Hello L.A. from Ann Arbor, Michigan (The Ellen Show Visits Ann Arbor 2011)

In recent years, I find myself questioning more and more why I do certain things. Usually, I blame my decisions to stay up all night and stand in the cold for movie premieres and Black Friday shopping on my curiosity and desire to participate in new experiences. In reality, it's probably because I'm young and stupid.

Okay, I won't go so far as to bash my own intelligence. The truth (as I've mentioned before) is that I am wildly impressed by fun gimmicks, and this one was no exception.

It all started with a handful of Twitter messages from a certain daytime talk show host:

"Ann Arbor! You can be on my show, help a kid in need, & win big @Walgreens. 7:30 p.m. It's a win win win.
Wear your favorite holiday outfit."
If you saw one of these messages, wouldn't you want to run out and see what was up? Me, too. That's why I went to Ann Arbor on Thursday night to participate in the craziness that was a televised Toys for Tots drive and raffle sponsored by Walgreens and The Ellen Show.

When Brad and I arrived at the Ann Arbor Walgreens shortly after 7:00 p.m., the parking lot was already completely full. (In fact, this picture doesn't do the scene justice, since the line to claim a raffle ticket actually wrapped around the back of the building and into the parking lot of a neighboring business.)

Jeannie! She works for The Ellen Show and used a megaphone to keep the 2,000+ people in line.

There was one TV set up for everyone to watch the main portion of the show as it was taped in Los Angeles.
The screen size was probably just around 32 inches, and it was basically a communication porthole for the huge crowd that assembled in Ann Arbor that night.
Toys for Tots Donation Box

Because we found out about the event so close to the time it began, we completely forgot to bring toys. Unfortunately, Walgreens was closing up in preparation for the show, so Brad made a quick trip across the street to get a couple things while I wandered around and took pictures.

Fans of the show didn't hold back when it came to festive Christmas wear.
Christmas Present Buddies
These were my favorites. The wreath just made me giggle, and I'll admit . . . the fake Ellen correspondent actually had me believing she was the real thing. I blame the cold for my momentary lapse in judgment.

Meanwhile, the crowd kept growing and everything kept changing. Every few minutes, it seemed, a new line formed. Then, as the line moved up, the people at the front were told to line up somewhere else to wait for the taping to start. By the time Brad got back with a couple of toy trucks, I had been moved to the sidewalk, onto the grass, back off the grass, then routed around the back to stand in the biggest line I'd ever seen. Thinking there was no way we'd get back to the front of the building by the time Ellen telecasted in, we tried hanging out with some other bystanders, but were eventually told to go around the back of the building again. As luck would have it, the line moved quickly; we had, however, a lot more time to kill than we originally thought.

Literally running around the building to form a new line
People waiting for the show to start after finally getting through the raffle ticket line
Finally, around 9:00 or so, it was show time. We stood among a massive crowd of people, quietly hopping up and down to keep warm as we tried to watch the live L.A. taping on the one TV in the parking lot. At one point, the crew filmed a quick segment of Jeannie (Ellen's correspondent) coming out of the front doors of Walgreens, running through the crowd as we cheered for Ellen back in her studio. That was followed by more hopping around in the cold as we waited for the rest of the show to be taped, and about ten minutes before we were live from Ann Arbor again, Jeannie gave us some lovely instructions: "When Ellen comes back, I am going to call a number . . . and whoever wins, I want you to go nuts. Scream like you've just won a million dollars." I mentally prepared myself and wondered if I had enough freak-out tendency in my DNA to scream in the unlikely event I won, then stood back and waited for the results.

It probably goes without saying, but I was not one of the lucky people who won a prize that night (or one of Ellen's studio audience members, who all won $100 Walgreens gift cards). After the cameras stopped rolling, though, Jeannie called out ten or so more numbers, with each winner receiving a Walgreens gift card of their own.  Finally, she made one last announcement: apparently, this was one of the largest events of this type the show had ever encountered, so Ellen was offering one more prize opportunity in exchange for us waiting outside in the cold all evening.

Jeannie's Final Announcement:

As it turns out, 100 more winners would be chosen at random from the crowd--all we needed to do was snap pictures of ourselves at the Ann Arbor event to upload on Ellen's website the next day. The photo, along with a description of our evening, would serve as a ticket for a one-in-twenty (or twenty-five) chance to win one of Ellen's 12 Days prizes! Technically, the odds were still against us, but to be that close to winning an iPad, laptop, year's supply of cheese, whatever--I wouldn't turn it down. So, we got our cameras and phones out and started snapping pictures of each other. The best part about the evening ending, however, was knowing that it was time to go back to our heated car and warm home.

This morning, I watched the Ann Arbor episode of Ellen with a much different perspective. I'll never again take for granted how much work goes into making a TV show, or the influence that a celebrity or someone with similar importance can have in gathering people to support a cause. I know I did my share of whining for being cold and not winning anything that evening (and I have yet to find out if I'm still in the running for a 12 Days gift), but the truth is--would any of those people have showed up with a toy to donate if it hadn't been for Ellen? Regardless of the fact that I didn't win anything that night, it was exciting to be part of a nationally-recognized event that brings happiness to so many children.

Of course, I can't help but keep my fingers crossed that I'm one of those 100 people Ellen chooses for a last-chance prize. But I guess I shouldn't get ahead of myself on that one.