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This Content From 2003 (or earlier) see index

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Ren Fayre: Bugs, Drugs, Neitzche

Shining in the Dark

Saturday night is the main event at Ren Fayre. It's when things happen. There are fireworks at dusk, followed immediately by the "Glow Opera" (I'll explain later) and then at or around midnight is the ball drop. Other than the bug eating contest, these are the three most widely known events, and they are by far and away the most heavily attended. As the sun begins to fall, we gather, stocking up on beer and packing away what leftovers remain from the afternoon's feast. It's going to be a long night, and you'd best get a meal in before it begins.

The crew at night in the Beer Garden. My friends party pretty hard, perhaps unhealthily so.

Illuminated Entertainment
As darkness descends, people begin to clear out of the Beer Garden and make for the sloping hill above the West parking lot, the best view of the fireworks, which are launched from the lot itself. A herd mentality takes over and everyone is heading over. In the rush, our clique becomes seperated. Nevertheless I find an ok spot with some friends and have ample time to settle in for the show.

The fireworks are not super-spectacular, about one notch above a small town 4th of July display and hardly in the same league as a major urban event. Still, for a small college celebrating the conclusion of coursework and the egress of a senior class, it's a respectible showing. Plus the small audience makes it seem pretty special. It's a time to just enjoy and reflect. Some kind hearted man more wealthy than I drops a joint on me, and that makes the pretty lights a bit more interesting. However, there's incredibly innane stoner-talk going on all around (e.g. "We should have fireworks all the time...") so I and my buddypals move to a more isolated locale.

Sooner than you think, the final barrage is dying and the rush has begun to get seated for the Glow Opera. It's a kind of horrible tradition that people run at top speed through the dark, preferable under the infulence of many chemicals, from the fireworks show to the outdoor ampatheater where the Glow Opera is staged. It's a bad scene, like frat-house hazing, but it's a part of the culture. In the rush, I loose the friends I was with, but happen upon Luke, Dan and Chris a little further on. In their company I make the final, slow steps to a cramped front-row seat.

More Friends
More night-time crowd shots. I didn't get many great pictures at night due to the low-light situations and my own intoxication.

There's always a delay for the Glow Opera to start. The official schedule states that there's a 30-minute break between it and the preceeding fireworks display, but in practice the seats are more or less full within five. This year the delay is protracted because apparently a couple people who didn't belong there got back-stage and had freakouts. A lot of smart kids who've been really stressed out drop acid saturday night at Ren Fayre. Usually it's all fun and games, but sometimes I suppose it just goes wrong.

To cover for the delay, an enterprising student leader conducts the crowd in a series of songs. The first is just the chorus of "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith, which is surprisingly fun so sing with 300 people, then comes "Freebird" by Skynard, which I gather is something of a tradition. The process becomes more democratic, with the occasional "Ohmmmmmmm" taking over. At one point, "The Star Spangled Banner" even has it's day. Some students counter-sing "Paradise City," but the protest is rather half-hearted and the stars and stripes spirit reigns supreme, even at Reed. This is quite a stestament to the new patriotism, which has apparently pervaded even the most stridently athestic and leftist of institutions.

In between entertaining music breaks, Luke is making expert use of his Simpson's knowledge. The crowd is ansy, so he quotes from the epesode where Marge gets into the pretzel business and hands out her wares at a local ballgame. Just after distribution, there's a bogus play (Babe Ruth III telegraphing a bunt if I remember correctly), and the fans begin heaving their pretzels onto the field. The worthwhile quote is from the radio announcer: "And heeeeeere come the pretzels. Hall of famer Whitey Ford, pleading for some kind of restraint... and down goes Whitey. Folks, this is a dark day for baseball." Interspersed with this, people are discreetly slipping off into the bushes to relieve themselves.

Where you watch the fireworks from
Here's the slope you watch the fireworks from (in the daytime, clearly). The giant pinwheels are a nice touch.

After being exposed to this wildly informative lexicon of Reedie culture for what seems like longer than I can stand, the show finally begins. The Glow Opera is a performance conducted in complete darkness by actors who've created costumes out of glow sticks. There's usually a glow band to give musical accompanyment, and all the dialogue is read from offstage over a PA. It's the sort of thing drama students do to contribute to the Ren Fayre experience, and as such, I hold a special place in my heart for the glow show. This year's story is "Calvin and Hobbes." It's a good idea for a topic, and some of the glow cosumes are quite ingenius, but ends up seeming a little thin on plot, a case of comic strip not quite being so interesting in real life. However, after the wait, it's good to be gratified by organized entertainment. Without it, things might have turned ugly.

At the end of the story (Calvin looses Hobbes, trys lots of outlandish things to get him back, finds him again when mom brings him in from outside), the band jams and the cast rips of their glow sticks and throws them all to the crowd with a final exortation to have a great night. The masses are released and a relatively unstructured period of good times begin.

Hot and Heavy Rockin'
In the center of the front lawn where the Divo-like show was presented at midday, there's firedancing, and a series of musical events are stacked up in the Student Union. The Beer Garden has come alive as well, but my first stop is the bathroom. If you have enough liquid pressing on your bladder, and you've been holding it in long enough, urination is an almost zen-like high, even better than you average sex I'd venture to say. After one of the greatest and most relieving pisses of my life, I emerge into the baccinalian night.

Hoping to reconnect with the friends I lost track of hours before in the move to the fireworks, I return to the Beer Garden. 1/2 joint down (I couldn't bear to toke the whole thing) I'm not in the mood for the bevvy, but my crowd is a drinking group, so I know where they'll be. After we all check in, it seems the thing to do is to check out Bob Log III, the musical act now on in the SU.

