In these politically-charged, anti-Obammycare times, when so many are antagonistic to the point of shutting down the dang guv’ment, I thought it might be an insightful exercise to travel to both sides of the country to see what’s really going on. Like Diane Sawyer!
First, I ventured deep into solid Blue State commieland (northern California)…and the following week, I went down into the Heartland™ to Arkansas. What did I discover? PLENTY!
My first stop was northern California. I drove up there from Vegas (a 9-hour
jaunt) to attend the social event of the year: the annual forest rave birthday bash of electronic music pioneer Goa Gil! I went up a few days early to stay in San Francisco with my special friend from Burning Man, Zen, who lives right in the geographical center of the city near the legendary Haight-Ashbury area. Talk about Blue State — this was as commie as you can get, this side of Cuba!
While I was in San Fran, I booked a nudie photo shoot with a traveling businessman at the Fisherman’s Wharf Hilton, to cover
my gas money. Let me tell you something…I have a pretty good sense of direction, but driving around that city (San Francisco) is baffling. I can’t seem to grasp the layout — the streets all go willy-nilly in every direction; not like Vegas, where due to our stolid Mormon founding, the streets are laid out in a very orderly east-west, north-south grid. It’s kinda depressing, in a way — it’s almost impossible to get lost in Vegas. All you have to do is look up, and either the Stratosphere Tower or the Luxor’s laser beam will orient you.
After attending to business, and bumming around the city for a few days, it was time to head for the hills and attend Goa Gil’s birthday bash. Here’s a quick refresher, in case you forgot: at Burning Man, all my Israeli campmates were telling me about these legendary rave/birthday parties in the forest, where this ancient DJ named Gil from Goa, India spins psytrance music for up to 30 hours straight, while hordes of Israelis, Russians and hippies eat acid and dance like mad people in a sort of transcendent state of mindlessness! When they told me about it, I knew I had to go…and by Golly, I made good on my promise 🙂
Goa Gil is an internationally famous psytrance DJ who does shows all over the world, but he comes back to Nor Cal twice a year for these birthday parties/raves that are always held in different remote locations, far away from the prying eyes of Johnny Law — places where a man can eat acid and spin brain-breakingly loud psytrance for up to 30 hours at a time, ya know? This particular party — his 62nd birthday — was held at a breathtakingly beautiful site in the Tahoe National Forest near Truckee, a few hours northeast of San Francisco.
Goa Gil’s birthday set traditionally starts at sundown on Saturday, and he spins until sundown Sunday — or until he runs out of acid!!! Accordingly, Zen and I left San Francisco late Saturday morning, arriving in the Tahoe forest around 3pm…just in time to set up camp and make dinner before Gil started.
The way it works is, they set up a DJ booth and dance floor in a little clearing, and then you just find a place to set up camp nearby — you’re probably going to be dancing your balls off all night, so you only need a small pile of fur to collapse on for a few hours anyway. We went as far from the dancefloor as possible, way up on this bluff behind the rest of the party, to try and get a little peace and quiet in case we felt like resting at any time during Gil’s marathon set. But as I was soon to find out, it was a fool’s errand!!!
After setting up camp, a bunch of Zen’s friends from the Bay Area joined us, and we made a fire and had a big old communal hippie potluck dinner. Several of the group were Japanese — apparently psytrance is huge in Japan, so much so that this one couple even brought their adorable 10-month-old baby with them. And this wasn’t even baby’s first Gil party — it was her second, so she knew what was up. They even had these adorable little baby-sized protective headphones for her to wear, to protect her delicate baby eardrums from the relentlessly pounding psytrance (if you’ve never heard psytrance, look it up on Pandora or see below to understand what I mean).
As we were having dinner, the sun started to go down, and Gil’s wife Ariane played a short set. Ariane is better known as an accomplished djembe player, but she also DJs a bit, and she played this amazing sort of ethereal warm-up music that echoed through the forest like the sound of that alien spaceship from Close Encounters. It was really cool, and got my blood pumping for the main event — I couldn’t wait for the legendary Goa Gil to start! Maaan, I was gonna party allllll niiiiiiiiight!!!!
