Weekly Rochester Events #402: The Oldest Known Leprechaun
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Ok, so here's the deal with the vacation a.k.a. the Denver/Burning Man trip. I haven't digested everything that happened so it'll just percolate in future essays. For now, this is just a recollection of everything that happened.
I left on Thursday, August 10 around 9 p.m. I did more driving at night than I remember from last year ... it's nice because it's cool out and there is almost no traffic. Along the way the rearview mirror broke off the windshield — it wasn't really useful anyway considering all the stuff I had in the back blocking the view. I got in to Denver on Saturday at 2 p.m., Mountain Time — a total of 43 hours, sleep included.
In Denver I had a few really good meals — in case you get out there. D'Corazon (1530C Blake St., Denver, CO) was a great Mexican place that had, among other things, some very smoothly mixed horchata water. We also went to the relatively new place Snooze A.M. Eatery (2262 Larimer St., Denver, CO) which is a great breakfast joint with tempting mamosas and excellent pancakes. And then there's Mona's Restaurant (2364 15th St., Denver, CO) which we went to for breakfast a few times ... the French toast with orange zest is a must-try.
Sunday I got to meet my campmates at The Metaphysical Research Society (MRS) (1001 E 7th Ave., Denver, CO). Everyone seemed to be on the ball ... I was pleased, for as I commented to Benjamin on the way in, my bullshit detector tends to pin on "bullshit" a lot when talking metaphysics. This was the last time I'd see most of them until we got to Burning Man (Black Rock City, NV). I split my time for the rest of the week working 10 hours a day at Kevin's house creating the deck for the Facing Our Fears project and spending time with my brother exploring Denver.
We tried casting my face for the project with alginate but it wouldn't set up. I was making a puking-like face and after a couple minutes, it's really hard to maintain. I found bits of the crap in my ears days later and I mused that it was pink brain tissue seeping out. On Friday the 18th we were supposed to get the truck but it wouldn't be until Saturday so I managed to make the evaporation fountain I had seen on the Internet — basically using an outdoor fountain pump to move gray water through the hole in a plywood table and letting it dribble through chicken wire back to the basin — on a cool, cloudy day in Denver it managed to evaporate about a half-gallon of water in a couple hours.
Saturday, August 19 we got set up and on Sunday we finally got on the road. I was driving my car and ended up ahead of the truck even though Facing Our Fears artist Sondra Carr and Will had left earlier — they had to stop and get more stuff at points west of Denver, including Nick DeWolf's Ma'am, a pedal-powered mammoth skeleton. I arrived on the Playa on Monday night, August 21 (one week before the start of the event) at around 8 p.m. When I arrived, a couple campmates were already there and we just slept in the open air. There weren't really any dust storms yet and the air was quite mild, only dipping to about 55°F. The population of the entire Black Rock City was only around 400.
On Tuesday, Sondra and Will found us — they arrived around midnight the night prior. We spent most of the afternoon emptying the rental truck of everyone's belongings. We got the truck out to the prominent location of the sculpture: halfway between the centrally-placed flammable "Man" and Center Camp which he faces. We unloaded most of the sculpture and I got the lights set up to work at night — we had a generator to use for most of the days. Wednesday we got the deck set up — it actually worked pretty good although I was disappointed in my own craftsmanship. Functional is functional, though. By evening we had cut the 8 vertical walls to hold the faces. Thursday we had to relinquish the rental truck which was both shade and a place to keep all the sawdust. We improvised a tarp and finished up the sides of the sculpture ... well, at least the vertical ones.
I did a little exploring and ran into Duck at Recycle Camp — I was set to race him on my newly improved spiral bike, but it never came about. I met some actress named Mimi who was working on a movie but who wouldn't be staying for the whole event. I also met "good clowns" Digger and Cheeky with their neon art car and tried to fix their leaky generator to no avail. I ran into Sondra's friend Cookie who was working on the Duel Nature sculpture by Kate Raudenbush. I got to fix one of their LED controllers and started helping to diagnose the electrical problems.
A bunch of us met up at "Ladies Night" at 4:20 and Brave (i.e., the Man faces 6 p.m. and the streets are labeled alphabetically, radially outward.) There was lots of drinking and cavorting and I met Silver Raven who knows people in Rochester. I ended up finally getting to bed around 3 a.m. or so.
On Friday we got the internal structure built for the sloped part of the sculpture and started making the panels for it. Saturday we kept plugging away, getting more and more done. By now we were drilling holes to install the faces. Progress was depressingly slow. I took a break and helped out on Duel Nature some more ... they were having more problems with the electronics. Apparently the modules to drive the LED's in the tips of the wings had an "in" side and an "out" side but weren't marked; the designer assumed they would all be installed the same way. Once we figured that out, the whole thing started to come together and get working. Later that night I stopped by and myself, Cookie, and Spaceman figured out the last problem: a broken cable, and got the whole sculpture working except for a couple minor things like disconnected LED's. I went back with them and celebrated a little.
