Since most of our time was spent running in terror
and not documenting, FOEcakes is sharing our pool of photos amongst ourselves, which explains why you might see some repetition amongst praxii.
up to 7:30pm
In which we gather, arrive at the park, and begin.
has been looking forward to Journey to the End of the Night since we first heard it would be held in Chicago. Running howling through the night, climbing over things, scaring the living daylights out of people?
Nothing could be better. Except perhaps doing all those things and
defeating some cakes, our sworn foes.
A bunch of us met up beforehand and had some light food. I met a few new people who were going to be playing as well, and several of us swapped cellphone numbers (which would come very much in handy, later).
The FOEcakes mentioned in this praxis are:
Many other people of the kickass persuasion are also mentioned in this praxis:
Other fantastic, scary, and amazing people whose names I do not know, and so cannot be mentioned there.
We headed out to the park and got to meet Zer0gee in person, which was great:
We signed up and ribboned up, then milled around and waited to hear Dax's speech. Sparrows Fall, Mr. G, and Meredithian had some concerns about the upcoming game - would we even make it to the first checkpoint? We had read previous praxii - people had GPS, and several different maps, and all these amazing plans. We had our feet, and a lot of anxiety.
We were doomed.
Our attention was glued to Dax when he began to speak [Dax, are you going to put your speech up in a praxis? It was great to listen to, and I know I was wishing I had a voice recorder on me or something… - Sparrows]. Dax gave us the rules, and few additional suggestions - cars were just as dangerous on this night as they were any other night. Some of the chasers are on bikes - this is fair. Do not jump off bridges, unless it is something you do regularly and are comfortable with. Then it was time.
JJason is in this shot:
There was one perfect moment of stillness in the grey evening of the afternoon, around the gaping and empty fountain. Dax stood above us, hundreds of eyes on him, the whole crowd encircling him and poised, as if the world had drawn in a breath and held it, bracing, until –
Like a piece of expensive porcelain hitting the floor, the crowd broke, transforming from something beautiful and frozen to hundreds of scattering shards - fast, in small pieces, irrevocable.
And we were off.
From Start to Checkpoint 1
7:30pm to 8:10pm
In which we have tense brushes with chasers, say hi to the po-po, unsettle our friends, and consume vegan cupcakes.
Mr.G, Meredithian and I (Sparrows Fall) took off south, while the majority of FOEcakes took a southwesterly route out of the park (where they were soon to meet with their own set of hair-raising circumstances. But that's their story
to tell). There were two blues in front of us:
And two blues behind us:
Even though we tried to set out in a less popular direction, we kept hitting other small groups of blue-banded runners as we went, people's paths tangling up in each other again and again. There was an animal energy in the air - we were wired and jumpy, sometimes slowing down before every trash can, sometimes striding out of an alleyway without even thinking to look. We decided we'd keep off the main streets, and try to stay in the alleys.
A freeway lay like an impassible concrete river between us and Checkpoint 1. There were three crossings. Two were major – North, Division – and one small – Augusta. We went for the small crossing, thinking that chasers wouldn't have been placed as heavily there.
Meredithian's tendency to keep looking behind us landed her rearguard duty. Mr. G took lead, and I kept a paranoid eye on trashcans, doorways, intersecting mini-alleys, and crevices between buildings. For a time, things were uneventfully tense.
We reached Augusta and turned left, heading toward the freeway. On the way we passed a police van, and one of the officers called us over gruffly.
"What are these blue bands? Someone ran by with a blue band on a minute ago. Why are they running?"
We said we had no idea why someone would be running, and that the blue bands meant we were in a scavenger hunt, which satisfied him.
We reached the Augusta bridge and paused, wary. We were certain chasers were waiting to bracket people on either side of the thing, once they'd gotten to far onto it to be able to escape. But another two blues crossed ahead of us unharmed, so we ran for it. As soon as we were across we got off the road and into some trees, clearing them just in time to see the two blues sprint southward in the distance, as someone on a bike shot off in the same direction. Was this one of the bike chasers we had been warned about? (It turns out the bike chaser was Beetle Bomb, and you should check some of the other praxii, including hers, for some terrifying stories.)
We continued straight ahead, figuring that if the cyclist was
a chaser, we wanted to go any direction but
south. We made it down the road a bit, and almost to the edge of the safe zone – all we had to do was make it around a high wall and up about a block. But something felt wrong (Who am I kidding? Everything
felt wrong the whole time
- paranoia does that.), and we heard a voice.
The speaker stood just around the corner from us. Mr. G crept up on the wall, hunched down and moving slowly. Six feet from the corner he swung around, eyes wide, and with one furious gesture motioned us into the alleyway behind us as he began to run.
A chaser had stood just on the other side of the corner, and had called in on their cell to check in with Spidere
, giving away their position. Without that, we would have walked right into them.
We hauled ass down the alley, into the center of some kind of taxi distribution lot. Taxis were driving out, with people motioning them in and out of parking spaces and yelling at us to get the hell out.
We spilled out of the taxi area and into the safe zone of the first checkpoint. We had made it.
