Monday, September 23, 2013

HOW I SPENT MY 33RD BIRTHDAY TAGGING ALONG TO A HIGH SCHOOL DANCE ACTIVITY


We’re only a single sentence into this thing and I’m already lying to you. Technically, anyway.

All of this happened on Saturday night and my birthday was actually Sunday. I’ve lived in Utah long enough to know that if a holiday falls on a Sunday, you’re legally obligated to celebrate it the day before. Or something like that. Plus, if girls can celebrate their birthday for an entire week (or more), I can pretend that Saturday was my birthday. Besides, I had to wait tables all day Sunday and BREAKING BAD was on at night. I was kind of tied up that day.

Anyway.

It’s Halloween season, which means it’s also Haunted House season. City Weekly does a piece on as many as possible each year for one of the A&E features. I always try to get it, and for the last three years, I’ve been able to. Basically, I just go through as many as will let me in and then write a piece on what they’re like. It’s fun to write and even more fun to see them. And I don’t have to bring a can of food or wait in line. Usually.

On Friday, I went to two of the three I was supposed to hit. I had company for those and they were both a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my date had to work the next night, so she wouldn’t be able to accompany me to any more. I knew this beforehand, so on Friday morning I started calling around and making inquiries to find a replacement for Saturday. A whole bunch of people were already out of town – which I knew – but there were even more gone than I thought. It was brutal.

“I’ll be gone. Sorry.”

“I have to go up to Ogden for family stuff.”

My options were running low, but then I remembered Dan and Kristin. They’d just moved back from NYC and both love Halloween. They also live in Park City, so I never see them, which makes it easy for me to forget they like fun. They had to be into this, right?

“We have no plans and LOVE haunted houses.”

Perfect. I usually hate tagging along with a married couple (or couples in general), but Dan and Kristin are different. I’ve known them both for so long that it doesn’t feel like tagging along. They were the perfect choice.

At four o’clock on Saturday, my phone goes off. It’s a text from Kristin.

“Hey, Dan can’t make it but I’m going to take a nap and then I’ll call you.”

That should have been all the info I needed and a sure-fire sign to start making phone calls. Any time a girl says she’s going to take a nap before she meets up with you – married or not, and especially not – she has absolutely no intention of hanging out. She’s just laying the groundwork for ditching you. Either she wakes up too late and doesn’t feel like getting ready, or most likely, she’s off doing something else entirely, but has an alibi already set.

This may or may not have happened to me a few times. Maybe. I’ve already put too much thought into this, haven’t I?

I held out hope that she’d wake up in time and want to actually drive down from Park City, but in the back of my mind I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Still, I didn’t make any contingency plans. I could have. There were plenty of people I could have called, but I just didn’t make the calls when I should have. I waited around, watched a bit of football, went grocery shopping and sent Kristin a text at a little after 9.

“I just woke up. I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

Not saying that Kristin ditched me on purpose, because I don’t think she would, but still. I should have made arrangements. This is mostly on me.

The worst part was that I still had to go. The deadline for the write-up was the following Thursday and none of the Haunted Houses are open during the week yet. Saturday was my last chance. I had to go and it looked more and more like I was going alone. I made one last effort by stopping at a coffee shop hoping to run into someone with even less to do than me on a Saturday night, but nothing came of it. I grabbed a coffee and headed West.

A true journalist at work. The Hunter S. Thompson of Salt Lake City haunted houses. Surely they’re just as dangerous as tagging along with the Hell’s Angels or taking a bunch of drugs in Las Vegas. In the name of the story, I was on my way.

Whatever I needed to tell myself.

Take a minute to think about what happens in mid-to-late September. Any ideas? Homecoming. There are A LOT of high schools in Salt Lake and the surrounding cities and Saturday night was homecoming for a whole bunch of different ones. When I showed up to the haunted house, the line was full of teenagers dressed up in shirts, ties, dresses and corsages. It was a good 1 : 1 ratio of regular people and kids visiting a haunted house for their dance activity.

I found the production manager, told her who I was and who I was writing for and told her that I was forced to roll solo. She felt kind of bad and chatted with me for a minute before she had to go off to do actual work. Before that, she gave me a wristband and sent me to the front of the VIP line. There was not a single other person in that line. The regular line was full and stretched out the door.

The lines converged and I was moved to the inside waiting area – stuck between two different groups of high school kids. The group ahead of me was ushered into the haunt itself and I was left at the front of the line. I turned around to the group of 16-year-olds with scene hair and raccoon makeup and just put it out there.

“So, how many do you guys have with you?”

“Just the four of us.”

“Cool. You guys mind if I tag along with you?”

“Uh, sure.”

I didn’t clarify a single thing. I just asked if I could tag along, they said yes and just like that, we were off. My new friends and I ventured into the throes.

I’d spent so much time trying to avoid going to this thing with a couple that I knew that I shot myself in the foot. I ended up spending an hour and a half on Saturday night with two high school couples leading them through the darkness of a haunted house in Taylorsville.

I wouldn’t say that we were friends by the end, but we were all cracking jokes and hanging out before we went our separate ways – me back home to watch the end of the BYU/Utah football game and them to wherever high school couples go after a dance. Maybe Village Inn or Denny’s. I don’t know.

The drive home is when I realized that I gave them absolutely no context of why I was there. I didn’t tell any of them my name and I didn’t ask for any of theirs. I didn’t tell them that I was writing a piece for City Weekly or that my friends had bailed at the last second. They knew nothing about any of that.

All they know is that some dude showed up alone to a haunted house at 10 PM on a Saturday night and tagged along with their group, leading the way as they did the West Valley Walk behind. As far as they’re concerned, I’m just a guy that loves haunted houses so much that he goes to them alone, latching on to dance activity groups to make new friends for a little bit while watching drama students jump out from behind the wall scaring everyone.

My only regret is that I didn’t have someone get a group picture of us.

Are there any homecoming dances next week?

1 comment:

  1. Had they know your true purpose, they may not have let you tag along. Or they would have let you, but they would have acted in a more scripted manner. This adventure reminds me of London's "Tales from the Abyss" where he made his way through the slums of East End London, acting the part and not letting on what his true purpose was. It enabled him to see the true element of the people that lived there, just like this helped you see those kids enjoy the Haunted House with no strings attached.

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