Archive for the 'Black Rock City' Category

west coast is the best coast

The road trip was a success. Gas was cheap ($1.20s in Tucson, damn!), our car was pumped full of music, and Ricky, being the only driver of the two of us, drank soda after soda while I navigated and kept him talking and alert. I finished off the cans of Spaghetti-Os I’d bought for last year’s Burning Man (even though I’d bought the wrong kind of can opener), Ricky taught me about cactus permutations, I hijacked his camera to take pictures of the road, and he barreled on to destination after destination along the coast and the border. (We almost went to Tijuana just for the hell of it before we remembered that border patrol now requires passports.)

A few things I learned about the west coast and the people who took us through it:

“San Diego’s like a cross between Tucson and the Bay Area”
… what we saw of it, anyway (we stayed with Ricky’s friend in Encinitas and visited Sam J. in Chula Vista). It’s got that low-key sprawled-out suburban desert feel mixed with an alternative hippie community. Ricky wants to buy property along the coast in Encinitas because it’s halfway between Tucson and San Francisco both geographically and culturally, and has the most gorgeous views of the sea.

“Tucson should be closer to Black Rock City”
Tucson turned out to be awesome: it’s strangely chill, fairly young and alternative edgy, the kind of place Burners would love to raise their kids in, mixed with a desert Native/Mexican style characteristic of Arizona. Plus it’s actually great to visit Tucson if you’re broke—  thanks to all those hot U of A chicks, it’s got fashionable thrift stores galore with prices a fraction of those you’d find for similar clothes in the Bay Area. (Too bad I’d spent all my money in L.A. and San Diego on the way down!)

One-story houses and– always– the mountains
Ricky had to do tons of family and friend visiting, so I tagged along to see lots of people’s houses, which in Tucson are mostly one-story adobe-type affairs in bright colors, making it easy to see the four mountain ranges that border the city (in NESW order: Catalina, Rincon, Santa Rita and Tucson– they spell out CRST, or “Christ” in Spanish with no vowels). After a trip to eegee’s (which had a version of poutine italienne! And who knew you could make a Smarties-flavored slushie?) we visited his father, who lives in a new housing development across town, and that was pretty much the only two-story I saw.

A Mexican Christmas isn’t far from a Filipino one
Though Ricky’s super-native, long hair and all, and his house has a lot of Pasqua Yaqui art and stuff, I found out he’s kind of an anomaly in his family since they’re mostly Mexican culturally. (Which was awesome ‘coz I finally got to eat the “real Mexican food” Ricky always talks about when he complains about Bay Area Mex. Dear God, I’ll never think badly of tamales again!) His family’s Christmas party kind of felt like my own family’s parties when I was a little kid in Manila, especially with the posole stewing for hours on the stove and hella cousins running around.

Rain has so much more meaning when you live in a desert
Tucson is the only place I’ve ever been to where people were really genuinely happy about the rain. It’s probably because they’re in a 7-year drought right now. It wasn’t even that much, but if your climate is perpetual summer, you take what you can get.

Anyway, Ricky’s family was super nice and my stay in Tucson was great– before I knew it Ricky was burning sage to pray for a safe trip and a good year, and we were off to L.A.

Austin is the new San Francisco
On our way down we stayed with Ricky’s friends and family, so on the way back up we crashed at my aunt’s place in Glendale and partied with my sister and my aunt’s son Jerrome. He and I go way back (to daycare in NYC!), and he’d been living in El Paso for the past couple of years so it was great to see them. Thanks to him and some of my Texan friends at Stanford (and SXSW), I’m being gradually convinced to move out to Austin. It’s young and hip, it’s sort of neo-eco-hippie like San Francisco, it’s the new indie rock capital of the U.S., and the rent is cheap as hell. But more about that later.

The difference between natives and transplants
Partying in L.A. with Ricky’s friends and partying in L.A. with my sister, Jerrome and my own friends turned out to be two completely different beasts. Ricky’s friends were L.A. area natives— they’re high-rolling, really scene, borderline prepster jaded types who are L.A. insiders but are outside the entertainment industry. They’re basically characters out of Laguna Beach– their parties are at their own hot tubs and houses, they stay within their own social circles and they don’t know much about their own city because they’ve never been tourists, which made them fun to party with but not ideal guides to the city.