We were trotting up to the checkpoint when a chaser came walking slowly down the road toward us. He wore a red bandana and sunglasses. We stopped. He kept coming. We looked at each other. We were in the safe zone, right?
We asked him. He said yes. We still made a wide circuit around him, and he laughed.
This was not the last time we would see him.
We got our manifests signed and sat panting. The checkpoint folks (Sean Mahan and Lara Black!) gave us the next clue - we were looking for a tea party beneath an underpass. Formal dress. I forgot to take a picture at this checkpoint – sorry guys, adrenaline has a tendency to wipe out my planning circuits. Mr. G had a vegan cupcake. I should have had a vegan cupcake.
While we were here, my phone rang – it was Rex, who'd gone with the big group of FOEcakes.
"Where are you?" he asked.
"We're at the first checkpoint. Where are you?"
"Between the first and second. We're alone, everyone's gone."
"Shit, they're all caught? They're all chasers?" I asked.
"I don't know. One of them charged into us, and went right for Little Monk, and we scattered."
"Are you and Jane okay?" I asked.
There was a wary pause on the phone.
"How do you know I'm with Jane?" he asked.
"You sat next to each other at the restaurant. I figured if the group broke you guys would stick together."
"Are you lying? Can you see me right now? Are you a chaser?"
"I can't see you. Dude, I'm at the first checkpoint."
(Conversations of this nature would occur every time someone was out of our sight for the rest of the night.)
"Okay. Good luck."
I hung up, and immediately realized that Rex could have been turned into a chaser, and I'd just told him exactly where we were. Goddammit.
We dithered a bit figuring how to get from 1 to 2, and decided to head through Goose Island. This required another dangerous bridge crossing.
From Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2
8:10pm to 8:46pm
In which bells toll (though not for us), we reunite with our own, and are scattered by a chaser who wears his sunglasses at night.
We were tense about the bridge crossing again, but made it across without incident. Our plan was to take the Goose Island route to Halsted, and then run straight down Halsted until we hit the second checkpoint.
We trotted along the wide, dark industrial lane that ran through Goose Island, surrounded by empty warehouses, worrying that the Bicycle Chaser would zoom onto the street at any minute. By now it was dark, and there was a chill bite to the air. The sound of deep bells began to echo through the empty buildings. They were beautiful and eerie, chiming saturating the brick and stone as we crept down the middle of the street.
We came up out of the darkness onto Halsted, and crossed another small bridge. A straight line south. We bunched up, alert, when we saw someone with a red band on the other side of the street ahead, crossing perpendicular to us. We slowed, and they continued on. It's unclear whether they just didn't see us or thought we weren’t worth the trouble.
We picked up the pace as soon as we passed them, keeping an eye out behind us, and made good time. We moved fast enough that another group of blues came into sight ahead of us, and we decided to use them for bait. We slowed down. They slowed down, having apparently decided the same thing.
Then we realized we knew them.
It was the remnants of the other group of FOEcakes! Little Monk, Gremlin, and Kevin! They said they'd lost Sprite and some of the others a while ago, in a close call with a chaser.
More numerous now, we moved swiftly down Halsted. We were relaxed and happy as we neared the twin mouths of the Grand and Milwaukee Blue Line stop. Then we noticed a man walking toward us, purpose in his stride. He had sunglasses on, ones that seemed eerily familiar – but no red band!
We slowed, uncertain. He kept coming. Something rolled over subconsciously, and we bolted, just as if he were a banded chaser. (An aside here – this just goes to show that it's possible for people to fake their way into just about any role through sheer chutzpah, so long as they're believable enough to get buy-in from those around them. Take note.) He ran after us. Little Monk, Sparrows Fall, and Kevin ended up on the east side of Halsted while the chaser took off after Meredithian, Mr. G, and Gremlin.
My (Meredithian) experiences up to this point having been sufficiently described by Sparrows Fall, I’ll just pick up where Sparrows left off… mostly.
So when the chaser finally came at us, we split up, and I’ll mention what happened then momentarily.
It’s interesting how a group gets to that tipping point. We walked closer and closer to the chaser, and though I was wary, and even though I had recognized him in fact before he bolted and our group scattered, it still took several seconds for anything to happen. It did remind me in some way of animals. Moving as a herd, we began to act somewhat like one; we seemed to slow and wait for a sort of critical mass of collective concern to develop before we would run away from anything. Though we were jumpy, we were also painfully slow to react in many circumstances, which led to a lot of confusion later on. I was surprised at how easily our group shattered.
I was even more surprising at how I reacted instinctively whenever this happened. Twice during the night I bolted away from the group and ended up alone. I was very good at picking a direction to run in which would afford me the most time and strategic possibility for escape, even knowing my actions would separate me from my companions or even leave them to be caught.
