It’s too soon to say how successful this one will be, but crossovers are nothing new. You may not remember but back in 1986 Angela Lansbury’s Murder She Wrote character took a vacation in Hawaii only to find herself solving a murder with the one and only Magnum P.I.! Try to forget these memorable mixes; The Jeffersons and The Fresh Prince (1995), Alf meets Gilligan’s Island (1987), The X-files teams up with Cops (2000), The New Girl and Brooklyn 99 (2016) to name only a few. Sometimes it works and sometimes you just think, why? But hey promotion, synergy, chocolate and peanut butter coming together and forming something delicious and new, there are plenty of reasons to cross. Sometimes something is so good we can’t resist forcefully marrying it with something else. I give you Puggles. The public wants what the public wants. What’s That Smell is a “sometimes humorous” podcast about anxieties. theresjohnnywanderingandwine.com and What’s That Smell are about to get it on. Crossover!
If you don’t know them already then it’s my pleasure to introduce you to What’s That Smell?. The podcast is the brainchild of my dear friend and collaborator Tommy Metz III and his dear friend and collaborator Pete Wright. I’ve never met Pete, he lives in Portland Oregon, so obviously, hygiene is a concern, but I feel I know him all the same. That’s because these two middle-aged guys are talking with great candor, pathos, and humor about their many anxieties; anxieties in general. It’s humanizing, funny and easily relatable. I find it a great example of the little ways we search in this busy confusing modern world to create and connect. I’m honored to share the stage with them. And the stage is a scary one. A serial killer lurks and we only have 45 minutes to piece together all the clues and get out before we die! That’s because this podcast episode discusses an escape room related anxiety. Hence we’re starting out our adventure dear readers, in lovely and scenic Sylmar. It’s time for, THE BASEMENT: A Live Escape Room Experience.
I pull into the parking lot of THE BASEMENT my usual 20 minutes too early. Right next to the escape room is Adult Factory Outlet so I immediately take out my phone and text everyone who is meeting here, “arrived early, gonna check out next door so come in and get me when you arrive”. Then I wait. Tommy is the first to arrive. He casually strolls up to the Adult Factory Outlet, oh so cautiously about to make his entrance when he hears me giggling from my car. Naturally, we go in to kill time together. The rest of our party for the escape room fun consists of Joy and Darnell and Lauren, who Tommy affectionately calls, The Laurnells. It’s like Brangalina, but with a happier ending and no Jennifer Anistons were harmed in the making of this union. Pete has already attended THE BASEMENT Portland. We are also paired up with 3 strangers whose names I fail to commit to memory. Hey, it was a stressful time. Besides they might die, no need to get attached. One has an accent. Feel better? We sign some waivers and read about the serial killer Edward Tandy who’s lair we are about to enter. This is my third ever escape room, thanks to Joy who’s mildly obsessed. This marks her ninth. Tommy is also entering number three. The Laurnells are escape room virgins! THE BASEMENT boasts to be the #1 Escape Room in the United States. Challenge accepted. There are several rooms, today we are beginning at the beginning, the basement itself.
The adventure starts when we are lead into a small room and asked to watch a safety video. Kudos to THE BASEMENT, they’ve jazzed it up. The rules are being read to us by a prisoner of Edward Tandy who is being held and tortured. Then, we’re instructed to put a black cloth hood over our heads! Standing in the darkness with a black hood over my face some light does shine through and I strain to see what I can make out. Since we’re crossing over with an anxiety podcast, let’s pause here for a moment. It’s the funny thing I have discovered about myself and scares. Tommy and Joy LOVE to be scared. I never understood it in this way until we all became so close. They love that feeling, that sensation of fright. They open themselves up to it at any haunted house, horror movie or escape room. I always falsely assumed people who loved horror films and the like didn’t get scared; my assumption being they were attracted to the macabre and also had thicker skin. Why else would they watch so much? Boy was I wrong. My reaction is very different. I become hyper alert in these situations, convinced I can anticipate any fright headed my way, thereby diffusing it. No one really wins my way. I either successfully avoid the scare by outwitting it or I get scared and get angry at the fact that I did. I now love watching Tommy and Joy get scared, even if the same fun is lost on me. Maybe What’s That Smell will decode the science behind my fear. Maybe it’s primal, a stronger fight or flight response governing me. Back to the darkness, screams, and threat of capture; I’m on alert, ready to outwit and outfight any escape room nonsense when the hoods come off. Suddenly, I am much calmer. We’re standing in a small anterior chamber, a wire fence separating us from the rest of the room. It’s all dark and creepy. The clock begins, Edward Tandy threatens, we’ve got 45 minutes.
Obviously, I don’t want to give too much away. If you’ve never been to an escape room, you find clues, unlock keys, and solve puzzles with the ultimate goal to get out before the time is allotted. They are usually themed. The puzzles you solve can be riddles, numerical sequences, or simply finding where a key is hidden in the room. THE BASEMENT is a whole lot of fun. It’s hands down my favorite of the three I have participated in. It’s decorated extra spooky. The Edward Tandy theme is nicely carried throughout. The game spills into additional unexpected places. In one room we meet Rick, a live actor playing one of Tandy’s victims whom we discover chained up in the bathroom. In another room, Tommy finds a jacket that fits him like a dream. It’s very dark. A variety of Edward Tandy themed noises are pumped in. Everyone on our team contributes but I, for one, never have a clear picture of the whole puzzle. I guess I don’t need to; someone else does. I’m more escape room explorer than team leader type. With 19 seconds left on the clock, we escape. Take that Ethan Hunt!
Drunk on our victory, we head out for beers. It’s a six-minute drive to Truman House Tavern, crossing out of Sylmar and into the town of San Fernando. There is not much to see on the drive. These are forgotten, unsexy, Los Angeles suburbs. We gather at Truman House for food and drink and to decode the experience. Tommy utilizes his iPhone to record our discussion for the podcast. THE BASEMENT post-mortem is underway, “did any parts make you anxious”, but I get distracted by Truman House itself. First of all, why are the lights up so bright? Who’s the manager here? Ambiance people! The exposed brick, ironwork and wide open dining room generate a warehouse feel to the restaurant. In true gastropub style, it’s a fun selection of micro-brews on draft, burgers, fries, and other elevated bar fare. It’s a cute spot and standing room only this Saturday night. I start with the Lincoln Beer Company Trejo’s Cerveza. It tastes exactly like warm shitty no flavor Mexican beer. I say that with love. But the Pan Seared Cauliflower (tahini citrus dressing, wheat free croutons, toasted pumpkin seeds, chives), is a revelation. The tahini citrus dressing is out of this world good. We’re practically licking the plate once we are finished. Next, I take on the Braised Beef Sliders and truffle fires, this time with a MacLeod Ales Deal with the Devil IPA. Naming a beer is like naming a kid in 2019, everyone feels the need to be quirky and unique. Gone are the days of “Mike” and “Lager”. The food, the beer, and the company are a study in merry delights. No anxiety here as we drink and laugh together. THE BASEMENT and Truman House Tavern both rated a success by our discerning panel of 5. Make your plans now. I can’t speak to what Tommy and Pete may have picked up here. I assume on the What’s That Smell? podcast there will be lots of Tommy saying stuff like, “Johnny was so brave and gallant in the escape room it made me anxious” kinda thing. I guess you’ll have to listen to find out.