The Steampunk World

Being the continued explorations of a living steampunk.

The steampunk world is all around us, lying just out of sight, in a continuous thread of steampunk builders and culture that extends from the Victorian era to the present. You'll find no science fiction here: This is real life steampunk.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The week after May Day is a blur. The days were filled with wacky bikes, Weinery food, and then bipolar evenings as I shuffled back and forth between the Scallywag and Black Label worlds. The Scallywags would have cookouts and singalongs. The Black Label would drink and trash stuff. I met very few people who weren't affiliated, and they seemed like me- guests in this crazy world where everyone was either a fully crusty drug-addled street punk or a Christian. As I got to know folks I learned that it might be best to avoid an affiliation because you can sidestep all the bike club politics that way.

One day I met up with Per to talk about this pedicab thing we're working on. After a few beer someone told us to go over to the art school because the club was over there. We arrived to find them all tripping, flinging paint everywhere, painting the television screen, lighting fireworks off in their pockets, and generally causing a ruckus. After a mayonaise fight, Jake suddenly yelled, "I know! Let's tattoo Johnny!" and everybody went YEAH!!!! But unfortunately for them (and perhaps fortunately for me) they had a gun but no ink. I escaped, that time.

The Weinery was my centering point during this time. I could go there, get a cheap meal, and talk about Bike Club lore with the owner, Pat. Various characters would wander in and out all day. Pat would talk about the long-running argument he's had with Per as to whether to paint bikes or leave them as a collage. We'd go out back to the bike pile and Per would show me techniques for building things using what Pat called the science of Eyebology. Sure would be nice to have a Rat Patrol-owned eating establishment. Heck, when we've been around eleven years, who knows?

During the mornings or afternoons I would work the pedicab, making enough money to keep me eating for another day. It was truly joyful, not like work at all. I can't wait to get things rolling in Chicago.

I saw some shows, bands and plays and even a "Romp", a sort of cabaret. I also got a chance to watch the Scallywags practice for their bike circus, and they are a talented bunch. On Monday I attended a Bike Club meeting, as a priveleged Foreign Dignitary. Who knows how they get that wacky bunch to sit still long enough for a meeting? The meeting itself was confidential, but outside Marty had ridden down on the Meatwagon, so there was good food. I got some nice shots of us rolling down the street three pedicabs deep, with the Meatwagon's grill spewing smoke as we grilled on the road.

Afterwards they met up at the Hard Times Cafe for the weekly ride. There were probably 70 wacky bikes there, total, between the BLBC and the Scallywags and various unaffiliated tallbikers. Unlike Rat Rides, they ride to get somewhere, so it was quicker and more strung-out than our rides are. They didn't slow down, cruise, enjoy the trip- they were on their way to the destination to drink. The ride ended by the river in a secluded spot where they attempted to get the attention of passing tugs and get them to shine their light and honk their horn. I finally understood why they had kept asking if they could go down by the river and drink in Chicago, which is just not possible in our boxed-in and crowded rivers. All in all Minneapolis seems to be a much more laid-back city, which no doubt has something to do with the existence of the Bike Club.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

There were three Bike Club hospitalizations that weekend, or at least there should have been. Lil' Dan got hit by a car in front of Palmer's. I've met many people here who have been hit by cars on tallbikes, and they all tell me the same thing: They landed in the windshield rather than splooshed under the front end or been brunched by the grille. Could a tallbike increase one's chances in an encounter with a car?

It happened that many of Dan's brothers were inside Palmer's at the time, so when word got out they piled out of the bar and chased the driver. An SUV cut her off and the gang surrounded her car, kicking and punching it. Then Roscoe swarmed up and they dispersed. Lil' Dan got three staples in his scalp.

Luke, charged with anger at the assault on Dan, twisted his ankle after zooming down the street, up a flaming plywood ramp, in through the front door of the West Bank School of Art and Culture Center, and through a flaming table. The accident occured on the fifth attempt. His posterior was also set afire.

And some fellow named Posso handed his knife to Sven and said, "Gimme what you got." So Sven cut him on the arm. They laughed heartily but suddently the cut sorta popped and fatty tissue mushroomed out. Sven freaked out but it weren't no thing but a gold-plated chicken wing bling bling to Posso, whose other arm had been cut off by a train in a tagging accident and then reattached. He was just pissed that Sven picked his good arm.

...and one arrest, some fellow hopping a fence while dumpster-diving to theft some flowers (?!)

I saw a unicycle gang of six or seven, but I was on my way somewhere with a pack and couldn't flag them down.

We were biking through some southern neighborhood when some guy started yelling, "Vicodins! Vicodins! I got Vicodins!" He pronounced it "vahkaDINZ! vahkaDINZ!"

