You're standing on the corner of Third and San Vicente in a silly hat on a Sunday morning, sipping a Bloody Mary from a blue Solo cup, ready for anything. You were told to bring a beach towel, a $2 bill, a vegetable and your favorite movie candy, among other things, but you have no idea why. This is a Mystery Trip, after all, and you've placed control of the next six and a half hours of your life in the hands of Chief Mysterious Officer Dave Green, 41, also known as Mysterious Dave.
"We're going into Cedars[-Sinai Medical Center], to massage people's bed sores!" Green tells the 35 Mysterions who gathered May 6 for a private tour to celebrate Tara O'Brien's 33rd birthday. Just kidding! Instead, the group heads across the street to Third Street Dance studio, where Dancing With the Stars is filmed, for a private break-dance lesson with JT Tyler, an assistant choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance. Tyler pops and locks in reptilian black-and-red sneakers, dark jeans with a red belt and a red hat with a black brim, urging Hollywood-thin women in animal prints and klutzy overweight men alike to push out their pelvises for a closer approximation of the aggressive b-boy style.
Mysterious Dave is the type of boisterous guy who thinks the adult world should be more like summer camp -- more cheesy bonding, more goofy competition, more unexpected field trips -- and so in 2003 he began organizing an alcohol-laced version of his favorite activity from Camp Saginaw: Hop on a bus without knowing where you're going! What began as an annual excursion for friends to learn more about L.A.'s quirky nooks and crannies transformed a few years ago, with a $1,000 grant from the Awesome Foundation, into Mystery Trip L.A., a raucous BYOB bus tour customized to fit the needs and hobbies of participants using Green's database of hundreds of potential destinations, including eccentric neighborhoods, museums, performances, restaurants and attractions ("L.A. Weekly is my bible," he says).
Past Mystery Trips have mostly been private affairs -- birthday parties or corporate retreats -- featuring stops at offbeat tourist spots like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, picnic dinners at Barnsdall Art Park and behind-the-scenes tours at Dodger Stadium, but this summer Green plans to host monthly Mystery Trips open to the public; $65 tickets are already on sale for the first of these, to be held June 9.
Back at Third Street Dance, button-down shirts have been removed and flung to the corners of the room. Watching Tyler closely in the wall of mirrors, grown men bop from side to side with little concern for the proper steps, happy to sweat off their Cinco de Mayo hangovers. After a half-hour lesson, the group splits into five teams to develop a routine for a dance-off. O'Brien had told Mysterious Dave that her friends love competition, and indeed this simple challenge inspires trash talk and bish faces galore. A dead ringer for Meat Loaf, sporting a foam Captain Morgan hat, even does the worm, leaving a thin puddle of sweat on the floor.
Outside, transportation to the rest of the day's activities awaits: a converted school bus out of Ken Kesey's dreams, complete with brightly colored leather seats facing inward, numerous cup holders, a sink and a stripper pole.
En route to lunch, partygoers nosh on candy and switch from mimosas and Bloody Marys to beer, vodka, whiskey and spiked watermelon punch. Mysterious Dave leads us in a round of that perennial sleep-away camp counselor favorite: two truths and a lie. We learn that one woman used to live in Guantanamo Bay; one man holds a world record in boomerang; another claims to have given more than 20,000 massages in his life ("You're the Wilt Chamberlain of massages!" someone shouts).
Soon we arrive at Olvera Street, the oldest part of Downtown L.A., for taquitos at Cielito Lindo, which opened in 1934.
"It's like walking into Mexico!" one girl says, surveying the mariachi bands and kitschy souvenir stands that have overcome the cobblestone alleyway in years past, sucking attention from the original Pueblo structures. "We look like a special ed outing," another responds as we enter the fray in our wacky hats.
After lunch, we again split up into teams for a photo scavenger hunt: Required items include Jimmy Carter, a crying child and, I shit you not, "an Asian person giving the 'peace' sign." Yes, everyone in our group was white.
En route to the final destination, things get sloppy. A plethora of multicolored Jell-O shots come around in a cooler. Gummi bears fly through the air. An attention-seeking, aspiring actor I'll call Rude Inebriated Friend (RIF) asks to see something another team purchased as part of the scavenger hunt and chucks it out the window of the moving bus. Shortly thereafter, RIF is down to his boxers.
"I've never had anyone take their pants off," Mysterious Dave says. "I feel like he's gonna pull a Bridesmaids and shit in the sink!"
Mysterious Dave seems to relish the ruckus that ensues when Angelenos finally have a designated driver to cart them around town for the day. One of his corporate Mystery Trips got kicked out of a mall for loud and unruly behavior, but according to Green, "The investment bankers thought it was the greatest thing in the world, like, fight the power!"
As we pull up on a suburban street in northern Pasadena, someone shouts, "Are we gonna rob a senior citizen?"
Close, but no cigar. We're at the Bunny Museum, which is to say Steve Lubanski and Candace Frazee's home, overrun with plastic, ceramic, metal, wooden and stuffed bunnies of all shapes and sizes, including two live ones cowering in a cardboard box off the kitchen. With platinum blond hair, bright red lips and gold bunny earrings, Frazee stands on her lawn, waving us inside.
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"This woman is batshit crazy," Mysterious Dave gleefully tells anyone who will listen, and it's not long before the drunken revelers agree. Frazee and her husband may be certified by the Guinness Book of World Records for their collection of more than 28,000 bunny figurines, but the Grey Gardens vibe (and smell) sobers up quite a few in our group, and many mutter jokes about hoarders under their breath as we return to the bus.
After passing out s'mores cupcakes on the way back to the Westside, Mysterious Dave makes a heartfelt speech about Mystery Trip being "a labor of love," encouraging everyone to spread the word.
Rude Inebriated Friend slurs, "When you start coming to my shows, I'll come to yours!"