Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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31 August 2008
Temple Burn

the crew piles into the RV for one last mealThe first order of business, after a breakfast mimosa, was tackling the cleanup of the RV, which looked hungover after yesterday's rampage. Fortunately, with four of us working together, it didn't take long to clear out the empty cups, wash the dishes, set aside random personal items left behind, and sweep at least some of the dust out. Ready for the next party!

dancing girls, and a duck on the stripper poleThe afternoon was surprisingly chilly, which didn't bode well for the evening's activities. After a brief stop at Fur Bar -- dancing girls and a duck on a pole, what more could you ask for? -- we whipped up a clams marinara dinner and got ready for the Temple Burn.

It was a long, long hike out there, as expected, and it was indeed bitchin' cold! Fortunately we were bolstered by Eileen's mostly-whiskey-with-a-splash-of-coke communal beverage. Somehow we managed to arrive at the Temple mostly together, despite a stop to see Ember's mushroom art burn and a visit to the porta-potties. About a dozen of us joined hands to form a human chain, and wandered into the crowd to find a spot. By the time we settled in, it was nearly time for the Temple to burn. There wasn't much pageantry, or at least we couldn't see much of anything going from where we were sitting. The crowd got silent and sat down, and a woman sang an Eastern-sounding chant over the loudspeakers. Very slowly, the Temple started to go up. It had a totally different feel from last night's burn, no hoopla, no fireworks, no techno music, just the sound of the fire crackling and the occasional sniffle from the crowd. Except for the howling, frigid wind -- and one asshat up front who just wouldn't sit down -- it was quite peaceful and contemplative.

the Temple burns... and burns...I'm not sure how long it actually took for the Temple to fall, but the structure turned out to be pretty durable. First the top layer caved in, then eventually even the huge pillars at the corners toppled over, bringing the entire thing down in a slow-motion crash. A symbol of the boundless nature of the American Dream? Or a testament to the durability of the Basura Sagrada we all carry around with us? You decide...

By that time, the crowd was done, frozen and ready to head for home. Which was unfortunate because a gigantic dust storm chose that moment to kick into high gear. And thus commenced one of the most surreal moments in an already-surreal week. Imagine, if you will, trying to walk through a blinding snowstorm, people criss-crossing in front of you in random

patterns, no real sense of which direction is home, no streets or signs or landmarks to guide the way, visibility limited to about two feet. It was absolutely terrifying. Ahead, what seemed like miles away, a dim beacon shone weakly. I had no idea what or where it was, but it was at least some sign of civilization, better than wandering forever on the unforgiving open Playa. So we headed towards it. For what felt like hours. It was a cold, grueling, hellacious trek. Radical self-reliance, my ass! What kind of insane event organizers let a bunch of drunk/high/hippie-ravers wander the frozen wilderness in the middle of the night without so much as a directional sign? The outrage!

Well, obviously we made it back to camp without anyone having to gnaw off a leg or roast a campmate over an open flame for sustenance. But it was quite a frustrating end to the week. Irritated, and frozen to the bone, there was nothing left to do but burrow in and try to sleep.


Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment

30 August 2008
The Man Burns in Zero Days!
Ehm, but, uh, what if he doesn't???

Burn Day. The main event. Culmination of the yearlong burner countdown (any communication from the Burning Man team inevitably includes the line "the Man burns in [x] days"). The big day had finally arrived. Strap in kiddies!

the Man, Pringles, and lots of playa dustWe began the day with a ride out to the Temple of Basura Sagrada, an enormous structure meticulously constructed from burnable trash, recycled materials, and "the tossed-off detritus of American society." On the way, we passed by the Man, a flurry of pre-burn activity cordoned off by Rangers guarding the perimeter. The wind was starting to kick up, and it was getting hard to see. On the path between the Man and the Temple, we had to stop a few times until we could see more than two feet in front of our bikes.

Temple of Basura Sagradaabundance at the TempleAt the Temple, the first thing I noticed was the din of myriad cans and metal sheets and hanging wooden pieces clanging together. Very different from last year's model, which was only appropriate because this year signified a new group of Temple designers and builders. It had a groovy double-helix spiral staircase in the middle, allowing visitors to climb up to the second level for a phenomenal view of the Man and the city. The ever-present tribal drums and chanting were taking place on the ground level. Palpable emotion filled the air as people brought items of tribute and catharsis, wrote messages on the Temple walls with markers, or just sat in silent contemplation. It's a deeply personal experience to contribute to this project, whether in celebration or sadness or a combination of both.

oktapodi enjoys the Temple spiresPlus the people-watching was stellar, as the dust storm continued to gather force. A woman with antlers strapped to her head. An entire family of bees -- mama bee and two little baby girl bees. All manner of bedouin sheiks and bellydancers and scarf-swathed travelers trying to shield against the elements. And more than a handful of brides and grooms in every variation of the traditional wedding garb. Apparently this was *the* day to get hitched at the Burn.

spontaneous dance party aboard the BummerAfter about an hour of contemplation and people-watching, we descended the staircase and made our way back to camp. Taking a more direct route back, we passed right by the enormous "BUMMER" art installation, a supersized Humvee measuring 38 feet long x 18 feet wide x 16 feet high, painted khaki on one side and bright colors on the other. Well, you can't just pass by something like that without stopping to climb inside it! And while we were on the roof, an art car passed by blaring tunes. It deposited a few of its passengers onto the Bummer, which instantly became a Bummer Dance Party. What better way to epitomize the duality of the American Dream...

accordion players at Kaleidoscope KampAnother stop en route to home was Kaleidoscope Kamp, home of Alina and Elina who'd visited us yesterday. They beckoned us to come in and enjoy some fabulous Persian treats, including a stellar mint lemonade concoction that made me want to fall to the floor and weep with gratitude. (Did I mention it was hot out there??) Add a pair of accordion players, and you have yourself a party! They also had some kaleidoscope spinny thing out front, but I was far too overheated to consider such a thing.

