The second annual "Walking Dead Zombie Escape," a combination haunted house and obstacle course, has already become one of the great traditions of Comic-Con. Each year, AMC takes over Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and builds an elaborate labyrinth through the stadium's bowels, which is then populated with ferocious zombies. Those who choose to undertake the escape must race their way through the course as fast as possible, climbing over barricades and crawling through tunnels, all the while being pursued by howling members of the undead, whose touch they must avoid at all costs.
The race has become such an institution that the local gay community declared the event an unofficial gay pride gathering and urged all supporters to come run it together.
A member of the Comic-Con press corp, I presented myself 15 minutes before the run was to start for credentials. When I checked in, I was asked, "You are just here to take pictures and observe, right? Not to run the race?"
I assured the media assistant that, dressed in my khakis and button-down shirt, I absolutely was not interested in running from zombies for five or so kilometers on this muggy day. "Good," she nodded. "Because we're completely full. There's no slots left."
"We're on the same page," I told her. I collected my credential and headed for the gate.
Before I could be admitted though, the guard at the gate told me I would need to check my bag at "gear check" on the other side of the stadium. I made the walk around the perimeter as quickly as I could, but by the time I checked my cargo, I realized it was time for the run to start, and hurried, already weary from a day on my feet around Comic-Con, to get back around the stadium to the gate. About halfway back to where I had come from, I saw an open gate where people with what looked like media credentials were entering. At the gate stood a man in Marine camouflage, urging people in. I asked if I could get to the press area through this gate.
"Yes, you can but you've got to hurry. The zombies are coming. Move down this way. Keep it moving," he replied.
I was herded forward with a group of about 40 or so people, who I noticed as we entered a tunnel beneath the stadium, were all tittering with extremely nervous excitement. I then noticed that many of them were dressed in shorts, sweat pants, and workout attire. I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach as suddenly the gate slammed behind us, and someone yelled, "Oh my God! Here they come!"
I knew a few things going into this moment: I knew that there are no such things as zombies; I knew that the volunteers made up in ghoulish face paint were not actually going to bite me; I knew that being touched by a "zombie" doesn't actually turn you into a member of the undead; What's more, I knew that at the end of this long hot day, I had no interest in running a race many times around the perimeter of a baseball stadium.
But knowledge only gets you so far in life. When suddenly you are converged on by a mass of gray creatures with blood-smeared faces, growling like rabid dogs, and when you are among a mob of people who shriek in terror and set off like a rocket running for their lives down a tunnel, well, then, somehow or other you just start running for your life with them. I can say I've rarely moved faster in my life then I did trying to get away from, and then past, our faux undead pursuers.
We must have gone more than a quarter of a mile when the zombie barks had faded and my group all paused for breath, panting and laughing in a brief moment of calm. Which is when I remembered, "No! I'm not running from zombies across this whole stadium!" I approached one of the volunteers who was positioned nearby.
Watch a video of the entire zombie run course:
"I'm afraid I'll be needing the chicken exit."
She looked at me confused, "We don't have one of those."
"Well, I just need the way back to the press area. I'm not actually running this."
Her confusion only increased. "The stadium is closed off. The course is the only way through." Indeed, as I looked, barriers prevented the runners from drifting off into the closed off stadium.
I tried to explain... as a feeling of true panic took hold, but just then another Marine yelled, "There's no time to talk! GO! GO! GO!" And the people around me screamed in terror and bolted off and looking back seeing the zombies coming towards us, I screamed in terror and bolted too. We now had to run around barriers with dead, half-eaten bodies strewn across our route, barricades had to be scaled and crawled over.
After attempting, again fruitlessly, to explain to another volunteer that I really wasn't supposed to be here, I thought, "OK, these are just the walking dead, so I'll just stroll through this course at my own leisurely pace."
Indeed one of my criticisms of the show "The Walking Dead" has been just that; that how terrifying really are things that just walk at you?
Well, I take it back. The answer is, pretty terrifying. Especially when they keep coming, and their faces are smeared with the blood of their last victims and they often lunge with an awful desperation at one's neck. I survived an hour of it. I know now that I would not want that to be my life every day.
Zombies, I learned, like people, are all different. Some of the ones we encountered along our path seemed fairly laid back and lackadaisical about their role in the world. Others lunged towards us with terrifying desperation. You never knew what you were going to get, but one thing's for sure: They kept coming.
As the race went on, a camaraderie and sense of honor formed amongst the survivors. "I'm going back for dad!" I heard one young woman declare. "If can distract those three, you'll just have to get past that one," a gentleman told his friend.
There were even zombies that could be negotiated with. I saw a woman and her husband separated. After the husband had gone up a staircase, a zombie leaped in between them, snarling at the woman and keeping her back. Finally unable to find a way around it, she looked at the zombie and pointed up at her husband. "I'm with him," she said apologetically. Apparently chivalry is not dead amongst the undead. The zombie stood aside and let her past.
After about an hour, I had made it to the end of the course. My khakis and button-down were smeared with fake blood, I was drenched with sweat, and as the prophecy promised, I looked at the zombies and longed to know death's sweet embrace and to join them, never to have to flee again.
I was ushered into a medical tent where we were scanned with infrared lights to see if any zombies had touched us. Spots appeared all over my clothes. I was declared "infected" and taken to a doctor in a room to the side. She examined my eyes and diagnosed, "You've been infected by the zombies."
"I'm sorry," I said.
She nodded. "Now, for the good of humanity, you will have to be executed." She raised a toy pistol to my head and shot me. I was one of them now, but at least my run was over.