name: Larry Harvey
nickname: Patchy Dense Fog “I didn’t embrace it, but it’s a frequent condition around here.”
Occupation: Hero and founder of Burning Man
Recommends: The Incredibly Sad Story of the Rainbow Man
I was very excited when a friend of mine, Lessley Anderson, offered to put me in touch with Larry, founder of counterculture mecca Burning Man. I’ve never been to Burning Man, but it’s a city of thousands that appears in the Nevada desert for a week at the end of August. He knows about how to bring people together and build community, and I wanted to hear his story.
We talked on the phone and he wanted to come have dinner in the RV, so I got a spot right in front of my house on McAllister and ran the extension cord from the garage for shore power.
Larry poked his head in the open door and asked, “Is this the dinner place?” He is so dry, I love it. He was wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy duster jacket. This was the first dinner and I forgot to take a picture of the man, but his cowboy hat looked very similar to the one in the picture I posted above.
Lessley showed up with a gallon of vanilla caramel swirl that quickly melted in the refrigerator, and spinach salad. You can’t understand how small the RV is, and there were five of us in there. Jon was in the sleepover cab, taking notes, Clark had the video camera going, and Lessley was about three inches from the lens cooking up some linguine, while Larry and I sat at the table. When she put the onions on the skillet to sauté, our eyes began burning.
“Open the windows” the cry went up.
“No” Clark cried. “The street noise will blow out the body mic’s.”
He was right. So we stayed in there with our eyes burning, our nasal tissue sweating, and our stomachs rumbling because dinner was just about ready.
“I think it’s beautiful you’re going through California, people need to know about this state… it’s lost its cutting edge, it doesn’t seem relevant, with the last elections and all.” Lessley said.
This got us talking about politics, and Larry got me thinking about how our country is going more and more away from social to private ownership. We are going towards a private army in Iraq, and that’s scary. The private sector demands profit, and isn’t the criticism this war is about oil profit? What happens when we all agree that is a good idea to fight for?
I had a cigarette with Larry even though I’m fighting the flu. Everyone has it right now.
“It must be hard to manage a grocery store. I went into one today, and the OJ prices are slashed because it’s gonna move fast, and cold medicine is right up front. There is so much to think about.” I guess graduating from business school makes me think about these things.
Larry says, “There are more frustrated artists in advertising than anywhere else.”
I believe it.
We began to talk about the troubles brewing within Burning Man, but there is so much back-story I’m not aware of, we decided to talk about anything but Burning Man.
Lessley had to duck out early to get to her swing dance class with her husband, and Larry stayed a long time talking about how culture needs to be built, how big the universe is, and other things Lessley said reminded her of college. The plastic plates, the pasta for dinner, and existentialist conversation. We ought to do this more often.
Larry eventually had one more cigarette for the road, then headed up the hill on foot to his place just a few blocks away. This was a great beginning to the National Dinner Tour. Here on the sidewalk in front of my house.
Here’s a message some kind fan left on my voice mail.
“yeah… this is chuck, and I’ve been waiting for you marc hershawitz (Note: not my last name)
my wife, I caught my wife looking at pictures of you, telling me she wants to fuck you
let me tell you something mother fucker
you wanna talk to her about fucking? talk to me about fuckin’, I’ll beat you down like a stupid bag of bricks,
You better get your shit about you right… I’ll have dinner and your paying, you son of a bitch, and I’ll fix you up good and proper if you don’t leave a tip,
(a voice in the background) : tell him my car needs washing
Yeah, and Ed’s car needs a washin, people are dying in the street and you’re trying to take my lady out dinner you fuckin faggot.”
I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t want people to die in the street. I just want to talk to people about life. I don’t want to be called a faggot, or wash his car, or fuck his girlfriend. Man this is good coffee.”
John Patrick Michael Joseph Springer: Operates a ropes course that teaches team building skills.
Barbi: wife, business partner, and Amazing Cook!
Today we finally got out of San Francisco, and headed north to Santa Rosa If it weren’t for the giant hand written Dinner With Marc sign at the edge of the road, I would have driven right by John And Barbi’s place. They lived on a dirt road that had plastic speedbumps. It looked like it was going to be a rough start when some neighbors across a field mooned me. They were hooting and hollering and waving beers. I was starting to wish for the safety of city streets.
It is good that John works in the great outdoors, because this is where his personality can fit. He reminded me of a happy sea captain. A big chest, trimmed beard, and instant smile, he invited me to spend an afternoon at his ropes course.
