Master of the Reno Zombie Crawl stops drinking and tells us his next big plans

steampunk crawl

Ed Adkins and Kadillac Kim dressed up for the Steampunk Tavern Stroll July 19. Photo by Jay Hayden,

Drinker of the Month: Ed Adkins started the Reno Zombie Crawl seven years ago and creates more events every year. This year, he’s got a lot to do and nothing can stop him, not even booze.

Drinker of the Month is an ongoing monthly series where we spotlight someone in the community who brings joy to our taste buds. Brewers, bartenders, distillers, sommeliers, restaurant owners, farmers and many others help us enjoy life just a little bit more every day. This is an ode to them. If you want to nominate someone (or yourself) to be the next Drinker of the Month, visit the Contact page and send in your suggestion.

Ed Adkins isn’t drinking alcohol this year. I already ordered my giant margarita when Ed arrived at Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant for our lunch interview. He ordered an iced tea. We originally planned to meet on Sunday at Shea’s and he was going to buy me a drink and order a club soda and lime for himself. It would’ve made a great picture, maybe. But he canceled because he was out partying all night after the first Reno Steampunk Tavern Stroll.

Ed Adkins: When you party like every single weekend for years, it’s totally easy. When you party once in a long while, it’s really hard. When we go out, we go out. Part of the problem was, we said, “let’s just do our usual” but then we had family over too so they got in as we were out and then we sneak in at 7 a.m. and we’re like “let’s do laundry while they’re sleeping,” and then they wake up. Usually when we do this we’ll put on movies and laze the day away.

Ed speaks in excited bursts moving back and forth between past and present. In person it’s really engaging and makes every conversation with him enjoyable. He takes you on a journey. In writing, it’s a punctuation nightmare and the tenses get a little messy, so the commas are here to guide you through this conversation. #wordnerd

Mike Higdon: You said last weekend was the first beer crawl you participated in?

EA: No, it’s the first steampunk crawl that we did. And I haven’t partied in a while. Haven’t done that in years. We have so much FOMO — you know, Fear Of Missing Out — that we’re like, “OK, one more! let’s do it again!”

MH: Someone invites you to something and you can’t say no?

EA: Ah dude, it’s not like it used to be. This year we’ve just been too busy and we go out Friday night and we’re a “party-until-6-a.m. people.” If where we’re at starts to get slow around like 3 a.m., we know at least half a dozen people who are still out, so we’re like “let’s go and watch movies” — okay cool we did that — “let’s see who’s waking up and we’ll all have brunch! And then we’ll watch another movie and “let’s go out again!” So by midnight on Sunday it’s time to calm down, no more stuff, we’ve got work in the morning. We did that for like five years straight. But there’s a lot we need to do this year. So no more. So we’ve been working our balls off.

MH: Who is we?

EA: Heidi, my wife. I don’t mean my 9-year-old daughter. Teach ‘em young. She’s like us though.

MH: Is she pretty good at beer crawls too?

EA: She would be. She’d be great. She’s a total instigator. She’s like “this better be epic.” Not the kind where you’re forcing it to be epic but she expects you can make this great. She wants to inherit the crawls as a family business.

MH: That seems like a lot more pressure on you than it is on her?

EA: I don’t want to be doing this when she’s old enough to drink. I really, really love events. But…

MH: You’ve been planning the crawls since the beginning right?

EA: Nah. The Santa Crawl started as the first crawl in Reno. They started in 2006 I guess…wait no, let me think. I think they’re on their thirteenth or fourteenth year. So they started in 2001 or 2002 (fact check: they started in 2000). It’d been around for 6 years but it grew slow like it should. It probably went from 15 people the first year and it took eight or nine years to get up to 1,000 or 3,000 people. Ours was like, the curve was like PHOOSH and we were almost as big as they were. We started the zombie crawl in 2008 with 300 people. You know, back when people used Twitter and Facebook to find things going on.

MH: You mean when people used it to talk to each other?

EA: So we had 300 people and we were like “We should do this again sometime” but then all the bars were like “yeah! Do one for Thanksgiving! Like now!” so we did one for Thanksgiving. And it was really offensive. The cowboys versus indians… no pilgrims versus indians. Well not versus but and. I come from a place that’s more culturally inclusive and expected it to be offensive and obnoxious and people would realize it was a shitty thing to do. But no one did. And that was kind of a let down. We had maybe three or 400 people come to that. Then we did Valentine’s Day Vampire Crawls and that was cool. But then the next year for Zombie Crawl almost 2,000 people showed up. And then after that 3,000, then four, six, then 9,000. Thankfully it’s starting to slow down around 15,000 now or in a few years we’d have one million. And now we have six or seven new crawls.

