Wendy is my sister. We are 18 months apart and fought like cats and dogs until somewhere on our mid to late thirties.
While I am the oldest, others almost always think she is. Where I am the bohemian free spirit and hot mess of the family, she is mainstream and had taken over as the head of our family.
I’m 5’10”, she’s 5’8″. I’m a blond and she has curly red hair. Our brother is brunette. An oddly common combo in our family.
While our brother Sean and I both moved to San Diego in 99/00, the rest of our family came in 2017 when our mother, Theresa, retired as a pedi-ICU nurse at Stanford.
Being a foodie in California, especially when in San Francisco a decent amount of the time (and double that when constantly on the road) can be a little slice of gluttonous heaven. Especially when finding good prices by focusing on lunch specials, happy hour and Restaurant Week. Being all over the place and checking out these new culinary spots is about more than just food, of course. Aptos St. BBQ in, well, Aptos had a blues vibe with live music and Summit House in the Santa Cruz mountains (on the 17) combined a great mix of a calming scenic view while also being full of bikers. It was a lot of daily-life fun with a lot of appreciated diversity.
Besides chowing down, life in Felton also continued to consist of the hikes I adored in the redwood tree-infested Henry Cowell State Park and I even managed to finally meet the retired equestrian park ranger neighbor who lived in a picturesque house across from the park with his two horses in the front, Buster and Dandy. I had always wanted to love on them and jumped at the chance to say hello when he was outside one day, asking if I could share some of the many apples falling off a tree at Brigit and Aaron’s. Even though I was driving 60+ hours a week for Lyft, I still semi-managed to take advantage of other opportunities that popped up, like stopping in and drinking Russian vodka with Svetlana when dropping off a passenger by her house late enough to justify calling it quits. Moments like those were great when I actually pulled together enough energy to rally myself to take advantage of my Bay Area bucket list. Still, reality was that driving so many hours, sometimes until 1 or 2 am, often left me waking up the next morning dizzied, disoriented and in an exhausted mental fog that was sometimes so strong it took a moment to remember if I had taken anything to sleep. There were nights of insomnia where I would finally take a Tylenol PM at 5 AM, sometimes from being too amped from a really good day and others from the stress of it going the other way. By the time I was ready to start driving the day after these rough nights it would be mid afternoon (so much for working out) and by the time I really started to feel awake, the sun was going down. Of course, and as was a constant concern, I knew I’d be more successful if I slowed down and had more balance, but I had always been terrible at that. Constantly scolding myself, the story played on repeat in my head about how I was setting myself up for failure and losing happiness by working too much like that. By late November I had given 5,576 rides and was getting less and less bummed about my time driving for rideshare likely coming to an end. Well, for the moment. I knew I’d still miss it. Even with those days of being floored by Lyfting too much, I was proud of myself for managing to take care of little things. I stayed aware of and looked into money-making side-hustles I came across and dealt with micro-stresses like figuring out how to refill my meds at a new pharmacy when the label on my current bottle had all but worn off (thanks to my most recent travels), called about the microphone on my phone not working (after dropping it in a toilet at Nikki’s birthday), dealt with a call from the social security office about possible identity theft, looked into what I had to do to get medical (what ended up being to pay $200 a month for Medi-Cal) and about setting an appointment to get my hair did in order to help me feel a little less like a raggedy hippy. November was a quiet month for the most part. Except for, you know, the deadliest wildfires California had ever seen. I drove for Lyft on the day the air quality was the worst in the world and could only see maybe half a mile in front of me. Even though I had worn a mask, I was still not-so-surprisingly laid up on the couch the next day feeling horrible. It had been scary enough just experiencing that much, and I had been worried for the people in real danger, but I was also still selfishly bummed about missing a fundraiser for Black Rock Roller Disco (the roller rink camp at Burning Man) being held at the Church of 8 Wheels. Going there was one of those things on the SF bucket list. What the smoke did do that I appreciated was eliminated out ability to play “out of sight out of mind” and forget about those poor people literally in the line of fire. It must have felt like Armageddon for them. I donated a little then for the people and animals in trouble and promised myself I would six months to a year later when most had forgotten the need that would still be there. Moving on to later in the month, Thanksgiving was next to non-existent. Brigit had originally said she was going to make a meal for the holiday for the little family of herself, Aaron and I but later let me know that she had made other plans by asking me if I had plans. What it did turn into was a night of kicking off the holiday weekend at a bar in San Jose called Britannia Arms with my late-teens BFF Nicki to celebrate an old tradition, complete with a reenactment photo of us trying to be “hard” to be cool. She had brought a bunch of her people I didn’t know, or at the very least wasn’t close with, so it didn’t have the nostalgic feeling I was hoping for but I was still glad I made the effort and was pretty content as far as the actual holiday went (with only a few pangs of hurt and self-pity). It was a glorious and rare day alone with string bean casserole and snuggle time with Meowlie for most of the day until Melissa came over later. As far as work went on that holiday weekend, Wednesday and Sunday were a bust thanks to being TOO busy. AKA: the nightmare of just inching my way around in airport traffic instead of getting anywhere in a productive time frame. Sometimes I couldn’t even get into our waiting lot at SFO to be in the digital countdown, though I did luck out once in a while with random long rides that took me in the right direction. What seemed to happen more often, though, were long rides that took me in the wrong direction toward the end of my shift. For instance, getting one at 11:30 PM from SJO all the way back up to SFO. AKA: away from home which added at least an extra hour to bed time, making it after 2 AM. Not great for how I would be feeling the next day. There was a lot of the beautiful mundane that is so much of what life consists of. Well, maybe not my kind of life quite as much but you get it. I was happy that I managed to meet up with Wendy and her friends one night when she flew into town to drop off my niece. Once again, they weren’t my people so I was a little uncomfortable despite crashing with her sweetheart of a friend, Sara. I quit the show I had been watching, the Good Wife, feeling like I had wasted those moments of my life, at least after the first season, and caught a cold as I seemed to do once a month. Thanks, no doubt, to the sanitary conditions and germs of those around me both when driving and at home. There were little treats like taking advantage of $5 movie days at the local Cinelux movie theatre to see Fantastic Beasts, grabbing a beer every now and again to sit with around the fire at Monty’s and $8 lunch specials at the local Chinese restaurants. The food wasn’t great but the prices couldn’t be beat. Driving down the streets of our amazing mountain town, waving back to locals filled my heart and gave me amusingly paranoid moments of wondering if I was acquainted with any of those people or if they were just randos saying hello. Driving over the hill from the mountains into the Bay, I made mental checklists…scrub the car seats, yoga, hike, write…by the time I hit the beautiful but dangerous winding highway 17, my analytical mind had graduated from the warm-up of the lists and even further into the creative imagination that I had lived in as a child. I’d think about how I had a lot of good things in my youth, especially once moving to San Diego, but the main words I’d use to describe my life up until my mid twenties was pain and rejection. Finally finding Lamotrigine in my mid-thirties was the first thing that had really changed all of that but also took away some of the things I identified with and loved the most about myself. Then I’d analyze about whether that was really true or if it was a chicken or the egg thing. Following that train of thought and falling even farther down the rabbit hole, I thought about how I had been a happy and inspiring human drug to those around me when on one of my natural highs of charisma, adrenaline, happiness, love and empathy. How I had been able to live in my imagination and the way that inspired my writing. I thought about how different I was compared to the “normal” people of society and how I got it from my mom. Then I was thinking about her. How she would get upset when everyone around her was happy because, I thought, it maybe fucked with her self-worth and sense of direction to not have anyone to take care of. Plus the (for her) anxiety-ridden and upsetting chaos of the excitement that happiness brings. There was, of course, also fantasies about winning the lottery, being discovered by someone who wanted to work on this blog and the book I wrote, travel funding and (cringe) falling in love.
