Mob rule perplexes Mill Avenue - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Mob rule perplexes Mill Avenue

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Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003 3:15 am | Updated: 1:19 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

If you were born in September, be at Long Wong’s. If you were born in February, be at Fat Tuesdays. If you were born before 1983, go to Coffee Plantation. And look for the man or woman with the red balloon.

That’s all the members of the Internet group were told.

As promised, a woman appeared at Long Wong’s at 6:40 p.m. Thursday and attached a red balloon to a wall near the stage. Wearing jeans, a white collared shirt and bleach-blond pigtails, she handed out yellow slips of paper to anyone who approached her. People secretly read the instructions and hid the papers in pockets and purses.

Then, at 7:14 p.m., about 100 people gathered on the west side of Mill Avenue in Tempe, between Sixth and Seventh streets. A teenage boy, dressed in a shirt from a popular skateboard label, started yelling something about an "It’s a Small World" parade. Soon, everyone was screaming.

"The parade is coming!"

"Woo-hoo!"

"It’s a small world!"

A man with long hair came out of The Coffee Plantation to check out the commotion. "What the hell’s going on?" he asked.

The hollering got louder as a maroon Ford Explorer, decorated with white signs that read "It’s a Small World," drove by at 7:20 p.m. Then, suddenly and without explanation, the crowd dispersed.

"That was cheesy," the man with long hair said.

It was the Valley’s first flash mob: Crowds that materialize out of nowhere in a public place, perform a perplexing act and disappear five or 10 minutes later.

The purpose: To simply bewilder onlookers.

Rumor has it a little girl was disappointed to find out there wouldn’t be a parade. A T.E.A.M. security guard seemed just as confused.

"I haven’t the slightest idea (what happened)," he said.

Flash mobs were revived in New York City earlier this year, and thanks in part to media coverage have spread across the country and the world. In New York’s Central Park, a recent flash mob had people making surreal nature sounds. In Rome, a group walked into a bookstore, asked for nonexistent books, burst into applause and left.

Arizona’s flash mob Web site was created in early January by Richard (last name withheld), a 28-year- old Scottsdale IT technician. So far, 260 people have joined the Internet message board.

"I started the group so that I could participate in flash mobbing because it sounded just offbeat enough to be fun," wrote Richard in one of the Web site’s first messages. "I figured that if I liked the idea, so would others."

Ryan McKee, 24, heard about Thursday’s flash mob through a friend.

"It was kind of fun to be part of the in-the-know crowd," said the Tempe resident. "I’d do it again."

Another flash mob, organized by a different group, is set to happen today in Tempe.

The phenomenon has been described as "underground," its participants "hipster." But Thursday’s mob was neither.

Local police already knew about it unofficially, and T.E.A.M. security guards were asked to stand around the area to make sure no one got hurt. TV news stations knew about it, too — they set up cameras on the sidewalk well before 6:40 p.m. And as soon as people started to gather, a motherly woman asked sweetly, "Are you here for ‘It’s a Small World?’ " Not very underground. Not at all hipster.

Late Thursday and early Friday, participants debated how to keep media out of the loop. Richard posted a message Friday morning to announce that membership would be restricted: "All memberships must be approved for access to the group," he wrote.

Arizona’s flash mobbers were getting indignant. What if this becomes too mainstream? Who told the camera crews where to set up?

And then Richard — dubbed the "Mob Master" by a local news station — asked: Who cares?

"I just want people to have fun," he said. "In a day and age when we’re dealing with war and terrorism, it’s kind of nice to get out and just be silly."

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