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My Night With the Hook-Up Truck
Ian Eck | Photo: Courtesy Greg Earl | May 7, 2014
An intrepid reporter goes a-knocking.
The Hook-Up Truck is here to remind you that yes, this is still San Francisco. It's brilliantly simple, really. It’s like a food truck, you see, but for fucking.
We’re not talking prostitution here. We’re talking about what the organizers call a “modern dating solution for safe sexual adventuring.” I like a safe sexual adventure as much as the next person, so I hopped aboard Friday night to watch the truck lose its cherry. I knew it would be weird, but would it be good weird or bad weird? Let's just settle on weird weird.
The organizers planned to debut the truck at Oakland Art Murmur, but upon my arrival at the bustling scene along Telegraph Ave, I received a text from Spy Emerson, the artist who birthed the truck: “We got banned from Art Murmur. At 27 and Northgate now.” Emerson's crew—a truck driver and three other artists involved in a not-quite-clear-capacity—found themselves setting up shop in a dimly lit spot underneath the Interstate 980 overpass. (Perhaps more appropriate, no?) The operation consisted of a white box truck, unassuming except for the array of media and bemused onlookers surrounding it.
In the middle of the whirlwind I found Emerson, small and vivacious, wearing a shirt with the words "Hook-Up Truck" written across her chest. She's an artist who prides herself in “doing a lot of art with trash”—the type who's "lived in warehouses her whole life," and makes a point of telling me that she doesn’t watch TV. Sporting an exclamation point on her middle finger, Emerson isn’t the type who’s afraid to make a statement.
When I ask her if the Hook-Up Truck is more performance art piece or business venture, her answer hovers vaguely between the two. After all, the opening weekend was free, but in the future, Emerson plans to charge $75 per half-hour to reserve the truck, and $150 per half-hour to have the truck come to you. She figures the truck could be a big hit at street festivals, private parties, and music shows. “Part of my project is about how ridiculous everything is. But it’s also growing into this great business. I’m capitalizing on a problem.”
I ask her if I can look inside. The interior resembles a sultry sauna. It’s about a 6-by-7 foot space, fitted with faux-wood paneling, mirrors on the ceiling, and red mood lighting. I was expecting a bachelor pad, but frankly, it looked so stark as to make me wonder if it was unfinished. When I ask her about cleanliness, Emerson insists that the space is kept very clean—but "without that horrible antiseptic feel of a doctor's office." There’s no bed or couch or anything comfortable to recline or lay on. If you're going to go at it, Emerson is giving you a small, hard wooden bench shaped like a C and a metal railing on one side. It's built for sport, not comfort. Even more surprising is the small peephole in the wall, through which a GoPro camera's unblinking eye watches. Emerson says that couples can choose to cover the camera—but that depends, I suppose, on them noticing it in the first place, which is not a given for people in the throes of passion.
What is she going to be doing with the footage of the hookups? She doesn't know yet. “I’m collecting material right now, but I can’t say what’s going to happen until after I collect it all.”
Three couples enjoyed the truck that night in Oakland. Standing outside, watching the rig squeak back-and-forth among total strangers, I couldn't help but wonder if this was what a porn set would feel like if you couldn't actually see anything. The atmosphere was casual and light-hearted with lots of sideways smirks. “It was fun,” said 46 year old Hook-Up Truck user Tracy who went in with Don, also 46, both of whom refused to give their last names. “Nicer than a couple motels I’ve stayed in.”
With that, it was wham, bam, thank you ma'am, and off went the truck to San Francisco. Hot on its heels, I BARTed across the Bay (originally I was promised a seat in the back of the truck, but the full set of benches had yet to be installed), but I still made it in time to catch the marching band Mission Amnesia greet the Hook-Up Truck. Standing in front of Jim’s Restaurant at 20th and Mission, illuminated by the lights of news cameras, they blasted out lively swing music into the Friday night air: “You gotta hook uuup with someone.”
The crooning chorus made the onlooking crowd giggle. A few of the more buzzed participants broke into dance. One homeless man on the outskirts bobbed his head approvingly, PBR tallboy in hand. When I asked onlookers whether they'd hook up in a truck, the reactions were mixed. “No. I have a nice condo down the street,” said one woman. “Absolutely I would do it," said her friend. A man disagreed: “Brothers don’t wanna get caught,” he said, eyeing up the hovering media camera nearby.
By the time the driver (whose name was Dick, I kid you not) had pulled the truck up to the dive bar Amnesia on Valencia St., the media blitz had lessened and crowd reactions had cooled. One of Emerson's friends and colleagues, Dr. Hal Robins of the Church of the SubGenius, gave off a Colonel Sanders-meets-David Lynch vibe, as he offered "short-term marriages" to whomever felt the desire to get married on the sidewalk, bang in a truck, and then have the marriage dissipate. There were no takers.
As the night went on, people came out of the club. They were intoxicated, paired off, and ready for adventure—the perfect demo, right? But alas, neither Emerson nor the preacher could entice them to take a spin on the hard wooden bench inside. I guess they all had beds back home? By midnight the Mission had failed to produce any volunteers for the Hook-Up truck. Emerson decided to pack it in. Some of her enthusiasm had waned since the beginning of the night, but she still remained hopeful: “We have a few rad things coming up in the next couple weeks, including plans to film a porn star.”
It’s tough to say what the future holds for the Hook-Up Truck. The legality of the street-based business venture, for one, seems like a gray area. But one thing's for sure: it's a thing. It exists. You can now pay to fuck in a truck. Frankly, like many hook ups, the truck was a bit of a let down. It was kind of fun in the moment, but the next morning, all I wanted was a shower.