I did not attend Burning Man this year, because Victoria is stuck in Toronto and I've discovered that I don't like attending big events alone. Instead, I decided to visit Victoria and other friends and partners on the east coast. I discovered later that some friends would have wanted me to go to BM with them, and was also invited to some alternative events that I didn't previously know about, but the decision was already made.
First stop, Savannah GA, to visit a comet partner of mine. Thursday night I flew from San Francisco to Charlotte for a short layover before flying to Savannah. At least, that was the plan. The flight into Charlotte was slow to land and slow to taxi to the gate due to weather, leaving me just minutes to sprint across the concourse to catch my next flight. I made it as they were announcing last call. A few minutes later the captain announced we were being delayed for weather. A half hour later some of our flight crew had still not arrived on incoming flights. After two hours on the plane (the legal limit), they told us our flight was canceled. Of course, this was just after midnight so all the hotel websites had just switched over to refusing to allow reservations or give vacancy information for the night. I walked off the plane to the sight of a hundred people in line to speak to a single gate agent. Fortunately the automated system called and informed me I had been rebooked for morning within minutes, but I still needed to talk to a human about a hotel. I called customer service and got in their queue, and spent a while standing in the barely-moving line in the terminal. I eventually gave up and left to have breakfast and find a hotel on my own.
First stop was a Waffle House, which is my favorite destination for filling food in the middle of the night if I'm in the right part of the country. Then I started the slog through dewy grass and mud (of course, in the land of no sidewalks, and few street lights so walking in the road wasn't even remotely safe) to check the dozen nearby hotels. In the half hour of meandering to six hotels I managed to get through to two on the phone, striking out eight times. I lucked out with number nine, an extended stay chain I had never heard of. The room was very much a one star sort of experience, but the linens smelled clean and the shower worked and that's all I really cared about. As I got in the shower before bed, an hour and forty six minutes after I called them, I finally won the privilege of speaking to an airline representative on the phone. I told them I was too sleepy to deal with the problem and that I would contact them later, then I showered and went to sleep. (note: I actually took a break from writing at this point to go send my complaint to American Airlines)
Friday morning went pretty smoothly, getting to Savannah on time on the rebooked flight. I took an hourly bus from the airport to my hotel, where my partner from GA had already checked in the previous night (and very disappointingly spent it without me). Friday afternoon we went out to see a bit of downtown Savannah. We found a wonderful little bookstore built into an old house, with every nook and cranny filled with bookshelves. Then we had burgers and alligator meatballs and some other unremarkable things for lunch. That evening we met a friend of hers and their date who was through an amazing coincidence also visiting from the west coast, and the four of us had dinner at a very tourist-trap-y place called the Crab Shack, right on the water somewhere in the maze of creeks and rivers near the swampy parts of the shore. We ordered a three person platter after one of them warned that the four person platter would be too much. That was fortunate, because what we got was still far more than we could eat. I haven't had crawfish in years, or locally caught shrimp and crab either. The meal was good, we waved to the captive alligators, then we headed back into town. The nightcap was a very loud rooftop bar at another hotel, with karaoke we could barely talk over, then a walk along the riverfront and an attempt to ride a ferry which we could have taken the last trip of the night on if we wanted to get stranded on the far side.
Saturday morning we went to the smallest farmer's market I've ever seen, maybe 30 vendors with the full variety of what you might expect at such a place. Unlike the abysmal airport bus service, the downtown area has two free bus routes which served us well. Later we drove around a bit farther from downtown, saw some sights, and did laundry at her house where through bad timing I met her roommate's girlfriend but not her roommate. Then for the evening we saw a drag show at Club One, famous as the home of the Lady Chablis who you might know through the book and movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".
Sunday we had brunch at an amazing Cuban restaurant (Rancho Alegre) and spent most of the day in our hotel room. That evening I borrowed a bicycle from the hotel and did a little touristing on my own. With no bike lanes and not enough sidewalks it was a harrowing experience even in the light traffic, and not an experience I would recommend except to capable cyclists. I harassed a drive-thru that refused to serve me, then had some other local fast food, while wandering around and reading plaques about various historical people and events, mostly antebellum and civil war related, which was about the last time Savannah was relevant on the national stage.
