One more block..... No red, no red, no red, no red..... We got this.Prologue
I woke up in a strange place. People were yelling, but it seemed empty, meaningless. They won't have a voice tomorrow -- instead, they'll have regret. Not me, though.
After a night of clean social fun, I was in the mood to sleep in. But this was what I was waiting months for. I couldn't sleep through it. On the contrary, I couldn't get enough sleep to prepare me for it. Also, those idiots outside
wouldn't shut up.
11 AM. I made calls to those that expected me to be home, and realized that I don't have toiletries at my disposal. Fuck.
"It's alright, we can walk up to Walgreens or somethin." -- And off we go.
Half a mile and a trip to the bank later, we made it. I get the whorebath necessities, and continue out, where the first and second wheel decide on Buffalo Wild Wings for breakfast, also within walking distance (Elmhurst = win).
The most important part of this breakfast was the contemplation of a complex I have, if you'd call it that.
My face tends to blush. A lot. Whenever I meet some one new, whenever I'm pissed, whenever I'm accused of anything, no matter the ridiculousness of it. It happens, despite the deliberate emotional detachment I've learned from it. I've despised it since childhood, and yet its one of the few things that hasn't changed about me since then.
I began to ponder how inevitable this character trait would become later that night. If I got to meet Zer0gee, or The Vixen, or Dax.... "I would have a lot of explaining to do.... Eh, fuck it, I'll just put it in the Praxis."
2 PM. We're back at the base, and a mile under our feet already. I didn't get enough sleep to prepare me for the night. I'm boned. The next few hours are a haze. There was a strange interpretive dance
going on between the host and the hostess, and my consciousness lets go of itself. When it regained grip, I was trying to keep up with the dance, ashamed of the mockery I was committing.
4 PM. Moo the Bunny joined the party. She made fighters out of all of us
, and we passed the time quickly. I made an effort to talk the spectators into joining our Journey, and for the most part, they were enthralled by the concept. But they had very very solid reasons to stay behind.
"We have noodles cooking."
"We have movies to watch."
And thus ends my career as a public speecher
5:30 PM. We leave early to eat well before the big hunt. Where could we go that has food able to sustain us for such a trip? Taco Bell, of course! Moo decides to drive us. As we got in the car, she had a song by this "new band" that she absolutely
had to show us on this mix CD. Before I could manage to say "Who is it?", I found out
It wasn't long before we learned to use this as something constructive. As an estimate, I think we rolled about 20 people on the way to Taco Bell. As they say, "Pwnt, lawl".
We expected traffic, but we didn't expect slow
traffic. As our destination grew near, I knew that a parking space would be near-impossible to find. We reached the park at 7 PM exactly, and found a parking space immediately afterwards by a 7-11 and some sort of hair salon. Had they already started to find the first checkpoint? How late were we? Then.... We saw a crowd.
7:05 PM. Lots of faces. I felt smug -- there are people that want to do this too, I thought to myself. I'm not crazy, and I wasn't lying when I told you all about this. I looked around for players whose faces I would recognize, but I couldn't make any out, and instead looked for a map and some ribbon. The fine lady that was in charge of the maps was some one I recognized. My immediate reaction was to say "zomg! It's you! I'm lyke, such a big fan!", but I realized that my face has only shown up once in my praxis, and that chances are, she wouldn't be able to recognize it. So I pretended I was a stranger until she got a free moment, and pretty much stuck to the hopeless-fan-conversation, despite my will.
"Hey there, Zero Gee."
"I'm The Animus. It's good to see you."
I wanted to say "It's an honor! This opportunity doesn't come by often, and maybe telling you in person how much I appreciate your praxes will somehow mean something!".... But I didn't. In fact, I don't remember what I actually said -- I might as well have left a nice awkward pause in there before she got distracted by something. And I'm almost positive I blushed (but why? Am I intimidated by her beauty? Her level? Her Schplankability? Almost, but no. I think my sense of humility, no matter its origins, doesn't outright shame me.... My face needs a shrink).