As my mind wandered six ways from Sunday, the beauty of that nature I was so in love with still managed to pulled me out of my imagination for small moments too magical not to notice. My favorite at that time being the steam that burned off the trees in those mountains as the sun hit in the mornings. Unfortunately, I was also pulled out for not so magical moments of having to focus on that scary road. Especially during a super rainy year of driving a Prius down a freeway where so many crashes took place. I had already hydroplaned once or twice, once knowing that I would have been in a crash if anyone was driving next to me. Not fun. As those tedious moments that make the day to day continued, I felt happy and high when finally kicking the cold and extra great when it happened to come on the same day of a great 11+ hour working day of making $300 (before $85 + taxes overhead). Good timing before managing to take three days off driving. Something I hardly ever did. Maybe the most fun I had all month was making it to the Dickens Fair with Brigit and Aaron for the first time followed with the relief of getting my hair did. Being at the salon for 5 hours, though, with the stylist’s kid playing on the floor wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. It was cheap at a total of $100 ($50 Groupon and a $50 tip) and I rarely did the “take care of myself” grooming so, even though the outcome wasn’t what I was hoping for, I was still gratefully happy. So yeah. Over all, it was a month of the mundane day to day that is, I reiterate, so much of the beauty of life and something I hadn’t had in a long time. I had learned to appreciate it so much more and tried to hold on before the craziness of my adventures returned.
The first time I partied after getting back from Burning Man was, ironically, with my new burner bud Mia when she introduced me to the Hash House Harriers. A “drinking group with a running problem”, it started in the military as a creative way to keep soldiers in shape and had since evolved into a social group that was pretty much a scavenger hunt with costumes, running, booze and other debauchery. Of course I loved it, albeit a couple of super young Marines who got me just a little too drunk, triggering my issues from playing military mama back in the day and I ended up crying by the end of the night. It was good fun all-in-all and a cry every once in a blue moon can be quite the release. Even if a hot mess when doing it.
Back to Felton I went from there. I was about to spend most of the next year up there in those Santa Cruz mountains full of redwoods in order to make the money for my sister, Big Red’s 40th, Burning Man and all of the things I had to pay for to go teach in Korea. God I loved it. My first home, San Diego, was a fun, living on vacation, excitement, close family and friends beach lifestyle. The mountains and San Francisco, my second home, was where I found peace, nature, rest, culture and where my burner life was centered. Of course there was exceptions but that was typically the rule. The two together are what made for my balanced home. Nicki, one of my closest friends during my formative years for those of you just turning in, was turning 40 and throwing a theme party a week later where everyone was to come as one of their favorite musicians. Dragging Svetlana along who cane as Prince, I came as Jimmy Buffet. My one regret being that I forgot to sing “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw“. Always presented with painful reminders of how impossible it was to make it to everything, I missed seeing Doozer (honorary little sister/Kati & Nikki’s sis) who was in San Francisco an hour away that weekend but did manage a week after that to camp out for a night and go wine tasting in the mountains with my good friend from home, Juliette, and her pal Rose when they came to town. I even managed to picnic in Dolores Park with Levi, another one of my new friends from the burn as well as our campmate & bud at another time, Bacon Daddy. Burning Man was slowly taking over my life, if you hadn’t noticed. I had stepped into a year of working 80 hours a week but was still managing to fit in amazing moments. Something I had always strived for but typically been bad at in the past. From afar these occasions looked like nothing but fun and adventure but reality was that I killed myself to make them happen and could only half enjoy because of it. That isn’t meant to be a complaint. On the contrary, I hope to show how the bigger picture is always hard when going for grand things and how growth while building a foundation is painful and at times more important than instant gratification. Who knows. Maybe I’m half-pointing that out to remind myself.
Now that a history of debilitating anxiety had finally been successfully taken care of, learning how to say yes, sieze the day, make time with no excuses and to be there for loved ones when it mattered was finally up to bat. The more I was weighed down with work, goals and bills, the more important it because to learn how to break away and look up. For the first time in my life, I had finally been finding my way in so many ways. This was one of the most important. Speaking of Burning Man slowly taking over my life…the first time I had gone to San Francisco’s Burning Man Decompression party, I had taken my sis Wendy and had been heartbreakingly disappointed. It felt too much like a generic one-day for-profit party festival and not enough like the ten principals that made the burn so important to me. Between that experience and flying out the day after the one that was coming up for Nikki’s surprise 39th birthday, I had been apprehensive about going for 2018. Svetlana had been so excited, though, that I gave in and had was pleasantly surprised when having an amazing time. As opposed to the previous experience, I felt the spirit of the burn. Especially through her eyes and squeals as she exclaimed her thoughts and feelings, all of which lined up with what I believed the burn to be about and why it was so special to me. (Insert proud tear.) She even managed to find a way to get her first experience of being covered with playa dust and I managed to find and participate in one of my favorite things, a cuddle puddle.
