| the Places You'll Go |

Race to the Finish

When cabin fever hits, some of the most surprising excursions aren’t too far from your own backyard

Idon’t think of myself as competitive. But when our block lost power Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend, and we were told it would only be restored that evening, we were stuck. No Shavuos cooking and no laundry, fine, but no air-conditioning or access to the fridge and freezer, not so much. There we were, faced with the prospect of two tired, hot, cooped-up adults and five tired, hot, and cooped-up kids, with literally nothing to do and nowhere to go (thank you, quarantine). Good thing our shul, Congregation Zichron Eliezer of Cincinnati, had scheduled a drive-by scavenger hunt for that afternoon — the van has air-conditioning! — so away we went.

We’re not really the scavenger-hunt type: We don’t know trivia, our kids are too young to be significantly helpful, we just toilet trained our toddler so we’re hesitant about long car rides, and quite frankly, we’re boring — but the promise of cool air and some sort of destination had us heading for the van.

The shul emailed out the list of ten clues at 2 p.m. Objective: figure out the location in our Cincinnati neighborhood for each clue, drive there and spot the yard sign with the shul logo and two characters — no need to exit your car or get close to other people, the shul reminded us only a few times — and once you have all 20 characters, unscramble them for a Shavuos-themed message.

Some of the clues were pretty easy. Aldi is the store that requires a 25-cent deposit for a shopping cart, the police station is where the shul delivers a Thanksgiving meal every year, and the closest park with hiking trails? French Park, here we come! Of course, we entered and drove through the whole park before spotting the clues outside the exit (Time lost: seven minutes; fazed parents: zero; frantic kids: five.) Some clues needed a simple Google Maps search (closest pharmacy to the shul where you can fill a prescription) and for others we did some sleuthing (original location of the JCC, thank you, Coach Mike!).

I think this is when I realized I can be competitive, because making our way through the clues, figuring out the answers, finding the shul’s letters, racing against the clock — it was all part of the fun.

We spotted friends’ cars at pretty much every location and were probably a little too excited when we saw the Zoimens pull into the wrong parking lot (the former home where Shaarei Torah davened before moving to its current location — home, not building!) on our way to the UDF convenience store (the closest place to buy eggs). Adrenaline was pumping as we got toward the end, where some of the clues threw us for a loop — two apostrophes? Or are they commas? Hard to tell on a yard sign, so we just wrote them down.

By 2:53 we had all the characters, which was exciting, but depressing, because you try unscrambling L-A-D-A-K-E-E-S-D-H-H-H-B-V-I-E-C-C-’-’ (or ,, — we still couldn’t tell). Enough C’s for cheesecake, but that’s all our C’s, and not enough S’s for anything significant, and where are the vowels and what do we do with all those H’s and are those commas or apostrophes?

WHAT IS THE SHAVUOS-THEMED MESSAGE HERE? No, kidding, we were totally calm and not flustered. But it was time for a bathroom break anyway, so back home we drove, where we took turns sitting in the driveway unscrambling in the air-conditioning and running into the house — where there was no air-conditioning, did I mention? — with various kids. Our older ones helpfully found words like “is” and “had,” and we found “decide” and “cheesecake” again. You know how it is when you see something and can’t unsee it… But seriously, stop finding cheesecake, we can’t spell anything else if we use all the E’s now!

It took 20 minutes and some hints (“It’s for sure not an English phrase, so the type,” “No way they wouldn’t do that,” “Umm, yup, they would,” “They did!” “Why not just use Hebrew letters? Gosh, we’re so out-of-town”), and then it hit us: K’ish echad b’lev echad. We did a quick check of the letters to make sure we got them all (my husband insisted) before emailing it in… or trying to anyway, but the Internet was down because we still had no power, and because we were in the driveway, my husband’s phone was trying to connect to our home network, which wasn’t working because we had no power. I frantically texted the rebbetzin, then tried texting from my dumbphone to the shul email, then told my husband to just drive us all down the block to disconnect from the house Internet, and finally, eight texts and emails and texts-to-emails later, the shul knew the Bachrachs had gotten it. (Like five times, apparently some of the messages that said they didn’t go through went through. Don’t appear too eager, that’s our motto.)

Later that evening, we were back home and bathing the younger kids before it got dark (still no power), and my friend texted me that we won third place. The kids were pumped, my husband was amused, and I just stood there, basking in the glow. What, I wondered, is that thrill of excitement I feel? Oh, right. WINNING.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 816)

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