My sister, on the other hand, was one of the many who moved to L.A. because of the industry, and she loves the place with all her heart (save the ridiculous traffic– one night I spent 45 minutes holding my bladder in a stressful traffic jam, and realized why my sister doesn’t want to move back here anymore). All of her L.A. friends work in the movies (if we’d had more time we probably could’ve gotten into some studio backlots), she knows the hot clubs and cool tourist attractions like I know my favorite beats in Paris, and she would point out all the famous people she spotted while we were driving, as well as their houses. My former Paris friends Tim and Amy are similarly industry-oriented, and Jerrome, having gone to high school in Glendale and being a hip-hop dancer, has a ridiculous L.A. network and knows where to go to have a good time without all the glitter and coke.

All in all, L.A. the second time around was pretty tight. We got our picture-taking in at the observatory, people-watched at The Grove, and partied at a lot of low-key bars and lounges (my favorite was Little Bar, near where my sister used to live).

A side trip and a new year
Ricky headed out earlier to catch a New Year’s rave in S.F., so I drove back up on New Year’s Eve with my sister and cousin. There was some kind of insane pile-up on our way back, so acting on a recommendation from Jerrome we took a three-hour detour through the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen on a road trip (and mind you, I once went cross-country on a Greyhound) and still made it back in time to ring in 2009 at home. (Sort of. I slept through the whole thing.)

Happy new year, everyone. Here’s to more adventures to come.


living the american dream: a little bit about burning man

I’d prepared for the damn thing all summer, a week-long post-anarchist, post-hippie, post-punk festival of crazy art installations made by people on drugs for people on drugs, stuck in the middle of the desert to keep the godless revelers away from Christian eyes. I’d made my bike look like a pack of playing cards had exploded on it, sewed up a wardrobe of fur and EL wire, and packed for every kind of catastrophe imaginable. I was more ready than most virgins could ever hope to be.

And it was every bit as fun as I thought it’d be. Far be it from me to divulge all the details here, but a few key points must be made if you think this festival would be worth going to:

1. Don’t panic. On the playa, anything goes. There will be drugs, sex, and a shit ton of pyrotechnics. Whatever you get offered, don’t freak out. Listen to yourself. Only take what you actually want, and only give what you actually want to give. But as a general rule, people just say yes. I mean, why not? You’re already there, and chances are it won’t actually kill you.

2. You are not going to be able to do everything you want to do. I had about ten things I wanted to do every single day, and every single day I probably only got around to doing one or two of them. That’s cool, because the people you meet are the most fun part of the place, not just the activities you do. (Although that waterboarding camp was really popular…)

3. Be with people you enjoy being with. Exploring the playa with friends is most of the fun. And being with people you trust and are 100% comfortable with is key, especially if you’re particularly vulnerable-looking, or on some kind of substance.

4. Listen to your body. Remember that the desert isn’t the friendliest place for humans, and that your body might be trying to tell you something really important if you’re angry, scared, sleepy, nauseated, or starting to see crazy shit. You might be dehydrated, or on something you didn’t notice was in the brownies.

5. Sometimes there are idiots. Some people just get drunk and belligerent, spending all of Burning Man walking around with blinding headlamps destroying other people’s stuff because they think it’s funny. Some skeevy old guys walk around naked staring at people. If you’re a girl going topless, someone might try to fondle you. Prepare for the worst, but these fuckers are usually avoidable. And you can always get help.

6. Yes, everything is real. The best part of being on the playa is that, no matter what state of mind you’re in, you’ll be seeing things like giant pink bunnies, naked people in clear hamster balls, or hellish landscapes being engulfed in flames, and you don’t have to worry about thinking you’re going crazy.

All that said, if you feel really uncomfortable walking around the more offbeat neighborhoods of San Francisco, if you think things like BDSM and drug use are disgusting and wrong, or if you hate electronic music, Burning Man is probably not for you.

Yeah? Yeah. I think I’m going there again next year… After I pay off all of my camp debts from this year. People don’t talk about it on the playa, but there’s a price to pay for being part of something awesome. Maybe next time I’ll go without a camp and just walk around…


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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