Sunday we kept drilling holes for faces. The whole project was terribly draining: every aspect of it was tedious, hard work ... there was no "fun part" to look forward to. We just kept plugging away. Monday was our last day and we kept drilling and placing faces and gluing on ones that went toward the bottom or otherwise didn't need to be bolted. By dusk we were slapping up panels, noting that we had not properly marked them so we guessed where they went. Will and Sondra followed Zaphod and I with paint. At one point we donated a gallon or so (and the last of) our drinking water to thin the paint so it would cover everything. By 8 p.m. we were done. We went to the artist party at the Artery — after all, we had successfully met the requirements for the grant (up until now.) Oh yeah, and Monday was day one of the Burning Man event.
Tuesday, Sondra, Will, and I went to Center Camp for some coffee. When I was first in line there a guy behind the counter got a megaphone and said that whomever is naked gets free coffee. Well, my requisite outfit for the event was a bathrobe so I just dropped it and was the first to get a free cup. That morning I felt better that I had officially set up my tent and dubbed it "Camp CampCampCamp" just like last year, mostly because I still had stickers. Quite a few of the other camp members had arrived and they got the shade structure set up — Escher designed it and it unfortunately required everything to be properly tensioned for it to be stable meaning that all cables had to be pulled and held simultaneously. Aside from that minor thing, it worked great all week.
That night I met some people around a burn barrel and had a nice conversation. I also checked out "the Belgians' sculpture" which people jokingly dubbed "The Waffle" although it was really Uchronia by Jan Kriekels, and Arne Quinze along with their army of Belgians who made it all come together. It was a gigantic sculpture about 300' long and 70' high made entirely from scrap 2x3 lumber in about 20' lengths. From there I rode out to find art in the "deep Playa." I found a couple neat pieces ... one with the Earth projected on a hanging screen that looked pretty good. I saw a blinking light way out and was cruising to it when I almost ran into the trash fence. I talked with some border ranger — he just said I should stay away because there's a lot of vehicular traffic and took off. It was weird to run into the outside world like that which made me think of the gilded cage we're all in while we're here.
That night I went with one of my campmates Space to see the art inside the Man. There were these neat glasses with bright blinking lights that induce your mind into altered states ... making it do funny things. There was also a carousel that records your motion and you can create a flip book from it. It was pretty seriously broken (the spokes on the bike that propelled it were shot) but I got on the platform anyway and some guy got me whipping around. Right at the end I fell and bashed my hip on the edge — I was okay but it made for a funny video.
We all hung out on Wednesday morning for a bit. I walked around and found some people at the camp from last year. I got back and huddled in for a half-hour dust storm and we met some new people. That night I rode my bike around but I was annoyed at all the spectators — when I got there, those 400 people were really there to do something; by the Friday before the event, I think the population was somewhere around 2,000, so the remaining 37,000 people who showed up were just nuisance gawkers. I got kind of pissed at that so I just went back to camp and called it an early night. I can't seem to make myself into someone who fits in with people who get all decked out in costumes and stroll from rave to rave. Regardless, I realized that each year there's at least one night I don't want to go out and I guess that was it.
Thursday I got in a bike race out past the man on the Playa. I was one of the few with a custom bike and I did very well ... it's a fast little devil. I got back and went to a theatrical improv class which was pretty dumb ... overly structured and heavily set on somewhat boring exercises. Thursday is also sake night at camp Coco Velvet in The Alternative Energy Zone so I headed over there. Like last year it was a blast giving away hot sake to people ... this time I didn't get stumbling drunk, though.
That night Sondra, Will, and I headed out again and found Black Rock Diner at 7:30 and Brave where they gave away grilled cheese sandwiches between midnight and 4 a.m. We stopped by Sondra's sculpture and found that there were people insisting we not climb it. Sondra said something like, "well I'm the artist and you can climb it all you want." We yelled at people from the inside (there are holes cut to put your face into) and I scared the crap out of a couple who walked up — they didn't even stop to climb on it afterward. From there we explored clubs and such on the Esplanade (the first street from the man) and I blundered home quite late. Some approaching bicyclists at one point noted the sunrise — I guess it must have been around 5 a.m.
Friday I got up and talked with Sondra and Benjamin. I was concerned that the camp seemed to be taking a lot of showers — the evaporation fountain was chugging along processing about 4 gallons of gray water a day, but everyone couldn't keep taking 5-gallon showers each day. I avoided bringing it up because I thought it would upset the people in the camp ... I still had my concerns, though.
That night Will and I headed out. We walked around the secondary streets, starting way out at Anxious and 2:00. We found Bad Idea Theater and enjoyed some homemade beer, conversation, and a terrible movie called Dünyayi kurtaran adam (Turkish Star Wars). We blundered further and found this cool bar called Spite Bar which had something they called Gasoline — a combination of vodka, fruit drink, and energy drink ... probably some other stuff too.
When we got out of there we caught this U-14 art car/boat and told the driver Steve about grilled cheeses. Well, he actually skipped dinner so was gung ho to drive us to the Black Rock Diner. We got in just after they closed but they were nice enough to start up the grills again — a U-boat parked outside probably helped. We left there and drove around the outer rim and found some people sleeping in nowhereville but we didn't stop to check if any of them were actually dead.
