A Secret, Boxed-Up Bazaar Of Fantastical Things Started in 2009, Night Markets use rented box trucks to create a cluster of outlandish art installations and performance venues that last just 24 hours. With attractions ranging from smash trucks to singalongs, they bring a feast of the unlikely and unseen to even the wildest of imaginations.

A Secret, Boxed-Up Bazaar Of Fantastical Things

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One was held recently in the Bay Area, and Jon Kalish sent this report.


JON KALISH: Attorney Michael Burstein is the self-described cat herder-in-chief for the San Francisco Night Markets.

M: We're probably in violation of a variety of parking ordinances. I'm sure that some of the attendants will show up and have open containers, which is illegal in San Francisco and Oakland. And I'm sure that there will be a variety of minor infractions.

KALISH: Burstein is right about the open containers. Many in the crowd of 700 swig from bottles of wine or small stainless steel flasks. Invitations to these Night Markets are spread by word of mouth. People are asked not to publicize them on mailing lists, blogs or via social networking channels.


KALISH: People are wandering from one box truck to another parked along the dark city block. The Best Little Box Truck in West Oakland has swinging saloon doors, a bar that serves sarsaparilla, and several bales of hay to cushion the fall off a mechanical bull with a bunny head on it.


KALISH: The entertainment at this inner city carnival is a bit unusual. For those who enjoy destroying breakable objects, there's the Smash Truck. Inside this small box truck is a woman with a cigarette clenched between her lips. She wears a welder's mask and thick suede welder's gloves as she smashes a computer and a plastic rocking horse to bits. There's a Plexiglas panel protecting onlookers from debris, as the woman whales away with a hammer.


U: It's a good time. Yeah. Yeah. So a little bit of aggression goes a long way.

KALISH: S'mores and sausage, huh?

P: Well, what else do you do with a campfire? Does anybody want a sausage?

U: Is this meat?

P: This is meat. That is burnt marshmallow.

U: Oh yeah.

KALISH: The installation artists who participate in the Lost Horizon Night Market rent their box trucks for $150 for the day and deck them out with outlandish props that transform them into vehicles of fantasy.


KALISH: Inside one there's a speakeasy where Catie McGee strums a ukulele and her sidekick, Absynthia, pours a potent, green fermented beverage. McGee wears a corset, fishnet stockings and a black feather boa, as she leads the crowd in a bawdy song sing along.

M: (Singing) He ain't too smart but he gets things done. He's a long-tongued, double-jointed son-of-a-gun. He's read the Kama Sutra 26 times and he wears my panties on Tuesday nights.


M: It's kind of like creating a secret city within the city.

KALISH: That's Mark Krawczuk, one of the co-creators of the Night Market concept, which originated in Brooklyn in 2009.

M: It's like coming to the small town neighborhood that we all have virtually through emails and through newsgroups. And this is actually a physical manifestation of it, but mobile and temporary.

KALISH: At these events, the entertainment tends toward the conceptual and avant-garde. On this night, one of the box trucks is a dream library where empty bottles hold small scrolls with dreams written on them. Another, the Notional Clearinghouse, encourages visitors to dispose of their notions.

U: The movie you will never film, the book you will never write, the product you will never sell; get it out of your head, into our cabinet, gone from your cranium and away you will go satisfied and ready to fill it up with other things.

ANITA: Hi. How are you doing tonight? Welcome to Mac and Attitude. You might only come for one but you're going to get both.

KALISH: Mac and Attitude is a 10-seat diner inside a box truck, complete with U-shaped counter covered with a checkered tablecloth.

ANITA: My name is Anita, Employee of the Month, four months. We've been operating now for 47 years. Family owned business.

KALISH: Of course, the Mac and Attitude diner serves only one dish, Macaroni and Cheese.

ANITA: We got two types tonight: one for the carnivores, one for the vegemites. You know, they're all over San Francisco.

KALISH: Whether she was a vegemite or a carnivore, Lisa Berger of San Francisco enjoys this scene.

M: I feel like I'm at a carnival for adults. You see everyone running around and playing, and acting like they're five years old again.


KALISH: For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish.

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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