I look around some more. I thought that, out the corner of my eye, I saw The Vixen. I decided that one celebrity meeting was enough before the start of the game, and there's no need to make an ass of myself if I was wrong. Instead, my attention was focused on Dax. He gave us wonderful instructions, but I couldn't help but think he was going to be a chaser. The tone in his voice, his subtle suggestions that we should lose this game and all walk home as chasers -- it definitely put me on edge, inexorably every time I saw him thereafter. He told us we had two minutes to start. I was ready. I notice people start to meander off, and I decide to join them just incase my party was bored. Dax then was kind enough to remind us we don't know what we're looking for at the first checkpoint. Without even questioning the necessity of such details, I halted and waited for the signal.
7:30 PM. It was still light out. We followed the majority of the players through a small gap in the fence (invisible from the center of the park). I was confused as to why people were going in every direction possible -- clearly, there was an objective fastest route? Some people went towards the nearest train station, which would explain their seemingly round-about route. Since my party wasn't actually into running, we followed the best we could while Moo the Bunny was reconfiguring her GPS.
"Take this road here."
"But there's an alley here, let's take it!"
":: pause :: Okay, the GPS says we need to go here, now."
"Well, we can take this alley to get there."
Not only was it confusing the fuck out of us, but the GPS delayed us quite a bit. Death Kitten and I wanted to speed through the whole thing, while Moo's short legs and the Munashii had other ideas. In hindsight, I wouldn'tve had any energy to deal with chasers or even the rest of the game had they not paced themselves. It wasn't long before we ditched the GPS and relied on our Journey maps. Unfortunately, it was getting dark by then. As soon as we found a road that would take us to our first checkpoint, we saw a man walking down it, coming towards us. I yell out -- "Red or Blue!?" -- no response. I subconsciously made up a test to see if we were being chased -- veer off to one side of the sidewalk, then to the other. If, like in videogames, the other person mimics you, he's definitely a chaser. This guy didn't. We were relieved. Soon after, we see another person walking our way. "Are you a chaser!?" I said. No response, but he was walking faster. I didn't see any red, but I decided to use my test, just incase. And he responds. A few moments of hesitation -- Should I act on this alone? Do I want the game to be over already? Are the others ready to run? I put a bench between the two of us. Why am I the leader? That's when I saw him nod. The big, knowing, evil nod of doom.
I was marveling how the weight of my boots helped me gain momentum. I passed Munashii, I passed The Bunny. If this was really a chaser, I wouldn't be done with -- but one of us would be. As we slowed to a jog and turned the nearest corner we could, I started consciously (and rather conceitedly) judging the novelty of the thoughts running through my head.
"I'm not giving up.
Fuck the rest of them.
Fuck energy. I have enough teenage angst for a fucking highschool.
These boots are 10 pounds each for a reason.
This is my only chance in years to prove myself to SF0, to CG0.... To myself."
We ran into a dead end. Or rather, we ran onto a major highway. Not the best idea. Knowing we were essentially trapped, and realizing Munashii was caught, we went back onto Division. Apparently the troll left, and didn't even take Munashii's player ribbon, but instead filled him with enough doubt of completion to want to call it quits. We walked to the first checkpoint to catch our breaths and decide what to do from there, despite the player / chaser diversity in our group.
I was met with what could possibly be the cutest couple ever (if you two aren't actually a couple, People At Checkpoint One, I suggest you reconsider, if only for aesthetic purposes). Not only did they sign my manifest, which felt like an overwhelming accomplishment, but they offered cupcakes! Things were looking up.... for a moment.
I had a sit-down at the checkpoint, and I suggested that others grab a cupcake and do the same. After all, despite being slowed down considerably, we were making good time. That's when I noticed things weren't really looking up. Moo the Bunny was paired with her GPS -- it apparently knew 10 ways to get to Checkpoint Two, and was rather smug about it. Munashii and Death Kitten were trying their hardest not to step on each others feelings as they tried to decide what was best for the both of them. Due to an injury, Munashii's leg wasn't in the best condition to walk the suggested 7.5 miles, much less to run from chasers, which we had already experienced. He wanted to leave us so we could enjoy the game, but Death Kitten didn't want to abandon him. The entire reason I woke up that morning in a strange place was to ensure that these two people would experience the Journey with me. Perhaps I was invading their free will by doing so. I felt guilty about this, and yet, having very little money and not wanting to continue to make decisions for them, I was helpless to just stand there and listen. I did hear a very quotable quote come from the conversation, though:
"This is a game to me, but it's not. This is a once-in-a-life-time experience. We'll never be able to do this again. This is a test."
