting fact in a guidebook. We decided it was hopelessly inaccurate.)

Walking along by the utterly beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Michigan we carried on laughing and getting to know each other and taking photos; and my voice carried on getting croakier and croakier … Somehow the aim of the walk, Navy Pier, didn’t seem to be getting any bigger - but we made it eventually and settled down for a seafood lunch where the waitress definitely took a shine to Pteppic and invaded his personal space by patting him on the head. During lunch and the daiquiris accompanying it Kyriel astonished us all by revealing her talents as a walking encyclopaedia of eighties music - no classic stumped her. A visit to the stained glass museum proved … well, interesting, at least, and several of the windows could be related to Tolkien. With a little imagination. Before leaving the pier we went on the ferris wheel (decorated with bits of chewing gum, lovely), and I realised for the first time just how big Chicago is.

By now we were all a little tired and opted for going to check in at our hotel and resting before going to Glaze’s for the evening party. My voice was fast disappearing with no apparent signs of returning soon. Shortly before Kyriel and I were due to leave, early in order to help Glaze set up, Hengist rang up from the lobby to check he could come with us, and we set off together. Union Station was chaotic. The information Kyriel had been given was decidedly at odds with what we could see, and running helplessly from one track to another we eventually got on a train which chugged slowly past varying Chicago suburbs until we reached our destination - which turned out to be two stops too far, and a cab took us to Glaze’s. Once we’d found the right door The Password was demanded from inside. Kyriel responded with a hearty cry of “Mellon!” and Glaze appeared to let us in, beer in hand.

It turned out Patty and Mr Patty, Pteppic and Draupne had already got there, and Patty demonstrated the impossibility of playing the Guessing Game by launching herself at Kyriel with a cry of “You must be Kyriel!” The party guests and hobbit-sized portions of provisions began to roll in - that is, not that many people and LOTS of food). Corsair of Umbar arrived with Mrs Corsair and astounded everyone by greeting us in fluent, elegant Elvish. Some of us went on a quick ice-cream and Kahlua run. Daisy Took and her nephew Nymaz arrived next with the Bakshi video, demolishing everyone’s hopes of watching Monty Python instead. Oh well. And last but not least Summer’s End, leaving her dogs in the car, came, and the party was complete.

Chicken having been collected by Mr Patty and Mrs Corsair (thanks!) we settled down to watch the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. It was the first time I’d had the (mis)fortune to see this work of art, and it wasn’t long before I was laughing and groaning and squeaking through my sore throat so hard I couldn’t eat. Frodo’s dance of glee at Gandalf’s arrival, the Balrog’s uncanny resemblance to King Kong, and not least Aragorn’s lack of trousers (or pants if you’re American, which puts a whole new perspective on it), nothing escaped the Tornadoes’ expert scrutiny. Cries of “what!” and “eh?” were frequent.

Halfway through Gaffer and Mrs Gaffer arrived after being held up, and when the torture video finally ended we were able to talk to them over ice-cream and the cake Summer’s End had brought, together with a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ and burnt fingers for Glaze and Kyriel who lit the candles. Presents of handmade friendship bracelets were handed out by Kyriel and tied on with exclamations of delight. The prolonged photo shoot over (it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t find the self-timer setting on my camera …) we left Glaze with mountains of food and drink for a well-earned night’s rest back at the hotel.

Saturday began late with lunch at Bubba Gump’s on Navy Pier. (“Run, Frodo, run!”) This was our last chance to see the Gaffers before they went home, and we had a lovely, if all too short, meal - and drinks; mine was a magratita. Yet another great waiter who seemed to like Kyriel best … Food was followed by a spot of culture at the Art Institute. Everyone found something to their taste - Hengist the sword collection, Nymaz the armour. Patty discovered a painting of the Elves awakening at Cuiviénen and we were perturbed by the Anthromorphic Tower. Following two hours of intense art-ingestion, something more solid was required and we retired to Baskin & Robbins for ice-cream - in hindsight a BIG mistake.

Dinner was at Jia’s, recommended by Blue Wizard and booked by Corsair who was waiting for us. Choosing what to have was difficult. Daisy took our minds off the decisions by handing out programmes she had made and we all signed each other’s. A tangible memento of people who before now were only virtual. Interestingly enough, many of us commented - or, in my case, croaked - that they never thought they would be someone who would go and meet people they’d met online. Toasts were made to TheOneRing.Net, to Tolkien and Peter Jackson, and to absent friends. We really did miss those who couldn’t make it.

Eventually and wrenchingly we left the restaurant and bade farewell to Corsair and his wife. It had been only 24 hours since we had met them for the first time; yet it was like saying goodbye to really old friends. Sniff. The next morning saw more, similar goodbyes, first to Kyriel and Daisy Took as they hurried off to the airport, leaving Draupne and I still in pyjamas. After breakfast (for which Pteppic was late …) it was time to say goodbye to the Pattys and Hengist with promises to meet again. Draupne and Pteppic and I wandered along State Street in the pouring rain to Borders and examined the various Tolkien publications. And there’s a lot of them around at the moment! Then it was time to get the El to O’Hare, leaving Draupne at the penultimate stop so she could return to Chicago to leave later on. Pteppic and I ended up saying goodbye twice, finally splitting up after the security checks.

On the flight home I wrote this and watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail and thought of all my new friends who are at the same time old friends. I wouldn’t have missed the Long Expected Party for anything. Those who organised it did an utterly incredible job and deserve all out thanks. Thanks, guys! The next general party will probably be in Washington D.C. (not counting regional premiere gatherings). Make sure you’re there!