Back at GBOF, Pringles fired up the Barefoot Bliss again, while I opted to chill out in the RV. I used cooking as an excuse to fire up the generator and wallow in the AC for a bit. There'd been some talk of a big communal dinner before the Man burned, complete with a birthday cake for Ember, so I decided to whip up a big batch of tuna pesto shells to contribute to the festivities.

And that's when all hell broke loose.
(In a good way.)

The dust storm cranked up into a total whiteout. Major. Freakadelic. A few people had already come into the RV, and bit by bit about two dozen more piled in before the end of the day. It was a full-on fest! We ate, we drank, we jaminated. We weren't sure the Man would burn that night. We didn't much care.

oktapodi goes down a bad road with Bitchezz footrubs continue, despite the impending whiteout Ember's birthday cake pull my... string Cookie & Mama Love in the loft

Highlights from that festive Burn Afternoon Whiteout:
* Oktapodi gets violated by Bitchezz and Forward (hey, *that's* not my Happy Place!)
* filling out the census... all day long...
* weird Kegelcisor people
* Heather wants Beatles. Lee wants Metallica. Pringles delivers: Beatallica!
* Mama Love luvvvvvvs on some Malibu!
* cake for Ember (and *damn* was it sticky to clean up the next day!)
* group primal scream at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again" (yowwwwwwwwwww!)
* Lee lays on the horn and Solveig is miffed (but who sleeps at Burning Man?!?)

Lee wears half the crinoline to the BurnAfter listening to the exceedingly unhelpful Burning Man Radio all afternoon, the group decided to head out to the Man and see if His Dudeship might not burn this evening after all. By about 9pm, it was finally starting to clear up, and it turned out to be a most excellent night. We all scrambled to get our costumes together. I gave Lee half my crin, which looked absolutely stellar on him, and we all trooped out towards the Esplanade. Of course the group got completely split up, and we wound up hanging with a bunch of firefighters. (Actual firefighters, from SF, with a big red truck and everything.) As expected, there was lots of commotion, lots of drunk/stoned/high/just plain out of it people wandering around. I was busy trying not to have my flounce go up like a Roman candle because of the ash from some idiot's cigarette when I had the following Mensan conversation:

Drunk/Stoned/High Dude: Oh, hey, did you get married today?
Me: No, this is just a costume.
D/S/H: That's so cool, it must've been a beautiful ceremony! I saw one or two on the Playa today!
Me: No, it's not real, it's...
D/S/H: Oh, hey, is this your husband?
Me: No, we're not...
D/S/H: Congratulations, you two!

Riiiiiiiight. Party on, Wayne.

the Man burnsfireworks as the Burn beginsWith little warning -- and, surprisingly, no fire conclave -- it was time to burn the Man. First his arms raised. And the Rangers and other volunteers assumed their position around the perimeter. And then the fireworks. Lots and LOTS of fireworks. Then a gigantic fireball from somewhere within the tower holding the Man aloft, and he began to burn. The whole thing took a while to catch, and then another while for him to fall over. And at that point the crowd rushed in and started dancing/drumming/chanting around the enormous bonfire. I had no desire to get closer... Not only was I attired in a highly-flammable ensemble, but the smoke from all the burning wood was wreaking havoc on my contact lenses. Honestly, by that point I was a bit over it. I was just happy to find a spot to sit down and observe the chaos raging around us. Art cars blaring musical cacophany. People dancing around the remains of the man. Cranes and lasers and more musical mishmash off in the distance. A bit of impromptu fire-spinning from the disappointed conclave members who never got to perform, despite a whole year of practice.

The full-frontal 7-day weekend was starting to catch up with us, and sheer exhaustion set in. We did try to find the rest of our GBOFers, who were supposedly at 11:00. But it's surprising how disorienting everything gets once the Man is no longer there to indicate which way is 6:00. After wandering around a bit, we opted to go home, try to warm up, and catch a few hours of sleep.


Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment

29 August 2008
A day of mellow hospitality

Barefoot Bliss

In keeping with the "one day on, one day off" motif, today was a very chillaxed day. Pringles set up his "Barefoot Bliss" footcare station -- his gift, to anyone needing respite from Playa Foot or just wanting to kick back for a bit -- while I played hospitality manager. Together we fed & watered & pampered almost two dozen lovely ladies who wandered our way. It was a fun way to spend the day, and we met a wide variety of people, from Danish Julie to recent bride Elina. Lots of good conversation, good times!

