fireball

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The house shook yesterday at 4:36pm. It was a single shock, rattling the windows but doing no damage. Jen and I speculated about it over a glass of wine. Earthquake? There was no record of an earthquake on the US Geological Survey earthquake tracking site. Sonic boom? That was my best guess, although it would have to be a military aircraft, and they have strict standing orders not to fly supersonic around populated areas. I remember how a supersonic fighter broke a couple of hundred windows in Tucson when I was a kid in the mid-60’s, but I digress…

Speculation was rampant on our nextdoor.com neighborhood site, as people all over Fairfax reported experiencing the same thing. Finally, one of the residents in the area nailed it — we had a big meteor, a fireball, cruise right over the middle of the bay area at 4:33pm! The picture is from the American Meteor Society tracking section, showing a dozen reports from observers that enabled them to estimate the path of the fireball. Sure wish I’d seen it!

These things start to burn up at around 50 or 70 miles up in the atmosphere, and can make it all the way to the ground on occasion (a meteorite). According to the witnesses, this fireball burned up in the air, so it was probably a baseball-sized rock. It was traveling way faster than the speed of sound, perhaps five or ten miles per second, so it created a hell of a sonic boom.

My brain cheerfully digests data like this. One witness in Tomales (not too far away) reported hearing the sonic boom 3-4 minutes after seeing the meteor. That totally makes sense — we heard it at 4:36, sound travels about 1 mile every 5 seconds, so 3-4 minutes would be 36 to 48 miles away. The flight path over southern Marin was about 9 miles away from us, so the fireball was roughly 35 to 45 miles up in the atmosphere. The math checks.

More interesting is how I feel after a nearby cosmic event. This little chunk of rock traveled around our solar system (or further, who knows?) for probably millions or billions of years, to end it’s life in a 10-second encounter with our precious atmosphere. If it had been bigger, there would be a hole somewhere near Concord now, and if it had been the size of a bus, the hole would be pretty damn big. I am reminded how precious our lives are, how ephemeral, and how easily I take myself and world events so seriously. I vow to savor my day today.

new neighbor

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One of the pleasures of living on the outskirts of Fairfax is that we are in contact with wildlife, though I seldom comment on it. From the beginning when I was camping on the hillside above the house during construction, I knew this spot was going to expose us to deer, skunk, raccoon, fox, owls, hawks, vultures and dozens of kinds of birds, several kinds of snakes, and perhaps bobcat. I’ve not been disappointed, I’ve seen all of them.

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Northern pacific rattlesnake, about 32″, in front of our house

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Deer peeking in our great room window

The neighborhood got a real wake-up call three weeks ago, when several folks on nextdoor.com reported seeing a mountain lion on the other side of the ridge behind our house. We probably see 50 people a day walking their dogs on the street and on the trails of our canyon, and the word spread quickly: we are in cougar country. Perhaps little Fluffy should be on a leash after all.

Also called cougars, panthers and pumas, Puma Concolor were hunted to extinction in many parts of the US. Not so in California, where they are a protected species, and their population has recovered to the point they are now sighted on the edges of towns. If you want some idea, go check out the Bay Area Puma Project website, where you can see records of many sightings in the San Francisco area.

Then a couple of days ago, our neighbor told us she saw what was probably the same mountain lion crossing our street near our houses at around 5pm. Aaack, that is close!

Finally, last night while hiking the trail across the canyon from our house around 5:30pm, we heard a weird sound, like a child crying, up the hill above the trail. At first, we were sure it was a child, and we are wondering if we should go investigate. The sound moves toward the trail ahead of us. Then it turns into a cat fight. Big cats. We can’t see anything, and choosing discretion over valor, we scramble back down the hill, away from the fracas.

We feel adrenaline for hours. The experience was unreal, especially since I had spent the first part of the hike telling Jen about the neighborhood discussion. Did I manifest this experience by putting my energy into it?

Of course, I had to search the inter-tubes for information. It didn’t take long to find this YouTube video, confirming the sound we heard. One of my friends pointed out that it might have been two cougars mating. Sure enough, more searching reveals that they generally mate in December through Marchand cougar screams are associated with mating activities.

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Neighborhood overview, showing sightings. The left side is a little valley in our canyon, and the right side is a ridge separating our street from the Cañon Club in the right corner.

So I feel surprised and honored to experience this. And living with one or several large predators in the neighborhood, changes how I feel on some primitive level. When I’m outside, some part of me is just aware. There really isn’t any danger, as I’m sure they are well fed, and cougars generally avoid all human contact.

Still, a 6-foot, 180-pound cat is a presence to reckon with. And much more immediate and interesting than the daily soap opera of our national government.

ttitd iv

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This was my fourth year at Burning Man, my first solo trip, and my first art build. Last year at this time, Jen an I were wiped out after nine days on the playa, and the noise and chaos at the end of the week as ten thousand party peeps arrived for the weekend. This year, I left Saturday morning, feeling replete and happy. And really dusty.