You've seen it happen. All the care and attention in the world can't prevent it -- Munashii and Death Kitten walked away from each other, going down opposite ends of Elston, thinking that the situation can't be resolved. I look to one of them, then to another, then to The Bunny. She's still arguing with Mr. GPS.
"Did you see what just happened?"
"No, what just happened?"
I looked to The Cutest Couple Evar for empathy. One of them gave me a look like I didn't know what I was doing. Fitting, I suppose.
"........ Make sure Munashii stays over there. I'll go catch the other one."
I shouldn'tve sprinted, but I did.
"Uh, listen, I don't know what's going on, but this route seems a little unsafe. It's the obvious route. I think we can find a better one, so let's head back? Please?"
She listened, most likely out of respect than an actual will to do so. When we got back, Moo was getting help from one of TCCE, and I asked the other if they were on 'our side'. She responded by saying that they weren't, and that they can't help players at all. I then pointed to her partner and asked "What's that over there, then?". I was met with an icy glare. (Sorry Lara!)
"Let's all just mosey on towards the second checkpoint. No rush, we got time, no running. If we get caught, we get caught. Deal? Deal. We'll figure something out then."
I then realized I was only buying time -- more uncomfortable time for Munashii, more headache-inducing time for Death Kitten, and more time for The Bunny to realize her GPS is evil. I also realized that there was no way in hell I was letting myself get caught. So much for honesty.
We went north back to Division, down Branch, all the way to Halsted. We heard people in the distance making strange noises, and I thought that perhaps the chasers were instructed to use these as signals so they don't chase after each other. This happened three times throughout the night, and I never acted on it once. Halsted was crawling with people, and it was hard to determine if they were wearing red ribbon.
"Do you see any red?"
"No, do you see any red?"
This conversation got shortened to "No red. No red. Are you looking out?" after being repeated a few times.
We made it down Halsted and turned in at Grand, then went down Green Street. Tension was unbearable. There were plenty of hiding spots, and lots of other players running around. We found the next checkpoint without running into a chaser. We thought at the time that this was sheer luck, especially considering the roads we took.
9 PM. I ran into who I thought was The Vixen again. "Hm, long nose, dark hair.... Is she really that much of a stick? No need to make an ass out of yourself, there's always the finish line." I also saw Dax there. My party was again deciding what to do and where to go, so I decided to make conversation with another celebrity. Thee celebrity of the night.
"So.... You're not a chaser, are you?"
"No, I'm video."
"It's good to know. I'm The Animus, by the way."
He nodded in understanding. It was so goddamn weird to have that interweb-to-real-life translation work back towards you. It made me feel like less of a stalker.
"So, do you live in the city proper?" he asked.
"Not really. I'm about an hour south of here."
"I see. That's probably why I couldn't find your library
"Hey, at least you tried."
That small connection made the night worth it to me. And if I had looked at my manifest before leaving, I would've been able to meet another celebrity. But I'm a dumbass. (Perhaps some other time, Myrna?)
The rest of my group wasn't in such high spirits. It was finally decided that Munashii was going to catch a cab the next time he could to a train station that could take him close to home. This took a lot of wind out of my sails, but I figured it was for the best. As we went down Hubbard to find the next checkpoint, we realized that "Green and Yellow Signs" was pretty vague. Our route got confuddled a little bit, and it was then I decided to become a bigger part of the route-making process. Hubbard to Milwaulkee to Grand. Again, we were taking the most obvious path in order to keep the non-sprinters alive, and this put us on edge. Grand to Rush to Hubbard. No red, no red, no red, no red. We stopped at an ATM to get money for Munashii's departure, and finally flagged down a cab for him as we got to Rush.