The evening was just as mellow, with a few hours of hanging out on the "front stoop" with our campmates, and a phenomenal sunset that provided some stunning photo opps:

The American Dream, burner-style Raise the Bar at sunset sunset over the porta-potties, how romantic! bikes at sunset Pringles at sunset

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

28 August 2008
Who needs art when you can converse with a Purple People-Eater?

Barbie Death Camp & Wine Bistro

Whew, a busy day! In an attempt to make up for yesterday's sloth, I took a look through the "Where What When" guide to see what might be worth checking out. This extensive program guide lists all organized activities for the entire Burn... meaning anything anyone took the time to write up and send in ahead of time. It could be anything from sunrise yoga classes to Libertarian tea parties to tutu-making workshops. The first half of the guide lists one-off events by date and time, and the second half lists repeating events that happen at the same time each day. After spending about half an hour trying to process all this information and circling events that looked interesting, I got completely overwhelmed and blew a circuit in my brain and needed a time-out with a cold beverage.

I recovered enough to make a selection: hop on an art car and take a tour of some of the more far-flung Playa art. This seemed like a good choice for two reasons: (1) we'd been been trying to get a ride on an art car, and (2) a lot of the big art installations were pretty far away. Hey, we could kill two birds with one stone! One small catch: the departure point was on the other side of the city. But it was in the direction of another camp we'd wanted to visit anyway, so we decided to make it work.

We geared up with the appropriate accountrements -- goggles, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, water, dust masks, bike locks, and a few sundry items -- hopped on our bikes, and pedaled off. About five bumpy, dusty, hot minutes into this little trek I had a small meltdown as I realized my bike was completely uncomfortable and there was no way I was gonna make it. But what other choice did I have? Walking there was simply not an option. So I gritted my teeth and got back on the horse, so to speak. Not every minute at Burning Man can be a barrel of monkeys. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, even if my ass is killing me I will MAKE IT to 4:30 Plaza!

the French Maid Brigade at Barbie Death Camp & Wine BistroAs planned, we did stop on the way at Pee Funnel Camp, which, as the name would imply, was a camp giving out Pee Funnels. A wonderful public service to all those with two X chromosomes! En route to the art tour, we encountered Barbie Death Camp & Wine Bistro. Huzzah! I'd been looking forward to visiting this camp since I first heard about it. Where else could you revel in the destruction of The Blonde One and her various compatriots, while enjoying a festive glass of either red or white wine? Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the French Maid Brigade came by and dusted everyone off. (And we were all sooooooo dirrrrrrrty.) A moment of sublime synchronicity, to be sure.

one-fezzed, two-bagged, walking purple people-eaterBy that point, it was 2pm, the appointed time for the art car tour. We made it to what we thought was the correct location, but the guide and the map are two separate documents and of course we'd only brought the guide. (We found out later that we were at 4:30 Portal instead of 4:30 Plaza. Good grief.) But, once again, the Playa provides. What could have been a frustrating experience turned into one of the highpoints of the event, as we ran into a gentleman decked out entirely in purple and accessorized with not one but two gold bags. After discussing the finer points of travel in India, he reached into the depths of his gold suitcase and produced two George Bush voodoo dolls. Brilliant! After that we attempted to find a reflexology workshop, but it was already full, so we checked out the Topless Teeter Totter of Terror and had a glass of cold lemonade a nearby camp. At this point the heat was just past the point of ridiculosity, so we headed for home, stopping for a bit of shade at Bacon Camp. Like ya do.

Mama Love & Bitchezz ARE the American DreamBack at GBOF, all I wanted was some shade and massive amounts of hydration. But somehow I found myself caught up in a fire safety meeting, and since I was too hot & tired to move, I just sat through it. While many of the folks in our camp would be spinning fire at the conclave that performs just before the Man burns, several others would be volunteering as fire safeties. I have to admit I wasn't really listening to much of what was being said at this meeting, but it was good to know that *somebody* would be out there keeping an eye on the flaming stuff.

After a quick dinner of Thai peanut chicken and salad, and an even quicker clean-up (there's only so clean you can ever really get, with all this dust around), it was time for an evening of cat-herding. The night's highlights:

* mysterious smoke rings appear in the sky
* The Wet Spots perform at Center Camp
* Spike's Vampire Bar... what the hell were they serving, anyway??
* Pringles wins an elephant g-string at the funk bar
* I Heart Unicorns
* Bollywood tunes at Ashram Galactica
* PEX's blacklight opera
* a visit to Porn & Eggs (the leopard bride performs!)
* DIY dance party at Duck Bar
* Tree of Knowledge
* nightcap of popcorn tasting (JiffyPop=scary!)


Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
27 August 2008
Today, the circus comes to me
Plus a trek to the Opulent Temple

I gathered up a small posse around noon, and we tried to find the Prescription Burn pancake breakfast, really we did. We rode all up and down Hummer Street, asked around, showed off the temp tatoo, tried to find the good docs. But nobody seemed to know anything. It was a bit frustrating -- there was a pinky swear involved, people! -- but a good Burning Man lesson. Things don't necessarily play out as planned, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun along the way! En route back to camp, we were beckoned to come visit Juicy Moosey's and had a lovely shot of JD to start the day off right. Breakfast of champions!