This guy is something else. A one-man rockin' blues band, he wears a blue spandex suit and a fighter-jock's helmet with a telephone pickup wired inside to transmit his vocals. An array of pedals control his effects-laden steep guitar and a wicked assemblage of pre-sampled drum loops. For fill-in purposes there's a small bass/symbol kit at his feet he can work manually as well. The overall effect is potent, kind of like raw speedy rock that's been stabbed in the guts and is screaming it's last to you from a payphone somewhere in the dead urban heart of detroit. The feeling it brings on reminds me of the White Stripes, makes me want to get down and fuck.

It's sweltering inside the packed SU, as hundreds of Reed students bounce and gyrate to Bob Log's recursive steel-driving rhythm'n'blues. This is music with real rhythm and real blues, and a dash of total edge-gripping insanity thrown in for good measure. I can see condensation streaming down the inside of his helmet and it begins to dawn on me what exactly is going on, some kind of king hell primal postmodern hoedown. Needless to say, I'm into it, grooving with the beats and just enjoying his guitar trickery. The crowd is good: rollicking and jiving and nodding their heads and smiling the basic pre-cognative smile that comes from listening to great music being made.

Rachel is there, and she's kind of bumping hips with me. With the afformentioned horny feelings stoked by the grass and the pounding rhythms, it's surprising to me that I don't respond in kind, but truth be told I'm in a bit clearer mind than the night previous. My prudish morals kick in (she has a boyfriend, you know), plus I was getting king hell monkey vibe from a little dreadlocked dancing queen in front of me. I decide it's not such a good idea to encourage the advances, to repeat the events of last night, so I sort of shy away from her, a move which elicits a touch of scorn... seems to be something I get a lot lately.

The final number is "clap your tits" with some semi-plus-size Reedie joining Bob Log on stage to do just that. Looks painful, but it definitely gets the crowd going. Rachel is turned off by the exploitation and moody because of the disconnect between us, but right or wrong I've made my choice. At the end of the gig Bob staggers off stage and out the back door, leaving some dissonant drum loops to play. The edgy energy begins to spill over and people either clear out or start getting mean. I don't like the vibe, so I'm for out.

I wander a bit, check some of the firedancing. It's nice, but definitly the work of college students practicing in their spare time, nothing to compare with the counter-culture rockstar gypsies I've seen performing at the Oregon Country Fair. I see the girl I always see at Ren Fayre, a tall fashionista from LA, but we don't have much of a conversation. I think I encouraged her not to do coke and went looking for my people.

Eventually the time comes to go to the ball drop, the final traditional event of Saturday night. Some would-be heroes fill a pickup truck with super-balls and drive them to the top of the hill, then release them to bounce down in a chaotic hail of neon rubber. It can be grand fun, with hundreds of students filling the street. But sadly this is where the "part of the problem/part of the solution" issue comes back. My friends are mostly drunk and loutish, lurching about in a contented stupor. Myself not being there, I found them a bit inconsiderate and idiotic. This perception was multiplied when the Ball Drop went sour.

Reedies in the streets!
Street full of revelers at 1am on a Saturday night. For all its faults and folly, this is one hell of a party.

First of all, some jackasses started trying to piss off the neighbors. The event happens on the street that runs along the South end of campus, so it's in other peoples front yards. Some d-bag kids are hassling cars that are trying to get through, kicking them and so forth. It was really surprising to me, all the thuggish violence I witnessed. Not much like last year. Wonder where it came from.

The other thing that went wrong with the Ball Drop is that people crowded the ball-depot too much and didn't let the bouncing pick up. In their eger desire to be the first to pick up a few balls, they detracted from the experience for everyone. To compound things, my inebriated friends have become split up and after the fun is done it takes a long time to get us together to go home. I end up sitting with this kid we used to hang with in high school, used to be named Pete but changed his name to Raphiel. He was a nice guy in high school. We did a big chunk of Waiting for Godot together in drama class. But since he went to college (first Reed, then Evergreen, now who knows) he kind of took a turn for the worse, projecting an insincere and skeevy vibe, draining those around him, a bit of an energy vampire.

So I sat there and made small talk with this guy, slowly gathering the crowd so we could drunk-drive home again. It just felt irresponsible and juvinile, but when we got home we drank a few Pabsts and smoked a few joints, playing Poker with a nudie deck and listening to the White Strips and Judas Priest. That put me right to just plain pass out in the basement. People were still knocking around as I drank a pint of water drifted into a beatific and dreamless sleep.

Final Installment: Sunday Reconstruction

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Trips in Space and Time 8/02/03

Big Wheels in Berkeley
I scored a set of west-coast wheels today at the Ashby BART station flea market. It's a very tall schwinn road bike, black, deceptively heavy but smooth-riding. Thirty-five dollars to boot. I oiled and cleaned the works, dialed in the bakes and took it out for a shake-down cruise immediately. Nice riding on a beautiful saturday, realizing how out of shape I am as I wheezed my way though the hilly area behind the Berkeley campus.

After about an hour I started to get the swing of it. Made some minor mechanical adjustments (including a free wheel truing at the bike collective on Shattuck), drank a few liters of water and started finding my groove, cruising up and around and ending up with a beautiful view of the whole bay. The roads here are not kind to the speed inclined -- too many stop signs and crosswalks and lights -- but it was good to get out and proj for a while. This changes my summer dramatically.

...older trips...


Smother Me With
Filthy Lucre