After downing a handful of mushrooms for dessert, I suited up in my colorful psychedelic caftan (that dress was born for this rave; I might as well retire it now, because it totally served its purpose there) and headed down to the dancefloor area to see Gil come on. It was astonishing!!!
First of all, keep in mind that this was this crazy fucker’s 62nd birthday party — he’s no spring chicken! But his legions of devoted followers assembled this huge beautiful canopy over his DJ platform, with an elaborate and well-provisioned shrine in front featuring flowers, crystals, Buddha statues, an abalone-shell waterfall, jugs of coconut water and assorted other hippie accouterments. It was amazing!
But the most amazing thing was when he actually started playing his set. All this peace-n-love hippie-dippie iconography, all the beautiful flowers and crystals and shit — and when his music came on, it was like the sound of meth-addled cops pounding on the door of a bank vault with diamond jackhammers!!! To me, it sounded angry and relentless — this music gets up to 200 beats per minute, and it just sounds terrifying and angry to me. Listen for yourself:
So there’s this furiously pounding, blasting beat echoing through the forest, and everyone starts to “dance.” By “dance,” I mean sort of jerk around in a trance — that’s what these kids do; it’s really like they’re in some kind of whirling-dervish-esque altered state of consciousness! I can’t be absolutely certain, but from what I witnessed I’d hazard to say 99% of all attendees were high on something, most likely acid, shrooms or molly — and that most definitely includes Gil; there’s no way he could keep spinning for 30 hours straight without it! I was told he has assistants who feed him doses as he goes along, every few hours, to keep him going. Gotta keep the engine oiled, ya know?
Anyhoo, it was really cold up in that forest — we were at something like 7,000 feet elevation, so it got down to around 29 degrees that night. But I had on a furry hat and gloves and a coat, plus a bellyful of wine and mushrooms, so I was just fine, sort of jerk-dancing in a trance of my own among the throngs of Russians and Israelis and leftover flower children. My intent was to dance, dance, dance until sunrise, at which time I’d sneak back to camp for a few hours’ sleep.
However, my partner in crime has this weird reaction to mushrooms where they make him sleepy — so after about an hour, he said he was going to lie down in the tent for awhile. I danced alone for a bit…but I have a severe sleep fetish, and my thoughts kept straying to the warm, cozy confines of the tent — we had a fur rug and stuff in there, so it sounded pretty nice to just lay down for awhile and warm up. D’OH! I crawled into the tent and under the blankets…and I didn’t get out for almost 12 hours!!! Some fuckin’ party animal, eh???
That’s not to say I slept, mind you — you try sleeping when there’s 200bpm psytrance pounding through the night air like an atomic bomb blast, vibrating the very ground beneath you!! Even though our camp was as far as possible from the dance area, and even though I had in my trusty earplugs, it was still so loud you could feel your liver rattling — all night long!!!
Finally, around 10am I gave up and crawled out of the tent, a raging headache pounding in perfect time with the music — that crazy old fucker Gil was still banging away at it!! I don’t know how he does it. It’s truly astonishing — and amazing!
After 10 cups of coffee and another hippie potluck breakfast with my awesome campmates, I felt hale and hearty enough to venture back down to the dancefloor for some more rug-cutting. Things were exactly as I’d left them — Gil soldiering on in the DJ booth, the crowd of blissed-out Israelis and Russians still trancing away like no time had passed. AMAZING! Even more amazing, every once in a while Gil would pick up his little pocket camera and take photos of people in the crowd dancing — he really keeps an eye on his audience, and will sometimes alter his set to play specifically to a particular person in the crowd, matching their energy.
