The short taxi ride to the UEA cost me £8, FFS.....creepy taxi driver too. There was one other student waiting for the airport bus to Heathrow so we exchanged the usual polite conversation. When I tried to explain about Burning Man he looked at me as if I was a weird cult member or something. It's become the usual reaction when I try to explain this amazing event to people!
Heathrow was the usual jam-packed mess, with people blocking the walkways as per usual and not giving two shits that I was trying to get past with two bulky suitcases. One women saw me trying to get past, ignored my "excuse me" and didn't move an inch...so I wheeled my suitcase over her heel and kept walking as I heard her loud "OUCH" thrown in my way. Should have moved then, daft bint. God I was glad to leave Britain behind!
I didn't realise now but airlines have a "self check-in" service, where you pretty much check yourself in using a touch screen. Great, another avoidance of human contact. Typically the machine took about 3 attempts to check me in, the instructions for scanning the passport were unclear so I had to ask for help, but I was glad to switch to another seat that was not only a window seat but was on the emergency exit so had tons of legroom. Result!
My smaller suitcase was too big for hand luggage and had to be checked in along with my massive case that came in just under the weight limit. I was carrying my Predator bio on my back all bubble wrapped up (got some funny looks about that). Originally it was going in the small suitcase but I decided there was no way I was leaving it to the mercy of the "not paid enough to give a shit" baggage handlers.
I'd been sad enough to make myself a top that said "UK Burners" on it, with the BM logo on. A couple of people spotted it and asked if that's where I was going (well duh) but I didn't see any other Burners in the airport.
I flew with Continental Airlines and the flight out was top class. We had pop-up TV screens as we were front row, and there was over 300 movies to choose from, all genres and all years. I watched Iron Man twice, a bit of Prince Caspian, and Ghost. I was sitting next to a nice South African couple who were going to a conference in Alaska all about sustainability and green energy. They seemed quite intrigued by my tales of BM and also when I tried to explain to them about Fuzzbutt and my Fuzzy Business.
The flight was over an hour late taking off, which reduced my long wait in Houston airport to only about 3 hours. I parked myself in front of a huge window and set my camera up to take a time-lapse movie of the airport activity. This was ruined by the arrival of a woman with two toddlers, who immediately started running around in front of me. The typical heavy-footed toddler "bang bang bang of the feet" run started to grate immediately, and mummy did nothing to keep her kids quiet despite a visible presence of other sleeping or resting travellers. Then the kiddies spotted my camera and tripod and started deliberately running in front of the camera and staring at it. I moved seats before I drop kicked them down the hallway, but thankfully they went off for their flight 20 minutes later so I resumed my window seat but didn't bother taking another movie.
A couple of Burners got on the Houston to Reno flight, one dreadlocked young guy saw my tshirt and said the traditional "Welcome Home" (all Burners call BM "Home"), and another older guy from Amsterdam sat in front of me and we chatted. There were some others too, you could spot them a mile off because they all dress differently and alternatively, not cloned sheep like the rest of society. I started to totally get even more excited :D
I was sitting next to a female MD who tapped away on her laptop for half of the flight, then covered herself with a blanket, put her knees on the seat in front, and proceeded to wriggle continuously, try to sleep, and bump the front seat with her knees, seemingly not caring that she may be seriously pissing off the lady sitting in front of her.
In Reno I stood and waited for my baggage to appear on the carousels, and then suddenly Jim was beside me saying hello. This was the first time I'd met him and we'd only exchanged a couple of emails, but he was dead nice. We grabbed my luggage and went outside, the warm night Reno air hit me like a glorious wave of summertime. In the car park I was amazed that nearly every car was in fact a bloody tank - well, an American 4x4 - which make our 4x4s look like Minis.
Jim had a HUGE Toyota that for a moment I thought was a Hummer. It had a compass and a pitch/roll gauge on the dash and everything. We sat in it and it totally dwarfed us both.
We'd had a bit of a mixup with my flight schedule and the guys weren't expecting me until Sunday night, not the Friday. Jim had booked me into the Peppermill Hotel in Reno (http://www.peppermillreno.
I was starving so went downstairs to the 24 hour Coffee Shop to get some grub. The Coffee Shop was situated right at the back of the Casino and OMG I got so bloody lost trying to find it - every wall was mirrored, and the ceilings too. Coloured neon lights were everywhere and just added to the confusion. It looked stunning but I was too hungry to care!!
I had read about how Casinos are designed like mazes to trap you and make sure you can't get out - and it was so true! My sense of direction is shit at the best of times but here I was totally baffled. I tried to follow the signs, I wandered around and tried to NOT look like a lost tourist. Guys sitting at the slot machines pumping them full of coins stared as I walked past (have they never seen a girl in a hippy boho long skirt and vest top???) and one remarked loudly "Girls just love The Man", referring to my Burner logo on the top.
I resisted the urge to yell "Can someone point me to the fucking Diner before I start eating the carpet!!" when suddenly there it was. I could either wait for a table, or go sit at the counter in true American Styleeee. I found a chair at the counter and was immediately brought a glass of iced water. This is customary in all American eateries and was bril compared to the miserly UK where they won't even serve you tap water now, forcing you to pay £3 for some mineral water. I watched the staff work away so efficiently - the short order cooks and the waitresses, the fridge door that never closed properly, I felt like I was in the middle of a movie as I'd seen scenes like this so often on my TV screen.