I felt like apologizing, but I also didn't think it'd make his ankle feel any better.
As we approached the checkpoint, we saw a player walk towards us.
"Go inside and to the left." Awesome.
I walk inside and to the right.
I knew that.
As I got my manifest signed, I see that girl again. "She has to be the Vixen. Why not just tell her? If she's a stranger, you can just talk her into getting an SF0 account."
"Uh, hey there. Are you The Vixen, by chance?"
"I am. :: pulls up sleeve to show a large 'V' on her hand ::"
Now, for the creepy stalker part. Well, the other one.
"Well, uh, I just wanted to say you're the one that got me into SF0. I was kinda on the fence, and then I saw your Last Day task, and I knew I was going to do that task, even if it was retired..... :: blush ::"
She seemed to have taken it well. Either way, I got a hug out of the deal, and met some people she was with (though I don't remember their names at all). That makes three people I wanted to greet in my SF0 career, all done in one day.
We decided to rest here. Called loved ones, took potty breaks, sat in the company of goats. This was one of my favorite checkpoints. We talked for awhile, and I tried to shake the drama of the first leg of the trip. Overall, we had a good feeling in us as we left, and we set out for Michigan Avenue.
10:15 PM. Our strategy was to take Michigan to Madison, and take side roads if we saw anything suspicious. That could've been a huge mistake. There were so many people on Michigan, we wouldn't have been able to tell terrorists from teddy bears. "No red? No red, no red, no red, no red." I was at least a little excited because this was, to me, the most recognizable part of Chicago. Very seldom do I stray from the Pier area when I'm up here, so to see familiar places and things (lawl, a bean!
) was definitely encouraging...... And then we turned onto Madison.
There were still people about, but it was dark, so finding the red would've been difficult. We skipped along to Dearborn without too much trouble. Once we got onto the safety block, we were a little confused.
"So, what was the clue again?"
"A man, a woman, and cardboard."
"...... How the fuck is that supposed to help?"
But then we saw it. The White Tower.
"Awesome box thing.... Can you sign this for me?"
"Uh.... Alright. So, I'm gonna do two things. One, I'm gonna take a picture of you two, and I'm not asking you permission for it. And two.... Uh.... How bout a signature of sorts?"
At that point, I saw them read something on the box, then start saying that over and over again.... Then, taking a good look on the box, I read "Write a word on the box to increase our vocabulary" -- or something.
I get it, now!
Moo the Bunny found a large marker and a stamper that would be our signature. With the marker, I wrote the first thing that comes to mind at any given point in time:
And they faithfully repeated it, several times. They also said to my party "Two girls, one dress". Who wrote that?
After feeling like we walked through something from Mirrormask, we headed down Clark. Again, it wasn't the most ninja-like route, but despite our feet, we were ready to book at any given moment. We weirded out an NPC on the way down. He was wearing red, so I felt unable to discern his player status at a distance. We crossed the same street a few times trying to make up our minds about him. Eventually, I yell across the street "Are you in the game!?"
"No man, I'm just seeing if a store was open. Don't get yourselves killed."
10:40 PM. We start to theorize why we haven't seen any chasers yet. Is it because we're so late? Is it because they're expecting the ninja routes more? Nearly to Roosevelt, nearly to the corner. Out pops a young girl wearing a red ribbon.
I immediately tried to bluff.
"We're in the safe zone!" -- really, we had a good 20 feet to go.
"I know, I won't tag you." Out comes her friend, wearing a blue ribbon...... What the fuck?
We listened to their story. Apparently a chaser abused the Roosevelt safety zone and took the girl's ribbon. They also claimed to be Dax's girlfriend's friends. We were relieved to have a safe straight shot to the next checkpoint, and enjoyed the view the bridge gave us.
We met a few players on the way. They all had a really nice attitude, and were very helpful about the whole thing. For example, the first group we met told us that the last checkpoint moved to the Shedd. We waved to everyone we passed, and being so close to the end, it felt nice to not have to be paranoid of other people. And soon enough, we made it to our destination.