For most of the rest of the day, I just hung around camp and let the circus come to me. I found this to be a nice perk of our camp location, just two blocks off the Esplanade: lots of traffic from interesting people and fabulous art cars. I didn't even have to venture outside GBOF camp to witness all sorts of innnnnnnnteresting stuff.

dragon art car penis art car Israeli clown cars neon art car

slightly scary beaded dude Bron the crazy Aussie gives Bitchezz an adjustment Lee peruses the Constitution  nice 'stache Codrin! T from The Motel isn't sure what to make of us

A few of today's highlights:

* Seattle Heather brings her 16-year-old daughter by for a foot massage, but instead winds up taking her next door to get teabagged for science. (Mother of The Year, I tells ya!)

* Snap into a Slim Jim!

* Codrin is soooooo drunk... and why are my hands green?

* Lee peruses the Constitution.

* Bitchezz gets a yoga adjustment (and an earful of yackety-yack) from a crazy random Aussie. Maybe that'll teach him to stop offering bike assistance to hot damsels in distress. Probably not.

* "T" from The Motel stops by to shock us with tales of debauchery, and we wind up warping his fragile little mind instead.

Evening. The air finally started to cool down a bit. Time to attend a wedding! I didn't know much more about this affair, other than it involved two DC-based friends of GBOF, and it was supposed to happen at sunset on the Esplanade. Ehm, OK, but what time is sunset? Nobody really knew. We aimed for about 7:30, and got cleaned up as best we could, and tried to herd the cats. Ah, another Burning Man lesson! It's only ever possible to get a maximum of three people coordinated at any one place at any one time. The corollary to this theory is that you'll always be missing *one* person, even if ten others seem to be ready to go. Accordingly, by the time we had a quorum, and rode down to where the nuptials were supposed to be, we'd missed it. Oh well. We did manage to enjoy some champagne and cake at the reception, so it's allllll good.

The main event for the night was a "white" party at the Opulent Temple, a large scale art & sound camp on the far reaches of the Esplanade. (Keep in mind that GBOF camp is at 8:00, and the Opulent Temple is at 2:00, so it's just about as far away as it could possibly be.) The Opulent Temple is a collaboration of some folks from the SF underground community, and consistently draws top DJs like Tiesto and Oakenfold. So we knew it'd be worth the trek, and we were right!

Despite losing Bitchezz at one point, and almost picking up some random whiskey-swigging aggro-girl, we all managed to make the journey across the open Playa, with Lunar leading the way. Taking a short cut across the Playa, rather than following the slightly smoother path around the Esplanade, was certainly the quickest way to get there. But it was definitely a challenge. Without warning, smooth patches of Playa yielded to huge sand dunes or deep ruts. It's hard enough to avoid these in the daytime, but at night it was near impossible. After skidding horizontally off my bike for the third time (you should see the lovely technicolor bruise on my right shin! now that's art) I decided it was time to walk the damn thing. Playa One, Sonia Zero. 

The Opulent Temple (photo courtesy Stefan Werner)another view of the party, but unfortunately my camera couldn't quite hack itMiraculously, we all managed to meet back up at the dance party, Bitchezz included. (How in the world did Mama Love find him? Must be some kind of homing beacon.) Even on the outskirts, it was a thunderously loud mass of about a thousand white-clad, glowstick-twirling ravers, with a DJ spinning tunes in a booth that periodically shot out huge flames from between enormous projection screens. A flimsy-looking platform rocked and thumped about 20 feet above it all, with more dancers and twirlers and bubble-blowers, and flames blasting from the corner pillars. One hell of a party!

us on the platform at the Opulent TemplePringles and I climbed up the rickety platform and sat on the edge, taking in the view for a good while. It was a great vantage point to people-watch, and the fear of imminent doom only heightened the experience. Fire-spinners and twirlers of various glowy items did their thing off to one side while the crowd danced before the DJ and projection screens. Just beyond the perimeter of the party, enormous art cars rolled by blasting their own tunes. And beyond that, stood the Man, hundreds of flickering theme camps behind him. It was a pretty amazing sight. And another "life doesn't suck" moment!

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
26 August 2008
Exploring the neighborhood
A first dusty voyage through insanity

We awoke in the morning to find a very different scene. The sun had come out, the wind and dust had stopped, and while it was still a little chilly, it was warming up nicely. Thaaaaat's better! Apparently we missed most of the debilitating 12-hour Dust Storm From Hell yesterday, but today was shaping up to be a marvelous sunny day. Timing is everything.

We took most of the morning to chat with our campmates, set stuff up, and get our bearings. Since we'd decided to conserve space in the RV's black water tank and use the public facilities during the day, it was nice to discover that our camp was located just around the corner from the porta-potties... close enough to get there quite easily, but not close enough to smell it! Across from the pots was a two-story club camp called Raise The Bar that pumped out music all day and night. Fortunately it was pretty decent music, for the most part, including a good bit of Thievery Corporation. Sweet!

