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THINGO BAGGINS writes: Things just have not been the same lately. No Lord of the Rings movies to look forward to, no DVD release dates, no extended versions, no new sound tracks, no new TOPPS collector cards sets, no exciting Hobbit announcement. Then, Side Show Toys announced its last LotR piece Jackson as a Corsair. It was like a huge, heavy door shut with a deep thud.
Comforting myself with Howard Shores enchanting music and the knowledge that I could enter Middle-Earth by rereading the books anytime I wanted to, I tried to persevere. Of course, the DVDs are always close at hand. Anyway, I was deep into the 12 volumes of the Lost Tales, gifts from my beloved and understanding family for Christmas and my birthday.
Then one day in early July of 2005, (July 6th to be exact) while perusing my favorite web site…theonering.net my heart leapt and the excitement was not unlike the Fellowships as they raced from the Balrog in Moria!
The article read, Light of Earendil writes: I want to let you know that there is going to be a showing of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy in Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar August 21, 2005. Chef John Bullington is preparing a menu of all 7 hobbit eating times. The link to buy tickets is not up yet, but when it goes up it will be at drafthouse.com at the South Lamar location. I hope you can get the word out.
There had been a show on TV about this movie house/restaurant and it seemed like a really cool place. You can order food right from your seat and have it delivered without missing one moment of the movie and not just popcorn and candy real yummy food and beverages. I checked out the web site and began to familiarize myself with all the links. This was just too wonderful! It was about 700 miles from where I live, but way too close to write off. I just knew I had to try and make this adventure happen!
On July ninth I called the location to see if I could get any information. A very cheerful young lady named Julie told me she would inquire about the event and call me back. I really didnt expect a call, but true to her word, she called back the next day with what information was available. Some of the tickets would go on sale online on July 22, 2005 at 5 P. M. Austin time, (4 P. M. my time). The rest would be reserved for sale at the door.
Checking the site daily became a habit to see if anything new was posted. Over the next two weeks I was tantalized and rewarded every few days! First came the news that it would actually be held at the Drafthouse Downtown (there is more than one location in Austin and even one in San Antonio).
Then came the glorious day when the menu was posted! It read:
LOTR TRILOGY with THE HOBBIT FEAST
Theater: Alamo Downtown
ALL THREE FILMS WITH FOOD PAIRING AT ALL SEVEN HOBBIT EATING TIMES!
Fresh Hens eggs, nice crispy bacon, grilled mushrooms and orange slice
Strawberries and Cream
Pan Seared Sausage and tomatoes with cheeses, cabbage and pickles
Braised spareribs with mashed potatoes, roast carrots
Baby greens with garlic black berry vinaigrette, cheese herb galette, served with tea cookies
Stewed Coney (rabbit) with taters, carrot, and leek, fresh garden herbs with crusty bread
Swirl of tomato and spinach soups wild mushroom crouton, apple pie
Soon the Event pricing was posted. It was not cheap, but far less than expected. This was how I wanted to spend some money that was safely tucked away! What a vacation this would be.
Next came the news that, Extended vs. Regular edition: The polls are in, by unanimous consent, everyone wants extended edition on all three films .
I had been lucky enough to get in on the special Trilogy Tuesday event when Return of the King came out. Now there was a real chance at this new event. I could barely contain myself! My family and coworkers were cheering me on, backing me all the way. Our youngest son offered to drive me to the event (he lives nearby) and would even let ole Mom crash at his place. My husband and I formed our own fellowship and began some tentative planning.
Toward the middle of July a new posting came on the site. The event would start at 10:30 a.m. on August 21, 2005. It also read, click on a show time to buy tickets. This link brought up a page that would soon allow purchase of the glorious tickets! I could feel the ring in my hand!
Before long I found myself checking the site several times a day in the hope of a chance, however slim, that something new would be there. As the thrilling day of purchase approached I timed myself on how many seconds it took to refresh the needed page. Since I was on vacation from work and at home, my plan was to get online at least an hour early and sit there refreshing the page at regular intervals until the as yet withheld link was posted.