When the chaser finally came at us, I turned 180 degrees and ran back north up Halsted. Mr. G was in front of me, and I was grateful I wasn’t alone, but I was hanging a bit behind, as I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to follow him blindly, either. I turned quickly west on Ohio and while Mr. G stuck to the side of the street we were on, I bolted to the north side of the street, where I ducked behind a row of parked cars. I watched as Gremlin, who I realized had been trailing behind us with the chaser on her heels, made her way in the same direction as Mr. G, who I could see looking around for me, wondering where I had gone. I felt a strange desire to hide even from him. When the chaser came around the corner after Gremlin I considered moving further away, even though he couldn’t see me. I could see a car nearby had just driven into a parking garage, and the door was slowly lowering. For several seconds I debated whether or not I should dive into the garage to hide out; even when it was a few feet from being closed the idea of an Indiana Jones dive and roll seemed like a fantastic idea. Ultimately, the only thing that kept me in the street was the fear of being trapped inside the garage with no way out.
I could see the chaser lingering on the corner, and I couldn’t tell if he could see Gremlin or not, and was just deciding not to go after her. Gremlin caught up with Mr. G but I was still uncertain I wanted to reveal my position to anyone. The chaser went around the other side, and I wasn’t sure if he was going to try and sneak up on Gremlin and Mr. G from another angle, so I held my position and waited to see what would happen.
The chaser came back briefly, and Little Monk, Kevin, and I stayed on our side of the street. Then he took off again, and we took the opportunity to bolt for the southern entrance to the El (which ran underground here), and the safety zone it provided. We made it, and immediately began phoning. But everyone was busy dealing with the chaser, who had switched targets back to them.
Sparrows called me to see what was going on, but uncertain as to what had happened to her and feeling suspicious in general, I didn’t say much, and quickly got off the phone, with the excellent excuse of “Chaser!” as I saw Mr. G and Gremlin bolt away from the same chaser who had obviously came at them from the other side of the building right behind them. My instincts had proved to be spot on. While the chaser was otherwise occupied, I ran back exactly the way I came, ending up at the El stop on the tip of the corner of Halsted and Milwaukee. Mr. G called me soon after from the stop across the street and we quickly met up; Sparrows Fall, Little Monk, and Kevin had also ended up on the east side of Halsted, but we had become separated from Gremlin.
Everyone made it back into the safe zone but Gremlin. Little Monk was certain Gremlin had been turned, as she was not answering her phone. We managed to call her, but Little Monk remained unconvinced that Gremlin hadn’t been turned. While standing in the entrance to the El deciding how to get the few scant blocks to Checkpoint 2, the chaser appeared at the mouth of the El, looming above us, still wearing his sunglasses. He asked us for one of our red bands, and admitted he had lost his own. We didn't want to give any of ours up, however, as most of us definitely wanted the ability to hunt people down like dogs should we be caught and turned. Finally someone realized that his red bandana (currently gracing his head) would serve as a fine chaser band, and he repurposed it accordingly.
We hung out until he left us alone, then cautiously stuck our heads out of the El stop. No sign of him. We sprinted across the street, Little Monk leading us through back alleys like a ninja.
We broke into the safe zone without any further incident, and found the tea party – as well as Myrna Minx! Hi Myrna! Yas was also here!
Since bad luck with a sprained ankle had prevented her from running, she was holding sway over Checkpoint 2, and was kind enough to sign our manifests while giving us the heads up to look for "Green and yellow" at Checkpoint 3.
Dax rode up on his bicycle then, with cameraperson in tow, and passed on some unsettling information - there were a ludicrous number of chasers ahead of us. Apparently a bunch of players had just gotten turned and were milling around. While there, we ran into Rex and Jane, and were happy to see that they'd made it this far. We also got another call from Gremlin – she was minutes away from heading in to Checkpoint 2. We saw her across the freeway, alone.
While we waited, a debate bloomed. How to proceed forward to Checkpoint 3? Most of us didn't want to get near the mass of chasers Dax had warned us about. However, Rex and Jane were equally vehement about staying away from the El, its limited methods of ingress and egress, and the chaser with sunglasses. Eventually we decided to split up, with Rex and Jane heading south, and Mr. G, Meredithian, Sparrows Fall, Gremlin, C, and Kevin heading back toward the El. We planned to take it in as close as possible to Lower Hubbard, where checkpoint 3 lay waiting.
From Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3
8:46pm to 9:40pm
In which public transportation aids us, someone calls in for our
brains location, and the Upper/Lower Wacker demarcation pulls us apart with a little help from our friends in red.
We broke for the El and made it without further incident. The ride itself was uneventful, but for the continuing debate about how to get out of the El station without getting dogpiled by the chasers we were sure awaited us, as well as whether we should take Michigan or Lower Wacker to get us close to Checkpoint 3. We spilled out of the El and stopped in the middle of the station to plan in safety.
While there, Kevin's phone rang. It was Ms. Goblinpants, who we hadn't seen or heard from since the beginning of the game. She asked him where we were. He asked her if she was a chaser. She mumbled something and hung up.
Throughout the night many people, including me, compared this game to a zombie apocalypse scenario. And it was
very similar - except that if your friends get turned into zombies they don't ring you up and go, "Sooooo….where
are your brains right now, exactly? Do you have the cross-streets for that? Great, that's great, could you just hang out there for, oh, about another five minutes?"
