JS: Dark Passage started in 1998. Most of the core Dark Passage people came from the Brooklyn Cacophony Society, which had attracted all the right people–people who had the prankster attitude, who had been to Burning Man, who knew John Law, and who had that kind of playful conception of reality and fucking with other people. We had a few meetings, and– oh, we did a Starbucks prank in Williamsburg that was really funny–
V: Well, let’s hear it.
JS: In 1998, Williamsburg was just getting to be ‘hipster central,’ although it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now. But it was definitely becoming a mecca for artists and hipsters. So real estate prices were going up, the stores were getting trendier, there were more cafés, and we felt that the Polish people, who were there before all of us, were getting edged out.
On Bedford and North Twelfth, which is on the main drag of Williamsburg, we decided to pretend that a Starbucks was coming to a vacant lot there. So we made a huge fake Starbucks sign and set up a table covered by a green tablecloth, with decanters where we served horrible coffee. One person played a really convincing wannabe sleazy petty Starbucks manager, and another person played his lackey who was handing out free samples–
V: Of bad stuff, I hope!
JS: Yeah, it was horrible. We brewed it in my apartment, and it tasted really, really bad. One of our guys got free Starbucks cups and little stickers from a real Starbucks, them being the idiots that they are! The cops showed up and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ We said, ‘Oh, we just want to introduce Starbucks to the neighborhood and get a feel for how we’re going to be received by the community.’ They said, ‘Well, you’re a big corporation, so that’s all right,’ and they took off.
We also passed out a survey which was completely ridiculous. It contained stupid questions like, ‘Do you own a VCR?’ Unfortunately, people were really eager to fill them out and to put their mailing addresses and email addresses on them. We ended up with several hundred surveys filled out, and it was mostly–I hate to say it–Polish people who were really into having Starbucks there. A lot of ‘hipsters’ were giving us the cold shoulder and looking at us like we were utter slime, and it was so great! It was just really funny.
That was a Brooklyn Cacophony event, and it was a good bonding experience. From there we formed a good crew that met once a month–this went on for a while. I met people from the Madagascar Institute; Caution Mike; Ryan O’Connor; Erok, who is this crazy and really brilliant fireworks guy; and Maureen from San Francisco; and Jeff Stark, who came a little later. However, the Brooklyn Cacophony was very disorganized–it didn’t have any sort of leadership, which is always the problem with Cacophony. Finally this person Rich and I sat down and decided that we really wanted to do something like the Suicide Club: do urban explorations and stage events at abandoned places and unusual locations. We also wanted to incorporate costumes if possible, and we wanted to do that here in New York.
So in January of 1999 we officially founded Dark Passage, after the movie Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, because that was going to be the subject of our first event. This event was timed to coincide with a BLF (Billboard Liberation Front) exhibit at CBGB’s, which Joey Skaggs, Ron English, Scott Beale and others from the West Coast participated in. This event was also an homage to the [San Francisco] Suicide Club. For that, Harry Haller gave us a lot of the back story for the Suicide Club and how they would organize their events. So we had five teams, all in 1940s costumes, placed all around the city to act out, quite faithfully, parts of the Dark Passage drama of Bogart escaping from jail, having to get plastic surgery, having to find his sweetheart . . . you know, that whole story.
We designated Vince Perry as the one who ‘had’ the plastic surgery, and he was generally the victim and instigator for whatever happened. You’re probably familiar with the movie; in the end, the hero has to change his identity. He’s an innocent man, but he has to go through plastic surgery. He wants to reunite with Lauren Bacall, so he leaves the country and ends up waiting for her in a restaurant in Peru, where they reconnect.
So at the end of our event everyone assembled at a bar (which is usually how these things end) called Between the Bridges, located in Brooklyn between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The groups had assembled their clues, picked up a bowl of goldfish (which is also in the film), and one of them had had ‘plastic surgery’ done on him, but he hadn’t yet met up with his sweetheart Lauren Bacall. So we told the groups that this was the moment that they would go into the restaurant, have the big banquet and meet their love.
Then we led each group, one by one, onto this rickety two-story ladder going up into the Manhattan Bridge which was under construction at the time. Then we led them down the bridge into a subway tunnel where we had found an abandoned track right next to a ‘live’ track. On that abandoned track we had built a banquet table with benches and a coat rack. We had a boom box playing ‘You’re Too Marvelous for Words,’ which was on the soundtrack for the movie Dark Passage. Ryan O’Connor, our chef, had laid out a big gourmet spread on the third rail, and everyone was hungry and ready to eat. All of us enjoyed a meal next to the passing trains, and that was the end of the inaugural event. The fun part was that it really was inside a live subway tunnel, with trains passing just a few feet away while we were eating! That’s how we started…