flying into the future

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I am a very nervous traveler.  In case I haven’t made that clear enough.

By the time my date of departure has arrived, I’ve left Bones copious notes on how to run the office without me.  He has copies of my travel itinerary, travel insurance, and visa. And he’s had to deal with my almost-frantic need to be at the airport 2 hours early.

“It’s a tiny airport,” he reassures me.  “An hour will be fine.”

As it turns out, my itinerary has the wrong departure time on it, and we end up arriving at Kalamazoo Int’l Airport about 10 minutes before my flight is supposed to leave.

*cue panic*

Of course, everything is fine – it’s always fine – and Bones walks me up to  Security.  I realize that the last person to do this was my mother, in North Carolina, many years ago.  I pretty much always fly alone, which is partly why I’m so nervous about travel.  (Ironically, someone that was a love interest for half a second told me I was a ‘cupcake’ and he couldn’t imagine me navigating an airport alone.  That statement still has too much volume in my head.)  Don’t get me wrong..I love travel. I love flying. I love the adventure of it all and I think I even love the overly inflated sense of responsibility I have to make sure everything I can control goes right.  But anyway….yes, Bones walks with me and I am overwhelmed by how patient and supportive he is.

I start to cry.

“You’re going to AUSTRALIA!” he says, and hugs me, and he looks so damn happy for me that it makes me cry a little more.  He’s so selfless.  Never at any point has he acted jealous or negative in any way about this trip, this opportunity.

I am so very, very lucky.

~~~

The Kalamazoo airport is just minutes from my house, and it may be one of the nicest airports I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.  I board a small plane that hops me over to Detroit, where I decide to go get a drink and some lunch.  Idly, I check in with JS and discover he’s also in Detroit, a few gates over from me!  (We’d been joking about racing to see who got to Australia first..after we actually compare our tickets, we realize we’re on the same flight from LA to Australia.  So much for racing!)

JS and I visit for a bit. His flight is scheduled to leave a bit after mine, and he strikes me as someone who is remarkably ok with waiting for the next stage of his trip.  (I get a little restless, I admit, and while I like to be at my gate early, I will also tend to go look at the local shops to kill some time.)  Then it’s off on our next flights, to meet again in LA!

This is my second time at LAX, and I can’t say I’ve cared for my experiences there yet.  Today is no exception.  A glance at the departure board tells me I need to go to gate 52B.  Which takes some searching.  Because it looks like this:

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As it turns out, we have to take a shuttle bus from this gate to the int’l terminal.  Have you ever wanted to be in a vehicle driving alongside planes? I did not want that experience. But I got it. We are taken to a TOTALLY EMPTY terminal and I won’t lie, it’s a little creepy..

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I send JS a series of Facebook emails (that he doesn’t see until he gets to Australia) telling him what to expect, as the passengers that share the shuttle with me admit they’d all been sitting up by this sign for far too long, not knowing they had to go somewhere else, and I know JS has a shorter layover than I do.  I then walk along with my six fellow travelers to what I’m pretty sure is our certain doooooooooom (Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, anyone?), but  – lo and behold! – instead we find ourselves in the happily busy international terminal.  YAY!  I get my American money converted into Australian dollars, find some much needed coffee, eventually find JS, and get in line to get onto the next plane.  Which, as it turns out, is on Virgin Australia.

Ok, Virgin. I think I love you. Everyone gets water, eye masks, ear plugs, book marks, and a pen. Snacks and sodas by the rest rooms so you can serve your own dang self all thorugh the 13 hour flight.  Also? USB plug so I can charge my phone  AND an entire row to myself so I can stretch out and SLEEP!

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Next stop?  AUSTRALIA!!!

 

frozen bottles of waters might just save your life

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One of the things that I was immediately impressed with about the prep for my Australia trip was the lack of things I had to worry about.

“What airport do you want to fly out of?”