Meanwhile, Gil is a human being with a bladder…so they had this awesome private port-a-potty set up for him, right behind his DJ booth. I guess during his marathon 30-hour sets, he’ll sometimes start up a track and then dip out for a sec to take a pee. LOL! Must be nice to be him — the other port-a-potties, the ones for us hoi polloi, were absolutely filthy. Worse than Burning Man, and even worse than the Electric Daisy Carnival! I guess it’s all the drugs — whatever it is, these raver kids are fucking animals in the bathroom :-/
Anyhoo, after dancing awhile and taking photos of the crazy scene, Zen and I hiked down to this beautiful river/creek thing nearby, and hung out on the banks communing with nature and just being mellow. Even at this distance, however, you could faintly hear — and feel — the pounding music coming through the trees. It was crazy! The water was too cold to really swim in, so we just kinda hiked around and then got lost on our way back, ending up having to hack through dense manzanita stands, cutting the fuck out of our shins in the process :-/ Remember, all this time I was hiking in a psychedelic caftan and flip-flops!!
By the time we made it back, we were wore the fuck out! But I had this awesome bottle of champagne someone had given me on the last day of Burning Man, so we drank that along with some fresh strawberries one of our campmates had brought, and then we crawled in Zen’s hammock and I got high as a kite and we passed out. That’s the way to go! Pounding psytrance in the background or no, it was a great nap…and after it got dark, we packed up camp and said our goodbyes and headed back toward San Francisco. And all this time…Gil was still playing!! I think he ended up DJing for something like 26 hours straight this time — not bad for a 62-year-old!!! In fact, I’d say it’s AMAZING!!!
The next morning, I left San Francisco to visit my mom, up in wine country in Sonoma County. Along the way, I stopped at several thrift stores in search of new psychedelic caftans — they are my preferred mode of dress, and I just thought I’d look around for backups, in the inevitable event that my current beloved caftan wears out. Knock wood, I’ve had it for about 15 years (and it originally cost 25 cents!)…but I know it won’t last forever 🙁
Alas, however, I had no luck finding a new caftan, though I looked in San Francisco, San Rafael, Petaluma and Santa Rosa. I did have some luck finding random cool stuff at the Goodwill Outlet in Santa Rosa — it’s one of those places where they just chuck a bunch of unwanted shit from other Goodwills into these huge bins, and you paw through them for treasures, paying something like $5 per pound. Regardless of what it is — $5 per pound. Amazing!!! I found some really cool shit there…but no caftan 🙁
Anyhoo, after that I journeyed up into the hills to my mom’s cozy little cabin, where I spent a couple days chilling in the forest, recouping my sleep and just being mellow. One day we went for a road trip all through the beautiful, funky little towns of Sonoma county: Sebastopol, Occidental, Petaluma…it’s amazingly beautiful, artsy hippie country! It was also harvest season, so all the big trucks were rumbling down the little country roads, picking up loads of grapes from the vineyards to make delicious, life-affirming wine. YUM! I love it up there, especially in fall. I need to spend more time there, for sure!
After a few days in Sonoma, I headed back down toward Vegas. I made a very bourgeois stop at an Ikea store (we have none in Vegas, and I needed a cheap dresser), then headed south through the wastelands of central California, back down toward the desert. That’s real cowtown/no-man’s-land out there…but sad to say they still have better radio stations than we do here in Vegas!! This one in particular is amazing — King’s Radio, 103.3, which plays all fabulous oldies like Perry Como and Frankie Laine and shit. If you happen to find yourself driving down I-5 in central California, between Fresno and Bakersfield…check it out!
Speaking of Bakersburg, I stopped off for dinner with my friend Dr. Zhivago, who lives there, and enjoyed a glass of wine or two and a delightful meal at the local Elephant Bar before cruising back on through the desert to Vegas. I got into town around 1am, and passed out, exhausted!
But I couldn’t rest too long, because I only had one day to get things cleaned up and ready to go for my next trip. I spent the day cleaning house, doing laundry and hitting the gym, and then on Friday I dragged my ass up at 4am (!!!!) to make a 6am flight to Little Rock, Arkansas to visit my friend from middle school, who lives there now. Yeeeeeeee haw! Excuse me, I mean “Wooooooooooooo Pig! Soooo-eee!” (As they say in Arkansas, referring to their college football team, the Razorbacks. And I mean everyone says it…including the entire airplane I flew in on, in unison, when egged on by the flight attendant. FREAKY!!)
