my drive to pittsburgh unfolded pretty much as predicted in my itinerary, with the notable exception that i decided not to push myself to drive from boulder to chicago with only a powernap.
car-based powernaps suck pretty hard in the winter.
instead, i booked a cheap hotel in omaha, which split the drive into two easy 8ish hour pieces. i arrived at the hotel late after leaving boulder in a leisurely manner, woke up feeling rested, and headed out into a clear, cold nebraska morning. as i crossed into iowa, the sides of the interstate were quite literally littered with cars that had gone off the road during the dark and windblown night. i was glad that i had opted for the layover, and even more so when i was delayed getting into chicago, first by more snow, and then because i missed my exit and couldn’t turn around and had to figure out a new way to approach the city. this would have been an annoying turn of events at the tail-end of a nonstop from colorado, but as it was i remained relatively unfazed, and when i finally made it to my destination, i was rewarded by the homemade gnocchi and surly wit of dave carter, whom i had not seen in person in years.
FTW, as the cool kids say.
prior to chicago, i had stopped in san jose, ogden, and boulder, as planned, and i tell you whut, there are few warm fuzzies to rival four nights with four friends in four states, trailing behind you across your mental map like twinkling christmas lights, reminding you of how many cool people you know.
so thanks, everybody.
keep up the awesome. :)
the fifth and final light in my eastbound string was pittsburgh, and a bright and festive light it was, indeed. i made it just in time to follow reed on a gleeful crosstown slalom run through the snow-laden streets around cmu to meet a hardy group of friends who were gathered at the sharp edge to discuss the upcoming weekend and drink beer. i really like pittsburgh, and it was fun to have a couple of days to enjoy the town and see my friends. on thursday, colin helped me make two ginormous pots of stew for us to eat on sunday night, and on friday, we all headed north to set up camp and discover what frostburn had in store.
for those of you who need the cliff’s notes: there’s burning man, in the middle of the desert, for the full week before labor day, and then there are the regional burns, all around the world, all throughout the year. every year, more and more people complain about burning man being too big, too commercialized, too popular to be worth the time and expense, and the regional burns are productive outlets for addressing these complaints. don’t like big city life? take the spirit of the party back home. invite your friends. start your own traditions. put your creative juices where your whine is, and leave the gentrification of black rock to the suckers.
or at least, that’s one perspective.
don’t get me wrong: i still love going to burning man, and plan to go for at least a few more years, life willing. it’s like going to vegas, or disney world, except the tourists wear glowfur instead of khakis, and there’s no money once you get there, which makes day-to-day decisions about what to do way less stressful. the sheer scale of black rock city, and the talent that it attracts, and the level of participation that it inspires in its citizens, is amazing. rejuvenating. inspirational. unlike anything else on earth. but it is, in fact, really big. and expensive. and exclusive. and lots of other things that mean that it shouldn’t be the only option on the table. so i wholeheartedly support the regional burns. and, of course, all displays of awesomeness completely unafilliated with the burning man network. i look forward to visiting many of the new temporary towns and cities that are emerging around the world during my time here, and i even hope to play my part in building some of them along the way. so it was fun to see what the pittsburgh burners had to offer.
it was a good group of people, and on saturday night, they burned a wooden snowman in effigy, which is a twist on the rite that i found somewhat clever and amusing, at first, but once there, it won me over on a deeper level.
it was very cold, and snowing lightly, and it took a while for the flame to catch, but when it did, i felt the crowd ignite with it. we stood there in the middle of one of the roughest winters in recent memory; three feet of snow had fallen in the past week alone; a recession was going on in the outside world, and two wars; our political discourse was degenerating into an ugly spiral of name-calling and publicity stunts; and there was still another long month between us and spring.
and yet, here we all were, camping in a small stand of woods on the fringes of suburbia, huddling together for warmth one moment, and stripping off layers the next, as the flame began to roar and reach high into the night. at one point, people began picking up handfuls of snow and hurling them onto the fire, as if daring it to go out, but it was far too strong. it was like a collective shout of “take that, old man winter! show us what you’re made of. we’ve got everything we need right here.”
in other words, pittsburgh gets it. and it was an honor to share in their burn.
on the way back to our camp, rachel led us to a dome i hadn’t visited yet, and we were met there by three people, sitting around a woodburning stove, discussing religion in rather serious tones. feeling somewhat dazed, and glad for the warmth after tromping through the snow for a while, we sat down. matthew was wearing a scarf made out of a chain of small stuffed elephants, and whryne kept interjecting comments, some of which were in response to the conversation that continued unabated around us, and some of which were random observations about other things that caught her attention.
i lay back on the bench that ran the circumference of the dome, and smiled blissfully in response to the whole situation.
soon, two of the serious sounding people left, and the one who remained took off his shirt and began making pizza after pizza in the woodburning stove, which suddenly had my full attention. the dome also contained several hammocks, suspended from the upper bars, and many dangling bike wheels, which sounded cool if you strummed their spokes with a spatula. in short, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and i will now do all that i can to help judy and adam make it to the playa, if that remains their goal.
i will also continue to banter with them on facebook.
upon returning to camp, i finally tried my hand at flaming simon, and then a group of people pulled up with a small wagon and began constructing a statue out of precut pieces of balsa wood. i called it “the robot emperor”, because it reminded me of the emperor in my tarot deck, but it was also clearly a robot, so there you go. it was holding a book in one hand, and something i can’t remember in the other, and it was sitting on top of a pyramid, like a simultaneously ancient and futuristic deity. it was awesome to watch them erect it, which was clearly a part of the show, as it happened very quickly, like a puzzle being put together on fast forward. then, of course, they set it on fire, leaving nothing but a pile of ash for the people who wandered past later to wonder about.
and that is a pretty good summary of the events that took place between 7 and midnight on saturday, with the notable exception of the period during which matthew and i carved out a snowfa underneath the disco ball that was dangling from the porch at bat country, and proceeded to converse with everyone who entered or exited the bar. that was a good time, but honestly, the details kind of blur together, so i think that’s all you’re gonna get.
many other things happened over the course of the weekend, including probable low-dose carbon monoxide poisoning from the ridonculous jet-engine style kerosene heaters that we rented to heat our main tent, and the appointment of henry as pharaoh, due in some part to his forward-thinking planting strategies and commitment to gathering input from the people, but mostly because it was widely held that he looked killer in the shiny gold hat.
my eastward journey was therefore a complete success, and i had one night to recover in reed and sue’s lovely guest room before turning my nose back west and heading to bloomington, where i was due to be reunited with a great many things that were being stored for me, and also to visit with friends who had not make the pilgrimage to frostburn.
but for that story, you must wait for part iii…