High atop a balcony in downtown Riverside, live punk music was spilling onto the streets. You could see very little of the burgeoning ruckus except a sliver of red light peering out of a window. The overflow of punk music doubled as a soundtrack for the night; the youthful vigor blessed the crowds strolling through the merchant shops. From the outside, we, the crowd, were left to imagine the glory of the the balcony show. On the ground floor, all kinds of people strolled through the swap meet-style post shops: Families and their energetic toddlers, a person’s service dog who attracted the occasional petting, older folks with a tendency for cute nicknacks, college students in clusters of friends congesting the walkway and lovers on dates. Stoners perfumed the night with the fragrance of their joints lightly mixing with October’s cool air.
A friendly breeze seemed to inspire a group of dudes with “free hug” signs to cheer and woo for hugs. Some people went for it, others walked right passed them. The crowd flowed through the merchant shops, often touching handmade jewelry inspired by popular franchises like “Harry Potter,” kitschy key chains like cartoonish cacti with a varying arrangement of stars or hearts and black t-shirts screen printed with goth heroes like bands Brujeria, Mana and the popular ghoul, Frankenstein. One local painter showing her work rightfully displayed Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and even Mariah Carey alongside other American icons.
Back on the main artery of University Avenue, the crowd wavered in and out of Pixels and Back to the Grind, which had their own curated events like game night or karaoke. The Menagerie hosted a STI testing truck for casual check ups. The truck’s size complemented the truck’s postcard design of Inland Empire iconography like the Mission Inn, citrus trees and the Gabrieleno mountains. Further down, near The Menagerie, The Record Collective was selling records. They lined their crates with vinyls of Donna Summer and The Supremes outside their shop corner, people sifting through past summertime classics.
Earlier that night at the Culver Center, UCR English professor Rob Hernandez gave a walk through alongside California Museum of Photography assistant curator Kathryn Poindexter of the “Mundos Alternos” exhibit; an exhibit zooming in on the entanglement of Latinx identities and things cosmological. Eager students, faculty members and art goers waited in the lobby to walk through the exhibit. One piece by Salvadoran artist Beatriz Cortez, “Memory Insertion Capsule,” featured a shiny steel space capsule designed for Cortez’s expedition to the future. On her expedition she would bring a desk, a bed and a fireplace — of course all made of beautifully welded shiny steel — offering a convergence of an envisioned future but inspired by present architecture of Salvadoran rock-based homes and Mayan architecture.
In the main hall of the Culver Center suspended an encompassing skeletal sculpture by Chico MacMurtrie entitled “Inflatable Bodies: Organic Arches (Time Traveler).” Students and casual art-goers walked in and out the magical rib-like structure that inhaled and exhaled like lungs, providing the illusion of life. In between its illusory breaths, the crowd walked alongside and within the cage, losing themselves underneath the monstrous tentacles. Whether a beast or time machine is left to one’s own imagination, but it certainly exists between Riverside and an alternate universe.