It seemed a pretty straightforward task to find a free shuttle at a BART station.

Both the F3 website and Facebook page had advertised free shuttles that would transport people from the Fruitvale BART station to the Cotton Mill Studios (1091 Calcot Place, Oakland) where F3 was taking place. No further directions seemed necessary.

Yet there we all were: Little handfuls of F3-goers milling around in the BART station’s bus area – the only logical place for a free shuttle at a BART station, we’d all decided – and getting solace from the fact that we were all equally lost.

Five minutes. Ten minutes. In this time and place, a free shuttle ain’t coming if you’ve waited 15 minutes for one to show up. So one by one, our comrades started defecting in favor of taxis.

After some 20 minutes of waiting, my two friends and I were pretty much the last ones standing (we were curious about actually experiencing this “free shuttle” and were willing to wait around for it), but we finally ended up splitting a cab with two young women who had come down from San Rafael for the event. On the short ride, we learned that one of them used to work for a Greek broadcasting company in Athens, a job which had afforded her the opportunity to meet the one and only Greek celebrity she’d ever wanted to meet in real life.

I can’t remember that celebrity’s name. I will never remember it.

That about sums up the experience of going to F3 at the Cotton Mill, a quarterly art-and-booze-fueled Friday night art event at the Cotton Mill Studios in the Fruitvale.

There was so much going on and so much to see and to do – four floors of activity, meeting strangers and running into friends, having snatches of conversation, seeing glimpses of visual art and spoken word, buying drinks – that all of the sensory input swarmed into a thick cloud and, in the aftermath, all of the details vanished.

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“Oh, that place,” our cab driver said when we told him where we were going. “I just came from there. Lots of people going there tonight.” He paused. “It’s crazy there. A zoo.”

True to his word, he knew exactly how to navigate his way from the BART station to our destination: Along the freeway, through an entrance and down a long, dark street clogged with cabs, trucks, pedestrians, and –  lo and behold! – F3 shuttles!, to a massive brick building with an impressive clock tower rising up into the evening sky. And true to his word, it was a zoo.

The Cotton Mill is a brick-and-timber warehouse space on a dead-end street that hugs a curve of the 880/Nimitz Freeway, near the intersection of East 12th and 22nd Avenue. Beginning in 1883, the warehouse was part of the main site of California Cotton Mills, which would become the largest textile mill operation west of the Mississippi. The mill came into its zenith of production during the two World Wars, when it churned out parachutes, tents and other wartime fabrics. During peacetime, it produced more innocuous mops, towels, draperies and bolts of fabric.

In 1953, the construction of Interstate 880 cut directly through the mill, leaving clusters of the mill’s buildings on either side of the freeway divide. The mill closed shortly afterward, in 1954.

These days, one of the original buildings has become the Cotton Mill Studios, a converted live-work space for artists and creatives who don’t mind the urban-industrial reality of looking out their windows onto Interstate 880. Resident artists include photographers, painters, sculptors and industrial designers; and the handful of resident businesses include Slinky Productions, an exotic and pole dance instruction and Tinkering Monkey, a woodworking studio.

F3 is a quarterly opportunity for the Cotton Mill to open its doors to the public and for the residents to collaborate on a shared one-night endeavor.

Throughout the building, the resident artists and businesses host open studios. On the ground floor, in-unit bars feature sangria and whiskey and food trucks flock into the back parking area. Vendors occupy the two entire middle floors of the building, offering attendees a shopping bonanza known as the Design Bazaar. And the fourth floor becomes an art gallery that showcases resident artists, guest artists and an all-night lineup of live entertainment.

Essentially, it all becomes a well-organized, visually beautiful warehouse party.

My friends and I didn’t even get past the first floor until half an hour before closing time. We got lost in conversation and revelry halfway between admiring Unit 110’s floating whiskey bar and ogling Unit 111’s handmade pasta market. In the last half an hour, the fourth floor was a stunning impression of large-scale photographs, a cornucopia of artwork and a top-floor view of the sprawling night landscape of East Oakland.

Tips for the next F3, if you go: Arrive early (doors open at 6 p.m.) to get the opportunity to experience the event in full. Bring cash for refreshments and print sales (or use the on-site ATM business, EMCegghead ATM, which charges a $3 fee).

Oh, and the free shuttles pull up on the parking lot side of the Fruitvale BART station, not the bus area.

Upcoming F3 at the Cotton Mill

The next F3 at the Cotton Mill is scheduled for 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, April 19. For information and updates, check out F3’s website and Facebook page. Free admission.

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Elsewhere in Oakland

You might be familiar with Berkeley-based author Adam Mansbach thanks to his (in)famous “children’s book for adults,”Go the Fuck to Sleep,” but Mansbach is far more than a profane picture book author. He’s also the guy behind “Wake the Fuck Up,” the Obama ad featuring Samuel L. Jackson that garnered 1.7 million views in its first 24 hours; a poet, author, essayist, screenwriter, graphic novel writer and cultural critic; co-host of the KPFA radio show “Father Figures;” and an overall well-rounded dude.

His newest novel, “Rage Is Back,” is a big, bold, graffiti-and-grit-filled novel set in the modern underbelly of New York City. Join Mansbach at SoleSpace this weekend as he’s joined by NYC street art legend Blake “KEO” Lethem.

TONIGHT, Friday, Feb. 1, is a First Friday preview of Lethem and Mansbach’s show. Tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 2, is a $5 official launch party at SoleSpace.

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In terms of the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 3, chances are that you’ve either already stocked up on beer and nachos or you’re planning to head to the hills to avoid it all. But maybe, instead of firing up the grill yourself, you’d prefer to go low-maintenance and catch the game at The New Parkway. A $10 ticket gets you a seat and a free drink ticket.

And speaking of drinks … there’s nothing like a perfectly formed fern in the froth on a morning latte to communicate love and commitment to the craft of latte art.

On Thursday, Feb. 7, catch the second installment of a six-seriesLatte Art Competition at Awaken Cafe in Downtown Oakland. It’s free to the public and $5 to compete. Here’s to taking coffee to a whole other level.
Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact goingout@oaklandlocal.com.

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