“Ummm…Kalamazoo, if it’s possible…”

“You got it!  Your visas will be emailed to you soon.”

“Wait, I don’t have to apply for those?”

“Nope!  It’s covered.”

“What about travel insurance?”

“Covered!  Details are coming.”

“How many suitcases can I bring…?”

“Two.”

“What’s the luggage fee?”

“….It’s covered!”

“BUT I STILL HAVE CONCERNS AND QUESTIONS AND AUUUUUGH!!!” *

“We’re having a one day meeting/training here before you leave the country!”

The way this process usually works is that people interested in joining Haunt Team USA head to Ohio for a two-day “boot camp” in which candidates get into costume and practice the types of things they will have to do in Australia.  It’s a tough, intense audition.  People that end up going don’t always get selected their first time through the boot camp.  But it is, hands down, the absolute best way B&B can prepare their team, and we’re at a disadvantage because we aren’t getting the benefit of that training.  Instead, we’re having a very abbreviated ‘here’s what you need to know’ intensive workshop.

That meeting was when I first met the people I’d be living with for about a month…JS, the oldest member of our team as well as the most extreme of us (think Rob Zombie covered in gore with a heart of gold and you’ve sorta kinda got JS in your mind), W, the youngest member of the team with the most experience for this gig (this would be his 7th show in Australia!), and R, W’s girlfriend (an Aussie and a sorta-team-member).  We spent maybe 5 hours going over the gritty details of what we needed to know to be really prepared for this upcoming adventure.  B&B do an outstanding job of prepping the members of Haunt Team USA, and their notes include a suggested shopping list, as buying groceries is something you might only get one chance to do so.

B1 focuses a lot on buying groceries.  “Grab two carts.  Fill them.  Spend $100 for each person.  Have your list ready ahead of time.  Buy anything you think you might want, and then take turns cooking meals for the group.”  He makes it very clear that the best way to get through this venture is to work as a team.

He warns us that good insoles will be your best friend.  Also, frozen bottles of water might  just save your life.  Oh, and bring things you don’t mind not bringing back with you.

“Haunted houses are still new in Australia.  The audience there is not like what you find here.  They will scare differently.”

We’re given instructions on how to manage ticket collecting at the door…told to try to defuse situations at the haunt rather than be aggressive about them…told to watch out for Vietnamese gangs that might try to steal tickets from us.

And also?  Fear the daystar.

“There’s no ozone layer over Australia,” B&B warn us.

“Ummm…say what now?”

“No, really,” R chimes in.  “It’s a serious thing.”

B&B, as well as W, share stories of sunburn – “My eyelids got burned!” is one in particular that terrifies me – that make me want to run from the room screaming in terror.  I can get more surnburn in 30 minutes than most people will get over an entire summer. Finally!  Something I can for real legit worry about:  How will I ever survive nearly a month without being burned to a crisp??

In the midst of my worry, it’s suggested I go get the metric poop ton of costuming I’ve brought along with me to go over character ideas with B2 while B1 continues to talk to the rest of the team.  Part of the interview process for this gig was sending photos of myself in varied haunt costumes, and I thought I was more or less prepared costume-wise, but in my panic over sunburn and heat stroke, I’m already eliminating about half of what I’ve brought with me.  (Admittedly, part of my problem is that my focus has always been more on operations than on performing; so, although I have characters, haunt acting is secondary to me.)  B2 patiently dealt with my panicked self as I babbled my concerns at her, threw costuming all over her living room, and whittled my choices down to three.  B2 then had a photographer-friend shoot some pics of me to be considered for use for a booth display B&B were taking to TransWorld in a few weeks…

Next was dinner, and then an extended bit of chatter after everyone but me had left (extended, in part, because I friggin’ love B&B and hadn’t seen them in much too long)…which means I got home ungodly late.  But it was worth it.  Because now not only did I feel more prepared, but – as previously mentioned – I now had something to actually obsess about…sun protection!