We started moving again, and to our joy discovered that the El station faced the street with a bunch of windows. As one, we pressed ourselves against them, craning our heads up and down the street, looking for chasers. I'm sure we looked weird as hell.
We didn't see anything, so we moved fast for the street, kept along it until we found Garvey, and turned immediately down into Lower Wacker. We spread out, with a wary eye towards either side of the underground road. There were fewer places to run, but we also figured it would be less popular and so less likely to be frequented by the chasers.
I *loved* that we took the Lower Wacker route, and not just because it was my idea. It had the perfect ambiance for the Journey, I thought. Strange underground tunnels, somewhat deserted... or so it seemed...
We saw someone leaning against a cement support up ahead, and slowed. Mr. G took lead and I took second. He got close enough to ascertain it was just someone smoking, unmarked – they weren't in the game. We moved forward again. The path forked, one left, one right, and we headed right.
Two people were walking in our direction, at about the same pace as we. We slowed down again. Kevin and I took lead. One of the people was carrying a water bottle – that probably meant they were in-game. They were eerily expressionless – none of the waves or grins we had exchanged with other groups of blues we had encountered were in evidence here. Then one turned slightly, and the bright white light of the underground caught at the band on their upper arm – crimson.
"RED, RED, RUN!!!"
We bolted back and took the other side of the fork. After a bit it became clear they hadn't followed us, and we slowed down.
We came to the bridge that crossed the river. Just on the other side lay Checkpoint 3. There was a miscommunication, and suddenly Little Monk, Gremlin, Meredithian, and I were on the upper part of the bridge, while Mr. G and Kevin were beneath it. Meredithian got on the phone with Mr. G, but he said something about chasers and hung up fast. It sounded like they were penned in – that maybe they had been caught. Not having Kevin's number, we could only guess that the same had happened to him.
To be fair, Mr. G called me and I was extremely wary (as I had been with everyone throughout the race) that he had been turned and was calling me for the sole purpose of entrapment! I was very vague and hedged a lot on the phone, even when he assured me he and Kevin were safe and asked where I was at, to guide us into the checkpoint, I revealed nothing. I hung up on him abruptly, citing possible danger, even when there was none - we were just about to reach the checkpoint. I was amazed at my ability to write off people I had been bonded to moments before. Once out of sight, they were near dead to me, and I would take no chances.
Wary, we drifted into the Michigan Avenue crowds, trying to look at everyone's upper arms. We found the stairs down to lower Hubbard, warily approached, then bolted for it. We reached the bar, and found Kevin and Mr. G! False alarm, it turns out, and both were okay.
We went in, and Terpsichore was kind enough to sign our manifest.
While there, we discovered that Rex and Jane - they had also made it through! We were happily reunited. We had made it alive halfway through the game, with only Ms. Goblinpants down, as far as we knew.
From Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 4
9:40pm to 10:13pm
In which one of our own seeks out socks, Michigan Avenue is remarkably safe, we make a dumb mistake regarding block location, and our numbers grow.
We got moving again, all of us heading up to Michigan, determined to take it south into the city, since it had served us so well last time. Then suddenly Jane slowed – she needed to buy socks. Our group strung out, indecisive. Some stayed with Jane to keep her company. Mr. G, Meredithian, and I were on point and didn't realize people had gone back until they were already out of sight. We decided to continue on. We headed back down Michigan the way we had come, trying to blend into a huge crowd of about fifteen rowdy people in the hopes that chasers would mistake us for people who weren't in-game.
While tense, things were still uneventful. We spotted a pack of blues ahead of us, and tracked slowly behind them.
When we glanced back we saw Kevin, walking confidently down the street in our direction. He told us what had happened with the socks, and said that everyone else was on their way in a few blocks behind us.
Again, when Gremlin called and asked where we were, and I hedged. I couldn't outright lie, because I felt guilty, but the location tags I gave were at least five minutes behind where we were actually at. I was starting to be concerned about the level of my mistrust.
We kept pace behind the blues until we made it to the safe zone – or rather, what we thought
was the safe zone. We'd gotten turned around somehow, and thought it was one block north of its actual position. Luckily there weren't any chasers in the area, or we would have trotted right up to them like lambs. We spotted the box tower that looked like it was Checkpoint 4 (what else could a giant tower of boxes be on this night?), and at first thought the police had made them move down a block.
We headed for the tower, and were happy to see that Sprite had clearly made it at least this far, as he'd signed his name on the tower. We signed our names as well, stamped our manifests, picked up the next clue ("Two girls, one dress") and waited until the rest of our people caught up.
While there, we were approached by two other players – Ninja and her friend had lost their group early on, and were traveling alone, wondering if they could join up with us. We were happy to have them. About the same time we settled that we'd all be traveling together, the others showed up and told us the bad news – Jane had decided to stop while she was ahead, before her sore feet took her out of the game. We were sorry we didn't get to say goodbye.
Once everyone got their manifests stamped, the nine of us headed out (Mr. G, Meredithian, Sparrows Fall, Gremlin, Little Monk, Kevin, Rex, Ninja, Ninja's friend). Kevin used to work downtown, and knew several back streets he said would keep us out of harm's way.
From Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5
10:13pm to 11:02pm
In which everything goes to hell.
This is where everything went to hell.
Things started out tense. Moments after we had emerged from the safe zone, we spotted the telltale red armband of a chaser on someone across the street from us. Luckily they were traveling in the opposite direction, and traffic was heavy. We kept a wary eye behind us, in case they crossed and came after us, and decided to switch our armbands en masse to the side of us not facing the road.
We also strung out a bit, clustering into groups of two or three, so that we didn't look like a giant glaring pack of people. We could have been any group of tense, jumpy Chicagoans out for a stroll that night.
At that point I was starving, and Gremlin saved me by offering me a candy bar, which I ended up splitting with Mr. G. Heartened, I paused briefly to take a picture of the city as we crossed the bridge that would bring us on to canal.
You got a candy bar!?!
It was at this point that Dax wheeled up to us, still with cameraperson, and smiled. He stuck beside us as we trotted south on Canal, long enough to tell us that at least fifty chasers were hanging out on the road ahead of us.
Thankful for the warning but not for its content, we grimly pushed forward. The problem with Checkpoint 5 was that since it was on a bridge there were only two possible entrances. That made it easy to block, and easy for chasers to stalk people coming in, since the paths of approach were severely limited.
We continued down Canal, spread out, paranoid, and jumpy. We came to a street corner, and a guy stepped into view across the street from us, talking on his cellphone. We could see one arm, but not the cell arm. We stopped on our corner. The light changed so he could cross to the corner furthest away from us.
He did not move.
We did not move.
That went on for a bit.
He finally started walking away from us.
We started crossing, and got at the right angle to spot the telltale red band on his cellphone arm. He kept going, and we trotted warily across.
We came to an access road leading down, which looked good, except it was private property, and possibly a dead end. Should we risk being trapped or take the obvious route? We slowed, discussing.
And the fucking chaser whipped around and ran back across the street at us.
(This picture looks horrible on my display. I think that is because it is TREMENDOUS IN SIZE. If you head down to the proof list at the end and open it in another window, you will see it in its true grandeur.)
We scattered, Meredithian and Kevin heading north up canal, the other seven of us down the access road. The chaser picked meredithian and Kevin. I hung back, crouched behind the wall of the access road, and watched as kevin's sprint carried him away from the chaser, who slowed to a jog. He was still only about ten feet away. I turned and sprinted back down the access road, to where Ninja and her friend waited.
"He's off Kevin and might come back this way, go, go!"
It turned out, in fact, he'd taken off after Meredithian, but we didn't know that at the time.
Thinking the access road to the parking garage was sure to be a dead end leading to chaserhood, I ran in the opposite direction of everyone else. I couldn't help but feel that my plan was not only more sound, but also that the easy pickings in the parking garage would be sought after first, and that I was safe.
Here my instincts for self-preservation failed me; I couldn't have been more wrong. I saw the chaser follow not the seemingly trapped herd, but rather Kevin, who was surprisingly fast.
I had already bolted half the block, and thought he had gone for Kevin, and so had slowed down near a doorway. But when I looked up, I saw had given up on Kevin, and seen me stop. He must have thought I was weak, or slow, or something else prey-like, because suddenly he was locked onto me and coming up fast. I took off, and ran another block before looking over my shoulder only to see that he was still with me! He was no closer, but he hadn't given up. I ran on, only looking ahead. After passing another street I took the chance of looking over my shoulder again, and thought I could still see a black clad figure about the same distance away! We kept running, neither gaining, neither slowing. I no longer looked back. When I saw what I thought was an alley, I cut in, thinking this could be my chance to get away, only to find it was a dead end.
Panting, seconds ticking by, I debated my options. Here I was trapped. I could either wait for the inevitable, or try to break for it. I wasn't going to give up without a fight, so quickly I decided I might still have a close second or two to bolt out of the alley and make another break. I jogged to the corner, and with a quick glance that revealed nothing, I shot off, back onto Canal, but... the chaser was nowhere in sight. Hadn't he been right with me, only maybe 50-100 feet behind? Where could he have gotten to so fast, if he had only just given up? Was it someone else in black I had seen in my furtive over the shoulder glimpses? It didn't matter. He could be hiding nearby, lying in wait. I jogged skittishly across the street, trying to see if he was behind some cars - a tactic I had used earlier. I couldn't see him anywhere. He was, inexplicably and suddenly, gone.
This did not relieve my tension at all. I was now over four blocks away, in an area apparently riddled with chasers, and with no idea what had happened to anyone else. All alone.
I was in a parking lot of sorts, skulking around cars, probably looking very suspicious. I couldn't decide if I should go back the same way, and run the risk of following the chaser who I had just lost, or try to try and find out what had happened to other people. After being part of a group all night, even when I felt fettered by our need for group decisions, I found myself not wanting to be solely responsible for myself. I didn't know what to do.