On Saturday we discussed camp teardown. Mostly this consisted of requirements being placed upon us, the people who were staying late and packing things up. In theory people were to take home some trash — we insisted that people take care of their own trash but were reassured that everyone would take some community trash home and we wouldn't have to deal with any.
That night I hung out at the top of Facing Our Fears to watch the Man burn. I never get very excited about it. From there I hung around with this woman Madeline and her girlfriends. I went back to Bad Idea Theater and got to see a hilarious dubbed adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone called Wizard People, Dear Readers. I had some beer and stumbled back home long before dawn.
On Sunday I spent most of the day lounging and drinking. Some people stopped by with ganja brownies and cookies ... I really could have used a cookie, but I didn't want the pot so I just had a little bite. Well, apparently they were pretty strong. I got hit with it trying to make it to the Temple Burn. I have a vague recollection of events happening ... something burning ... getting off my bike and throwing burning timbers around ... getting out to the Uchronia sculpture but not being able to get very close ... getting wet with some ice — either from myself or someone else, by accident or on purpose ... running into Zaphod and trying to communicate with him ... dragging myself back home. I was certain someone had dosed my water, but by the next morning I realized how foolish that sounded.
Monday morning I went out to get ice and crossed paths with one of our campmates whose ride was waiting. When I got back, they were gone, but I was told by someone else that his bike got stolen so he took someone else's and expected us to bring it back. Well, he didn't just take some junker ... no ... he took a Trek 820 with a front suspension — probably a $500 mountain bike. I said, "no fucking way: I'm taking it to lost-and-found and if it's still there when we leave, then we'll take it." It was gone by the afternoon, and hopefully the rightful owner got it back.
That afternoon we got the sculpture almost entirely taken apart. It was more grueling work: backing out hundreds of drywall screws to take apart the structure. That night I went to find a party some woman told us about but I couldn't find it. I did stumble on some guys in fireproof suits who proceed to have an entirely-too-amusing "Roman candle war." They couldn't see one another or aim very well, but they did avoid shooting at the crowd I was part of. I also met up with the caretakers of the Ma'am mammoth and told them where to find Sondra.
Tuesday morning when I got up it appeared that all the campmates had left. We told them we'd be in the desert for a few extra days to take down the sculpture and camp, and to pack everything up; we asked that they leave any extra food and water for us to use and then pass on as a donation to "DPW" — Burning Man's Department of Public Works who go around and pick up everyone's MOOP (matter-out-of-place) so the area will pass inspection by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Anyway, what they had done was to pick through the extra food and water, taking most of it with them, but leaving us with 6 bags of their trash.
We drove out to Reno that day and got some hamburgers and then went to get a rental truck. We were lucky to find a place desperate to rent — instead of $1,500 from Reno to Denver, they took Sondra's offer of $500. We got back and discovered that the caretakers of the Ma'am had left a note that they felt uncomfortable leaving the money for gas in the camp. The trailer was parked by the sculpture but with no money for gas.
Wednesday we suffered through a half-day dust storm with visibility as low as 15 feet (literally) for the worst hour of it. We got the sculpture taken down and packed on the truck along with the camp's belongings and the trash. We finished up on Thursday and finally got out on the road.
Well, not far anyway. The trailer was mis-loaded with too much weight on the tongue, so when Sondra and Will got it up to 50 miles an hour, the whole thing went fishtailing around, almost killing them both in a barely avoided wreck. I fell back and rode with them from Gerlach to Fernley (the town at I-80 in Nevada) at 35 miles an hour. From there we split off ... they took the truck and trailer at 35 MPH through Nevada, Utah, and half of Colorado via Route 50 ("The Loneliest Highway in America") and dropped off the trailer. The generous Ma'am caretakers wired exactly the amount of money they agreed on beforehand — ignoring the request for some extra cash to compensate for nearly killing the drivers.
For me, it was a hellish drive up the Rockies on I-70. I was trying to keep up as best I could but 45 miles-per-hour was all I could muster before I'd start hydroplaning on the puddles. I felt trapped because as I climbed, my speed matched the number of miles to the Route 6 turn: no matter how long I drove, it was still an hour away. I finally did make it and Route 6 was like an amusement park ride in comparison: I'd be cruising along at 40 and car headlights would blind me, leaving seconds before I'd need to make the next corner. I made it back to my brother's around 11.
On Saturday night, Adam and I went to Rock Bottom (1001 16th St., Denver, CO) for dinner. It was a pretty good time ... our server was pleasantly pessimistic after having to blow up balloons in a centrist color scheme to appease both sides of the Colorado State versus the Colorado University football game. Sunday I got up and got some lunch and said my good-byes. I got back on the road around 3:15. Yada yada ... I got back home Tuesday around 4 p.m. ... about 47 hours on the way back.
Although my campmates didn't live up to their word, at least Ali did. She remembered my birthday and we had cake and she brought over ziti. As Silent Bob might have said, "there's a million fine looking women in the world, dude, but they don't all bring you ziti."
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About the title ... According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 1992, Houghton Mifflin; 1994, INSO Corporation, the word leprechaun first appears in the English language 402 years ago in 1604.
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