Writer and past L.A. Weekly contributor, Adrian Maher, has spent the last 20 years moonlighting in one of Hollywood’s most the bizarre sub-cultures — the party crasher network. From slithering into the “Everest of Parties” (the exclusive Night Before Academy Awards Party) to the Golden Globes, the A-List event interloper has chronicled the highs and the lows in his hilarious new book, Uninvited: Confessions of a Hollywood Party Crasher.
The author personally recorded 25 accents and celebrity impersonations for the audiobook, including a pretty convincing Arnold Schwarzenegger when recounting his party crash at Schwarzenegger’s house, and his re-enactments of individual encounters with Clint Eastwood and Yoko Ono.
Maher is just one of about two dozen full-time professional party crashers in L.A. on any given night, he recently explained on the Rebel Without Applause podcast.”
“It’s intensely stressful — the security, the gates. There’s a feeling among all of us that we’re outsiders wanting in. We’re the 99 percent that want to get into that 1 percent of hedge gates. We’re willing to risk total embarrassment” he says of his crasher forays. “You should see tool kits some of these crashers have — bags with thousands of colors of wristbands, ultraviolet ink stamps, clipboards, earpieces, champagne glasses, wigs, Velcro mustaches.”
So why do they do it? Maher says it’s the universal need to belong and access. But at this stage in his life he’s tired of hiding in hedges and jumping walls and just hopes he might finally get an invitation to go through the front door with the publication of his book.
The former newspaperman and documentary film writer and director shares the following excerpt from Confessions recounting a holiday party crash onto the grounds of SpaceX headquarters at 1 Rocket Road in Hawthorne, California. Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
“This is SpaceX Police. This is SpaceX Police! Please halt. We need you to halt!”
My co-trespasser Shane Kerch and I had just slipped in through a slightly ajar fence onto the grounds of SpaceX headquarters at 1 Rocket Road in Hawthorne, California.
We weren’t seeking trade secrets or hunting for aliens, or hoping to ride a rocket. All we wanted was entry into one of the most propulsive, explosive, and spectacular social events of the year: the SpaceX employee holiday party.
“Do not move. Show your hands!” barked the lead officer in the aeronautics security detail. He sat behind the wheel of a typical cop cruiser, but the vehicle was colored brown with large white letters on the side spelling it out for us again: SpaceX Police.
“What are you doing here? Why are you coming in this way?” demanded the officer as he and his partner ejected from the vehicle and strode toward us.
“We’re kind of lost in space,” I said.
My humor didn’t go over well, considering we were trespassing on one of the most secure compounds in Southern California.
“Actually, just looking for the holiday event,” I added.
“Well, you’re quite a way from the entrance to the party. I don’t know what you’re doing over here,” squawked the officer. “I need you to immediately redeploy back outside the fence. Check-in for the event is about a mile up the road.”
Indeed, we knew exactly where the entrance was, but with drones, omnipresent cameras, and hundreds of security personnel inspecting chip-encrusted employee IDs at the front, we thought our chances better through a side entryway. Now, we neededed another launch plan.
Shane and I had partnered in many previous capers, but even he was speechless by the spectacle in front of us. For weeks, rumors had swirled on the party-crash circuit about the upcoming gala. Only the weekend before I’d shot out to SpaceX headquarters among the endless aerospace hangars in south Los Angeles on a false tip, and after circling what seemed like mile-long city blocks, I was unable to find any festivities.
This time, I had a classified tip from a crasher cohort Brenda Stevens, who was a close friend of an employee inside who confirmed we had a “load and go.” I was ready to light this candle.
SpaceX was started in 2002 by tech wunderkind and space visionary Elon Musk to greatly reduce space flight costs by developing reusable rockets and spacecraft, create an interplanetary transport system, and build a global telecommunications satellite network.
But SpaceX’s most grandiose plan is its most idealistic: to colonize Mars. Not only will the expedition provide a great adventure but could also ensure the long-term survival of mankind facing threats from global warming, nuclear annihilation, artificial intelligence, and/or man-engineered viruses.
