County of the undead
The Zombie Wrecking Crew comes to Chico
After four years of heated seasonal combat, the zombie hordes that have terrorized Oroville each October have finally been cleared. But alas, the undead have once again risen, this time in south Chico, and it looks like stopping them will require more advanced weaponry than ever before. Bring out the lasers!
This is a new chapter in the ongoing storyline of the Zombie Wrecking Crew, an interactive annual haunt—and hunt—in which participants ride a bus and pelt the walking dead with glow-in-the-dark paintballs. For its fifth season, the crew has moved its operation from the southern outskirts of Oroville to Chico’s Silver Dollar Fairgrounds. This year’s attraction (which runs every weekend in October) has also added new features to the Halloween fun: a walk-through zombie hunt that combines elements of laser tag; Call of Duty-like first-person shooter video games; and a haunted house.
Zombie Wrecking Crew honcho Thomas Taylor said transforming the fairgrounds into a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic wasteland was a “huge undertaking.” Taylor is a former professional paint-baller and co-owner of Oroville’s Combat Zone Paintball Park (where previous hunts took place).
“When I’m in my own field, I have all year to move things around and test out new ideas,” he said during a recent Saturday night visit to the new Chico locale. “But here, we basically had one day from when the races ended to get everything set up. We started first thing in the morning and worked through the night.”
That set-up included building makeshift structures to resemble bombed-out buildings and placing wrecked cars—which Thomas acquired from Chico’s Pick-n-Pull—along the path the bus travels, and from which the zombies lurch forward to attack. Then there’s the bus itself—a murdered out (black primered) converted school bus with a front-mounted zombie scoop and guns bristling from its side windows.
As a veteran visitor (see “Possessed by the Spirit,” Oct, 27, 2016), I can attest the ride holds up in its new location. The outskirts of Oroville had their own creepy appeal, but the headlights of unwitting motorists and darkened back-sides of vaguely familiar buildings along Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway provide a different and surreal backdrop to the apocalypse. Then again, it’s hard to pay that much attention to such details when one is splattering zombies (or, rather, people getting paid to get shot for pretending to be zombies). It’s a joy sure to bring an ear-to-ear smile to the face of even the most determined pacifist. (And, I don’t now what it says about my own nature or that of my fellow bus-riders, but the face and groin areas of each attacking zombie are, infallibly, the first to drip with Day-Glo paint.)
The Zombie Wrecking Crew is largely a family affair. During the CN&R’s visit, we were greeted by Taylor’s wife at the ticket booth, his sister led us to the bus and led the safety briefing, and he and his 8-year-old son, Keith, served as two of the three anti-zombie militiamen whipping bus-riders into a faux killing frenzy. Afterward, we passed a snack table run by his mother en route to the laser zombie maze, where we were greeted by his brother and father-in-law.
After a quick briefing about how the system works—there was a lot of talk about weapon upgrades and calling in airstrikes that flew straight over my head—our squad of five entered the course and proceeded to make our way through, activating a series of five beacons while being sporadically interrupted by charging zombies with collars that lit up as we opened up on them.
Having not played a first-person shooter since, I dunno, Doom, some of the laser course’s nuances were lost on me. One of my companions phrased it well, saying it felt like the more experienced players were playing a video game that we weren’t a part of, but that same guy also took points as our group rushed through the course and giggled along as we all pelted spasming zombies with invisible laser beams.
All in all, we agreed on two things: It was an entertaining, strange and even cathartic October outing, and Keith Taylor is about the luckiest kid ever.