There are a small number of days of my life that I treasure as life-alteringly inspiring. Profoundly memorable. Full of love and friends and play and joy. Days like those come along maybe once a year if you're lucky and open-minded enough.
You cannot plan to have days like those. You can try, but it takes a rare convergence of mood, time, people and fickle serendipity - and those things cannot be forced.
I've just had 14 of those days in a row.
We started planning our road trip back in December 2007. My wife, my brother-in-law and I were in their parents' house in Spalding, nestling on sofas in front of the fire, listening to Christmas music and smiling in anticipation at the thought of the presents under the tree.
We plotted out a possible route on Google maps and emailed out an invitation to all of our friends. That map became the focal point of our growing excitement over the next few months as we settled on dates, collected "yesses" and "maybes", booked the flights, planned the accommodation...
In the end, ten of us went. (Eleven, if you include Salvator
Bigfoot (aka Shane McIan
A good balance: 5 girls, 5 boys. 3 couples, 4 singles. A mix of friendship groups. And a very adventurous teddy. I think that balance helped us get on so well during the 3000+ miles of driving!
Meeting SFØ players was one of the primary aims of the trip. And we are greatly honoured that so many of you went out of your way to welcome us and show us a good time while we were there. Let me know if I've missed you off the list!
C. M. the Gonzalez
We took nearly 10GB of photos and videos between us, so I can't share it all, there's just too much. Instead, I provide a video compilation
(hopefully without too
many in-jokes) and a selection of highlights below:
We did a lot of driving in the first 48 hours - over 1000 miles. At around the halfway point we stopped off at the Bonneville Salt Flats where they set the land speed records. We set the hire car speed record.
In the middle of the salt flats you could barely see the horizon, just featureless whiteness below and cloudless blue above, as if we were cartoons on a blank page. It was exhilarating driving at 100mph into total nothingness. On one hand, it felt like we were barely moving because there was no frame of reference - but on the other hand it felt terrifyingly dangerous in case we hit a dent or a piece of debris.
I got out of the car to take a video at one point, and as it drove off I realized I was about five miles from, well, anything at all. I couldn't even see where we needed to head back to. The sun was setting purple in front of me, and a storm fired lightning into the swelling sky behind me. I felt powerful and alone.
It took us days to get rid of all the salt.
Dead Horse Point is breathtaking, 2000 feet straight down on three sides. There are two steps that you need to take to properly experience it:
1. Throw a rock and count nearly ten seconds before you hear it land.
2. Secretly think about jumping off.
- Hot Tub
By the end of day three, after all that driving, we were exhausted. We drove into Moab after dark (why don't American roads have cat's eyes?) and pulled into the Moab Springs Ranch, where we had booked two nights.
From the moment we arrived, we decided that we would live there one day. Our condos were amazing, with balconies, a BBQ, a meadow and a pool... And a giant outdoor hot tub.
Chinchilla and I found the hot tub in the dark and informed everyone that we would meet them there.
It's amazing how cares slide away with bubbles at 99 degrees. We two were staring up at the scar of the Milky Way and letting the time of our lives soak into our skin, when Speedy and Starbuck showed up with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. They wished us a happy first anniversary - for it had been a year to the day since our wedding - and told us they'd give us ten minutes to ourselves before everyone joined us in the tub.
The next couple of hours could have lasted forever. Friends, bubbles and bubbly; stars and dreams. Happiness incarnate.
- Dance Patch
There's a town called Mexican Hat. We danced and danced and danced around the Mexican Hat.
I am a writer.
I want to be a successful writer. So, naturally, my heroes are writers. As a film enthusiast as well, my biggest heroes are screenwriters. And probably my biggest hero of all is Terry Rossio
, whose writing credits include Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Aladdin, and - most inspirationally for me - Wordplay
I corresponded with him over an unrelated matter, and mentioned in passing that we were visiting the States. So he INVITED US TO A HOUSE PARTY. Now, technically, we weren't available. According to our itinerary, we would still be in Las Vegas when the party was happening in LA.
Screw the plan.
Chinchilla and I decided to temporarily leave the group behind and fly to LA, returning the next morning - and damn the cost. Getting flights and a hire car would have cost two dollars more
than a package that included flights, hire car and a room at what turned out to be The Worst Hotel In Los Angeles. That's right, they actually paid us to stay there.
But nothing took away from the nerves and excitement we felt that day. It felt surreal driving through Santa Monica, knowing that we would be here again in three days with eight other people, and turning off into the beautiful Topanga Hills.
We found the address and crawled up the winding two-mile driveway. (At least it felt that long.) And there it was. In Terry Rossio's own words, "the house that Pirates built." My heart was racing. I felt thrilled, intimated, proud, nervous...
The best possible thing happened: we were too early. Terry and his partner Jocelyn (top of her field as both a surgeon and a film producer - some people are just... more
, aren't they?) were still setting up. So we helped them lay out chairs and canapés, and we chatted to them about how they were still in awe of this beautiful house after more than two years of living here. We chatted to them as normal people about normal things.
People started to arrive, so we let Terry act the host and we snooped around the house a bit. There was no-one more famous than Terry - it was a launch party for Turbo Dates
so there were lots of writers and publicists and distributors.
A few things about the house stuck in our minds. The plaque commemorating the $960,000,000 box office gross of At World's End. The handwritten note of gratitude from Gore Verbinsky (just lying around - Terry is a trusting man!). The mix CD from Johnny Depp. The Upper Hot Tub (yes, there was more than one hot tub).
