I Spent a Night Out in L.A. With a Growing Group of Strangers — Voluntarily

Dancing in the streets, standing on the sidewalksEXPAND
Dancing in the streets, standing on the sidewalks
Rory C. Mitchell

It’s 5:25 p.m. and I don’t know where Maureen is. I also don’t know who Maureen is, but I got a text from a 415 area code telling me to meet her in Little Tokyo’s Anime Jungle at 5 p.m.

The only thing Maureen and I have in common, so far, is that we both signed up for the Snowball Party, an event that, according to its website, “serves to synergize the virtual community with the actual community.” Translation: You’re signing up for a tournament-like adventure where the prize is a giant party filled with people who’ve had equally bizarre evenings.

The Snowball Party works in a pretty ingenious and interesting way: At the beginning of the night you and a stranger are given a meeting location where someone will hand you a task to complete together. After you complete the task, the two of you then meet up with two other Snowballers who have also just completed their task. This process continues as the group grows and grows.

According to John Pick, the brains behind the event, he got the idea at a party — maybe.

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“I think I was at a party in the Mid-Wilshire area. I was having a beer with someone that I didn’t know well but liked, and just sort of came up with the idea of having an NCAA Tournament of a party. I think I was probably feeling frustrated at this party. I probably went there to network — which I don’t love doing — and another way to interact/be in L.A. sort of dawned on me. ... I started talking about it with some friends and it picked up heat. Then it was like, ‘I have to give birth to this thing,’” Pick tells me via email.

Pick’s dislike of networking resonated with me. When I first caught wind of the Snowball Party, it sounded like my own personal nightmare: Strangers? Tasks? Large groups? No thank you. I’d spent the better part of my life in L.A. retracting into a cocoon of Chopped episodes and monogamy, and the thought of a “fun night out” made me sick to my stomach. I’ve developed a growing fear that I am wasting my 20s by avoiding social situations, so I signed up despite my apprehension. I stress-ate until it was time to head out to my first location.

After half an hour of waiting, Maureen showed up. Despite never having seen her before, I knew it was Maureen because of the frazzled yet apologetic look on her face. She had a warm smile, bright eyes and a calming voice. I couldn’t bring myself to be angry at a person with such lovely features.

We received our first task from Rob, a jaded-looking cashier at the counter of Anime Jungle. The task instructed us to find our anime persona, take a selfie and post it to Instagram with the hashtag #LASNOWBALL.

Unless there’s a “wet blanket” anime character I don’t know about, it’s pretty safe to say I do not have an anime persona. I also don’t do selfies because taking photos of my own face seems too narcissistic. Regardless of these two facts, I still went through with the challenge because Maureen’s enthusiasm convinced me that I should just go with the flow.

That became the theme of the night: “Go with the flow.” According to Pick, this is intentional.

“I’m big into flow. As a performer and director, we create flow around a story. This is an experience where we create flow for others. They don’t know what’s going to happen and what door is going to open, but they have to go at it with an open heart, because everyone else is. You can go to a party in L.A. and you can bounce when you did, or didn’t, have the conversation you wanted to have, but the beauty of the Snowball Party, I think, is that we open people up to finding each other, and not judge what they are going to find.”

After taking a photo and posting it to Instagram, we headed to our second location, as specified by Rob’s clue: American Apparel. There we met Rebecca and Adelina. Rebecca admitted that she was standing in for someone who's dropped out last second — Adelina happens to be a friend of hers.

According to Pick, a dropout is one of the most difficult obstacles to get around when planning this event.

“The whole thing is a war of logistics,” Pick says. “Everyone’s experience is curated, and the biggest difficulty is people dropping out. I have to switch people around and update all the brackets. I also have to make sure everyone [working the event] knows that a person is in a new area or has a new partner, because we’ve thought about who their partner is and where they’re going, which is really where the fun is. ... It’s almost like setting up an elaborate wedding proposal for both your friends and strangers.”

My wedding proposal involved trying on '80s gear and snapping a quick photo. Rebecca read off the next clue, which instructed us to head over to Peddler’s Creamery, an adorable ice cream shop nearby.

The four of us split an Uber there and hung out for a bit. I was learning about Adelina, a soft-spoken teacher, when we were interrupted by four loud and bubbly people who yelled “SNOWBALL?!” at us. One girl, Anne, in the other group offered to buy everyone ice cream. I declined but was incredibly charmed. We checked the clue for our next stop, which turned out to be La Cita, a Latin dance club approximately 15 minutes away. As the eight of us walked through downtown Los Angeles, we exchanged stories and experiences about our city. Even I, the old curmudgeon, began to open up to these people I’d just met.

At La Cita, our group of eight turned into a group of 16 and we began ordering some much-anticipated drinks. Maureen, who briefly wandered off to catch up with some friends who also were participating in the event, came back to me and insisted on buying an apology drink. I decided I like her a lot.

Our group of 16 was a mix of L.A. natives and transplants, single people and couples, young and middle-aged — everyone was vibrant, outgoing and excited.

At one point, I overheard Sam, an organizer, talking about some challenges in the morning.

“Yeah, she dropped out because of nicotine poisoning,” he told Jim, a participant, about a girl who dropped out last minute. Before I could even find out what exactly “nicotine poisoning” is, Sam began to herd all 16 of us toward Pershing Square Station, where another organizer, Marissa, waited with pre-loaded Tap cards for everyone.

We all hopped on the train headed to North Hollywood. It seemed to be a lot of people’s first time using public transit in L.A. One thing I particularly love about this event is how it pushes people to experience the city in a different, more intimate way.

When we got to the Sunset and Santa Monica stop, the 16 of us filed out of the train and ascended the escalator, only to be met with another group of 16, bringing our total to 32 (just in case you couldn’t do the math). Some people high-fived, others hugged and shook hands. There are a lot of little pockets of friends who signed up for the Snowball Party together — something I suggest to anyone who dares let strangers plan their night for them. I met a tall, bearded guy named Brett (or was it Brad?). Brett/Brad told me about his wild night, which started with a stranger in a trench coat slapping a clue onto his chest before wordlessly walking away. I became curious about what other people’s nights looked like, so I stole away to glance at the #LASNOWBALL feed.

My face was illuminated with photos of attractive people in different poses. One group is in a hot tub (in their clothes!), while another plays a game of Twister on a public sidewalk; there are people ice skating, singing karaoke and dressing up in costumes.

I put my phone away and returned to the group of 32 blindly wandering through Los Feliz. There was an excited chatter when we ran into another huge, pulsating group of people — then the chatter turned into yelling. The yelling went from a cacophonous smattering of sounds to a coherent “Snow” and then “Ball.” The two giant masses of people converged into a group of 140-plus people, and we all headed toward the final location, which Pick has asked that I keep secret.

At the secret location, I watched tiny groups of people exchanging emails, phone numbers, cards and stories from their nights. It was there that I decided this is a pretty awesome event. Sure, the beginning got off to a rocky start, but Pick himself admits, “There’s a lot of information to dissect from this past event, and we want to use it to optimize the next one.”

The Snowball Party is a relatively young event, but I see it getting bigger, stronger and smoother from here on out. If you’re new to L.A. or want to expand your social group, it’s definitely something you should check out. It’s a surprisingly low-pressure way to make connections, meet someone or just get to know the city a little better.

As I snuck out at the end of the night, I bumped into Maureen and her wife, who also participated in the Snowball Party. Maureen threw her arms around me and I got a whiff of alcohol on her breath. She apologized again for being late and I told her it’s OK. Again.

Pick aims to have the next Snowball Party sometime in late January. Check thebew.net/liveshows for more information.

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