Catching that early flight after way too little sleep the next day, and somehow managing to look presentable while doing it, it was all absolutely worth it when meeting up with the group of friends from my twenties who had once upon a time been my family to give Nikki a birthday surprise of an urban pub crawl on a group party bike Brent, her hubby, had rented. We even got the driver hyped and I made one of my old matchmaker attempts to set up a date with him and Wendy. Alas, she broke his poor heart after our punk guy friends convinced her that he was gay (he wasn’t) and I ended the day by dropping my phone in a wobbly toilet after not wanting to leave it with my drunk friends because I was scared they wouldn’t take care of it. Freakin figues.
Whoopsie-daisy should be the new motto of my life.
Back to Brigit, Aaron and their cat, Meowlie’s in Felton along with visiting a bud from the burn in Oakland, it was back to working non-stop for the rest of the month with occasional breaks to be a foodie, cocktails, for naked skinny dipping under the stars and a night or two of hanging around the fire pit at Monty’s Log Cabin. I may not have gotten traditional weekends but I sure did know how to make the most of it all. ✌🏻 Brigit, always fantastic at throwing a soiree (never say no to a party thrown by burners) hosted a witches tea party and I managed to go to Nicki’s Halloween party, which I had been told would be a movie night but ended up mostly consisting of taking kids trick-or-treating. Heading back “over the hill” to meet up with our a friend to finish the Halloween night her favorite bar, Joe’s, it was a pretty low-key Halloween which worked just fine for me. All things considered, I’d say I was recovering from Costa Rica, India and Burning Man pretty well. Email maybe for that pesky rest thing I was still so damn bad at. C’est la vie!
In the years I’d been going, I don’t know why it never dawned on me before takeoff that the journey back after Burning Man was a huge trek within itself. By the time packing up, herding the crew and actually getting through playa traffic was done, it could easily take eight hours to get to Reno. Eight if lucky. Way more if there was an accident anywhere down the two-lane road, an Amber Alert (like 2016) or any number of other things.
*Cue a runaway building-sized eyeball with a narwal horn and dragonfly wings.* Originally grouchy about adding another stop after the burn, when the time came, Grand Sierra Resort in Reno had actually stopped me from having the mixed feelings of being bummed as the city started to break down while at the same time trying to amp up for the man burning. What it also added, and I ended up being so incredibly relieved for, was indoor sleep, a huge pool after-party the next day and one last night’s sleep before the long drive home. Continuing our pilgrimage meant that there were of course be a few more hiccups. First not being able to find a dumpster that had any more room for the loads of smelly trash we were taking off the playa and then when I hit a car parked in the wrong spot when trying to park our gigantic RV at GSR. Finding the man who was renting it to own up, I lucked out when he said not to worry as insurance would cover it. Only a burner still riding the magic could be so cool.*tear*
I, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly channeling that same magic when flipping out on rich dude Mia was acquainted with for taking my spot in bed on that first night when he had his own damn room. I way too tired from the previous two weeks, two months if including India, to let that shit fly. Finally home in San Diego somewhere around 3 AM a couple days later, Mia and I crashed at her pad for a few hours after Mom had left me stranded there (I’ll spare you the ugly details) and then woke up to find that the RV had been towed for blocking a street that was a dead end alley. Adding to the fun of that experience was being covered in flea bites in the tow yard office when going to pay the $800+ to pick it up. An infestation the people who worked there knew about but didn’t manage to mention. The people who work at those places are always such lovely folks. For a grand finale, it was just her luck to hit a neighbor’s car with that beast of a motorhome after I had gone. Major lesson learned: no way do I ever want to drive a vehicle that big again. Though of course the thought of it still makes me cringe, I giggle a little at the hot-mess of it now. Unwinding for the rest of the month was pretty low-key. I was back at my place in Ocean Beach, picked up a new insanely expensive rental car to continue driving for Lyft and just generally recovered from India and the burn while showing off little badges of honor by wearing colorful Indian jewelry and putting my majorly dried out fingers on display. Playafied, baby. Beyond that, I was back to my normal SD life. Chilling out at the beach, eating acai bowls, hangin on a buddy’s boat, writing from cool spots like my favorite local cafe, Te Mana, friends, farmer’s market on Wednesdays and caught up with loved ones. Happy times that included taking my pop for a movie and a crazy ice cream float at Slater’s 50/50 (you know, to prove I was still American) and spending time with all my sisters (two from another mister and one by blood) and the rest of the fam (minus mom) doing fun local stuff like coffee or coctails and the beach. Goodbye and goodnight, September. You were the last month of big adventures for a while. And for once, I was totally OK with that.
While usually being someone who lives in the moment, immediacy is at the same time the hardest of the ten principles for me. Specifically in regard to taking pictures and notes for memories. Besides the odd way my brain processes those things (hence this blog), it’s such a big experience for most of us that the first day or two can feel like a different lifetime just a few days later, just like travel. Monday was the first official full day of the burn and I was excited albeit already run down. Once again, just like the norm of the rest of my travel. Venessa, my awesome pal from the previous burn who had also met up with me in Costa Rica for their “burn” found me later in the day, first hanging at Spanky’s and then ditching her man to wander and adventure all night. Staying out until just before dawn with her rallying my tired-ass so we could get our quality time together (yay!), Jewels found me in the hot and dry early afternoon the next day, unzipping my little ill-equipped but colorful tent to say hello. Still half-drunk, the effort made me feel bad about being so frustrated with her on the ride in. I wanted to be better than that. With a quick and hazy hello and goodbye, I ascended into what was to be my crash day of the week after one or two hair-of-the-dog PBRs. My body was to break down four times over the burn, actually, as I was also getting a cold that must have come with me given that there’s hardly any germs out there. In a hazy daze, I barbacked a lot for a few days, often with Crash bartending, and hung around camp. Sitting under the large circus-like tent structure during the intro speech of Admiral Painjoy when the time came, the owner and faithful lead of our amazing camp, I struggled to hold onto what he was saying. Especially over the dazed and grateful emotions of being there as a part of Spanky’s, one of the first camps I had so loved on my first burn back in 2015. I also failed to notice (more like be conscious for) the morning ritual of the blasting song, Sheena Easton’s Morning Train (English followed by French editions) and the accompanying dance party to tribute the morning before heading back to bed. Or for some, to head to bed for the first time.
