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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 3: The Big Meetup

I got my first scare at Boone early.

We drove in on roads so narrow and winding they could have been transplanted from England. The curves of the landcape dictated the route in true old world fashion, meaning that we couldn't see too far ahead before the road twisted off round another hill. Coupled with the fact that this wasn't a particularly main road meant that we'd often be the only car visible. Until, of course, someone sped round the corner and headed towards us on the wrong side of the road...

By the end of my trip, I'd just about stopped instinctively cringing about that.

The second scare came at the High Country Inn itself. Tracy and I found our room and then Diane found us. She'd got there early from Georgia with her son and her boss's sister and her boss's sister's son (these southerners travel light) and found nobody else but us on the register. So she wisely kept on checking new arrivals for Michigan plates...

Well, we checked the register too and couldn't find any mention of any of the other Cosmonauts due to arrive. I didn't have surnames for all of them, but the ones I did know didn't seem to be registered. For a while it seemed like I'd flown 4,000 miles and driven two days to meet up with one player from Georgia. I'm sure she thought similarly.

There was no possibility of me not recognising Tracy in Detroit. Even without meeting in person, we'd been close for many months and were very aware of how we looked. Diane looks exactly like the picture of her in the gallery of players that I run online, so there was no trouble there either. The next player to turn up, however, was a mystery. He didn't then have a photo in my gallery (the one there now was taken at Boone), and as far as I knew he wasn't even expected to turn up, but that he did and we were all very glad of it. Mike is as lively a character in real life as he is in the game. He plays as Killer Tomato, after changing quickly from Pittsburgh Airhead which had led most people to assume he was a dizzy blonde.

We didn't recognise him; he recognised me. This set the pattern for the next three months as I later ended up meeting people all over the continent who I'd never seen before and had no idea of how they would look. Somehow they recognised me. At one point I travelled a few hours north from Toronto to meet someone who I knew relatively well, other than having never seen her face or heard her voice. Looking back, it seems like madness but it all went as smoothly as could be.

With no timescale for new arrivals, the four of us headed off to next door to play miniature golf (puttputt) for a while, very badly. While this game lends itself easily to unintentional genius, Diane outdid us all with the dubious achievement of more holes in one than anyone else while still finishing easily last. We'd figured that an hour or two later people would be arriving in larger numbers and happily we were right. As soon as we got back to the hotel, Mike started recognising people. He'd suddenly switch from lobby chat mode to a spin and a shout and another player would recognise this previously faceless gentleman. His shout of 'MEEEEELS!' across the entire car park must have woken most of the hotel's guests, but sure enough, there was Kelly, along with along with Benning and Jensen, the key players whose meeting here had spurred the rest of us to join in. Suddenly we had a big meetup after all.

Others arrived in due course. We met Darwinia and GatorsFan in the sprots bar (sprots being sports for those who have a stunning lack of interest in them); and TootsieBird and her husband on the way to our room. Cavemann and MsCave arrived on the Sunday; and we got to meet the immortal MortalWombat and Ben Stein on a very memorable Saturday evening in the sprots bar. Also, though they didn't stay for the weekend, Tarheel#23 and her husband arrived too and very kindly showed us round Blowing Rock, a charming little town, tourist orientated in the summer but apparently almost deserted in the winter. The joke before the meetup was that as we all knew each other through the interface of computers, we should all bring along our keyboards. Technically I brought a keyboard in the form of my trusty Psion 5 organiser, but Carole brought a wooden rack that she hangs her keys from...

The sprots bar soon proved to be a place of joy. Not for the sprots, naturally, but for the fact that in America soft drink refills are free. I've only found one place in England that offers free refills (Pizza Hut) and even there the definition of 'free' is stretched somewhat - you have to pay for the privilege of getting them free. Hmm. The other reason that the sprots bar became such a favourite place for all of us is because it hosted NTN Trivia. Quiz junkies all of us, we quickly acquired consoles and played along with similar establishments throughout the continent. Mike consistently outshone the rest of us, though it was Megan who managed the highest position of the night, a very commendable fourth in the entirety of North America.

More strange facts about America before I get to the highlight of the weekend. Boone is in a dry county area - no spirits (liquor) served. You can buy beer or wine coolers, or of course something non-alcoholic, but that's it. And this isn't rare. Apparently there are areas of the south where you can indeed buy spirits but only in miniature bottles, due to some bizarre local law.

And the best part? Well for me it has to have been the Saturday evening. All of us met up in the sprots bar to chat and play NTN, but later Mike pulled out a movie trivia boardgame (similar to Trivial Pursuit, but all movies) that he'd been given for Christmas but never played. Strange coincidence: Another player, Sharon did exactly the same thing a few days later in Charleston. The same game, the same unopened Christmas present...

Most of the questions were quotes from films, the answer being the film in question. Naturally we extroverts started answering in character... Mike and Ben vs Tracy and I vs MoWo and Diane. A triple threat match. And I can tell you that MoWo still owns the quickest wit in Cosmo - she is blisteringly fast. Ben isn't far behind and Mike is damn quick too. We bounced the bad puns and asides off each other for hours. Ben and Killer headed off into song. It was a truly magical few hours that brought back all the bad pun hot tub parties we'd hosted in Cosmo but in person. It was the nearest I've ever felt in my life to being in Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. It was worth flying 4,000 miles just for that.

Some of the players were booked in for the full week, but half of us were just staying for the weekend. So most went on the Sunday, Tracy and I on the Monday, but we'd meet up again soon with Kelly and the Caves in Charleston, SC.

All in all, a success. A (deliberately) disorganised meetup, but there were fifteen players from two countries and ten states. It set a major precedent. There had been Cosmo meetups before - two small ones in Australia - but never anything on this scale. The summer would see many more and they have happily continued on beyond the eventual sad demise of the site that brought us all together in the first place.

Previous Episode: Driving in 3-D.
Next Episode: The Blue Ridge Parkway.

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