"The stranded motorist", as I later called her, was not really stranded. Her car operated fine. She was stopped at a red light. She had waited for this light for a while, and was just realizing that the light would not turn green. The sensors buried in the road beneath her had failed to detect her car. She repositioned her car--pulling back, pulling forward. That did not trip the sensor.
But she was not really stranded. It was a little before 4:00 AM on the morning of June 20, 2004 in the city of Mountain View, CA. There probably was not another car moving within a mile. She could have ignored the red light, just driven through the intersection with no risk of collision.
But there would have been a witness. I was walking down Grant street, the main road leading south from downtown Mountain View to the foothills. For me, the light was green. I crossed the intersection, watching this car re-position. Would the driver continue this futile activity? Would she work up the nerve to run this bogus red?
Now on the other side of the street, I tapped the pedestrian walk-light request button. It worked; the light changed; "the stranded motorist" could drive without risk of collision or arrest.
As I walked off, I heard a shout: "Thank you!"
I yelled back "Sure thing!"
Ideally, I would have called something else. Maybe "Grouperman is ever-ready to press the crossing-light-button of freedom, citizen!" I was pretending to be a superhero, trying to wangle a job with a super-powered temp agency. Since I wasn't really a superhero, and was faking my powers, I should have been working extra-hard on my super-heroic banter.
That's not exactly what was going on.
Team Snout had organized a Game, and Team Mystic Fish was applying to get in. The game's backstory involved an earth which had superheroes. Many of the world's major superheros had recently disappeared into mysterious vortexes. FEMA and the BPRD were working with superhero consulting agencies to make sure that super-powered beings were on duty to deal with crises.
Team Snout (also known as Game Control for this game) had announced the game on various mailing lists and forums. At Curtis Chen's web page, there was a link to an audio stream. The audio stream had superhero-related songs plus some fake news spots and funny ads which set up the backstory.
Starting on June 1st, the audio stream had two especially interesting advertisements. Justice Unlimited, a superpowered consulting agency, was hiring. There was a toll-free number to call. David Walker called it, and reported his name, address, and superpowers when prompted. Thanks to this, Justice Unlimited would send him an application.
The application showed up in the mail a few days later: it was a copy of a promotional give-away comic with a special Snout-provided insert: an application, some nice art, and some pre-clue puzzles. I had shivered with anticipation when I saw one of the puzzles: it was based on an old advertisement for Sea-Monkeys. These people focused on the best aspects of comic books. The sea monkey puzzle pointed us at a hidden locked box in Redwood City containing 10 "head of the line" passes. The first 10 teams to solve the hidden puzzles got those 10 passes. Team Mystic Fish was not one of those.
The application had a number to call for more information, and Alexandra mailed back and forth with friends on Team Snout for the details. Game Control would accept applications from teams at Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, a park in the foothills south of Mountain View, CA at 10 A.M. on June 20, 2004. They would accept applications in first-come-first-serve order. The ten teams with "head of the line" passes could cut to the front of the line. Team Snout only planned to accept 22 teams.
Twelve slots remained for teams without "head of the line" passes. We did not know how many teams were applying, nor how motivated they were to show up early. Alexandra and others guessed we would be safe showing up at 9:00. I wanted a back-up plan; if we missed this Game because we had slept in one morning, I was heading for a world of disappointment. The park would open at dawn. I planned to be there at dawn. But I didn't have a good reason for this, and could not justify asking a team-mate to wake up that early.
So on Saturday the 19th, I took the train to Mountain View. I got a hotel room downtown, and fell asleep early (which was easy, since I had spent most of the previous night at a Tokyo Ska Paradise show instead of sleeping). On June 20, the summer solstice, I checked out of that hotel at 3:30 AM and walked south. Thus I was in position to help the stranded motorist.
After I helped the motorist, I kept walking.
I walked up Cristo Rey Road, approaching the park. The eastern sky brightened. The road wound through the foothills, surrounded by tall grass. As I walked through the city, I had listened to my footsteps, and had noticed that they sounded different as I walked on different kinds of pavement. Now I walked through the noise of crickets, and could no longer detect these differences.
There was not much out here to attract visitors. Thus, when the first car passed me, I figured that they were superheroes signing up for Justice Unlimited. A tableau appeared in my head: I would arrive at the park to find twelve teams already there, teams shouting "You waited until dawn? We camped out all night, hiding from the rangers. You are a lightweight. You woke up before dawn for nothing!" I shook my head, cleared it. If I was walking through pretty hills as the sky lightened, I might as well enjoy the view instead of imagining crises.
When the second car passed me, I was glad. I was at a traffic roundabout, peering through dim light, slowly figuring out which of four roads would carry me to the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. When that car passed me and went down one of the roads, I followed it into Rancho San Antonio park, trailing it by a few meters.
My teammates were correct: We would have been safe showing up at 9:00. When I arrived at the designated picnic table in the park, just four people sat there: two people from the Scoobies team and two from Team Percocet. Soon afterwards, two members of the Know-Nothings (aka Team Snood) showed up.
Though it wasn't useful to the team, I was glad to be there at dawn. I was with veteran Gamers who had nothing better to do than sit around and chat. There were war stories: a valley of lights in the Zelda game; the dangers of explaining your activities to police officers (the danger of a different kind of arrest: the officers keep you busy talking to you about the Game), impossible puzzles that became obvious with just one hint.
Brent and Linda Holman of the Scoobies talked about their Mystery Machine van. It sounded very much an art car--it did not work well. The most impressive thing about it was its paint job. Since the tree had fallen on it, it was no longer waterproof, and had not provided great shelter on rainy-day games.
And we played hearts.
More people showed up. Game control showed up. There were superhero costumes. There was more chat. Alexandra, David, and Wesley of Team Mystic Superfish showed up.
And then the superhero Hot Melt Man (who always had his glue guns and plenty of hot-glue sticks ready) greeted Team Mystic Fish and escorted us over to Justice Unlimited recruiter DeeAnn Sole. She said that our application was in order, asked us a couple of brief questions, and then we were in. She gave us a waiver to sign and a Free Comic Book Day flyer.
(Game control took some big photos of Hot Melt Man and the teams. May I point out the photo of the Drunken Spidermen, which displays superior attitude? (From left to right: Hot Melt Man of Justice Unlimited, DeeAnn Sole of J.U., American Maid of the Drunken Spidermen, Orgazmo of D.S.))
Alexandra drove me back to San Francisco where I showered, shaved, and made myself presentable for a Father's Day family gathering. But my lack of sleep was catching up with me, and I dozed off in the middle of the festivities. I stayed awake long enough to break and repair a coffee maker, but not much past that. It was the longest day of the year, but I cut out early.
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