He has a place on the top of a beautiful hill in Occidental, which is a little lumber town with windy roads and old redwood sheds leaning this way and that. I parked the RV by the cow barn and John pulled his white diesel Mercedes next to me. From the trunk he took out a giant loop of Lycra, that stretchy synthetic fabric.
This was the first “team building experience”. Four people get inside the loop, making the four corners of a box. Looking at the person diagonally across from you, you run towards them, high-fiving so as not to crash into each other. When you hit the Lycra where they just were standing, it absorbs you, you spin yourself around as it shoots you back to where you started. The amazing thing is, while you are doing this, the other two people who were diagonally across from each other are doing this as well. It begins to look like a stripped down trailer park version of the giant round metal cage at the county fair where two motorcyclists ride bisecting paths, narrowly avoiding each other as they go faster and faster.
As far as learning a team-building lesson, perhaps it is the notion that energy can be transferred, not lost, and my flight is based on my partner’s spring. Working together, we can create a Midway attraction with just a few feet of man made fabric.
The next lesson was in tight rope walking a steel cable that stretched between two live oaks, about twenty feet apart. The wire was strung across a three hundred foot deep gorge, and John had a grease gun in a fitting, pumping lubricant across my path.
“Imagine this field is burning, and the only way to live is to make it across the wire. I will release the leopards in just a few minutes, so take a minute and decide how you will live to eat dinner tonight.”
These corporate team-building retreats are vicious! No wonder America is the only superpower standing…
In reality, the wire is a foot over solid ground. But John has a dream job. He spent his youth traveling the world, seeing how people made money. He has started businesses and invented things. Now he is married and settled, but it seems the world comes to him. All types of people visit his FourWinds adventure program: HIV + support groups, cancer survivor groups, troubled youth programs, CEO’s of major corporations, and family reunions.
Coming up from San Francisco and stepping into the forest instantly calms me down. Is it because I’m not looking at strangers, trying to digest the information their clothes are communicating? I’m looking at trees, and they all seem friendly. The sky is clear, the view includes the islands off the coast of S.F, rolling hills, forest, clouds, and not one car with a booming system, no panhandlers, no ads for watches, shoes, or weight-loss. In four hours I’ll be looking for a coffee shop, but until then, nature is perfect.
John has more stories than a really tall building.
Let’s look at the highlight reel:
Attempted to develop disposable kitty litter trays, one-use plastic liners that come pre-packed with litter. He wound up in the patent office in Virginia, and discovered hundreds of similar ideas, but the lack of recyclability changed his mind.
He and a friend built a raft out of telephone poles and loaded a couch on it, along with a freezer that worked as a refrigerator, and a tent. They set out down the Mississippi river, getting caught in whirlpools and shoreside bars. There were many adventures.
Quotes from John:
“I may be wrong, but I’m never in doubt”
“I’m a raging extrovert.”
“The Universe is made of stories.”
After getting tied to a harness and climbing fifty feet up the side of a pine, Lauren hooked me onto the zip wire. Lauren volunteered to come up from Berkeley to help John lead me through the course, and she stayed for dinner. She was just back from Africa, where she had her hair wrapped in tight coils of fiber. She was so much more adventurous than me! I inched my way to the edge of the wooden platform, looking through pine branches, out to the field where the wire was attached to another pine. It looked to be about 250 feet I would be swinging through the air. But I don’t like heights, so it was actually hard to see, since I was wincing and feeling my stomach
It is tradition to stop at the bar on the way back from the woods. It is a small town affair, across from a gigantic hardware store that sells tractors and rocks, along with all the stuff a city hardware store may carry.
With that in mind, it was a learning experience. We needed more time with John. His wife and daughter were very shy because of the camera. So again I have to balance the dinner tour now with the ability to get the message to a large audience. I do not want to be an artist in my spare time. I have no spare time with a project this huge. So I need to think about exposure. It is such a strange dichotomy.
Here is what we learned.
Spend more time with people, so that those who are nervous around a camera will get used to it and forget it is there.
I am approaching these dinners with the intent of sharing them with a larger audience. It is an art project, not a personal one. Art needs audience. So I need to interact more with my hosts. John had such amazing stories, I sat and listened in awe. He is a powerful speaker, he is even a motivational speaker sometimes, so he has perfected his story telling.
We stayed late at the bar talking about so much stuff, a lot about the future of this project, about finding a meaning it someday, even if we couldn’t right now. We talked about the dinner last night with the burning man guy. Lauren is a part of that community. John made an interesting observation about both himself and Larry, who were both counterculture guys who now have a CEO position, if not the title. There is a burden of being in charge.