Monday morning I said goodbye and made my way back to the airport, again on that once-an-hour bus which meant spending about an hour longer at the airport than I'd have liked. The flight to Charlotte was uneventful, as was the layover and ensuing flight to Boston. Once there I rented a car to make the 90 minute drive to what Boston residents might call "Western Mass" but everyone else calls "Boston suburbs". This was to visit a friend who is homebound due to illness and had posted online "I'm too tired to correspond and coordinate visitors; just show up". I was worried this wasn't meant for me, but I took a chance a few weeks earlier on sending them "If you don't reply to say no, I'll show up" to which they didn't reply. I helped them with some grocery shopping and some packing to move closer to their support network, had some chat about old times and our lives, met one of their other local friends, then departed. (note: taking a break here to go buy a nifty tiny bluetooth keyboard+touchpad that I saw them use and thought would be as useful for my home theater as it is for their inability to reach the computer from bed)
Monday evening had one of the highlights of the trip. 4-7 years ago when I lived near Boston, Artisan's Asylum was the only big public makerspace. It set a shining example in a lot of ways, but was also lacking in other ways. Around the time of my departure, some alternatives were starting to spring up in different niches and locations. One of which was the Worcshop, so named due to being located in Worcester which is way out in cheap real estate land ~45 minutes west of the city. An old friend teaches metalwork classes there but unfortunately I wasn't able to connect with him this time around. Fortunately a few folks were around including one of their general staff who gave me a tour. It was amazing. The tour started with half a dozen smaller rooms of various uses, sewing and 3d printing and general crafts and such, all of which would make a passable small makerspace in a city. Then came the punchline, their metal shop which appeared to be about 10k square feet of high ceiling warehouse. I won't bore most of you with a list of tools here, you can find that on their website if you like. Suffice it to say that it was the most well equipped non-private-commercial metal shop I've ever seen by an order of magnitude, and arranged in the "cluttered and densely packed where it doesn't matter but with clear paths to every tool and every work station" way that I love. I left with a brochure and membership pricing details to potentially take advantage of on my next visit, which might sound weird but will make sense when you read what comes next.
Two years ago on a visit to Boston a friend asked me to put them on track to having a bondage suspension tripod for their bedroom. I acquired some heavy duty steel pipe for them and pointed them at instructions for joining the apex with rope, in the same way you might lash bamboo traditionally. Unfortunately they were never comfortable with this approach so the materials languished. On a visit since then I re-measured one of the pieces so that I might fabricate a solution back home, but I never got around to it. This time, things would be different. That friend gave me a couch to sleep on Friday night, after I spent some time watching Blunt Talk with a gaggle of their friends. If you haven't heard of it, think "30 Rock" with Patrick Stewart playing the lead.
Tuesday morning I took the pipes and went hardware shopping. The first Home Depot I went to. where I had bought the pipes years earlier, had the fittings I needed but had given up their pipe threading station. This was unfortunate because the new plan called for the pipes to have both ends threaded, not just one as I had left them previously. A helpy associate sent me to a nearby store who should have had pipe threading capabilities except it turned out that their pipe cutting station was torn apart for electrical upgrades and the associate there couldn't be bothered to roll the pipe cutter over to the wood cutting area where there was the right kind of power available. So off I went to a local commercial plumbing supplier facility, the sort where pipes usually come out by the truckload, with my handful of pipes in need of just being threaded. For the low price of $15 per pipe end, $90 total (one end on each of the long pipes and the short cutoff extensions I had made previously) they got the job done.
Then I was ready to head over to Artisan's Asylum (https://artisansasylum.com/). I was a member there for years and saw a lot of people I knew and a lot of new faces. I had arranged in advance to purchase a day pass and to coordinate with the metal shop steward about any changes in tooling or procedures since I had been there last. Unfortunately the pipe threading shenanigans had cost me a couple of hours, so I had to break to do my day job at that point. Fortunately they have comfy chairs, good wifi, cold water, and friendly faces, so that wasn't too bad. On my lunch break and after work I was able to proceed with my plan. I spent a few hours in the metal shop turning three pipe elbows and some bar stock into a head for the tripod and gave it to her that afternoon. I look forward to hearing tales of its use.
