Have you ever had someone you know and trust show up randomly and tell you to drop everything you’re doing and come with them? That was a very typical weeknight for me in college. So when my friend – I’ll just call him Chris – came to my room and said, “don’t ask any questions, but you need to come with me right now”, there wasn’t really even a choice to be made.
Earlier in the day, I’d seen Chris and couple other guys messing around with this gigantic sling shot. It took three people to operate the darn thing – two guys holding either end of the 6-foot long elastic band, and one guy to place an object into the leather pouch in the middle and pull it back about 12 feet before selecting his angle and letting the cargo fly.
On this particular night, there were about eight of us crammed into two cars heading toward the part of campus where all the bars were located. None of us were 21 yet, so I was a little confused at first. What are we doing, I thought to myself (Chris said no questions, and I’m a good soldier, so…). All I knew was that Chris had a smirk on his face that I’ve seen many times. It’s a dangerous smirk, wrought with creativity and mischief.
Our buddy – I’ll just call him Tim – was driving the lead car, and he pulled into a parking garage a block away from the most famous bar on campus, Harry’s. He drove all the way to the top floor of the five-story garage, then parked on the southeast side. The car I was in parked on the third level and we climbed a couple flights of stairs to meet up with the others (I’m still not entirely sure why we did that).
While I was still completely befuddled about our purpose, Tim popped his trunk to reveal a 5-gallon bucket full of water balloons. On the floor next to the bucket lay the sling shot.
Ooooooohhh. I get it now. “We’re about to really piss some people off, aren’t we?” I asked, rhetorically of course.
We split up in two groups of four. The first four would stay at the garage, while the other four took up positions on the street level for recon purposes. At the garage, three guys manned the slingshot while the fourth, Chris, was on the phone getting feedback from the guys on the ground. Within three minutes of our arrival at the parking garage, the first water balloon was soaring through the air with the illest of intentions.
No one on the ground saw the first balloon land. Me and another guy, I’ll call him Dave, were posted caddy-corner to Harry’s and had the best view of the bar patrons waiting in line to get their IDs checked. But we couldn’t see the balloon’s approach. One guy was posted a block away from the bar, and there was another guy a block in the other direction. They could see the flight of the balloon, but they wouldn’t get the satisfaction of watching the victims get doused.
A second balloon was launched 30 seconds later. Too high. Dave saw it fly over the roof of the bar and relayed that information back to the garage. Another half minute later, we saw another balloon hit the roof of the building the bar was in, but it was about 30 feet too far to the left. Again the information was relayed and adjustments were made.
The fourth balloon landed in the street within five feet of the bar goers. Some of them felt splashes of water on their feet and looked around, confused about where it had come from.
We laughed our asses off, but tried to stifle it the best we could so we didn’t blow our cover. We were maybe only 25 yards from the front door of the bar, and we weren’t exactly being subtle. Dave howled into the phone how close they were and encouraged the sling shot team to give it about seven more feet of juice. The fifth balloon smashed into the side of the brick building right below the second story window, showering the people below it.
Again we nearly died trying to stifle our laughter. We were so focused on watching the angry students that we didn’t notice the bouncer noticing the attack. Right before the sixth balloon hit a female student squarely in the thigh, the bouncer screamed out “heads up!” My buddy shot me a look, realizing that the bouncer was onto the fact that someone was raining water balloons down on his customers, and as soon as he saw the girl get pelted with a balloon, we could see his entire face turn red and his eyes light up with a fiery rage.
He moved quickly for a large man. Within two seconds of the balloon making contact, he was inside the bar. Dave called up to the garage with the news that they were on to us and that we needed to wrap things up and get out of there. That message evidently didn’t land on listening ears. The next thing we knew, water balloons were falling from the sky every few seconds, some wildly off target while others hit the building and showered the folks in line.
The bouncer reappeared a few seconds later, absolutely livid. He made everyone aware of what was going on so they could be on the lookout, but most of them had already caught on. Dave and I sat wide-eyed, unsure of what to do. On the one hand, now that everyone knew what was happening, we probably needed to get our stuff together and get the heck out of there. But on the other hand…what were they going to do? It’s not like they knew where the barrage was from.
I decided we needed to flee the scene because people in line were starting to get really upset and we didn’t want to push our luck. Dave and I started making our way back toward the parking garage about a block away when we heard the bouncer tell the line of angry customers that he’d already called the cops. Then we understood why the bouncer had run inside the bar. And we also deduced that maybe this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened to this guy. He knew exactly where to send the police.
Dave and I glanced at each other in horror. He called Chris immediately and shared that they had no more than a few minutes to get out of there before the cops rolled up on them. Maybe Chris would listen this time.
I remember getting separated from Dave at some point and being completely confused about where he went. I later found out he took off running, subscribing to the every-man-for-himself approach. Inexplicably, I went back to the parking garage.
I ran up all five flights of stairs as fast as I could, stopping briefly at each floor to look through the glass window in the door to see if I could spot the sling shot team making their getaway. I finally reached the top floor, and to my dismay, the crew was still firing water balloons as fast as they could manage.
“Guys, we gotta go! I’m not kidding, the bouncer called the cops!”
The three guys operating the sling shot stopped immediately and looked at each other. Evidently Chris hadn’t shared the news with them. There was no time to ask questions, though. All five of us made a move for the car at the same exact moment. Somehow, I ended up riding shotgun with an almost-empty bucket of water balloons on my lap and the sling shot at my feet. Tim whipped the car down each ramp while I entertained the others with descriptions of the damage they were able to cause at Harry’s.
We were only about 50 yards from the exit of the garage when two police officers came around the corner on foot. And they started walking right at us.
I’ve never seen a speed limit posted in a parking garage as far as I can recall, but I know Tim was speeding. Instinctively, he slammed on his breaks to get down to a more reasonable speed. That action is probably what spared each of us a night in jail. The bucket slid off my lap and down between my legs. I tried to bring my knees together over the top of the bucket to shield it from view from the outside, but there simply wasn’t enough leg room. I was only able to partially cover the bucket.
The next 15 seconds happened in slow motion, and I don’t think any of us were breathing. As we pulled closer to the officers, each of us tried to look at calm and natural as possible. But at the same time, I had a bucket of water balloons and an industrial-sized sling shot in my possession, and I was not handling those facts well.
Inexplicably, the officers just walked right on past us, even though I was absolutely positive they’d want us to stop. Had they only gotten within a few feet of my door, they would have seen the unused water balloons and we would have been done for. It just didn’t make any sense. I’m still not sure whether the cops showing up at the parking garage was a coincidence or if they were just exceptionally bad at their jobs. As it turned out, we were home a few minutes later.
A couple years later after I had turned 21, my friends and I were bar-hopping on a Saturday night and found ourselves standing in line waiting to get into Harry’s. For whatever reason, I kept feeling the urge to check the sky to the north. ♦