Mama Love with some kickass bikesPart of the setup, besides re-arranging items in the RV and some of its many storage spaces, was getting the bikes Playa-ready. Having a bike at Burning Man is essential, because of the long distances between points in Black Rock City. However, this is one of the few cases in life where having MORE pieces of flair is actually a good thing. Because we bought our bikes used in Sacramento, we didn't have as much opportunity to sass 'em up as others in our camp, but we did try to deck them out with a few fun accessories from home. Mark found a great horn for his bike. I attached a few flowers that had previously been used as napkin rings at my Aunt Barbara's Easter table, plus some pink duct tape that went smashingly with the bike's pink & purple paint job. We affixed the headlamps -- critically important for both lighting the way and helping prevent people from smashing into you, nothing worse than being a darkwad! -- and planned to add a few glowsticks after dark. They weren't nearly as stylin' as Bitchezz's Teenage Mutant Turtlemobile, or Cookie's Bugs Bunny bike with its own portable shade structure, but our bikes were ready for action.

A word about Playa nicknames. In keeping with the "radical self-expression" tenant of The Burn, lots of veterans adopt a Burner name. This is meant to reflect a key aspect of your inner self, one you often have to keep hidden while in polite society. Or sometimes it's a funny name that describes a situation you found yourself in once, or a personality quirk, or something that just tickles your fancy. One of our campmates is known as Ember, short for Nuclear Ember, which is an anagram of her full name. (Geeks rule!) Our dear friends Tony & Christina become Bitchezz & Mama Love in Burner circles. Mark is known on the Playa as Pringles. I, having already had many aliases in my checkered past, decided not to adopt a Playa name, unless a good one presented itself during the course of the week.

Bikes decked out, costumes unpacked, Playa names dusted off, we were ready to go out exploring. By this point, the heat of the afternoon had set in. Plus, we realized about a block into our little jaunt, all those warnings about the Playa being soft and unpredictable weren't just hype! See, the Black Rock Desert is what's left of a prehistoric lakebed that has dried up and turned to a fine sandy powder. Hence the name "Playa," which means "beach" in Spanish. Consider riding a bicycle on the wet hard-packed sand near the oceanfront... challenging, but not impossible. Then imagine a big dry sand dune popping up in the middle of that wet sand. Ay-yeeeeee! Add to that a bunch of ruts and bumps and potholes, akin to the finest DC streets, and you have yourself quite a sand trap. Water trucks went by from time to time, spraying down water in an attempt to flatten and smooth out the "streets," but this didn't help. (Except that it was always amusing to see a bunch of dirty ragged Burners scampering behind the trucks, looking for a free shower.) It was tough going, to say the least.

art and hoopers at Center CampWe did manage to visit Center Camp, which, as the name would imply, is at the center of things and provides a space to display medium-sized art installations, perform on one of several stages, practice hooping or yoga or any other movement that strikes your fancy, or purchase coffee. Ice and coffee are the only two things you can buy at Black Rock City. Everything else, from snacks to mixed drinks to handmade crafts, is gifted. It's quite a different modality from the "default" world. Trying to explain this to people who have never been to a Burn is a bit challenging. It's not really a barter system, as you're not expecting to get anything in return when you give someone a gift. Some gifts are quite elaborate. Many big theme camps have fully-stocked bars, lead workshops, or provide gourmet meals. A lot of people bring necklaces or tshirts or stickers or other handmade items to give out. Gifting can be as simple as passing out donuts (which I helped do at one point, and it was amazing how grateful people were for a donut hole at 2am) or it can be as elaborate as setting up the Playa's only four-star luxury resort (such as the Ashram Galactica, conveniently situated right on our block). It's a truly astonishing system.

The Golden Cafe King of the Lazy-Ass Fuckers Mermaid Party Bus, right in our neighborhood Nemo as Coach Rico

Some other highlights from that afternoon's jaunt:
* visiting and then returning to the Golden Cafe, a delicious bar with a live
music stage next door where Pringles plugged in his guitar and jaminated (plus he struck up a fortuitous conversation with Heather and Gregarious, who turned out to be excellent companions the rest of the week)

* a stroll down Bonneville Street to the Lazy-A** F**kers Camp, where we were greeted with the Breast Analysis Wheel (stolen from the camp across the street) and a man with a cardboard box on his head, doling out Free Breast Examinations

* Nemo's "Coach Rico" outfit... brilliant!

The Man at NightAfter a quick dinner, we headed out with Forward & Crystal to check out the Man. This year's theme was The American Dream, so the tower holding up His Dudeship was decked out with international flags. Someone pointed out that there was no American flag on the tower. Oooooooo, deep! This was another chance to check out the Esplanade (not in an RV this time!), the innermost concentric circle closest to the Man where most of the big party camps are located. Techno music thumped and bumped from every corner. Crazily lit up art cars, bikes, and people streamed by. Fire spinners did their thing at Fire Conclave in the middle of it all. It was nuts! From the top of the Man's tower, the view was unbelievable, like being in the middle of the world's biggest rave, on the moon. Not bad for the first day!


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25 August 2008
But not before a triple Wal-Mart pitstop, oy vey

Whew, what a long day! Things eventually came together, but it took a while. Nothing having to do with Burning Man happens quickly or efficiently, so we might as well get used to it. We're on Playa Time now, baby!

