Michael Bergeron
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Remote Houston

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Biographers of Charles Dickens state that he would walk across London every day. Walking clears the mind.

A walking tour of Houston now offers you the chance to take a stroll with up to 50 strangers and chances are you won’t remain unknown to the newcomers.

Remote Houston, sponsored by the Alley Theatre, provides a “pedestrian-based live theatrical experience.” The tour starts at the Alley where participants sign a release and are issued a Metro card. A brief walk to the east west Metro line ensues followed by a lengthy train ride down the Harrisburg line to the light rail station called Altic/Howard Hughes.13087141_10153733439910958_8383039598864817317_o

From here the walkers head south to the Evergreen Cemetery where they are greeted by Alley personal and issued headphones. The Evergreen inters bodies from the Nineteenth century up to the present. A robotic female voice in stereo no less asks the listener to choose a headstone and study their surroundings.

Subsequently the group heads through the local streets and through a park. The voice, which calls herself Heather, herds the group to a baseball fence and directs everyone to gather around a mirror. Throughout the walk Heather asks people to observe the other people and see who is in the front and who follows behind. Heather even suggests that perhaps the listener is looking at a fellow traveler’s butt.

13116433_10153733440075958_8585473799554650707_oEveryone seems to be wearing comfortable shoes save for one femme who was wearing heels. I had to admire her stamina. This is a three-hour tour just like Gilligan’s Island.

The transmission on the headphones seems to be originating from one of the Alley people who is wearing a backpack, although I could be wrong. Modern technology allows Heather to be in synch with street crossing signs.

We’re back on the Metro headed into downtown. Heather guides everyone into a bank lobby and suggests that this “is a place where they worship a different God.”

There is some subtle psychological manipulation going on as at one point I cannot hear anything and yet others in the group are receiving instructions to start dancing. We all cram into an elevator and now Heather asks how do we go about getting the phone number of the person next to us without drawing attention to the proposal.13147779_10153733441165958_6674109556512664949_o

On the Sixtieth floor observation deck of a downtown skyscraper the game changes again as Heather morphs into a male robotic voice. Before long everyone marches through the downtown tunnel system with the male voice dividing everyone into three groups that disappear and then converge.

At the end of the tour the group finds itself on the balcony of the Alley Theatre as smoke emanates out of the flower garden beneath us. Remote Houston has taken a group of random strangers on a journey through the high and low and the poor and rich. And we’re all a little better from the experience.

Remote Houston tickets are $39 and the experience continues until May 20. Tickets can be purchased through the Alley Theatre.

— Michael Bergeron