By 2024, the company hopes to launch its first manned voyage to Mars, with a goal of colonizing the planet with up to eighty thousand people by 2040.[i]
“I want to die on Mars,” said Musk. “Just not on impact.”[ii] In his office, Musk is rumored to have two large posters of Mars—one before human colonization and one after.
After I got launched back on to the sidewalk on that cold December night, I couldn’t help marveling that a forty-four-year-old immigrant from South Africa, by way of Canada, had built such an enormous complex, much less several revolutionary companies.
The SpaceX factory is an imposing and gargantuan facility. At one million square feet, it’s one of the largest manufacturing plants in California.[iii] The three-story aerospace hangar seems to go on for miles and houses the company’s office space, software development, and engine, mission control, rocket, and spacecraft manufacturing.
As I retreated back to my car across the street after this initial launchpad detonation, I took a big gulp and wondered if this expedition was beyond my reach. Over the years I’d been pushing and probing many limits, and maybe I’d reached my own orbital boundary.
Shane and I sat on the hood of our car and watched as more than five thousand guests arrived at the massive, floodlit entrance and began running the security gauntlet.
The entryway guest list was thoroughly digitized. No upside-down list reading on this one. After passing through several rings of security, including metal detectors, each employee was eventually granted entry with a swipe of his or her circuit chip ID, with only one guest allowed. I could see giant slides and pulsating laser shows in the background.
The obstacle course before us was overwhelming and intimidating. For the first time I thought of chucking in my space helmet. It was all too much—too much tech, too much aerospace, way too much money and power. Then I thought, What would Elon do? He wouldn’t just hop back in his Tin Lizzie and head for home. No, he’d say, “Let’s go to Mars!”
I had a brainstorm. I called Sam Brody, my embedded caterer friend, and asked if he could check his contacts to find the catering company handling the event. At the south end of the facility was a huge conglomeration of food tents and cooks that might provide some anonymity and some Swiss cheese entry points.
I also asked him to come to the site and bring a bunch of black catering aprons and ties. Shane and I were already dressed in all black and just needed the extra accoutrements. Soon Sam arrived with all the above, including some silver trays. We silently and nervously duded up. We took a collective breath, bumped foreheads, and headed for the catering entrance.
We walked single file toward a guard shack that sat behind a thirty-foot-high sliding gate/fence that was slightly open.
“Catering . . . we’re with catering!” I bellowed authoritatively.
A guard fronted up and blocked the opening.
“What catering company are you working for?” he asked.
“We’re with Très L.A. Catering,” I quickly answered, grateful for Sam’s stealth intel.
“Oh, OK, c’mon in,” said the guard.
We walked about a hundred yards across the tarmac and followed some of our black-clad brethren into the back end of the enormous hangar. Inside was a space-geek Wonderland. There were glowing acrylic Foosball tables packed with guests wielding Day-Glo headbands, sunglasses, and neon wands. Scantily clad women spun from giant rings on the ceiling, Cirque de Soleil style, and manned Texas hold ’em poker tables on the ground floor.
There were dozens of fully stocked bars sprinkled everywhere, some revolving. Giant buffet stations stacked with every kind of ethnic food offering lined the far walls. A SpaceX logo had been constructed on large silver panels using donuts. There was a Sweets room crammed with head-sized, planet-shaped desserts. If Willy Wonka had gone to space, it might have looked like this.
At first, all three of us stood stunned at the outrageous display of creativity, resources, and space-gizmo technology. We were standing on a factory floor the length of multiple football fields that hosted multiple Falcon 9 rocket manufacturing stations, nine depots for the final assembly of the Merlin engine, and several construction hubs for the Dragon spacecraft. I kept thinking, “Only in California.”
“Hey guys, you’ve got to quit standing there and gawking,” screeched an officious-looking catering manager at us. “We need you all to get back to work and right now!”
