Here’s the type of overly-complicated thing I’m prone to create when I don’t have to worry about profit and don’t care much about my own personal suffering.
I live in Austin. My friends Matt and Vianca live in Austin. We are friends with a couple, Kate & Andy and Mark, who all lived in Seattle. A couple years ago Matt and Vianca planned a trip to go visit our friends and take a small road trip to Olympic National Forest, a few hours drive from Seattle.
I decided to surprise them. By “them”, I mean everybody.
To give you some idea of how complicated this plan was, first I will share the original far-less complicated plan that is also really complicated.
The “Two Wendy’s” Plan
First, I would tell Matt and Vianca that I will go to Seattle – but ask them not to tell Kate and Andy because I want to surprise them.
I would tell Matt and Vianca to go on their road trip and that I would meet them at a pre-designated Wendy’s restaurant along the way. Matt (knowing that I was at the Wendy’s) would say “oh I want to stop at this Wendy’s,” they would walk into the place and SURPRISE! I’m sitting in the restaurant casually eating a sandwich while reading the newspaper.
But (because I love to make it more surprising) I wouldn’t actually be at that Wendy’s.
When the gang walked into the Wendy’s, Matt and Vianca would not see me, panic, and text me. We would have this conversation:
Matt: Where are you?
Me: I’m at Wendy’s. Where are you?
Matt: We’re at Wendy’s.
Matt: Which Wendy’s are you at?
Me: The one at <address of the *next* Wendys>
Matt: That’s not the right one.
At this point I would go radio silent or ask Matt to instead go to my Wendy’s. Matt would then have to have this conversation with our other friends:
Matt: Hey guys, I’m not into this Wendy’s. Let’s go to the next one.
Everyone else: What’s wrong with this Wendy’s?
Eventually they get in the car wondering why they have to go to a second Wendy’s for Matt. From that point, I had two ways I thought the plan could go:
A) I’m not at the second Wendy’s. I made it back to the first one they were just at and Matt has to explain why he likes that first Wendy’s better after all and they should go back there. This is funny on paper but I think Matt and Vianca would have had it by this point and would either spill the beans about my surprise or just leave me behind. I would not blame them.
B) The better and more complicated solution: I will have prepared a sign on the side of the road located after the first Wendy’s and before the second Wendy’s. The sign is for an attraction that is so weird and so enticing that Kate will demand they stop at it. Matt and Vianca will be consternated because they know I’m waiting for them at the second Wendy’s, but they will listen to Kate and rationalize it this way: “Mike screwed up and went to the wrong Wendy’s and we had to make up a lame excuse so if he has to wait then it’s his fault, right?” So they stop at this attraction and which is really just a small dilapidated building with me sitting in a lawn chair reading a paper and eating my sandwich (possibly one from Wendy’s). No one was expecting that! Everyone is surprised and super happy they have gone through all this.
So plan B is obviously the right choice, but it hinges pretty heavily on me making something so enticing that Kate will demand they stop. I also have to find a small dilapidated building and a lawn chair.
The odds seemed low, so this plan was abandoned for another one that was far more impossible.
The Final Seattle Plan
The plan I settled on was one of intrigue, double-crossing, and puzzling roadside attractions. Kate and I have an ongoing spy vs spy sort of thing, typically with her getting the better of me due to her ability to consistently go over the top. But this time I had the plan.
The Plan As Seen From Kate and Andy’s Standpoint
SATURDAY: Matt and Vianca arrive in the morning. Kate and Andy and Mark will get lunch with Matt and Vianca at the market. After lunch, all five of them drive to the edge of Olympic National Forest where they have rented a couple tents for the evening.
SUNDAY: Check out of the campground, then drive back to Seattle.
The Plan From Matt and Vianca’s Standpoint
FRIDAY: Matt and Vianca were aware that I would fly in the day before them and stay at Mark’s.
SATURDAY: Matt and Vianca know that I will surprise Kate and Andy while they are all having lunch in a restaurant downtown and then I go along with them on the rest of the trip.
But, of course, I had to go the extra mile and so I hatched another layer between just me and Mark.
The Plan From Mark’s Standpoint
FRIDAY: I fly in, Mark picks me up and I surprise Kate and Andy that night. I tell them that Matt and Vianca DON’T know that I’m coming and that I’m going to surprise Matt and Vianca by showing up tomorrow at lunch downtown.
SATURDAY: Kate, Andy, Matt, Vianca, and Mark are having lunch. Each couple is expecting me to show up and surprise the other couple. Guess what? I don’t show up. Each couple is wondering where I am and the lunch gets long and awkward because neither side wants to ruin the surprise. Mark relishes the moment. Eventually Mark says “let’s go” and they resign themselves to going back to the car they’ve parked in a garage.
The Plan From My Standpoint
So there is how things are supposed to work. And there are how things actually work.
