I was just turning the key to the door of my “gallery” at 5:30 p.m., take-out dinner from Urban Solace in a paper bag, when four boisterous women surrounded me Saturday night.

“Are you opening?”

“Can we come in?”

“Of course,” I replied.

The second Saturday of every month, I take the chairs, homey rugs and magazines out of the waiting room of a chiropractor’s office on Ray Street and turn the space into an art gallery filled with my work. It’s all part of Ray at Night, the longest-running monthly art walk in San Diego, a time when the block of Ray Street between University Avenue and North Park Way closes off to cars and turns up the artistic volume. Art by local and nationally known artists is shown at more than 25 gallery and business venues on the street and in the surrounding area, including the chiropractor’s office I had just turned into a gallery.

Ray at Night includes live music in the street, fun foods, wine-and-cheese receptions, and often performances by dancers and artists. This Saturday’s event was only my second time to be in the middle of the mayhem. I don’t worry about selling because most people passing through seem more focused on entertainment.

I’m pretty much stuck in the fishbowl of my gallery at the corner of Ray and North Park Way, but I chat with the people coming in, and look out the window at the people going by. Here are some of the things I saw this weekend and the people I met.

I usually show up about 4:30 p.m. to set up the gallery. The event officially starts at 6 p.m., but Christa Oftedal of Lakeside and her gang of three girlfriends wanted to see art before they hit the Kava Bar across the street. So I tucked my dinner under a table and showed them around.

Christa had roped her three friends, who didn’t really know each other, into going out for the evening. “I thought they would be a cool fit.” Only one of them had been to Ray at Night before.

Christa Oftedal (center in purple) and her three friends make an evening of Ray at Night.Photo: Dani Dodge

Since I would be sitting at the gallery the entire evening, I asked the foursome to come back after their adventure and tell me what they liked best (other than my own art, of course). While they protested the caveat, they set out on their assigned mission with enthusiasm.

A catering truck parked outside my glass storefront rolled up its serving window and started selling cupcakes.

A mother pulling her son by the hand came in. Her cell phone rang with a witch’s cackle, probably left over from Halloween.

“Yeah, I’m at Ray at Night,” she shouted into the phone. “I wanted to come before the crowds got here.”

As she was distracted by the call, her son, who looked to be 4 or 5, led her outside to the cupcake truck.

“No! Not before dinner,” I heard her say as she made her way down the street.

Mick Donahue, a self-proclaimed regular at the art walk, came in next. She is approaching retirement in the medical field and lives nearby.

Mick Donahue is a regular at Ray at Night. Photo: Dani Dodge

Then it got busy. Rushes of people. Live music floating in. People painting in the street. Cake decorators showing off, presumably with butter cream, but I’m so far away I can’t tell. Cirello Gallery (http://www.cirellogallery.com/) across the street packed wall-to-wall with people.

At 7:30 p.m., Hector Penalosa, a Golden Hill musician, and Natasha Palmer of Portland, Ore., came in.

“I told her it would be happening here,” Penalosa said. “If you do art yourself, you get inspired by it.”

Hector Penalosa and his girlfriend Natasha Palmer check out Ray at Night for artistic inspiration before his gig at bar Eleven. Photo: Dani Dodge

The two met through mutual friends at a Tiki karaoke party in Las Vegas. Both of them travel a lot. She works for Travelocity, and he plays bass and tours the world with the band the Zeros.

“You know, this is really good,” Hector said looking around.

“Thank you,” I replied.

“Oh, no, I meant the music,” he said quickly. “Your stuff is great.”

They headed out to see as much as they could before he had to report for soundcheck at the bar Eleven.

A few minutes later, Mick Donahue, the woman who lives nearby, stopped back by to tell me what she’d seen. She loved the whole scene that night but was especially enamored with the work of Pat Downing, a metal artist, who had a tent set up in the street.

A half hour later, Christa Oftedal and her three friends were finishing up their night. They were giddy but swore they were only drinking nonalcoholic beverages at the healthy Mystic Waters Kava Bar.

They were all in agreement. Their favorite art of the evening was a painting by Joel Sharp of a nude male called “Angels do sleep.”

“That angel was spread-eagle!” one of them said, laughing.

“He had heart-shaped junk,” chortled another.

Christa insisted I must see it so the others stayed at the gallery while we dashed across the street. Sure enough, there was the beautifully painted angel in all his glory.

After I ran back to my gallery, I suggested they should all chip in to buy it and then each of them would get it three months of the year.

“I’m not sure my husband would get it,” one noted.

We were all laughing so hard, people came in and stared. It was 8 p.m. and the evening had just started. My Monte Diego sandwich had gotten cold, but it was still delicious. I ate just enough so I could survive the rest of the night.

Want to see for yourself? The next Ray at Night is 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Dec. 11.

Dani Dodge paints, writes and likes to play with animals, including her mutt named Cezanne: Follow her blog here at VOSD’s Behind the Scene, and find her on the web and on Facebook. You can drop her a line at dani@danidodge.com and follow her on Twitter.

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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