Back at home to repack my suitcases a few dozen more times over the next week, and then….to the airport we go!

 

* I wasn’t entirely this bad.  I think.  Probably.

…No, I was totally insanely bad.

globe-trotter haunter

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I think it was in 2012 when I first heard that my friends B&B were recruiting haunters to come and audition to work for a show in Australia. There were multiple opportunities lasting from 3 weeks to 2 months and I was so very curious…I remember taking to Bones about it, trying to figure out the logistics, and ultimately I just wasn’t sure it was practical. Or that I was fit enough. Or young enough. Or a strong enough actor.

The following year, I thought about it again, but not as seriously. Then the China gig came up, and I jumped into that experience with absolutely NO idea what I was really getting into.

I came back and told Bones, “Ok. The need to go to Australia is out of my system.”

…Which made the universe sit up, take notice, and ask, “Oh, really?”

B&B knew I’d been to China – we had discussed it very briefly, and they know J, the guy that hired me on. And of course they knew I had an interest in Australia.

– I mean, what no one has known until this moment is how many sweepstakes I’ve entered where a trip to Australia was the grand prize. When The Bloggess wrote about going there as a result of a “bucket list” contest, I looked into that. I have had a long obsession with the wildlife. I’ve been trying to get Bones to agree that what we really need to make our lives complete is a wallaby butler and a platypus to keep him company.

So you could say I’ve put a LOT of energy over a LOT of years manifesting this opportunity.

…Anyway! Earlier this year, I received an email from B&B asking if I knew anyone that might be interested in going to Australia in March. I sent a few emails to people I thought would be AMAZING candidates…and then, after talking to Bones, I took a deep breath and filed out the application myself.

After several emails about gig details, asking for a bio, and photo requests, I learned (a) I was their runner up choice for their team of three, and (b) one of their three wasn’t able to make it. What followed was a long honest discussion with B&B about the logistics of this trip..how hard it was going to be..how serious I was about going.

Here’s the deal: Most haunts operate for a few set hours a night. Yes, there’s hours of prep involved, but actual operations are not that long, and usually they’re focused on weekends. This gig? It’s a whole different animal. It’s set up/training actors/running the show for 14 days straight, 10-12 hours a day, starting at 9am/tear down/go home. It’s set up in something that’s sorta a county fair on steroids, which…I’ve worked a haunt at a county fair before. It’s probably a lot like working a haunt on the Jersey boardwalk. So you’re talking hot and sun and rain and nonstop work.

So, not a cake walk.

But.  But but but…AUSTRALIA!

Did I have any health concerns?  Well, yes. My feet.  My feet are a recurring issue for me.

Was Bones ok with me going?  Yes.

Do I have a valid passport?  Yes.

Have I ever worked with a microphone before?  Yes.  Granted, not in a haunted house, but if you can talk on headset answering visitors’ questions while working in a minizoo with a screaming parrot and a gaggle of teenage volunteers, you can probably handle being on headset at a haunt, yes?

Have I been in costume for 12 hours?  Ummm…sorta?  Does a ren faire count?

At the end of the call, I was advised to go talk to Bones some more and spend some more time thinking about everything that had been discussed in the past 30 minutes, and to let B&B know in 24 hours if I was still in or not.

…I didn’t need that much time to email them back and say, ‘Yes please!’

*cue the panic to get everything done and documented at work so that Bones will be in the best possible position for me to be gone for 3+ weeks*

AUSTRALIA!!!

 

but what’s my motivation?

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Last year during our haunt build, our electrical wizard pinged Bones and asked if he could help with a video project.  This resulted in a pause in building while Bones went through our makeup supplies, transformed himself into a disagreeable older gentleman, and Became! A! Star!

…Sorta.

