The Best Time I Ever Got Trapped At Medieval Times

December 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

You need two things to enjoy the Medieval Times experience: a liberal attitude towards historical accuracy and a willingness to waste money on ridiculous shit. Being both a Medieval Studies major and a congenital dork, I am a prime sucker for their brand of schlock, and I refused to go anywhere else for my birthday. I recruited four friends, and despite varying levels of enthusiasm, our spirits were high as we piled into my ancient Volvo to head for the castle in nearby Schaumburg, IL.

“I went to the New York Medieval Times when I was six,” my friend Briseida was saying. “You eat with your hands. And it was the best fucking chicken I have ever eaten.”

“I looked it up on Yelp,” my friend Eli said. “A lot of people give it one star.”

I was incredulous. “Who would give Medieval Times one star?”

“They said the food wasn’t good,” he said. “And that the acting sucked.”

The turrents of the giant, fake castle shone from I-90 like a beacon.

“That’s not the point,” I said. “It’s about the experience.”

A costly experience, to be sure: 45 bucks admission, 20 bucks for our souvenir photo, and 24 more for fishbowl-sized cocktails flavored with massive amounts of grenadine. But it was all worth it. In the giant front hall, I was giddy, drunk on anticipation and overpriced alcohol, and could not resist yelling Actual Medieval Poetry at passersby.

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, amirite, guys?” I called to a group of thick-necked guys in polar fleece. They seemed unfazed.

“I just want to eat that motherfucking chicken,” Briseida said. “Best chicken I’ve ever had.”

Seated in our color-coded section, we watched as multicolored lasers shot across the ceiling. The transportation to the past had begun, and there was no going back. The hissing sound in the arena wasn’t just a fog machine, but the mists of time. We went from ordinary people with no particular alliance to bloodthirsty supporters of our red-and-yellow champion. It was like a monster truck rally, but with more horses and only slightly fewer mullets. Our knight lost in combat about as convincing as the dance-fighting in West Side Story. One lapse in attention earned him a poleax to the stomach.

“I bet it’s rigged,” Eli said. “The section that spends the most money gets to win.”

And before I knew it, I had gnawed through all my chicken and the house lights came up. Dazzled, I gathered my many souvenirs and headed out. I felt like I never wanted to leave.

“I’m writing this up on Yelp when I get back. Five stars,” I said. Lexie looked at me, her face uneasy.

“Blair? Don’t get mad, but I just broke your car key.”

Just like that, my birthday celebration had gone from the ultimate wish fulfilment to a kind of Ye Olde Monkey’s Paw. Lexie handed me the twisted remains of my key. The rain got harder. Someone wandered off to get the attention of a cop car parked in the corner. I fumbled in my coat for my cell phone and dialed AAA.

“Are you in a safe location?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m at Medieval Times.”

“What?”

“Medieval Times,” I repeated. “It’s a giant fake castle. I was there for my birthday and now my car key is broken and I can’t leave.”

I was informed that AAA could not let me in my car since it was technically registered to my father. I felt a stab of desperation. I was stuck with a broken down car and a beer glass with a knight on it and I had no idea how to get a car towed. I felt a sob escape.

“What is your address?”

“I don’t know,” I said thickly. “It’s Medieval Times. As far as I know it’s the only castle in the greater Schaumburg area.” The departing crowd had thinned, and now we were the only ones left in the exit area. At least no one would see me having a breakdown in a red and yellow paper crown.

I hung up with the assurance that a tow truck would be on its way within the hour, and we’d retreated to the inside of the castle with a lanky night manager named Matt, the first Medieval Timeser we’d seen without a period costume.

“Hope you didn’t have Saturday night plans,” Lexie joked.

“I mean, I get paid as long as you guys are here,” Matt said. “So it’s no big deal.”

The overhead lights had been shut off, and the great hall was now decidedly eerie. The badly-painted peasants dancing in the murals grinned demonically, and the suits of armor by the bathroom cast a menacing gleam.

“Did the cops help you?” Matt asked.

“They were here for an asthma attack,” my friend Kathy said.

“Oh, yeah. We always try to warn people, but then they still come in and can’t breathe. Happened a few nights ago too.” He shrugged. “I guess you guys can go in the torture museum if you want,” he said. We followed him around back and shuffled in front of the recreation iron maidens and spiked collars, halfheartedly absorbing the instruments of pain and punishment.

“So the winner is fixed, right?” Eli asked. Matt nodded.

“Yeah. The green knight always loses. And the other knights switch colors so that they can learn all the different fight moves. Which one did you guys have?”

“Red and yellow,” I said. “Do you know him?” I showed him a picture Kathy had taken.

“Oh, yeah. Eddie. Cool dude.”

Our noble champion and defender was named Eddie. The absurdity of it all had compounded.

“I can’t believe we’re stuck at fucking Medieval Times,” I said, and made a noise that was half laugh, half desperate wail.

We moved from the torture museum and gaped at the depressed-looking horses in their glass stables. The three girls decided to catch a taxi back, and I decided I would sit in the throne since no one was there to stop me. At last, my phone buzzed.

“Hello?” I said breathlessly.

“Yeah, uh, we’re coming to tow you and uh, our truck broke down. So it’s gonna be another forty-five, fifty minutes. An hour, tops.”

I set my jaw as I hung up the phone.

“Was that them?” Eli asked.

“We’re going to die here,” I told him.

Matt apparently did have Saturday night plans, and so we had become the wards of a hefty bear of a man named Ivan who led us back to the offices to hang out. We passed by a huge room, full of racks of identical puffy blouses and doublets (“So this is how the sausage is made,” Eli said) before settling in a back office. A faded VHS of Home Alone lay on a counter, offering an ironic mise en abyme of our fate.

“Yeah, the horses sometimes get all fussy at night, so I have to take them out and walk them around the arena,” Ivan was saying. “They have four stomachs, you know, and they can get all knotted up if they get stressed. They work here like twenty, thirty years. Must make ‘em crazy.”

A light flashed on the CCTV and a grainy truck pulled in the lot. We trailed back out, past the costume shop and back out into the main hall, rounding Merlin’s Green Screen and the motionless frozen daiquiri machines to where our glasses awaited us and out into the parking lot.

A short man in a hooded sweatshirt was waiting for us. “This your car?”

“No,” I said. “I’m just hanging out in the parking lot of Medieval Times at midnight for no reason.”

“People do that,” Ivan said. “Come out here to offroad. I chase ‘em off.”

After a few minutes and much clanking of chains and scraping of steel, my humble Volvo was heaved onto the flatbed of the truck, a time capsule from a different era.

“I bet this is one of the weirdest pickups you’ve had to do,” Eli said as we got in the cab.

Our driver shook his head. “Weird, maybe, but not the worst.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

“Worst is fat people. And people who smell. Je-sus.”

My ability to make small talk had finally run out.

An hour later, dropped off by the tow truck and walking back to our apartments, Eli tried to patch together the tatters of my birthday celebration and console me.

“Look, it was awful. But it was also kind of awesome. And you get a great story.”

I opened our souvenir photo and looked at our faces: innocent smiles beneath our paper crowns, so unaware of the fate that awaited them back in the modern age. The inscription below seemed taunting. A Knight To Remember, indeed.

“Yeah,” I said. “It is about the experience, after all.”

Author’s Note: This story is entirely true and I have only witheld it from my blog readers for this long because I thought it might get published elsewhere. But that never happens, silly girl! So here you go. Happy My Birthday to all!

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