Monday, September 23, 2013

Sacramento Pagan Pride Festival

Road trip!

I woke up on Friday morning in Santa Cruz with nothing to do but get to Sacramento by 6pm for a pre-festival BBQ potluck party. Me, being me, I had already packed a few days ahead of time. All I had to do was throw my bags in Hymie the Hybrid and go.

So I got up, had breakfast, looked at the list of projects I should get going on……..and packed the car and was on the road at 9am. Screw it; I’m on vacation.

The 3 hour drive to Sacramento was blissfully uneventful (unlike THIS white knuckler of a trip). I had made special mix CDs a few weeks ago and put them on the ‘to go’ pile. I had forgotten what songs I had put on them (benefits of middle-age!), and so had a delightful musical discovery of a commute. Hey! I like that song too!

Look closely at the top of the shutters across the second floor.
Click on the photo and zoom in, if you need to.
See how none of them actually line up with their neighbor?


I made it to Sac City at noon, and parked at Old Town. (iPhone search: “Sacramento History Tours”)

There is a lot of History to explore in our State’s Capitol, but I wasn’t interested in the Capitol. (But I did glance at the building as I drove by.) No, I wanted the real dirt, the low-down, I wanted to dig deep into the fetid, loamy soil of the City itself.
So I went underground.

Check out the 'arch' in the middle.
Zoom in if you have to. It's worth it - trust me.
The Sacramento History Museum (that’s the one next to the one with all the trains) offers a delightful ‘underground history’ tour of Old Town, that has you trooping through all sorts of strange and smelly basements that connect under the streets.

Why on (or under the) Earth would anybody want to do such a thing? (I hear you ask.)
Because Sacramento is the only city on record to take the extraordinary step of raising the entire city 12 feet to minimize the incessant flooding that happens when you are stupid enough to found a city on a low, flat plain between two large and untamed rivers.
Now, granted, the city in was only about 4 square blocks in 1860, but the engineering feat is still mighty impressive.
This is the kind of quality craftsmanship
that is still keeping Old Town upright.
For now.

This being the Wild West though, the thing was done hap-hazardly, drunkenly and chaotically, which is what makes it so much fun.
It was a 3 step process:
  • Step 1: Raise the streets. Just make huge brick walls along each side and fill in the middle with dirt, rocks, garbage, human and livestock waste and whatever else you have lying around. Have the alleyways slope down to the original level though, so the stores can still take deliveries.
  • Step 2: Raise the buildings. All of these were brick (after a few clear-cut fires leveled the ‘canvas’ Sacramento and the ‘wooden’ Sacramento), and so were quite cumbersome and heavy. Here’s what you do:

  1. Punch big holes in all 4 sides of your house at ground level.
  2. Thread enormous logs through the holes, so you have a latticework of poles sticking out on all sides.
  3. Put house jacks (just like car jacks) under each pole.
  4. Have the foreman blow a whistle and everybody turns their jack ¼ turn. Then wait for awhile to see if the house cracks, sags or falls apart. All good? Then wait for the whistle again. You can average up to 2 whole inches a day this way if you are really cranking it.
  5. Once or twice a week you now have clearance to oh-so-carefully put in a new line of bricks around the perimeters. Woo-hoo!

  • Step 3: Raise the sidewalks. Wait – what? Yeah, imagine that: The street is up, the buildings are up, but you have a 10 foot gap between the two. A 10 foot gap that is 12 feet deep.
Ladders were used a lot. Down to the original level, walk around in the gloom till you find another ladder and then up again to street level. Eventually, the exhausted city just gave up on step 3 and everyone just boarded over the gaps. Ta-da! Sidewalk. Done.

