"Real adventure is hard to find," says Kevin McCarthy. "With the Urban Challenge, people get a taste of adventure, and then they get to go home and sleep in their own beds." The Chicago native created the cross-town "adventure race," in which teams of two must decipher clues and take photos of themselves at the indicated checkpoints, to amuse guests at his daughter's twelfth birthday party. Now the nationwide competition includes 21 cities, and the team that wins the final event in Miami Beach will take home a cool $50,000.
You may think we already have a name for this sort of thing. But, McCarthy insists, do not call the Urban Challenge a scavenger hunt. "The dreaded s-word," he laughs. "A scavenger hunt is kids knocking on doors looking for paper clips and lint. The Urban Challenge is a full mind, body and spirit experience. It's quite challenging."
The mind is the first to face the test, as the race kicks off with a brief trivia competition. Winners get a head start on the race itself. Armed with Verizon camera-phones (provided to all participants), the Challengers then hit the streets to find the twelve checkpoints, which could be anywhere in the metro area. Although teams must travel on foot or by public transit, anything goes when it comes to solving McCarthy's clues, including dialing up a reference librarian. "I call it '21st-century intelligence,'" McCarthy says. "It's not about how much you know, it's knowing what resources to use to find the answer." The first team back with a picture of themselves at each checkpoint in the proper order wins a trip to Miami Beach in November -- and a shot at the aforementioned 50 large.
But what about the intimidating price tag of $75 per player? "It's significantly less than the average marathon price," McCarthy points out. "We wanted to really create a great experience, not just the best experience possible for twenty bucks a head."
Turn Up the AC
We Want More AC
Memorial Day weekend is one of the harbingers of summer's smothering intensity, and a young man's thoughts turn, quite naturally, to the mechanics of Air Conditioning. Of course, the air conditioning at Radio Cherokee (3227 Cherokee Street, 314-773-2164) is nonexistent, but in a show of holiday good will, they've imported Air Conditioning from Pennsylvania. This one is a three-piece, fond of fifteen-minute pummeling jams that rub up against your face like a sweat-slicked wrestler on Vicodin. Celebrating the arrival, if only for one night, of Air Conditioning, will be Pissed Jeans and local cult/church/interstellar communication apparatus Skarekrauradio. Can you feel the coolness? Tickets are $5, and doors open at 7:30 p.m. -- Paul Friswold
Africa Comes to Forest Park
If you have the drive and stamina to celebrate the three-day weekend on all three days, you need to get to the World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park for the St. Louis African Arts Festival. With an African marketplace, African concessions, and music and dance performances representing the many, many permutations of African rhythms, this is a showcase of art and culture, with a special emphasis on the history of South Africa and Haiti. With free admission every day, from the 10 a.m. drum call opening on Saturday, May 29, through the closing performance by Haitian musical group Ayabonmbe at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, May 31, this party has something for everyone. Call 314-935-9676 for more info. -- Paul Friswold
Gypsies, Tramps and Deals
Gypsies get a bad rap with their mysterious ways, flowing clothes and weird jewelry (think Stevie "You See Your Gypsy" Nicks). But the Gypsy Caravan (314-286-4452 or www.gypsycaravan-stl.org) should be favored, especially since it's the fundraiser for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. This year's shopping festival has moved to a new location downtown near 20th and Market streets and Union Station. Browsing ain't free, though; admission costs $5 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or $20 from 7 to 9 a.m.). Go your own way downtown (rain or shine) to stand back and look at all the leather and lace -- er, goods -- that more than 400 vendors are offering. Rumours has it that more than 20,000 people will attend. -- Alison Sieloff