|6 july 1999|
The idea of a gathering at the booth can grow large in a mans mind if he has the inclination to mull it over. Given enough time, the concept can incubate to the point where he expects he will clear that last rise on the desert floor to find a sea of off-road vehicles, hundreds, maybe thousands of them, shimmering in the heat around a lone booth. The only sounds will be the wind, a resonant drone from the chanting participants, and the ring of a single phone.
Such a phenomenon would have been pure gold to Wayne Freedman, Roving Reporter for a Major Metropolitan TV Station. What he and his cameraman got instead was about a dozen people loitering, a disparate group of Americans and one Brit who could swing a Thursday off to watch themselves answer a phone. Thats one tough story to fashion into a few minutes of television fare without making them look like just a bunch of oddballs.
We may have resembled that remark more than wed like to think. The desert is full of oddballs after all, according to some books about the place and the folks who inhabit it. Some say the population there is made up of hermits and flying saucer freaks with the occasional deranged entrepreneur thrown in for color. While we werent expecting the arrival of The Mother Ship, we did send up some rockets, so an observer might not be taking that large a leap to surmise that we were meeting the UFOs halfway.
But we werent oddballs. We werent any one thing, nor were we there for any one purpose. The excursion was a portal to our own individual needs. Some people came for the pure desert experience, a solitary communion with what it has to offer. I think I saw some success at that out there. Others came to play, bringing with them an assortment of props to help fill out their identities. Still others came to hang and drink and refer to hipness and their proximity to it. And one guy came to cruise chicks.
Me, I just took pictures, primarily. Most people there were occupied by a benign youthful self-involvement, and that's cool. Adventures come in all sizes. You can even get them bite-sized and half-baked depending on your appetite. It wasnt long before the area surrounding the booth had taken on a feeling of somebody elses playground strewn with somebody elses toys, so I slipped even more comfortably into the observer mode, content to act my own age as well.
I enjoyed the presence of the reporters, mostly as a breath of real air. Wayne, the television guy, was fun to be around primarily as a study in frustration as he fretted over how to present this story coherently without making too much fun of the personalities involved. Ben, the newspaper man from Las Vegas, was less cynical in his approach than TV Boy, but just as bemused by the degree of self-regard that was unfolding out there.
Chuck and I knew wed have to leave sooner or later. We picked sooner.
It wasnt hard to put a finger on the reasons why intents were so skewed, and I take full responsibility for my own unmet expectations.* While it may win you kudos as an open-minded nineties guy to drive your mind as a clear slate out to the desert, I think youd have to be a ninny to see all the possibilities laid out before you and not have some hopes. What wed hoped for was a little more conviviality and an expressed sense of appreciation for the concept of being there and taking calls. Didnt see it. The expression coming from many of the participants seemed limited to simple presence. And thats okay. I can dig being there. If all your feelers go inward, hey, knock yourself out. I can grok the gestalt of boothness, baby.
In many ways, all of this is about connection, and there was success in that regard. The phone does work again. We did take calls. I heard real voices of writers and readers. And maybe best of all, through this adventure I found a new friend in Chuck.
Our families met this past weekend. Our kids played together. Our wives did what wives do (mysterious wifely things). That all of this happened, that all of these memories got made through a phone in the middle of the desert, a broken one to boot, amazes me.
There was something fluid in the idea of the booth, some sort of juice that magnetized us and made us all point toward a telephone pole. Once we got close enough to reach out and touch it, we were like blind people feeling the proverbial elephant. As with so much of what happens in life or on the web, the truth and perception are in more than one place. Click all the links, connect all the dots, and only then will you get a good glimpse of the beast.
* In his entry of July 2 Chuck paraphrased me somewhat inaccurately. No biggie. What was actually a comment about my own expectations came off sounding about 32% more pompous than I really am. Trust me.
"Scherzo: Holding Your Own (Charles Ives)" -- Kronos Quartet -- WHITE MAN SLEEPS
"In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience."
- Oscar Wilde