I went to New York from Thursday 18 April to Monday 22 April 2002 to go to the I-Con science-fiction and fantasy convention at Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York. The main reason for this was to meet Billy Boyd, although my decision to go was helped by the fact that various Babylon 5 actors would be there too, including my hero Jason Carter. After I had made the arrangements I also found out that Viggo Mortensen would be signing copies of his book Signlanguage as well as Lord of the Rings paraphernalia on two consecutive days in New York. In short, things were good and they just got better.
This report originally appeared on my Live Journal, but since it has by now scrolled off the page, I decided to move it to my homepage instead. If you can't be bothered to read all this I have a short version in Very Secret Diaries rip-off form (not very original by now, but such a good way of summarising something, even if Cassieclaire is much, much better at it than I am), but this version doesn't have photos.
Plane is a Boeing 777 (big!) and I have an aisle seat. Bugger. Especially with this weather I would have loved to have a window seat. I also feel a definite need to strangle the people who do sit at the window, since they all put their bloody screen down so I couldn’t even see anything from a distance. The flight was over with surprisingly quickly (considering it was a seven hour flight), but that was mainly due to watching Ocean’s Eleven and Gosford Park during the flight. I got two meals and was absolutely stuffed once I got off the plane, didn’t need to eat another thing for the rest of the day, despite it being five hours longer than usual for me. In general it was a good flight, though I am not impressed by the flight staff going ‘huh?’ whenever they didn’t catch what you said. And in a very disinterested tone of voice too. Whatever happened to saying ‘sorry?’
Anyway, flight arrived half an hour too early due to the good weather. New York is surprisingly hot: 28 degrees (82 for you Americans). I’m not in culture shock just yet, because I don’t see any humongous buildings yet, and JFK looks uncommonly small and rundown. I’d expected better. DiamondTook and her mother arrived about ten to fifteen minutes after I got to the arrival lounge and were surprised to see me there already, so I explained about the early arrival. I gave one of my boxes of chocolates to Diamond’s mother as a thank you for coming to pick me up and thanked her profusely. JFK is on Long Island and it takes about 40 minutes (at least) to get from there to Manhattan, so I am much obliged that she was willing to go through the trouble for what is essentially a total stranger.
Diamond and me talked a lot until we got to the hotel, which wasn’t much to look at, but you can’t really expect much more from a backpacker’s hotel. I got my key, got a padlock so I could lock my bag in the locker and Diamond and her mother left, agreeing to meet me again at Virgin Megastore for the Viggo autograph signing. It’s still bloody hot and I wish I didn’t have to take my coat with me, but my trousers have no pockets (bugger bugger bugger) so I’m forced to. Have to tie the sweaty leather thing around my waist, yuk.
Directions to Virgin are easy: walk down to West 14th Street (I am on West 20th), then take the Subway to Union Square. Tried to get a Subway token from a machine, but had to go to the ticket office in the end. Union Square turned out to be only two stops away, so I wondered whether I couldn’t have walked it. Ah well.
Found Virgin no problem, but as it was only about 2pm (signing would start at six) I went on my mission to make phonecalls to Chris and mum to say I’d arrived safely. Okay, first of all: American (New York?) phone booths have no indication as to how to make an international phonecall. Second: I didn’t have enough small change to do so anyway (stupid system of having one dollar bills instead of coins). After about ten minutes I found a store that sold phonecards, yay!
Okay, so here’s me, being used to a phonecard that you stick into the telephone and use that way. It looked a bit flimsy, but who am I to criticise American phonecards, right? Anyway, couldn’t find a phone booth anywhere that looked like it had a slot to stick a card in. Eventually I asked two policemen if they knew of such a booth, and they then proceeded to explain the workings of the card for me (which I could have worked out myself if I’d been smart enough to go read the instructions. This was a good case of RTFM for me.) So I have to call a number, then punch in the number of my card and then I can make a phonecall. I saw the light.
