July 5th, 2007 7:45 PM
I am living in Chicago. I will continue to live in Chicago for another year and a half, at least. People ask me to describe why I despise this city so much, and the only thing I can think to say is, "it's flat; it drives me crazy." So this past week I took a last minute trip back to home to the Bay. I arrived on Friday night, slept in late, had a big breakfast of organic pancakes and fresh homemade smoothie, then cruised under the water to San Francisco. If there's any way to reintroduce myself to a city, I reasoned, it would be found in an obscure game that advertised getting chased on foot from the embarcadero to the ocean.
I met up with my old friend Qarly, who introduced me to Ed, and so we had a team. Our plan was to head west, then take a bus up toward Coit Tower, instead of taking the F-line up Embarcadero, which I figured would be overrun with chasers. The bus didn't come, so we hiked all the way up to Little Italy. We were halfway up the hill when Ian turned the corner behind us on his bicycle. I screamed. We ran. Qarly disappeared.
Ed and I hid out for a while, and proceeded much more carefully. We spotted a chaser with a basketball coming up the street, and ducked into an alleyway. The plan was to let him pass us by, but we blew it. We narrowly escaped by splitting up, Ed dodging within feet of the confused chaser, and me stumbling through a narrow garden stairway. We found each other pretty quickly, and made it to the foot of the tower. We saw Qarly coming down the steps, and I swore she was wearing a red ribbon, so we hid and let her pass. Turned out we were paranoid - she hadn't been caught yet. She would actually end up being the only one of us to make it to the end alive.
Coit to the Hospital wasn't difficult, because Ed and I had fallen so far behind. We got our second set of signatures and headed for the Morton Salt Girl at Cala Foods. No buses so far, just pounding pavement. We had worked out a system where, when approaching a dangerous intersection, we would walk along opposite sides of the street, hugging the wall. In this way, we figured, we'd be able to spot a chaser coming from the opposite direction and be able to warn each other - no fear of having to step around a corner blind. This is how we approached Cala. We rounded the block; I had the parking lot in site from the opposite side of the street, and was watching Ed creep up towards it. There were no chasers present - just a couple of girls walking toward me, chatting casually and enjoying their Saturday night. As they passed, the smaller one reached out and delicately took hold of my hand. And that was that.
"I'm sorry," she said. I must have looked so confused. It took me a moment to realize what had happened, and then looked down to see the scrap of red ribbon hanging like a bracelet around her wrist. Elegant, if I do say so myself. She gave me a hug, and I shouted over her shoulder for Ed to run. I switched my ribbon to red, said good-bye to my new chaser friends, and ran off down the street. I never did get to see the Morton Salt Girl.
So then I was chasing, which turned out to be just as fun as running scared. I didn't think it would be fair to sneak up on people, so I kept to the spirit of the title and only ran after people who were running away from me. It just so happens that I run pretty fast, so this wasn't going to be a problem.
I found a pack of players walking toward checkpoint 4. They saw me immediately (I look pretty conspicuous with a red bandanna around my face), and started running. I caught up within a block, tagged half of them and let the other half go. I figured this was going to be the job for me... until they pulled out little white cards instead of red ribbons. "What's this?" I asked, trying to catch my breath, and watched them run back up the street after their companions. Turns out that the "helpful items" that everyone said Mr. Robinson would be handing out were these get-out-of-jail-free cards. How disappointed I was.
I didn't wait around. I walked up Geary to Japan Town, where I ran into a pack of four chasers. They were plotting, discussing strategies, trying to figure out how to catch the players who would be running from checkpoint 4 to the bus stop on Geary. Meanwhile a woman wrapped in a white sheet walked right by us. She looked rather like a bum, but at the time I wondered why she was so careful to hide her face as she walked through the group of us (at the Marina, Ed recounted how he had escaped from Cala foods with a girl who disguised herself in a white sheet). I figured I wouldn't get anywhere hanging around all these chasers, so I went down to the bus stop where I found a bunch of players hugging the safe zone. We talked, reasoned that I wasn't willing to wait, and I let them be. I'd get them later.
