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Welcome to Night Vale

Started: 2024-01-24 20:27:57

Submitted: 2024-01-25 19:30:51

Visibility: World-readable

Going to the Castro Theater to see this year's Welcome to Night Vale live show

For years I've listened to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, the weird-fiction podcast about a conspiracy-ridden town somewhere in the American desert southwest, and I've attended several live shows. This year they're touring a show called "The Attic", and I got Calvin to join me attending the show at the Castro Theater on Saturday evening, the 13th of January.

We drove to Daly City to catch BART the rest of the way into the city. When we arrived there was some sort of travel disruption on the trains telegraphed by hard-to-hear PA announcements and ambiguous displays above the platforms. BART's official communication channels (their feed on the social media site formerly known as Twitter, and on their own website) didn't show anything. One train pulled into platform 1 (normally used for turning around trains at Daly City to head back to San Francisco and onward into East Bay) but didn't open its doors. A second train was sitting at platform 2 (normally used for through trains coming from SFO or Milbrae heading north into San Francisco). That train eventually opened its doors and left them open, so we boarded, and waited for something to happen. A pair of BART cops walked down the platform from the front of the train and stuck their heads in the door, apparently looking for someone or something but not finding it in our car. A minute later our train operator announced that we would be leaving soon, and after another minute we did. Only by this point did BART's alerts tell me that trains were not stopping at Daly City due to police activity.

The police activity also confused the digital map on the wall of the new BART rolling stock. While we were stopped in Daly City with the door open, the in-car map indicated that we were in transit towards Balboa Park, the next station on the line. Once we were underway towards Balboa Park the display showed that our next station would be Glen Park. Then the display reset, showing nothing at all; and then displayed a version of the map with all of the lines colored in, rather than the normal in-car display with only the lines that this train will still visit being shown in color. By the time we reached Glen Park the display had caught up to reality, and was showing us the correct map indicating that Glen Park really was the next station.

We got out at Glen Park and headed across the street in the rain to eat supper at La Corneta Taqueria, which used to be our neighborhood taqueria when we first lived in San Francisco eight years ago. They seemed to be making several burritos for online orders for every one burrito they made for walk-in customers, but once we got our veggie super burritos they were good. They had fewer tables inside than I remembered before the pandemic, but they did have a pair of parklets outside on the street, but I couldn't tell if they were covered or not, and it was a bit chilly to eat outside in the rain.

After eating we caught the #44 bus up Bosworth, past Glen Canyon Park (which was completely hidden in the dark beyond the windows of the bus) and into Forest Hills, where we transferred to MUNI Metro inbound for one stop to Castro. It was still raining when we exited the station, and when we got close enough to the theater to read the marquee it said the show would start at 20:00, an hour later than the 19:00 that showed on my ticket. We joined the line in front of the theater, with other people who had also been confused by the start time, until the theater doors finally opened at 19:00. Only then did the Ticketmaster app on my phone send me a push notification telling me that the start time had been bumped back an hour.

Castro Theater at night in the rain
Castro Theater at night in the rain

The delayed start time gave us plenty of time to drop by the concessions counter for a snack and find our seats (and help other people find their seats by pointing out that they had found the right row, but the odd seats were on the other side of the theater).

Inside the Castro Theater waiting for Welcome to Night Vale
Inside the Castro Theater waiting for Welcome to Night Vale

The illustration for the live show, titled "The Attic", showed what looked like an old carousel slide projector with spider legs, and as I stared at the image on the screen I could hear in my mind the "kechong-THUNK!" of a slide projector advancing to the next slide, accompanied by the quiet but insistent whirring of the fan desperately trying to keep the high-powered incandescent bulb cool enough to remain in its operating temperature range. (I'm not sure I've actually seen a real slide projector in the last twenty years, but the memory is burned deep in my brain. My parents had an alternate slide system where the slides sat in a neat cube that took up considerably less space than a carousel. I think I saw their boxes of slides from the seventies and eighties in the closet the last time I visited their house.) I tried to explain to Calvin what a slide projector was and I'm pretty sure he gave me his best "ok boomer" face.

The show started with a solo set performed by the musical guest, then Cecil Baldwin took the stage to perform as Night Vale radio host Cecil Palmer. (I am advised by the scriptbook Mostly Void, Partially Stars, which collects the first year of scripts from the show, that Welcome to Night Vale comes from the "aesthetics and techniques of the Neo-Futurists, where people perform under their own names".) The stage show took the structure of the podcast, with Cecil narrating a radio show from his studio, with guest appearances by voices from the show.

There were a few moments of physical comedy made possible because it was a stage show. There was (spoiler warning for the live show, which is still touring) a hilarious fourth-wall-breaking moment when Cecil heard the instrumental music being performed in the background and realized that he could affect the tone of the music based on what he said. Then he said, "It's as if there is a guy sitting right next to me playing music" and pointed to the spot on stage where the background musician Disparition was sitting.

And mostly the show was the weird world of Night Vale brought to life, live in front of me, in a theater with 1400 other people. I thought it was a great show, and Calvin also indicated that he enjoyed it, proving that there is someone in my family whom I can at least occasionally get to leave the house to see a show.

After the show we caught MUNI Metro inbound from Castro. While we waited for the train the station agent gave us announcements on the PA telling us when the next trains were coming and used "inbound" to identify trains heading towards downtown. (At some point after I started riding MUNI Metro they stopped using "inbound" to refer to trains heading to Embarcadero and "outbound" to refer to trains heading from Embarcadero, probably because that started to lose its meaning when the T and N lines extended past Embarcadero, and it has no meaning at all for the T line since it no longer runs in the Market Street Subway.) We transferred to BART at Civic Center and rode back to Daly City, and from there drove down the peninsula and over the mountain in the rain.