Harry Potter Was Better than a Boyfriend1comment
When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is released this weekend, an era ends. After 7 books, 8 films, billions of dollars of revenue and the transformation of a single mom from Scotland into a billionaire, the battle between Harry and Voldemort will finally conclude. In full disclosure, I am a diehard Harry Potter fan. With tears streaming down my face I finished the final book, and I’m sure I’ll cry like a baby when I see this movie.
I wasn’t always a Harry Potter fan. Back in 2000, I was filling in as a babysitter for my friend to a precocious (code for obnoxious) 8 year old boy. As I put him to bed, I discovered he was slowly slogging through the fourth book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” As an avid reader, I was fairly impressed that this annoying boy with the attention span of a gnat was reading a 600+ page book. After reading a chapter with references to a Triwizarding tournament, Lord Voldemort, some guy called Mad-Eye and a whole host of things I had no clue about, this little brat begged me to read the first book. I’d been fairly snobbish about this series, thinking it was for kids and not interested in a world of wizards. But when an 8-year old asks me, no, begs me to read a book, then gets out of bed to give me his copy to read, how could I refuse? I went home that night. In 24 hours I’d finished the first book. In a week, I had finished Goblet of Fire and the addiction, love and joy of this remarkable series was fully formed. In the 11 years since, I have reread each of the books, stood in line at midnight to buy the final three books and watched all the films. But maybe my greatest memory of the Harry Potter series is the night he saved my life (okay, more like my sanity, my life is a tad exaggerated, but it felt like a lifesaver) and did more for me than a boyfriend.
Several years ago, I was invited to a shotgun wedding in Vegas. It was a last minute wedding of an old high school friend. Since most LA people go to Vegas on a whim, why not a wedding? I’m not the biggest Las Vegas fan, but the chance to go to a friend’s wedding and seeing her married by an Elvis impersonator, inside a casino chapel, walking down the aisle in her mother’s wedding dress (with serious alterations) while 6 months pregnant was too much to pass up. I was single at the time, so I begged Megan to be my date. We’ve been through a lot together, surely we could add a shotgun Vegas wedding to the list. It’s a 4-hour drive to Vegas, sometimes around 5 with traffic. The weekend, despite it’s odd nature, was fine, but as we checked out of our hotel on Sunday, the hotel clerk warned us that the road to Los Angeles was closed due to snow. This sounded insane to me. When did the Nevada desert and balmy Southern California get snow? Over a mountain peak in November, during the weekend I went to a shotgun wedding. And like most roads to hell, there is only one in and out of Vegas, the I-15.
Taking the advice of the hotel clerk, we spent the day in Las Vegas waiting for the roads to clear. A little shopping, a little gambling, no problem. Around 6pm, we checked back with the hotel. This was pre-smartphone days, so all we had was the word of a Tropicana hotel clerk. He informed us that the roads were open, and we were good to go. We hit the road, decided to catch dinner in Barstow (the halfway point between LA and Vegas), and thought we’d be home by about 11pm. 30 minutes outside of the city, everything changed. It had started to snow in the mountains again. Due to the buildup of snow, the I-15 had been shutdown. Not officially shutdown, but all traffic was stopped both ways as they cleared the snow from the roads. Sadly, this information came to thousands of drivers exiting Las Vegas in bumper to bumper traffic and no way to turn around. On a two-lane highway with a desert surrounding you, there is one choice when confronted with mile-long traffic. Sitting in it. As with most traffic situations, you sit there annoyed and frustrated, but convinced “they” are doing everything they can to fix it and it slowly but surely, it will open up. At this point, we were up in the mountains, so the ground outside was covered a light covering of snow. We were averaging 4 miles per hour. Cars were turning themselves off to save gas, thus leaving us sitting in a parked car on the highway in cold weather. Especially cold for two women who packed for a wedding and some Vegas partying. Basically my bag held high heels and little dresses and the jeans and t-shirt I was currently wearing. After about 5 hours on the road, we’d only traveled an additional 10-15 miles from when we hit the traffic. We were cold, hungry, irritated and tired. Megan had called her boyfriend at the time who had heard our desperate pleas (more like bitching and whining) and was valiantly trying to book us into a hotel/casino along the I-15. Due to our continued bad luck, they were all completely booked. Really? Yes. It turned out that it didn’t matter that there were no rooms at the inns anyway… we couldn’t get off the freeway. We weren’t moving enough to make it to an offramp.
Around midnight, the strong bonds that hold our friendship began to fray. Six hours of no food and exhaustion was taking it’s toll. We decided to take turns ‘driving’, aka sitting behind the wheel, occasionally easing your foot off the brake enough to go a few inches. Each would be on a 2-hour shift while the other tried to sleep. A good plan, but there wasn’t any food or water and things were starting to feel desperate. We started digging around the trunk to see what we could find. Our conversation started to go like this:
Megan: “You don’t have any bottled water or powerbars?”
Claudia: “No, why would I have powerbars in my trunk?”
Megan: “I don’t know. You work out. I thought you might keep some water back here or something.”
We were starting to crack. I found an old, thin blanket in the trunk that was probably on it’s way to goodwill, and there, in a box, was the complete CD set of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” It had been Megan’s (she’s a big fan of audiobooks) and she’d loaned it to me months prior. We’d both read the book (more than once) and listened to the CD’s already, but it didn’t matter. Like an oasis in the desert, here was Harry Potter to take our minds off the horrible, endless night.
As our car stayed parked on the I-15 and maybe dribbled a mile or so over the course of our 2 hour shift, I happily listened to Harry, Hermione and Ron combat Professor Umbridge (still in my opinion one of the best villians ever), create Dumbledore’s Army and the general angst of 15-year old Harry. I can’t tell you what a relief this was. I could sit there in the darkness and listen to the amazing Jim Dale (who reads every character and to say he’s talented is an understatement) reenact this entire book. I didn’t mind as much that this weekend jaunt to Las Vegas had turned into the most hellish drive home ever. I didn’t mind as much that I was starving while sitting in my Ford Focus with my arms pulled in through the sleeves of my t-shirt wrapped around my body to create some heat (the sleep shift in the back seat got the blanket). And as I sat there, I thanked God that JK Rowling’s books require over 20 CD’s for the complete unabridged version. We took our 2 hour shifts (decidedly less miserable), wondering if we’ve ever get to Los Angeles. By 5am the roads started to move in earnest, and we were actually listening to the book on cd while driving, no longer just sitting still in the darkness. We got home about 8am in the morning. Exhausted, disshelved and never wanting to go back to Las Vegas, Megan and I stumbled into our beds. Though a 15-hour drive home from Las Vegas is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, I still thank Harry Potter and JK Rowling for making it bearable. Because where a real life boyfriend had tried to help; wonderful, fictional Harry Potter actually had. That’s right, Harry Potter saved the day, and possibly our friendship.
Listen to an excerpt of Jim Dale reading from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because as LA prepares for the shutting down of the 405 (Carmageddon) on the same weekend as the release of Deathly Hallows Part II, I’m getting a little nervous. I highly recommend purchasing some Harry Potter CD’s.