Friday July 22, 2005 dawned hot and humid. After turning on my computer, I laid out my credit card, opened The Visual Dictionary of Star Wars I had been enjoying for the last several days, and donned my glasses. The plan was to read a bit and refresh the page until the link was activated and I could purchase the tickets hopefully before they ran out!
Clicking on my Internet icon, I waited with anticipation. It was still quite early about 10 a.m., but I needed to have everything up and running. My heart stood still when my Internet connection gave me an error message! Argh! I tried again. And again. AND AGAIN! I tried to calm myself. After all, there were several hours before crunch time. I tried to read. I puttered around the house. I tried the Internet connection ..NOTHING! I called my daughter to alert her that I might need for her to get on her computer for me, but alas, she wasnt home! Panic! I called my husband at work hoping he might be able to connect at the right time he was out of the office on business! I called a friend to see if I could have her standing in the wings she wasnt home! Now what?!
A call to my Internet service provider connected me to a nice young man with a heavy accent. He talked me through a few diagnostic steps. Then had me try to connect. The error message gave him the information he needed. My local server was down. It was being worked on, but they couldnt say when it would be available
but hopefully soon. But would it be soon enough?!
Off and on all morning I tried to connect. I attempted to eat a little lunch, but was drawn back into my computer room. (My daughter calls it the LotR shrine! Could it be the life size standees of the Fellowship members or the special hand made hope chest built by a cherished friend that is filled with books, collector cards, scrapbooks etc. and topped with environments, miniature swords and collector buttons? Or maybe the closet filled with LotR toys, games and figuressometimes-called dolls?)
Again I tried the connection nothing. Then suddenly about 1:30 it connected! Barely breathing I vowed to stay online to avoid losing the connection. I read email, checked the site, read the news on theonering.net, checked the site, read my Star Wars book a little, checked the site, played some Minesweeper in a window over the site and so on for the next few hours.
When 3:00 p.m. came around I started checking and refreshing the page that would have the needed link starting with fifteen-minute intervals, then ten, five and so on. At 3:50 I began refreshing every minute, then every few seconds. My heart was pounding. My chest felt tight each breath was a struggle. The tension was so thick it felt like the cold breath of a Wraith on my neck. Four oclock, 4:01, 4:02 .come on you guys activate the link before I pass out! 4:04 — BINGO! I typed as fast as I could accurately then checked the info quickly .I had to have those tickets how many other Ringers were out there frantically trying to reach the prize?! I clicked submit. THERE IT WAS!!! Receipt Your credit card has been charged. You are on the will call list at the theater.
THEY WERE MINE!!!!!!!
The precious tickets were secured! I felt like dancing about my computer room with the same obsessive delight that Gollum showed when he stole the ring back from Frodo. (But fortunately, unlike Gollum, there was no volcano looming below me.)
That night the other member of my fellowship…my husband and I sat down to make all the needed reservations: airline tickets, motels, plans for a rental car and so on. We would leave on Friday August 19 after work, fly to San Antonio, visit my son and his fiancée at their new house on Saturday, then drive to Austin Saturday evening to try and rest in preparation for the event early Sunday morning. The anticipation was mounting!
The next morning I prepared a folder to hold all the needed documentation for the trip. Into it went the printouts with the airline and motel reservations and event information. On the cover was glued a copy of the advertisement showing Frodo holding a ring filled with strawberries. It would be carried proudly on each step of our adventure.
Having checked the Alamo Drafthouse site on Saturday (the 23rd) to see if they still had the link up to buy tickets I noted that they did. Then it was a couple of days before I had a chance to get online again. On Tuesday, the 26th I checked the site and was delighted to see the note that read, THIS SHOW IS SOLD OUT. I wondered how many tickets were sold and when they had sold out.
I spent a little time online to print some maps for our trip. They werent as old or as significant as the map Bilbo had from his adventure to the Lonely Mountain, but they would surely get us there and back again.
