I'm one of those weird people whose emotions are most loudly expressed when they range between a 4 and 7 on a 10-point Likert-type scale, meaning that if something is vaguely unfortunate (a 4 out of 10) or relatively exciting (a 7 out of 10), chances are I'll react as if I'm the most miserable or most ecstatic person on earth.
I know it's weird. Enthusiasm, animation, craziness, I don't know what to call it. But because about 19 out of 20 days necessitate emotions in the 4-to-7 range, it keeps life exciting.
As a kid, I was infatuated with Barney.
Yeah, one of those kids.
And when my parents took me to see a life-size Barney (i.e., man in a Barney suit) at a local fair, they expected the reaction that even at three years of age was expected from little Jessica: over-the-top bubbly excitement.
But I stood there, lips pressed together, eyebrows furrowed, staring up at this six-foot Barney with wide eyes.
I wasn't scared. Mannequins could send me screaming out of JC Penney's (and let's not even talk about escalators), but right then, this creepy-ass Barney suit wasn't even remotely scary.
I was elated. It was like an out-of-body Barney experience. Absolutely an 8 out of my 10-point emotion scale.
And when my happiness gets to the 8 or 9 range, I shut down. The world cannot understand my elation, and for risk of exploding from feverish exhilaration, my mind knows no better way to control myself than to just stand as if petrified.
Before I explain the relevance of those last few paragraphs, let me backtrack a bit.
So as some of you may know from my Facebook photos, I had the insanely lucky chance to tour the Harry Potter (Warner Bros.) Studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. Cora, bless her soul, refreshed the ticket page between 40 and 50 times a day to score tickets.
For those who may not know, scoring tickets to this studio tour is near impossible if within a one-month window. I write this on August 6, and the soonest available single adult ticket is August 25.
And so at 2:00 in the afternoon I was to be found standing at a bus stop off London Road (a misleading name; it's smack-dab in the middle of St. Albans and, from what I can tell, certainly wouldn't be a good route for the London-bound among us). I was waiting for a 2:22 bus -- the 724 Greenline -- that would take me to Watford, not far from Leavesden.
Unless you're Ryan or my father, you might be wondering why on earth I arrived at that bus stop 22 minutes early. As unparanoid as I am about typical arrival times (I have no problem arriving 5 minutes early, rather than 30), this was my only chance at getting to the studios in time for my 4 p.m. tour. If I missed this bus, I was either missing the tour or forking up £20 ($27) for a one-way taxi.
Let me tell you the way my mind works:
$27 is a week's worth of groceries, two meals out, a pair of nice heels from Target, or two dresses and a blouse from Ross.
It's a helluva lot of money.
At 2:20, a young woman sprinted up to me, asked if I could hold the bus, and ran into a nearby convenience store.
If you think I'm going to run the risk of being left behind because the bus driver doesn't want to wait for your miniature shopping spree, you have no idea what you're dealing with.
But even as I called after her that the bus would be here any minute, she vanished into the Morrison Local.
Despite the early hour, it started to grow dark -- the bright skies clouded over, and I felt the slightest hint of raindrops on my shoulders and feet.
The young woman reappeared.
It was 2:25.
The bus was late.
We started to talk -- a conversation first spurred on by her blatant statement that I "looked Celtic", and question of whether I was visiting from Scotland for the week.
And then our topic switched to America, jobs, St. Albans, research, and the downsides of living in a technology dependent society.
And then it was 2:45.
The young woman shook her head, let out a tsk of woe, and informed me that I must be unlucky -- because after taking this bus twice a day every day for the last two years, it had never been so late.
In all seriousness, is there a saint for travel and what did I do to piss him off so badly?
By 2:55, I knew that the 2:22 bus simply wasn't going to come, which left only the 3:22 bus -- a bus that would get me to the studios a full 45 minutes late.
I didn't have time to find a taxi (because even after a week here, I haven't seen a single taxi in the town). So that left me standing at a bus stop more than five miles away from the studios -- a trek that didn't guarantee sidewalks, cut through neighborhoods and bike paths, and would require an hour of speed-walking (almost jogging) to get me there in time.
With a goodbye and not a single glance back, I left the bus stop and just started walking. I'd taken a series of screenshots of the bus route, which became my sole reference point as I made my way through Hertfordshire. I had barely made it out of St. Albans city limits before the slight sprinkle became a downright pour. And because I've grown accustomed to desert climates, I sometimes assume that the rest of the world experiences three days of rain a year, too.
Umbrella? Sure. A nice Heineken green one.
In my backpack...in my hotel room.
And so my jog turned into an outright run for much of that trek as I darted from tree to tree, trying to stay out of the rain as I made my way to Leavesden.
If you think I was going to give up my nonrefundable $75 tickets to see the -- the -- Harry Potter studios because of rain and nonexistent taxis, you clearly don't know me very well.
I arrived on the far north side of the studio compound with 10 minutes to spare, and because Leavesden was once an aircraft production compound during WWII, you can imagine how large this place is.
The studio tour entrance?
Which had me trekking in knee-high weeds along the side of an eight-foot barbed wire-topped fence, staring wistfully at the compound so close and yet so far.
By the time I arrived at the studio gate, I must have looked like an alley cat that had weathered at least two hurricanes and a mudslide. One of the security guards at the front gate gave me an incredulous look and moved around the line of cars waiting for entrance to walk toward me. He gave me a once-over and asked in a nonplussed voice, "Where did you walk here from?"
Still huffing and puffing from my run, I managed a hoarse, "St. Albans."
"St. -- St. Albans? You walked here from St. Albans?"
By this point I had neither the time nor the patience to dwell on my stupidity and staunch hatred of the Greenline bus system. I'd started to rummage through my purse for my entrance ticket, but the guard stopped me with a mumbled "I don't need to see your ticket, just get inside."
And thus began my tour of the place where the book series that utterly shaped my childhood and teenage years became a reality, where page was transformed to screen. Leavesden Studios houses virtually every interior you see in the movies, including Gryffindor common room, Gryffindor dormitories, the Ministry of Magic, the Burrow, Dumbledore's office, Hogwarts classrooms, the Great Hall, Hagrid's Hut, #4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, Alfonso Cuarón's crooked bridge to the distant Hogwarts grounds, the Potters' cottage in Godric's Hollow, the Leaky Cauldron, Gringott's, Diagon Alley, and so many more.
And then there are props, costumes, characters, masks, animatronic creatures, concept sketches, white card models, and everything else needed to construct what we now know of as the Harry Potter films.
So let's get back to that Barney experience.
I think I -- and everyone else -- expected me to be bouncing off the walls for the three hours that I spent there. Never in my life have I met a more avid Potter fan (and I won't go into details to prove this for fear of embarrassing myself, but let's just say the evidence is extensive)...so shouldn't it be the case that such a momentous day would necessitate an insanely bubbly, enthusiastic, overwhelmingly happy response?
If Barney was an 8-out-of-10 experience, this was a 9.5.
And I don't think I so much as cracked a smile during my whole time there. I was too happy for that. My lips were again pursed, my eyebrows furrowed, and my mind resolutely focused on each and every detail around me. It was an unforgettable experience.
I think I unnerved Ryan when he asked me how it went, being the guy who knows my overly enthusiastic responses (to pretty much everything) better than anyone. So when I looked him in the eye and said in an emotionless voice that it was an incredible experience, he truly knew that it was everything anyone could have dreamed.
A question I've received from many people: Was the walk worth it?
You have no idea.