Yesterday was hot. Nearly ninety degrees. After sunset the air cooled a little, and we rallied at a patch of grass to play Fugitive.
I had never played Fugitive before. I was, however, excited. A few friends came wearing running shoes and short-shorts, for sprinting. Others had layers for disguising- an extra hat or a different shirt. Most folks came how they were, in flip-flops or work clothes, leaning their bikes on the grass. We had planned to play the game on a stretch of street just packed with college bars, and now, after dark, crowds of sleek-haired students cruised the street in packs, ducking into wine bars and pubs, letting out bursts of bluegrass and shouting.
Fugitive is a game of sneakery. I’m not sure how many folks are needed to play, but we played with fifteen, and then twelve. One-third of the group are the designated ‘cops’, chosen at the start of each game, and the ‘cops’ have bicycles. The rest of the group are ‘fugitives’, on foot. A distance is chosen in which to move, in our case a stretch of street 3/4 mile long, packed with car traffic and college bars. The parameters in our game were defined as the space between our street and a street that ran parallel- rooftops and alleys and dark, fenced-in lots, all of it- and the front lots of the buildings on the far side of each street. The cops would moved to one ‘base’, in this case the grassy lot of a church, and the fugitives to the other- the post-office flagpole at the opposite end of the course. A cellphone would ring- and the game would start- cops sprinting on their bikes as fast as possible down the street towards the post office, and fugitives sprinting towards the cops- running a few blocks and then ducking into some bushes to catch your breath, waiting and watching for cops, getting up finally and darting another block. The idea was to get to the other base before a cop tagged you. The cops, though riding bikes, were allowed to dismount and chase you on foot, and if you saw a cop’s bike lying in the street, you were allowed to steal it. As a fugitive you were allowed to hitch-hike, take the bus, jump from rooftop to rooftop, roll under cars- whatever you needed to do to get to the base. It sounds almost easy- darting through alleyways, evading bicycles. But actually, making it all the way to base was extraordinarily difficult- and in two games played, only one fugitive managed to evade capture, by changing clothing dramatically and walking, shoulders slumped, along the sidewalk, as ‘cops’ on bicycles whizzed by, searching. I had a fun time as a ‘cop’ and even managed to capture someone- dropping my bike and chasing her through a busy restaurant, past the startled musicians, through the kitchen, and out the emergency exit to a lot that was fenced, where I finally tagged her, but the part that speaks most to me, the part that really gets me worked up, is playing the fugitive. And, of course, what every player really wants is to play the fugitive, and it’s a bit like pulling teeth in the beginning of the game to get ‘cop’ volunteers, even though you get to dash around on your bike, fast, through crowds of college students, and in the next game you switch and get to be a fugitive again.
There is nothing quite like dashing around at night, hiding in bushes, ducking into bars, and throwing yourself over fences. This, I think, is why I like riding trains so much. And I almost made it, too, crouching behind parked cars and darting through alleyways, sprinting until my stomach burned. The person I’d busted in the previous game was now a cop and almost busted me in this game, finally losing me when I hopped a fence and she fell back, unwilling to leave her bike behind on the busy sidewalk. She did, however, tip off another ‘cop’, my friend E, who dropped her bike in the bushes and lay, waiting for me, jumping out and tagging me as I sprinted across the street directly towards her, unawares, from my darkened parkinglot hideaway. I almost made it, too. Seriously. I was only like two blocks away from base.
I hadn’t played games in what felt like forever and this, I decided, was a fun game. Sort of a playground game, like tag, but all grown up. And accessible, too, because winning relied not so much on speed but stealth and sneakiness, and there was no limit on how long you could take to get to base. And you can have all the fun off running and hiding, without the cops really being after you. Although folks on the street stare at you, and sometimes real cops do, actually, stop players and question them, which I imagine would happen even more, if the game was played in a part of town that wasn’t so white-bread, college-campusy–ish.
Good times, people.
After the game we went back to our friends’ house, where we were staying, and ate a bit of food, and crashed. And in the morning we were going to bike the 50 miles home, more uphill than down this time, but instead of being 85 and sunny, it was rather cold and rainy, so after a drawn-out breakfast of eggs and collards and quinoa (and biscuits and gravy- ‘bread with bread sauce’ for the glutens)- a real drawn out breakfast, that lasted till 2 pm and included the sunday times crossword, two new yorker fiction pieces and grain-sweetened carob chips (I’m a big fucking hippie, ok?), we decided to hitchhike home, and after a short wait got a ride from a nice young man headed to asheville, in a pickup truck with room for our bikes. It was an excellent ride, a ride during which I realized, contrary to what the 19 yo marine of last week had said, (“I went walrus hunting in Alaska and slaughtered so many penguins!”), that there are not, actually, any penguins in Alaska. Which I should know, being from there, but didn’t, somehow. We also talked about the medical study Sam is doing for money, which involves breathing saline solution and running on a treadmill in an ozone chamber, but pays $400 bucks a visit. And I spent the rest of the day after that stopping and standing, and sort of thinking, and saying, “There are no penguins in Alaska!”
Also, I’ve been working on a pretty exciting story, sort of about my time in North Carolina, and all the lessons I’ve learned here. I hope to have it up soon for your reading. Thanks so much for all your comments and support, it pretty much makes me want to write like 24 hours a day, and there are worse things I could ask for.