FRIDAY (How it was supposed to work):
I arrive and hide out at Mark’s. Mark sets up dinner with Kate and Andy and drops me off in an alley nearby so he can pick them up. Mark brings them to the restaurant in a few minutes and texts me they have arrived. I casually stroll in. Surprise! Then I tell them I’m going to surprise Matt and Vianca at lunch the next day.
FRIDAY (How it actually went down):
I arrive and hide out at Mark’s. Mark sets up dinner with Kate and Andy and drops me off in an alley nearby so he can pick them up.
Then it falls apart. Already.
I wait in the alley for over an hour. I was already feeling a bit tired and under the weather which didn’t help me in this whole endeavor. I receive a text from an unknown sender. It is a photo of me sitting in the alley.
Fuck. I’ve been double-crossed.
(Note: I was going to put the photo in this post, but in a fine work of espionage, the image and text thread seem to have been deleted from my phone.)
I walk around trying to find this person but it’s clear they left long before they sent it. Is it Kate? Mark? Some other person? I don’t know.
Even though we are going to get pizza, I’m starving so I go get a sandwich and wait for Mark to text me that they are in the restaurant.
Finsihed with my sandwhich and still not having heard from Mark, I walk around the neighborhood, ducking in and out of alleys and businesses. Then I see Mark and Andy walking down the street. They don’t see me and I duck into a stationery shop. Where is Kate? Shit. I take Mark and Andy’s photo from behind them and send it back to my mysterious texter. Two can play this game.
Then I rush around the block using the alleyway and duck in the restaurant they will be eating at. They aren’t there. I wait at the bar. Finally they show up. Kate is with them now. What is going on? They don’t see me way over at the bar. I play it cool. I’m sure I don’t look cool. I don’t feel cool, either. I feel tired. I ask the bartender to take a photo of them with my phone so that I can text it to the mystery texter.
Finally I go to the table and surprise them. They don’t look super surprised. Fuck. The waiter comes up to me and gives me an envelope. I have a sinking feeling. I open the letter. It’s a card. There are photos – PRINTED PHOTOS – of me sitting in the alley. It’s from ?? I play it cool. I’m sure I’m not cool.
The waiter comes. I’m so flustered that I conflate the pizza toppings and salads sections of the menu. I order a pizza with chickpeas. The waiter has either given up on figuring us out or, from the look of him, is too high to care. We have dinner and I explain the plan about surprising Matt and Vianca tomorrow. But at this point I have no idea who knows what. Afterward, we walk around and then I go back to stay with Mark.
(Sidenote: chickpea pizza is neither gross nor remarkable).
SATURDAY (Plan A – How It Was Supposed To Work)
Mark and I get up early. I rent a car. Matt and Vianca fly in that morning, rent a car, pick up Kate and Andy and take them to lunch.
Mark will meet them at lunch. He suggests a garage to park in and meets them there. After the five of them are in the restaurant, Mark texts me details on where the car is parked and what it looks like. I find it and leave the first of the notes on the car’s windshield.
Meanwhile everyone have a very awkward lunch since each couple is waiting for me to show up and surprise the other couple. No one wants to leave. Mark enjoys watching it play out. If my friends text me, I ignore them. Mark finally demands they get in their car and go. Everyone is worried I’ll be left behind on this trip but says nothing.
My friends get back to their cars and there’s a note on the dashboard about me being kidnapped. (At this point they all confess they knew I was going to be there.) Here is the note:
They take out their phones and go to craigslist where I have created a real post for “Used Manatees”. (Manatees is a sort of running joke with Kate. She once tricked me into calling a real manatees hotline and asking some dumb questions because I thought it was a friend pretending to be a manatee hotline. Manatees are also something that is probably not searched for much on craigslist which reduced the possibility of it getting flagged and taken down before they found it. )
The Craiglist ad says:
I’ve left information at courier’s office if you want to buy the used manatees. 721 3068 To pick up the package you must ask them: “Is this a dairy queen?” Yours Truly, “James” (Dairy Queen is also sort of an inside joke with our group. But asking whether a place is a Dairy Queen is not.)
If you used the decoder, it spells out “bigcatmessenger”. (“Big Cat” is a nickname they have for me.)
It’s also the name of a courier service located not too far from the market where they had lunch. They will decide to google “big cat messenger”, find the location, then drive over and find a couple notes I had left (I had called the company trying to get them to hold the notes for me, but they were too confused by my plan and not open on the weekend anyways).
One of the notes left would lead them to the first clue. It also mentioned Google Hangouts. If Kate were to open up Google Hangouts, there was a message waiting for them from James the letter writer. This would be my way of communicating with them if they needed help with the clues.
While they were down at Big Cat Messenger’s office, I would be in a rental car getting on the Ferry to lay out clues ahead of them at various locations and would eventually meet up with them toward the end of the journey.
But the night before this plan was to take off, Mark tells me he has to stay in town and can’t come with us. He can only go to lunch with us.
I’ve just been betrayed by him (I assume) for the Kate and Andy dinner surprise. Can I really trust him when he says he’s not joining us for the trip? I get paranoid.