It was something that had been adopted from another camp, which made me love it even more as that was the way the burn was built. It was one of those great things that I didn’t notice at first but creeped in a little more every day until the light bulb clicked and it became a celebration of starting the day that will forever be important to me both as a wakeup and a song. Kind of like howling at the sunset. Just one of those epic playa traditions. Planning on, well, anything at the burn is almost a joke. So much unexpected amazingness happens at just about every turn that it tends to be more realistic to set a destination just to have a general direction while knowing full well that there’s a very good chance of ending up in something else even more epic along the way. My only exception for previous years had been bartending during the Irish music session at my first camp, Twisted Swan. Ironically, one I was to miss for 2018 as lower-key energy handicapped me from making any direct commitments. I did still manage to actually visit twice along with making it for visits to my two previous camps. One of the three times doing that at Leopard Martini Lounge being when I made it out on Edge’s art car to see a parody of Daft Punk at the trash fence, the second to be when Vanessa was bartending for their big party of the week and the third being to just sit around on fold out chairs for a low-key hang. I had even managed to find my old friend, Brandi, four times. She blew me off most of the time, which of course upset me, but did provide a good reminder (after taking a minute to pout) that the burn is not a place for expectations. Bla, bla, bla Buddhist bullshit. With playa boogers that tended to turn it into the biggest nose-picking week of the year and a lot of sweaty under-boob thanks to being slouched and at least half-naked over a bike on those hot desert days, I was elated when finding a huge and quite awesome camp adorned with turquoise and grey draped overhangs along a framework of misters just down the street from Spanky’s. Gifting alcohol slushies and live classical music that I hoped in vain would one day include a lovely little lady from my camp who had been playing around the playa with a full orchestra, I was in heaven. Grateful for relief from the heat and also scolding myself for not having found it earlier, I made note to self (I’m sure not for the first time) to scout the neighborhood early on in future burns to see which camps were around for close access to relief, fun and debauchery.
While not a fan of the burn’s EDM music, by far the strongest influence of those offered, many other types that I did like could be found in the nooks and crannies. Case in point, the aforementioned classical and unexpected moments such as riding up upon a man adorned in a pegasus hat and yogi pants while singing opera at a skill level that made me think he must be professional. One of those surprise sidetracked moments on my way to get glow-in-the-dark henna Wednesday afternoon. An outing that also included a sunset wedding on top of a motorhome and new friends who came back to Spanky’s a few hours later.
Thursday was usually my crash day but I had already got that out of the way so my day was opened up to doing something on my burner bucket list a bit to the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of staying up all night to see the mythical sunrise, I woke up an hour before in order to have the experience sober and with (still a very small amount of) sleep. Biking out to the dimly-lit temple in the dark chill of that desert night, I walked around looking at the hand-written letters and other tributes hung in the structure that were often made out to recently deceased loved ones (the doggo ones got me the most), observed the people in there and checked in with what was happening to me at that moment in the most spiritual place of my universe. Outside was more musicians playing impromptu, this time in the style of soft singer-songwriter, and watched someone dressed as a Chinese Death Warrior walking around while stopping to stare at the rising sun. Biking farther into deep playa in a semi-agro-semi-curious search of the sound camp that had been shaking the entire city during all hours, I stopped first when stumbling upon a sunrise wedding and then continued on, finding it with what looked like spaceships outside and a kind of meditative chanting session beginning inside. From there I headed back to camp for the attempt of a nap, stopping along the way to check out the man and other art. Later was the Swan’s music session where I experienced one of the most impactful moments for the year when watching a woman who appeared to be from Ireland or Scotland and was emotionally being reminded of some kind of big memory. It was fun to be able to be in the middle of the music instead of staring at the backs of others while bartending but it wasn’t so fun to bust out about half way through with an allergic reaction to all the dust that was being kicked up directly into my face thanks to the rugs of previous years being MIA during the obligatory jig-dancing and stomping with the music. Que a Benadryl daze and the third of the four times my body went down.
On what I’m not sure was that night or one of the two surrounding, I grouchily hoofed it to Go the Fuck to Sleep, Aaron and Brigit’s camp, after letting someone talk me into a different camp visit that made me miss an art-car ride that I had tried to chase down five minutes too late. Thanks to a flat tire on my bike, personal transportation had been grounded for the evening, leaving me on foot. Once making it and after hanging for a bit, our old pal Moose joined us in the special state we had opted to participate in for a designated night of playa wander. What itty-bitty-teenie-weenie little bit of it we could cover before our feet and backs started to hurt at least. We even managed to find some square dancing that Moose and I participated in (while Aaron grumbled) and live Bluegrass. Hurray for some of my kind of music/NOT EDM! A couple nights later was the grand finale. Hopping on an art car that was a magic carpet to make our way out for the burning of the man, that huge and epic celebration full of lights and fire, it for some reason took on my spiritual highlight for the week. Even above the temple burn. When that happened the next night, after being pleasantly surprised by running into a woman also camping with us whom I had had a special relationship with years before when meeting at the event in 2013 that had first introduced me to the burn, I managed to hop onto a different art car that was a bar. As I still wasn’t fully recovered from heat exhaustion I got earlier in the day, not being fully there in head or spirit could explain why the man burning had more of an emotional impact for the year. As was customary, I had made it to the Orgy Dome (don’t be a prude) after the man burned the night before with a great fella from my camp and a lovely couple from the UK who I had met at glow-in-the-dark body painting and hung with a couple times since. The problem was that we hadn’t made it there until the wee hours and had stayed until almost dawn before starting to break down camp just a couple hours after finally making it to bed. So yeah. Cue heat exhaustion. The grand finale of my body rebelling against such harsh conditions right after India. Raking the dust to check for moop out there in the blazing sun where our large camp had been set up, I had eventually gotten dizzy and out of it enough to find a camp that was offering different flavor teas and set up to chill, as the one with misters I loved so much had already been broken down. Not feeling much recovery until the sun went down and even after the temple burn, I was still at half-mast for the last night’s epic party at what was left of Spanky’s. A great time complete with jump ropes of fire, I did manage to stay out long enough to want to be there as an end to my annual time on the playa for years to come.
