Many things about The Witching Hour were excellent; of particular interest to me was the Quidditch, for which I co-ordinated the referees and the equipment. The refs were excellent in quality, though disappointingly few in quantity; the largest and upmost of "big up"s to Sarah, Lee, Jeremy and Colin, plus all the Snitch-movers. Quidditch was definitely a more interesting game here than it was at Nimbus, and our Quidditch programme was about as cool as the one at Nimbus (the shirts, the House tournament and the general publicity made up for the absence of banners, commentators and other fun stuff that the Nimbus ballroom atmosphere permitted). More people got to enjoy Quidditch, and I think the players did enjoy it at least as much, probably more.
It's highly relevant that we played outdoors on Salem Common, through weather that wouldn't have seemed out of place in the recent Prisoner of Azkaban movie and we pounded the pitch to muddy smithereens. Not the most conducive of weather towards fine passing moves and assured ball-handling, but tons and tons of fun - and somehow letting yourself go to play a fantasy sport from a series of books went quite well with playing as hard as you can in mud, an opportunity which people get far too infrequently. On the downside, I picked up a sore throat and a gloopy nose from being out in the rain - albeit under an umbrella - all day, which rather put a dampener on the rest of proceedings. I suspect that this was not too uncommon. There was no good alternative. In other news, this year's quests were really solid and well-executed - clearly far better than the one I struggled to put on at Nimbus.
There were tons of lovely folk there, some I hadn't seen for far too long, others I enjoyed getting to meet for the first time, and fond thoughts of friends who couldn't be there this time. I felt introverted, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable, at several points during the events, and unfortunately freaked out somewhat in the charged atmosphere of the Hallowe'en Ball. Fortunately this was quiet and out of the sight of most, but unfortunately it seriously spoiled a night to which Meg had really been looking forward, about which I feel ashamed and sorry. (Next time I'll propose an Internet Introverts "Room of Requirement" where people can bring their own laptops and sit down quietly in a room, not talking to each other - possibly except through contributing to a common LJ post. The silence - except for possibly the occasional Instant Messenger bloip - and the lack of pressure will be comforting.)
There were a number of issues that made the event rather more stressful and challenging than it might have been, as well as unexpectedly expensive. Many of these were out of the control of the very hard-working organisers (to whom grateful thanks and massive fanworship are due) not least the weather. However, there were enough aspects which were ill-conceived that the intangibles made the overall effect of the event for me rather less than the sum of its parts. On balance, I'm glad I went, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been involved as a volunteer, so I could properly enjoy the wonderful environment in which to play in so many ways. I don't feel like going into it any further than that.
One funny thing that happened on the first day - Wednesday's volunteer registration, training and set-up session - was that we stopped at a small Pizza Hut on the main road into Salem. We went in to find probably ten of the twelve booths occupied by parties of schoolkids. There were only two apparent servers on duty and it quickly became clear that this was a school party all enjoying the all-you-can-eat pizza and salad bar buffet. Every time a pizza was placed on the buffet, the hordes dashed out of their seats and set upon it like eagles on a carcass. The highly harassed staff soon dropped all their previous plans and just concentrated on producing as many cheese and tomato pizzas as possible, only for all eight booths to rush out more or less at the same time. (Most of them even paid, which impressed the staff.) Apparently this wasn't a regular occurrence, which is why the staff were unprepared.
Mind you, we've enjoyed our own little slices of all-you-can-eat overindulgence, particularly at a strange and wonderful restaurant called Ryan's which, for one fixed price, can serve you a wonderfully varied meal. I had one cup of soup, one slice of (comfortingly cheap) pizza, one scoop of chicken stir-fry, one ladle of fried potatoes, one taco, one rather dull plate of salad, one spattering of okra, one plate with strawberry jelly, artificial cream, fruit and samples of three different puddingy desserts - plus a make-your-own-sundae station which points out just how bush league the British Pizza Hut's "Ice Cream Factory" is. By and large the quality of the food was highly comforting and mostly mediocre. I also bought Meg a cup containing half a (U.S.) gallon of Coca-Cola from a gas station, just because I could, and also because pumped Coca-Cola is now evidently cheaper than petrol. (Aren't you meant to be able to run a car on the sugars in Coke at a pinch?)
Happily, the shift swaps which meant that there was an unusually long gap between my last visit Stateside and this one mean that there won't be very long at all until my next visit, so I'll get to experience the Goblet of Fire movie and Thanksgiving in good company. Speaking of which, Meg's mother does wonderful sauteed, breaded okra; it has the closest consistency I've yet found in nature to that of tofu. To me, that's a good thing.
Meg is doing the USA Today crossword and a sudoku puzzle in the seat next to me; we're lucky even to be in flight, as inclement weather has closed Chicago and Denver airports, plus the many and varied connecting flights therefrom, and set so many other planes out of position that there have had to be cancellations across the board. Seems that the US low-cost airlines are just as insistent as the British ones on limiting their liability in case of cancellation to "a seat on the next available flight", paying no heed as to whether this will inconvenience travellers and force them to stay overnight out-of-town at their own expense. Fingers crossed that this fate hasn't befallen too many of you.