I had been dumped. That was the important thing. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. I had been dumped–a girl had cheated on me, had then not just dumped me, but let me know that there was another guy in her life, and that it was my call to say, "We're through," well, that's how this started to flutter all out of control.
That's what got the ball rolling fast enough so that it got out of my control.
That's the missing link to this story–the key piece of information you hadn't heard before.
I don't mean to imply that it was done maliciously–revenge against women or something like that–only that I was clumsy and acted without any planning or forethought. It made me stupid and impulsive. And it's what turned, "We should drive out to Michigan for Victoria's 21st birthday" from a drunken suggestion into, "We should pretend to drive out to Michigan for Victoria's 21st birthday" and eventually into "We should spend an enormous amount of time and energy into pretending to drive out to Michigan for Victoria's 21st birthday, without ever thinking about how anyone is going to respond to this, in reality."
As originally conceived, Honky and I had two separate plans. The first, conceived on a night out at Doc Holliday's drinking PBR and listening to country songs about life on the road with hard drinking men, was a purgative road trip, of which a visit to Victoria's 21st birthday–and the attendant shots of Wild Turkey and Jaegermeister would be the "hook" but not the point.
The second idea was that we'd disappear for the weekend, hole up at our friend John's place, steal some photos off of Victoria's Flickr page, and claimed that we'd attended her party. We were split on whether it should be an obvious forgery or if we'd try to make it as realistic as possible.
Or at least, that was my plan. I may have not communicated this properly to my co-conspirator, Honky. I was certainly surprised to show up at the party at the Magician the Thursday before we "left" to discover that Chris had told everyone about our upcoming road trip.
That's where it spun out of control. Because we just went with it. It was only at that point that the affair became an actual conspiracy rather than drunken plans. When I arrived home, that's when I started the plotting. A website helpfully compiling every exit and landmark on I-80 was my primary resource. I got weather forecasts for a dozen cities on the "route." Using Google Maps, I predicted when we'd "arrive" places.
Knowing Rich could track when we log on to happyrobot, I logged out and never opened the site from my own computer. I disabled the automatic log-ins for AIM and ICQ so they'd never log me on on Start Up and give away the trick. Chris and I even created alternative AIM accounts so we could discuss what we were doing in detail while at work and at home.
The only thing we didn't do–the thing that doomed this hoax–was let Victoria in on the joke. If we'd done that–treated her as an equal–then, I maintain, the entire thing would have been a success. Hell, she probably could have helped us fake the pictures.
There were issues. Chris answered the phone while waiting on a train platform without me around, when we were supposed to be on the road. He told Liz that we were at a truckstop to explain the noise. We met an an Upper West Side bar, coordinating text messages to Rich and getting drunk. Eventually, we "got to Chicago" and "crashed on my friend Mark's couch."
Because I didn't dare log on to happyrobot, I didn't learn how big of a thing it was until it was way too late to fix it. I didn't learn that Rich was updating my texts as I was sending them, or that the header on the page was a Google Map of our progress. And I didn't learn that Victoria had become aware of our trip.
It wasn't malicious. It was just thoughtless.
That night, I sent Rich a text: "I hope some day we can look back on this and laugh, or at least not get punched in the face. We're both sorry for how it turned out."