Now, imagine all of this going on simultaneously, with no organization or control, over the course of 14 YEARS. It must have looked like a half-finished Lego city, using nothing but the red pieces:

  • Some streets done, some half-way, some done at one end but not the other. Buildings at all different levels, yet still functioning as businesses and residences.
  • Quickly rotting boards made walking on the ‘sidewalk’ an extreme sport.
  • And keep in mind this all happened during a time when Sacramento held less than 1% of the nations population, but consumed 25% of the nations brandy.
  • Occasional crack-ups as businesses collapse in on themselves when their frames suddenly implode.
  • And the floods kept coming of course, but now they just came through the legs of a city that had raised its skirts.
  • And all of these sudden basements? Well, in a time before garbage pick-up, sewer systems or flush toilets, it’s no wonder that there is still quite the aroma down there, 150 years later.
A modern, reconstructed building. Note how the bricks actually line
up, and all of the doorways are the same shape.
Nowadays it is easy to spot the original buildings from the reconstructions in Old Town. The new ones have brickwork that is level and symmetrical. The old ones have corners that sway gently in and out on their journey from roof to ground level. Windows across a floor more-or-less line up. Arches over doorways are somewhere between rainbow and Moorish point. If you step back – carefully, watch that hollow sidewalk – you can see that almost all of the original buildings sag in the middle.

So the creepy part of the Underground Tour is not really the part in the basements or under the hollow sidewalks. It’s after the tour when you walk around Old Town and think that at any moment any (or all) of these drunken, teetering, looming piles of 4th rate masonry could simply fall apart at any moment.

After the tour I asked the guide if Old Town is now Earthquake Safe. And she laughed and laughed and laughed. Finally she smiled and said: “Oh we see the USGS people A LOT. They LOVE coming here.”

Luncheon, Siesta, Shower

I had lunch at an all-you-can eat Italian Buffet, because mac-and-cheese is Italian, right? Annabella’s is located in – oh, no – a basement, where an ominous (and old) sign proclaims “Construction in progress”. I tried not to stare at the walls around me, because all the bricks seemed to be frowning. And bricks should not frown.

Hey, I made the front page of their website!
And I knew that there were two floors above me. One tremor and I would be squished flat by two floors of smelly bricks, enormous tourists, and 3-for-$10 t-shirts that say “I’m with Stupid”.

I retreated back to the car, which was parked in a cement parking garage located under Interstate 5. This now seemed like a solid and sturdy design decision by comparison. I grabbed my handy blankie from the trunk, curled up in the backseat, and slept off my Mac-and-Cheese lunch for 90 minutes or so.

I awoke refreshed but also kinda gamey smelling. Those basements are very humid (low plain between two rivers, remember), and I decided that I was a bit too funky to be meeting people and sharing BBQ with them.

iPhone to the rescue: “Search: Day-use gyms Sacramento”. I drove to the nearest place, waved aside their $15.00 day-use fee and Nivened my way into getting a shower for $5.00 cash. This deal did not include a towel, however. Luckily Sacramento is pretty much always hot, so by the time I made it back to Hymie the Hybrid, I was pretty much dry.

Whole Paycheck
They spelled 'paycheck' wrong.

(iPhone Search: "Whole Foods”) This was a potluck, so I had to bring a dish. And bringing meat to a BBQ always seems a bit insulting to the host. So I thought I would bring Ambrosia (You know, fruit, with a cream and coconut sauce.)

Being in a different Whole Foods than the one I work in was pretty cool. You can see the things that are the same of course, the signs, the specials, the same Cheshire grinning ADHD employees of which I proudly count myself as member. But you can also see how each store is very much its own thing, with its own vibe, flare and personality.

And this one was more frantic, and more Conservative than mine. But the service was stellar, as I would expect. I asked Michael in the Deli about Ambrosia. Turns out he is a baker though, so he asked the folks in Prepared Foods, and then lead me on this Quixotic quest around the store, asking folks in the Kitchen, in Grocery and finally in Produce for Ambrosia (you know, with cream and coconut?)

Nothing doing. And they were all so dejected by it. Michael looked at me like he had just failed to revive my puppy that he had just run over. I ended up apologizing to him, and he slunk away, head down, a failure.

I got a large container of mixed fruit and a six-pack of lemon-lime soda. At the checkout my cashier was friendly and chatty, but when I presented my Employee Discount Card, he suddenly switched gears and wanted to know all about my store in Santa Cruz. Did every employee there have tattoos? (Yes.) Did we really have to charge customers for a paper bag?? (Yep.)

