San Francisco’s Amazing Race to the End of Night

School of Dentistry

Journey to the End of the Night is a fantastic San Francisco creation that re-envisions what public space and public interaction can be.  Started here in 2006, the all-night race/tag/scavenger game has now spread to cities around the world, the most recent event being last Saturday here in its home city. 

It is indeed, as they claim, a “free street game of epic proportion run by volunteer masterminds in cities around the world.” Well, the “mastermind” bit might be a tad self-aggrandizing, but there’s no question that the hallmarks of the event are that it is free and run by volunteers. 

We started in Dolores Park on Saturday at 6 p.m., the only formality being a waiver that everyone printed out at home as registration.  Then for one night, as I frantically explored alleys and hills with fellow denizens of the city previously unknown to me, I realized that adults can still play, that fun doesn’t have to cost anything and that the usually tough urban environment can be a land of whimsy and discovery. 

The racers wore blue armbands and the chasers red.  We had to make it to six different stops, where we would be ushered through some stranger’s living room, enact a fanciful ritual, then get a stamp certifying that we had been there.  If racers get tagged by a chaser anywhere along the journey, they have to switch to a blue armband and become a chaser. 

The final stop was southeast of César Chávez Boulevard, under a freeway overpass, where a bizarre party was staged, comprised of 20 moving vans, each with a unique activity inside.  One van housed a New Year’s Eve party, with hats and champagne and every 20 minutes, a countdown to midnight, at which point we were encouraged to find a stranger to kiss!  I didn’t make it to all six of the stops, but I certainly did discover a new side of the city.

It seems that the desire for such city experiences is not unique to San Francisco.  Journey to the End of the Night has been played in San Francisco, New York, London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Vienna.  The organizers claim that “with over 5,000 players all-time, it is one of the most successful street games in the world.”

Saturday’s race maxed out at 2,000 people, who registered on Facebook.  Perhaps underlying the popularity of Journey to the End of the Night is the dream that cities can be safe and strangers can be friends — and if there is any American city that can achieve whatever it dreams up, it is San Francisco. 

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