Each day seemed to bring some new little gem. When I checked the site on July 27, this little note had been added: THIS SHOW HAS COMPLETELY SOLD OUT! BUT DONT DISMAY! WERE GOING TO TRY AND REPEAT THIS EVENT SOMETIME IN THE NEXT SIX MONTHS. WATCH THIS WEBSITE FOR THE GOOD NEWS IN THE FUTURE!!. It seemed I was not the only Ringer who needed a Tolkien fix!
In early August I spotted a posting that read: A FEW TICKETS JUST BECAME AVAILABLE 8/1 DESPITE THE EARLIER SOLD OUT POSTING! GOOD LUCK AS THEY WILL GO FAST. My first reaction was shock! I thought maybe some faithful Ringer had dropped dead or something! I couldnt imagine anyone giving up their ticket voluntarily! Soon however the event was COMPLETELY SOLD OUT! again.
A little more time browsing through the web site revealed some delightful information. It told the history of the Drafthouse, the types of special events held there and a bit on how to start your very own Drafthouse. There was also an article on, How things work at the Alamo, how and where to park, (Austin is a bustling city), and their complete menu! Yummmmmmmmmm! Even a non-Ringer (and a shutter to think that they actually exist) could have a wonderful time there and walk away a few pounds heavier!
There was an email link for questions and comments. I emailed to ask about how early to arrive at the Will Call and how difficult parking would be. It couldnt have been more than a couple of hours later that a very helpful and cordial General Manager named Karen wrote me back with all the info I needed. This Drafthouse was turning out to be all I hoped and more. The site even had a map of downtown Austin, showing ALL of the parking facilities color-coded by Private, Public, State, etc. etc. How cool is that?!
Then on a hot, humid August day (it was the10th), I found the following in my email inbox from Henri:
Hello Hobbit Feasters,
This is just a quick note to say that we realized some hobbits are more vegetarian than others and so we wanted to give you all a chance to specify if youd like to choose our veggie option instead of the menu listed on the website. Our fabulous chef, Mr. John Bullington, has put together this as an option for any non-meat eaters:
no bacon more of the other non bacon stuff
It will be a vegetarian type sausage
instead of spareribs it will be a ragout of wild mushrooms, tomatoes, roast peppers, roast garlic and shallots
instead of rabbit it will be a root vegetable stew (parsnips, turnips, celery root, carrots, rutabaga, potato)
It continued with instructions on how to email the manager if you wanted to choose this alternate menu. How Hobbitish is that! Just like Bilbo working so hard to be sure that each dwarf was served just what he wanted when they came unannounced to Bag End.
Later that same day I also heard from Tim. His email also detailed the alternate menu but included two interesting additional bits of news. The first said:
Encore show. You early ticket buyers are the lucky crowd, because demand has been incredible since the event sold out. Because of this, we have added an encore show. On November 13. Tickets for this show go on sale on Friday, August 26th at 5:00 PM. Tell your friends who missed out, because we expect this show to sell out quickly as well.
Wow-wow!!! It only goes to proveshow it and they will come—. Ringers rock!!!!
The next newsy bit sent me rushing for my credit card. They had created a limited-run
T-shirt for the show. It would have a hobbitized Bobs Big Boy on the front. (The picture showed a red shirt.) The back would read THE LORD OF THE RINGS (looking just like the title on the movies). Under that it would say, 7 MEALS TO RULE THEM ALL and under that, the alamo drafthouse hobbit feast. The link took me to www.mondotees.com where I order two shirts, one for me and one for my hubby. The article also told me that I wouldnt be charged shipping and that the shirts would be waiting for you on the day of the event. Awesome! Anyway, I had already talked myself out of showing up in my Hobbit costume.
The finals days were coming up so I submitted my request for time off from work. I knew there would be no problem even my boss knows Im a die-hard Ringer. When Towers (which I saw four times the first day in full Hobbit attire) and Return of the King came out, it was understood weeks before that I would not be at work comp time, sick leave, non-duty days (the term they use for our vacation days that are not actual holidays) or AWOL! It didnt matter Id be gone.