The morning consisted of various errands and coordinations, including:
* hooking up with Andre, a fellow CouchSurfer who rideshared our RV
* going to pick up the RV
* meeting "the Bike Lady" who sold us our bikes on Sac Craigslist
* doing an alcohol run
* stopping at Spencer's to replace Keith's confiscated lava lamp
* not one, not two, but THREE Wal-Mart trips (which is about three more than my typical limit)

Crystal waits with a mountain of gearFortunately, Andre turned out to be not only a cool guy, but a very helpful little Burnmonkey as well. Since he had a car in Sac, we were able to split up some of the tasks a bit, so we left Sac by about 4pm instead of three days later. ;) Four of us went in Andre's Mini to get the RV, and Crystal waited behind with the gear at the hotel. I agreed to be one of the designated drivers of The Mothership, as long as I didn't have to drive at night or in any tight spaces. The thing's humungous! But it should be a comfortable living space for the four of us.

While at the RV place, we met up with three friendly docs who were also headed to the Burn. (What gave it away? The huge skull perched atop a walking staff, maybe?) Dr Lothario, Dr Dre, and Dr Dominico were part of a camp called Prescription Burn. In exchange for some lovely temporary tatoos they made me pinky-swear to bring all my friends out to their pancake brunch on Wednesday at noon. Sold!

Once we finally got started, the drive was pretty uneventful. Mark drove the first shift: two hours to Reno on Rt 80, through the mountains with lots of ups and downs and pressure changes that were tough on the ears. Moment of Zen: entering the state of Nevada with "Black Hole Sun" playing at full blast. You can almost smell the Playa dust!

Sonia & Andre ring the Virgin BellKeith took the next shift, another 2.5 hours of driving. Around 1am, we approached Gerlach, the last town before Black Rock City, and I swapped in for the last stretch. It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd expected, at least not on the straight two-lane road. We arrived at the gate and sat in line for a while, as an ocean of dust blew past us in horizontal waves. At the greeters' stand, Andre and I had to get out for the traditional Virgin ritual of rolling in the dust and then ringing the bell. We did this as quickly as possible as it was absolutely freezing outside, not to mention windy and dusty. Welcome home! What the hell have I gotten myself into??

Finding CouchSurfing Camp to drop off Andre proved to be quite a challenge. Black Rock City is laid out like a clock face: the Man's in the center, "time" streets radiate out like spokes from that center, and alphabetical car-themed streets are arranged in concentric circles. So, theoretically, finding 6:00 and Dart should be pretty simple. Hah! Except that half the street signs were missing or turned around, and the few that were in the right place/orientation were almost impossible to read in the dark. And did I mention the dust blowing at us in thick horizontal sheets? We stopped and asked about six different people, but everyone else seemed to be just as lost as we were. Finally a charming Brit named Emma hopped in the passenger seat of the RV and took us there. Ah, the Burner spirit, *there* it is! Once we dropped Andre off (in the frigid dark, to set up his poor lil' tent) we had to find Great Balls of Fire camp, which was supposed to be just a few blocks away at 8:00 and Bonneville. Despite one truly turned-around a moment where we found ourselves driving on the Esplanade (oops! look kids, it's Big Ben!) we managed to get to the intersection in question. At that point the other three got out and walked around to find camp, while I stayed in the RV trying to make sense of what I was seeing outside. People passed by on bikes and on foot, in various stages of costumery, some with the requisite glowsticks or other lights, and others just darkwad blobs in the gloomy lunar landscape. With no street lights, and almost no moon, it was truly pitch black out there. Fortunately the trio was able to find GBOF camp, and with the three of them waving like the ground crew on an airport tarmac, I parallel parked the mothership into our spot. so much for not driving at night in tight spaces! Never mind, the eagle had landed, at around 3am. We cleared out just enough space in the RV to find the beds, and sacked out.

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24 August 2008
Once again, the petty indignities of air travel

this pretty much sums up how I feel about air travel

Any day that requires getting up before the sun rises is off to a bad start, in my book at least. But I have to say that despite the usual hassles and heartaches of air travel, we managed to get to the opposite side of the country with a minimum of drama. Today's Moment of Zen came during our long layover in Denver, when I spotted Everclear frontman Art Alexakis standing in front of us, waiting to board a flight to Portland. I was too groggy to go up and say anything to him. But I will say this: seeing him close-up and in person, you can clearly tell he's lived a hard-charging life! The other fun moment was hearing two podcast shout-outs (one to me personally, and one to the Pulpology site) from our online friends Craig and Linda of The Indie Travel Podcast. Thanks, guys!

We arrived at Sacramento's "The SMurF" airport and called for a hotel shuttle. Happily, our three boxes arrived at the hotel a few days earlier. Keith & Crystal checked in a few hours later, and we even heard briefly from Tony & Christina. OK peeps, tomorrow: to the Playa!


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19 August 2008
Burning Logistics
Preparing for Burning Man

japonaise camp, c 2007 by philippe gladeThis morning, I sent three boxes of PlayaStuff out to Sacramento. I find it mildly retarded that it's more efficient to mail stuff to our destination, rather than take it on a plane, but such is the way of the world. Fortunately our dear friends Tony & Christina took a small load of stuff out with them in their RV, which they're driving cross-country as we speak: odd-shaped items like our huge umbrella, heavy things like a kryptonite lock for the bikes, and -praise the lord and pass the costumes- the Crinoline of Doom! True friends, they are. The BurningPlans are coming together nicely!