This is how we have camped the last couple of times. Actually a photo from 2018, it looked pretty much the same this year, except I was packed in on all sides by other Westys (here is what it looked like in 2015). The popup shade structure is quick and easy, and the shade netting totally helps with wind, privacy and temperature. I added more solar lights this year, so home was easy to find at 3am.

The art project was Purr Pods, by Paige Tascher, one of my campmates. I worked on it with her for 3 months. Three welded steel cats, with LED lighting, illuminated eyes and hearts, and sound transducers and touch sensors. They each had separate personalities, with sounds recorded from Paige’s cat collection. Touching them elicited purring sound and vibration, plus entertaining yowls and mews. The project was a total hit, appearing in a “ten best art pieces” article. Here are some pics of the build, the truck that took them to the playa, and finally a video.

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Paige with a paper-maché form we built, Wes Skinner mounting a heart support bracket, while I zip-tie speaker wiring in place.

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Paige inspecting. She wore that shirt the whole summer while working, and there *may* be enough left for framing.
Right, All electronics packed and strapped in, ready to put on the truck.

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On their way to the playa.

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Saturday, just before the general admission opened. All ready for the week ahead!

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Here they are at night! Check out to see how they actually look and sound!

Alas, I had to miss the final build on the playa. On my way up (via our cabin in Lassen) the water pump blew in Mz Parker. I limped the final 25 miles to the cabin, started tearing the engine down to remove and replace the water pump…

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…and discovered that the water pump (right photo, black thing in the center) body extends underneath the timing belt cover (gray thing on the right). Requiring removal of the exhaust system, exhaust manifold, timing belt cover, belt and sprockets. At that point, I called a tow truck, and found a good shop down in Chico do to the surgery. So instead of arriving on Tuesday, five days early, I didn’t get there until Saturday, just before it opened.

(The three day adventure in Chico was a whole experience of it’s own — I arrived too late to rent a car, hiked most of the way across town to one of the last hotel rooms available, lived out of a small backpack for a couple of days, and finally borrowed a Westy from the shop to go back up to the cabin while they finished the work.)

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Saturday I headed east early, through Chester and Susanville, took my 66-mile dirt road shortcut from Susanville to Gerlach, and arrived midday. The Purr Pods were all set up, so all I could do was set up camp, and pull out several liters of frozen margaritas for my camp mates.

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Art work was fabulous this year. Here is the Shrine of Sympathetic Resonance, made of piano innards and full of sacred geometry. Absolutely beautiful, full of thoughtful feelings and soft sounds.

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The Folly was another wild building full of amusing surprises. It burned at midnight on Friday, and here you can see the fire tornadoes spinning off the huge blaze.

You want to know what it’s like out there in the middle of the night? Here is short video. And more photos.

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Our friend Kelly, who borrowed Jen’s bike and made it look cool.

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The Temple of Direction, an incredible mechanized Pegasus in Center Camp, another view of the Shrine of Sympathetic Resonance, and an interactive light tent that drew lots of visitors.

My eight days were a curious mixture of freedom and loneliness, pleasure and service, with a liberal sprinkling of tequila, music and laughter. It was my first burn without Jen, so most of my experiences were solitary. It always takes me a little time to settle into myself when traveling solo, even surrounded by friends and familiar faces. By my third day, emerging from the Westy at dawn, I realized that it felt like I’d been there for a year. Perhaps our nomadic selves are never far away; I’ve had this feeling on backpacking trips as well.

The serendipity of Burning Man is always astounding — a friend of a friend camped with me in a tent, and somehow I knew when she was driving up, walking right out to greet her, even though I had never met her before and had no idea what kind of car she had. I did a lot of energy work and massage that seemed to be just what was needed, and had many amazing and deep conversations with strangers that illuminated both of us in profound ways. That’s the magic of the playa.

I love VW Bus Camp, and our pop-up village of self-sufficient iconoclasts. Unlike many camps, we have no shared infrastructure or dues (though someone did bring a very artistic shower device for all to use!) We had the Leopard Lounge set up again this year, a place of music, tequila and foot rubs. I spent time there each day, socializing, resting, doing energy work on visitors and soaking up the spontaneity.

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Here is another little video. Eric is playing Johnny Cash, Bingo handing out tequila shots, and a crew of volunteers play percussion and give foot rubs.

By Saturday, I felt complete, so I packed up camp and headed west across the desert at midday. Dusty, happy, unshaven, thoughtful and full of feeling. I will be back next year, this is too good to miss.