Tuesday evening I had announced a dinner at a restaurant in my old neighborhood, open to anyone who wanted to catch up with me. I went in fearing nobody would show up, and was delighted as about ten people came and went during the three hours I had set aside for dinner then ice cream nearby. A lot of seemingly sincere hugs were shared, and reminiscing was had by all. I caught them all up on what I've been up to, and heard tales of what's been happening in Boston in my absence. I also made tentative plans to visit some folks more specifically and intentionally in the future, including a friend who recently bought a house in Rhode Island and is planning exciting things down there. Without calling out anything I did with anyone in particular, I do want to make note that this was not only the first time in my life that a woman has spontaneously invited me to share her bed when we weren't already currently recurringly intimate, but that it happened twice. It never rains but it pours, I guess.
Wednesday morning was breakfast with a friend on their way to work, doing my day job, then some thrift and mall shopping in search of full size luggage. While I normally only travel with a carryon, or sometimes even just a backpack, this trip I knew in advance that I needed to take a mannequin body home from Toronto and found out with less notice that I was being gifted 200m of retired climbing rope in Boston. I ended up getting something new from the mall, time will tell if it was worth it. I made my flight with plenty of time to spare and was in Toronto later that evening.
Arrival in Toronto was a new experience. Previously, traveling from and to San Francisco, I used the big airport outside the city. This time I got to experience the tiny commercial airport on an island right next to downtown Toronto. If you ever have the chance, I recommend flying into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ). Due to some outdated signage, predating the digging of a pedestrian tunnel from the airport to the city, I ended up on the most ridiculous ferry. "Take the scenic route – the 90-second trip is among the world’s shortest ferry rides". Due to the existence of the tunnel, the three-story 100+ passenger ferry was a ghost town, but it would cost so much to make it smaller due to the connection to the terminal walkways being on the top floor. After making landfall yet again it was a quick car ride to Victoria's house.
Thursday I hung out with Victoria, did my day job, and spent a little time volunteering at the nearby location of the Toronto Tool Library. Victoria joined and started volunteering at the desk there recently, and apparently convinced them that I could help with tool repair. I showed up without her when she was running late due to a delay at work and introduced myself. The fellow at the desk showed me around and explained their intake process, then set me loose on incoming tools. My instructions were straightforward: take each new tool, test anything that I thought was important for functional and/or safety reasons, label good tools and sort them into categories, spend not-too-much time trying to do repairs on any obvious failures, and scrap anything beyond repair or too old to be worth dealing with. I spent half my time there chatting with the other volunteers, including Victoria, and the other half fixing a few tools. There was a sander with the brushes stuck against the commutator due to sawdust gumming up the springs behind the brushes, fixed by taking the brush housings apart to clean and lube them. Then there was a circular saw making an awful noise in use, which after a few dis-and-re-assemblies without finding a problem anywhere in the motor housing turned out to have absolutely no grease in the gearbox that we hadn't even noticed in our initial assessments. Unfortunately what was probably months to years of intermittent use in that condition had worn the gears down enough that adding grease didn't silence it, but it was good enough to put into circulation. I told the folks there that I would probably be back on a future visit; I love getting my hands dirty, fixing tools, and helping a good cause all at the same time.
Friday after work we went out for dinner and then to Oasis Aqualounge, one of the nicest and best equipped kinky and sexy play spaces I've ever seen. In addition to enough furniture and padded areas for at least a few dozen couples to be doing their thing separately, spread across three floors and ten rooms of an old victorian mansion, they also have a well equipped dungeon space with about 8 stations of various sorts, a sauna, a hot tub, a heated outdoor pool, two cash bars, and a private room that can be reserved for couples or moresomes in two hour blocks without additional cost. We went on a night that did not allow single men, which seemed to produce a mostly-couples atmosphere with not a lot of swinging or hooking up that I could see. When we arrived in the early evening the space was sparsely populated and we had our choice of rooms and stations. We left closer to midnight as the space was becoming much busier but looked like it had not come even close to peaking yet. I will definitely visit again when I am in Toronto.
Early Saturday morning I flew back to SF. I managed to snag a whole 4-seat row to myself on the plane and was able to lay down to sleep through most of the flight. I got back with plenty of time to prepare for the first outing with an escape room team I've recently joined, but that's another story for another time.
Overall this was one of the busiest and most enjoyable vacation / travel / seeing-friends trips I've taken, perhaps second only to the two weeks Victoria and I spent in Europe last year. I will repeat many parts of it on future trips, and am looking forward to the next time I can go this many places in a short time.