So I found a bus stop where I ran into another chaser, and we caught a bus together. We figured it would be wiser to keep going, and head people off at checkpoint 5 or 6. I wanted to go to checkpoint 5; he was a little more interested in going straight to checkpoint 7. I figured we weren't going to be the best at working together.
The bus was empty, but as soon as we got on, two more chasers got on behind us. At the next stop, we picked up four players. How convenient; one for each of us. Buses being safe zones, we were friendly. I offered up my trail mix, which most of them took. The players moved to the back of the bus to discuss strategy, and so did we. After a minute, the players presented this dilemma: they had, each of them, the "powerful object" which would grant them escape. By the wording on these cards, all chasers in the area would have to freeze for 60 seconds after being handed one of the cards. This meant, of course, that as long as they stuck together, we would have to chase them down four consecutive times before we could legitimately tag them. This disuaded my fellow chasers quite a bit, and the three of them exited the bus, intending to transfer to another bus that would take them closer to checkpoint 5. This, however, forced the players to stay on the bus, and I stayed with them, and so we rolled farther south, farther and farther away from checkpoint 5. They were very soldierly when they finally got the nerve to exit, letting the slower runners exit first, while the fastest runner kept me blocked in the stairwell until the last possible moment. When he and I got off, I unexpectedly declined to tag him, but instead ran after the other players who were already halfway up the street. I caught up with the smallest one, tagged her, got my card, and counted patiently to 60. A few minutes later I caught up with the lot of them at the next bus stop. I offered them water, but none of them accepted.
The bus was packed; myself and one of the other players had to hang in the stairwell in order to stay on. I figured I would ride with them until checkpoint 5, take another card from them, and so pursue the pack all the way to the finish. This plan was slightly improvised on when, in a moment of bravery, one of the players bolted out of the bus at an empty stop, just as the doors were closing. I barely made it out after him, dropped my red ribbon on the pavement, went back to pick it up, giving him a decisive lead. I caught up two blocks down. I have to say that ditching his friends was a genius move on his part, for which I give him the credit of me not catching a single ribbon all night - he even tried to negotiate resting for a few minutes before handing over his card, but I wasn't quite so gullible. He jogged off into the neighborhood again and hid, and so I lost him and all the other players I was after. I pulled out my map, and made my way, incredibly sluggish from all the running, to checkpoint 5.
It was at checkpoint 5 that I realized that I was spent. My feet were killing me, my knees were weak, and my left hip threatened to buckle if I even though about running again. I followed a couple of players up a hill, sticking to the shadows, and only started chasing when I was within a hundred feet and they'd caught sight of me. I lost them both in a mess of parked cars. I sat down on the curb across from the safe zone to catch my breath and basically had to watch as another 8 players dodged past me. Exhausted, I stumbled after each one in turn, but I couldn't catch any of them. After finishing off my water bottle, I trudged away. I didn't see another player all the way through the Presidio, past checkpoint 6, or on the road to the Marina. I'd resigned myself to defeat by then, of course, because I wouldn't have been able to chase a pregnant cow if she'd fallen down in front of me.
And so I made it all the way out to the docks, where a pack of chasers had set up camp in order to pick off the stragglers. There I found two of the players that I'd taken cards away from, and lo-and-behold... they were sporting red ribbons!
But the most amazing part of all... on the path out to the Wave Organ I saw three people in evening attire walking out of the darkness toward me - with unmistakably bushy hair. My eyes focused on three old friends: Avery, Wei and Lauren, who had just come from a party at the Yacht club, where our highschool friends Ana Lisa and Macy were celebrating their wedding. And so, tired, sweaty and filthy, having not spoken to either of them in 7 years, I snuck into the yacht club and gave them my personal congratulations (I hope you two have a brilliant time! I am overjoyed to see old friends looking so happy!)
My deepest thanks to all involved, I had a wonderful time! This was the perfect reintroduction to San Francisco, and the most satisfying break from the mundane landscape of the midwest (though my legs will disagree - I was limping for four days, and the blister on my right foot began to fester and I had to buy new shoes). And that was only the beginning of the most wonderful vacation ever! ... but the rest of my week will have to be another story.