Trick or treat is not a rhetorical question.

Hallowe’en is a big deal out here. Like, Christmas big.

In the weeks leading up to the 31st, you can’t miss it. House decorations, advertising, grocery stores, even church signs… it’s bloody everywhere. They don’t do anything half-arsed in the US, but I do – and having left it to the last-minute to get a costume for a Hallowe’en party, I went into a nearby pop-up shop.

Except the pop-up shop was actually a warehouse called “Halloween City”, with enough masks, props and costumes to clothe an actual city. The place was absolutely packed. The sound system played Thriller on repeat, and over the tannoy were announcements about “spooky prices”. Probably because everything was so overpriced. It was crazy O.T.T, and I’m pretty sure that if I’d uttered a secret password, I’d be taken to a room out back where I could pick out my own real-life gremlin, and read all about Donald Trump’s foreign policies.

Lucky for me, I live in San Jose, where Hallowe’en is practically a national sport. According to Zillow, San Jose is the #2 city in the US to trick or treat. Zillow put together a study into the top cities that provide the most candy, and pose the least walking or safety risks (no joke). But let’s face it, the more candy a kid gets, the less likely it is they’re going to be walking anyway. They’re probably either throwing up on a neighbour’s driveway, or jumping from tree to tree, to work off the sugar high.

You can check out the survey here. Zillow is the US alternative to RightMove or Zoopla, which leads me to a scary theory… Americans actually consider Hallowe’en in their search criteria for a new home. I can just imagine the typical conversation with a Silicon Valley realtor:

“We have $1.5m to spend. We need four bedrooms, in a great school district, close to a kid-friendly park. And with north-facing windows tall enough to hang effigies from.”

Here’s a couple of places I managed to capture on camera, and then speed away quickly from, before the weirdo who had done this to their house caught up with me.

I was invited to a colleague’s party in Willow Glen, ranked as the #3 neighbourhood in San Jose for this kind of nonsense. We sat on the driveway all evening, drinking beer and handing out chocolate to the hundreds of kids who walked by.

My host was no stranger to these nights. She’d filled three buckets with treats. One had handmade gift bags, the next had mini-size chocolates, and the third was whatever else she’d found lying around the house. She then briefed us on how to choose who got what. Not that the briefing was necessary – there were very clearly three types of trick or treater:

1. The cute kids who had made a real effort with their costumes. Some of them even had a routine, where they’d cast a spell on us, or show us their sword tricks. One kid actually cried because he didn’t manage to turn me into a slug. Poor sod. But these kids were always the most polite and thankful. We rewarded them with a treat from the best bucket, before they skipped off to the next house.

2. The kids who were too old to be doing it, but too young to be doing anything else. And the lure of free chocolate was too much to pass up. They sort of shrugged their way up the driveway, didn’t say anything, and just opened their bags so we could drop a treat in. Which we did, from the second bucket.

3. The adults. Yes, there were adults trick or treating – in costume – by themselves. As in, without children. Some even asked us for a beer, rather than chocolate. It was possibly the weirdest thing I’ve seen or heard, since Rebecca Loos and that pig. Mind you, there were a few parents among them, with a young baby asleep in a sling or wrapped up in a buggy. They’d dressed the baby up, to make it look like it was a legit trick or treat. And then they held out their bag to get some free chocolate, presumably for the baby that had no teeth. We dug deep into the third bucket for this group, and pulled out the crappest treat we could find.

After a while, a few of us went for a walk around the neighborhood to see what else was going on. It was amazing to see the effort that people had made to mark the event. Like the couple who were projecting a movie on to the outside of their house, and welcomed people to sit on the lawn and watch it. Or the family who turned their entire home into a haunted house, where you could venture from room to room and discover what lay waiting for you.

As I continued to walk around the neighborhood, I kept asking myself “why the bloody hell are people doing this?”. But then I began to notice how much they seemed to enjoy opening their homes to the community, and greeting complete strangers like long-lost friends. In the UK, that only happens at Christmas or during the World Cup. And in both instances, the sentiment fades pretty quickly. It was great to take part in something the community had created out of nothing.

But in amongst all this feel-good, touchy-feely, neighbourhood love-in, there was a steaming heap of disappointment that I couldn’t escape. Despite hearing the words “Trick or Treat” all night, nobody – not one damn soul – actually did a trick. They didn’t even come prepared with a trick. No eggs thrown at houses, no toilet paper on trees, no silly string in people’s faces… nothing.

I wonder if it’s a generational thing? When I was a kid, the trick element was the best bit. My cousin used to throw water from an upstairs window when trick or treaters visited their house. I was tempted to suggest it to the group. But this was all a very tame affair, and I wasn’t ready to be the British lout who ruined Hallowe’en, just yet.

Maybe next year, that will be what I go as.


By the way, here was my half-arsed approach to Hallowe’en. I called myself, “Sunburn Boy”. 7/10 for originality, 0/10 effort.

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