In the past I have been invited a few times to do a Visit from a Hobbit at the school where I work. On August 18, I again had the pleasure to share Tolkien with the seventh grade Gifted and Talented students who read The Hobbit as one of their projects. Since I am considered the resident Tolkien Authority (or Geek!) on campus, it is quite an honor and a lot of fun. Assuming my identity as Thingo Baggins, distant relative of Bilbo and Frodo, I take along the inventory list and pictures of the many things I have collected over the years. At one time I took my collection with me, but it has now grown too large to transport easily. This year I did take the binder that holds my TOPPS card collection, an Elvish dictionary, my copy of The Atlas of Middle-Earth and my frayed and well-used copy of The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth. I tell them a little about how Tolkien developed the languages before he wrote the books, then encourage questions. It never seems to fail to get their attention when I quote the inscription on the One Ring in Black Speech. I am always delighted to hear that my visits have encouraged even just one student to get deeper into Tolkiens writings.
After work that day I packed everything I could except the last minute items. I planned on going comfortable to the event. Not only would we be sitting for most of the 12 hours we would be there, but also we would be eating all day, so no tight waistlines! I also made sure all my paperwork was on hand and in order.
The day of departure finally arrived. I was going to work a half day, then go home to finish packing and print boarding passes, as well as get the house ready for our four-day absence. Looking at the clock over and over, it seemed to be standing stillnot moving at all. I wondered if the morning would ever come to an end. But eventually time to leave rolled around. I bid everyone a hearty Namarie and headed home. Later that afternoon my husband arrived and we scurried off to the airport to begin our adventure.
It was a quiet and uneventful flight fortunately. When we touched down in San Antonio I commented to my husband, Weve made it to Bree. Now to the Prancing Pony (aka La Quinta). We picked up the rental car that turned out to be a dark blue PT Cruiser, and headed for our motel. After making plans to meet our youngest son for breakfast the next morning, we went to sleep.
Breakfast turned out to be quite a treat. Our son had seen a neat little restaurant, Ginis, that is on his way to work. It was very quaint and had tea sets everywhere one looked. Bilbo would have loved it! I was instantly drawn to the menu item that stated, Gingerbread Pancakes. My husband and son both had the pecan pancakes and were delighted with them.
After we ate, we went to see the lovely new house our son and his fiancée had just moved in to. Later they took us to a little nearby historic town called Gruene (pronounced grēēn), where we met my sons future in-laws for a late lunch. It was a delightful day and brought the big event closer as the minutes ticked past.
In the evening my husband and I drove about an hour to Austin. After settling in at our second motel, we decided to take a drive to the drafthouse to get our bearings for the next day. Then back to the motel to try and sleep. Now there were just a few hours to go!
7 a.m. Sunday August 21 came quickly, and I got ready to leave just as quickly! We left the motel around 8:30 and took the short drive to downtown Austin. There were already about 15 people in line and within a few minutes the line was all the way down the block and around the corner. As we waited for the doors to open, we saw a Ranger and a lovely elf in a dark blue costume with silver ribbon woven among her long braids. There were also various Lord of the Rings themed T-shirts and several pieces of Elvish jewelry.
Finally 9:45 arrived and after a few announcements, we began the long anticipated walk into the drafthouse. A flight of stairs took us to the second floor that houses the theater/restaurant. There, we were met by a nice woman who checked my name off a list and showed us where to pick up our nifty T-shirts. Apple juice was already set out for us to enjoy. We had entered our own Barlimans.
As we entered the theater auditorium, I noticed a sign that said, Welcome Hobbits. Inside a documentary about Tolkien was playing on screen as the many excellent and admirable Hobbits settled into the seats each would occupy for the next 12 or so hours.
