Mystery Weekend

Every January, when the weather gets cold and the airfares get cheapish, my brother James and I visit a new city. Generally, these are places with a bit of history to them, and they’re generally ones we haven’t been to before. While we’re there, we try to meet some new people and do a few things off the beaten path. We call it our Mystery Weekend.

Putting the rock in the house with the Kzoo Curling Club.
Putting the rock in the house with the Kzoo Curling Club.

In 2011, we went to Kalamazoo, where we came across Sarah Lee, the queen of Kzoo social media. She tweeted to her thousand-plus followers, essentially: “Some random guys are coming to town; who wants to get dinner?” Here’s who showed up.

Hanging out with new Kzoo tweeps
Hanging out with new Kzoo tweeps

The previous year, we’d gone to Cleveland, where we saw LeBron James score 37 points and still barely defeat Oklahoma City and some rookie named Kevin Durant. Then we watched the world’s bravest, or most foolhardy, rooster wander past 2,000-degree molten glass at the Glass Bubble Project. And we paid a visit to the world’s largest chess-and-checkers collection, held at the central branch of the Cleveland Public Library, where the librarians will let you leaf through the leather-bound vellum of a 600-year-old book of chess problems.

600-year-old chess problems, in Latin, on vellum, in Cleveland
600-year-old chess problems, in Latin, on vellum, in Cleveland

In Scranton, we rented a small downtown theater and put on a Pecha Kucha Night. (What’s that? Kind of like show-and-tell for adults. Here’s the presentation format: 20 slides, which auto-advance at 20 seconds apiece, so each speaker gets 6 minutes and 40 seconds — no more and no less — to talk about his or her passion, hobby, project, or idea. Put eight or 10 presenters before an audience, and you’ve got a Pecha Kucha Night.) It went pretty well: we filled the house and got some nice writeups in the local press.

Pecha Kucha Night Scranton, making the front page of the local alt-weekly
Pecha Kucha Night Scranton, making the front page of the local alt-weekly

Bangor, Maine, already had a thriving Pecha Kucha Night series, so we simply joined the fun. If you’re looking to meet interesting people in an unfamiliar city, you can’t do much better than a PKN. Our fellow presenters included a local firefighter, a 4th-grade teacher whose class does “mystery Skypes” with elementary schools across the country, a picture-book author and illustrator, and a co-creator of the seminal videogame Myst. We spoke, perhaps inevitably, about our Mystery Weekends:


So this year — next weekend, in fact — we’re off to Muncie, Indiana. Do you live there? Know anyone who does? Get in touch on Twitter (@navybook) and tell us what’s going on.

Update (Jan. 26): We had a great time in Muncie, thanks to a lot of folks who went out of their way to offer helpful suggestions or otherwise make us feel welcome. Here’s the Storify.

Update 2 (Jan. 29): Keith Roysdon of the Muncie Star Press wrote a nice little article on our crowdsourced visit.

Update 3 (Jan. 30): Well, that got a little crazy. The Star Press put the story out over the AP wire, and it got picked up by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, San Antonio Express-News, Connecticut Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington (D.C.) Times, Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, Houston Chronicle, and a half-dozen smaller news sites around Indiana and, for some reason, Connecticut. All part, I guess, of the Mystery Weekend magic.

Putting out to sea aboard the USS Carr from Norfolk Naval Station
Putting out to sea aboard the USS Carr from Norfolk Naval Station
A cheery sign welcomes you to the San Diego neighborhood of Normal Heights
A cheery sign welcomes you to the San Diego neighborhood of Normal Heights
Gardiner, Maine: "Sorry, folks, rest area's closed. Moose out front should have told you."
Gardiner, Maine: “Sorry, folks, rest area’s closed. Moose out front should have told you.”

Post a comment