dustin old

Dane and his team – Team Ventura, so you know it’s awesome – participate in Public Media Network‘s contest, Cinema 2880 Film Festival, in which participants have 48 hours to create a short film that must contain certain elements or words.  Team Ventura does a great job, and I’m always wicked impressed by what they can get done in such a short amount of time.  (Last  year’s video is here.  It took first place in Facebook Viewers Choice.)

This year, they needed a grim reaper, and they were planning to film that scene in the same location where we were having our haunted event, so..meant to be!

My desire to take photos was discouraged by the crew.

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Bones…er, Death… was, as always, a professional.

Shooting happened pretty fast (48 hours includes all the editing/production time, and the team had varied filming locations).  The final result may be found here…this year, Team Venture took First Place in Facebook Viewers Choice again – yay! – and third place at the festival.  🙂

in which i seriously reconsider my 5K fixation

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This past Sunday was what might be my last 5K of the season – maybe my last one ever.  Not because of this experience, but because overall I feel…well, a little silly.  A little defeated.  More than a little convinced I could be getting the same actual workout by going disc golfing with my husband.

Aaaaaaanyway…

Sunday was World Run Day.   I signed up over a month ago to do the Dirty Herd 5k up at Pretty Lake, Mattawan, partly because it was sorta kinda local, partly because money raised goes back to Pretty Lake Camp and its work with at-risk kids,  and partly because the name of the group made me laugh. Bones had a thing to go to as well and somehow from agreeing the night before that us leaving at 8:30AM was fine to when we actually started to leave, I panicked and announced I would never make it on time.

This was to be true in ways I couldn’t anticipate at that point.

We got Bones to his thing a bit early, and me to my thing on time.   As in, the runners hadn’t left yet.  But by the time I figured out where registration was (“Oh, we already shut down!  Hold on…”), confirmed that yes I still wanted to do the walk, and made it back outside, everyone was gone.

I walked up to people that looked like they were working the event.  “Can I still go?”

“Oh!  Sure!  You’re just..let’s see…about 11 minutes behind the group.

“Is it well marked?”

“Yup!”

I started down a road. As it turned out, this would be the only paved path for the entire walk.  Initially there were white arrows painted on the road, but as I turned onto a dirt road, that wasn’t the case.  I fairly quickly found my path blocked by plastic orange tape, with no obvious markers telling me where to go next.

This was the…well, the fifth time that morning that I seriously considered not doing this silly thing.  I could have totally ditched and no one except Bones would have known.  I next considered crying out of frustration.  I finally decided to just duck past the ribbon and keep walking.  Worst case scenario, I figured, was that I’d have a nice walk around Pretty Lake.

So pretty, y’all.  I could hear the music of the start/finish area pouring across the water and I thought at the time that maybe the 5K/10K was just a trail that would go all the way around the lake.  And then I finally found some people working the event, stationed behind a table covered in cups of water.  They informed me that I was indeed on the right path (surprise!) and I wanted to follow the path marked by the orange ribbons rather than the blue ones.  (As a side note:  I didn’t see a single walkie on any staff person, which really surprised me.)

I hadn’t seen any blue ones yet, but I thanked them and continued..and finally did find where the path broke off.  This album gives you an idea of what the start of this event looked like.  (I never saw this many people.  Alas.)  What isn’t shown is that the trail took us off road and into the woods.  It was gorgeous and just hilly enough to make my calves ache for a day or so afterwards….and honestly, it was a little nerve wracking to be alone in the woods so afraid of falling.  My right foot is still not fully healed from all my falls last month. 😦  But!  I did not fall!

A lot of the trail followed ones they clearly use over the summer, and people that know how to read trail markers would have felt more comfortable than I did, as those trail markers were frequently placed and highly visible.  And it was honestly so lovely.  Even with my feeling nervous about falling, I loved this location and trail, and kept thinking that Bones should be there because he would have really enjoyed the hike.  At the same time, I started thinking that yeah, I could probably get the same benefit from walking along with him while he’s disc golfing…so, there’s that.