I was about to walk over to the nearest large intersection, Canal and... something, just to see how far away I was, and come up with a plan. The very idea seemed distasteful. Then I saw what I thought would be my salvation - there seemed to be some kind of street, or something, running under Canal. Was there a Lower Canal like there was a Lower Wacker? I was going to have to climb over a very high and pointy fence to find out but, well, that just seemed like more fun. My enthusiasm renewed, I bounded onto a guardrail and leapt over the 6'-8' wrought iron fence and then slid down a gravel embankment into an underground passage. It was a very long parking garage, with no end in sight.
Meanwhile, the rest of us (sans Kevin) ran down the access road beside the train/El tracks, then slowed to a walk, and a few minutes later were into a big parking garage. I called Meredithian, who it turned out had sprinted about 8 blocks away and lost the chaser, but didn't know where she was and needed time to re-orient. We got off the phone.
So here the seven of us were, stuck in a parking garage. We were pretty sure the chaser was heading back to the entrance we'd used to get in, which left only two ways out – a set of metal stairs up through the center of the garage, and the driveway entrance for cars. We headed for the stairs. Mr. G took a step or two up them, peering up. He backed down, and motioned us back. We were in a diffuse group through the structure, keeping as much space between us as possible. We headed for the entrance driveway.
Little Monk and I took point, me on right, she on left. I got just far enough out to see a group of five chasers right on top of the entrance outside
. I scooted backward the same time Little Monk did [LM – were those the guys you saw, or did you see someone else, too?]. They had been talking. There was a good chance they didn't see us.
Little Monk and I motioned everyone else back vigorously, and we all moved back into the garage at a trot.
Mr. G was just ahead of me. This gave me a great view when he glanced casually back, his eyes widened and he screamed, "CHASER, CHASER!"
And pointed directly the fuck behind me.
I swung around, and a woman with a red band was about twelve feet back and in the middle of us, coming at a sprint, like demon out of nowhere.
We all sprinted. I tracked Mr. G, who took a flying leap over a low cement wall. I was right on his heels.
We ran across the gravel and into a parking lot, and turned around to see a chaser on an upper level of the garage (who we would have seen close-up, had we taken the stairs), but not our chaser.
(It turns out that ninja and her friend had sprinted back out of the garage the way we came, and our chaser followed them, not the rest of us. I wasn't in a head count mode, though, as we were still in immediate danger. [Guys, what happened to you? Dax said you got caught in the produce section of Whole Foods?])
The parking lot was completely encircled with a chain link fence. We were cornered.
Then it became clear there was an entrance at one end, and we headed for it. It came out right at the edge of the safe zone for Checkpoint 5.
Which was crawling with chasers.
We reached the exit of the parking lot and a group of chasers ran toward us. We sprinted out of the confines of the garage, across the street, through a parking lot, toward a grocery store, then around the backside of a bank. (Somewhere in all that mess I'm pretty sure one of the chasers was star5, but we're not sure what bit was hers, exactly.)
And suddenly we were down to four. Rex, myself, Gremlin, and Little Monk were all that remained. Somehow we'd lost Mr. G, but we didn't know when. We sat panting and out of sight behind the bank. I called Mr. G, but he didn't answer.
I called Meredithian. She had found a vast underground garage and was making her way south. We hadn't seen Kevin since the original run at the beginning of the access road, and I didn't have his number. Didn't have Ninja and her friend's number, either.
There were four of us, down from nine. And between us and the safe zone was a pack of at least six chasers.
At this point, Mr. G called me and said he was already at Checkpoint 5, but thought that everyone else caught. My heart sank. Sparrows Fall! I felt a bit more emboldened, though, thinking that even if alone, I was still in the game, when others had seemingly faltered. Mr. G offered to explain to me how he had found a tricky way out of the parking garage, but I told him that I was too far away for his intel to be of any use, and that I had my own plan, and would meet him soon.
The parking garage was far more eerie than either Goose Island or Lower Wacker had been. The atmosphere thrilled me, and I jogged along at a clip. There was no way I would meet a chaser down here. It was my secret to success.
However, nearing the spot right about where I thought we had split up originally (at about Taylor) I could see something tragic - a fence, from the floor to the ceiling, signalling the end of my path. I came closer and stopped, stared... there was about a foot or foot and a half gap between the top of a 20' or so chain link fence. I could climb it and *maybe* sneak through, but the other side, when would that end? I couldn't see what was over there. No more parked cars, and within a few feet, no more lights. possibly a huge wall that I couldn't see. Also... right before I climbed up anyway, partly to see just if I could, and how far I could get (I had after all brought a flashlight) I noticed that the halogen lights on the fence weren't really attached to anything else. There was no warning sign but, was this fence... electrified? I seriously doubted it, but I couldn't be sure. Heeding Dax's earlier words (and not knowing of any positive test on how to find out if a fence was electrified without actually touching it - why hadn't I researched that online?) I decided not to risk it. But this meant I would have to go back.
On my backtrack I tried not to feel dejected. After all, I had seen no other exits. Maybe the way I came in was the only way in and even if I had made it under the safe zone, I would have had to go back anyway.