Called Chris (funny, making a phonecall from America to an English mobile phone which is at that time situated in Spain. Took about half a minute and I could hardly hear him) and got the response ‘Ah, finally, I was getting worried because you’ve already been there two hours’. Sigh. Men!
Called mum afterwards who was very glad to hear I had arrived safely and didn’t think Manhattan was too bad. Proceeded to walk all the way down Broadway after that, in the hope I’d run into some cool touristy thing, like the Empire State Building or something. Walked down for about 45 mins to an hour, then decided nothing was coming and started walking back (it was getting late enough to go back to Virgin anyway). When I arrived back at Union Square, this time pointing the other way, I was met with the majestic sight of the Empire State Building. In short: I’d been walking the wrong way all that time. Doh.
Sat at Union Square for a bit, both because my feet were killing me and I wanted to give them a rest and because I couldn’t be bothered to line up yet. Went to the queue at about ten past five and spotted DiamondTook there. I’d told her I was hoping to meet Cassieclaire as her sidekick Ashwise had posted on billyboyd.net that she was trying to get her to come. Brought my second box of chocolate just for that eventuality. Anyway, Diamond tells me Cassie’s best pal is a bit further up in the line, so we ask the chick behind us to hold our place and go up to see her. Ashwise turns out to be called Ashley and is the coolest chick ever. We bonded, go me! She said ‘oh, just stay in line here’, so we waited with them (probably saved us about half an hour at least there) and Ashley and me became each other’s photo bitches. I took hers, she took mine.
Six o’ clock came round, we were herded in fifteen at a time and despite assurances from a staff member earlier that only copies of Signlanguage would be allowed for signing, Viggo was signing everything you put in front of him. Lovely man, great Ewan McGregor haircut and very sweet and accessible. Got my first signature and a photo, yay!
Went back to hotel and read a bit more, but I was so absolutely shattered by 8.30 that I went to sleep. Not bad though, considering that I had travelled all day and my body thought it was half past one in the morning.
Walked round the table he was sitting at and got my photo taken by Ashley and Hawk with my arm around Viggo and his around me! First actor hug, go me! Ashley had given him a copy of the very secret diaries yesterday (she does that to every Lord of the Rings cast or crew member she meets, she’s already given one to PJ, Fran and Ian McKellen as well) and she asked him now whether he’d read them yet. He said he hadn’t had the time yet, but they were on top of his bag for the flight home. She then showed him her t-shirt and he cracked up. Took a photo of her and Viggo with him pointing at her t-shirt which turned out ok except I scalped Ashley. (Sorry Ashley!)
Anyway, Legend and Lavagrrl had brought their billyboyd.net t-shirts and asked Viggo to sign it, explaining that we were going to meet Billy tomorrow. Viggo writes the following on Legend’s shirt (he inserted a little 'finest' in between 'very' and 'honorary' after I took the photo). On Suzie’s shirt he wrote ‘Billy Boyd is my master’. We were instructed to wear lipstick and give him two kisses tomorrow, wherever we want. Before you ask: no, I never did do that. Wanted to, but didn’t get the chance. Pooh. Still, very impressed with Viggo’s sense of humour. He’s a wonderful guy, very approachable and lovely. Great start to our meeting of actor people.
After we’ve all been we hang around to recover for a bit. Ashley says goodbye and we agree to meet up tomorrow. Once we’ve all recovered from the Viggo experience we return through the pouring rain to where we parked the van, where we get charged the extortionate amount of 45 dollars! Bunch of ripoffs.
After more swearing at the traffic we manage to make our way out of Manhattan and try to find John Harvard’s Brewery, where the first scheduled bb.net dinner is due to take place. After many u-turns and asking for directions (which turned out to be the trend for the weekend) we finally find the place. We’re at least half an hour late, but that’s ok since with us seven there there’s still only 17 people (out of an expected 40-odd). We go in, get a table and sit there having a drink while more people slowly come trickling in.