We jolted out of our stupor and tried to make a show of staying busy. I picked up a couple of used glasses, discarded plates of food, and sundry trash on my silver tray and returned them to a nearby station. I grabbed a trash bag and bolted to a nearby bathroom. I practically rent the door off my stall and ferociously ripped off my tie and apron and stuffed them in the bag. Sam and Shane soon followed behind me and performed the same frantic ritual.
We all briefly tidied up in the mirror and burst out of the bathroom in thirty-second intervals, ditching our bags under a nearby covered table. Then we hopped on the indoor train, the SpaceXpress, fled our catering duties, and journeyed deep into the bowels of the factory.
We saw groups of people playing beach volleyball on several courts. Tons of sand had been trucked in for the occasion. A few took selfies while standing, squatting, and “hanging-ten” on several surfboards. We passed a cowboy saloon with guests dancing on the bar. Go-go dancers gyrated to disco music behind a diaphanous curtain on a large stage. Up ahead was just one of several DJ and dance floors that were illuminated with pulsing neon lights.
After riding for several minutes, I saw the UNClean room, a bizarre Andromeda Strain–style quarantine facility with white walls and large glass windows. Inside were dozens of guests cloaked in white hazmat suits holding paint guns and spraying the walls and windows, creating figures in every color as a means of artistic expression. A long line of attendees waited to suit up for their fifteen-minute turn inside the chamber.
I got in line and soon I was stepping into a large jumpsuit, putting on a head wrap, gloves, and goggles. I was given a propellant paint gun and told to have at it. Some civilians outside were staring in a window, and I meandered up and blasted them with a Jackson Pollack flourish. They flinched and retreated while laughing uproariously.
Other space artists created strange landscapes, sprayed phrases like “Mars or Bust!” or whipped up cosmic themes—swirling galaxies, bursting supernovas, and black holes. One guy next to me stumbled and blasted my backside with red paint. I was going to retaliate but realized the whole thing could quickly devolve into a paint war game. Better to keep the emphasis on peaceful exploration and artistic pursuits. It was a surreal fifteen minutes.
I ejected from paint quarantine and wandered over to a revolving bar covered in tinfoil and other space-age ornaments. A group of engineers were downing vodka shots and toasting Russian Soyuz rockets, the Mir Space Station, and even Sputnik. SpaceX employees often work in project-based teams and are notorious for their ninety-hour-a-week work schedules and impossible deadlines. The holiday party was definitely a chance to blow off some propellant steam and build morale.
After downing a couple of Moscow Mules, I wandered over to a nearby dance floor and watched more than a few tech-dorks gyrating awkwardly with their beautiful dates. It was Revenge of the Nerds in space.
Nearby was the Ball Pit—a large swimming pool–like structure filled chest-high with rubber and foam balls the size of baseballs. I waded in, flopped down, and sank below the surface. I briefly panicked, as I was buried in a cascade of them. But I soon relaxed and shimmied back up to the top. Dozens of other heads were poking through the mini orbs, some with cocktails balancing in raised hands.
In the midst of the mayhem, my cell phone started going off. It was Ralph, Brenda’s crasher boyfriend. They had both tried to bum-rush the entrance as self-inviters, but only Ralph had made it in. I had earlier texted both of them about my successful catering disguise in a fit of boasting, and now I was being called to account. Could I go back out in my catering outfit and help Brenda get in?
I tried to live by the credo: never leave a crasher on the battlefield, especially out in space. After all, Brenda had confirmed the party for all of us through her SpaceX contacts. Though she was exceedingly skittish and carried a perpetual look of wide-eyed apprehension, I knew I had to go back out and retrieve her. I texted Ralph saying I would meet her at the catering entrance.
Luckily my tie and apron were still in the trash bag under the table. I stood behind a fake palm tree, slipped them back on and returned to the fray outside. I saw Brenda pacing back and forth on the sidewalk directly in front of the guard shack. (Couldn’t she have paced down the street?)
“Hey, hey, you finally made it. We’re going crazy with work in there!” I yelled at Brenda (and the watch guard) as I approached the gate entrance. “Where the hell have you been?”
“I couldn’t get a parking place. I’m so sorry I’m late,” said Brenda picking up my cue.
