Moonwalk With Me

Chronicling the breaking of the world record for distance moonwalking, for reasons unknown

Ramsey Brookhart remembers exactly where he was when he saw Michael Jackson unveil the moonwalk for the first time, to a televised audience in 1983.

"I was at my grandma's house, in Littleton, Colorado," he recounts. He was 7 years old, and it held him fast. "It's the perfect attention-grabber. That's why Michael Jackson did it. That's why I do it, being a teacher."

That's why he does it, being a teacher -- a now-28-year-old teacher of astronomy, literature, and Spanish at a private high school in Boulder, where he is known for moonwalking around a classroom full of otherwise bored students. That's also why his best friend, Adam Hall, who until recently worked for an electric car rental place near the Embarcadero, does it. At the moment, Hall, 27, with curly brown hair, boyish freckles, and a persistent grin, is dressed in a custom-made forest green full-body leotard with black-and-white checkers stitched down the side, "calf windows" cut out on the backs of his legs, and a red cape blowing in the wind, which there is a lot of, because Hall, Brookhart, their friend and official "calf rubber" Mindy Morton, and I are standing on the Golden Gate Bridge. We are here because Hall is going to try to break the Guinness World Record for longest distance moonwalked in under an hour. If attention is what Hall wants -- and it is -- he's come to the right place and he's wearing the right outfit.

Let's back up.

Brookhart and Hall attended Colorado University at Boulder. Brookhart studied Spanish and environmental engineering; Hall studied biology. When they first met, they realized they both had more than a passing interest in environmental activism, booze, and the dance moves of Michael Jackson ("I took break-dancing lessons in the third grade, from this fat white guy," Hall says proudly). Surely there was a way to connect these things. In 1999 they discovered it while walking home from a bar. Pleasantly smashed, and thus unable to drive, they challenged one another to a moonwalk-race home. There they were, at 2 a.m. on a cold Colorado night, moonwalking side by side down the middle of the icy street. Not long after, they founded Moonwalk for Earth, a project whose goal is to raise worldwide awareness of the importance of renewable energy sources. They do this through feats of moonwalking, as when Hall, Brookhart, and a third friend set the world record for moonwalk relay when they trekked from Boulder to Denver -- a distance of 30 miles -- in October 2002. It's an odd approach to activism, which is why it works so well. "We're more pranksters than activists," says Hall, "but our pranks have turned into activism."

It's a gorgeous, sunny Friday afternoon when Hall picks me up. He's driving one of those lame electric buggies you see skittering around the Embarcadero, with Morton sitting shotgun, Brookhart in the back. With the four of us inside the thing tops out at about 25 mph, causing the cars that trail us as we inch toward the Golden Gate Bridge to honk and the pedestrians on the street to ogle, all of which, to Hall, is great. Attention.

"Yeah, stare," he says from the driver's seat in an oddly malevolent voice to a lady on the corner, who is no doubt asking herself why a man dressed up as Super Dork is puttering along.

"I gotta moonwalk off this hangover," says Brookhart, who's sort of out of it. Turns out he had too many Red Bull-and-vodkas last night.

When we arrive at the bridge we can't find a parking spot because there are too many tourists, so we park down the road a ways. The plan is for all of us to walk normally to the other side, and then Hall will moonwalk back. Brookhart, being the supportive friend, decides to moonwalk the way there, just to get a feel for the bridge, information he can then pass along to Hall. They're strategizing.

"In a larger sense, we're taking on the Montgomery Burns[es] of the world, the Enrons," says Hall when I ask if he feels like it's him and Brookhart versus the big oil lobbyists. For the past few weeks, since he quit his job at the electric car rental place, Hall has used Moonwalk for Earth as his main gig. Living off savings, he spends his days trying to raise money for his upcoming projects, which include a New York-to-D.C. tour, during which he will moonwalk and speak at various high schools up and down the Eastern seaboard, and a trip planned for January to Beijing, where Hall intends to moonwalk across the Great Wall of China. "It's a dream gig," he says of his commitment to full-time moonwalking.

When we reach the Marin side of the bridge, Hall and Brookhart realize that they've forgotten to measure out the extra one-tenth of a mile needed to break the record, which Hall himself set when he moonwalked 1.5 miles in under an hour.

"Maybe we can get someone in one of these cars to do it for us," says Hall, walking over to a rental car full of tourists -- forgetting, or just not caring, that he's dressed like a lunatic.

"No, wait," says Brookhart. "There's 4,280 feet in a mile. What's 4,280 divided by 10?"

"No, it's 5,280 feet," corrects Hall. "What's 5,280 divided by 10?" They stand around thinking for a few moments.

Ummm.

After that staggering calculation, Hall walks to the end of the bridge, then counts 528 steps in to the mainland to establish the start of the 1.6 miles. We surround him anxiously, ready to witness history. Morton gives him a calf rub. A few tourists wander by, confused, alarmed.

On your mark, get set, moonwalk!

As he "dances" down the walkway, it's pretty hard to tell exactly what Hall is doing. I ask a few passers-by, and though everyone can tell that he's trying to break a record of some kind, no one guesses it's for moonwalking. "Walking backwards?" is the common answer. The people at Guinness must be surprisingly lax when it comes to adjudicating these records. Hall needs only to have two witnesses; he tells me this article will probably help, too.

By the time we're three-quarters of the way across the bridge, Hall is dripping sweat and in pain. Distance moonwalking apparently irritates body parts not used to such things. Hall's hip is giving him trouble, as are the balls of his feet, mainly because he's wearing old-school checkered Vans. "My calves are good," he explains, "but the balls of my feet -- that's what's taking the hit. It's like, 'Boom, boom, boom.' Vans don't have much padding. I'm taking one for the team for style points."

As Hall finally crosses the imaginary finish line, there's little fanfare.

When I first heard about his efforts, I expected there to be crowds and judges, maybe a bandstand. But it's just the four of us. And even though I can testify that Hall did indeed complete the 1.6 miles -- in 45 minutes, no less -- that really doesn't feel like much of an accomplishment given his nonchalance. But as we drive away in the silly electric car and Hall talks on the phone to the various individuals involved with the Moonwalk for Earth after-party at Studio Z tonight (which will be attended by about 50 people, and be pretty boring), I begin to marvel at the simplicity of it all. Moonwalking around the world in the name of renewable energy is lame, but it's a hell of a lot better than just a Web site or attending the occasional protest. As Brookhart puts it, "It's something so ludicrous that you have to pay attention."

Especially when someone like Hall moonwalks straight through your family outing, in which case you don't have much choice.

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