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westy guts, part III

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I’ve saved the best for last. The final task in this project is to replace the heater fan. This is not for the faint-of-heart, as the fan is deep inside a sealed heater box, bolted to the front of the body, buried under wiring, hot water hoses, and the dashboard. I started the process more than two weeks ago, by removing the instrument panel, the steering wheel and glove compartment, unbolting the steering column, then disconnecting all the various switches, the radio, lighter, heater controls and lighting controls in the dash. Six screws and four bolts later, with by a lot of tugging and cursing, I have the dash panel up and out.

This is scary work. I’ve never done it, I don’t know what headaches I will find, I hope I don’t break anything, and I hope I can get it all back together without paying someone $$$ to fix something I messed up. I’m driven by the fact that I can take the time to do a good thorough job. I can clean things, replace worn bits that would otherwise never see the light of day. I’m also driven by cost: it would probably cost me over a thousand dollars to have a mechanic replace the heater fan.

I’ve worked on the mysterious guts of cars before. I know some tricks, I have a lot of tools, and I have all the time I need. So in I go. For example, I label the wires and control cables as they are disconnected, so I have a hope of getting them back in the right place. This is methodical work, one cannot hurry, for the penalty of error will almost certainly be painfully expensive. So I took a couple of days to extract the heater box, working for an hour or two at a time, then taking a break and contemplating the next steps. It all went well. Voila, the heater box is out (photo below), drooling radiator fluid on the driveway.

I’m going to explain the next week of work, not so much to torture you, but to remind myself of the journey. After all, the climb to the top of Mount Everest is more interesting if you include the weeks of planning, preparation, travel and trekking in order to get to the base camp! Also, the information may be of use to other intrepid Westfalia owners; probably all old Westys will eventually require this job.

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Now that I’m this deep into the innards of Mz. P, a place I never want to venture again, I’m fixing everything I can. The fan has arrived, ready for transplant. I have a new heater core coming, along with a wiper motor and new control cables. I’m cleaning everything I can reach — you can see how much playa dust is all over the black heater box — and the inside of the dash is a tangled mess of decades of wiring bodges. Upon pulling the box, I had my first unpleasant surprise: under a layer of ancient duct tape, is a big melted hole on the cover. Apparently some time perhaps 20 years ago, a prior owner burned something in the ash tray positioned right over the top of the box, destroying the ash tray, melted the top of the box and making a hole right through. I cannot imagine how they did this without causing a major fire!

My first task is to separate the two halves with a putty knife and sharp blade, clean the box, and fabricate a patch for the hole out of steel plate (a standard electrical junction box cover) and JB Weld epoxy. This takes all morning. The afternoon is spent installing the new fan and heater core into the heater box, with foam tape sealing the parts into place. All the sealing foam on the control vents in the box are crumbling from old age, so another few hours are spent scraping off old foam, and replacing it with new foam tape. This heater has always leaked hot air — unpleasant on a summer day in the central valley — so hopefully the rebuilt box will work better. I got custom whizbang $3.95 clips from the VW dealer to hold the heater box back together. I’m now well past the halfway point on the project.

There is another day of detail work. The new wiper motor arrives, so I spent a few hours disassembling the wiper mechanism, greasing all pivots, and replacing the motor. I also cleaned up some of the wiring for the radio, re-routing speaker wires in an attempt to get rid of the persistent buzzing sound in the rear speakers. When I temporarily plugged the radio in, the noise was gone! Thank god, that was an annoying problem. And I replaced the panel lights for the heater controls, lighter, and rear heater fan. I’m hoping we will be able to see the controls at night now.

IMG_2894-2018-10-17-10-16.jpgOh, speaking of lighting, I also ordered LED headlight bulbs, LED tail light bulbs, turn signals and backup lights, and new smoke-colored lenses to replace the cracked rear lights. After three hours of work they are all installed, and the rear of the van looks a bit more modern. Also, the LED headlights are hella bright!

Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly, as they say, and my methodological approach pays off. The heater box bolts back in place without a hitch, hoses reconnect easily (I used a watering can to pre-fill the heater core so I wouldn’t have to burp air out of the cooling system), and control cables reattached with only a little cursing. I had to spend some time adjusting them into the right positions, so that the control levers worked properly. Next time (hopefully never happening) I will mark the cable locations to make it easier 🙂

A long strap looped over the top of the cab helps me suspend the dashboard and move it gradually into place. As I proceed, I make sure all heater vent hoses and electrical switches are connected, fished the radio wiring out through the hole in the dash where the radio goes, and pulling instrument cluster wiring up through the appropriate holes. The heater control panel screws right into place. Lowering the dash with the strap, I am able to reinstall it by myself without pinching anything.

The reassembly takes all day, but by sunset, I have it all buttoned up, with the steering column bolted back into place and the steering wheel aligned and bolted properly (I remembered to mark THAT one before removing it, fortunately!)

The heater works! The dash lights work! Today, I am driving down to Santa Barbara for a little adventure of my own, and — other than one vent that needs the hose reattached — I’ve had no problems at all. In fact, it all looks like nothing happened.