Pagans = fun

The Pre-festival Pagan Potluck was fun. It was great to see friendly folks that I usually only see at Pantheacon, where we are usually rushing in opposite directions. The BBQ itself was excellent and the pagans young and old were decidedly not cranky.

Also they have a dog named Angus Mac Dog, so it was cute to hear my name being shouted by the kids. For awhile.

The plan was that Jason and Ari and I would crash on the floor here this Friday night. But as the evening wore on, we kept looking at how low to the ground that floor was. I mean, it was way down there. By our feet. The floor. Way down there.

Jason looked at Ari. Ari looked at me. I looked at Jason. We all looked at the floor.

30 minutes later we were checking into the Comfort Inn. Because when your my age, the only crashing you want to do is a nap in the car after too much mac-and-cheese.

Breakfast interlude

Woke the next morning and glanced out my motel window at a large neon sign that said AMMO DEPOT. Toto, we are so not in Santa Cruz anymore.

Me, being Me, I opened the door wide to watch the sunrise while I banged out the first 1,500 words of this post on my laptop.
I trooped down to breakfast when they opened at 6:30am. I quickly walked through the lobby meeting area, because it had a TV tuned to Fox News, and found myself in the breakfast room, which also had a TV tuned to Fox News. Holy Mother of God.......

I got my Danish and OJ and while my do-it-yourself strawberry waffle was cooking I listened to the TV and was horrified at what I was hearing. The people around me were also listening, and watching, and none of them seemed to have summoned an independent thought since kindergarten.

Suddenly the AMMO DEPOT sign made a bit more sense.

I topped my waffle with something called an 'egg white round'. I have no idea how this food item was created. And whatever it was that was added to the waffle batter, it most assuredly was NOT strawberries.

I took my breakfast out to the deserted lobby and with a quick yank, I unplugged the TV out there. Aaaaah.......much better.

The Danish was good.

Setting up the festival on Saturday morning. 
Pagan Pride Festival, Morning

The Pagan festival took place on the grounds (and in the buildings) of the local VFW. This seemed like an odd pairing to me. I mean, I know there are lots and lots of witches in the military, but in general the Veterans of Foreign Wars are a rather Conservative lot, and we wacky wiccans - well, "Progressive" is putting it mildly.

At the very least I figured we'd have the grounds to ourselves, since the organizers of the festival had rented the entire property. So, yes, it was a weird vibe, and no the Veterans felt no compunction to clear out just because their property had been rented for the weekend.
Vets, surrounded by pagans, surrounded by rain clouds.
But the horseshoeing WILL go on.

The vendors tents were laid along 3 edges of a square, that was about 75 yards across. The fourth edge was the VFW hall. In the middle of this large lawn was a concrete and stucco pavilion that was open on all sides. Along one side of this pavilion were two horseshoe pits. And nothing was going to stop the Saturday contests!

So the older, cranky, smoking veterans sat in the pavilion and played horseshoes, (Clang! Clang! Whiff…….[“shit”] Clang!) And the younger, happier, healthier pagans strolled the perimeter and pretended that they weren't being glared at by our hosts.

Not sayin'.......just sayin'.
Inside the hall the same feeling pervaded. Well, let's be honest here: The hall part of the VFW hall is a small addition that was added long after the main event was open: A gigantic bar. Ah, Veterans - gotta love 'em. And buy 'em a beer.

The pagans, in their shiny robes and oh-so-tight corsets, were in the hall. The vets, in their denim jackets, were in the bar. I stopped in the bar for a moment to catch the score of the Giants game on the TV, and the room turned so cold that I thought I was going to get clanged by a horseshoe.

Outside I helped vendors carry their wares from their cars and I assisted in the erection of a few so-called "EZ-UP" tents. I chatted with a few druids that I knew from Pantheacon and I bought a very nice soap and a bumper sticker ("May the Forest be With You"), from the vendors.
Inside the hall: Jason leads a morning workshop.

