The Gathering meant many things to many people. For some, it meant a trip to America (some for the first time, even). For some it was an opportunity to visit a movie set and meet Dean Devlin. For a few, it was a chance to finally meet the people they had been talking to online for well over a year. And for others it was a nice conglomeration of all of the above.
This is the account of the Lone (Gun)man, in a group of ten people, I was the only guy. :] (Capt'n, the dilithium crystals can't get enough power to the estrogen shields!)
They call me Ungus. Fungus M. Ungus. They also call me Mark. Well, except for Jennifer. She called me Fungus the entire time.
I actually arrived October 23rd (1999). Two days before everyone else. Aside from the fact that I REALLY needed a vacation (I worked for the post office at the time), I had a special reason to go. That reason was Leslie. She was, for all intents and purposes, "hosting" our little multi-national get-together. She lives in North Carolina, and the set visit to The Patriot was in Charleston, South Carolina.
Going a couple of days early was really good. See, despite my glowing online personality :], I'm very shy in person (more self-conscious than anything). So going early helped me to get aclimated to my surroundings, and to Leslie, whom I love most dearly (and professed my love just a scant 2 months earlier). So there were obvious heebie-jeebies to overcome, which we did. Little did we know how valuable that would be later, when we met some of the other 'Holics. :Þ
October 25th (Monday)
This was the "Day of Arrival". Everybody else except for Kay and Susan were to arrive this day. We first had to go to the Greyhound station to pick up Jennifer, who promptly called me Fungus and told me how short I was. Next was Sheri. She was flying in (and boy were her arms... nevermind :] ). So the three of us, Leslie, Jennifer and myself went to the airport to await Sheri's arrival. Sheri came in, a touch late. No biggie. She was the last off the plane, and we all hugged. Then she told me how short she was. My ego finally got the hint. Up until this day, I thought I was 5 foot 8 inches. Finally I realized I was closer to 5 foot 6. Oh well, can't win 'em all...
The German ladies, Tina, Andrea, Bianca, Michaela, and Kati weren't due in for another 6-7 hours (Sheri got in about 3:15pm, the German girls weren't due in until 9:40pm). Well, needless to say we were exhausted, so Leslie's father took just Leslie and they picked up the ladies. That night, Sheri tried to get Jennifer and I to watch Moon 44 , and some more of The Visitor . I fell asleep during both of them. Oh well...
October 26th (Tuesday)
We didn't do anything in particular. We spent the time getting to know each other, hanging out, having lunch at Schlotsky's (gotta love a place where the foyer is stacked floor to ceiling with industrial sized cans of jalapeno's!). We were planning for our trip over the next few days, to Chincoteague island to see the not-so-little ponies. :]
October 27th (Wednesday)
We started out fairly early (about 10am) by promptly getting lunch. :] Then we started our trek northward, towards Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Remember the book "Mistie", about the horsie? That was a Chincoteague pony. What puzzles me in retrospect, is that it took us nearly 10 hours to get there, including a meal break, yet when I went back down to NC last year, we went the same route and it only took maybe half that time from that same area. Anyways... We had borrowed a 15 passenger van from one of Leslie's friends. But still, it got a little uncomfy after awhile (for me at least, because the seating arrangements were: Sheri driving, Kati in the front passenger seat, then Jennifer, Leslie and I in the next set of seats, then Tina and Andrea, then Bianca and Michaela). But we made it fine.
It was a rather brisk night, as a few of us walked from the hotel to a nice little restaurant to get dinner. See, it was about 9:30pm, and EVERYTHING was closed. :] Our walk kept getting further, as we tried to find a place that was open (we did go into one place that sold just about everything, but just a warning: Never buy your food from a place that also sells live bait).
October 28th (Thursday)
My compliments to Sheri, as she picked a WONDERFUL hotel! The price was right, and the location was perfect. We were just coming at the beginning of the off-season, so we got a better rate, but there were still some ponies around (and some right in a little barnyard next to the hotel!). We got up fairly early and fed the ponies (there are pics of that in the image gallery). I made friends with a couple of geese. I had a bunch of quarters, which was good considering the feed machine only took quarters. Only thing was, I kept filling up cups for the girls to feed the ponies, and by the time I ran out of quarters and went to join them, they had used up all the feed!
We went on a nice little tour of the island, not just the 'scenic' area, but also the tourist trap that it is. We had a nice lunch at a seafood place. I had a softshelled crab sandwhich. It was tasty, but texturally, it was rather...unique (they batter dip the entire crab, after removing only it's genitalia [supposed to be very bitter tasting] and then fry it, and put it on a roll). My hotel room was shared by Jennifer and Sheri (figures, the only guy with a bunch of women, and I get the room with the married one and the celibate one. :Þ
Sheri and Jennifer decided to get up early and take a walk around the entire island! It's not that big, but still, it's big enough! She got some wonderful photos on her nice camera, some of which will be added soon to the image galleries. So we spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon trying to find a place that actually served lunch! (most of the local places were dinner eateries). Finally we found one, and had a nice lunch, then off we went! We went on the huge bridge spanning the bay in Virginia (it's nearly 5 miles long!). In the future, when I moved down to NC, we'd take that same path, and stop to eat at the restaurant, and view the gift shop, both of which I'd missed the first time there).
