February 12th, 2012 11:40 PM
I've put off submitting this proof way too long. The memories of that night are all in tatters and fragments now.
I remember moving as part of a massive surge from the starting line, jogging in packs of twenty and thirty, all of us amped up on adrenaline. Every now and then I'd hear a scream of "CHASER!" and see panic ripple through the crowd somewhere off to my side.
I made it to the first checkpoint in Chinatown with little difficulty, seeing only a couple of chasers who didn't look at me twice because there was so much easier prey to be had. The checkpoint was a fence full of last wishes written on bits of yellow paper, fluttering in the breeze.
After the first checkpoint the night got more sinister. Bad vibrations all around. I started passing fewer runners and more chasers. As long as I kept to the shadows, and looked nonchalant, they didn't see me, but then I was spotted in the open by someone who was obviously going to be able to outrun me. Tried to duck and hide, but he got me, and I was turned.
According to my collection of blue ribbons here, I caught seven runners in all. I don't remember them all individually. I remember a couple that I chased into the safety of a bus shelter, passed by, and then came back for from the other direction as they started to creep out. I remember one who I saw coming down a hill, and lay in wait for between parked cars, springing out like a trapdoor spider when he passed.
But mostly I remember Robin, my last capture of the night. Let me tell you about her.
It was somewhere around 11PM, and the runners were getting very scarce. Those that were left were lean and jumpy; I'd tried to run down a few, and mostly got little for my trouble but my gimpy knee deciding it was going to be a dick and start causing me massive amounts of pain. By this point of the evening I was limping noticeably and treating the pain with a small bottle of Johnny Walker that I'd picked up at a liquor store on Hyde along with a much larger bottle of water to keep myself hydrated.
There were chasers everywhere, fanning out around the Ft Mason checkpoint. A block away. Two blocks away. A group of chasers on every corner. All of them fresher than I was; if it came down to a foot race for one of those precious blue ribbons, no way I was getting it. But me, I'm wily. And as I slowly circled around the three-block-radius mark, I spotted her, across the street and half a block away. Couldn't see her ribbon, of course. My eyes haven't been that good in a long time. But the body language was unmistakable. She was half-walking, half-jogging, and scanning the area. Runner. She had the look of a track star on amphetamines, vibrating with potential energy.
Casually, very carefully, I left my lookout corner and strolled down the block without a backward glance. There were no other chasers out this far. She would mostly likely continue in a straight line. I ducked into a doorway and waited. And listened. And soon I heard the quiet, quick footsteps of my prey.
Miscalculated by a couple of seconds. Stepped out of the doorway just a smidge too early, with her about ten feet from me. "Hi there," I said, hoping to provoke a deer-in-headlights reaction, but her reflexes took over and she bolted like a gazelle. I didn't even try to give chase on my gimpy knee, but took note of which direction she had gone. Slim chance of being able to catch up with her, but it's not like I had any other leads to follow up on.
Continued on the way I'd been walking, beeline for the checkpoint. Then turned a corner, taking my course parallel to the one I'd last seen her on. Scanned the street, saw a row of trees, and went to walk in their shade. About a minute later... was that a late-night jogger?
She had to see me. But she was still coming. Maybe it wasn't the same runner. Or any runner at all. I clamped down on my instincts to hide or give chase, and became a pedestrian, not looking at anything in particular, not in any particular hurry. My red ribbon was in plain sight, mind you, but it was dark under those trees, and if I didn't act like a chaser, well, people see what they expect to see...
She jogged past me, and just as she looked at me with dawning horror, my hand clapped on her shoulder.
I felt bad. She'd obviously come a long way, only to get caught now. But me and my gimpy knee had earned that ribbon, and I claimed it. "I thought that was you," she said, shaking her head, "but I was going straight toward you, and it didn't seem like you even saw me, so I thought..." Yep, feeling pretty good about my acting skills.
I knew I wouldn't be able to top that capture, so I decided to head for the last checkpoint and check out the afterparty. Robin decided to go with me, for lack of anything better to do, and we become Journey friends. She was going to Berkeley (my alma mater), and had come over with a bunch of friends for her first Journey. They'd gotten separated early on, and she'd left all her stuff with them -- keys, wallet, phone. Also, they were her ride. So she was counting on being able to find them at the finish line.
No such luck. I lent her my phone so she could try to call them, but she suffered from the modern curse of not having any phone numbers actually memorized because they were all in her phone. After trying a few lifelines whose numbers she DID know but not getting to anyone who could give her the numbers she needed, she gave up and decided to wait. It was getting on toward midnight by this point, and I wanted to do one more quick sweep for stragglers and then catch the last bus home.
"Look," I told her, "you can't sleep in Crissy Field, and you can't walk home across the bridge. Here's my number. If you can't find your ride and it gets late, gimme a call." I figured she probably wouldn't need it, but I hated to think of someone stranded out there in the middle of the night. So I wished her luck, went off on my final sweep (saw a couple of runners, didn't manage to catch any), and headed home.
1:30AM. I've been home for maybe half an hour, the adrenaline high is starting to wear off, I'm thinking about bed. Phone rings.
"Everyone's leaving, and I still can't find my friends. Did you really want to drive me all the way to Berkeley? I feel bad, but..."
"Heck yeah. It'll be an adventure. And like I said, you can't sleep out there. Sit tight." More chipper than I felt at that late stage of the night, but, well, if not me, who, right?
2AM. Crissy field. The finish line party has wound down. Robin's sitting out in the parking lot with one other Journeyer, someone who lived nearby and had lent her the phone to make the call to me. It takes a village. To Berkeley!
I remember there being way more traffic than seemed reasonable for 2 in the morning. Not much else about the drive. Sleep deprivation had started to set in.
Almost 3AM. The Berkeley hills. The quest is at an end. Or is it? The roomies aren't home. Presumably they're still out there. Somewhere. Possibly looking for her. And they have her keys. So she's home, but she can't get in. And then she said the magic words.
"Can you help me break into my apartment?"
Can I goddamn ever. And so my Journey concluded with me hoisting her up to a balcony so she could open a conveniently unlocked window and get into her apartment. Any evening that ends with breaking and entering is automatically a success in my book. Made the drowsy drive to Berkeley entirely worthwhile. There was still the matter of the missing roomies (for whom she still did not have contact info), but she didn't have to sleep outside, so I considered my work done for the night.
"Thank you so much. I literally don't know what I would have done if I hadn't met you tonight. I can't believe you drove me all the way home. And then helped me break in here. Who does that?"
I didn't know what to say to that. "Me. Don't tell anyone, but I'm kind of a superhero."
She studied me. "Yeah. You totally are." She hugged me, thanked me again, and I quietly envied her having a comfy bed to crash in while I started the long drive back to mine.
4AM. Home. Thud.