With the odd feeling of a bubble of magic that had burst as our utopian city said goodbye the next day, for once I wasn’t bummed when reuniting with Mia and the crew to take off. I hadn’t known it would make such a difference when she had set it up before leaving San Diego but we were headed to one last burner escapade and it was already making all the difference. The adventure wasn’t over. We were off to Reno… Brigit’s Cougar Camp where young fellas (though everyone tends to jump in) shake it for a cookie. 🍪
Waking up and driving the last five or so hours (which included a few stops for eating, gas, water and groceries) on that day, Friday August 24, 2018, we finally made it to the outskirts of Black Rock City. Pulling up to a line of loaded up often decorative vehicles full of burners on a two-lane road that lead to a dried up riverbed that, beyond our temporary city, had nothing except a tan-colored alkaline dust that was known for getting so far into every crevace that it reached our dusty souls. It only took maybe three hours to get into city limits from there, which was the main reason I was happy to be there a day before the main entry. When coming normal entry my first year on the Burner Bus, it had taken over ten hours to get in and it had taken about twelve hours to get out the year before thanks to an Amber Alert. It was always a gamble and I had learned to change my mentality to embrace it as part of the experience (might as well get out and hang with traffic neighbors) but was happy when able to avoid it. Knowing that we had two Burning Man virgins with us, my exhaustion was momentarily lost as I became majorly pumped as we pulled up to the greeters. Between not knowing what the deal of who these people were, the traditions they carried out and complications of being on the Burner Bus my first year, I hadn’t got my chance for the initiation our two gals were about to go through. Every year since then, I had lived vicariously as the initiation speech was given, virgins were rolled around in the dust and they were given a hammer to hit the gong. It certainly rang my bell in all the right ways. Most of ours, actually. To see people first experience the level of magic I had only ever found there was the kind of wonder that could bring us to our knees.
With the miserable experience of getting there and having to set up at night more than once in the past, my lowest of lows for those years, it was a happy relief that we had gotten there midday. It gave us time to build our individual homes for the week, mine being the second dropoff after Elena (aka: Glenda the Good as she was deemed for a burner name at warp-speed) at her Russian camp, You are Healer , and to either reunite or get introed to new campmates while helping to build our theme camps. A couple of the new guys I met, by the way, that I used the last of my favorite hot pink lipstick on.
After two more of my first new pals in camp helped me set up, a couple of Indian fellas from LA who were super excited to be there for their first time, Mia had found her way back over after getting set up at her own camp, Cheesy Porn. It hadn’t been far from my own, Spanky’s Wine Bar, but was still above and beyond to bring the things I had forgotten in the RV. As was all to common at the burn in regard to expecting the unexpected and it being so easy to bond, that quickly lead to hanging. Something that included a ride on one of my most-visited camp spots for the week, a Sybian. A fascinating (an expensive) machine in that all it looked like was a simple horse saddle with a lump (attachments are an option) that can be ridden fully clothed (if chosen) while giving women an intense orgasm. An experience for Mia that entertainingly puzzled the two of us in that semi-private trailer turned sacred safe space as it made her laugh uncontrollably. Spanky’s is obviously known for wine but also for PBR (playa beer) and for being playfully sex-positive. Beyond the Sybian was erotic massage with multiple sensory stimulations, especially an experience named by the campmates gifting it as Eros Tangere, naughty games at the bar and a stripper pole in the middle of the circus-like tent space that the camp was centered around.
Adding to the gang of new burner buds was a couple who had almost immediately offered me the shower in their RV along with napping any time I needed. Crash and Rex were super awesome and, among the many I bonded with, the closer of my new amigos. In no small part, I’d imagine, due to the time Crash and I got to spend together with her bartending while I barbacked. We both took on those rolls a lot during the first few days. It was by far the largest camp I had been with and the burn brought out such an amazingly loving connectedness that it was hard to not want to give back and participate. The next day was the official first day of the burn. After grumbling to myself about adorning my body with the weekly atire of a Camelback, a scarf to breathe through in dust storms, goggles and a whole bunch more necessities one never wants to be caught without (including a more heavy-duty mask in my bike basket and mist bottles to gift), Mia and I took advantage of the morning hours to bike around the playa. Myself, beyond the things previously mentioned, in nothing more than a fanny pack, unicorn horn and hot pants. As we peddled around checking out camps on the Esplanade (the main street all the way on the inside of the u-shape of the “suburbs” that included the biggest, oldest, arguably most fabulous and eco-friendly camps), we managed to find Hardley Saloon. A camp that had always been one of my favorites with it’s theme being an all-night whiskey bar and old-West style saloon. Svetlana even went on a date with one of their main campers when we met him at the SF Decompression event a month or two later. Once the temp started getting too hot to wander comfortably, I headed to Brigit & Aaron’s camp, Go the Fuck to Sleep. They were part of a neighborhood full of Rangers where I would, of course, be visiting a few times throughout the burn. Something I was particularly happy about that day as the worst dust storm I experienced for the year (along with a tiny bit of rain) meant that cars would be stopped at the gate due to visibility. Also holding them up was that more people than Nevada would allow were trying to get in. More and more examples of the ways the line could take so long. A big “whoopsie” on behalf of the org and why I was so thankfully relieved to come early entry. In addition to finding shelter with Brigit and Aaron from the dust storm, it also provided one of my most entertaining moments for the year when Aaron came looking for after he got the feeling that I’d get lost on my way back from the blue rooms. Which I did. Opting to stay and hang back at camp later on with an “early” bedtime around midnight, the official day one was complete.
