When Christina Mailhos ran for first selectman of Willington in 2011, she promised to "hit the ground running."
She didn't anticipate a scenario in which running away from zombies would represent one of the challenges of her time in office.
Mailhos and her town made news recently when a company that runs one-day zombie 5k obstacle races pulled out of town, complaining that Willington had loaded up the permit application with burdensome requirements in order to get rid of them.
Reed Street Productions stages "Run For Your Lives" races around the nation. Participants register either as runners or zombies. The zombies are made up to look like animated corpses. They chase the runners through a 5k obstacle course trying to snatch "life flags" from the runner's belts. The obstacles include a water pit that appears to be filled with blood, a section of the race where artificial smoke makes it hard to see the zombies and a maze — with zombies in it.
Or you could just go for a quiet bike ride somewhere else.
Believe it or not, this is an incredibly winning formula. As Mailhos says, "Obstacle and adventure races [sometimes known as mudders] are the fastest growing fitness trend." She should know. She's actually run in a couple of them. And then you throw in zombies — who are experiencing a very stinky, filthy, bitey Golden Age right now — and you've got two completely legitimate ways to give yourself a heart attack.
In the popularity lies the problem. Depending on whom you talk to, "Run For Your Lives" would have brought anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 people into Willington. The higher number exceeds the actual population of the town, which as Mailhos points out doesn't even have its own police force or a resident rural state trooper.
I'll spare you the details of how the whole thing fell apart. From one point of view, the system worked. Connecticut is full of these small towns whose residents are in close contact with their leaders, and there's a lot of pressure on those leaders to protect the residents from disruptions and unpleasantness and traffic and noise. Tellingly, Mailhos belongs to A Sentinel Party, which sounds a little Stephen Kingish but which seems to be a town-specific fusion party of Democrats, Republicans and independents who are all about watching out for Willington.
People don't live in Willington because they crave excitement and surprises. It's a Town of Steady Habits within a State of Steady Habits. From another point of view, this is yet another edgy, lively activity that is going somewhere else (Rehoboth, Mass.) because we can't get out of our own way here. First the gun manufacturers leave. Now the zombies.
Mailhos insists she's not anti-zombie. In fact, she says, "I was all for it." But the event was big enough, she says, to trigger Willington's natural instinct for caution, slow deliberation, t-crossing and i-dotting. And Reed Street was rushing them. (I tried to talk to Reed Street about this, but they weren't available.)
Speaking of rush, one of Reed Street's corporate partners is Cracker Jack'D. Were you even aware that the century-old Cracker Jack brand has been re-purposed by Frito-Lay? The name has been changed to reflect the adrenalized tempo of our times, and there's a whole bunch of new 21st century flavors like "Zesty Queso" whatever that means. One Cracker Jack'D formulation is the Power Bite, which is actually infused with large amounts of caffeine. So at an event where you're chased by zombies, you can probably get free samples of something else that will make your heart race. What an age this is! No wonder people move to Willington.
It's an era of new challenges for municipal leaders. There's also that councilman in Maine with indestructible dome placed over his town.
It would be a shame if Connecticut lost all chance of zombie tourism on one swing. There are better places to have this event. Downtown Hartford on a Sunday morning just screams out for thousands of runners pursued by zombies. Actually the scattered few people walking around downtown Hartford on a Sunday morning are often actual zombies. They'd join right in.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now