I did finally start to encounter people doing the 10K, and I passed one walker (!!!!), so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t DEAD last.  We didn’t have timing chips on our bibs, but I think my total time was probably my worst one yet – just over an hour.  OTOH, it was hilly and I got lost and I’m actually ok with my time being not too speedy.  I had a lot of time to think about my 5K fixation and just as I was thinking to myself, ‘This is really stupid.  Everyone knows you’re slow.  You’d rather be riding a bike.  You’re not ever going to run.  Hell, walking is a challenge!  What the hell are you doing?  This is your last one,’ a 10K runner passed me and said hi.  I looked up and saw he had a prosthetic foot.

I assume he also managed not to fall on this trail.

Soooooo…ok, brain weasels.  STFU.

Will I do another 5K? Maybe.

Is it in part because I got another medal?

Hell yes.

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a conclusion i couldn’t have predicted

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Last day in China!

And I did NOT want to get out of bed.

The deal was that we were supposed to be up wicked early to go finish up everything in time for our inspection by the boss, then head off to the airport in the afternoon.  I am ashamed to say that I just didn’t care about waking up on time.  😦  To the boys’ credit, they tried to make sure I was cared for by making sure I could get breakfast before I went to the job site, but I didn’t know that, so I didn’t go to the restaurant.  I grabbed some fruit, checked my luggage with everyone else’s in the hotel lobby, and met up with the boys maybe an hour after they had started working.

One of the jobs I took on was to paint some 2x4s black to be used as bracing in the haunt.  I ignored my audience of 6 guys, found some black paint, could not find a paint brush…could, however, find a full sized roller sans holder.  (I should say, I did find other people painting over by the zombie shoot-em-up ride, but completely failed at getting anyone to understand that I could really really use a paint brush.  *sigh*) So I shrugged, dipped the end of the roller into the paint, and started slowly painting the bracing.

Wanna feel really stupid?  Go try to paint 2xs with just a roller.  It’s a great time.

After maybe 30 minutes, one of my audience member found a small roller on a piece of coat hanger wire.  He dipped it into the paint, rolled it across a board, and handed me the improvised roller.  I thanked him, tried using it, found it to be completely useless, walked over to a trash can, threw it away.  Went back to my big roller.

Then I had a great idea!  I found C and asked him if he could ask the audience to paint these boards.

Instantly, a box of paint brushes showed up!

FML.

As I failed at painting, I noticed there was a small pile of haunt walls off to the side.  They looked much the worse for wear, and we sorta raised an eyebrow, but we had a lot to get done, so a random pile of walls was nowhere near our list of things to worry about right then.  A bigger concern was the random park attendees that decided the haunt must be open for business and started wandering through as we were trying to finish up last minute details.

Good times, y’all!

Our inspection went very well, outside of a request for the videos J had provided to be in Chinese, not English.  Duly noted, he’ll work on that, let’s get the heck out of here!

We had a few hours before we had to go to the airport, and had been told we’d be able to go take showers before we left the country.  As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.  Our room keys didn’t work.  While I retrieved my suitcase, the boys were realizing we had no room, and the ever-resourceful J resorted to stealing a key from a maid’s cart and breaking back into one of our rooms so we could clean up a little.

In the meantime, S realized he had left his laptop back at the haunt.  Dammit!  We got a hold of someone at the park, and were told, “Oh, we’ll bring it to you at the park gate.”  We got into our shuttle van, went to the park, and were greeted by one of our interpreters who was holding just the laptop, not the bag/power source/assorted stuff.  So S had to run back into the park to get his stuff.

He came back looking really unsettled.

“What happened?” J asked.

“Well.  Um. You know that pile of walls?  Since we’ve been gone, they tore the front facade off the haunt and extended the front of the haunt with those walls, and then put the facade back on.”

I don’t have an ‘after’ pic, but I’ll try to make that make sense.  This is what the front of the haunt looked like when we left it.