As the morning wore on the sky grew darker. I noticed that the shopkeepers began clipping tarps to the sides of their EZ-UP tents, to form walls. Nothing slowed down the smoking horseshoe players though. (Clang! Clang! Whiff…….[“shit”] Clang!)

At Noon I decided it was siesta time, and hey, I had thoughtfully reserved my hotel room for two nights, so I cruised the two miles back to the Comfort Inn.

I woke up two hours later to the lovely sound of rain. Rain always sounds lovely when you are inside of some sort of structure. I texted Jason, who had checked out of his hotel room that morning, and he texted back "We're hiding in our cars!"

The Druids. setting out the books. Always with the books those druids.
Pagan Pride Festival, Afternoon

I'll admit I was in no hurry to return to an outdoor festival in the middle of a rainstorm. So I showered at my leisure, trying out all the free shampoos, rinses, activators and conditioners.

Then I packed carefully for my presentation that evening. That took quite awhile.

Then my stomach decided that it was going to forgive me for that horrifying breakfast and demanded another meal.

(iPhone search: "In-n-Out Burger, Folsom Lake") But on the way to this pin on the map, I spotted an Arby's. Blinker on! At the drive-thru I decided to order the Angus sandwich, because its my policy to always order my own name. Gotta keep the stock up, you know.
Rainy day retreat. As in, "RETREAT!!"

And true to Arby's, they gave me somebody else's order - a Rueben. Thank you Arby's - you never fail to disappoint.

Curly fries were good, though.

I couldn't think of any other chores to do, so I tottered back to the VFW swamp at 4pm. And a transformation had taken place!

  1. All of the crowds were gone. Duh.
  2. The vendors were now visiting each others tarp-walled enclosures and chattering like magpies.
  3. Most amazing - the horseshoe players had vamoosed!
But now the hall had leaves all over the floor, from all the refugees who had sheltered
Setting up for my talk. See how nice the floor looks?
there during the downpour. I took a brave pill and went into the bar and asked for a broom from the bartender: Big guy, stern looking, tall, gray brush cut, denim jacket. And guess what? Nicest guy in the world. He showed me where they were stowed, gave me my choice of weaponry, and offered to do the job himself. There is a lesson here about assumptions and appearances.

Job done I then shadowed the organizer of the festival as he stalked around the grounds, watching the skies and rearranging the schedule of presentations on the fly. Luckily I had had a diva moment a few weeks earlier and requested that my seminar take place inside the hall. My thought at the time was to get out of the sun, but now it was going to work to keep me out of the rain.
But what does it MEEEAAAN???

The question was, would anybody show up for my show?

Just before I went on at 6pm the skies parted, the rain stopped, the setting sun appeared for a cameo and a double rainbow appeared over the parking lot. A good sign!

But alas, the parking lot was largely empty and I had a grand total of 10 people at my seminar. So I'm not sure what the double rainbow signified. Sure was pretty though.

I was facing three rows of audience, four chairs per row (two empties in the front row), comprising approximately 5% of the crowd I usually pull at Pantheacon. But these folks had come a long way, through wind and rain, to hear my remarks. So I swallowed my diva pride and gave it everything I had.

90 minutes later they all were still there, and I got a long, sustained applause at the end. So that was nice. It was now 7:30pm, and by 7:45pm the hall was dark and locked and the vendors had all fled for the evening.

There. Right there. See?
I did a slow turn around the grounds. All the EZ-UP tents were now EZ-Down, guarding the wares within, ready to pop back up tomorrow morning. Festival Security was numerous. It was going to be a long, dark, cold night for these folks.

Maybe they could play horseshoes by flashlight.

I retired to my motel room and stared blankly at the AMMO DEPOT sign as I ate the other half of my Arby's not-what-I-wanted sandwich.

Not my best day for food choices.

Pagan Pride Festival, Sunday

I had big plans to return to the festival on Sunday, help out, and enjoy the nicer weather that had been promised. But alas, the darned car wouldn't turn that way and I found myself heading out of Sacramento and on my way back to Santa Cruz.

(iPhone search: "Nearest store that sells Tums")

Angus McMahan

More info on the festival HERE.

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