Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Little Byte of Reality

"Hey Joe, why are you being so mean about that little, tiny being-left-in-the-desert-without-food incident? Or about some of those 'progressives' you ran into, who got a little weird about your cerebral palsy? Everybody loves those whacky hippies on the Tortoise!" Like this guy, maybe?

Great Place. I stayed at a hotel, stayed at the Green Tortoise and what a difference, the Tortoise had more fun people, went on a pub crawl, ate great food that was included in the price and even met a girl.

D**n great fun. Thanks Green Tortoise!!!!!!

Pardon me for being a skeptic, but how many people do you know of, in real life, who talk like that, even when they are enthusiastic? It reads like ad copy, and I would suspect that it is. I might say the same of a lot of other "reviews" that I've seen posted to third party websites, and to the inevitable retort of "what, are you right and the whole world wrong", I'd pose the question "how do you know that all of those different people ARE different people?" What's the keep the Tortoise staff from writing in under a variety of pseudonyms, and giving themselves a nice write up? Not that I'd mean to suggest that ALL of the reviews I've seen sound like ad copy. Why, consider this quote from one of the reviewers in the San Francisco Hostel review:

Rachel writes in November 2000, "My recommendation would be to never stay at the Green Tortoise. From the moment I arrived, the staff were incredibly unwelcoming, and in a word rude - not to mention money hungry (not typical of hostels.) They made me pay for everything double what it was listed on their website (which i brought up to them, they informed me "tough luck.") Furthermore, I got bites all along my legs from the mattress in my room which was shaped like a lying down c. Even when asking for the number of a cab company i was told to get out of the hostel and try outside. I've spent time in collective houses, hostels, squats, motels and never before have i ever been treated so horribly. if you want itchy legs and rudeness, stay at the Green Tortoise. Otherwise i would recommend any other hostel..."

And here's one from Trip Advisor:

I stayed here after being given several recommendations but unfortunately I was really disappointed. Three of us were given a TINY room where there was not enough space for us and our backpacks to all be in the room at the same time and still be able to breathe comfortably. The bathroom was so small (sorry to be so blunt) I had to sit on the loo sideways(!!), the free internet was out of action for the 2 days that I was there and the 'ballroom' looked like it was about to cave in at any time. I have stayed in a lot of hostels and am used to them but the Green Tortoise sticks out as being a real disappointment for me, probably because it did not live up to the hype (or the $20 per night).

"So a few malcontents complained, what about it?" Because it's not just a few malcontents, it's the few of the many "malcontents" I've met who were willing to express their discontent in the libel-happy environment of the Internet, where many draw no distinction between telling the whole unflattering truth and lying outright. Following my publication of "Bad Times on the Green Tortoise", I got to see my name dragged through the mud in the Burning Man forums, often on the flimsiest of pretexts, with the true believers going through some truly bizarre logical contortions in order to rationalize it all, as we see in "Open Letter to Mike Tattoo."

By now, the underregulated nature of the Internet is no secret, with many going online to do things that would leave them paying punitive damages, and sometimes even doing a little prison time, were they to do these same things offline. Libel, harassment, public posting of nude photos of ex-girlfriends ... all things that would land the offending parties in a world of trouble in the real world, and rightly so, are treated as good, clean fun by more than a few netizens and generally ignored by law enforcement, which at times doesn't seem to believe that the Internet really exists. Not surprisingly, given the lawless nature of the environment that has resulted, a lot of people just don't want to have anything to do with the online world, and so what one sees online is seldom more than an unrepresentative tip of a very big (and in this case very ugly) iceberg.

But facts are facts, and sometimes the facts are damning, and one of the few good things to say about Net politics is that sometimes the in group gets so cocky after not finding itself challenged for a long time, that it forgets to lie. It takes the notion that it will see popular support so for granted, that it doesn't make the effort needed to make a convincing counterstory. So, to the question that some will ask, "why should we trust you and not the Tortoise's fan club", I'll respond by pointing to the amazing fact that when that fan club was finally heard from on e-Playa, it didn't deny the accuracy of what I wrote. It just tried to rationalize the actions of the Tortoise staff, and as one sees in the rebuttal in that "open letter" on this ring, all that one needs to see through that is a mind of one's own, a decent attention span, and a little common sense.

As for what the others, quoted above, have written, yes, I can vouch for the appearance of that ballroom ceiling - there was a hole punched right into it, large enough for a small car to fit into. I couldn't believe that it would pass a building code inspection anywhere, least of all in an earthquake zone. No guesswork there, all I had to do was look upward - and be amazed at how many people didn't. The Tortoise seemed to draw a lot of people who grew up extremely sheltered, and it showed.

I still remember the looks of incredulity that followed when we were talking about home, and I mentioned the warzones on the South Side (including Mom's old neighborhood) and the CPD's enchanting habit of extracting confessions from suspects through the use of torture. I actually had somebody refuse to believe that such things as slums even existed, saying that they sounded like something out of a science fiction movie. And so out they'd go, a small host of these people who carried the glazed smile one so often sees on the faces of those who nothing bad has ever happened to ... and oh, man, did a bunch of them get a rude awakening on that trip! No real lasting damage, for the most part, but the realization that "wow, he wasn't kidding, people really CAN be mean".

