Night Crawler

They move through Seacliff with relative calm. There is no honking or shouting. The bullhorns have fallen silent. In this pocket of manicured hedges and pedigreed shar-peis, noisemakers seem out of place. The 40-odd vehicles parading on their way to the ArtCar WestFest speak for themselves. On one, a thousand doll eyes stare blankly into nothingness, some of them blinking in unison with the bumps in the blacktop; on another, motherboards from hundreds of computers shimmer in the glaring afternoon sun; on still another, a sea of tiny springs wobbles obscenely in the breeze.

A well-coiffed neighborhood resident -- out on a walk with her Pomeranian -- is caught off-guard and freezes, eyes wide, mouth slightly ajar, a pooper-scooper hanging forgotten in the air like a proffered nosegay. As the all-silver CyberBuss rumbles past, the woman treats the last few participants in the caravan to a warm, but not toothy, smile and a perfect Queen Mother wave, the latter only slightly spoiled by the still upraised shit-grabber in her other hand.

It's clear why a small old woman makes the sign of the cross as the motorcade passes. These are vehicular chimeras conceived by unsound minds, and they are best left in the Dog Patch or the Mission.

The caravan spins down Seacliff Avenue; several children playing in a driveway drop their toys. The Space Cowgirls, dressed in bright pink Fun Fur chaps and white cowboy hats, lean out of the CyberBuss and shout greetings through tiny toy megaphones. A few gardeners glance nervously at the houses behind them before giving the cars a thumbs-up. At the head of the parade, the Camera Van -- Harrod Blank's nationally known masterpiece -- gives the procession an air of respectability (despite the obsessive-compulsive nature of its trimmings -- nearly 2,000 cameras, many of them working). A few men in suits wave and smile as a Barbie-pink car covered in bras skitters down the road toward Lincoln Park. The Cork Truck bobs along, followed by the Alabama Mamma-Jamma, the Alien Virgin, the Banana Bike, the Imaginary Canadian, the King of the Road, and the Madonna. As the cars roll by the Lincoln Park golf course, duffers lose concentration and miss their strokes horribly. Turf shoots into the air. Strings of profanities are shouted. The reaction greatly amuses the caravan; a car with spinning sunflowers on its roof moos loudly.

"What is this?" asks Masuji Yamamoto, a young Japanese tourist visiting the Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Part of the museum?" The cars drive in a lazy circle around the sparkling fountain. The sun and water reflect off of the moving canvases, illuminating the gaudy trinkets that have been shaped by various artistic visions. "They are legal?" asks Yamamoto. Someone shoves a schedule of events for the three-day WestFest into his hand. Yamamoto's schoolmate says, "San Francisco," as if this is explanation enough. Bianca's Smut Shack, a car owned by the creators of the Web site, drives by with a mobile pirate radio station that can broadcast up to a city block; the spacey sci-fi sounds bounce back from dozens of art-car radios.

Later, at Somar Gallery, home of the fest, art-car mania has set in. Dozens of overexcited children scamper among the cars, squealing with delight as they discover vehicles upholstered entirely in plush toys, and works in progress that welcome tiny helping hands. Parents are nearby -- parents of the children, parents of the art-car artists, parents who are art-car artists.

"I just came to check it out," says Armor Keller, who traveled here from Birmingham, Ala., without her art car. Like many of the artists from out of town, Keller is a regular at the pre-eminent Houston art-car show, which boasts an audience of over 100,000 people every year. "This is the first show on the West Coast and I wanted to show my support," she says, adjusting her bright pink hat, which complements her gold evening gown and sweet grandmother's face. Like Keller, many of the artists have brought art-car related crafts -- bauble-covered clothes, metal work, paintings, sculpture -- to offset traveling expenses. Harry Leverette, editor of Art Cars in Cyberspace, sells Znids, the art-car equivalent of the pet rock.

The WestFest, like the Houston edition, offers live music, barbecues, fashion shows, and beer, but because this is San Francisco, there is also a mechanical chicken that reads minds for a quarter; a Veg-A-Matic of the Apocalypse, which shoots flames, blends daiquiris, and appears regularly in this column; and the 5:04 p.m., a car that was crushed during the 1989 earthquake but is still being driven by benevolent prankster Michael Michael.

Onstage, the Space Cowgirls launch into their art-car fashion show with an orgiastic display of colors and texture (boys in bikinis, nuns in lingerie, everything in between). Outside, several men in bad suits sit inside a trailer called Art's Kar Mart, sipping whiskey out of a bottle and conversing with each other through bullhorns. The sun has only just set; the absinthe is flowing; the roar of semis traveling on the overpass above our heads is melodious; and the giant Dolly Parton cut-out has come to life.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

 
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