So I change to pre-planned plan B, which is a much more terrible plan…
SATURDAY (Plan B – How It Was Supposed To Work)
Dear reader, are you still following this story? If not, let me know and I will work to make it clearer. For now, onward…
As in Plan A, Mark and I get up early. Matt and Vianca fly in, pick up Kate and Andy and park in a garage downtown that Mark suggests. But I don’t rent a car this time.
For this plan I will be coming with my friends for the journey.
I say “I hope” because we’ll have big problems if Mark actually IS joining us because the car barely seats five and I would make six. I decide we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Mark drives separately, dropping me off first near the garage they will park in. When they arrive at the garage, Mark meets them and gets the license plate and texts it and the location to me. After they are gone, I go and leave the notes on their car. Then I take an Uber down to Big Cat Messenger service.
At Big Cat Messenger Service I wait on the sidewalk under a pile of blankets as if I were a homeless person. When my friends show up, I will be “unconscious”. They will “wake” me. I will say in cliche’d “Wha.. what happened?” Notes of clues will be “found” by my side. Mark is the one that has been kidnapped instead of me. Maybe he would show up after all on the trip. Maybe not. I had no idea.
Hopefully, at the very least, Mark would not still be with them when they discovered he had been kidnapped.
I will join them in their car on the adventure to find Mark.
The change of plans means I’m not going ahead of them in my own car so I’ll have to figure out on the fly how to get the clues into the right places before they see them somehow. I know this seems unlikely to be accomplished but like I said, Plan B was terrible.
SATURDAY (How it Actually Happened)
At first the plan goes well.
Mark and I get up early. He has told them to park in a certain garage. He drops me off nearby. When they arrive, Mark meets them and gets the license plate and texts it and the location to me. After they are gone, I go and leave the note on their car.
Then I take an uber down to Big Cat Messenger service.
Then it starts coming off the rails.
It turns out there’s some pot fest going on in that area of town. For the next 2.5 hours a stream of stoners walk by me in this industrial district and l (the homeless man) get more looks of pity than I ever before in my life.
I could only image how much pity I would get if they knew how terrible this plan was.
I wait and wait and wait and wait. And wait.
It was 2.5 hours after I thought they’d be there. I guessed that Mark had left them long ago and they were exploring some. None of them knew that I was waiting for them so no rush, right?
I was worried they had gotten on the ferry and now I was marooned down at Big Cat because I had jettisoned the rental car part of the plan.
Or did they know and were they planning something? I was getting paranoid.
I texted Andy using a fake gmail account I set up purporting to be Mark. I needed to figure out if I had been left behind in Seattle.
He said they were on their way. Finally. When they arrived, two of them were stoned out of their minds and didn’t even notice that I don’t usually lay under blankets on sidewalks in towns I don’t live in. The group was way behind on their schedule and the driver was eager to go. The mood was not surprise. It was impatience and irritation.
They got me in the car but with no more enthusiasm or inquiry than a bus driver picking up a passenger on their daily route. “Oh hey Mike, get in.” The end.
I could tell that we would never get all these clues done.
And then we got to the ferry which had the longest line the locals had ever seen. It was the end of the summer it appeared that everyone had procrastinated their trips.
What was supposed to happen from here:
The first clue would lead them to this Dairy Queen. (Another inside joke, where Kate once sent me on a wild goose chase). They would look across the street and see a Subway (another inside joke) and then go over to the Subway. They would ask the people working there if the Subway (being in full view of the Dairy Queen) was a Dairy Queen. The Subway workers would then hand them the next note:
What actually happened from here
We ended up zooming past the DQ before I even realized it. I reached into my pocket, grabbed the note and said “oh what’s this!” as we drove onward. I hunched over my phone sent a message from James via Google Hangouts to the person sitting next to me as I suggested everyone keep an eye on Google Hangouts.
James said he had changed his mind and gave the next clue.
The next note would require some mental leaps. See if you can figure it out:
At that location, they have to ask the workers if it is a Dairy Queen. At which point they workers give them the next message:
This one was also whizzed by because we were talking and I was flustered and tired and still sore from sitting on the pavement for hours. I revealed the clue as before. This one I insisted they figure out because I knew they would like this place and I wanted to check it out.
If they figure this one out then they would find this message at that location:
These last two locations were off the beaten path and we didn’t have time, but I let them try to figure out the clues for fun. Matt turned out to be the star puzzle solver.
That final hint depends on them remembering another inside joke.
That is where I’ll be waiting for them. The end!
- To do the whole route would have taken maybe 8 hours. We only had 3-4.
- Be careful who you invite on a double-cross.
Things I’m Proud Of
- This thing actually almost worked. I would love if someone else would try it out on their friends.
- I was able to find clues that google wouldn’t solve right away. That was exceptionally challenging. I might write a post just on that.
- I was willing to lay on the sidewalk for almost 3 hours as part of an elaborate joke.