The Great Ice Queen Caper
There's a new block party in town.
Thursday, August 29, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunell.
Photo: Riding on Cubes with Poise: Erin Finley-fearless leader, relentless instigator, unchallenged Ice Queen -demonstrates the art and sport of ice blocking, a furtive endeavor best undertaken at night.
Part One: The Plan
It''s funny to find myself sitting in the living room of a Pacific Grove apartment with four strangers on a moonless weekday evening, watching "American Idol" on TV and wondering if I''ll be spending the night behind bars.
My co-conspirators and I make small talk, then start brainstorming ways to avoid incarceration while embarrassingly earnest teens sing "I Will Survive" on the tube.
All of us-despite multiple piercings and tattoos-turn out to be fairly lily-livered, law-abiding citizens, nervous that tonight''s ringleader, still on the clock, is going to lead us into trouble. She has selected a preposterously public place for a covert activity.
"They can''t really arrest us, could they?" I venture.
Juan Alvarado snorts.
"Oh, you better believe it," he says. "Let''s think of someplace else to go."
So we start throwing out possible alternate venues. And quickly shooting them down.
"Dennis the Menace Park."
Too flat. And we might end up in the lake.
There''s a fence. A big fence. And it''s patrolled.
Then someone comes up with a really bright idea.
"The Presidio! That would be money, dude!"
We look at this fool dubiously, then bust out laughing.
Yeah, sure, they won''t ask questions. They''ll just shoot us.
We''re desperately running out of ideas, and the ringleader is waiting for a ride.
"We may have to suck it up," Alvarado says, "and go ahead with her original plan."
We all look down at the floor. I don''t mind admitting it. I''m scared.
Part Two: The Ringleader
She looks innocent enough when we pick her up from work at 10pm, rosy-cheeked and smiling.
But Erin Finley''s not going to suffer weak-kneed rookies gladly.
"That won''t work," she says when we throw safe, legal ideas her way. "Let''s go," she orders.
And so, reluctantly, we make a two-car caravan down the road to perdition.
Part Three: The Crime
"Look! There''s still cars here," Finley says as we pull into the far end of the parking lot.
"I NEVER come this early," she mutters. "We should leave and come back around 1am."
But for those of us who are unfamiliar with the ways of the night, it''s now or never. I know I''ll lose my nerve if we leave.
We get out of the car just as one of the parked cars starts its motor.
"Get down!" hisses Finley. "Get behind the tire!"
Headlights swing towards us and we freeze. I hope the head-to-toe black clothing camouflages us.
"Your van looks really suspicious," Sarah* whispers to Alvarado.
No one breathes. Then the car is gone.
"What if it comes back?" someone wonders.
Alvarado unloads the goods from his van. He wraps them in big towels as we start scampering across the parking lot.
"I got them in Salinas," he says. "I told the guy it was for camping."
We are almost out of the dangerous open area when Sarah gives a muffled scream.
"Look!" she says, pointing to the building across the parking lot. "There''s someone watching us with binoculars!"
We are not breathing. My heart hasn''t beaten this fast since high school, when we used to sneak out of our dorms to-well, never mind.
Sprinklers are going off, and we must proceed. We inch our way through the darkness and realize that the person watching us is not moving. It''s a mannequin.
Part Four: Success!
"Be careful going downhill," Finley advises as she gives me a big push. "If you get too much speed you''ll hit the cement curb and go flying off the ice."
As we go whizzing into the darkness on a towel set on giant ice blocks, the adrenaline rush takes over the fear. Lugging the ice back uphill for the next participant is oxygenating my blood and eradicating my fretfulness. I feel pretty exhilarated, actually.
"I''ve been ice blocking with my friends from Salinas High for years," says Finley. "There''s nothing to do around here and this is cheap fun. We used to come with five carloads of people."
Sometimes, for an added challenge, Finley sticks a garbage can on top of the ice block and rides down the hill inside of the can for as long as she can stay on it.
Finley and Sarah are attempting a train. The two girls straddle one block of ice and take off together. There are yelps and yells of glee, then, "Watch Out!"
Sarah has fallen off, snapping her neck back in the process.
With one casualty, I''m ready to call it a night. But the rest of the gang is having too much fun.
"I''m next!" says Brian* as he races Alvarado down the hill.
Suddenly there''s a cry in the night.
"Oh my God, someone''s there," Sarah says.
"It''s just a bird," I say, sounding brave. "But maybe we should go anyway."
The sound-is it a screech, or is it a yell?-continues periodically. There''s a house up the hill, and maybe, just maybe, someone is watching us.
"Let''s bail now," I say, pleadingly.
We leave the evidence at the bottom of the hill, knowing our fingerprints will be gone by the next day.
"There''s maintenance guys who come at 4am," says Brian. "Wonder what they''re going to think when they find the ice!"
"Maybe they''ll try it," smiles Finley as we drive off to safety.
"That was awesome," says Brian. "I''m totally up for doing that again."
But as I strip off my wet mittens and pull off the slippery nylon sports pants Sarah lent me, I come to a potent realization:
I''m too old for this.
*B>Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.