But I know better. I have confronted my fear, spent more than two weeks inside mysterious, seldom-seen parts of Mz. P, and fixed everything. Plus I have a deep, deep sense of satisfaction, knowing her more intimately, reminding myself that I have patience, skill and experience, and saving a bucket of money.

This is actually a lot more fun than my career ever was.

westy guts, part II

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The Westy resurrection includes fixing a fuel problem. At highway speeds and full throttle (occasionally, she gets going fast enough to pass someone!) the engine will hesitate like there is fuel starvation. Our fuel pressure gauge confirms a big pressure drop, so when we got home, I did my research. It turns out that the original design of the system (fixed the year AFTER our girl was built) was flawed. I can just replace the fuel filter until it happens again, but the real fix is to swap in parts for a later model year. There is another problem too — when we fill the tank full, some fuel drips out of an inaccessible vent hose, so the rubber hoses have degraded. You see, vehicles in 1985 were not built for gasoline that contains ethanol, and modern gas corrodes the original hoses. Knowing she has the original tank, almost certainly rusty, and a fuel level sender that has, let us say, a lot of character, I’m replacing the whole thing with new parts that avoid both of these problems permanently.

It’s always a moral and ethical dilemma for a mechanic: is the quick fix good enough, or do I take the time and money to really resolve the problem? Sometimes I go one way, sometimes the other. I know I have to drop the tank to fix the vent hoses, I want the fuel system to be utterly reliable, and I don’t want to change the fuel filter every few months because it gets clogged with rust from the tank. And I don’t want to have to ever work on this part of her again — one has to drain the tank before removing it, and there is no way to do this job without smelling like gasoline for a day.

I’ve become the nexus for parts packages from all over the country (see Part I: heater fan, tail light parts, LED bulbs), and the first to arrive are the fuel system parts. A shiny new gas tank, fuel sender, vent hoses, gaskets, fuel filter and clamps to put it all together. So I don my mechanic’s one-piece pullover, rubber gloves, and wade into the fray. The partially-disassembled dash can wait.

After about two hours, the front of my modern house is looking quite out of place for Fairfax. The front of Mz. Parker is up on ramps. Tools and parts, a pan of gasoline and rags and a jack are strewn about, and the first half of the transplant is complete. I am grimy, looking and smelling like The Dud from the game Mystery Date, if you are old enough to remember that. The filthy rusty tank with rotting hoses is lying in my driveway.

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Installation of the shiny new bits was not too bad, perhaps 2 hours start to finish. There was one moment when I’m lying on my back under the new fuel tank, supporting it with my knees and chest, as I reached as far as I could over the top of the tank to plug the overflow balance hose into grommets on either side. The hose has to go OVER a bunch of stuff in the middle of the chassis, running down through the indent in the top of the tank. It took all my strength, ten minutes of wrestling and a healthy array of curses in multiple languages to get the little fucker plugged in. As I read long ago in an ancient E. E. Smith Lensman sci-fi novel, “I could eat a handful of iron filings and puke a better design than that!” .

There is a place where channeled fury and sheer determination makes all the difference between success and failure. I was about ready to give up on the hose installation at one point. However, one more all-out attempt, reaching into the 2-inch space with snarling sound effects and bruised knuckles leveraging off the grimy underside of the body, and the connector popped into place. Once I had the tank bolted up, I finished the plumbing with a series of short hose pieces connecting the tank, fuel pump, fuel filter, fuel pressure sensor andima line going to the engine. I cleaned and replaced the filler tube, plugged in and clamped the (five!) vent hoses, dumped in a bit of gas, and she fired right up with nary a leak. My First Major Accomplishment on this adventure is done.

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The new fuel tank gleams in the bottom of the photo, and new fuel line links the pump, filter and fuel pressure sensor.

westy guts, part I

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I like fixing things, especially vehicles. So perhaps it’s no surprise that we own a 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia camper, a vehicle known throughout mechanic-dom as a labor of love. “Mz. Parker”, as she is know, is not an unreliable vehicle, she’s simply a self-contained mobile living space with plumbing and electrical issues. Westfalia ownership requires as much inner journey as outer journey — and by inner journey, I mean exploring both her innards, and my own. Why do I enjoy working on her so much? For there seems to be a Law of Westy Conservation:

For every mile traveled, you shall spend either $1 or 1 minute of your time working on your Westfalia.

First, the journey into her innards. Mz Parker carried us well to Burning Man, however, several “issues” became apparent on the trip. The worst was the taillights, which…just went out. Knowing law enforcement at Burning Man, we carefully traveled only by day, and when we were forced to arrive after dark, we sneakily drove internal roads through Black Rock City to avoid the overabundance of Nevada sheriffs patrolling the outer road. They are well known for pulling you over for any slight infraction, and inspecting your vehicle with dog-sniffing exhaustive thoroughness.

