Fire dancer Clara Blossom dances with open flames. Photo by Scott Ball.
Fire dancer Clara Blossom dances with open flames. Photo by Scott Ball.

Geekdom held a fourth birthday party for its 800-plus members and, from the looks of the crowd, a few hundred more family members and friends on Main Plaza Thursday night. Like everything else the tech incubator and co-working universe has set out to do since it was created in 2011 by co-founders Graham Weston and Nick Longo, there was nothing conventional about it. This wasn’t cake with candles and the “Happy Birthday” song. It was a birthquake party, Geekdom style.

Geekdom staff member Christian Torres smashes a cinder block on local illusionist Jacob Espinoza as he lays on a bed of nails, Patrick Asher looks on. Photo by Scott Ball.
Geekdom staff member Christian Torres smashes a cinder block on local illusionist Jacob Espinoza as he lays on a bed of nails, Patrick Asher looks on. Photo by Scott Ball.

Colorful banners suspended from a high crane in front of San Fernando Cathedral swayed in the evening breeze while projected light shapes illuminated the cathedral’s 19th century bell towers.

Illusionist Jacob Espinoza walked from the microphone stand to a waiting bed of nails and, after lying down on his back, invited Christian Torres, Geekdom’s community manager, to hoist a sledge-hammer and bring it down hard on a cinder block balanced on the young man’s stomach. Torres did just that and the brick crumbled into pieces. Espinoza stood up and smiled and took in the applause from audience members who, seconds earlier, had worn horrified expressions of anticipation as Torres eagerly sung the hammer.

Leila Noone contorts her body as she hoists herself up on the main stage. Photo by Scott Ball.
Leila Noone contorts her body as she hoists herself up on the main stage. Photo by Scott Ball.

There was nothing terrifying about the next act. Leila Noone, a woman with the strength of gymnast, the balance of a ballet dancer and the flexibility of a contortionist arrived on stage with a metal stand and proceeded to elevate herself into just about every imaginable position, from hand stands to slowly arcing down into an extreme back bend until her feet rested on her head,all done effortlessly.  She smiled throughout her performance and never appeared to break a sweat.

A shirtless strongman dressed in suspenders appeared after a few minutes. He lifted her aloft and then held her there with one arm as she slowly spun and rotated, upside down, legs and arms moving in all directions. Gravity didn’t seem to affect her the way it holds down the rest of us. Later, she took to a large hoop suspended off the ground by a rope and performed a second routine. The man standing next to me watched in a  trance, oblivious at first to the beer slowly spilling out of his plastic cup on to the ground.

Afterwards, the strongman and the aerialist posed with a young girl for a photograph. I made a mental note to try to get to the gym more often.

Moments after the aerialist exited the stage to warm applause, a vagrant woman balancing a splashing cup of beer ran to the stage front and offered the crowd her own solo performance. While her best days were well behind her, the woman’s dance moves matched the music and she did project joy. As the song and her dance came to an end, she suddenly swerved and was upon me, not understanding my proximity and interest was journalistic. She gave me a quick parting kiss on the cheek and a slap on my backside and then was gone into the crowd.  Here and there, other vagrants and homeless people mixed nicely with the Geekdom members and their families. The fountains sprayed and bubbled, children ran free, and pets took in the affectionate attention of strangers.

A friend’s dog on a leash looked up – way up – as a man dressed like Uncle Sam walking on stilts through the crowd passed right by. The dog just watched without moving, as if people on stilts walk by all the time. The dog’s owner, however, was caught off-guard when he turned and suddenly came face-to-face with the stilted giant and quickly jumped back with an exclamation of surprise.

Performer Bobby McDonald blows fire in front of the main stage. Photo by Scott Ball.
Performer Bobby McDonald blows fire in front of the main stage. Photo by Scott Ball.

A fire-eater came next, and I found myself flashing back to an earlier life, one that took me often to the crowded avenues and boulevards of Mexico City, where I would watch street performers gulp a mouthful of fuel and then breathe flames high into the air while their captive audience waited for a red light to turn green. It was a hard way to make a few pesos. Geekdom’s fire breather imported from Austin was surely better paid, and probably has a healthier secret behind his magic.

Others in the plaza lined up at old-time carnival stands, tossing darts at bull’s-eyes painted on elephants and donkeys. It is the season for presidential primary candidates to trade windy, “When I am in the White House, the very first thing I’ll do…” pronouncements. Dart throwers seemed more intent on hitting the ass of the elephant than the butt of the donkey.

The Alamo Beer Company did a brisk business tending the 10 kegs of free beer it donated, and while there was no on-the-job sampling by the Rivard Report, people seemed to be enjoying themselves.

“Horchata porter,” an acquaintance said as he offered me a taste. Is there really such a thing? I knew the brewery had introduced a Holiday IPA. At any rate, I passed. It was time to get back to the office and wonder what Geekdom might have up its sleeve for its fifth birthday party. The Rivard Report turns four years old this February, and suddenly I’ve run out of ideas for creative ways to mark the occasion.

A scene from Geekdom's 4th birthday party at Main Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.
A scene from Geekdom’s 4th birthday party at Main Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.