Welcome to my world, Bif.

Not surprisingly, some of the others were puffing happily away on their joints, this being Burning Man, and they didn't seem to mind a thing. They also didn't show up to work in that communal kitchen with any great speed, resulting in meal preparation taking hours instead of minutes, wiping away huge chunks of the day for everybody else, as mentioned elsewhere on this ring. That's how potheads are - the anti-motivational effects of cannabis are well known. Quid pro quo - the staff left them in their thoughtlessly happy stupor without protest, and basked in their praise afterwards. All well and good if one is so gone that one doesn't even notice that one hasn't bathed for a week and is starting to smell, but for the rest of us, who'd like to live our lives fully with our senses unimpaired, this could be a problem, and that's why this ring exists.

It's a place of rebuttal for those of us in the "silent majority" who have enough common sense to know when they're being handed a load of crap, and enough self-assurance to not agree that it looks like a tasty treat. Continue on to the ring, and we can get into a few specifics. Yes, it's a closed ring, but you can still become part of it. How? By posting an account of your own unsatisfactory trip, putting it on a few other rings, and keeping it up in a high profile way for at least a year. After you've done that, I'll hear about your misadventure, and maybe write to you, inviting you to join.

"Yes", you might say, "but the Web is a big place, Joseph - won't my submission get lost in the shuffle?" Perhaps, but there's a simple solution to that problem. Sign up for the the Unoffical, Alternative New York Burning Man List, go to the part of the links section for that list which is entitled "Green_Tortoise", and post a link to the page you'd like me to add to the ring. As for positive travel reviews, the Tortoise does have its own high profile website and forums, where such things are welcome, and the Burning Man Organization has not even pretended to be neutral. As the cliche goes, we don't need to give equal time on this ring, because we are equal time. Sigh.

I know that sounds like a bit much, but remember, we're dealing with some unpleasant, cultlike behavior out of the Tortoise and its fan club. I have to make sure that you are for real, before letting you on, because otherwise pranksterism will become a problem. People scribbling up fake complaints on throwaway sites, getting into the ring, and then replacing them with hate pages, and then telling others to look and see what "that bullsh** ring" has on it, and that kind of thing. If it sounds a little paranoid to worry about such things, do keep in mind the fact that we haven't exactly been seeing ethical (or sane) behavior, to date, from a number of the parties involved, in the clique that the Tortoise and BMORG (the Burning Man Organization) draw most of their support from. Calls for somebody's murder because he didn't want to show the John Waters film "Pink Flamingoes" as part of an effort to pitch the event to a few people back home? Good Lord. One has to wonder what is next.

Live Radio Theater is focused on local events here in Chicago, or at least it will be if it ever gets going, for a reason. Yes, the people at the big Western festivals, especially the one in Northern Nevada, have created colorful, gaudy, startling, amazing spectacles that one won't forget, but are these people that one necessarily ones that one would want to head out into a desert with? People in such environments must rely on each other for their survival, and if one can't trust those people, how much sense does that make? Sometimes one just has to slow down, grab an iced tea, kick back in one's recliner and ask oneself a few questions. "Why am I doing this? What am I looking for?"

What I was looking for was the company. What mattered to me were the people, and the chance to make a few memories with people I liked, doing something that gave everybody a chance to dive in and do something creative, and maybe a little strange and different - doing so in a place where we could relax, because money wasn't changing hands and this wasn't anybody's livelihood and we were all present as friends (or at least as acquaintances) and certainly as equals.

There's a list that some of us have started called "the Alternative Chicago / Ft.Wayne Burners' List." Maybe it will get going, maybe it won't, but we're going to give it a try. The focus will be on local events, here in Northern Illinois and Indiana - IF we can get enough people interested enough to really get involved. So far, we've mostly seen a lot of lurking, but activity is slowly picking up, and we are hopeful. Part of the challenge is just raising a little consciousness about the concept of burning, and getting people in our area used to the idea that they CAN be involved, that there is a role the amateur can play other than "passive member of the audience".

If you've been to our region, you know that we have no great wide open spaces. Even if these gatherings we hope to get people involved in should happen, they will never be big, flashy events. We might be looking at a few hundred people on a patch of shoreline in the Dunes, or maybe in the middle of a forest or cornfield. If a "city" gets built in the Black Rock Desert, maybe we're looking at building an occasional small town. But small towns have their appeal, too, and one of them is that they often have what the cities have lost - a human touch. We aren't going to have giant burning sculptures crashing to the ground in the middle of mock tribal war dances, or the beautiful California beach girls wandering around in all of their natural glory, or any of the other things that make Burning Man so filmworthy. But we can offer you the company of some people who haven't lost perspective, and remember that what we're here to do, is have fun with our friends.

You might have noticed my page of links to sites of possible interest to burners in Chicago. Others, pondering their own dissatisfying experiences, may come up with a variety of alternatives, but the one that appeals to me the most is that of remembering how much there is, right here at home. I would put a little more effort into looking into that among people I can build working relationships with, than in seeking adventures in places far away, among those who've done nothing and do nothing to earn my trust. Let's go to the ring, now.