Various people arrived, including Cheese, who is responsible for setting up the new chat after Stew (the guy who runs billyboyd.net) was forced to close the official one down and Stef, whom I’ve been dying to meet.
The Michiganders are shattered since they’ve pretty much been driving since Thursday afternoon, so we leave immediately after dinner and go back to the Econolodge to go to bed.
I am by now pretty much ready to be Ashley’s love slave forever. Took another picture of him by himself, which is really cool too. Squeeeeee!
Additional note: everyone (and I do mean everyone) who has met Jason agrees that he’s a riot. He looks a bit older and skinnier, but he’s a great, wonderful and sweet guy with a great sense of humour. Actor hug count now on two.
Then it was time to go to the fist Q&A session with Billy, so we went to the gym hall thingy where it was being held. When Ashley and me got there it was still Brian Downey (from Lexx apparently) who was answering questions, since we had decided to be a bit early and get a good seat. The seat was at the side with a good view on the little podium they had set up. They had two microphones, one on either side, and if you wanted to ask a question you had to line up. Ashley decided to do so, so I was left on the seats to guard the bags and cameras. There was an open door at the back of the hall where I was expecting him to come through, but instead he came from completely the opposite direction, escorted by four stormtroopers!!!! It was so cool to see him in the middle of these stormtroopers, half a head shorter than them but still demanding all the attention! He’s still looking scruffy because of something he’s filming soon, and he looks absolutely adorable when he’s scruffy. I tried to quickly switch Ashley’s camera on and take a picture but failed miserably, so I’m hoping to grab some good pictures from other people. If anyone has a good Billy & Stormtroopers picture, please let me know!
The question and answer session was very cool. Lots of interesting questions, some not so interesting ones, but quite a few funny anecdotes from Billy. I honestly can’t remember many of the questions and there’s loads of stuff on theonering.net on it, so you’d better look there for it. Funny thing was that after the first few questions people started giving presents to him and asking for hugs, which meant that pretty much everyone (even the ones without presents) ended up getting a hug from him (especially when someone’s question was just ‘can I get a hug please’ and he said ‘I’ll never say no to that!’). I tried too after a while, but the lines were so long that they cut it off at some point or he’d never be able to leave. Still, people rushed up to him when he got off the podium and he never refused anyone who wanted to have their picture taken with him. He’s such a lovely guy.
Ashley and me left to go find some room that had an interesting thingy on, and when we walked out of the building she nudged me and we saw Billy and his entourage walk past. We sneakily followed, but I felt a bit bad doing it, so we hung back and lost them. Ashley said she wanted to check out some literary thing so we split up. (Found out later she’d sucked up to one of the security guys and managed to get into Billy’s press conference, pah.)
I wandered around a bit aimlessly, waiting for it to get late enough so I could start queuing up to get Billy’s autograph, when I happened upon the Sluggy stand. Pete Abrams was sitting there, as was Joe Sunday, and I had a little chat with them while Pete signed the Sluggy book I’d brought along. I said I’d come over from England and that I was meeting Billy and he went ‘oh, could you do something for me please?’ and then asked me to take a Sluggy flyer to give to Billy so he’d read it. I got Pete to write a little message on there (‘Billy, please read, this is important.’) and promised to give it to him. Hey, anything to get more talking time with Billy! Famous(ish) people hug count: three.
By then I’d meandered my way towards the start of the autograph queue, but they still weren’t letting people onto the track. God knows why, since we were taking up a lot more space where we were than on the track, where we would have been out of everyone’s way. Saw Ashley again and we ended up pretty early in the line.
Took a while to get to Billy, mainly because the bloody I-Con management had decided that the staff would get their autographs during the general session and before everyone else (great organisation guys!), so our line didn’t start moving until at least half past five instead of five o’clock. Ashley and I had each other’s camera’s again to take pictures of each other.