It was time once again to head out to my favorite place in the whole world (and by far the most transformative), Burning Man.
After my aging parents had accidentally donated important belongings I had boxed up in their garage, I had secured a semi-seedy storage unit the size of a closet but for only $40 a month. Thanks to having a place for it, I was able to save supplies, I was able to cut down in my quest for what I still needed to two or three trips to pick up items found on Craigslist (like a bike), Dixieline (swamp cooler) and four or five orders off Amazon (costumes, heating packs, etc.). Maybe a little silly, I was excited and proud of myself for being ahead of the curve compared to my previous three years. All set with my own personal checklist, or at least as much as I was going to be for the year, I had been up until 11:30 PM the night before hanging and handling last minute prep with the help of Fuckin Jewels and then unintentionally woke up at 4 AM before exhaustedly heading out during 7 AM rush hour to meet up with my carpool in the nicer pocket of a questionable area of San Diego known as City Heights. The lead of my ride, Mia, lived there and was the only woman of the four I had previously met. I liked her instantly. Radiating kindness, playfulness and a caregiving spirit even online, the vibes I had been getting had only been solidified once meeting her in person when I had stopped in on her enjoying champagne brunch in Old Town after a run for a fun “drinking group with a running problem” she would later introduce me to called the Hash House Harriers. Being around the same age (which, as usual, would take a few reminders for her to remember), being a nurse (my people) and constantly flashing a big and playful jokeresque smile which was endearingly accentuated by being a petite Asian-American, I was already casually hoping we would develop a friendship beyond rideshare companions. Starting what I had come to find as an experience within itself, the journey to the burn had begun with my already being worn out and hazy from not yet having time to recover from India. Thoughts about the irony of decompressing from that trip by going to my own intense journey of pilgrimage kept me amused albeit a wee bit nervous while unloading my car and packing the RV. Mia along with Rebecca, an aging (and proving we can still live fab over 30) ex porn star with the style of a cheerleader barbie doll were the women I had originally met on the local Facebook burner page who were going to be staying in the RV and were leading the rideshare. Well, Mia was really the one holding the reigns with a pop-in from Rebecca on rare of occasion. Heading out a couple days earlier than originally intended, the three of us who had joined in for rides only, myself and two younger women, had been caught offguard when being told about extra expenses too late to figure something else out without excessive stress and effort. Specifically, we would be staying at hotels in Lake Tahoe for two nights on the way there and two in Reno on the way back. Not only was the cost of the rooms added to our budget but also the extra days we would have to take off work. Ballin’ on a budget meant that the start of the trip was a little more stressful (in line with expecting the unexpected when it came to the burn) but was also exciting once given the OK to pay later. Specifically for the ideas not only of comfort on the way there and back but also getting to spend time in our beloved Tahoe and a huge pool party on the way back. For all the things the burn was, comfort was NOT one of them. I didn’t fully know it then but those two adjustments were about to provide experiences that I was to want to become a normal part of my annual routine from then on. I was not a patient woman and it was only getting worse the older I got and the more I got used to being alone. In was also ten-fold at the burn thanks to sleep-deprivation and to being at my limit of stimulation. In ironic contrast, that left me with so much love to give but also very little tolerance. Something I tried to reign in as Rebecca was on nonstop mode with whippets and complaing which both tested my limits by grating on my nerves and worrying me. I was able to find some compassion for it, though, as I got the impression it was related to anxiety and, while it seemed likely that she used to be a sparkle pony, she had learned to chip in. Maybe not as much as Mia (little Mizz kick ass doing everything) and on a lesser note myself (who was feebly trying to support Mia) but still tried. By the end of the burn, I had mixed feelings about her. Something that meant I’d probably like her in a less stressful environment where we weren’t required to be up in each other’s personal space while also relying on each other so much. Elena, a cutie-pie joining our crew who also followed in line with myself and Mia in regard to looking younger than our actual ages, something accentuated by her being tall and thin with a blond bob, was a chatty 29 year old woman with a strong Russian accent who still had an innocence to her despite how scrappy she had provento be by all she had gone through coming to America. A sign that she was going to do great on the playa. Having issues with the air-conditioner not working in the huge RV as we all took turns driving from SD to Tahoe, the two of us woke up alone in the hotel our first morning in that enchanted lake town full of pine trees as Mia and Rebecca had left to get the RV looked at. The scent and sunshine refreshing us as soon as we stepped out in our sundress-covered bikinis to walk down to the lake, myself also being filled with memories of childhood family trips, I was happy. I was also instantly overwhelmed by nonstop chatting being directed at me as it was just the two of us (the fifth and youngest of us five, Jewels, had taken off with a local friend the night before) as we walked up to a local gal miserably trying to smile through a cold while doing her job of granting access to the lake’s beach. Talking to her for a few minutes, the attention went back to being all on me as we laid there sunbathing while I wished for quiet meditative time while at the same time not wanting to cast her spirits down by asking for it. Trying not to be distracted, it bummed me put that I wasn’t in a better headspace to meet her on that plane as she was such a sweetheart, low-maintenance and had been doing her part to chip in. Dropping her off the next day with her Russian camp, I look back and wish I would have made more of an effort to roam the playa with her. Even if she WAS on the other side of the playa. 😜 Jewels (not FJ/Fuckin Jewels), a woman in her earlier twenties, was the youngest and the one who, while I could see the sweet side of a girl who wanted to do the right thing somewhere in there, more so both infuriated and insulted me with a constant ignorance and self-importance that I could only hope was an immaturity that would be outgrown. Also because, once again, I was extra situationally sensitive.