Now, I’d already been out to visit my friend in Little Rock once before — on that visit, we went to Memphis and visited Graceland and all that — but this time, she had something different in store! She picked me up at the airport and we headed straight out to Hot Springs, the little town in the foothills of the Ozarks where she grew up. Fabulous!!
Back in the day (the 20s, 30s, 40s, etc) Hot Springs was THE place to go for a mineral bath — in those days, they really
believed in the curative properties of the natural hot springs waters, so all the rich society people and mobsters and stuff would go down there for a soak. They built all these amazing majestic hotels and bathhouses, but over the years the place has sort of fallen into genteel disrepair, crumbling in a very Southern, Blanche DuBois kind of way. But some of the grand old hotels are still open, and we checked into this one awesomely creepy, decrepit old Grande Dame called The Arlington. Fabulous!!!!!!!!!!!!
After dinner at this little Ecuadorian place, and drinks at a few local hotspots (including the fabulous lobby bar of the Arlington, where a bitter drunken redneck cussed out my friend for not accepting his offer of a tequila shot), we passed out for the night so we could be up in time to hit the Arlington’s Bath House — which was WITHOUT A DOUBT one of the MOST AMAZING PLACES I’ve ever been!
Now, I’m used to these ultra-pretentious
Vegas spas, with their Koi ponds and eucalyptus buttplugs and whatnot. This was nothing like that. This was an old school bath house, which means it was crusty, decrepit and basically resembled nothing so much as a 1940s insane asylum — white tiles with dirty grout, rusty appliances, threadbare towels and creepy cracked white leatherette upholstery on the chaises. Like I said, fabulous.
Basically, you pay $30 to go in, strip naked, and get scrubbed down by one of
the ginormous attendants (they look more like hospital orderlies, adding to the asylum vibe). They put you in a decrepit old whirlpool bathtub full of hot mineral water, leave you there for an hour, then come in and scrub your naked body with a loofah. It’s totally Scarlett O’Hara meets Nurse Ratched.
Then they wrap you in hot towels and leave you to lay on a chaise for another hour, shvitzing out all your toxins in the company of various other Southern ladies, which is a real hoot in itself. I mean, this place was so weird! I loved it!
Look at these pictures! This definitely ain’t no Vegas spa, that’s for sure…it really was like being a patient in an insane asylum.
Now, I’m a bona-fide hot springs nut (as you know), but I don’t know about any curative properties or anything like that. But I did feel hydrated and revitalized after the morning’s soak, and was ready to take on the world…starting with Little Rock, Arkansas! But before we left Hot Springs, there was one last stop to make at the gift shop across the street….
That’s right — at LONG LAST, I was finally able to get my hands on one of those fabulous little knives cunningly disguised as lipstick containers!!! I saw one in a documentary about lady truck drivers once, and have wanted one ever since. Finally, a weapon to take along on those desert photo shoots with strange men!
Now we drove back to Little Rock, to my friend’s beautiful new house on the shores of this little lake right in the middle of town. It was so beautiful and so peaceful, and I had my own little guest apartment downstairs with a private deck looking out over the astonishingly beautiful lake. What a great setup! After resting up awhile, we went out for dinner and drinks at some bars in downtown Little Rock, including this one awesome one I remember from last time, that has an
amazing white trash piano bar upstairs, and a slightly ghetto hip-hop club down in the basement. Hmmm! I remember last time (2010), there was this big blonde pig-faced sow celebrating a bachelorette party upstairs….and guess what; this time there was the same exact thing going on! Ahh, the Circle of Life. Sows keep breeding, boars keep rutting… Woooooooooooo Pig, soooooooo-eeeee indeed!!!
