Written by Verbal Kensington
With less than an hour to spare, a new location is announced, and the trucks pull into their new home. A frenzy of building begins, and everyone is hustling – the sounds of staple guns, generators, and powers tools compete with shouted instructions – unpack those backdrops – hang these flags – can someone please give me a hand?
A slow trickle of participants begin to arrive. A few are recruited to help with the process – friends of friends, who have come out to see the show. Of the six trucks participating, three are up and running, and the other three have hung curtains across their doorways, as they pull together the final touches.
At last, it’s showtime – fifteen minutes after our supposed start time, but we are good to go. The trickle of arrivals is now a flood, and though the participants are still a little unsure of themselves (just what exactly is happening, here, anyways?) for the most part – folks are diving in.
I’ve been assigned to the Junior Rangers team, and am dressed to fit the part – khaki skirt, green shirt, and bright yellow kerchief – and I’ve taken on a persona to match. As Sophie, an enthusiastic Junior Ranger Recruiter, I am handing out activity booklets which will help participants complete the tasks which will earn them their merit badges, and a place on the Junior Rangers team.
The booklets are filled with activities designed to inspire further participation (such as a scavenger hunt for items found within the Night Market, itself – as well as man-on-the-street interviews intended to connect Ranger-hopefuls with other participants). When completed, the booklets are turned into Ranger registration, and participants are guided into the Uncanny Campground, and invited to experience a night of connection, campfire stories, and toasted marshmallows.
The crowd is quickly turning from awkward to engaged. Though some Ranger hopefuls begin their journey a little L.A. jaded, they return to the Registration desk excited to share their experiences and receive their badges. My fellow Junior Rangers are helpful, enthusiastic, and fully in character – full of lighthearted banter and improvised wit. I’m having a blast, myself – and that is reflected in the faces of those I’m interacting with.
We’re so busy, it is almost midnight before I have time to pause, and look around me. The Junior Rangers have sworn in more than 100 new members – about half the crowd which has shown up for this event – and now the crowd is beginning to drift, thinning out at the edges.
From the tailgate of the Uncanny National Forest, I can look over the heads of those who remain. I lock eyes with Yaasika Quist – dressed in a lab coat, and ushering the last few audience members into Outerbody Labs, where they will be scanned for a dangerous viral infection. She grins widely, breaking character for just a moment, to swing me a visual high-five. We both laugh, and then continue on.
At 1am, we clear the crowd. The breakdown begins – a swift reversal of the day’s hard work, and within an hour, the trucks are once again empty – and the location, in pristine condition.
We’ve left it better than we found it. Glorious.
While a good portion of the crew rolls out to return trucks, repack gear, and call it a night – I’m left with a handful of folks, some of whom I’ve just met this evening. We decide to drift – cozying up to a local taco truck. We stand on the street corner till almost 3am, sharing stories of the night’s fun, and celebrating our success.
This sense of inspired community…
For me, at least – this is what it’s all about.