The party passed its peak and eventually we said our goodbyes, asking Terry for a photo before we left. We went to sleep that night with glorious satisfaction.
Way back in December, when this trip was being cooked up, Coyote promised - as a Christmas present - to arrange for us to get our wedding vows renewed by Elvis in Vegas. To celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
He kept his promise.
I laughed so hard my jaw ached, for twenty minutes straight. Brilliant.
- Kindness of Strangers
I am filled with gratitude and wonder for the players that met us on our travels, and helped to make this amazing trip even more memorable.
We met Lincoln in Las Vegas. He was bursting with stories about the ups and downs of his Odyssey
, and we were glad to contribute.
A large part of me is envious of his freedom from responsibilities, but I have (perhaps too much of) my father's definition of success in me, so I dutifully make the sacrifice of giving up a lot of time and energy to get a dependable income - and I have to squeeze things like this trip and SFØ into the gaps. Anyway, it was refreshing to live Lincoln's lifestyle vicariously for a couple of days.
Together, we savoured the gaudy desolation of Las Vegas. Hell framed by neon. Mind you, it has to be said that the Stratosphere Hotel's Restaurant at the Top of the World rocks hard.
Then we gave Lincoln a lift to LA (by way of an ill-advised detour through Mojave National Preserve which has to be the only place in America without any fast food restaurants), where we met C.M. the Gonzalez and Heatherlynn in time to see the sun set from the Griffith Park Observatory. Those two are such a sweet and genuine pair.
We ate in a place called House of Pies. You can't go wrong with a place called House of Pies.
All too soon, we had to say goodbye. The next shplank* of players we met were in San Francisco: No fewer than five - count 'em, five - separate occasions of SFØ love...
*(Shplank being the collective noun for a group of SFØ players.)
1. We were invited to join Lank, Minch, Bex, Tiny Dancer, Blue, Eddy and I think a few more players (Bjorn Teuleuse, Anomaly, Asian Persuasion?) to go see the Extra Action Marching Band
. I would never have predicted that the cutting edge of club culture would be anarchic marching bands, but WOW these guys rocked. They were so in-your-face that they even jumped into the crowd - tubas, gas-masked dancing girls and all. I sweated my entire body weight. And it was double the fun because I got a chance to chat to (and be dry-humped by) all the awesome SFØers. My kind of people. You should all come to London and live in my spare room.
2. The Morning After. We had a great chilled-out breakfast with most of the gang. We basked in that rare feeling of warm satisfaction that is only possible when you're slightly hungover and having a big breakfast with new friends. We would have loved to spend more time with them, but our schedule was packed with (among other things)...
3. Cameron generously gave up a big chunk of his working day to give us a tour of George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. On the surface, just a ranch. On the inside, a cinephile's secret paradise with countless original film props, giant screening rooms, cabinets full of Oscars, and space battle explosions from behind locked doors. Cameron, you are the best. (Oh, and we bumped into Orion there too! Legend!)
4. We visited Lank and anna one at their place of work - a giant gay S&M factory. I had to work hard to keep a straight face (pun not intended). They are such a friendly, grounded couple - I don't know how they manage to keep their sense of normalcy working in a place with horrible gapey porn streaming off a six-foot screen all hours! Seriously, so much fun.
5. Susy Derkins left us a treasure map of sorts. A cryptic message that led us to a random street in Oakland, where we met an actual mad scientist who gave us gifts that break the laws of physics. Susy, we worship you.
And I haven't mentioned Salvator's adventures, the Beast and the Gimp Car, the Mormons, the White King and the World's Largest Watermelon, the National Parks (Arches, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Yosemite), the Hurricane High School football game, the road trip music quiz, the restaurant at the top of the world, Pismo beach, the Mystery Spot, the two singles on the trip who became a couple... And so many more!
Right, time to start planning the next trip...
The keen-eyed among you who were playing during Glasnost will notice that the story
Minch : I admit, I may have been one of the many to dry hump Charlie Fish, I learned from the Bex, I mean the best... I make no apologies (it was Charlie Fish for Christ's Sake!). I dry humped him, and it was glorious. I also nuzzled, because one must nuzzle after a dry hump, so as to ensure the object of your affection does not feel used or slightly dirty. So lovely to have such far far away stranger friends come visit. I plan to take you up on that London spare room, Mr Fish.
Lincoln: I have nothing more to report that I didn't in the writeup of the Odyssey
. Other than to say that I can't wait to go to jolly old England and do this road trip over there.
: Charlie Fish and Mink had traveled to my
continent. Greatness was in the air. You see, they both had been dear friends and mentors to me from the beginning, just like that. Something had to be done, a gesture of yourockmysocks
gratitude: hey, a round of exotic drinks in an anti-gravity field would have been reasonable, but I had to go symbolic instead. The most awesome drink-related objects
I could find, which also meant a chance to write to a personal hero
who in turn got touched by Mink and Shane unquenchable charm (Charlie & Co. had already left the States).
C.M.: What fun! Foreign ambassadors in my city means another excuse to drive up and watch the sun set at the Griffith Observatory. A van full of the friendliest English folks I ever did meet pulled up right after the gay wedding had finished up. There was magic in the air that night!
. . . Click here to see the Roadtrip Video.
I can't embed it, I'm afraid - SFØ doesn't seem to recognise Vimeo.