“Being from the sixties, we was two types of leadership. Lead from the front or from the back. You can stand up and tell people what to do, or you can be the guy from the back of the crowd that makes a comment that galvanizes everybody, solidifies the course. And then it flows under its own power.”
Larry and John are trying to allow for both methods, and it is a struggle.
Barbi made our dinner plates into beautiful pictures. Is there a connection between palette and palate? A flat board to mix paints, and a refined sense of taste? It was thin noodles as the base, with giant prawns and scallops ringing the edge of the plate. In the center was perfectly grilled salmon topped with ricotta. Sun dried tomatoes floated along the top of a white sauce. And we screwed up opening night by coming in late and then taking some time to set up the camera, which is always a slow process. The thing is, it was still delicious. She had the fine Waterford Crystal out, and filled with wine and water. What a change from last night, eating cheap pasta in a crowded RV on plastic plates, drinking beer from a bottle.
I have heard some strange things on this trip. Here are a few.
Skiing in New Zealand.
My lips got tired of kissing, and I ended up pregnant.
NBC is owned by GE, and you know what they make? Weapons.
He’s the guy with the scuzzy mustache.
I want people to know about the cheese that grills, it friggin’ delicious, people should eat it. Ahlloumi.
Dinner with the Fastest Dogsled Team in San Francisco
Patricia “Patti” LaCava: stylist, bobsled runner, dog lover. “Dogs pick up fear on your breath. The lump in your throat emits pheromones. So if you are afraid of dogs, just eat a breath mint.”
Chris Akuna: carpenter. Enjoys Dungeons & Dragons. “It keeps your Fridays and Saturdays free, because no one will date you.”
Nathaniel Galipeau: high school student. “When Nathaniel is older and I need money for college tuition, I’ll sell off the punk rock”, his Mom says, looking at the wall of record albums.
August Fey: works at Virgin Mega-Store. Recommends Foamy the Squirrel. “Go to illwillpress or Google it.”
Dinner was Jiffy cornbread and really good chili, just like home. There was green salad, rice, sparkling water and soda. For dessert August had brought home cupcakes from Citizen Cupcake, monster chocolate rocky road affairs, huge summits of marshmallow on top.
Dogs are Patti’s passion. She works as a foster mother for them, as she finds appropriate homes. She also is involved in dog sled racing in the Sierra Nevada’s. Her wooden sled stood in the living room, so she gave me a demonstration. “This is your snow hook, it’s the most dangerous thing on your sled.” It is basically a big hook you throw in the snow to slow yourself down.
Chris took me through the loft space, explaining the many additions and improvements he has made. Being able to go into a strangers home and getting “the Grand Tour”, (people always call it that) makes it very easy to get to know them. That is one reason why this project works so much better than my first attempt, when I took people out to dinner at a restaurant. When you are asked about your life, it opens you up. When you have your things around you, it gives you very personal stories to tell. The point of this trip is for me to get to know strangers. Its something that takes trust. I really enjoyed this family. There was a lot of life in the house, with the animals and the people. You would never expect it, all of them living in an industrial loft space down an alley tagged up with graffiti, on the edge of the Spanish speaking part of San Francisco.
But why would a woman who has five Huskies and a bobsled in the living room of her Mission District loft in San Francisco be traditional? And Chris, her partner, he was an ex-rocket scientist with Lockheed-Martin turned carpenter. His past life showed through in his handyman projects, such as the staircase that operated on a pulley system, like a castle drawbridge. Why,you ask? Because if the staircase could raise eight feet up in the air it made it easier to get to the record collection.
This is what happens when rocket scientists fix something around the house.
They were a lot of fun. Patricia was the matriarch. Her son Nathaniel was 15, and in a private school. August was a 22 year old friend of the family who was going to City College. She had moved in a few weeks earlier. I never got all the dogs and cats names down, but they were all healthy, friendly, and beautiful. Probably because she fed them raw meat from the butcher.
The best thing about this group was how spontaneous they were. I was originally scheduled to go eat with Mal Sharpe, an old time comedian, this evening. but he got the flu. So five hours before dinner time, I called Patti. She was fine with me stopping by with Clark and his video camera, Jon and his funny hat, and our NEW INTERN with just a few hours notice. I’m glad it worked out.