We sat for a while, then decided to break so that there were two of us on either side of the street and just sprint for it. Run right into the midst of them, kamikaze, and if we couldn't get through, at least die gloriously.
Little Monk checked one side of the building and it was clear. I checked the other.
And miraculously, the chasers had disappeared from the mouth of the safe zone.
And then some blue appared from further west and ran east down Roosevelt toward the safe zone alone.
We sprinted, following the fellow blue in, in case the reds were all in hiding somewhere. And we made it. Waiting for us were Mr. G and Kevin. With blue ribbons intact! They had made it!
I called Meredithian. Her underground parking garage scheme had backfired – dead end. She had to backtrack. We got our manifest signed by "Two girls one dress". I didn't recognize InkTea (who I'd met at brunch), because she was in makeup and I was on the phone and adrenaline scattered and probably just not that attentive a person to begin with, unfortunately. I finally apologized and got out of the restaurant, since I was incapable of lucid human interaction just then.
I tried to get Meredithian to tell me where she was. She wouldn't, suspicious that I had been chasered and would lead her into a trap. I said I'd call back. The rest of us regrouped and agreed to wait in case Meredithian was able to make her way in safely.
Back above ground and once more four blocks away, I got a call from Sparrows Fall. Everyone had made it to the safe zone, except me. They had been trying to call me. I was far away, alone, and had wasted maybe twenty minutes or more on my underground adventure.
You sounded so sad on the phone.
I was feeling close to the end of my rope. I imagined no way in. Sparrows said Checkpoint 5 was crawling with chasers, many who had been recently turned and were taking a break, or hoping to catch a runner and hurry to the end. From the beginning of the race I was convinced I might not make it past even the first checkpoint, convinced the chasers would cover all bridges and choke points and there would be nearly no way through, without some sacrifice. I tried to tell myself that if I made it past Checkpoint 3, I would feel some sense of accomplishment. But to get *this* far, and all my friends to have made it except me... I could only blame myself. This is where my actions had led me. When I could have stuck with the group I abandoned them. If now I was alone, and going to get caught alone, that could only be because of me.
Meredithian, I had no idea you were having a dark tea-time of the soul!
However, depsite all that, I was once again suspicious that Sparrows herself hadn't been caught and turned, and was trying to suss me out. I hedged and flailed. Finally, at Harrison and Clinton, I told her my plan was to get on the Green line, which I was sure had a Clinton stop somewhere nearby.
Sparrows told me not to do that! Not only because the Green line was much farther north than I thought (and indeed, the stop on my map that I made it to was only the Blue line Clinton stop, which did not go to Roosevelt) but because the Roosevelt stop was actually two blocks or more east of the safe zone. I eventually chose to believe her, after talking with her for many minutes. She couldn't be wasting this much time as a chaser just for me. But it still felt hopeless. She was directing me to come back east on Clinton, or maybe Jefferson, all the way to Roosevelt, and then come north from there. It didn't seem like it would work, but it was the only plan I had. Tired and alone and a 15 minute walk away, I took her advice as my only option.
I phoned her again, and she was coming in one block away, on Clinton. We decided to be her eyes, standing on the street corner and looking for reds.
A pack of reds came by and stood on the corner outside the safe zone, catcalling, encouraging us to cross, their sirens to our Odysseus. After a while they just crossed and went into the diner for some water. There was another group of chasers hiding about thirty feet to the north, near Staples, but they weren't looking south and couldn't see much of Roosevelt, so if Meredithian came in at a run she would make it.
Sparrows talked to me the entire way in. The conversation varied from boring to frustrated ("Here's where I am. Is it clear?" "I CAN'T see you - I DON'T know!") but as I got closer, I felt this just might work. After all, I was so late, maybe most of the chasers had gone.
This proved to be true, as when I finally got within sight of my crew, there were no obstacles between me and the 5th checkpoint. Upon reaching Checkpoint 5, I was overcome with gratitude and more than a little chagrin. The entire night I had been willing to abandon my teammates and write them off as soon as we were endangered. But everyone - even Mr. G who wanted not only to finish, but to finish fast - had waited for me, for over 30 minutes, to arrive. It had taken us an hour overall to get from Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5, and most of that time was due to me.
We kept an eye out, and when the moment was right Meredithian came sprinting in from Roosevelt and made her way into the safe zone. We were once again a single unit.
Meredithian went in a got her manifest signed, while Kevin screwed with the chasers.
So, yeah, you two chasers from the Staples group who were coming south toward Roosevelt when you heard a blue scream, "Run, they're coming!" And motion wildly? And then you slowed down and went into stealth mode and started creeping around the building? There was totally no one there.
After having my manifest signed, and taking a much needed bathroom break, I was on the road, with my friends, and determined and certain, for the first time, to get all the way to the end.
Meredithian returned, and we set out through the safe zone toward Checkpoint 6, and the end of the game. Like a doomful harbinger, Dax and his cameraperson materialized out of the night to accompany us, with news that most of the chasers had gathered between Checkpoints 5 and 6 to stop the surviving runners from finishing the game.
They would lie throughout Grant park, obscured in the green darkness, waiting.
