Saturday, June 23, 2007

Urban LB-in Adventures: Discretion and Unexpected Surprises

One of the best things about letterboxing is some of the surprises one can encounter along the way. Recently, e-volution and I experienced such a huge surprise that I felt like sharing the story with the rest of you.

On a recent letterboxing trip to the northerly town of Macon, we had the grand adventure of severely testing our urban letterboxing skills, especially that of the skill of discretion, and solving clues in a very small and unfamiliar town where if we weren't careful, we'd really stand out as non-locals and endanger the boxes we were seeking to find. Truth to tell, I felt a bit like a fish out of water, being surrounded by buildings instead of trees and watching for cars instead of unsuspecting hikers.
Still, things started out simple enough. At first I thought we were visiting a sleepy town. No one was about, the clues were simple, and our first box was easy to find.
That was just the cosmos teasing us.
As soon as we decided to re-hide the box, there was a person around that corner, a car moving around that corner, a police patrolman cruising by the other corner, and even two horses being ridden double smack down the middle of a main street in town . But not a soul seemed to even own a cell phone. Since we could only walk around the block so many times without raising suspicion, we shook our heads in dsibelief, and took the box with us to return it later.
The next dilemma we faced involved whether we should walk or drive. I usually LOVE having personalized plates but cruising up and down small town streets with personalized plates and pagan-themed bumperstickers was not my idea of how to blend in, especially given some of the locations we ended up searching.

We did get to see some cool sights. Some of them led us absolutely nowhere--what does the clue say again?--and some we saw more times than we expected--the box really should be here...let's look again....and again...and yet again. Try to look casual. Really.

Is there a way to casually count paces and peer in nooks and crannies in a empty lot in full view of traffic? How many times can I search for my keys, drop my sunglasses and stoop to pick them up, and pose to get my picture taken in front of less-than-picturesque landscaping? All the while watching for people watching us, especially those sneaky ones in parked cars, or those that suddenly pour en masse out of buildings into what had been an empty street only moments earlier. Still after several hours, spread out over two different days, and some hunting under cover of darkness (What's our story again in case the police stop to investigate?"), we finally approached the last part of the clue which was to "say hello to the troll."

That was when we got our biggest shock.
Knowing that if we played our cards right we might have a chance to meet and exchange stamps with the people who had planted the boxes we found, we cautiously approached the troll. We hesitated, seeing the presence of Muggles (non-letterboxers) nearby. What could we do that would not draw undue attention to ourselves and what we were doing? Who could have predicted that our deliberately discreet question about costume designers from Florida would spark a conversation that began with an enthusiatic "Are you letterboxers? Hey, I'm a letterboxer," and then a second or two later, the speaker called excitely to another person, "Hey, there's letterboxers here!" A third person walking by who overheard the comment eagerly said to 4th onlooker, "Hey, do you know about letterboxing?" At her puzzled look, he said, "It's great. I'll tell you all about it later." I stood there in disbelief and shock as the Muggles looked puzzledly at each other and us before continuing on their way.

So much for discretion. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, and collected my wits, I had a chance to meet and chat with some very fine and enthusiastic folks, all of whom had just started letterboxing. I supposed I had become so accustmed to the mid-Missouri style of letterboxing where secrecy and discretion go hand-in-glove with letterboxing, that I had forgotten it's not that way everywhere.

The secrecy is one of the things I like best about letterboxing...e-volution joked that letterboxing is good for terrorist training: concealing boxes in plain sight, practicing under-cover techniques, decoding ciphers, etc. But in all seriousness, I like the fact that I can walk (or drive) by a box's location and delight in the fact that most people will pass unsuspectingly by it while I know it's there. I hope that all new letterboxers eventually experience the same feeling, and with any luck (and quite a bit of skill), the rest of you may also have a chance to meet and chat with some of the wonderful new aquaintances we made in Macon.
FYI, I did get to speak that evening with part of Team Gingko via cell phone. She happened to be in Columbia at the time. What irony.

1 comment:

Lady In Red said...

I know exactly what you mean. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I was out letterboxing in San Diego and San Francisco. It's a bit unnerving when you're going after a box that's within 6 feet of a somewhat busy road... especially when there's no good cover or you have to crawl under bay windows and fun things like that. And then you have the challenge of hunting in the evening in places that are great for watching the sun set over the ocean... I had to give up on a couple boxes because I couldn't locate them quickly enough before it was impossible to be discreet.

One thing I had taken for granted here was having my car to get to boxes easily and not having to worry about straying into bad parts of town. Letterboxing by bus, train, and two feet was quite a different experience!

I'll try to get a post up with more about my adventures and some pictures this week.