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I am standing in a ballroom in the midst of a hundred surreal characters part of a Mad Hatter lineup. Next to me is a man whose large woolly head and horns tower at least two feet above my head. In front of me, a woman in chiffon and sequins waves her arms loosely in a dance. I tilt my head at her and glance at my friend standing next to me, whose expression mirrors mine. There is no need for words. What the heck is happening right now?

But as strange as this scene is, it makes complete sense this is town. That is how it is here — a scrap paper collage of Wonderland and quirkiness and kitsch. It’s cheesy yet endearing.

There is not a person I have met so far that doesn’t have a story of contradiction.

There there are people who left prestigious careers to become artists, now propping their artwork in empty storefronts in an effort to breath life into a deserted downtown. There are those living a second life after kids and families. And those fighting to change the narrative about this place, which by all logic should be a coveted spot on the waterfront a stone’s throw away from the city. Instead, it is marred by headlines of gang violence, drugs, bankruptcy and homelessness.

But that all plays out at the peripheries. At its core is music and marinas and free coffee tastings and farmer’s markets and strange dance performances in costume.

The next event coming up is a pirate festival. Because why wouldn’t there be pirates in Wonderland?

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