From Checkpoint 5 to the Finish
11:02pm to 12:08am
In which we almost split up but then stay together, are jumpy like bunnies, and attempt the green belt crossing to freedom.
Between us and the finish line, a supposed army of chasers. Beside us, Dax, friendly and full of information but also standing out like a signal flare to any nearby chasers. Within us, doubt.
How could we get to the Shedd Aquarium?
It was possible to take the direct route, but it was likely infested with reds. Many of us wanted to go north. But some had people not in-game who were depending on them being at certain places by certain times that night, and the game had already had hold of them for far too long. Also, some of us were just impatient. ;)
We argued about where to go as we walked, Dax wheeling beside and ahead of us the whole time.
Our group almost split in two, with three taking the direct route and the remaining four taking an indirect, northbound way. But the three decided we were going to do this together, or not at all, and reversed, heading north as well, until all seven of us were reunited (still accompianed by the companiable Dax).
So we continued, Mr. G, Meredithian, Sparrows Fall, Little Monk, Gremlin, Kevin, and Rex. Kevin came up with a good martyr's plan – if we got bogged down in chasers and one of us was tagged, the tagged person was to grab the chaser in a huge bear hug. By the time the chaser managed to peel their ill-gotten gains off of them and get the blue ribbon, the rest of us would be long gone. Little Monk, who had been trailing the group, chose that moment to run up to us screaming, and we all freaked. This is her just afterward, looking appriately nefarious:
We headed north, then east again, hoping to avoid the majority of the chasers we suspected were gathering around the El stop just to the east of the Roosevelt safe zone (and from reading other people's praxii, it looks like that was a good choice…).
We darted south into a park, argued about the proper direction, then headed north again. While we were busy with that, Dax headed on without us.
We were crossing a street when we saw someone who looked suspiciously in-game (dressed in hardy clothing, water bottle, the intent look) coming up behind us. The suddenly we were running – they were after us! Two blocks away we found out from those of us in the rear that it had been a blue, charging at us to freak us out. Which ended up handy, because it sped us up enough to ease a little of the time pressure that some folks were dealing with.
One last bridge crossing, into Grant park, lay before us. Beyond that, Lakeshore Drive, the last obstacle before the Checkpoint 6 safe zone. We crept forward. Mr. G took lead. Only the night and the trees were there to greet us.
We heard yelling to the south, but saw nothing, and continued on. I tried to convince people we should just charge across Lakeshore Drive, but was overruled. We were approaching the intersection when the pedestrian crossing began to flash red. We sprinted.
And like that, we were safe - after chasers and separations and reunions, through a game that we later learned had taken two-thirds of the runners that began it.
We made it, and we made it together.
We walked in, jubilant. I paused to take a picture of the city, and then a snapshot of the party when we found it.
(I know it's blurred - I was using my knee to brace the camera, and my legs were shaking.)
After that, Dax gave out medals to people with the best story of their night, in ten words or less! Oliver X
, who had used children to scout for chasers, won:
As did the Sean Mahan and Lara Black, who manned Checkpoint 1 (I got a picture of you guys after all!) for talking to a police officer about whether they were re-opening the restaurant Checkpoint 1 was positioned in front of:
And Little Monk, for her story about faking her way past the Bicycle Chaser by pretending she was just someone trying to get into her apartment:
And in a perfect conclusion to the night, we also found some cupcakes that had not yet been eaten - being foes of cakes, this was the perfect opportunity to crush those tiny villains. Picture of said event is in Little Monk's praxis
Fittingly, on the way out we saw a red ribbon laying abandoned on the ground:
To Dax, and all of the wonderful volunteers who made Journey to the End of the Night: ChicagØ work, thank you. This was a fantastic voyage, and one we will remember for a long time. You turned us from plainclothes Chicagoans into metronauts, and set us loose upon the city.
I will end with some of the physical remains of the night. One red ribbon, unused
One blue ribbon, well
A somewhat battered map for Checkpoints 1 and 2:
battered map for Checkpoints 3-6:
It's interesting looking at the different dynamics of games that tend to echo war. Paintball, football, chess, Journey to the End of the Night. Two teams, a distinct playing field (whether a city or a checkered board), strategies and fallen. We had to deal with communications compromised by the enemy (as people once our friends turned chaser and tried to get us to reveal our location). There were sudden encounters, ambushes, people approaching who could be friends, enemies, or innocent bystanders. Encounters were not scheduled – they happened suddenly, and sometimes you were not certain whether they had happened at all, or if you were jumping at ghosts in the night (or some guy out walking his dog). Periods of long, tense waiting were followed by explosive moments of running and adrenaline. We planned in an environment of high uncertainty, and watched those plans dissolve in seconds, watched miscommunications open people to risk, watched choices we could very easily have made ourselves end in catastrophe.
I like this game better than most of the others, if only because the people who are taken aren't left to stand at the sidelines, or removed from the board entirely. They merely put on a different color, start playing by different rules, phone you up and see if they can get you to tell them where you are. They stand across the street and tease and jeer, and wave you over to them with open arms.