She and Rebecca were both always running late but she was by far the worst and seemed to have a self-entitlement of expecting us to do things for her. Never having been, she loved to tell us vet burners what Burning Man was all about, talked about drugs the whole way up as if it was nothing but some kind of rave (NOT my thing) and was the first to scratch the gigantic RV after acting like she knew what she was doing before driving it. She was a festie and seemed convinced that was what Burning Man was, which was a great big no no in the community. By the time we got back, I actively avoided the brewery she worked at, though I doubted she’d be there long given the team-player work ethic she’d proven not to have. At least not yet. Rebecca and Mia returned in the afternoon to meet up with Elena and I and were sweet to cover the majority of an expensive dinner at a restaurant overlooking the lake so we could all enjoy it together. An extra super cool gesture since the rest of us were already way over our budgets. Something that’s hard not to do at the burn and they would also be experiencing by the end. Later that night, Elena and I walked into the hotel room after a spa session that loud splashing kids had chased us out of to a cloud of bacon smoke that started as soon as the elevator doors opened and trailed all the way to our room as Mia had been prep-cooking for her camp. Bacon and PBR. Two things that can be found in abundance on the playa. Giggling at the tasty cloud, enjoying celebratory drinks and joining in the dance party after Mia had also take off her skirt after exclaiming that she was too hot, it was time to crash out for our last few hours before hitting the playa. Well, time for them to crash out. Once again, I couldn’t sleep. Shocker.
The thing is, when we go through such a big and transitional life experience with others, regardless of how we react at the time, we are forever connected to them and that plants a seed in our hearts. In this case, those seeds have grown into love for all of them. Yes, even for Jewels. 🦄💙🦄
Getting back home in San Diego after India at 11 PM, I went right back to house and dogsitting in North San Diego County for a cute little long-haired white terrier. A gig my friend Jessica had set me up with as she did from time to time. That wasn’t the only work I went right back to. Picking up my parent’s extra car, a light green Prius that I would soon add a ding to when back in San Francisco, I started back driving for Lyft. With the little amount I had been paid from EEK! that I didn’t spend in Deli, I used for half of my expenses for Burning Man but had to come up with the other half with only two weeks to go. Struggling to fit in catching up with all that work among a humid as hell heatwave that made me feel like I was still in India, I did manage to get a couple beach days in and family time starting with lunch with the folks and my niece, Sienna. Writing at a couple of my favorite coffee shops, Eve in Encinitas with its trendy So Cal high-class hippie vibe and Te Mana in Ocean Beach was important to me for processing my latest venture abroad. Also important to me was making it to Wednesday’s OB farmer’s market for grounding at home.
Finding time to catch up with friends, I did fun things such as going out on a buddy’s boat downtown and a beach day complete with a cute little tiki bar in Mission Beach called Miss B’s Coconut club with Wendy, Kate & Nik. Big Red (Wendy) even let me drag her to The Beach Comber; a bar that had been the local haunt I ended up at at least three nights a week for “one drink” when I lived there in Mission Beach back in my twenties. Wendy making it a point for us to go out at least once a week, I took the opportunity to wear my red sari the time we went to Coyote Ugly followed by Trailer Park After Dark. Still tired from India, I had mixed feelings about so much attention from people commenting so much on it but was also happy to put a smile on their faces. Later after Wendy had gone home and I had shown a visiting couple we had met to an underground tiki bar (yes I love them) called False Idol, the couple and I went to one of the oldest bars in San Diego, Waterfront, to finish off the night. Something that did indeed end up as one hell of a grand finale due to a a group’s friend being the bartender which meant that they were “buying drinks”. One of the crew, a big gay guy, entertained us when he took it upon himself to be fabulous and extra by wearing my sari. Finally saying goodnight to those pals of the night I took off with an Indian guy I had also made friends with for a nice piece of irony. Go figure. One last heart-breaking item to mark off my checklist, I made it a point to visit Jewels to say hi but, more importantly, to snuggle her fur-baby Annie with the knowledge that it would probably be the last time. Sweet girl may have had cancer and was in a lot of pain but was still one of the most loving doggos out there. Saying goodbye and shedding a couple tears on my way out, I only had a day or two left to try to grasp the fast forward of being home before the adventure of the burn started the next day. Those couple of weeks had flown by and it was already, once again, time to go.
The kids were gone but every noise made it feel as if they were still in the hall coming to me and I had dreams about them for three nights. It was even a bit of a relief to find an excuse to stay in that small, plain hotel room of cream walls, maroon curtains and a small window facing a brick wall for three days when getting a moderate case of food poisoning. It was a welcomed air-conditioned place to catch up on rest, make some food for local homeless, wrap up some clerical work and being sad that my time with them was over. Besides, I had dealt with MUCH worse in Krabi.
Writing stories of both groups for a time capsule the kid’s would open a year later, my heart both ached with the knowledge that I would probably never see them again and at the same time, swelled with the love I had for them and our experience together. EEK! was awesome about paying my broke-ass early once I wrapped up all my end-of-program work. Well, almost wrapped up. It wouldn’t be until I got home later when I finally lost faith once they crushed me by acknowledging the roll I had taken on but refused to pay me for it. As a for-profit company, I was not OK with being given excuses instead of fair compensation. With all their words about how I had been one of the program’s rockstars for all around the world as well as how they couldn’t believe I stuck it out, it was heartbreaking to know that they found it better to lose me than to make an act of good faith, and good business in my experience, by doing right by me. C’est la vie, I suppose, and while that last decision halted the potential of working with them again in the immediate future, I still believe in them and what they do. Like dating someone hoping they’ll change, they seemed to be looking for young poorly-paid interns without experience instead of those with real partnership potential. I suppose what they’re looking for very much fits some people. Just not me. Meeting up with Alexandra, I stayed with her at her house in a gated community in Delhi for my last few days. Walking into the dusty surfaces of a white-walled simplistic style penthouse apartment that hadn’t had anyone in it for months, we sorted ourselves out during those first few hours while waiting for the maid. Spending those last peaceful days away from the chaos, she took me to some of her favorite restaurants, only passing our from the heat once during our four times out shopping (she got a kick out of getting the salesmen to try them on) and just hanging at her home with cocktails. During one night, we stood outside on her large rooftop patio watching a lightning and one continuously rolling thunder show like nothing I had ever seen as she pointed out how that meant it was raining in Dharamshala. It was the grand finale of that magical time in India. Always with an ache in my heart, I said goodbye after three or four days and started my journey by heading to the airport late in the night followed by a long delay as the beginning of two days of travel began. Including a layover in Shanghai and train ride from Los Angeles home to San Diego after stopping to get a new SIM card (due to the maids having thrown out the one that I had carelessly left out during my first couple weeks in India), I was thankful for details of home such as getting back to English as a first language and away from so many cultures who do things we think are rude. Playing a roll with the kids that had a necessity to shut off parts of who I was, I was also thankful for the burneresque-style dance party that happened to be going on at the LA train station when I was there. The way participating started to help me feel young, hot and sexual again even in my exhausted and haggard state, I felt fabulous. It was still the perfectly symbolic place to celebrate being home.