Patti is a stylist who works with Mervyn’s a lot. She saw my phone number in the catalogue while on a shoot and had to call the number, since she recognized it was an Oakland area code. After dinner, Patti got out her “book” which is photo-industry speak for portfolio. She is a seamstress. The world of photography is full of specialized fields. There are people who make a living styling beds. That’s it. Fluffing up the blankets and pulling them back just right. Patti showed us a magazine ad clipping where a woman and a man are half in-and-out of water.
Patti told me, “I weighted the cloth so it would move underwater. They did some other shots completely underwater, and had a different model than this one. The underwater model wasn’t that pretty, but underwater, she looked incredible. And it was just the opposite for this woman.” She said, pointing to the white-smiling blonde exploding from the tropical pool, who apparently becomes misshapen underwater. The underwater model was also able to hold her breath for a very long time. A natural born underwater model. Very rare.
We all have such amazing quirks. Really. I love it.
San Juan Bautista
Grace The one in charge! Works at the Mission Bakery
Jeremiah 22 wandering musician
John 24 engaged to a photographer, expert rapper
Cody 19 living in Oregon
Dorothy 26 put us up for the whole time, and she has three great kids:
Atlixcatzin 4 aka Ali
Anna 27 roommate of Dorothy
And her three kids, whose names are lost on a piece of paper somewhere! There are also a lot more people involved in this dinner, and my notes are somewhere I can’t place. Grace has 13 brothers and sisters! I can only remember Paula, who worked at the bakery, and gave us delicious apricot tarts.
The whole three days spent with the Serna family has been educational. I suppose every dinner has and will be. But this was cultural education. I had an amazing time.
The life I live in the city makes me skinny as a pencil. I squeeze down streets full of traffic, foot traffic, bicycles, cars and trucks. We have so many things going by us it shaves us down to the size of messenger bicycle tires. We are constantly threading ourselves through doorways, the apartment is small and the sidewalk where the children play is four feet wide.
Arriving in San Juan Bautista, the land opened up, the hills were soft and green, there weren’t houses on the crest, and the people themselves began to soften. The skinny rails of San Francisco weren’t to be found. I suppose when you stop focusing on yourself and begin to look at your family, your whole body changes. It was a fantastic thing to walk into this home on San Antonio Street. The living room was huge, and the kitchen had three long tables with red tablecloths, balloons floated along the ceiling with curled ribbon dangling from below. I thought it was someone’s birthday, but was told it was for me. There were a lot of woman here. Woman and children. This is a culture shock to an only child who lives with twenty somethings in San Francisco. It was going to be a very comforting three day stay. It was supposed to be one day, but the kids were so cute and Dorothy and Grace kept feeding us, and we didn’t want to ever leave. It was a land of fertility. I understand why men carve sculptures of hips and breasts, thighs, and all that makes a woman, and all that a woman creates. They deserve lots of praise.
The family structure was ruptured, in a way, with the two women, Dorothy and Anna, raising children without their husbands. But there was so much support with Dorothy’s extended family: Grace, the grandmother, and two uncles, Jeremiah and John, were around. A few great aunts, and friends. Cousins. There was so much food, tortillas with everything. Salsa verde and pork in a giant pot roasting, chicken and onion and celery in a pan, on the burner, two types of rice, handmade tortilla shells, hand crafted taco shells made by dipping store bought corn tortilla’s in hot corn oil on the stove top. These are things I’ve never done. The hand made tortillas were a learning experience. After you roll the dough out you set it down on the skillet, but it must be done in such a way that it lays completely flat, yet it must be done quickly, in one smooth drop. I left my finger prints on a few, which is taboo. It happens when you drop it out of your hand after holding it in your palm with your fingers spread. It creates a convex outline that heats quicker since it has come in contact first with the hot surface. So check your tortillas for finger prints burned in.
Is San Juan Bautista a small town? Here’s a relative by marriage to Grace. I was standing under a porch of what looked like an abandoned building on a side street downtown, when a door opened, and this man walked out. His name was James, and he had a wonderful brogue. He is Irish by way of Scotland. It was a wonderful moment when he invited me in for a tour of his historic home. Made of inch thick redwood boards set on end and battened, it looked like a one story old time row house.
Here’s a picture of his living room. He totally amazed me with stories and the whole vibe of the place was intense and beautiful.
Here is Caleb, a soundman who came down from the Bay Area to help Clark on the documentary. He is 19 and just moved from Texas to California. You can see him here looking out across the San Andreas Fault, which is where two plates are hitting and cause a lot of earthquakes. It is completely flat, which is strange.