Once I finally saw through that Easter Bunny scam, I determined never again to put my faith into any of the known rites of spring — that’s Easter, Passover, Nowruz, and Major League Baseball by my watch. But time heals all wounds. And with the arrival of a world class spring equinox event so close to my house that even I — who drives four blocks to work every day only to circle the neighborhood looking for parking — can walk to the event, then it must be a sign from above that a new recepticle for my faith is on the rise.
That of course is BYOB (Bring Your Own Big Wheel). For those of you who don’t know, this is a gathering of adults who ride Big Wheels, other less-well-branded kiddie toys, or their own highly unsafe go-kart creations down an extremely steep and curvy section of Vermont Street on the south side of Potrero Hill every Easter Sunday.
Like Burning Man and other DIY actions that started small and have now become huge productions, BYOB began with one man, Jon Brumit. The artist, formerly based in Oakland and now living in Detroit — and just from that reverse migration you know something’s up — stumbled upon a Big Wheel 12 years ago, probably had some kind of Proustian Madeleine reaction, and decided to ride it down Lombard Street. Most normal people would stop there, but social practice art does not draw to it the normal, and so Brumit posted flyers looking for companions. And just like that, a fun first cargo cult of eternal youth, eternal playfulness, eternal recklessness and recycling, with the Big Wheel as icon, was born.
Soon the event grew large and had to be moved away from Lombard Street, where fancy flower beds were being trampled, to Vermont Street, which has always been a haven for artists and their strange ways. I’m not good at guessing crowd size, but I’d say there were hundreds of riders and maybe a thousand or more people in the crowd. The place is charged with the giddiest electrical energy. Everyone is happy. Everything is free. There is no authority present. No money is exchanged, although donations are needed and accepted. The show is completely homemade and amateurish, and there is the very unusual sense that people are confident they can entertain each other, and this sets something free. Good old-fashioned crack-ups are common, although nobody seems to get too badly hurt. And it’s hard not to laugh — or cry — when a man in a pink tutu rolls down in the center of a violent scrum with luchadors, aliens, and superheroes on all sides, holding a pink parasol above his head, determined at all costs to be dainty.