Lost Horizon Night Market: the Mission Impossible Truck

Filed Under Art, Events, Pranks, SF Bay Area | 2011-05-03, 10:58

Diffusing the bomb
Photo by Shalaco

This past weekend the Lost Horizon Night Market came to West Oakland. Tucked away in an alleyway next to a concrete mill, trucks opened up to the in-the-know public and created new and different experiences for everyone that attended. For those that aren’t familiar, the idea of the Lost Horizon Night Market originated in New York, but a San Francisco version has since been opened. In short, a number of customized box trucks (usually around 20) all gather in a predetermined location on a chosen evening. Some trucks serve food, others put on a show, but they all provide experiences of some sort to the patrons of the night. For both of the San Francisco Lost Horizon Night Markets I have been a proprietor rather than a participant, teaming up with Nelz, Matt, and others to run the Mission Impossible truck.

When we first started throwing around ideas for a truck for the Market, it was agreed that we wanted something low-effort but high-impact: something that wouldn’t take us hours and hours of work, but would still provide for a unique and fun experience for people. Inspired by the spy caper movies, we decided we would create a “laser field” that would protect “confectionery devices”, aka cupcakes. People would have to manuever their way through the lasers in order to rescue a cupcake. If they tripped a laser, they would be eliminated by the robot sentries. The lasers were actually orange strings with bells on them and the robot sentries were people hidden in the darkness with fully automatic Nerf rifles. Throw in a smoke machine and a black light to make the “lasers” glow and we were basically done.

The first time we ran the truck we quickly gained a line and spent most of the night trying to get people through the line and the experience. Additionally we didn’t really perfect our “pitch” since we had spent most of the time putting the truck together: painting wood, building guard booths, stringing bells, etc.

We decided that our goal this time was to not have a line. How to accomplish this? We would provide people with a task, some sort of small hurdle that they would have to complete before they even got a chance to get in the truck. Several ideas were tossed around about what sort of tasks we could ask people to do. I was very interested in making people interact with other people at the Market. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but somehow a friend who was helping with another truck became our point person for these tasks. Since we had experience with Santa’s Little Secret Service, we were easily able to get into Secret Service mode, donning suits, earpieces, dark sunglasses, and a serious attitude. When people asked what our truck was about, my pitch went something like this (with a serious and straight face mind you):

“We’re guarding some highly unstable confectionery devices and we’re looking for people with the experience and dedication to help defuse these devices. However due to the inherent danger in this mission we need to make sure you’re up to the task. You will need to seek out the Man in the Mask. He will provide you with additional information.”

The Man in the Mask
Photo by Audrey Penven

Most people would instantly understand and go off hunting for the Man in the Mask, who we had given a handful of silver marbles and carte blanche to give people whatever missions he wanted. To be honest, I don’t even know half of the stories Evan, our man in the mask, told people. All I know is that if someone showed up with a “high density spherical memory storage device” (aka a silver marble) and a good story about what they had to do to get here, we’d let them into the truck to try to get their cupcake.

Over the course of the night things got more and more complex as more people got pulled into the shadowy ruse. Evan would tell people to go find another person and ask them for a task. At first these other people didn’t even realize they were part of the Mission Impossible truck, but were quick to send the person on some sort of mission. People would return to our truck anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or two later after running around the Night Market, following detours left and right.

One group of 6 people returned with a dream stolen from the Dream Library truck. I quickly called all the other agents for our truck and escorted the group to the semi next to us, which just happened to be “The Jail”. We announced to the warden that they were charged with stealing dreams and needed to be locked up for their crimes. The group was put behind bars, and I ran off to the Dream Library to return the stolen dream. Upon my return to our truck I discovered that the group had broken out of jail and rushed our truck all at once! So many rules, shattered.

Another group, actually friends of a friend, were told at the very beginning of the night that they would want to experience our truck and they should get started on the mission early. At the end of the night they finally returned, with stories of being sent around to a number of different people, continuously wondering when it would all end and they would get into this mystery truck. I fessed up to them and told them that in all honesty none of the people involved with the Mission Impossible truck had a full picture of what was going on. In turn they told me stories of people stealing their marble, sending them to other truck to steal other objects, and getting pointed to one person after another for their next mission, and just a general state of confusion over the course of the night. As the market was coming to a close, we finally let them into the truck to run the laser course and get their cupcakes as they had surely earned them even if they had lost their marble.

Despite our efforts, at one point in the night we ended up with a line of about 4 groups deep. I had to make up something quick to stall. I explained to one group that there had been a serious laser malfunction and that they would need to find a red lighter, as red is the only wavelength of color that could successfully be used to repair the lasers. They rushed off into the darkness on the hunt. I turned to another couple, also ready to get in the truck. I told them that we needed a clean handkerchief. I don’t remember the reasoning behind the need for this object, but after a bit of arguing they too ran off into the night in pursuit. They returned with one of them wearing the bandana over her face. She told me that on their way back, she had started giving people tasks to do in order to get into the truck too! So much chaos, so much confusion, so much fun.

For the next Night Market, we won’t be doing the Mission Impossible truck again. It’s been done, perfected, and it’s time to move onto something new. However it was a great experience in just how much fun it can be to spark people’s excitement and provide a sense of adventure. A huge thanks to Nelz, Matt, Rochelle, Evan, and everyone else that helped make things interesting.