Crossing USA: San Francisco

“Don’t Freak Out.”
-‘What Not To Do at Burning Man’ guide

Three Belgians in San Francisco, gathered in the living room of a friend, nervous as can be about the coming few days. We couldn’t be further away from home while still on a continent, and right now, that’s pretty much how I feel.

The 3 of us have been here for 3 days, drinking in what we can of this tidal wave of new impressions. The American culture is something we’ve seen on television time and time again, but to experience it first-hand is still very overwhelming.
The trip here was, as expected, an absolute bitch. Flying, despite its technological marvel, is tedious, annoying and terrifying all at once and I hate it with a deep passion. To catch one of the longest flights across the globe was a genuine test of one’s mental strength, especially when the promised wifi is actually a kid sitting next to you. Luckily the parents were Norwegian so the little viking and I became good friends before dark.

That nightfall was artificial, since we chased the sun fast enough to almost catch up with it. We left Oslo around 3pm, and landed in Oakland 2 hours later, at least on paper. Also on paper, we were to pick up our “medium sized SUV” and maybe get installed at my friend’s place before picking up Belgian #3 and after what seemed forever, get a good night’s sleep.
We had booked our Toyota RAV4 to be picked up at San Francisco International and anyone local or not stupid will notice a slight problem: We were at the wrong airport. And for obvious reasons, they don’t build these airports close together.

“I hope you’ll see your problems as challenges,” someone told me before departure. But with very limited means of communication, not a single clue about public transportation and serious exhaustion clouding our heads, this challenge was getting a wee bit complicated.
We managed nonetheless, and a few too many hours later, we were cruising around in a Jeep Patriot, falling under the “…or similar” part of our contract with the rental company. The automatic gearbox took some getting used to, I have the bruises to prove it. Due to circumstances I won’t be driving, but it seems that the American traffic regulations are straight-forward enough. The others didn’t have too much difficulty adapting to it.

So there we were, 3 pairs of bloodshot eyes working hard to stay open and locate our place to stay over: Nick’s house.
Nick is a cork dry and endearingly warm local personality, taking us in and showing us our room. Like the hero that he is, he fixed some couches and a mattress for us to sleep on, and provided us with a key of the house so we could come and go whenever we leave. A good holiday starts with a stress-free home, which is exactly what he gave us. It’s a priceless thing.

The couch across the room is occupied by Dieter. I can say we’re old friends by now, as the years tick away. We met over the internet and even though we were never truly close, I still consider him a good friend. The guy is a black hole of sorts, absorbing whatever whatever you might have to say and taking it into quiet consideration until some ray of insight shines from his face holes. His calm demeanor and emotional stability makes him the perfect travel partner, so inviting him on the trip was one of the first things on my mind when I made the decision. I’m glad he could make it.

Linh was originally a friend of his, whom I’ve been warming up to rather easily. I don’t know much about her still but I don’t mind: We get along effortlessly. She has the mattress, currently in a sea of wrappings and trash, to be disposed tomorrow as we take off for Black Rock Desert.
All things considered, I don’t think I could have wished for better people to die with.

“If you’re gonna ride my ass
at least pull my hair”
-Bumper sticker

I’ve traveled quite a bit and I have marveled at many things, but very rarely were they man-made. San Francisco is now an exception to that rule, as I’m being thrown from one impression to the next. Everything is big here. The cars, the roads, the monuments, people’s personalities. Truck-sized SUV’s swerve across lanes, giant buildings seem to lean from one side to the other as they pass by, orange juice comes in 90-gallon jugs. Between these impulses, a lifestyle becomes apparent that is surprisingly different from our European ways, and at the same time very similar.

One thing I’m having difficulty getting used to is the people’s outgoing nature. I’m used to the American vocabulary from work and media so I have no trouble communicating. That might seem stupidly easy but there’s a pretty big difference between everyday spoken language and say, Tom Cruise. The other and I do have to ask others to repeat themselves, quite often.
But it seems so shallow. Conversations are often so meaningless that I wouldn’t mind going without- especially when there’s a salesperson on the other end. It’s not fulfilling in any way.

In comparison, my city seems like an outdoor history museum with shy people inside. Here, everything is inflated to bombastic proportions. It’s loud, it’s huge, and strongly saturated. It’s beautiful too, in its own way, a monument to what humanity can accomplish in a relatively short period of time when the shackles of history are left behind in Europe. I’ve only seen a small fraction of it, but what a fraction it is.

And now we leave for Burning Man, stocked up on snacks and SD cards. I am nervous but I feel ready: We have what we need and more importantly, we have each other. When I decided to do this, I would have done it alone if I had to. Now, I am very happy that this is not the case. I probably could have done this without them, but there would be far less reason to.
For a large part because they are going with me, this is going to be epic.
On August 30th, the man burns.


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