You know that super scared/totally excited feeling you used to get when someone was chasing you during an especially good game of tag, back when you were a kid? The feeling that you needed to run as fast as a human being could possibly run and make it to base or you might actually die? Isn't it sort of tragic you don't get to feel that feeling anymore? That your biggest adrenaline rush comes from illegally making cell phone calls in your car while you're driving?
Well, people of the Bay Area, the Come Out & Play Festival is here to fill that void. Starting last Saturday and going on throughout the city until November 6, the all-volunteer- all-donation-funded group, Come Out & Play, will "turn San Francisco into a giant playground" by staging "city-sized" games for adults (and teenagers), showcasing local game designers and letting everyone play.
On Saturday I enlisted the help of my friend and frequent art project partner, Pete Hickok, to document our experience of Journey to the End of the Night, a city-wide game of tag (with costumes) that kicked off the festival. (Side note: Pete's a sweet artist and he took a bunch of these pictures.) Journey is simple: everyone receives a red ribbon and a blue ribbon and a manifest with a map of six checkpoints. You tie the blue ribbon around your arm and once the airhorn sounds, you run off into the city, trying to reach all the checkpoints before you get tagged by a "chaser" wearing a red ribbon. If you do get tagged, you give them your blue ribbon and tie on your red ribbon and turn into a chaser yourself.
Pete Hickok and Lizzy Acker before their Journey to the End of Night
This was our second Journey, our first being the first in the city, which happened on Halloween two years ago. Last time we were dressed as fuzzy animal zombies. This year, we decided to go more aerodynamic. I was a zombie tadpole and Pete was just...terrifying (see above).
The game was set to start at 7pm and the first time we played, I remembered that the organizers limited the number of players and a lot of people behind us in line were turned away. We were a little worried, then, when our cab pulled up to Rincon Park at 6:50, but it became clear they have increased the capacity of the game. According to their website, last year there were over 1,300 participants and this year there were probably at least that many, or at least more people than expected because they announced at one point that they had run out of blue ribbons and were now using duct tape to identify players.
Luckily, we signed up in advance. We still had to wait in line, but it seemed like we had accomplished something adult by planning ahead. Even if it was planning ahead to play tag.
In a nice sort of symmetry, the game started under the Bay Bridge and ended in full view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This year's game had a slight twist; you could go to the checkpoints in any order. This meant a lot of pre-game route planning at Rincon Park.
Our planning mainly consisted of looking at the manifest and asking each other "wait, is that THE PRESIDIO?"
Our first stop was Pagoda Place in China Town, where we had to complete the phrase "If I die tonight..." on yellow cards and hang them up on the fence. Pete promised me his truck if he died and I promised him my prized stuffed animal gorilla, Koko. True friendship. We got our manifests stamped and moved on to the next checkpoint.
The next checkpoint was set up at the Broad Tunnel West Minipark as "Occupy Journey." There was an interesting Occupy undercurrent to the night. The original start spot was supposed to be Justin Herman Plaza, but had to be moved due to the protest. However, there didn't seem to be any hard feelings, and the man who announced the rules of the game before he sounded the airhorn employed the human microphone, even though he also had a bullhorn.
By this point, we felt pretty sneaky, as we had successfully avoided chasers by going in the opposite direction as most people. Two stamps doesn't seem like a lot but our first year we only made it to three before turning into chasers. Also, we had just run up a huge hill. So, we felt a good amount of pride.
After making it to the top of the hill, we had to go back down to Fisherman's Wharf. Once again, we managed to make it into the safe zone (every checkpoint is surrounded by a few blocks of safe zone, where chasers can't tag you) without catching the eye of any chasers. Then we decided to utilize the other safe zone: the bus. For some reason, we were still going a pretty drastically different route than anyone else, so we were the only people in costume on the bus. It was a crowded bus. A few people became concerned when they saw Pete.
The next checkpoint was Levi's Plaza and that's when things got real. Suddenly there were a lot more people and reports of chasers everywhere. We decided to play it safe and take the bus back through Fisherman's Wharf and then run for our lives from there to the final checkpoint before the end, Fort Mason Green.
I am sad to report that team Zombie Frog and Princess (which someone suggested we were dressed up as, after I lost my tail running to Levi's Plaza) did not make it to Fort Mason. There was a communication breakdown (okay, my fault) and Pete was caught, anti-climactically, by a group of teenage girls just outside of Ghirardelli Square. It was a hard moment for team morale, since we had such high hopes and had played so valiantly. Also, let's be honest, we were hoping for a dramatic chase-down, like the one that happened outside of the San Francisco Opera on our first Journey. I still can't walk by that spot without reliving the terror of having a gang of boys bear down on me. As per our starting agreement, I let Pete tag me and we turned into chasers.
It's hard to be a chaser. We suddenly realized our knees and feet hurt and that we were cold. We had one good chase-down, right by the square, but he got away and then we couldn't find anyone to tag. Mostly, everyone we saw was wearing red ribbons. We came across this group of teenagers (this seems like an awesome event for teenagers, by the way) but they were in a safe zone. I tried to trick them into walking out of it, but teenagers these days are so wiley and they could see right through me.
Our final manifests. A better showing than our first time, but still room for improvement.
Ultimately, we walked from Fisherman's Wharf all the way to the end point, the beach by Crissy Field, just so we could say we made it. We had one more brief chase but the chasee got away. At the end, there were snacks and water and a strange and dramatic cross made out of luminaries. We drank the water, ate some M&Ms and took the scariest, most treacherous leg of the trip: a taxi ride back to the Mission. Another successful Journey to the End of the Night was completed. Next year, watch out. We have a lot of experience now; we'll probably win the whole entire thing.
The second annual Come Out & Play Festival runs through November 6 with various events and activities throughout San Francisco. For more information visit comeoutandplaysf.org.