For the last 20 years I’ve been sober. Strangely enough I look back and I don’t even know how I got here. My teenage years were a blur of drugs, alcohol and almost constant partying. As my friends from high school stayed on track and got accepted to Ivy League schools I went on a downward spiral into a nihilistic existence. And I loved every minute of it.
I loved eating out of dumpsters and living in abandoned buildings. I loved getting chased by cops night after night. I loved being totally lit out of my gourd and doing the stupid possible things night after night. Whether is was doing donuts in the front yard of a fraternity in a Volvo with no doors or dumpster diving an easy chair from the Starvation Army and keeping it in the bed of a pickup and launching it into the air while driving at high speeds over the jump going down Buffalo St hill. I remember spending all my time exploring rooftops and abandoned buildings and doing whatever I liked. We took trips to NYC and got into riots with the cops when our car got stolen. It was pure insanity.
Many of my friends from that era died from overdoses, suicide or literally drinking themselves to death. One of my closest friends, Mike Spike, dropped dead at 25 in the County Jail. When they did the autopsy they said his arteries were 99% blocked. I never saw him eat or drink anything but alcohol.
Riding my bike everyday and not washing my padded biking shorts (think adult male diaper for bikers) was giving me a serious case of baboon butt. Sitting at the computer for hours a day only compounded the problem. One day when I found myself squirming from the pain but still needing to get work done on the computer I threw up my hands and started looking for something to put my monitor on so I could stand. Little did I know that it would completely change my life. For the better.
Thilde and I decided last winter that we wanted to do something about her crappy wood-stove. Due to her chemical sensitivities we basically had to burn wood with the flue open so all the heat went right up the chimney. Because we didn’t have an outside air intake the air that whooshed up the chimney was usually the air right around the wood-stove that had heated up a little bit. The house was always freezing and we burned through a ton of wood.
For the past 3 years I’ve managed to keep my cellphone bill at around $8/mth and I’ve used the cellphone whenever I’ve needed it. My sister called last night lamenting at the fact she was paying $240/mth to Verizon. It’s easy to switch.
Basically what I did was to port my existing phone number to Google voice for a one time $20 fee. This guarantees that you’ll always have control over that number and no cellpone company can hold you hostage. Once your number is ported to google voice you can do whatever you want with it. I forward it to 3 different places, my landline, my pay-per use Page Plus Cellular phone and my google chat account which is linked to my Groove IP account. Google chat/groove IP gives me a wifi phone that works great whenever I’m in wifi range. I can call and receive calls anywhere in the US or Canada for free on my ancient Droid Incredible 2. The Droid I carry with me and use it only for wifi connections as it has no ability to connect to the internet otherwise.
I have a 2nd dumb phone I bought for $50 from Pagepluscellular a Verizon service reseller. Most of their plans are around $.05 a minute and about $.05 a txt msg. This dumb phone is used to receive calls no matter when and where I am. The dumb phone is great because while the incredible needs to be charged every day the dumb flip-phone can live for about a week without charging.
I was asked by my good friend Dr Pamela Moss to submit my vision board that I created under her supervision to a transformational art show. Two long years ago myself and a dozen other people spread out a bunch of old magazines on a table and after a deep soulful meditation we looked through them and ripped out any pictures that called to us. We then spent another hour cutting out the pictures and gluing them on a posterboard. That ‘vision board’ has hung in my kitchen and I’ve looked at it every day for the the last two years. I mounted color changing LED lights around it and I setup a LED spotlight above it so it could have the brightest light in the room. This simple collection of pictures pasted together from magazines that people threw in the trash has completely transformed my life.
Travelling to China about 10 years ago I was surprised and overwhelmed by the proliferation of electric bikes. It seemed like everyone everywhere owned an ebike. Hundreds of them would be lined up inside the super markets for consumers to impulse buy a new bike while they were busy with their morning grocery shopping. They were attractive looking and cheap, but most of them ran off lead acid batteries and in general were heavy and not that powerful. I toyed with the idea of importing them to the US to try to sell them here, but once I started to research the shipping costs and the weights I realized it was pretty impractical.
Over the last 10 years batteries have gotten much, much cheaper and far more powerful. There is a new explosion of interest in electric bikes in the US as people look towards reasonable solutions to deal with the escalating costs of owning a car as well as all the time wasted stuck in city traffic. The traffic in Ithaca has gotten particularly bad on Rt 13 and often seems backed up for miles all the way to Stewart Park. The traffic and lack of parking in town was starting to drive me totally batty.
A new store opened up in town called Boxy Bikes owned by my friend Larry Clarkburg that specialized in selling ebikes. I swung by and tried out a used Giant Twist ebike he had for sale and I instantly fell in love. It was a love affair that would interfere dramatically will my sex life and anything else I would want to do for the next several months. I jokingly thanked Larry for destroying my life every time I saw him. The first time I used my electric bike in town I was amazed at how quickly I could get from one place to another. No more waiting for traffic, no more driving around looking for free parking, I could arrive right at the doorstep of the customer site and had a lot of extra time to spare. The best part was that I was no longer isolated in my car in an artificial environment that separated me from people on the street. People I knew would wave hello, I felt like part of the community instead of an outsider just driving through.
This was just the beginning, I had bought one ebike from Larry, but I started spending countless hours on the online ebike forums reading mods people had made and crazy ebikes that would use tens or hundreds of thousands of watts. An entire community of people were on the cutting edge of ebike development, and they were all doing it in their garage. I had stumbled on the golden age of ebikes and I was hooked. I would stay up till odd hours in the morning trying to learn everything I could and then I would wakeup at 5:00 AM and start in again on the forums. It became a complete and all-consuming obsession.
70,000 people came and went where none were before. A place so barren it is without insects, and yet I saw a hawk swooping through our camp at dusk.
Black Rock City. A place like no other on earth. You have either been there and know it, or you are an outsider. There is no in between.
There is no place I feel more alive, more insane, more in touch with the emptiness inside my own soul. That personal struggle to add meaning to an intrinsically meaningless life.
I didn’t want to go, but I had already bought a ticket and a plane ride, there was no turning back. Doug and I planned for months to build a giant 22 foot walking puppet bug we were going to stride across the playa with. I knew it would be a nightmare building it there, it always is. I knew the wind would make our lives miserable as we tried to cart around this giant creation. Last year I built a 43 foot tall puppet man and moved it around with 6 others on guide wires. I swore never again, but here I was building this bug in the middle of nowhere, right back at it again.