Yeah, so I guess I don't know what I was expecting from Yuri's night. I think I expected some serious, defense-department- (or at least NASA-) funded, professionally-produced thrills. Toy rockets, maybe? Perhaps some Mars rover test driving? I wanted a ride in the centrifuge! Or at least that thing the kids did in Space Camp, where they were sent tumbling and had to stabilize their craft?
My brother took me to one of his Tailhook conventions many years ago, and I was amazed by the flashy booths, the flight simulator of the then-new SuperHornet, the hundreds of cool tchotchkes. I think that's what I expected, with the addition of some real academics - intellectual but layman-friendly and inspiring speeches about manned flight to Mars or something.
It was very exciting, getting waved through the guardhouse, onto NASA property, finding myself driving closer and closer to those huge hangars I usually only see from a distance off 101. And it was a quarter mile walk from where we parked through security fences before we got to the party.
Or whatever you want to call it.
It ended up being, as Tina observed, kind of a combination job fair/ high school science project fair/hippie fest. I guess I should have expected it; you can't have any public gathering in the Bay Area without attracting a mess of hippies. By which I mean, not necessarily Baby Boomers interested in self-expression and peace-mongering, but more specifically the Gen-X and Gen-Y conformist hippies who know one another instantly by their uniforms of dreadlocks, Phish t-shirts, and optional accessory (juggling sticks; rasta hat; peasant skirt; those big spool-diametered, earlobe-stretching earrings the guys wear; those ball-on-chain things).
Presumably because it was a 12 hour party, as we entered, the friendly lady giving us our map pointed out the resting area, a tennis-court sized area of couches and and mattresses. We were both tired already (we didn't get there till 5 pm and we'd both had full days), so we immediately checked out the Nap Area...and quickly walked away. It was, like, fifty-odd hippies on these couches and mattresses that looked like they had once sat, lumpily, on the street with a scrawled "FREE" sign. (The couches, not the hippies.) They looked like they had fleas. (Also the couches, not the hippies.)
There was a very loud DJ in one part of the main hangar playing sort of ambient/techhie grooves to a hundred people standing and sitting around, and, seriously, five people dancing in a very modern-dancey way - "I am a pebble, I am being washed away in the flood, I am floating, floating!" Tina and I snickered. A partner asked me this morning about the event and I said I had been surprised that such a high-tech event had attracted so many hippies, and he broke into a perfect imitation of the hippie dance that had me busting up. I've tried; I can't do it.
Inside the big hangar were the tech exhibits. There were a very few DIY projects for kids, some computery thing where you could make music, a foot pedal that would project LED stars onto the ceiling, a little two-piece balsa wood airplane you could make, that sort of thing. There actually WAS a Mars rover type robot meandering around; I could be conflating that with the robot brought by the Carnegie Mellon robotics kids, who were promoting in advance of that annual competition in the desert.
There was a guy giving a speech, something mystical about humanity and zero-gees; we didn't really follow; plus the acoustics were awful, he got lost in the din. There was one of those companies that models environmental solutions (solar power collection, water resistance) off of natural shapes; their booth had nothing a couple of photographs and the conversations were mainly about positions of employment.
Later on we met up with our friend M&M, whose boyfriend, visiting from SoCal, just happens to be working currently on the next Mars rover, which will look for more conclusive signs of (past) life - I learned more sciencey stuff from him than from any of the booths.
This one intrigued me.
There was a crowd, because it seemed to be an interactive booth - but I couldn't tell, was some schmoe actually controllign the game with his MIND? That would have been pretty neat.
Outside were the art installations. My friend had his exploding bubble thing that attracted a huge crowd after the sun went down (it was interactive); there was a little, um, tenty thing that was highly decorated along central Asian lines where people would just go and sit, 2 or 4 or 5 at a time, and ding the incense/begging bowl.
I climbed over the doorframe, sat down and asked what the purpose was, and the guy there already said it was a meditative space (or something), a quiet place to get away from the hubbub. But there were no walls or anything, so it wasn't actually quieter than where my friends stood waiting, two feet away. But then the guy gave me the begging bowl so I felt morally obliged to remain until I planted it on the next victim.
At one point one of the stages featured a Cirque de Soleil type acrobatic act, people hanging from fabric attached to the ceiling. That was pretty cool. And a lot cheaper than Zoomanity.
The food lines were phenomenal. Of the six hours Tina and I were there, I estimate we spent four hours standing in line. There was a booth for organic stuff, a booth for raw stuff, a booth for coffee that wasn't doing a lot of business, and a beer line that wasn't too bad, maybe just 30 minutes from back to front. I got to the end of the beer line and remarked on how long it was, and the guy in front of me joked, "You should see the weed line!"
We all laughed, and then his friend pondered aloud why there wasn't any pot being smoked. And we pointed out all the Federal officers walking around. Or maybe, said his friend, it was the 40-foot tall "No Smoking" signs painted on the hangar. "Jet fuel and doobies is so not a mellow combination."
The people watching was AWESOME, which made the long lines completely bearable, and actually part of the fun. A ton of silver and gold lame.
Plenty of people dressed up as astronauts or cosmonauts (or just plain Soviets, with those big fur hats); plenty of people dressed outlandishly but not necessarily futuristically (some goths, a Pirate couple).
Plenty of fairies and fantasy whatnots (women in fishnets and other sexy combos).
That angel's wings operated independently - they went up and down. Plus she was really sweet.
But my favorite was these guys - I wish I had a full length photo.
Oh, and these guys.
Have I mentioned everybody was really nice?
Tina and I were standing in a porta-potty line, and the guy behind me remarked, "Are you wearing contacts, or your eyes really that color?" I was inordinately flattered. The three of us made small talk, until his friend came up and they both walked away.
Away? "Didn't he just stand in line for the bathroom for 20 minutes?"
The lady behind HIM, who was now behind us, said, "Yeah. He said earlier he just likes standing in lines."
"I guess you get to meet people..." we said.
"He said it was that when you leave prematurely, everybody behind you gets a little thrill, and he likes to spread that around."
Sure enough, he made about thirty people a little happier.
Tina and I danced a little. I saw these coffee cups and had to share them with you (you don't even need sound):
That's some serious bass.
Steve, M&M's rocket scientist boyfriend, just happened to know when the International Space Station was going to be skimming overhead, and sure enough, we were standing in the beans-and-rice line as it made its unblinking passage. I tapped the girls behind us, and they were all excited. It seemed appropriate. I tapped the really tall guy-I-thought-was-a-woman in front of us, and pointed out the space station, and in his British Accent he was all, "Really? The ISS?"
Ooh, "the ISS." I was totally not cool enough, because I didn't use the acronym. But he was psyched anyway, and passed it on to his friends.
The last thing we did was participate in an art project that was a whirligig connected to stationary bicycles, so that the harder you pedaled, the higher and faster the people in the chairs would fly. It took four cyclists and four enjoyers, and you switched off - a great study in moral obligation. Also, with three beers in me, it was exhausting and dizzying.
One thing I will say for this event - everybody, and I mean everybody, was in a great mood. Maybe the perfect weather had something to do with it. Everyone was friendly and openminded and helpful and eager to show kindness and patience. I found it very easy to approach strangers and ask for pictures or inquire about a mystifying booth...or whatever. (I saw one guy doing his Japanese homework; we chatted, traded cards, and he emailed me today - now I have a conversation group to join in the city!) I'd hate to think that such a warm environment is only available for a $40 cover charge.