Attendees of Elon Musk’s Wednesday night presentation-slash-forum for his Boring Company were greeted by soccer mom snacks: Capri Suns and orange slices plastic-wrapped on individual plates, being handed out by chipper young men and women in The Boring Company hats. Elon Musk understands that you do not care about a tunnel-boring company. But he knows that you care about Elon Musk, and if he does enough Elon Musk-y things — like give that tunnel-boring company a name that sounds like a bunch of first-graders came up with it, hand out soccer mom snacks at the door, and hold a meeting for the company at a traffic-plagued synagogue — he can get you to pay attention to anything.
Musk’s particular effect is something to behold in person. First of all, few other companies, much less tunnel-boring companies, could conceivably hold a public presentation of their new infrastructure project that would double as a date night, as it did for one couple I spoke with in their early 20s. The woman, who was dressed more for a nice restaurant than a synagogue, was an undergraduate at UCLA, so the Bel Air location proved convenient; the muscular, t-shirted man was one of many I met who talked about Musk like Russians in 1917 probably did Vladimir Lenin.
“Elon Musk is a revolutionary,” he said. “I’m a Musko — I’ve got the hat, me and my business partner bought the flamethrower. “
Second: there’s that flamethrower, which is for sale on the Boring Company’s website. It’s a fitting example of Musk’s particular sense of humor, which takes the Silicon Valley mantra of “disruption” and then distends it to the point where you can no longer tell if he’s serious. (He always is.) When he mentions the flamethrower during his presentation, enough people are familiar with the in-joke to generate a roomful of applause. And when later, a video of a SpaceX test flight receives the same reaction, it starts to sink in that this isn’t so much a presentation as it is a pep rally.
Hundreds of people have shown up to see Musk explain his newly announced partnership with LA Metro to build a test tunnel on the west side of Los Angeles, and how these tunnels — as well as his widely lauded hypothetical Hyperloops — might work. Musk’s goal for the Boring Company is to create an eventual network of tunnels that would crisscross underneath the city, allowing cars and larger vehicles to zoom around at over a hundred miles per hour — and without the obstacle of traffic. When a slide is shown with the title “Why Tunneling?”, one of the bullet points says, simply: “So fun.” Other fun details include boring machines named after Samuel Beckett, Robert Frost, and T.S. Eliot poems; funny little photoshops of flying smartcars; and a video that’s introduced with the warning, “If you’re prone to seizures, you probably shouldn’t watch this.”
The crowd is remarkably varied, ranging from gray-haired men in baseball caps and plaid shirts to fashionable young women to yarmulke-wearing members of the congregation to couples in their 70s. But you can’t miss the majority: men in their 20s and 30s whose passion for Musk verges on the spiritual. “I’m a big Elon fan,” one tells me when I ask why he’s here, and the only person I meet who says anything different is a trench-coat wearing member of the Democratic Socialists of America, there because of his environmental concerns over the project. And all of the attendees, possibly excepting the guy from DSA, are united by their desire to get a photo of (or long-distance selfie with) Musk, who is mobbed at the stage after the presentation.
While the formal nature of the setting seems to have scared off some of the weirder elements that tend to follow Musk around — there are a surprising number of men wearing actual ties, although someone does ride his wheelie shoes across the stage after the synagogue has cleared out — the enthusiasm that fills the room seems somehow appropriate to the setting. When Musk asks, “How cool would this be?” he earns another round of applause, and when he asks for the crowd’s support, the reaction is just as positive. Another of Musk’s innovations has to be crafting history’s least contentious presentation of public building. An older congregant, who attended the event with her husband without knowing that Musk would be there — both are passionate about reducing the area’s highway congestion — tells me, ““There should be presentations like this all over the city, so that it can get the attention and the funding it needs.”
But as much as being a public outing for Musk’s puns, the night’s purpose is to give people a chance to see their hero in the flesh. The point isn’t just the Boring Company’s tunnel on the west side of Los Angeles: for many, it’s to kiss the hem of Elon Musk’s cloak. Considering the price of admission — free, if you’re willing to brave rush-hour traffic on the 405 — it’s not a bad hour’s entertainment.