There’s more. At freeway speeds, she started misfiring at full throttle, and would lose fuel pressure (thank you, extra gauges!) Plus, the left speaker went out, there is a constant buzzing in the rear speakers, the heater fan blows a fuse whenever we try to use it, and part of the dashboard illumination isn’t.

ScreenShot2018-09-27at1.32.09PM-2018-09-30-15-22.pngGiven our experience with her, it’s remarkable that the German’s ever figured out how to make reliable vehicles. Granted, this particular 33-year-old has been bastardized by several generations of prior owners. For the fuel problem, I did a full day of research, sighed at the results, then ordered a pile of parts which will arrive tomorrow (I’ll write about that adventure in Part II). Meanwhile, I’m googling wiring diagrams, and indeed, some kind soul has posted them.

The reality of the dashboard is nothing like this neat diagram, as shown in the top photo. After two hours, I have:

  • mostly disassembled the dashboard
  • performed surgery to remove 20 pounds of unneeded electronics
  • found and fixed the cause of the speaker outage
  • found the source of noise in the rear speakers, they run by the fuel pump, harder to fix
  • found and fixed a broken connection to the driving lights, disassemblling the front grill & dropping the spare tire to get under the car
  • become certain I need to replace the heater fan
  • come nowhere closer to figuring out the taillight problem

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The surgical extraction was interesting. Our Westy came with a DVD player mounted in the roof of the cabin, apparently wired into the stereo to provide four-way sound. In 1998, this was a pretty cool thing, but these days, it’s about as handy as kerosene running lights. The amount of electrical plumbing was astounding, so I decided to simplify our lives before proceeding deeper into the tangle of smoke-filled wiring. One DVD player, THREE control boxes and about ten yards of cable later, the DVDectomy is complete. By the way, we never could get the thing to work in the first place.

The heater fan replacement will require me to completely disassemble the dashboard, and remove the heater box. There is a great YouTube video by a professional mechanic, where he does the entire removal in 40 minutes. It’s gonna take me longer. This is a Serious Operation, so I’m putting it off for the moment…and ordering a replacement fan.

 

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Having no other option for the tail light problem, I did what I probably should have done first, and took the tail lights apart. Eureka! I mean, Ick! Cracks in the lens let in water, there is a ton of corrosion in the light sockets, and sure enough, both tail lights had bad connections. One of them was so rusted into place I had to remove the bulb in pieces with penetrating oil and pliers, just to find the socket was irreparable. Off to Ebay, to buy a used replacement. In fact, I’m getting all new parts and bulbs. And super-bright LED backup bulbs, which should make it a lot easier to back into a camp site. And LED headlights. The technology has come a long way since 1985. Of course, so have I 🙂

Or have I? Ah, the other inner journey…why do i think this is fun and fulfilling? There is a clue in how I feel about different vehicles. When I was young and limitlessly enthusiastic, I owned Austin Healy Sprites, and did everything for them — frequent carburetor adjustment, electrical repairs, an engine rebuild — with joy and abandon. These tiny sports cars represented fun and freedom, and I gleefully went on trips all over California with a backpack full of camping gear stuffed behind the seats (and 50 lbs of tools and parts in the trunk!) Working on other cars isn’t the same, they are transportation with character, not quite the same projection screen as my early adventure-mobiles. To be honest, our 2001 Jeep Cherokee is a pleasure to maintain, as it is a tough, solid, go-anywhere truck, both comfortable and reliable. But the Westy (and my motorcycles) get most of my attention, and now I know why.

A Westfalia is one of the smallest self-contained living spaces in existence, and it’s mobile. I have friends from our Burning Man camp who travel for weeks and months and even years in their Westy, in some mystical symbiotic relationship. I love being able to take off in Mz. Parker, with Jen or solo, ready to eat and sleep in comfort pretty much anywhere we end up. The thrills of variety and exploration truly nourish my soul.

Motorcycles do it too, as I went on many long trips on my BMWs, with full camping gear, all over the US in my 30’s and 40’s. Since damaging my wrist by logging far too much time on computers, I haven’t been able to spend long days in the saddle like I used to. However, I can now see travel and adventure are a theme in my life, and I’ve always found ways to explore new places.

Mz. Parker is the latest vehicle for exploration. So it’s not all about “fixing things” for me. It’s about enabling the journey. I love working on vehicles I have adventures in. Good to know. I have some vehicles to get rid of. Why not just focus on what I love?

on bonzos and memory

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After spontaneously singing to Jen at 3am recently, a song from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, I’m noticing some of the layers that assemble me, specifically, how my memory works. I’m also in a several day sprint where the evil disc jockey inside my head is playing a random stream of Bonzo music throughout the day and night. As I result, I am smiling at strangers as I silently hear The King of Scurf for the twentieth time while shopping for potatoes.

