Since 2004 our family has celebrated Halloween in the way that only Briers North can - with a few thousand of our closest friends. We've taken a break here and there but the routine is mostly consistent.
It's work. And there are expenses. And planning. Lots of planning. But we've figured out how to enjoy ourselves and the day with some foresight.
Note: I'm going through a lot of "work" and thinking steps. It seems like a lot. It IS a lot. But there is such a joy to it, it's hard to put into words. You have to see it and feel it for yourself.
This narrative does not include weekend Halloweens, parties, or those years when I did the actual planning.
October 15 - the organizers have been working since August to work out large-scale logistics like police and volunteers. The parking passes and wrist bands created for each family arrived on the front porch today.
October 16 - call the usual babysitter and ensure she's available. Of course she is, she loves the event as much as we do! Hit Wally World for candy. All 1500 pieces of it. Have your explanation ready for the incredulous checkout girl who invariably has a comment.
October 19 - dig out the containers of Halloween costumes, sort the Shrek character pieces and make sure everything is in good repair. Every year I swear I'm going to get a new "Fiona" wig. Every year I wait too late. Wash, rinse, repeat.
October 21. - The Outhouse. The centerpiece of Shrek's swamp is hand-built of 2x4's and reclaimed scrap. Pat takes down the custom cut and numbered pieces from their racks in the garage and gets them assembled. The "Beware Ogre" signs copied from the "Shrek" cartoon are pulled out of the shed and set up. The front yard barrier that says "come closer but not into the yard" is made of stakes and raw hemp rope.
The next week - nothing happens. Focus is on work, school, and work. Pat schedules 10/30 and 31 off. (I get 2 hours to celebrate my birthday before it's back into the fray.) The kids are "too cool" to join the family business anymore. They used to be Donkey, Puss in Boots, and a baby dronkey back in the day. Now they're making arrangements to trick-or-treat with their own friends. (Except the first grader, of course.) Only the 2nd grader has picked her costume. The other two are making it me wing it at Spirit Halloween or Party City the weekend before.
Tourists are making the rounds of the street. Cars are making the slow crawl down the street, snapping pictures. In 2004, the first year we saw a weekend Halloween, it took 30 minutes to drive 100 meters from the subdivision entrance to our house on October 30.
Shrek is showing on one channel or another so Pat can practice the voice, complete with obnoxious Scottish accent. It's either that or the DVD a dozen times.
October 28 is supposed to see rain. Hold off on putting up the lights.
October 29 - purple and green lights on the makeshift fence. Find a sawhorse or something similar to block the driveway. Even with barricades people will help themselves to your yard until they are politely but firmly escorted off. That's ogre-style polite.
October 30 - final build. Do an early trim on the crepe myrtle and drape the stumps in fabric tarp to simulate Shrek's house. Track down some old fence slats to simulate the door. Add Halloween lights to make it look like Shrek is celebrating Halloween. No campaign signs this year, although anyone with more than half a skull running for office should show up to shake hands. You'll never get this kind of crowd in one place on any other day. Install and test the flood lights that indicate when the show goes on. Take a break for a nice lunch. I'm asking for either McKendrick's or Flemings'.
Check supplies of fog machine liquid, spare light bulbs and do the shopping. Get parking passes on the cars in case the unthinkable happens and you're trapped outside of the street.
THE BIG DAY
7 AM - kids get taken to school with their permitted Halloween garb. They who are "too cool" to join the family show are not "too cool" to brag on the big event itself.
8 AM - check with teachers about homework load. Send the YouTube video from 2010 to show them you're not kidding about the night's activity. Call the tennis coach to cancel. Send the YouTube video again so he knows your daughter isn't goldbricking.
9 AM - Pick up the paperwork and random flotsam and jetsam that accumulates around the house. Even if you're not throwing a party, it's going to be bedlam and something essential WILL get lost. Plus there's always someone who shows up to say hello and the swamp is outside, not in the front door. Track down the fake Dunwoody "Stop Work Order" that Terry Nall requested from Tom LaPenna a few years ago just for laughs. Nail it to the outhouse and see who thinks it's real. (Answer: at least 10 people will think it's a real stop work order.) Test the fog machine in the outhouse. It's a key part of the act.
3 PM - pick up kids from respective schools. Both parents are available so each takes a school. (One in Dunwoody, one in Johns Creek). High tail it back home. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.
3:30 - first grader is home first. Talk him through chores and homework before the distractions intensify.
4:00 - girls are home. Stand over their homework so the absolute essential "due the next day" stuff gets done
4:30 - get dinner started. Usually steak and french fries because they're easy to make outside while people run around inside.
5:00 - babysitter arrives. She knows to have her butt here well in advance of 5:30 or she's parking at Crossroads like everyone else. Dinner for all wherever you can find a seat.
5:15 - dump the candy in the biggest container we can find and keep it by the front door. Make the sign to put on the outhouse that Shrek hands out candy at 7 PM.
