By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
Let me start near the end. I stood amid a sea of at least 200 people at 9 pm on Friday the 13th outside of a Petco Park gate. Around me were a man dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, a man disguised as a zombie, a man wearing the uniform of someone in special ops, a trio of lovely ladies and many more people in smart running shoes. The metal gates leading inside opened and we moved into a small area that normally serves as the queue area for a concession stand, and now had a chain-link fence serving as a cage holding back about 20 zombies. A man struggled and wrestled with two more zombies on a leash. A bullhorn squawked and a voice advised us to remain calm, as this was a safe zone. One of the zombies on its leash grabbed its handler and started to feed. His zombie sister joined him in his feast. The chain-link cage opened and zombies poured into our safe zone. The man on the bullhorn exhorted us all to run and run now.
I became pretty familiar with the words and actions in this first room. (“We’re with FEMA, we know what we’re doing” was my favorite backhanded political swipe.) On Friday afternoon, I stood just beyond that first section of “The Walking Dead Escape” in a room with body bags, a couple of closed-circuit TVs showing a continuous loop of zombie disaster scenes and a small, narrow pathway leading to the next part of the course. A cloud of fog, assuming the breezes flowing through the park did not blow too swiftly in those couple of minutes, met the survivors as they frantically pushed their way inside. I shambled along in the fog, they found my business casual zombie presence and avoided my reach as I swung around my one good arm and tried to catch people in my grasp. They screamed and dodged and I became the center of an island of dread with streams of survivors running around both sides of me. The zombies from the cage would wander in and join me for a little before returning to their posts.
(Full disclosure, as our training instructed us, I figured out that I had my right collarbone snapped when I became infected and could only move my left arm and my head stayed anchored to my shoulder. I’m a method zombie. Also, I didn’t try too hard to catch anyone, because if you were trying to avoid the zombie hoard, it would suck to get touched by the first “wild” one you saw. However, in one of the first batches of people to come through the course, one guy got scared and actually jumped back into my chest, then jumped back the way he came and ran scared as I stifled a laugh while continuing my forward shuffle. I think that was the only real contact I made.)
Eventually, the zombie horde got bored with just this sample of the carnage and followed the survivors further and further into the course. We found other places to set ourselves up and give the people running another chance to avoid the undead. We did anything to prolong the excitement of the chase and to avoid the wait between waves. When the survivors escaped, we took pictures of each other and I even took the time to sit by a working electrical outlet (you wouldn’t expect that during the apocalypse) and charged my phone.
This reflection on the survivors getting to have all the fun got me to thinking, why shouldn’t I be a survivor? Why shouldn’t I go back and try my hand at surviving the zombie apocalypse? So, once I finished my shift, I emerged into the daylight, my makeup fading and my humanity returning. I found the box office, used my right arm that now worked perfectly to pull out my wallet and I tried to figure out the spookiest time possible. The last shift in the dark of night on Friday the 13th fit the bill.
Surviving became a blur. Once I jogged through the first gauntlet, we all piled up behind the first set of obstacles – rope nets and a big slide – and were thinned out so the horde of survivors didn’t overwhelm the horde of zombies and to make the experience more fun. We ran around burned out cars. We crawled under obstacles and through chain link tunnels. Zombies waited around corners. Zombies wandered around mazes of construction barriers throughout every level of Petco.
I did perform one heroic deed and I have to thank the zombie for it. A maze of barriers stood in front of me and about four other survivors. I darted inside and the lone zombie guard turned toward me, allowing himself to be distracted by middle-aged-man flesh, leaving the path to freedom open for the others. They ran through without any worry and I managed to escape his grasp. Three of the survivors, the same trio of lovely young ladies from the beginning of the course, thanked me for my heroism as we continued our escape. I felt my breast swell from more than just being out of shape and trying to catch my breath.
“The Walking Dead Escape” let me feel like a hero in that small moment. That’s what made it fit in with Comic-Con so well. If I may paraphrase the chorus of a David Bowie song, we could all be heroes, just for four days.