Hurrying about was a woman who was a remarkable replica of Samwise Gamgee. Not only was she dressed appropriately; she had a pack on her back, and carried Sting and the Phial of Galadriel. Later we learned that she was part of a Tolkien group that meets in Austin. They were gathering canned goods for a charity project. Each canned good brought the reward of a ticket to be used in drawings that would be held between movies. Anyone who had not brought canned goods could purchase tickets. Several nice Tolkien themed items had been donated by businesses in Austin, along with a gorgeous mirror made by a local artist. Her dog had torn pages from one of her books, so she used them on the mounting surrounding the mirror.
It wasnt long before the lights began to dim. The audience quieted down and began settling in. Then the long-expected party began!!! As the first hauntingly beautiful strains of Howard Shores music floated on the air and we were drawn again into Middle-Earth, a cheer of delight and applause thundered through the theater. I sighed with relief and joy we were there! It was a reality!
Within just a few minutes the aroma of delicious food began to waft ever closer accompanied by the gentle clatter of dishes. First Breakfast was on its way! We were to be graced with a new course about every hour and a half to two hours. Three courses were served during Fellowship, two during Towers, and two during Return of the King. First breakfast was not just Hens eggs. It was some of the best scrambled eggs Ive ever eaten. Light, fluffy and cooked in a generous amount of butter. There was also nice crispy bacon, a juicy wedge of orange and mushrooms. Yes mushrooms thick slices of grilled Porto Bella mushrooms! These people truly understood Hobbits and their love of mushrooms.
For the next twelve hours, the excellent staff at the Alamo Drafthouse scurried about tending to our every desire, bringing coffee and other beverages, napkins, silverware and anything else we might want. I was quite impressed with their expertise in waiting on such a large crowd so quiet and unobtrusively. They are to be commended.
Second Breakfast was a large bowl filled with cold, juicy sliced strawberries and sweet, thick cream! Interestingly, we were just finishing them when Pippin made his comment to Strider about second breakfast. A spontaneous, widespread laugh and cheer went up from the audience.
Next came Elevensies which was a tender, juicy braised sausage, grilled tomato slices, three different squares of delectable cheeses, and some sautéed cabbage with a bit of tasty pickle relish. After indulging in this third meal, I realized Id better start pacing myself better or Id never make it through four more! But it was impossible to just taste a little of this or that. The food was astonishing! Fortunately, the portions were not huge but they were definitely not skimpy either.
It wasnt long after the dishes were cleared that the lights in the theater came up and the credits from the Fellowship rolled by on screen. While people stretched, made visits to the restrooms and chatted, the first raffle began. On screen the animated version of The Hobbit played. It was now about two oclock. There were a few announcements, including the fact that they would be making some fresh popcorn available and that we could order from the dessert menu. Like we would have room! The break lasted about 30 minutes.
As The Two Towers began with Gandalfs commands to the Balrog, my husband and I made a silly decision. Being popcorn lovers who always enjoy some at every movie we attend, we ordered some and began cheerfully crunching away. It was delicious! And after all, it was afternoon, it is a wonderful movie and we like popcorn. Our error was made clear, however, when Luncheon was served only minutes after wed made all the popcorn disappear.
On the plate in front of me was the biggest sparerib I have ever seen. It was beautifully braised and the aroma was incredible. The menu that had been posted on the Internet said, mashed potatoes and I love Po ta toes. Boil em. Mash em. Stick em in a stew, Im not particular. But what lay next to the sparerib was not some lowly smashed spud. These were among the royalty of Spuddom! And to complete this coursesweet roasted carrots. But I kept the promise to myself and only had about half of the rib. However, I succumbed to the temptation of the potatoes and carrots and did not leave even a dirty spot on the plate where they had lain so regally.
About half way through The Two Towers, a gentle fragrance wrapped itself around me. It whispered, peaches. I knew it was about time for afternoon tea, but the menu had shown a salad of baby greens, tea cookies and a cheese herb galette. I was unsure as to what a galette was but was soon to find out. No mention had been made of anything peachy though.
The salad was lovely! Sweet crunchy yet tender greens with the garlic blackberry dressing. (I seem to recall that there were mushrooms too.) The galette turned out to be something like a small warm biscuit filled with soft melted cheese flavored with herbs. The fragrance I had detected was a nice hot cup of peach tea! Of course it was afternoon tea, but I hadnt really expected a cup of tea. I tasted it and downed the cookies yummmm. Im sure even Gandalf would have approved this was not just tea.