The next morning, my girlfriend dragged my ass down to this gorgeous trail system along the river banks for a punishing 6-mile run. She’s into marathoning and whatnot, and I’m into not being a lardass….and besides, we planned to check out the State Fair that night, so we needed to burn some major calories! But it was really cool to see how many people were out and about, running and biking and enjoying the beautiful fall weather (everywhere I went this month — San Francisco, Sonoma, Vegas and Arkansas — the weather was gorgeous, leading me to surmise that October is the best weather month everywhere). One has these preconceived notions of the South being nothing but lardasses in trailer parks, and it simply isn’t so. Arkansas has astonishing natural beauty.
Anyhoo, it was a GOOD FUCKIN’ THING I ran those six miles, because I totally lost control at the Fair that night. I was on my period, but I really can’t explain my behavior — I just went batshit crazy, and ate every fattening thing in sight. Blechhhh!
At first, I was wandering around in a state of amusement, like, “Ahahaha, how funny…deep fried Jell-O.” But next thing you know, I was sidling up to the counter and ordering chicken & waffles on a stick, chili cheese fries, corn dogs and MUCH, MUCH more. BLURRRRRGGHHHHH!! It was like some primal instinct took over, and made me order that stuff. And I ate it all!!!!!!!!!
I swear, I don’t know what came over me. I don’t even remember much of what went on at the fair, because I was in a food coma. I know that my friends went on a bunch of rides, but I’m a pussy about that kinda stuff so I waited on the ground, people-watching, while they rode. I should have gone with them, in retrospect…if only to puke up all the crap in my stomach!! I probably would have felt a lot better in the morning, that’s for sure.
It wasn’t all just fried foods and carnival rides, though — there was also a bunch of agricultural 4-H stuff, and all these informational exhibits telling you how bad abortion is (they had little rubber fetuses showing you fetal development at various stages of pregnancy), how great Jesus is, and how important agriculture is. This shit was my favorite part of the whole fair!!! I even ran into one of the readers of this blog, working at a Tuff Shed exhibit! You just never know where you’ll run into likeminded souls…..
Anyway, all this reminded me of how I NEED to get my ass out to the Clark County Fair one of these days (Vegas is in Clark County). The fairgrounds are in Logandale, about an hour north of Vegas, and I bet it’s amazing out there — totally removed from the whole Sin City shtick. I guess it’s like that anywhere — once you get out of the city and into the boondocks, shit changes, and the next thing you know you’re listening to country music and muddin’ in an F-150 in the middle of a wheatfield. It’s like that on the outskirts of Vegas, and even once you get far enough outside the Bay Area. In fact, one of the best redneck rodeos I ever went to was in San Francisco — folks came from all the little inland towns around, and it was amazing.
Aaaaaanyway, the next morning I woke up feeling like the fucking Hindenburg blimp, but somehow strapped myself into my jeans and boarded a flight back to Vegas. Only, it was more like a bus trip, ’cause this fucking plane kept stopping in every podunk town along the way!! First we had to land in Dallas, then in Lubbock. WTF!!! I can’t complain though, because it was a free ticket given me by my generous, fabulous girlfriend. And, I got to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to see Lubbock, TX — if only through the window of a Southwest jet. It was everything I expected it to be — and it only whetted my appetite for another adventure I want to embark on: a road trip tour of TEXAS!!! Once I get my little Scamp or Casita trailer, I plan to cruise around the Lone Star State, from Amarillo to Houston, from Texarkana to Odessa, leaving Wonderhussy stickers on every oil derrick and electric chair I pass by!! Who’s with me?????
Speaking of new adventures, for the past few months I’ve fallen into this great pattern of traveling/having adventures, then coming home and working for a while to make money to fund my next trip. In fact, the minute I touched down in Vegas, I was off to the MGM Grand to play a role in a scavenger hunt. The money I earned doing that paid for my parking at the airport, and even covered my food bill at the State Fair (ughhh). So that’s my plan for the next month or so — I have another California road trip planned for mid/late November, so until then you’ll find me knocking around Vegas, hustling and kicking guys in the balls and whatnot, socking away the cash for my next big adventure 🙂
P.S. for MANY more photos from my Goa Gil Rave trip, click here.
For MANY more photos from my Arkansas Odyssey, click here.