Burb's Eye View: Steampunk and cutthroat card games

On Saturday, I was asked to check out a time-traveling phone booth that landed in Burbank. It was one of those invitations you don’t refuse.

When I arrived, I was cordially ushered into the middle of an old-west gunfight. The local sheriff had just placed a suspect in jail and, in the name of justice and winning, shot at her for good measure. Sure, the bullets were cardboard and the two held their respective titles only on paper, but “Bang!” is a cutthroat card game and the emotional wounds can run deep.

“Shooting someone while they’re in your jail is a little questionable,” cried an incredulous Kaya Cummings, who watched Alessandro Signorini flip over each card that indicated she’d been “shot.”

They joined about 40 other game players outside Clockwork Couture Saturday for International Tabletop Day, an event devoted to role-playing card and board games.

Besides the shootout, I visited a group of school bullies gleefully stealing each other’s pennies in the appropriately titled “Lunch Money,” while at a table next to me a Jedi sought to wrest control of the universe from a young lady clad in Victorian-era replica garb.

Overseeing the calamitous fray was “head troublemaker” Donna Ricci, who when she’s not hosting gamers in front of her shop, is the founder of Clockwork Couture. Last November, she opened the shop on Main Street in Burbank when online sales of her steampunk couture grew too big for her living room.

And what is steampunk? For a definition, I asked Trip Hope, resplendent in vest and old-timey pantaloons.

“It’s a genre of Victorian-era science fiction, where the highest level of technology is steam power,” he said. “It’s a wonderful excuse to dress in Victorian-era corsets and vests … if people dress up in steampunk, they look amazing in it.”

Hope is a member of the League of S.T.E.A.M., a group that hosts a Web series in addition to performing live events. They’re the embodiment of the shop’s style, where old English hats and dresses are sold along with boots and waistcoats that look as if Jules Verne might have owned them.

Ricci opened the store as an online retailer in 2008, but with last year’s expansion, she now has a retail space and a place to adopt out cats from high-kill shelters. A chalkboard announces upcoming events, such as a clothing swap on April 21 for anyone looking to find new duds for free.

It’s a haven for steampunk and a thriving business, a grand and lovingly rendered display of geekdom and a safe place for kitties. It’s as if everything on the Internet was put into a stewpot and simmered until it was shiny.

Upon leaving, I walk by the giant blue police phone box. It serves a dual purpose as the “Time And Relative Dimension In Space,” or TARDIS, time machine from the BBC series “Doctor Who.” Since Ricci and friends built it with the help of Grant Imahara from Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” it’s become the unofficial mascot of the store.

This TARDIS does very little actual time-traveling, though the store behind it has the 19th century covered. Suddenly, I’m feeling woefully underdressed.


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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