We just had the steampunk stroll. that was probably the best.

MH: Why’s that?

EA: Because only five people didn’t dress up. And there were only five bars. So it felt like the first Zombie Crawl again.

MH: Everybody knew each other?

EA: Yeah. With the first Zombie Crawl I’d run ahead, because we had like a circuit and I’d kinda ra-ra everybody. With this one we had that option again. But now we run them more solid. Awesome maps. Solid drink specials. Not so much dicking around like it used to be. I used to print the maps up at work. I went to Savers to make my costume 15 minutes before the first Zombie Crawl. I ran home, took a bunch of scissors and nah-nah-nah-nah-nah chopped it up, sprayed a bunch of blood on myself. Got there 15 minutes before and no one was there and I thought it was a flop and then BOOM everyone showed up.

The second year all we did was make maps, right? I made like 1,000 maps, thinking that’s way overkill. But when I ran out and people were pissed. They were so angry they didn’t get a photo copy of this little crappy map. I had to sprint to Kinkos and I forgot my wallet and I only had a $20 in my pocket and I had one map that I grabbed off the ground that everyone had stepped on and said, “Turn this into 400 maps please!” And she did two per page, cut them in half and I sprinted back to these angry hordes. So it had some of that feel but without the stress.

But also people had the giddy joy of the first one. It was also a different crowd. The steampunk crowd had 80 year olds decked out. Looking amazing. People from all over Nevada and outside the state because of the steampunk expo. They’ve been wanting a steampunk party for years. They create this crazy contraption, Rube Goldberg thing, that’s full of polished brass and wearing correct period clothing and they only get to wear it once a year.

MH: How much longer can you keep doing this?

EA: I like to start stuff. So. I would like to… I don’t like doing the same thing over and over so I’d like to take these and do something more. The ones beyond 10,000 people could expand into a festival. It doesn’t have to be a larger drinking event. It can be a larger event overall. Give people a reason to stick around and do more.

MH: Do you think there are too many crawls? In a year?

EA: Well, that’s a question I get asked every once in a while. But it creates the question, how would we know that?

MH: Fatigue from participating?

EA: How would we know fatigue? People stop coming. So since they’re still coming, I don’t think so. You know, the smaller crawls don’t disrupt business. So I would say it really depends on what someone is into. For every person who asks that, I’ll make an announcement and for 100 other people, that question never occurs to them. For some people I think the answer is yes, and they shouldn’t come to every one of them. But then they’re not going to get put out by going to their local bar because the small ones don’t effect you. For people who want to go to every one there’s plenty. People still ask for new ones.

MH: Like asking for new themes?

EA: The answer to all that, to me, is to put on smaller events where the die-hard people who want to come to every one will want to come out. I think we’ll know when there’s too many when they start getting sloppy or dumb. I think we’re still putting on stellar events so there’s not too many. What I don’t want to see is people putting them on without a lot of thought. If you want a lot of people to come out to a drinking event you have to put a lot of thought into it: you have to understand the community, you gotta know what you’re doing. We’ve seen people try to put on events and try some unsafe options and that worries me. But no one really comes to those events.

MH: Maybe there’s a certain point where you just grow out of it and you just don’t want to do it anymore.

EA: Yeah and that’s natural, you shouldn’t want to do the same things all the time.

MH: If you’re going to the Santa Crawl for the thirteenth year you must really love it or you don’t have anything else to do on Christmas.

EA: Mmhmm. Gosh I’ve gone to the Santa Crawl once. It’s not like I’m this die-hard crawler, I just like putting on parties. I’ve put on other things but this is my biggest thing that I do. It takes a lot of work. I also add them pretty slowly. I also didn’t create the Pirate Crawl or the Superhero Crawl, I took them over. But it turns out there’s people in town who dress like pirates all year long.

MH: Oh you mean Viriginia City?

EA: No. The Pirates of Reno, they’re like a group. They elect their leaders every year. They volunteer weekly to feed the homeless and comfort people at nursing homes. They’re like an awesome group of people. And they party, dressed like pirates all year long. You don’t have that with anything else. There’s not like a Reno Zombie Group who dresses like zombies all year. Although a zombie festival would be fun.