When we finally got to Billy I’d gotten my book, my gift and my Sluggy flyer out and then I just walked up to him and plunked the whole lot on the table. I explained that I’d been sent by Pete Abrams to convert him into a Sluggite and gave him the leaflet, then gave him my gift:
I gave him a copy of Laïs’ CD Dorothea, both out of a sense of patriotism (they sing some songs in Dutch) and because I knew that it’d be something he would definitely not have heard of. I said that I didn’t have a clue as to whether he’d like it, but that I was hoping. He was ready to write my name in it, but that wasn’t necessary since I’d put a little personal message in there. He then signed my book with ‘To Erica, thank you! Hope I like it!!! Lots of love, Billy Boyd. X’ I then asked if I could get a hug now and he immediately got up and hugged me! I drew back and Ashley squealed and apologised ‘cause she missed it (I’d specifically instructed her to take a picture of him hugging me), so I said ‘Sorry, I’m going to need another hug now’ and got one!:
Ashley got the picture this time and it turned out wonderful, and I’m forever in her debt for getting him to hug me twice. Heheh. Famous people hug count: four. Or five, depending on whether you count famous people or hugs.
It was her turn next while I was taking pictures, and she gave the copy of the VSD to Billy. Read Ashley’s account if you want to know what he said to her. See the pictures there? I took those! Squee! She then asked him to sign her poster (the four hobbits on Weathertop one) which he signed with ‘To Ashley, lots of love and thank you, Billy Boyd. X’ He wrote it with one of those silver pens though, and it made a big blot on the ‘and’, so he scribbled ‘oops’ with a little arrow underneath it. See it here.
That was our signing, so we moved off and waited for about ten minutes for that blot to dry, and I think that’s when I started shaking a bit. I really am not sure what things he said to me (even though, frustratingly enough, I can remember very well what I said to him), so I suppose I was more nervous than I thought, but it wasn’t until then that I got the shakes, so I’m well impressed by my own composure.
Ashley had to leave by that time, so we hugged and promised to contact and stuff (she wasn’t going to come on Sunday as she had too much work to do for uni *sniff*). I bumped into Stef and we made our way to where the actors’ panel was going to be. Clarification on that: it was called ‘Inside the actors’ studio’ or something (apparently a tv program in the US?) and it featured seven of the guest actors: Billy Boyd, Jason Carter, Richard Biggs, Andreas Katsulas, Brian Downey, Myriam Sirois (plays Sarah Cantrell in Legend of the Rangers apparently, but since it’s sadly not showing in the UK yet I haven’t seen her in that) and Herb Jefferson (Boomer in Battlestar Galactica).
We settled down around quarter to eight. The panel wasn’t due to start until half past eight, but it was okay since I now got to talk to Stef a bit, which I hadn’t really had the chance to yet. The panel started late, around twenty to nine I guess, and even then only Andreas and Myriam had arrived, but that was okay, since Andreas basically started talking the moment he sat down (proposed a Q&A to kill time and stuff), and the guy is immensely funny! Not at all what I expected, but he had us in stitches all the time. A little later Brian and Herb arrived, then a little later again Billy, and finally (at least an hour late, traffic problems apparently) Jason and Richard. This made things even more hilarious, because Billy is very funny and the Bab5 people were totally feeding off each other and hacking each other up in an old friends bantery kind of way. The best moment of the evening was at the end though, when the panel leader asked several short questions that every member of the panel had to answer. One of the questions was ‘What is your favourite sound’ and Billy went ‘ooh, mmm’. Okay, I can't really do it justice, but let's just say that I felt rather flushed. Anyway, the panel was the best thing ever and I have to get myself a copy of the video of it. I have photos of the panel, but they're all crap. Anyone who has any better ones, please let me know.
After it finished we went outside and had to wait a long time for Kim and a few others to finally come out. While we were waiting Andreas Katsulas passed by and I stopped him and shook his hand and I thanked him, then he bent over and in a sorta spur of the moment thing I kissed him on the cheek. Wow, I kissed an actor! Unfortunately it turned out that while we were waiting outside (about four of the Michiganders) the other three had bumped into Billy and Stew and Billy had been handing out gum to them. Not that I like gum, but from Billy I’d accept anything, and I'm rather annoyed that I missed that. So was Liz.