“She’s with Très L.A. Catering, too,” I said to the guard.
“We’ve got your catering outfit in the locker room,” I said to Brenda, who was wearing a Flying Nun–type outfit with a huge white-collar bow. (Again, what was she thinking? Or maybe she hoped for a moon launch from the factory floor?)
The guard nodded and motioned Brenda in. We got inside and I repatriated Brenda with Ralph. I told them they needed a romp in the Ball Pit. That would ease their anxiety . . . or possibly increase it.
I reconnected with Shane, who rhapsodized about another outlandish space playpen on the far side of the factory floor. It took us a solid twenty minutes of walking through throngs of drunken engineers, would-be cosmonauts, and acrobatic ceiling twirlers before we arrived. It was a portable, medium-sized swimming pool, and floating on the water were several large, clear plastic bubbles. Each one had a party attendee inside desperately trying to stand upright and keep his or her balance. The effects were hilarious, as every wannabe astronaut flipped, flopped, and face-planted repeatedly, simulating a bad space walk.
“Maybe it’s time to put the boy in the bubble,” said Shane, poking me in the stomach.
Soon I was standing on a perch, climbing through a zipper into a big plastic orb. I got launched into the water, where I tumbled like a rag doll inside a washing machine. Once my weight was centered, the bubble stopped spinning. I slowly stood up and miraculously kept my equilibrium—must be all the years of surfing. A crowd formed and began rhythmically clapping. I began to vogue, thrust out my chest, and flex my biceps. I started drifting to the side of the pool. Shane crept up behind me and shoved my bubble back into the center of the pool. I began tumbling mercilessly and could never right myself again.
Soon I noticed everyone fleeing. There must be a happening or an arrival of a noted personage. Elon Musk was speaking somewhere on the factory floor. I missed the whole speech trapped in my bubble.
The fun continued for hours. I rode a giant slide from inside the third floor to the ground floor tarmac outside. I watched a laser show. I sang along with a headbanger tribute band.
I talked with one guest who’d lost her date in the crush of activities. “I’m just hoping my boyfriend doesn’t wake up and find himself welded inside a Falcon 9 propellant tank or sealed inside a Dragon spacecraft,” she said. “Can you imagine finding him on Mars in a few decades, his bones trapped inside a contraption but still holding a champagne glass?”
By 4 am the space party was still raging but my circuit board was fried. I was suffering from sensory overload. I’d been placed in an enormous orgasmatron simulator, launched into orbit, and after an eight-hour journey, arrived at splashdown in the parking lot. My head was still spinning with expanding and contracting visuals.
As I took a last look at the giant space juggernaut across the street, I thought of all this enterprise represented: the hunger for exploration, the technological innovation, the insatiable curiosity, the communal initiatives, the torturous engineering details, the creativity, the corralling of capital, the vision. Whether or not the future billions spent on the endeavor to Mars would be better used in saving our own planet is a contentious issue best discussed in another book.
As I drove away, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of awe that has stayed with me to this day.
[i] the company hopes to launch: Dave Mosher, “Elon Musk Revealed a New Plan to Colonize Mars with Giant Reusable Spaceships—Here Are the Highlights,” Business Insider, September 29, 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-iac-mars-colonization-presentation-2017-9;Brian Wang, “Elon Musk Statements and My Own Extrapolation of Developments Toward an Eighty Thousand Person Mars City by 2040,” Next Big Future (blog), August 9, 2014, https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2014/08/elon-musk-timeline-and-extrapolation-of.html.
[ii] “I want to die on Mars”: Elien Blue Becque, “Elon Musk Wants to Die on Mars,” Vanity Fair, March 10, 2013,https://www.vanityfair.com/news/tech/2013/03/elon-musk-die-mars.
[iii] The SpaceX factory: Sandy Mazza, “SpaceX Makes Deal to Keep Headquarters in Hawthorne Through 2022,” Daily Breeze, October 29, 2012, https://www.dailybreeze.com/2012/10/29/spacex-makes-deal-to-keep-headquarters-in-hawthorne-through-2022/.