I walk in, and see players lining the restaurant. In the far back corner, I see a face painted with exquisite curved lines.... It reminded me of some one
.... I might as well ask...
"Are you Ink Tea, by chance....?"
"Yep! How'd you guess?"
'Your face.' No, sounds insulting.
'I can recognize you by your player photograph.' No, that's creepy as hell.
"Derr.... Uh... Well..."
"Perhaps by my crown?"
"Erm, yeah! I can read..... :: blush ::" For once, the rest of me agreed with my face.
We took a seat, and Moo offered to buy a combo platter there. I notice The Vixen and Co. walk in, and I was genuinely confused. How did we beat them here? They left way before us back at Checkpoint Three. So I ask, and I was told. Their party got stuck under Roosevelt, essentially. For the players that took the walk across it, you know how bad that would've been. I offered my condolences and freed up some space by moving to the bar stools toward the front, able to greet new players as they walked in.
We plotted our final route toward Lake Shore Drive, and discovered some cleverly hidden zucchini sticks among cheese sticks. Thanks to this Journey, I now have an appreciation for zucchini. A fellow player walked up to Death Kitten's right side and initiated some small talk. Though I don't claim ownership of Deathkitten or Moo the Bunny, I felt the paranoid-boyfriend-response rise up in me. I couldn't make out his intentions, but the general feeling I got from him was -- focused. It was entirely different than the feeling I got from the people we met on the bridge. It came off as almost selfish. Seeing as those who do claim ownership of said obj-- individuals weren't present, I decided to act as a proxy in deterring bad pick-up lines, however necessary it was or wasn't. I payed attention to everything he was saying to us (her), but I didn't respond (a good cock-blocking method, if I say so myself). I gave him slack for being a Journey player, but by the time he left, my friend was visibly disturbed.
11:30 PM. We set out down Roosevelt again. Our plan was to take Clark back up to Polk, to State, to Balbo. As we left Roosevelt, we saw a man on a bike following players.
We backed up into the safe zone again. We noticed the 'chaser' isn't really chasing. He was just talking to the players. Is it Dax? I think so. Dax said he was on video duty.... But he still could be a chaser... He wanted us to lose, anyway.
He turns around and heads our way. I'm looking for places to run, just incase.
"You're not a chaser, are you?" To my left was a muddy construction site. Don't do this to me, Dax.
"No, I'm not. It's good to see you're still alive." -- That confused me more than the Box Tower. We talked a bit about the progress of the game, and he left us to the night once again. If he's around, will there be chasers nearby? Is he informing chasers of our location?
As we hit Polk Street, I noticed some blues giving us a funny look.
"Wouldn't it be funny if we made em think we were chasers?" Deathkitten suggests.
I said rather loudly "There's some blues, lets' get em!" and immediately sprinted towards them. As they heard my footsteps, they walked faster and faster until they all started running. Perhaps being a chaser would've been fun. As soon as I am close enough to one of the group to tag them, I tell them that I was kidding. He responded with "I know, we just need to get going." Hm... Strange. We wish each other luck, and continue on our way. I wait patiently for my ability to breathe, as well as my befuddled party members. The running got me a little confused as to where we were, so we asked a man with a dog for directions to Balbo. The guy seemed nice, as he gave good directions, but he also seemed annoyed that we were more interested in his dog than in him.
We start to have doubts about our discretion. At least we're not taking Roosevelt to Lake Shore, that's too obvious.... But the next one up is Balbo. Hmm....
We pass Michicagn. Only a few more blocks. What if this one road, this one decision stops our Journey in its tracks? I was already tired from scaring fellow players. My left boot folded, and the crease was digging into my feet and rubbing the skin off the tops of my toes. The sidewalk test was mandatory for anyone on the road. I probably looked drunk from all the side-to-side action. No red.
We cross Columbus.
One more block..... No red, no red, no red, no red..... We got this.
The reds could be hiding anywhere in Grant Park, behind any tree. We'd be boned. They know we're tired. We're late. They're a bunch of camping bitches. How are we going to do this!?
