I’d never been to a Maker Faire before. My friend Kevin had invited me. This is Kevin:

Kevin in AI goggles

When Kevin invites you to an event, you can be assured that one of several conditions apply:

  • People will be dressed like Hobbits
  • People with spiral earrings will try to sell me elfish trinkets
  • There will be big vats of good, pricey food

Many parts of Kevin stopped aging when he turned five, which makes him fantastic company at any event. I was in.

I was less sure about Maker Faire itself. It sounded like it involved yarn, or perhaps popsicle stick cabins–sturdy constructions by Portland manchilds. It’s hard, because the Bay’s got so many fairs–Renaissance, Dickensian, How Weirde–you lose track of which LOL-white-people weirdo belongs where.

Our mutual friend Jimmy was the first to arrive at the crack of dawn at the 24th Street Bart station. In spite of getting only a few hours of sleep, he was in suspiciously good spirits.

Five minutes later, Kevin strode down the escalator munching on a chocolate croissant. He was wearing green and yellow striped bell-bottoms, a 70’s collared shirt that could poke an eye out, and the characteristic leather jacket.

When he got inside the fairgrounds in San Mateo, Kevin’s first move was to buy a small bag of Fruity Pebbles kettle corn. When presented with an option, Kevin’s answer is easy: the colorful one.

We toured a few of the outside demos. An Asian man in a grey kimono demo’d a drone that could scan and make 3D prints of faces. By “demo’d”, I mean he held it with both hands and gesticulated up and down. The demonstration reminded me of Ali G’s hoverboard concept that never got off the ground, so to speak:

An Oakland maker showed us a portable, room-sized house she and her partner had built.

“I was paying the equivalent of a car a month to live in the Mission,” she explained. The new spot cost less than $20k and was parked out on a lot in West Oakland.

Jimmy, consultant instincts in high gear, wanted metrics. “Have you done benchmarking against the industry?” he asked. She said she figured their design would retail for $45k. Jimmy nodded. He wasn’t convinced.  You might steal Jimmy’s heart with emotional appeals, but for his wallet, you’ll need numbers.

We ventured into the main demo hall. It was dark and loud. Everything was loud and glowing early 90’s rave hues.

Tesla coil gif

The main attraction was the Tesla stage, where a human-containing cage sat between two giant, electrified coils. When I looked this up afterwards online, all of the results showed how to make your own, which sounds like the kind of tomfoolery that lands makers on Darwin Awards.

Next up was a disappointing wait in the virtual reality tent. We were using the restaurant goers theory of lines, where length indicates quality. But it was closer to the grocery store variety–the line with the father of eight, chatty, who pays by check.

Maker's faire cat

We played a virtual reality zombie game in which Jimmy kept killing me rather than the zombies. He claimed this was accidental, but as I mentioned earlier, Jimmy does not make rash decisions.

It was now past noon and we were past disgusted with Kevin’s candy corn. We made our selections and convened under a little gnome dome with benches designed for four foot elves. It was baking hot and I was now in the mood to make sleep.

We dragged onwards, forwards. Jimmy looked sturdy in spite of sleep deprivation and Kevin was about ready to go Paul Bunyan a forest, but I was done with these makers and their little creations. Another hour wandering around the Tokyo-subway-level congested merch floor cemented the deal.

lawn gnome gernade


Highlights of the salesroom included my 1 x 1 inch free book: “Tiny Homes on the Move”, grenade-launching lawn gnomes, a pinball machine museum Airstream trailer, and, incongruously, an extended table devoted to kitchen faucets. Kevin was put out because they hadn’t accepted him to sell his handmade jewelry, but perhaps that is not such an awful thing, in this SkyMall for Burners.

By 2:30, Jimmy and I were ready to call it a day. Jimmy was excited to put together his Bay to Breakers costume. I was excited to lie in bed, fire up Netflix, and get agitated when our internet failed.

The takeaway from the day was that to be a successful maker, all you need is a quirky hobby, a few hours of time each week, and a working knowledge of homebuilding, drones, or robots. So go forth, and make!