So what are our plans, exactly? We leave on Sunday and fly out of BWI to Sacramento to meet up with our RVmates Keith and Crystal. They've booked a room at a local Ramada, which will serve as our launch pad from and back into civilization. We'll stay there overnight on Sunday, our last night in a real climate-controlled bed for over a week. On Monday morning, three of us will head out to pick up the RV, and the fourth will remain back at the hotel to fill up the collapsible water bottles. It's recommended to bring about 2 gallons of water per person per day, as there is no running water out on the Playa. Burners need to bring their own drinking water, shower water, cooking water, etc, and we've got to bring it all in with us. Add in the fact that it's hot and dry out there on the desert (go figure), and we need to drink even more than usual, and you can start to see how important water is!

ant mischief art car, c 2007 NK GuyThe next crucial item to bring out to The Burn is a bike. Keith & Crystal ordered their bikes from Wal-Mart, but I was reluctant to buy a new item that we'll only be using for a week, so I found a supplier of used bikes on Sac's Craigslist. The Craigger to the rescue once again! Not only are we saving a good bit of money, but we're re-using an existing resource. And this woman is kind enough to meet us in Sac with the bikes.

Once the RV, water, and bikes have been acquired, it's time to head to Wal-Mart to pick up the other bikes and some other supplies like baby wipes, trash bags, and sunscreen. Then it's on to a grocery store to get our vittles for the week, stuff like pasta and peanut butter and dried fruits and nuts. Basic campfood. Although we will also try to find some slightly more epicurean items like that Indian food that comes in foil packets you can quickly heat up and toss over some couscous. Generally speaking, Burning Man is not about gourmet eats. But it's good to be prepared anyway!

gladiator at the Temple of Forgiveness, c 2007 by Heather WhiteHaving acquired all our supplies, and also a fellow CouchSurfer named Andre who is surfing our RV for a rideshare out to Black Rock City, we're off! We hope to get there before dark so we can find the other members of our impromptu camp, Great Balls of Fire. We're not an official organized Theme Camp (such as Barbie Death Camp or Spanky's Wine Bar) but about 20 of us from DC will be camping together to share resources and camraderie. Several GBOFers who are arriving at Burning Man early and will try to secure a space for us near another camp called The Philadelphia Experiment. I think we'll be fairly close to all the action, so we're definitely bringing several pairs of earplugs in the unlikely event that we'll actually want to get some sleep next week. With 55,000 people all practicing the art of Radical Self-Expression, in an environment where just about anything goes, I doubt there will be much time for sleep, but we will have to pace ourselves, for sure!

As promised, there will be tons of pics and stories to share from this experience. Unfortunately there's very little internet access on the Playa, so you won't be hearing much from us till after we return to civilization after Labor Day. So stay tuned!

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10 August 2008
Travel adventures in your own backyard
This weekend: alllll about Maryland

It's not often you get to be a tourist close to home. For some reason, this past weekend was all about schlepping to various sites in Maryland. Besides the fact that I work there (in Bethesda), or perhaps because of that very fact, MD is not a state I tend to spend a lot of leisure time in. But this weekend provided a cornucopia of cultural crusades:

Friday night
Sylvester's Saloon
Essex, MD

We journeyed to this fascinating establishment outside Baltimore in order to check out two bands, Full Throttle and Highwire. The bassist from Mark's band, Model Citizens, is in the former, and our righteous Vegan baker friend Kirsten is the lead singer in the latter. Both bands play hard rock/heavy metal covers. The music was loud, the drinks were strong, and the people-watching was FABULOUS. What a time warp! It was quite a trip in the way-back machine, to be certain. From the wood paneling on the walls, to the dulcet tones of Judas Priest, to the big hair and tight jeans of the B'more crowd (hon), if I squinted just a little I was transported back to my days at the West End Youth Center dances in the mid-80s. After the show we crashed at our friend's place in Fells Point, to break up the long drive home.

Saturday shopping interlude
everywhere and then some

Unfortunately the next day we didn't have much time to wander around Baltimore, which was truly a shame as the weather was unusually gorgeous. It was also a perfect day for the Virgin Mobile Fest, which we've attended in years past. Apparently the Gogol Bordello set was superlative. I was just excited to see a long-lost DC fave, Shudder to Think, in the lineup. Does anybody know if they're playing anywhere else in the area in the near future? Oh, Craiggy, we miss ya!

Anyway, the rest of our somewhat-hungover Saturday was spent shopping for a small dinner party with two of our Burner mates. On the menu: some Ethiopian and North African treats. This required several stops at the various ethnic grocery stores in our neighborhood, including the Middle Eastern Halalco, Asian H-Mart, and predominantly Latino Bestway. Oh, and we stopped at plain ol' whitey-whitebread Giant too. The result was a splendid repast of Doro Wat, Misr Wat, injera, and Moroccan Carrot Salad. Mmmmmm, just like mom used to make (not so much)! Plus some great planning about how four grown people who barely know each other are going to share an RV for a week on the Playa. Sounds like it could be next season's reality TV, but I think we're all of the same low-maintenance ilk and there will be minimal drama. Stay tuned!

