It began in fits and starts, as the people who were obviously flash-mob veterans moved assuredly through the crowd, while the rest looked furtively around them to figure out what they were supposed to do.
Forty percent of the attendees, had they been asked, would have admitted they had only recently moved to town and didn’t know anyone else there that day. No one asked, so no one knew, but it’s true all the same.
Of that forty percent, more than half had found out about the event through a weekly email blast sent by a local organization known for hosting “fun, cheap events for the exciting and broke.”
Of that twenty percent, about two-thirds came with a roommate they had known for less than six months and found on Craigslist. Fourteen of those living situations would end with a broken lease and threats of small-claims court.
Three girls exchanged phone numbers after a half-hearted conversation about how hard it was to meet people in a new city. “I know,” one of them gushed in relief. “I feel like in college — I just finished college last year — I had a million friends and we all lived down the street from each other. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know where everybody went. Do you want to get some coffee after this? I haven’t had any coffee yet today.”
About one-third came alone. Half of that one-third came alone because they hadn’t asked anyone they knew to join them. The other half had created a Facebook event (“Come With Me To The Flash Mob”) and invited all of their coworkers they were Facebook friends with, all of whom RSVP’d “Maybe” and then never spoke about the flash mob again.
More than half of the attendees, had they been asked, would have said that their primary goals in attending the flash mob were to “have fun” and “make new friends.” Most of them, if pressed, would have had trouble defining what a flash mob actually is.
Three people were unable to find parking and never showed up. Two of the three turned around and went home. The other drove to a nearby Safeway and spent forty minutes wandering the aisles, then went home without buying anything and got back in bed.
A young man wearing a fedora, who until that day was genuinely unaware of how most people feel about fedoras, overheard someone telling a friend “…and that fucking fedora-wearing asshole like he’s fucking Indiana Jones instead of a hairy sack of unemployment, like it’s not already bad enough–” and felt his face go hot. He took his hat off, slowly, hoping no one noticed the timing, and tried to crumple it inconspicuously in his hand. The hat was sweaty. He had liked the way it looked when he bought it at Target, but of course it was only hateful and ridiculous now. What was it made of? Polyester? It wasn’t even a nice hat. Of course it was stupid. He shoved it in a garbage can as he tried to casually walk away from the crowd.
After it was over, at least two people quietly and intensely cried alone in their cars, without being sure exactly why.
One woman had not meant to attend the flash mob at all, and was only in the area on her lunch break, but saw a commotion over on the other end of the plaza and wandered over to see what was going on. She’d heard enough about flash mobs in the last few years to get a general sense of how things worked, and thought what the heck, then joined in. She’d been meaning to be more spontaneous lately, and it looked like fun. After a while, standing on the edge of several different conversations, she became acutely aware that she was at least fifteen years older than the rest of the participants.
Ten minutes before the crowd dispersed, as many as 16 people were still thinking maybe it would be different, today.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.