For those of you too young, or perhaps too sane to have been exposed to the Bonzos in the late 60’s and early ’70’s, I urge you to go to iTunes, where there is a large selection of their material. Or watch the Vivian Stanshell documentary on YouTube (the entire sound track is Bonzo stuff). Imagine early Monte Python, with great musical skills and a wide variety of instruments. It’s like Tom Lehrer, a random selection of good studio musicians and FireSign Theatre got stuffed in a studio for a week. I discovered the Bonzes in college, when I found a cut-out (remember those?) album for something like $4. “The History of the Bonzos” is a double album, and I tortured several sets of roommates playing bits of it. They were a theater act as well: inside the album is a photo of a bearded young English gent, in suspenders and a t-shirt, wailing away on a sax in one hand, holding up a thought-bubble sign over his head saying, “Wow, I’m really expressing myself!” Sure wish I’d gotten to see them live. imgres-2016-03-3-18-52.jpg

But the topic is memory, and I ponder how I can remember huge tracts of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, every Tom Lehrer and Spike Jones lyric, and so many Bonzos songs that I have not even heard in 35 years. How does my brain do that? I can’t even remember the name of a new co-worker five minutes after I’m introduced, yet this stuff lingers like a deep kiss.

Of course, there is a whole theory of neural encoding. The axons and peptides and neurotransmitters and ganglia and dendrites and god knows what complex mechanisms create mRNA and whatever, so my brain is polluted by a combination of chemical storage and interconnection that permanently maps The Intro and The Outro (“And Adolph Hitler on vibes!”) in my overstuffed skull. My psychology classes with the glorious Hans-Lukas Teuber, who studied brain function by looking at brain injuries for 50 years, should have taught me how memory works. By the way, Dr. Teuber is embedded in here too, he had the bushiest gray eyebrows of any person I’ve ever met, which he wielded like scimitars as he punctuated his lectures with them. According to Teuber, that memory alone is frozen in a interconnected chemical morass involving millions of cells in my head.

Then new research is appearing to suggest that there is a hereditary mechanism for memory, that phobias may be passed down through DNA from one generation to the next. At the very least, this opens the topic that memory is not a simple thing, mere encoding in our brain.

I have a different experience of memory, since I had startling encounters with Nancy for weeks after she passed away — and believe me, she had her memory. My grandmother visited my dreams and communicated some things the night she passed away on the other side of the country. I could be deluded, perhaps these things never happened. But memory must be far more than neurochemistry…how does memory travel without a body?

Maybe memories just exist, out there like archetypes, waiting for one of us to catch them, tune them in. Our brain could be more like a radio than a storage device, we can certainly step into archetypes that are not our own. Maybe there is no memory, there is only karma. Maybe it’s just a miracle, here for our shared and private delight, all the lyrics ever sung by the Bonzos are on my radio station.

And I would really like to know who is doing the tuning. Urban Spaceman just came on, and *I* didn’t do it.

ttitd

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Ah, That Thing In The Desert. I’ve been smiling and contemplating our seven days at Burning Man, wondering what can I say about such a well-photographed and commented event? It was my first time on the playa, and we had the good fortune to stay at VW Bus Camp, in Mz. Parker, the white Westfalia you see just right of center. It was also our longest trip in her, and there was much to enjoy about the camping as well as the event itself.

The Westy is a special blend of self-contained luxury and rawness, a cozy place to retreat for a drink when the wind whips up hours of dust storms, as we had on two of the days. It is also a comfortable, lockable base of operations, with remarkable carrying capacity. We were able to bring not only the big white shade structure, but a small table, camp chairs, a ladder to make it easier to put stuff on the roof rack, two bicycles, spare gas cans, and something like 28 gallons of water weighing a couple of hundred pounds. The load totaled over half a ton, including our food, wine, clothes, solar lighting and other gear. Add in a few hundred pounds of passengers, and Mz. Parker still carried all with that gracious glide over the land that every VW bus embodies. The bed was very comfortable with an extra layer of foam. Extra reflective insulation on the windows kept it temperate inside through 80-degree days and 35-degree nights. We cooked on the built-in stove, washed dishes in the sink, and evaporated the wash water out in the dry desert air, like everyone else there. In order to leave no footprint on the desert (and avoid making a muddy mess!) everything needs to come in with us and leave with us, so every bit of water we could evaporate made our return trip lighter.

The quality of our camp was astonishing. Most of the 35 other VW buses had been to Black Rock City multiple times before, in fact, VW Bus Camp has been around more than 25 years. I loved our neighbors, who were nearly all experienced burners, living varied, mature and interesting lives out in the world. Many in our camp are BRC Rangers, the local volunteer corps of law enforcement & universal assistance, and other types of volunteers. There were also county sheriffs and semi-military Bureau of Land Management types, carrying sidearms. Unfortunately there are people who will steal stuff, so every camp has it’s own vigilance and awareness of strangers. Indeed, someone nabbed my hydration pack, then was confronted by an alert camp-mate while trying to rip off a bicycle. Fortunately, my pack came back to me – nothing lost – but it’s a sobering reminder that any city of 65,000 will have criminals.