Soon Gollums song played as the lights came up and Towers came to an end. During this second break we got a really neat surprise. The Sam look-alike apparently knows a lady in England. This brilliant, talented, English lady had taken wonderful scenes from the movies and used them as a visual background to three songs. One was a love song with all the tender or heartfelt moments between Aragorn, Arwen and even Eowyn. The men in the crowd seemed to like this one best! Another was all about Gollum. But it was the third one I enjoyed the most. It was Holding Out for a Hero (sometimes known as I Need a Hero). This included all the scenes we ladies love of the heroes, especially Aragorn. The timing was incredible. Even the Argonath were there to accompany the line that goes, hes gotta be larger then life! Too bad it is not for sale.
For a brief moment, I felt almost sad when The Return of the King began. This incredible experience was two-thirds over. And sadly, since the extended version is not available in a format for theaters, we watched the regular, theatrical version. But I felt no disappointment; I was having a WONDERFUL time.
It was during this last film that we were treated, yet again, to a surprise treat. The hardworking staff was going about quietly and quickly placing a small packet in front of each participant. On closer inspection, I discovered that something had been thoughtfully and decoratively wrapped in a soft banana leaf. My husband opened his it was the chefs own version of Lembas! A few lovely, lemon flavored cookies graced each packet. How cool is that! There must be some Elvish blood cursing through Mr. Bullingtons veins.
At one point during the movie I noticed someone standing near where I was seated. I glanced over, then elbowed my husband. There, not two feet away, stood the chef that had brought this special evening to life. He watched the movie for a moment or two and then returned to make preparations for the upcoming sixth course.
The stew was served in a very appealing square bowl. I thought my sense of smell had experienced every aroma available in the preceding hours, but I was wrong. This smelled like comfort-food heaven! And the flavor wow! The meat was incredibly tender, the vegetables and mushrooms soft and tasty, but what accompanied it was equally awesome. There standing in the broth was a gigantic piece of chewy, crusty bread. Every mouthful of this stew and bread was like being hugged in a warm, cozy, fire lit Hobbit hole. The wine that we had ordered accompanied the meal splendidly.
Return of the King was in the second hour when our attendants began serving the last course. The soup was thick and rich, and the mushroom crouton was no tiny cube of crispy bread. This was a generous slice of toasted bread spread with a wild mushroom pâté. We had enjoyed mushrooms in one form or another all day! And anyone who is anyone knows that Hobbits love mushrooms. No sooner were the bowls cleared than a generous wedge of apple pie was place before me. It had a yummy crumbled topping with a flavorful filling and flaky crust.
When the movie ended the very satisfied and very full audience rang out with applause and cheers. As Bilbo had put it, This will be a night to remember! After we gathered up our belongings (which included a few extra packets of Lembas) and left the auditorium, I noticed three people seated at a little table. I soon realized that one of this company was Chef Bullington! I stopped for a moment and asked the lady seated there if they were responsible for our wonderful evening. She said that she was the chefs assistant and verified that one of the gentlemen was indeed the chef. I complimented him on the food and got to shake his hand! Wow! He seemed delighted when I told him we had come all the way from El Paso and told me that he had always wanted to do this at his home but got to do it here.
The next day my husband and I drove back to San Antonio to catch the flight home. The following day there was a neat article by Anton on theonering.net about the event. It included this wonderful bit of information: Over all the experience was very good, and for any die hard LOTR fan, something like this is a must. I would advise anyone who [lives] near Austin or can make the venture to Austin, the Alamo Drafthouse will be holding another showing in November and tickets go on sale this Friday, August 26th. I checked the drafthouses site and indeed there will be a repeat on November 13. They have tweaked the menu a little but I know for sure that the next bunch of Hobbits will have a yellow light, and a fire within; and the evening meal [will be] ready, and [they] will be expected.