It was a perfect evening for shenanigans. A low San Francisco fog clung to everything as we walked through a quiet industrial neighborhood, way South of Market. We had been loitering in a nearby bar, waiting for word from our mysterious friends that the market had opened.
Once word was had, we wandered into the street. Couples and groups emerged from the mist, and we all walked together. As we turned the corner into a normally quiet alley, a strange man welcomed us and we joined the gathering crowd rapidly filling the space between innocent looking box trucks lining the street. The first hint of something afoot was when the unmistakable sounds of a bowling alley emerged from a 50 foot truck to our left.
We had arrived at the Lost Horizon Night Market.
The Night Market has had three runs in new York City, but this was the first night we had a West Coast take on the idea. The event was free, and more-or-less underground, with the address announced at the last minute through Twitter and a network of informed tattletales. Participants rented box trucks and built something interesting inside to share.
By 10 pm the alley was packed. To me it felt like a sample of the things I love about Burning Man, combined with the oddities of people I love from San Francisco. Inside dozens of rented trucks, in addition to bowling alleys, creators installed miniature dance clubs and exclusive restaurants, dodgeball courts and slot car races. A herd of clowns surrounded one truck, inviting the very game inside to “poke a clown” (I declined). In the back of another truck, people gathered around a burn pit to roast marshmallows, and I climbed into another to find grass, picnic blankets, and 80 degree temperatures imitating a summer afternoon. We were happy to find a friend manning the whiskey bar.
In the middle of the festivities, we caught word that the local cops had been loitering around the entry, debating about what, if anything. they should do about the influx of crazy art types doing something weird with trucks.
In the end, they left us to it. With the notable exception of a firecracker flag interlude by some interlopers, the crowd was very well-behaved and the focus was on the offerings in the trucks.
The evening brought to mind the first night market I ever encountered, in Taipei, Taiwan, where many of the shops selling shoes and plastic alarm clocks and DVDs and badly ripped off Disney products were also in the backs of barely disguised trucks. But this event was completely (or nearly completely) non-commercial. The trucks weren’t shops, and no one was making money off of it, which adds an extra amount of awesome in knowing the efforts that each truck team put into their creation was made for participation and sharing, rather than profit.
One of my favorites from the night was a simple idea, executed perfectly. We sweet-talked our way into the “upside down ball pit”, filled with helium balloons. Once inside, it was instantly disorienting and wonderful.
At the end of the evening we gathered to watch a rabbit-eared man in a truck at far the end of the alley pose riddles to the crowd. Providers of correct answers got to crawl inside a teeny door into a mad hatter’s tea party at a table strewn with broken crockery. Inside, I pocketed a shard as a memento of the evening.