Time Capsule Letter – Session 2
Time may fly but it can also be a precious gift when processing such big experiences (and places) as India.
You should be proud of yourselves. We’re sure your friends and families are. And amazed!
*Special shout-out to Alison as our gal from a super small town with no travel experience for making it through like a boss!
Looking back, can you believe that we stayed with royalty in the clouds with moments full of monsoon storms, all the while with monkeys landing on our rooftops?🐒 Or that we got to make a real impact on those kids, their families and the teachers we worked with?
At the time, it didn’t feel so big, did it? We were pushed our of out comfort zones in ways that included all those mountain roads with their steep incline/declines, conditions of the homeless dogs and people we’re not used to and some of the biggest spiders many of us had ever seen. Not to mention the trash everywhere, moist everything and smells we’re all happy to forget. Facing constant challenges, inspiration and fun moments such as shopping at McLeod Ganj and creating bonds organically during our free time, such as experience was just…big. It felt like rolling with the punches at times but what an impact it made on who we are and who we want to be.
We could have chosen an easier and smoother program/country but we didn’t want that. We wanted India and all that comes with. Well, we got it and that will forever impact us. So will the people we bonded with, even if just for those moments. That’s the travelers life and, dare we say, even the Buddhist way. To live, love and be forever impacted in the moment without any expectation of the future. Time to shake up our sand mandalas, kiddos.
You are all at such a magical place of not only being both a new adult and child all at once, you are also at a time in your lives that the platform of who you will forever become is built. You have given those of us lucky enough to be a part of that a peek of whimsical transport back into our moments of life when being the most alive and leave us with humbled gratitude for the gift of being a part of yours. Take what you have learned into your worlds, our little EEK!ers, and let yourselves be the light that others grow from.
We would tell you to make us proud but you already have. Even by only knowing you for a couple short weeks, we also already know that you always will.
Some special moments from our trip:
Getting out saris and suits made.
Shopping at McLeod Ganj…three times.
Mentor groups – Story of Self
Taking in the wonders of Dalai Lama’s temple and learning about the Tibetans flee to India and peaceful fight against China.
PJ Sessions, lessons and all the great photos we took.
Seeing what it’s like to live off the grid at Priyanka’s family farm.
DAR – Darmashala Animal Rescue – helping all those pups we see out on the street.
Yummy dinner hosted by, and dancing with, the king.
Surviving the heat at the Golden Temple.
Enjoying the romance (and cooler weather) of the Taj Mahal in the rain.
While I’ve never believed in New Year’s Resolutions, I do see why January is a great month to get back on top of shit. The exhausting amount of chaos, distraction and expenses of the holidays are finally over, so much so that it creates a hunger in many of us for productivity, action and self-focus in multiple ways.
Earlier in the day on that third day of 2019, I enjoyed a $10 burger and a beer deal that I have for years at oube of our crusty and beloved local dive bars, The Tilted Stick, while my laundry, filthy from an underground NYE burner festival I went to in the Los Angeles mountains (SO COLD!), washed at the equally old and beat up Voltaire Coin Laundry next door. Earlier in the morning, instead of jumping right in the car to hustle driving for Lyft and delivering for Amazon or Office Express (no shifts came up to grab anyway), I forced myself to sleep in and then curl up in a blanket while doing “real” work. Being that self-care in the relaxation sector was a weakness of mine, I was already in for a good start. From there, it was both good and bad. Coming down with a cold = no yoga or hiking. Bummer.
On the upswing was refreshing research on getting out the book I wrote years ago, which gave confirmation that I was still on the right track. The results of that not so much on the upswing, however, was that I was once again reassured that the $10k to pay an editor and cover designer, what has kept it dormant for years, was still a requirement if I want to keep creative control by staying an indie writer. The only realistic way I had found to make those funds was through a plan to teach ESL abroad. Relevance due to my book being set in the backdrop of the subprime mortgage industry, the lengthy time of getting the book out was a concern either way but at least the story would stay mine. Teaching ESL required a TELF or TSOL certification and I’d been sadly rethinking the plan of heading to Barcelona to get one due to costing an also painfully high amount of around $4k. Talk about taking money to make money. Looking at the details of that plan again as well, it still seemed close to if not the most cost-effective of my options, so whoo hoo to still going to Span. Then there’s this, my blog. Oh my blog. I’ve been better at consistent content but need help cleaning up the web design as well as SEO, marketing and monetization. So there I was at Te Mana, the Hawaiian-themed coffee shop I most regularly hung at, while my clothes dried. As always seemed to happen when I’d been frequenting a cafe a lot to write, my social cirlce there had grown too much to get any work done. Luckily one of those people was Chuck Hardwick from Dancing Panda Marketing, a man who had run our local business networking group until teceltly and whose services I had been looking at just that morning for design, SEO and marketing. Setting up a consultation for the following week, my awesome day of advancement wrapped up.
Folding and dropping off my laundry at home, it was finally time to go Lyft. What a day of reflection and touching back into the big picture. 2019/2020 was looking to be a year of accomplishing finish lines of lifelong dreams. It was finally time. Just…wow.
A travel & lifestyle journal about the messy pilgrimage of adventure and personal growth of a Gen Xer.