Saturday night
80s house party
Severna Park, MD

After dinner it was off to the next stop on our whirlwind Maryland tour: an '80s-themed house party near Annapolis. (This time the big hair and pink & black ensembles were amusing on purpose.) Gummy bracelets and legwarmers and fishnets, oh my! The hostess was even dressed like Strawberry Shortcake. We arrived late but managed to dive right into the fun, and even caught up with some friends we hadn't seen in years. Good times, good times. On the way out, I noticed a bowl of glow bracelets and grabbed a fistful, with the host's permission of course, as these will be the perfect bike decorations at the Burn.

Sunday brunch
M Cafe
Chevy Chase, MD

Sunday morning came around all too quickly, and it was time to clean up and head out to a baby shower for a co-worker. Normally this type of activity makes me want to stick a fork in my eye, but this was a cool group of ladies at a very chill restaurant, and we had an excellent time. The neighborhood, just to round out the Maryland cavalcade, was a very swanky spot featuring stores like Versace and Cartier, not to mention the corporate headquarters of The Ladies and Gentlemen of Ritz-Carlton across the street. Not my usual hangout, to be sure!

oktapodi feels oh so pretty, but wonders how one is supposed to ride a bike in all this poofSunday afternoon costume shopping
Unique Thrift Shop
Falls Church, VA

Last item on the to-do list before crumpling into an exhausted heap: check out the thriftalicious bargains at our neighborhood secondhand store. One never knows what one will find. It's the ultimate treasure hunt. I actually had pretty low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised to find an entire cartful of fuzzy, sparkly treasures that will make fabulous costumes at Burning Man. The find of the day, however, was undoubtedly what must be The World's Largest Crinoline. I saw it poking out of a row of spangly dresses and shrieked with glee, startling the other shoppers who were there for more legitimate reasons. This thing is HAY-YUGE! It's somewhere between Miss Havisham and full-on Scarlett O'Hara on steroids. Two layers. Several miles of white crinkly material. All for the bargain price of $20. Now if that's not The American Dream, I don't know what is. I just have to figure out how the heck we're going to get it to Sacramento, where we'll meet up with our RVmates and drive to the Playa. I may have to purchase a separate seat on the plane for it. One of my many evil friends suggested I actually *wear* it *on* the plane, which would pretty much require United to give me my own row. In first class. Oh, the possibilities... I wonder what Elliott.org would say about this one...

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07 August 2008
Accepting what the universe provides

So, I don't mean to get all New Age Woo-Woo on you, but it's not everyday you come home from work to find that a Jeep Cherokee has magically appeared in your garage. After about a month of surviving (just barely) on a lean & mean carbon-lite diet of solely public transport, which required spending almost four hours a day getting to and from work, I was just about over my love affair with the Metro. I have to give mad props to everyone who's offered us rides, weekend loaners, and other creative short-term solutions to the problem of living in Deepest Darkest 'Burbia without a vehicle. But our friends Cat and William take the cake. After a conversation with Mark, Cat took it upon herself to prompt William to offer us one of his spare cars, knowing full well we'd never ask outright for such a huge favor. And so now we have a snazzy Jeep Wrangler on indefinite loan. I find it particularly fascinating because in the last decade or so, Jeeps have been harbingers of big changes in my life. 

:: snif, snif ::
You guys rock!

Now, can somebody just find us a frickin' tenant to rent our house, so we can get going on this trip already???

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01 August 2008
Travel jabs

yellow card dating back to Oct '06Here's some objective proof that this trip has been in the works for some time now: I pulled out my trusty "yellow card," more officially known as the International Certificate of Vaccination, and realized I got my first series of jabs in October 2006. At that time, I had no idea where or when I was going, but since most vaccinations are good for at least 5 years, and some require a series of two or three shots, it seemed like a good thing to get started. After a bit of research, I determined that it's a bit cheaper to get the shots at our local county health clinic, which proved to be its own adventure but at least I got it out of the way!

However, the clinics don't provide prescriptions, so for malaria meds and Cipro and other fun stuff, we have to go to our primary care physician. So that was today's big to-do list item. I thought we were all caught up on every possible jab necessary for travel just about anywhere -- TD, Polio, Hep A/B, Typhoid, even Rabies fer cryin' out loud -- and would just need to get an updated scrip for one of the many malaria meds. But it turns out I needed a booster for Measles-Mumps-Rubella, and Mark needed to finish up his Hep A/B series. So we did the human pincushion routine again. Good times. We also walked away with a fistful o' scrips: Larium for the skeeters, some anti-itch cream (because if there is a skeeter within a mile, it will find me no matter how much Deet-based chemicals I lather on), more Cipro, and Ambien (?). I doubt we'll have any use for that last one, as Tylenol PM tends to work just fine in a pinch, and the idea of taking even one sleeping pill gives me the creeps. But good ol' Dr Bae is a cautious chick, and I guess she wanted to make sure we got our co-pay's worth.

On a slightly different note, I wish I had some updates for you about when we'll actually be heading off to the other side of the planet. Alas, we have still not found a tenant to rent our house while we travel. That's the big determining factor right now, so please send all your best rent-a-licious vibes our way, in the hopes that we find someone to move in by September.

Also, the more astute among you will notice some cosmetic changes to the blog interface. It's still a work in progress, and we'll be doing some fine-tuning over the next few weeks as we continue to add more content to the site and start to publicize it a bit more. Feedback is always welcome!

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