Halfway down the block, we decided to jog to Lake Shore. Man on a cellphone, no red. Old lady, no red.
We made it.
It took a few minutes to sink in. We started at Wicker Park, went through the heart of Chicago, and ended up on Lake Shore Drive. We did the impossible. One true chaser gave us a run for our ribbon, and we survived. We made sacrifices, we made friends, we finished the Journey To The End Of The Night.
12:30 AM. The last checkpoint was hiding from us. We went to the Shedd as instructed, but it turns out we had to go to some parking spaces behind the Shedd. While we were looking for said parking spaces, we saw about 15 chasers. Good choice on the safe zone boundaries, Dax. We found the group of people and ran one last time to receive cheers from the crowd. The amount of accomplishment I felt at the time was insurmountable. There were a few cupcakes left, and Zer0gee promised me a medal. Dax was there, and for the first time since the beginning, I had no reservations about wanting to see him again.
Again, we made calls and talked to others about the Journey. Dax gave out the medals of courage to people that could describe an interesting Journey event in 10 words or less. I thought of a few:
"Munashii and Kitten are pissed. Moo's oblivious. I'm in between."
"I met many players and probably scared them all."
"My feet will never forgive me."
I didn't voice any of them, though. The ones that were told were much better, anyway. Satisfied, and coming to terms with the hour of driving I had ahead of me, I decided to catch a cab and skip the after-party. I felt like it'd be good to meet more of SF0, but I didn't trust myself to be able to walk what I thought was 8 miles at the time, then drive 40 miles home, much less party till 4 AM.
The cab driver seemed fucking obsessed with how the south suburbs are 'going downhill'. He named a lot of neighborhoods, and noted how each and every one of them is shady. Well, what can you do? He also mentioned that, chances are, Moo's car was towed away from the 7-11, for not being a customer at said parking lot.
However, the car was still there, ticketless, and all was well. Moo's GPS decided to spit on us one last time, as it changed routes mid-exit and led us 12 miles and a toll-stop out of our way. What a cockbite.
We drop off Death Kitten, and Moo waits outside to follow me home. I scare a stranger in the dorm lobby waiting for Death to drop off my supplies. I felt accomplished to know she had fun and I managed to make a member out of her
. With nothing left to do but go home, I said goodbye, and left.
I sat in my car for a moment, knowing I had absolutely no energy. I devised a plan to put the AC on so my body couldn't relax. This worked for a little bit, but the humidity fogged my car too fast for my idea to take me home. I had to blast the heat so I could see, and blast the cold so I could think. This dilemma was compounded by the construction and epic fog on the highway. I caught myself thinking incredibly abstract thoughts, a sure sign of falling asleep. I turned off the heat and opened the windows for a few moments. For once, I didn't have to worry about speed limits through construction zones -- I could hardly see 20 feet in front of me. I was sort of appalled that two cars had audacity to pass me on the way home, and no one believed in using hazard lights to make themselves more apparent.
I nearly missed my exit, because the signs were unreadable, and I couldn't see the usual landmarks I use. Getting through my own neighborhood was fairly simple. Lights were able to be used as landmarks in such a small town, but my reliance on them created a problem for me when there weren't any more. As I was looking for my street, I began to feel the haze of sleep invade again, and I imagined that the fog was really a metaphor -- I was heading back home, to the bland obscurity of every-day living. I was heading back to comfort that would only inhibit my ability to see in front of myself. I was heading back to reality, and I didn't like it at all.
I should've payed attention to how fast I was going. I could've determined where I was given my speed, and from there, I would've known where to turn into my street. But I didn't. I was sure that I passed it up. I took the first left turn I could to turn around, and realized that I was on the street I was looking for.
Finally, I was home.
:Insert Epic Purple Text of Awesome:
This Is Moo, and well I think the Animus said things well enough. I would like to admit that I have been a resident of the Chicago area all of my life and I have visited the city many times. Never before though, have I experienced the city like this. This event was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So I give everyone involved a massive thanks for one of the best nights in my life.