There was a movie in 1980 called "Midnight Madness" that featured some kind of scavenger hunt on a college campus or something. I think I saw it. Variations on the theme have persisted for years but at the very least things like Amazing Race are more modern incarnations - teams solve clues that lead them to a new location where they solve clues that lead to the next location and on and on until the final puzzle. And that was the basic theme of an event held in West Orange and surrounding locales (mostly the Livingston Mall) that I reluctantly participated in a few weeks ago. Wait -- that's not the right word. What's the word for "god I can't believe I spent a Saturday night riding around in a minivan in Livingston NJ taking pictures in front of Manhattan Bagel" -- oh, right "sadly". That's the word.
So we didn't know what we were getting into (at all), except that for the week before the "event" we were bombarded with emails from the maniac in charge, oh and from the event's organizers as well. Mike had convinced everyone to wear bandanas. I refused. But I did dress in black. Here's an hour by hour recap (for old time's sake)
5:30 pm: We all arrive at the beautiful Office Bar & Restaurant in downtown Montclair for fine dining until a moonlight sky. Oh wait, no. We were at a place with burn marks in the well-worn carpeting and a mixed crowd of vagrants and heavy drinkers, but on the bright side we at least got a room to ourselves. And by "room" I mean the back of the restaurant where we the only ones daring to eat.
6:00 pm: Larry goes on Facebook Live to start live-blogging. Mike (name redacted) dodges the camera to avoid being seen by anyone he knows. I pound my first beer. There isn't much time to get drunk.
6:14 pm: We settle on a team strategy to maximize our strengths -- Jill will drive; Jonathan will GPS; Mike will sprint for the first clue; Larry and Bill will try to contain their sarcasm; Amy will question how her choices in life led her to this moment.
6:17 pm: Bill plays a Sufjan Stevens song on his phone. For old time's sake.
7:00 pm: We get to the starting line early. The rest of the teams greet and hug each other -- it's obvious we are the outsiders in this event and that everyone here has run this before. Undaunted, we rally around the fact that we have the most diverse team in the event, in that we have the only black person involved. Although "rally" may not be the appropriate word. We are in a wooded section of a suburban development with all white people in matching uniforms. Mike starts to look nervously around him.
7:19 pm: We take team photos (above) and get the instructions for the event - basically we get 3 clues to start and as you solve the clues, you take pictures in front of the "destination", email them to the race organizers, and then get the next clue. There's something about secret envelopes and 10-minute penalties but I really need to pee and it's freezing out and I forgot how much less fun this night is going to be without alcohol.
7:30 pm: The event starts with us rushing to the car, Jill (mistakenly?) slamming my hand in the minivan's car door, Larry and Mike watching Jonathan go for the first clue, Amy and me screaming at Jill to open the car door which still has my hand slammed inside, passersby going "holy shit are you alright?", me smiling and saying yes fine, but can you please ask Jill to open the door... it opens, all is well (nothing is broken somehow and it only stings for like 20 minutes) and then we all watch as Jonathan lumbers back from the first clue "race". We're already behind.
Everyone: "Go go go!"
Jill: "which way?"
Bill and Larry: "Turn right".
Jonathan: "No, no don't listen to them, go right!"
Mike: "What is wrong with you idiots?"
Amy: (still contemplating choices in life)
7:40 pm: We figure out the first clue is Macy's and drive to the first Macy's we can find but then Bill (I don't remember who but let's just say it's me) figures out the next two clues are also at a mall (Auntie Anne's and Claire's -- Amy figured that one out, it was pictures of famous Claires (Breakfast Club, Homeland, etc.) so we turn around just as we reach one mall and head to the Livingston Mall, which someone Googled and found had all three stores.
7:45 pm: We "sprint" into the mall and Jill and Jonathan get yelled at by mall security. "We're in a race!" someone shouts. The security guard contemplates his choices in life.