5:30 - the main road is closed (They advertise 5:45 but trust me, those barricades go out at 5:30.) Get kids into costumes. It's usually too hot for "Shrek" to hike around with the kids so the ogres are in street clothes. Find the candy collection buckets we forgot in the storage closet. As of now there are at least 1,000 people in the street just milling around. The homeowners collectively agree to start distributing candy at 6 PM. There has to be a limit or we'll be out there all day.
6:00 - TRICK OR TREAT! No more excuses, the candy starts flying! Kids and respective friends are matched up. Middle schoolers are read the riot act about not leaving the neighborhood. Second/third graders form their clique with a parent. (Something about a Descendants 2 theme this year.) Wristbands on all kids and babysitter: check. The first grader insists on riding on Daddy's shoulders. Great for the view, but he'll figure out the logistical conflict with actual trick or treating in 3...2...1.....
House to house to house to house. It's easy to clean up fast with the candy and treats.
6:40-ish - The first grader tires quickly from the crowds and excitement so it's easy to herd him back into the house with plenty of time for our own "show". Hand off to babysitter for bath and bed. Get the "Shrek" and "Fiona" outfits on and breathe. Line up the basket and wooden bucket for giving out candy. Get the giant candy stash into the outhouse.
7 PM - SHOWTIME The outhouse opens and out comes Shrek with a bucketful of candy. Shrek needs Fiona to be his eyes because it's hard to see through the mask. Dozens of bags and pillowcases come out at once. Just put a piece of candy in the bag. Say "Happy Halloween". Repeat. Quickly. Dozens of trick or treaters become hundreds in a few minutes. Every 15 minutes or so the bucket runs out. "Shrek" heads to the outhouse and sets off the smoke bomb. Ominous looking smoke wafts from the top of the outhouse door. "Fiona" gets sympathetic looks from the females in the crowd. A couple of minutes later the ogre opens the outhouse door with a full bucket of candy. A crowd 15-deep in the street has waited up to ten minutes for this scene.
Put a piece of candy in the bag, smile, wave to the little kids, offer candy to a tired parent who just got off work. Smile and pose for a picture from the tourists. Occasionally I hear Pat say something in Spanish, but with a Scottish accent for effect and a knot of children bounce around in glee.
The Ogre Fiona has to come out when the crowds press too close. We keep the visitors in the street for our own safety, and theirs. My worst fear is someone breaking an ankle from standing on the curb or worse - getting impaled on a temporary fence post. So Fiona has to yell at everyone to get off the curb NOW!!!!! Hey, she yelled like that in the movie, I'm just playing a part, right? Other times we have to stop and get the crowd to back up so "Shrek" - kneeling at the fence in a heavy mask and gauntlets and who has a hard time seeing what's in front of him, doesn't get crushed under a pressing mob.
"Hi Shrek! Where's donkey?" "Hi Fiona!" "Where's Dragon?" I swear, we need to have an inflatable or animatronic pink dragon some day.
8:15-ish - the candy is about to run out and we announce that what we have in our bucket and basket is it for the night. That's 1500 pieces of candy - one to a customer - distributed in 75 minutes. Other homes have already run out of candy and have turned off their porch lights, or the floodlights on their decorations. The front entrance will close to all non-residents at 8:30 so the timing works out just right.
Last pieces of candy are given away and we have to turn away the rest of the crowd. "Happy Halloween! Come see us next year!"
8:30, at the latest - Pull the plug on the floodlights decorating the set. Retreat to the house. Peel off the sweaty costumes in the laundry room. Replace with t-shirts and pajama bottoms. Check in with the babysitter re: first grader. If all goes well, he was asleep 10 minutes ago. Second-grader was back home by 8 pm and insists "I'm not tired" as her eyes roll back in her head. Grab an adult beverage and watch the remainder of the show from the front porch. Keep an eye out for the middle schooler who needs to be in the house by 9, or else.
8:45 - everyone's out of candy. The volunteers and police are sweeping the streets, urging everyone to the front entrance and out of Briers North. Radios are used to alert to lost children/parents. A makeshift lost and found appears at the corner of Tilly Mill.
9:00 pm - Lights Out. No, really, there's no more candy and the show has come to an end. Closing time. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here. Middle schooler scoots in the door with seconds to spare. The rest of the gossip with her friends has to wait til tomorrow.
9:05: Ghost town. The streets are literally barren. While the babysitter oversees the older kids bedtime (they both need it whether they admit it or not) the grown folks slip outside to turn on the decorative lights on the set. The street is open again and pedestrians enjoy the sets one last time.
9:30 - everyone under 18 is passed out. Driveway barricades are removed and the babysitter goes home, entertained and paid. Adult beverage #2 makes an appearance. Adults pick through the candy and lay claim to whatever a child is allergic to. Wind down time in front of the TV. Be ready to answer the door in case a friend comes by and asks "So, how did it go???"
There are social plans this weekend so we have to figure out when the sets will be broken down and hung in the garage.
Adrenaline overcomes fatigue - next year can't come fast enough.
See you on the 31st!