I hit print on my route sheet, packed up my stuff, and headed out. The trek to the PATH was arduous, in part because I was lugging my Aerostich 1-piece riding suit with me. It's finally cold enough that I needed to bring it down from Boston to use instead of my mesh summer gear. But I got a seat on the train, and spent the ride trying to slow my breathing. I was seriously worried about not making it to my friends' house in time. What if the bike didn't start? It'd been sitting for a month. I'd have about a half hour to get moving before I'd have to cut my losses and head back to the terminal in the hopes of catching the train to Princeton in time. But I stepped out into a cool, crisp, and clear fall day in Hoboken, and I mustered my calm and cut a purposeful path to my garage.
Setting out turned out to be painless. The battery was strong, and after a few turns, the engine caught and roared (well, as much as my bike can) to life. Now I was committed to riding; once I was on the road, there wasn't time to head back and put the bike away. The tricky part was going to be handling the traffic. I had only the skeleton of a route, and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to find my way through Newark without sitting in city traffic (since I was attempting to avoid the turnpike). But I managed to find the Pulaski Skyway, and though Google Maps wouldn't confirm for me that it hooked up with 22, it did. The route in my head was basically "Take 22 to 206," so this meant I was in good shape.
There wasn't much I could do about the traffic, but I tried to enjoy the ride. There were a few great moments, like opening my throttle wide on the Pulaski Skyway. I love the Skyway. It's such a "videogame road." You go through tunnels under girders, and then up into the air, flying over the urban sprawl around Newark. The timing just happened to work out that I passed the Princeton Airport as the sun set, watching it glaze the tarmac in orange. These things you cannot really plan. They are the surprise gifts one gets for embracing risk and romancing adventure. Honestly, the entire slog along 22 was worth it just for that one unreproducible moment.
I made it to Chris and Tamara (zeitgeist & somabrak)'s place not too long after dark. Considering we were planning to set out for Philly around 7, I made it there just in time. Chris's car needed some work, so we had to take Tamara's Mini. With her driving, that meant two of us six footers would have to cram in the back. Nothing breaks ice like clown car antics. On the ride, we caught up on the latest, learned about things Tamara has said (MOISSSCHA!), and reminisced about the works of Stabbing Westward (Wither, Blister, Burn + Peel, or Darkest Days?). You know you're with a good group of people when even sitting in traffic flies by.
We got there in pretty good time, had plenty of space to park, and only had to wait for one busload of people to get on the Ghost Bus ahead of us. They were loading one bus at a time, which apparently really ticked off the guy standing in line behind us. "Can't we just get on this empty bus here?" Dude must have been STOKED to see some ghosts or something. So the empty ghost bus pulls up to where the full one just left, and this guy looked like he was going to flip out like he thinks they're leaving. So Chris just says about the empty bus moving, "Welp, I got my full busload of ghosts..." and we all howled. Funniest moment of the evening. But maybe you had to be there.
We were last in line for the next bus, but there were only two seats left, so we let impatient guy and his poor girlfriend take them, and Tamara got her wish to sit in the front of the next bus. This gave us an excellent seat for the story told by the guide standing at the front of the bus. The guy was impressively dynamic and suitably horrifying. He set the mood perfectly.
Once we were inside, the costumed workers walked (shambled?) the line, spooking folks who were too intent on their phones or distracted by talking to their friends. The wait was pretty long, but watching folks get startled (and getting jumped out at a few times myself) helped pass the time. We also saw one of the scariest sights of the evening. The penitentiary is laid out on a hub-and-spoke pattern, meaning there are these reeeeeally long hallways to the center. All we could see was this one light in the center of the facility down a loooooong hallway. And someone walked down that hallway, showing us just how long it was. And then, according to Tamara, she just disappeared. But I think the hallway itself was suitably atmospheric. I wish I could do it justice.
When we reached the front of the line, they put a couple with our group. This worked out well, because then I wasn't in the back of the group. Of course, we put Tamara up front. The tour starts out simply enough, with your standard scares and a few electrical effects (sparks!). But as you continue, it devolves into a decent (if somewhat more claustrophobic) replica of a survival horror FPS. You have to be alert, there are always things to jump out at you, and every corner needs to be cleared. I think the Infirmary was probably the best example of this. Really atmospheric and "scary." But then you get into the even more bizarre stuff. There's a blacklit section where they give you 3-D/diffraction glasses, which was really trippy. And then you come to the "night watch" section, where everyone gets a little LED keychain flashlight but otherwise it's dark.
I think we all enjoyed ourselves, and then afterwards we went to Tamara's favorite diner in Runnemeade. Well, what had been her favorite diner. Now it was a diner/sports bar, and the Phillies crowd had all the parking spots. The diner was fairly empty, but you couldn't get a spot because of all the people in the sports bar. But we had a good meal, even more good conversation, and reminisced about the days of #tmbg. We got back to Chris & Tamara's around 1, and sleep came soon after.
So today, I'm taking my time, riding back at my own pace, and exploring. I'm in Flemington and my laptop battery's about to die because I took a break in writing this entry to help a friend out. So apologies for the fall-off in the writing quality. Thanks for reading, you few who did! =)
I have Monday off, so the weekend's still young...