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Our actual haunt had a full beautifully detailed facade, but you can’t see it because of this archway thing that was in front of the concrete pad where we were told to install the haunt.  What the owner had opted to do was to move the facade in front of this arch and then use the extra wall panels to connect the facade to the rest of the haunt.

I’ve never seen J look so stunned.  I still personally can’t imagine how that could have worked.  But somehow, this final tailspin of confusion and bewilderment seems to me to have been the most fitting way for the gig to have ended.

I’m so very glad I had the opportunity to haunt overseas.  It was amazing and bewildering and it taught me things about myself I didn’t expect to discover.  Not all of those discoveries were good, and I’m still processing some of that.  But overall?  Holy poop, y’all.  I helped build a haunted house in CHINA.

**CHINA**.

That’s pretty dang amazing.

And here, have some very random pics I didn’t share yet…

signage/other haunted attractions in the park

the insanity in our hotels

our haunt

random

wrapping things up

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(This is a belated update to the China story – last post here.)

I wake up calmer the next day and join the boys for breakfast, squirreling away fruit to eat later on.  (Thank all the gods ever that created fruit!!)  The boys tell me that they didn’t actually get to see much of the Halloween show the night before because schedules got screwed up, they were tired and sore, and ended up spending most of their time waiting for the zombie shoot-em-up ride to get going.

I feel vaguely better about having opted for a night crying in the tub.

At the haunt, we’ve hit a point where  the effects are ready to be set up – air cannons, animated props, computer screens and the like.

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First room of the haunt.

The problem we run into almost immediately is that the Chinese workers assigned to help us are trying very very hard to learn everything they can about everything we’re doing.  This means that there’s a constant conga line of guys following J around, watching everything he’s doing, and as soon as he walks away from a project, they’re touching it..and more often than not, they’re breaking it.  And we can’t easily get new parts to fix what’s been broken.  And we can’t get our helpers to stop ‘helping.’

We’re getting down to only having hours left to finish the project. Having to do something two or three times is making our work load – and our brains – explode.

There’s a crazy-making mix of things to deal with as we go along.  Our helpers keep taking batteries out of remote controls, or just taking the remotes.  J and S spend hours getting a ghost projection effect to work..and someone else hits a button on it and deletes everything the guys just accomplished.  Someone drops a pre-programmed animation controller that’s run via dip switches, and the boys scramble to try to figure out how to reset the switches correctly.

It’s all more frustrating than I can even begin to describe here.  I finish hanging bits of fabric across all of the haunt hallway doors to give visitors a sense of overhead ick, and J asks me to start working on some ‘cryotube’ props.  In the corner of the haunt housing the air conditioner, there’s to be three large plastic tubes. One will contain an actor; the others, monsters of some sort.  C has already hung blue lights in the tubes, so now it’s my job to go find stuff and make monsters out of it.

…Okie dokie!

So these tubes are sorta like huge half cylinders on bases.  I scrounge up some scraps of wood and create stands that I drape with fabric…I find some masks in one of the boxes of random stuff J packed for this gig… I dry brush the inside of the tubes so that it sorta kinda looks like they’re frosted inside…and I come up with the crappiest puppets I’ve ever created.

…And my creations immediately scare our interpreter when she walks through to check on our progress.  So, yay, I guess!

I also work on fixing one broken prop, whose arms were snapped in transit…

..and repaint a prop to try to take it from ‘wow that’s a horrible fake red’ to ‘wow that’s still pretty horrible but at least it’s not O HAI I’M BLOODY RED!  (All of this, of course, is being done with whatever we brought with us.  I still kinda wish I could have had all of my paints and brushes with me..)

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worst pinata ever…

Meanwhile, the boys had pretty much finished as much as they could for the night, so we packed up and went back to our hotel.  I may  have some of this out of sequence at this point, but I think this was our last full day of work..