When they finally came out we went to the cybercafe, because the general idea for Saturday night had been to go out to get drunk (hopefully with Billy and Stew), but we hadn’t really made any definitive plans yet. Stew turned up for a moment to say him and Billy were going to the official hotel in Ronkonkoma and might come out for a drink and that we were very welcome to buy him (Stew) lots of pints. Which he got offered. Stew is very well liked.
Anyway, we obviously decided we should go to the official hotel, which we reached after countless u-turns, three or four direction checks and one wrong hotel. Turned out it wasn’t worth it since Billy and Stew didn’t turn up anyway (and I’m not surprised to be honest, Billy must have been absolutely shattered) and we weren’t really in the mood to mingle. We had one drink then left again. Was rather tired, so went to bed a bit before the others, though not much as I was still awake when they came in.
Actor hug count now on 6. Also got him to sign my bag.
From where I was I saw that the Bab 5 autograph track was packing up, so I rushed down and managed to catch Jason before he left and asked him if he could sign my bag too please. Chatted with him a bit more, then wandered off to the ‘I am Inigo Montoya’ contest, which was basically a contest to see who could re-enact scenes from The Princess Bride the best. It was funny, but not as funny as I had hoped it would be.
The contest finished at four and Billy’s autograph session started at five, so I made my way to the autograph track again where I hooked back up with the Michiganders. I briefly brushed past Pete Abrams and told him I’d accomplished my mission of giving Billy the Sluggy flyer, then got him to sign my bag too. He drew a little Kiki on, yay! We eventually made our way onto the autograph track and spent another long time waiting, as again they let the staff and volunteers get their autographs first (and I think Billy was late too). I wanted to get my Visual Companion signed this time, and if possible my bag too, but they (again) came past us with rules of what we could and couldn’t do – one autograph only, no pictures with him, only of him, no hugs etc. etc. etc.
I’m last of the lot and give him the little card that the staff had handed out if you wanted your signature personalised. I’d written ‘Yes! I’d like it v. personalised please’ and he wrote ‘To Erica, Thanks for being so cool! You rock! Lots of love, Billy Boyd. X’ (in case you notice a pattern, that last bit is his standard signing thing). I then asked him if I could take a picture and he just looked up and smiled:
He was looking at me there... *siiiigh* Niin mie mieltynen sinuhun. Fate must like me by the way, because a) my batteries died within minutes of taking this photo, so I got it just in time and b) I'm a terrible photographer usually, but any picture I have taken of Billy during that weekend (or at least the close up ones) has turned out fantastically (including the ones I took on Ashley's camera), and IMHO much better than other people's pictures.
I walked away and Legend and Lavagrrl were talking to Stew. We got a group photo taken with him and we all got a hug, then we left to get to the second official bb.net dinner.
We had a table to ourselves and spent our time getting drunk on water (god knows how we did it, but we were just too giggly and chatty and stuff to be sober) and cracking up (again) at Liz re-enacting the moria scene and the new trailer with pepper and salt shakers, Japanese teacups (imagine a salt shaker on top of a teacup, that was Gandalf the White on Shadowfax), a greasy fork as Aragorn and various other pieces of cutlery as the remaining Fellowship members. We also tried the Watcher in the Water with bits of spring roll (tentacles) in a glass of water. Apart from that we kept ogling my beautiful Billy picture (long live the digital camera) and ate the food (pretty nice and an awful lot, I seem to have established my hobbit reputation by eating my soup the fastest and then eating Lavagrrl’s soup too).
We left fairly early because I had to get up really early the next morning, although we did have a drink at a pub before getting back to the hotel. I said goodbye to everyone at the hotel since I was getting up at 4.30 and didn't want to wake them then.