I ordered an Omlette with a meaty sort of mix/sauce on it and OMG it was DIVINE - I've never seen such a huge puffy omelette in my life, I swear it had helium in it. I stuffed my face to bursting with it, paid the princely sum of $7 for it (bargain) and crept away without leaving a tip cos I didn't know the customary amount to leave!
After a quick shower I went to bed for 5 hours of fitful jet-lagged sleep. I had the whole of Saturday to amuse myself as I wasn't due in Vegas until the Sunday morning. I kicked myself for not realising the time differences, as I could have had 2 days and one night in Vegas, instead of just the one day and flying back to Reno at night. Arse bugger arse!
In the morning after a GORGEOUS huge bowl of strawberry yoghurt topped with granola and bananas/strawbs in the Diner, I thought "sod it" and I hired a car and planned to drive to Lake Tahoe and Virginia City. I wasn't going to sit in my room for a whole day doing nothing but torturing myself about not getting to Vegas early. I knew that if I got a car with Sat Nav I'd be fine. I'd just have to get over the terror of driving on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the CAR, but I told myself that if I was going to start travelling alone more, I had to grow a bigger set of balls :D
I got the free shuttle from the hotel to the airport where my car had been booked for pickup. The car hire with SatNav was about $100 and bloody hell I got a HOOJ Toyota car - and that was the smallest in their range! I could have had a new Mustang which would have been ACE but they didn't come with SatNav. I knew I'd not be able to drive and look down at maps, it was just asking for a crash, so I had to kiss goodbye my Mustang dreams :o(
As I left the airport I was grinning like an idiot, thinking "Holy Shit I'm about to go driving in a strange country in a strange car all by myself - WOOOOOO!" Thankfully it was an automatic so I didn't have to worry about right-hand gear shifting. The SatNav was easy to use and off I went to Virginia City.
Virginia City is one of the oldest established cities in Nevada. Like many cities and towns in the state, Virginia City was a mining boomtown; in fact it is one of the most famous boomtowns in the Old West as it virtually appeared overnight as a result of the Comstock Lode silver strike of 1859. During its peak, Virginia City had a population of nearly 30,000 residents. When the Comstock Lode ended in 1898, the city's population declined sharply.
A lot of the original buildings still stand, with a wooden uneven walkway typical of the American Westerns I'd grown up with. It looked lovely from a distance but as I strolled the walkway I saw that every shop was peddling tacky tourist tat, and some of the original bars had got slot machines in them, instead of being left in their traditional state. The huge oak bars at the end of the rooms were still there and I was dying to go up to one of them and say "Make miiiine sarsparilla" in true Calamity Jane stylee :D
The town was also a haven for bikers and their Huge American Harleys. Everywher I walked there were bandana-bedecked bikers in shades, lounging on the seats and checking me out as I passed them. The heat was intense and I was glad of the shade of the old walkway. I walked the full length of the street then walked back down the other side. By the time I got to the end of the street the traffic had been halted and some sort of weird dog show/parade was going on, and a crowd had gathered. People walked their dogs by one of the buildings to a commentary on who they were and who their dog was, and the funniest sight was of a big hairy ape of a biker walking a Paris Hilton style dog AND carrying a fluffy cat. By the time I'd whipped my camera out he was too far past me.
I went to see Pipers Opera House (http://www.pipersoperahous
After that I went round the city museum which had some interesting old photos, maps, currency and stories of the people who lived there - and a lot of unrecognisable mining machinery and tools that no doubt my dad woul have enjoyed.
By now it was getting on 1pm and I realised I was dawdling too much, so I got back to the car and headed for Lake Tahoe.
It was GORGEOUS - made our Lake District look like a muddy puddle! I drove all the way around it, stopping to take pics whenever I could. Miles and miles of stunning blue water, flanked by tree-encrusted hills and rock formations. I stopped off to buy a universal plug socket adaptor as I'd brought the wrong one with me and my phone and cameras needed charging. Had a nice salad at a diner and again was stunned by the friendliness and excellent customer service. later in the day when I stopped at Tahoe City to buy some cookies, the guy behind the counter was friendly and flirty and laughed when I asked if he sold "anything as sweet as me". In my day and a half in Nevada I'd seen more cute guys than in the last year or so of living in Britain. Was a nice change!!!!!! And they chatted and teased and were friendly, unlike Brit men who grunt at you, avoid eye contact, and go back to developing their beer bellies and Candidia overloads.
I also went to buy "2 scoops" of ice cream and a small shop and was amazed that for $4 I got like a pint-beaker full of gorgeous ice cream - two VERY big scoops!! Again, compared to the UK where you can get 2 miserly dessert spoon scoops of Ben & Jerrys at the cinema for about £4, it was real value for money. I scoffed so much that I didn't need tea that night!
By the time I'd dropped the car off and got the shuttle back to the hotel (met some more Burners in the shuttle) it was 9pm so I took my camera and SD card reader to the internet cafe to bung my Tahoe pics on Facebook. The computer was locked down tightly to avoid meddling but I managed to rig it so I could view my files on the card, and get them uploaded. After a few quick emails and messages to people I went for another bath then bed. Next day was VEGAS BABY!!!