August 14, 2014
Elopus, French Maids, and GISHWHES
GISHWHES: The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.
The mouthful of an event translates to one week of utter madness, hosted by Misha Collins (best known as the angel Castiel on the tv show Supernatural). The secondary host is an animal hybrid mascot, which for 2014 is Elopus.
This year, the winning team will get to sail around Croatia on a pirate ship, but for most of the thousands of participants it’s more about the thrill of the hunt than claiming the prize. GISHWHES turns out to be a great excuse to meet people from around the world, help the community, break out of your comfort zone, and of course do things you never imagined in even your most surreal dreams.
The scavenger hunt list contains 197 items, to be collected in the form of photos and videos. These range from the outright bizarre (Item 53: Shave a recognizable corporate logo onto a hirsute man’s back or chest hair), to acts of kindness (Item 79: Visit an orphanage, a children’s hospital or a juvenile detention center dressed as Cookie Monster and distribute cookies to the children living there), to the mostly impossible (Item 142: Develop a parallel algorithm for efficiently inverting a trillion-by-trillion matrix).
My team, which we call Empire Burton from a “Random article” result on Wikipedia, includes coworkers at a games shop in Edinburgh, a singer-songwriter in Stockholm, a mother of two in San Francisco, animal lovers from Derby, a high school student in Colorado, and a die-hard Supernatural fan in Montreal.
I find myself doing things like driving an invisible car through a fast food drive-through and filming “tweed porn” with a sleazy kazoo soundtrack, but Item 165 is the most memorable. The cryptic instructions are as follows:
You should arrive Sunday, August 3rd, between 12:00 and 12:30 PST, at the Miller Community Center – 330 19th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112. You will not be allowed into the event if you do not adhere to all of the following:
1. You look like a French maid
2. You have a “still life” hat with you
3. You are comfortable holding hands with another Gisher
I’m the obvious candidate to attend, but the designated date is in the middle of my Olympic peninsula vacation. What would normally be a 20 minute drive is now a 3 hour journey.
Long story short, this leads to me riding the Bainbridge Island ferry dressed like this:
My mom and brother lovingly craft my “Cornu-cap-ia” hat and find maid accessories to go with one of my clubbing dresses. They go so far as to drop me off at the ferry terminal (after a somewhat fitting meal of crepes), but they will come no further.
It turns out I will be far from alone on my journey. Even before boarding the boat, another Gisher comes up to give me a gift (Item 6). I unwrap a pair of purple underpants emblazoned with a Wooster, the previous year’s half-wolf half-rooster mascot.
On board the ferry, I spot a table of other maids and introduce myself. They include Kate (a self-published romance author), her two teen daughters, and a neighbor boy (who is NOT happy about wearing a dress).
Once in Seattle, we hop on a bus headed toward Cap Hill. At each stop, the number of passengers in black dresses and bizarre hats grows.
The normal commuters are mostly curious, with the exception of one bitter woman who disgustedly calls us Satanists. One of the girls from the ferry gets visibly upset at the accusation, so someone stands up to lead the bus in a rousing chorus of “Over the River and Through the Woods” (Item 21).
The woman complains loudly to the bus driver about our lack of respect, demanding that he shut us up or kick us off. Fortunately, the confused driver stays the course and drops us off at the community center, where a line of French maids winds through the parking lot.
The line feeds into a stuffy gymnasium, which eventually fills with 695 people. I tamp down on the crowd anxiety that bubbles up in my chest and leaks out my palms. When Misha Collins appears and slips his own French maid costume on over his clothes, the zealous screams lead me to think maybe crazy bus lady was not so off about the cult thing after all.
The goal of the day is to break a number of ridiculous Guinness world records. For “Most People in a Decorated Hat Competition”, we put on our “Still Life” hats while judges come by and pick out the best for us to vote on.
For “Largest Gathering of People Dressed as French Maids”, we swap the elaborate hats for our lacy caps and stand again.
Then, we’re ushered outside to attempt “Longest Human Chain to Pass Through a Hula Hoop”. To qualify, the chain has to remain unbroken for the duration. It’s a long time to hold a stranger’s hand on a hot summer day. Fortunately, my neighbors are all a delight. There’s a moment of excitement as the hula hoop passes through our section before it’s back to sitting and waiting. Misha comes around to chat and pour water in our mouths, but despite his best efforts there are several cases of heat stroke.
Then it’s the long trip back, eased with ice cream and getting to know my new acquaintances, followed by cooling down by kayaking with seals off of our vacation rental’s dock. All-in-all, it’s a memorable day in a memorable week.