And then there is the artwork, the art cars, and the Temple.

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Here are a couple of short videos I took that give a flavor of the experience. Night time on the open playa…

…and the Temple burn on Sunday night, watched by perhaps 30,000 people in a huge ring.

The whole week was a sensory bath. Sound was ever-present, there were places to dance all over, and except for an hour around sunrise, we heard dub in the background all the time. People wore all kinds of cool, eclectic stuff, or perhaps nothing, so every journey was a sensual and visual delight. At night, every person and bike and vehicle was lit up, so that we could move without colliding in the pitch darkness.

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It is remarkable that so many people can come together, and generally bring kindness and sharing and fun to each other. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes this possible, and have come to some unexpected conclusions. On the surface, you see a lot of technology, LED lighting, solar power, all kinds of vehicles. But that is just the beginning.

First, there is nothing for sale except ice and coffee (at least officially!) All are encouraged to bring things to gift and share, so the community spirit is very strong, and we often greeted strangers and stopped to meet folks wherever they are and whatever they were doing. We got all kinds of cool surprises: camp stickers and magnets, food and drink, decorative clothing items. We gave away dinners and tequila and mechanical assistance and massages, traded email addresses and contact info, participated in great discussions with people that knew a lot, had great skill and experience. There is no internet or cell service, so many layers of modern life peeled away within hours of arrival. This is, after all, basically camping in an inhospitable place, so we felt essentially interdependent. Juicy.

Second, the speed limit for all vehicles is 5 mph, and other than the art cars, you either walk or bicycle everywhere. No driving. So the community is a throw-back to a time before automobiles, where a journey across the community takes a while, and it takes hours to go out on the playa to view the artwork. This means that most folks spend significant time locally, get to know their neighbors and neighboring camps, and tend to frequent the clubs and events and places to get a drink that are nearby. Our own camp ran The Leopard Lounge, a bamboo-sided bar and rest stop where anyone could stop by and get a shot of tequila and a foot massage, and I spent an hour or two there each day, offering what I could, and laughing and sipping with complete strangers.

Alkali dust is everywhere, and very hard on feet, hands, noses and eyes. We arrived on Tuesday last week, and had major afternoon dust storms on Wednesday and Thursday. Fortunately, we came prepared, taping our windows and vents shut, sealing up the Westy. We also came with Bag Balm (mostly lanolin, great for dry feet), eye drops, and vinegar to make soothing washes that neutralized the dust. I did repair work with the Balm on several folks whose feet were taking a beating from the playa, and enjoyed sharing something that was new to most. But the dust also forced us to huddle in our camp, rest, talk, and value times when we could go out and explore.

The combination of technology, free exchange, slow travel, and barren environment creates an ecologically sensitive, fertile, connected and creative space. Absolutely remarkable. Modern urban planning is attempting to do this by intermingling living space with businesses, like my own downtown Fairfax. However it just does not happen as long as everyone has a car, and needs to drive somewhere to work or dine or visit friends. I wonder what our lives would feel like if we could give up cars and money. It’s not going to happen without some horrible holocaust, but it was wonderful to drop into such a different world for a week. We will be back next year. With Mz. Parker. And I will be volunteering somehow, somewhere. I love that all our technology enables us to strip so much away and do this together. With ice and coffee.

wrecking crew

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I backed a Kickstarter campaign over a year ago that just came to fruition with the release of The Wrecking Crew, a rockumentary movie about the group of LA session musicians in the ’60’s and ’70’s that played on more albums and songs than I can keep track of. I was able to watch the movie (finally!) yesterday, and it was worth the wait. It took Danny Tedesco something like 18 years to get the film together, partially to honor his father, Tommy Tedesco, who was a core member of the group. It’s a fine film, and a great tribute to everyone involved. Click on the pic to see the trailer. And you can watch it now on iTunes!

But there is something missing from the movie, something that crept out in the updates during the Kickstarter campaign. Danny interviewed many living members of the crew, not just the half-dozen who are the focus of the movie. Please allow me to share some of the most delightful clips on the Kickstarter website.