MH: That would be funny. What else do you do besides the crawl?

EA: We do 5ks. Like the superhero one. It’s really good for people who want to be part of a costumed event but don’t want to drink. And random little parties here and there. Shows, fundraisers. I like doing costume parties I guess more than anything. It takes care of a lot of stuff. It keeps people who are no fun, home. It makes people feel like they’re all part of the same gang. Gives you a little anonymity so you can get out of yourself.

MH: Were you an avid costumer as a child?

EA: Yeah. I’m hit or miss. I wouldn’t say every time. But every once in a while I knock it out of the park. More in college I guess than as a kid, I guess.

MH: What’s your best one?

EA: I did a good Braveheart. I did a really good Dennis Rodman which I didn’t think I’d be able to pull off without… well I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off. I got his jersey and found out that temper paint works so well for hair color.

MH: What is that?

EA: Like poster paint. If you want really bold color in your hair don’t use the spray stuff, pour a thing of poster paint over your head. Keeps your hair styled and looks very lively. Then I went to Claire’s in the mall and asked for all the broken earrings and then crimped them all over my nose and my ears. And then I went to the party with markers and had people draw tattoos on me and carried around a little basketball.

MH: So did you say you’re not drinking this year?

EA: Just this year. I come from a long line of champion drinkers and so it’s not hard for me to do a lot of drinking. But it’s also not the smartest thing in the long term. I realized I had been drinking a lot and I have a lot to accomplish this year. So my wife and I both realized, I’m 37, I’m sure at some point my body is going to say, “I don’t really want to do that, so much, so often, please,” so we figure everything is going great, might as well change my patterns.

When you take a break, a week in, your friend comes into town and I’m like “that’s stupid let’s just wait two weeks” but then I realized I always have a friend coming into town. There’s always something fun happening. Me and my wife are super social so there’s always a reason to stop. It’s almost rude not to drink because it’s a social thing. But when your goal is a year, it’s so lofty that everyone wants to help. Like “that’s so impressive, I wish I could do it!” No one is ever “let’s tempt you to not do it.”

There’s people who would feel so let down if I were to break it. So we were like let’s do that. Now I’ve been working out. I have a ridiculous amount of energy. And like I said, when I party it’s not hard to start on Friday night and end on Sunday night. So it was just a good idea.

Now come January 1, I will enjoy — you know it’s also changing my tastes from quantity to quality. I don’t miss getting drunk, I miss a really nice drink. I’ve heard of or seen really nice ones poured in front of me. They’re what I’m really looking forward to.

MH: You keep alluding to things you want to accomplish this year. What do you mean?

EA: Oh man, we took on a bunch of extra events. We’re morphing the events we had into bigger things. So last year I added three new events. This year I added one. I want to take ones we have and make them better. We have the 5k zombie run and the Thriller Dance that happens before the zombie crawl starts. That’s going to become a larger event. The city gave us permission to shut down Virginia Street all the way down to the river. We may end up moving it to next year because of what I want to do. So now we have these zombie runs and they’re all the same where you run from zombies. We have zombies  and humans running together and that’s okay. So what I want to do is make them more theatrical and get some more exciting things happening. We’re going to change it be a completely different event. We’re only letting zombies run, there’s no more humans. You have to be a zombie and there will be walkers and shufflers or runners and shufflers. Then we have a few humans being chased with hundreds of zombies passing under the arch chasing them.

We’re taking on more, meaning changing it up so it’s not just about grabbing a cup and getting drunk. But being part of something, so you can say “I was there.” And on the flip side, revamping everything I was doing for how we do the events so that at the moment, I stop something and I pick up the next one almost as if from scratch. So stepping away from them all and figuring out a better way to do them.

And now I have a few things I can’t mention right now that are event focused. It’s cool because I haven’t really slept much since January 1.

MH: But you’re not drinking so you have more energy.

EA: I’ve been able to execute every single thing that I’ve wanted to so far. So it’s been cool. Usually in a year I may have seven great ideas for things I want to do and I get three done and I’m stoked. And this year it’ll be more like 10.

I shut off the recorder and he tells me all his secret plans. But since I was drinking the margarita, I’ve already forgotten them, so don’t ask.

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Mike Higdon

Editor & Publisher at Drinkable Reno
Mike Higdon is a journalist passionate about beer and cocktails. He started the site because no one else covered Reno's growing craft scene at the level of detail required to stay in the know about all things drinkable in Reno.