August 26th, 2006

Red googles matching eyes

Burning Man 1: Into the country

So, I went to Burning Man, with mr_snips, bluedevi and my Dad. I reckon that more than enough time has passed to abrade the soft, boring detail; exposing the ridges of durable anecdote material. So here we go:

Flew in with Virgin Atlantic. I was twitchy about security, but the time of days-long delays seemed to have passed, leaving only bizarre strictures on bag sizes and drinks. Met up with Dad without trouble and checked in, a slightly unnerving process for Dad whose bulky lugguage (folding bicycle) and fragile lugguage (camera) were checked in separately, then casually shoved onto the same trolley. Still, we made it through the rules, restrictions and insanely long queues onto the plane on time.

I always like travelling on planes. You sit around with a book or two, some music, and a selection of entertainment at your literal finger-tips (on Virgin flights, anyway); and every so often, a pretty lady brings you some booze or food. Also you are an (admittedly passive) participant in the overcoming of nature by a combination of human ingenuity and sheer brute force. What's not to like?

Watched some films:
Brick - A classic noir story but set at a modern American college (though not, I suspect, a typical one). Comparisons to Veronica Mars are inevitable and justified, though the dialogue lighter on the sass, more hard-bitten and slang-strewn. Recommended.

16 Blocks - I thought this was going to be a palate-cleansingly dumb action flick given the premise: grizzled old cop has to get vital witness to court room, despite the best attempts of the corrupt cops he is to testify against. However, it featured surprisingly well-drawn characters, slick plot development, and an ending much more surprising and satisfying than my expected 'goodies dive in slow motion away from an enormous explosion which consumes all remaining baddies, plot holes, etc.' Again, if the premise appeals to you in the slightest, you should check it out.

Stay - Odd one, this. A psychiatrist has to deal with a colleague's patient, a suicidally depressed and bitter artist who can apparently predict the future. It's willfully strange and dreamy; and, like many such films, is good at layering on the mood and mystery, but when forced to reach a conclusion ends with 'oh, right' rather than 'oh, wow'. Still, worth watching.

Didn't watch RV, for fear that this family comedy about a man taking his children on an ill-fated road trip in an RV might:
a) shake my already slightly uncertain faith in the wisdom of this whole venture; and/or
b) contain toxic levels of Robin Williams.

Arrived in San Francisco unrested but happy. Once we'd had our finger-prints and photos taken and found Dad's stuff, we braved customs. For some reason, I always get stopped at customs. It didn't help that we tried to take a short-cut through some barriers which, in retrospect, would have bypassed the customs officers entirely. Once they'd bellowed and gestured us into the correct lane, we were bound to be in for a little scrutiny.

"Where are you folks going?"
"Burning Man, actually."
"Could you just step over here, guys, put your bags down, then stand back."
"Would you be doing this if we'd said 'Yosemite National Park'?"
"Just step over here, please."

Of course, we had nothing to hide, and hence nothing to fear. The officers did look askance at my tarot deck though, and spent a minute daring each other to pull a card before deciding against meddling with the occult and going back to meddling with our personal possessions.

Eventually we were free, and immensely relieved to meet bluedevi, mr_snips, and Dad's mate, O. This last is a San Francisco resident who Dad met at The Festival In The Desert in Mali. He was big, black, and fantastically friendly and willing to help. He gave us a lift in a big, black SUV that looked ludicrously over-sized until we'd piled 4 passengers and their stuff into it, at which point we realised what an eminently practical size it, in fact, was.

He dropped Dad at the RV hire place, and took us to vast camping store. An excellent idea in principle, it foundered in practice as we ended wandering, jet-lagged and confused, through the infinite isles of practical items, trying to remember what we might have forgotten to bring. We eventually shambled out, and rejoined Dad with the RV, a Winnebago Westphalia that seemed pretty pokey compared to O's mighty steed. After promising to meet up with O at the festival, we set off in search of a nearby RV park. Sure, strictly speaking it's illegal to drive your hire car on the day that you arrive in the country; but we weren't going too go far, and Dad had slept on the plane.

We cruised over the Golden Gate bridge and onwards, seeking Highway 1 and its promised RV havens. With the exception of Dad, we were all drifting gently in and out of lucidity. This did not aid our navigational abilities, particularly in combination with our inadequately detailed map and (apparently) foolish assumption that Highway 1 would be a classic Americalandian 6 lane monster, not a penny-ante, winding coastal road lacking lights, signs, and the odd chunk of tarmac or guard-rail.

The sea was beautiful, and the roadside foliage punctuated with the occasional, startling deer. However, the sun was setting and Dad was flagging more and more worryingly. The only RV place we'd seen was a) closed, b) called something like Chasm Park, and c) accessed by a road so steep as to suggest that it was not so much a refuge as a trap. Eventually we found a town which could supply much needed food and directions to a suitable, and allegedly nearby, park. We wound upwards into the forest, through a gathering mist which lent a distinctly Hammer Horror sensibility to the proceedings. We passed the point at which we expected the park. Then the point by which we must surely have found the park if it was there. Then further still.

By this point we were all on the verge of unconsciousness and, occasionally, of the road. We unilaterally decided to turn around, head back to the town, and find a motel, car park, or alley way in which to finally pass out. However, turning round proved harder than we'd hoped, as the RV's vast turning circle, the painfully narrow road and uncannily ill-timed fellow road-users conspired against us. Close to despair, we finally found a side road to use, only to notice that it lead to the park we had been heading for all along! After a listless attempt to find the correct place to park, and a surprisingly competent surge to convert the RV from vehicle to accommodation, we sank gratefully into unconsciousness.