I can't tell you where it was, where it will be next time, or even how I found it -- the text message came with a stern warning not to reveal my source. I can tell you this: You won't find it wandering around on your own. Every so often, in a dark unwatched corner of the city, box trucks full of D.I.Y. art, puppets, and bizarrely themed entertainment pull up and fill a couple of blocks. The trucks are told to look normal on the outside, but around 9 p.m., a crowd materializes, the trucks open their back doors, and the Lost Horizon Night Market is revealed.
I had been asking around for months. A Google search reveals tantalizing photos, but little solid information. Patrons are asked not to divulge information online, or to park close to the trucks. It may be one of the last events on earth where you actually have to know someone to find it. When I told my source that a mutual friend had been talking about the market on Facebook, he was unhappy. "If T------ gave the location away then es no bueno," he told me via text message. Lost Horizon Night Marketers are big on text messaging.
The trucks were as varied and bizarre as promised. There was the Super Double Happy Fun Time Game Show Truck, which had a game the host couldn't explain that was based on a Japanese game show. There was Mr. Nobody's Voodoo Swamp Shack -- a blacklight theater where a skeletal Mr. Nobody ate the audiences anger, anguish, and desperation, and a truck that celebrated New Years Eve every 30 minutes. There were trucks with dirty storytelling, life-sized videogames, mock proms, and one I chickened out on called Mustache Rides.
It might have been the long lines at the trucks, or the cold weather, but the novelty of it all wore off after an hour or so. I started fantasizing about how much more fun it would be to write a story where the police came and broke up the market -- which almost happened around 10 p.m. when the SFPD showed up. Fortunately for the attendees, a local fireman was there and worked out a compromise. The police would leave them be until midnight, and the organizers would keep the top hats, slick, black hair, and velvet jackets out of the street. I was feeling like I fell into a hipster's wet dream, or the place you might send your liberal arts degree to die, and bailed down the street to my favorite creepy diner Silver Crest to wait for my source, who needed a ride home.
Inside Silver Crest I turned my attention to stale coffee and brooding about the Night Market. While the idea of a secret box-truck show is brilliant, art can't survive on novelty alone. At Burning Man (it was that type of crowd), a lot of the art would be good no matter where it was. Playing in a painstakingly detailed model shipwreck is cool anywhere, and doing it in the Black Rock Desert makes it even cooler. But at the Lost Horizon Night Market, once you get past the fact that it's all a big secret for the cool kids, it's just weird. Reading Dr. Seuss and passing sips of water to a "Pet Girl" in a white negligee through a wire mesh cage might be fun, but it wasn't worth waiting in line for half an hour, and I don't think a Mustache Ride would have been either.
When I went back at 11:30 to pick up my source, I found the fireman from earlier; he denied being part of the event, but he did tell me that the police dept.'s main concern with the Night Market was patrons getting robbed in Bayview afterwards, and that it was cool the event had grown but, "at some point they'll make it comply with the law." I also found one of the organizers picking up trash, who, unsurprisingly, didn't want to speak to anyone from SF Weekly.
"Are you affiliated with this?" I asked him.
"Do you know anyone who is?"
"Do you know where I would start if I wanted to get in touch with the organizers?"
"You can't, and there isn't."
On Monday, I was forwarded an e-mail from the organizing group -- with another stern warning not to reveal the source. It offered a small glimpse into the inner workings of the Lost Horizon Night Market.
* Show up with your truck and crew at the location by 7 p.m. and be ready to go and grope by 8 p.m.
* Do not post the event details to any public forum: No Facebook. No Twitter. No blogging. No public mailing lists. Pass this warning onto any friends and anyone else you forward an invite to.
* This is not an organized event. There are no organizers. This is not a street party. You simply heard about this on the FaceSpaceTwatter and thought it would be fun to show up with your own truck. Organizer who?
Although I found this one to be the most telling:
* Keep your personal invites low. Ultimately who you invite is up to you, but we recommend trying to invite people who haven't been to a Night Market before or even know what it is, invite those not expecting anything at all. If they wear a fedora, have been to Burning Man, and enjoy bacon cupcakes, there's a good chance you'll hear more jaded feedback from them about how next year was better and less of bewilderment and awe.
In defense of my jadedness I would like to mention that while I have been to Burning Man, I do not eat cupcakes, and only wear a fedora on very special occasions, when I'm getting paid to do so.
My advice to folks who read this and want to find the LHNM but can't? Don't bother. Try this instead: Rent a truck, make an art project, call your friends. Abracadabra -- you are the Lost Horizon Night Market.