7:48 pm: We run past 3 other teams also doing this stupid event and get photo-bombed at Auntie Anne's.
7:50 pm (spoiler alert)... and then we lose the game. Here's a quick recap. Jonathan, after imploring everyone repeatedly all night that there were to be no bathroom breaks, suddenly decides to make a pit stop. In the meantime, Bill and Jill run ahead to pull the car around. Larry calls the game masters for the next clue. By the time we all reconvene at Jill's car, we realize the next answer - Van's - was actually 5 feet from the freaking Auntie Anne's. Oy vey. We all pile back out of our VAN and run back through the mall next to the Auntie Anne's and take another picture. Then we decide to figure out the next clue without moving, as it may be in the mall still and yeah... the next clue gives us three AM times on Tuesdays over the next month... and we're stumped.
Jonathan: "Where's the closest Ruby Tuesday's!"
Larry: "There's nothing about rubies in there."
Bill: "Wait, let me look up the birthstone for ruby..."
Mike: "It's 20 minutes away, in Madison."
Bill: "No, it's July"
Jill: "Is it Jewish holidays?"
Larry: "No, it's Ruby Tuesday's"
Amy: "Maybe it's in the numbers -- they all add up to 21."
Bill: "Hold on, I'm Googling Jewish holidays."
Mike: "Forever 21!"
Larry: (at Auntie Anne's) "Can we get 4 pretzels please?"
Amy (at mall directory) : "There's no Forever 21 in this mall?"
Jonathan: "This is stupid, it's got to be Ruby Tuesday"
Amy: "There's something called Rue 21."
Jonathan: "Does 'rue' mean Tuesday?"
Amy: (to herself) "No, idiot."
Bill: "It means road."
Larry: "Extra honey mustard, please."
Mike: (on the phone with his friend): "No, we're playing this stupid game at Livingston Mall"
The rest of the teams in the competition: "I think that new team is still at the Livingston Mall."
Sufjan Stevens: "You should at least take a picture in front of Rue 21, just in case."
Jonathan: "All right, come on!"
Larry: "Yes, this is team Black, we just sent an email in front of Rue 21"
Organizer (suppressing laughter): "No that's not it."
Larry: "OK, I didn't think so."
Organizer (after hanging up): "Oh my god, guess what Team Black just sent me."
Organizer #2: "Nuh uh. Wait - are they still in the Livingston Mall?"
Sufjan Stevens: "Idiots."
8:27 pm: Amy remembers there's a store called Tuesday Mornings, which is not in the mall, but somewhere in West Orange I think and we drive over there and take a picture. Not our best moment of the race. Spoiler Alert. We did not win.
8:40 pm: We're back on a roll (or we start the first roll) with some successful clue solving - "ties lined up in an L shape" = The Tile Shop (Bill), "King Tut in a water bottle" - oh wait, I'm misremembering. Yeah it took us a good 10 minutes and several texts to Jason before Amy came up with Bottle King, a liquor store, which... yeah that's my bad, and Mike doesn't let me run in "to use the bathroom" because he knows there's no way I'm escaping there without alcohol.
8:58 pm: Manhattan Bagel (Jonathan) and then Wine Legend (Amy? I don't remember, let's give her credit, and Jill was doing the driving so she wasn't solving, she was busy running red lights to get us to the Wine Legend parking lot 17 seconds faster, which will give us a crucial "victory".) Larry, Bill, and Jonathan fight over directions again and we get to Elle Squared.
9:17 pm: We receive our final clue outside of Elle Squared in, let's just say, Livingston. I meant to write this recap when it was fresher in my mind but I had no time.
(Note: This is not the actual final clue. Spoiler alert: We never get past this one)
9:18 pm: The clue reads: "When your vision improves you can..."
9:20 pm: "Text Jason."
9:21 pm: "There's a See Clear Vision specialist in Summit 20 minutes away." "Nah, there's no way they'd have us drive that far."