God was with us on that trip, because Sheri was exhausted about halfway through it from the early wake up and walk. We pulled into a parking lot, and Jennifer took a turn behind the wheel. We were blessed, because just about all of us sacked out, yet Jennifer and Sheri, who I'm sure were more tired than any of us, managed to get us home safely. We made it in about about 9:30pm, and pretty much went straight to bed. We had another big trip tomorrow.
October 29th (Friday)
Today was our trip to Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn't the same length as the trip to Chincoteague, thankfully. With all the travelling around by van, it was taking it's toll on some people, but still we perservered because it was worth it! This trip was only about 6 hours. We had reservations at the same hotel that some of the crew members for Centropolis were staying at.
When we got there, we were waiting for three friends, Kay, Susan and Anna Teresa. Unfortunately, Anna Teresa never showed, later we found out she was sick :(. But Leslie and I were waiting in the lobby, and Kay walks in! Later on, I went back to the lobby to see if Susan checked in. She had, and they called to announce that I was arriving. Susan didn't pick up (she told me later that she had, but you have to hit a button to receive the call, and there were just too many of them :] ).
So our little band was more or less complete. Sheri had called (or received a call from) Rachel, Dean Devlin's assistant, and our main co-ordinator/go between. Things were all set.
October 30th (Saturday)
We got up, and met in the lobby. I went and got Susan, and she met us down there. We had a nice breakfast together. When we went outside, we met Rachel. Centropolis had sent two roomy vans to pick us up, as well as a translator lady for the German girls! We were driven off to a secret location and not allowed to bring cameras. The translator did have a digital camera, and only she was allowed to take pics on set. Some of them are in the gallery.
We spent part of the day on the set. It was fun and interesting! They were stacking bottled water cases in the prop stockade (to which I had to say, "For meals, the prisoners will only get bread and bottled water!" Okay, you had to be there...).
We met Leon Rippy (what a blessed man he is!), and Jason Issacs. Mel was off that day (figures). We got special passes from Centropolis, which Dean signed for us. :] (Mine is special, it also has Rachel's "R" and some spittle as she tested the marker on mine. :]) We also met Roland, and we all thought Bianca was going to burst. But fortunately, she didn't :].
We even got to have lunch with the rest of the cast and crew. It was a great experience. After lunch, we got to tour one of the houses in the fort that were built for the movie, then they took us on a tour of other sites they used in filming. One of the more interesting ones, was a little town with a church. The town had maybe three buildings, but in the movie, they used CG to add a lot more, making it look active. Also, the church we were in was burned down a week later. It's pretty neat to see a movie and go "I was in there!". Then they took us back to the hotel, and our driver got lost, so we wound up taking the scenic route back. :]
October 31st (Sunday)
We got up early, still brimming with excitement from the previous day. Leslie wanted to go to All Nations Church, so Kay took Leslie and myself. It was a wonderful (and rather long) service (we were there over 3 hours, and when we had to go, they didn't look like they were going to be stopping anytime soon!). Sheri took the others on a little tour of some of the colonial villages (some of which we saw during the tour the day before). We met back at the hotel, and headed on back to Leslie's house. Kay came with us, but we had to say goodbye to Susan, who was planning on staying at the hotel an extra day or two, then going back to her home.
November 1st (Monday)
Today was a day of relaxation, and bonding. There was a minor incident that morning, that I was not privvy to (since I slept in Leslie's mom's office, I wasn't awoken by the others, so I had to wake up on my own), but it was quickly resolved. We went out for lunch, and went to a mall. It was nice. We seperated into groups, Leslie and I, Sheri and Jennifer, Bianca and Michaela, and Tina, Andrea and Kati. Leslie and I went into some very nice museum stores, and a few other places. We were taking a break on a bench, overlooking the ground floor when Sheri and Jennifer came by. Jennifer felt the need to comment on the thin spot on the top of my head. Yes, I'm a male. Yes, receeding hairlines/baldness are fairly common in my family. :]
But alas, this was also the day that most of the people were leaving. :( So after the mall, when Bianca and Michaela came back with tons of stuff (we thought they'd need a couple of extra plane tickets just for the stuff they bought. :] Michaela told us, it's because things like Levi's jeans, that we take for granted over here at 30 bucks a pop, go for like 100 dollars american in Germany! Almost impossible to buy), we took the German ladies to the airport. We hugged a lot. Kati didn't want to leave. :| But they left, and Sheri left (I *think* Sheri actually left first, I don't remember though...). Jennifer wasn't scheduled to leave until the 2nd, and I wasn't scheduled to leave until the the 4th.
November 2nd (Tuesday)
We went to the North Carolina Museum of Art, before taking Jennifer to the bus depot. We saw some interesting modern
crap art. We waited with Jennifer at the bus depot and talked a little bit, before her bus came. We all hugged each other. For all intents and purposes, the Gathering was now officially over.
Leslie and I spent the next day and a half talking, and reflecting on events. Then Thursday, the 4th came. It was the saddest day of my life, having to leave her. Even the stewardess on the plane asked me, "Did you leave her crying at the terminal?" But, I did get to see her again in January 2000, and at the end of March 2000, I moved down to North Carolina!
The Gathering was one of (if not THE) best experiences of my life. Being the only guy there, I felt 'obligated' to make sure that everyone else was having as fun a time as possible. I can't say if I succeeded or not (only they can), but I know I had a most wonderful time.
We would love to put together another Gathering, and have tried a couple of times, but getting everyone's schedule to match up is difficult. There were a lot of great friends that couldn't make the first one, but have vowed to make the next one, no matter what.
I know I, for one, would like to see it happen. And it will... someday...