Leon Russell and Cher, the day he jumped onto his piano and told Phil Spector to fuck off

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wreckingcrew/the-wrecking-crew-doc-untold-story-of-rock-and-rol/posts/653973

Don Peak, and the spontaneous creation of the opening to Marvin Gay’s Let’s Get It On. “…says, why don’t you make something up at the beginning?” Shivers down my spine.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wreckingcrew/the-wrecking-crew-doc-untold-story-of-rock-and-rol/posts/657206

Richard Carpenter, and the untold story of Close To You

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wreckingcrew/the-wrecking-crew-doc-untold-story-of-rock-and-rol/posts/679203

Bill Medley, how You Lost That Loving Feeling became a baritone song

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wreckingcrew/the-wrecking-crew-doc-untold-story-of-rock-and-rol/posts/691741

Jerry Fuller, how Travlelin’ Man very nearly ended up in the trash can, before Ricky Nelson turned it into a 6-million record hit

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wreckingcrew/the-wrecking-crew-doc-untold-story-of-rock-and-rol/posts/693825

The making of Phil Spector’s Christmas Album

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wreckingcrew/the-wrecking-crew-doc-untold-story-of-rock-and-rol/posts/696112

Don Randi, eating on the road with Frank Sinatra

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wreckingcrew/the-wrecking-crew-doc-untold-story-of-rock-and-rol/posts/697160

So much fun stuff on the Intertubes. I don’t miss cable TV at all 🙂

attachment is a good thing

Ishikawa homer

Fireworks are detonating in San Francisco tonight, as the SF Giants win the National League Championship, and go to the World Series. WOOOO-HOOOOO! Let me make my feelings clear! It’s especially sweet that Travis Ishikawa’s homer ended the game. He has been a workhorse all year, and there is something perfect about him finding such a memorable and delightful place in the history books of the game.

But like all things, there is learning here. How ecstatic I feel, how delighted, going to sleep with a smile and anticipation of baseball next week with the Giants in the Series, the Ultimate Baseball Experience. First let me paint the depth of my attachment.

When I was 11 years old, in Tucson, Arizona, my soon-to-be-stepfather Leon saw my interest in crystal radios and offered to help me set up a 1932 Philco shortwave radio in my bedroom, stringing an antenna on the roof and connecting it to a good ground. One Sunday we accomplished the setup, and oh my god, I could play with this thing for hours listening to radio stations from Canada, Argentina, Russia, and the BBC in London. Meanwhile, I lived a thousand miles from the nearest professional baseball team, and the playground was pretty evenly divided between Dodgers and Giants fans. Sandy Koufax, Willy McCovey, Drysdale, Mays…the arguments were lively and fun.

And then I discovered that regular AM radio stations would “skip” off the ionosphere after sunset, and I could receive KNBR broadcasts of Giants games. The games would start at 7:05 (Arizona didn’t do daylight savings, so the time was the same in SF), but that was before summer sunsets. Around 7:30 in September, I and some friends would be in my bedroom, where I would turn on the bare radio chassis, watch the tubes warm up, and listen to the hiss at 680 kilohertz. Tuning around back and forth, we could tell there was a carrier signal, but could not hear anything else. And then about ten minutes after sunset, the magic would happen. “zzzzhhhshshhshshhhhh….and Mota is on first with one away. The pitcher winds up…and it’s a ball, high and outside…” The announcer would emerge from the white noise like an audio apparition, unheard one moment, crystal clear the next. We were enchanted more by the game of course, but in retrospect, I loved the way the Heaviside Layer (now I’m dating myself!) would enable long-distance communication on the medium wave bands. The oil-filled capacitors on this (35-year old radio, now 75 years old!) leaked a bit, so after an hour the chassis would start to smoke, and we would have to open the window to clear the smell. No matter, it was Giants Baseball.

(Little side note – a couple of years ago, a neighbor up in Lassen, who bought the summer cabin from my parents in 1994, told me that this radio was still in the rafters of the tool shed, pulled it out, and gave it to me. So I have it again, all 40 pounds of tubes and transformers, along with acorns and a half pound of dust in the chassis!)

Fast forward 45 years, and I’m still enchanted by the radio. Jon Miller and the crew at KNBR are fabulous announcers, and I prefer listening to their broadcast over going somewhere with a TV to watch. Tonight was awesome, a bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off 3-run homer to win the pennant. I am so happy on many levels, how they won, how classy the Cardinals were as an opposing team, who hit the homer. It’s a great game, baseball, and the Giants thread runs deep in my soul.

Which brings me to attachment, looking and what this is and why I let myself attach and ride the roller coaster of victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, at something so ephemeral. It is after all, just a game.

If we are here, to do great fulfilling things, to go on hero’s journeys, to take on practices or caregiving or success or failure or build families or create companies or travel and see everything we can find…well how wonderful is that? It’s all ephemeral, we cannot take any of it with us when we die. The wonderful game tonight, the winner and loser, will fade into memory just as everything else does.

But that does not invalidate the joy, which arises from desire. Incarnation is a gift, not a prison, and we get to experience the delight of embodiment as well as the pain of loss or change. I love the Giants, and that love and joy and sorrow when they lose and energy hanging with other fans, cheering and booing…well, it’s all wonderful as long as I don’t take it (or myself) too seriously. For me, one difference between attachment and desire is keeping a sense of humor about it.

WOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

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