9:23 pm: "Yeah, hi, this is Team Black, are there any clues that would take us to Summit"
(open laughter from the organizers).
9:24 pm: The actual competitors who know what they're doing are onto their final clues. We're about 8 clues behind.
9:27 pm: "OK there's a See Clear at St. Barnabas Ambulatory Center nearby, about 10 minutes away. Worth a shot?"
9:32 pm: "We're going the wrong way!"
9:44 pm: "This doesn't look right."
9:49 pm: "Try the other side of the hospital."
9:51 pm: "What about in the back?"
9:57 pm: After driving around the empty parking lot of a long closed hospital for 20 minutes, Jill finally gives up and pulls off the road for us to "think".
Jonathan: "I still think we should try Summit."
Bill: "I want to go home."
Mike: (on the phone) "No, I don't know where we are, I stopped paying attention an hour ago."
Amy: (no longer contemplating, now fully regretting her choices in life).
Larry; "See clear, see clear."
Jill: "Should we call Jason again?"
Chris Melluse: "Bunch of idiots"
Switsky: (via text): "Hahahahaha"
Somewhere in West Orange: "Congratulations to Team Green on the Midnight Madness championship."
Jonathan: "Is it something about seeing far?"
Bill: "What about Seaside, something down there?"
Larry: "Wait I found a See Clear! But it's in Thailand."
Mike: (on the phone): "Oh my god, these white people are so stupid."
Larry: "Found one in Beijing now."
Bill: "Why is your Google maps in Asia?"
Jonathan: "Call them and make sure it's not a possibility."
Pete Melluse: "Bunch of idiots."
Larry: "No but seriously, 21 plus Ruby Tuesday = see clear, it's so obvious!"
Jill: "I'm driving the minivan into the lake."
Jonathan: "Ooh that's good, the hospital's on the way, I'll put it into Waze!"
Don D.: "Yeah, hi John, this is Don at extension 321, please give me a call when you get into the office."
Yacka: "Don, I'm down the hall."
Don D: (into the phone): "Hello? John?"
Tushar: "Nice, nice."
Jill: "Wait, what the hell just happened? Who are these people?"
Bill: "It's been a while since I did a scenario, I'm trying to fit everyone in here."
Jonathan: "Don't you think we should go back to that hospital and drive around the parking lot again? Maybe we missed something?"
Switsky: "Did Black Team win?"
Todd: "That's so racist."
Don D: (to John) "Please tell John to give me a call when he gets a chance."
John: "I'm literally standing right in front of you."
Sufjan Stevens: "Bunch of idiots."
Jill: "No but seriously, I asked for a recap and this is what you give me?"
Larry: "If we make a right at North Shanghai Boulevard, the C-Me-Long-Time is right up the street."
Todd: "So racist."
Bill: "I agree."
Jan: "F Lenny."
Switsky: "F Jan."
Jan: "Stranger Baseball!"
Todd: "Todd, why didn't my uncle wear a tie to the funeral?"
Bill, Switsky, Jill: (cracking up)
Larry: "Wait, when did Ira get here?"
Switsky: "That's Ira's wife."
Jonathan: "Amy, you OK back there?"
Amy: "Don't drag me into this."
Jonathan: "Where's Mike?"
Sufjan Stevens: "How did these scenarios actually end?"
Bill: "I don't really remember."
Game Organizers (via text): "Um yeah, if you're still out there searching, the game's been over for an hour, meet us at McLoone's."
And so it ended. We didn't win. The organizers said we "didn't come in last" but I'm not sure they kept track of how far behind each of the teams were and they didn't want us to quit after our first try so I'm pretty sure we were last. We spent 20 minutes driving around an empty hospital parking lot! By the way, the answer was "Seymour's Deli", some lunch spot like 5 minutes from where we were parked trying to solve the clue. Sufjan Stevens, as usual, was no help at all.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed the recap as much as I enjoyed the night. And sorry Amy and Mike for dragging you into this mess.
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.