I have seen many things I didn't think possible here... people getting around on trip-highs, a use for those crappy department-store suspension bikes, the legendary Unridden, Tennessee Stud, recumbent tallbikes and trip-high recumbents, the Meatwagon grill bike, and of course the Tallest Bike and the mini-Tallest Bike. The Tallest Bike in the World makes a great bike rack, because it isn't going anywhere. It never need be locked up. I've been using it, as I am staying at the new Bike Club house. The folks here are feeling a bit disconnected after Imminent Domain took the junkyard where Per lived, which is also why there was chopping going on out back of the Weinery when Matt the Rat and I showed up.

Sidecar bikes are everywhere. Tallbikes don't draw a second glance. There are so many things that aren't done, too, like I haven't seen one funnybike. Not too many people ride choppers, build commuter bikes other than tallbikes, or use trailers (what with all the sidecars).

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

"Aging hippies... a blessing and a curse," Celery said. Boy, they really came out of the woodwork for this one. It was nice, honestly, to see that they hadn't all sold out or become embittered. The May Day Parade was a showcase of hippie values, with barefoot marchers, flowers, birds, and peace and love all around.

The floats were giant and whimsical, appealing to adults and children alike. There was a giant metal pig that ate little children and pooped out missles. There was a rolling forest, a Family Tree, and at the conclusion the Sun rowed across a lake. The only part of it that wasn't perfect was their weird designation of the free speech section.

I guess they were trying to solve the problem of who could be in the parade by opening it up to everyone but setting them aside. It was just odd that they had a huge banner that said, "END OF PARADE," and then another that said, "FREE SPEECH SECTION". Not that there were any views in the section that the hippies would have neccessarily objected to. There were water-birth advocates, born at homers, community radio, anti-deportation advocates, witches, pagans, and heathens, gender blurrers and aztec dancers.

Then came the Scallywags, mostly on tallbikes. But they had one bike that just blew the crowd away. It was a small BMX bike with two front brakes. Running from the rear axle up over the rider and to the head tube was a circular bar with rubber treads, making the whole bike a wheel. The rider would speed up, slam on the brakes, and FLIP! He'd land on his wheels, keep on riding and the crowd would go absolutely nuts.

It was by far the main attraction of the day. The kiddies screaming, "Do it again! Do it again!" The sound of two hundred people sucking in their breath as he sped up. Then the click-BAM! of his flip and screaming, screaming and cheering as he circled back by the crowd to smack some high fives with the kiddies. Even though I'd seen the bike work back at the house, I found myself screaming like a teenage Beatles fan. As an encore he would usually do two flips in a row.

After the parade everyone hung out in Powderhorn Park, but it was getting drizzly. The Black Label tradition was to sit on the hill and get trashed, but I guess the weather had people itching to go inside somewhere and get trashed.

Oh yeah- the night before I was taken on a tour of some of the choice local dumpsters. We hit a bakery, a juicemaker, and then they took me to a fortune cookie factory! As I jumped into a dumpster full of fortune cookies, I couldn't help but feel like Short Round, in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as he walked down that hallway full of bugs. Remember that scene? "Feels like I step on fortune cookies!" There were two types in there, Scripture Cookies and the usual. I imagined someone sitting and cutting up a bible line by line for the former. I grabbed a bag of the latter to send back home.

They say that somewhere around here there's a magnetic poetry dumpster.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

As May Day approached, I bid farewell to my roots in the dirty dirty south. But not before attending a show in Mobile where this blues guitarist Blind something-or-other accompanied his music by stomping in a box of broken glass. I also took a detour to northern AL to visit my other set of g-ps, and managed to visit the Ave Maria Grotto. It was like a Rat-style shrine, over 150 buildings made out of trash. Broken glass, shells, dishes, toilet floats, most any broken material. I also checked out this home-made inclined rail that some old guy had built into the canyon he owned. It was a wooden box of benches, like picnic benches, and probably sat six. The two cars were counterweighted on either end of the hill and they rode the same tracks and passed in the middle. He charged $2 to go down there and have a picnic or whatever, and told me, "Lotta ladies take a look at my train and say, 'I ain't ridin that'... but nine times outta ten they'll ring that bell when it's time to come back up the mountain."

I found out my uncle has an automatic submachine gun. My grandma shot it. My grandma, shooting an automatic weapon!

My grandpa loooves to shoot things. He took me out on the Back 40 with a shotgun looking for something to shoot. I don't want to kill anything for sport, but he desperately wanted me to, the ethical dilemma was solved by the slim odds of me actually hitting anything. I did shoot up some Rat Patrol: Rat Music mix CD covers, to hand out in Minihopeless.

I experienced my first earthquake, a 4.9-er. It happened early in the morning, so I woke up and, in a zombie-like state, looked at the junk shaking on the bedside table and thought, "Oh, it's just an earthquake" and went back to bed.

After a grueling total of 18 hours on the bus, I spent the night wandering around the French Quarter. Some zydeco band offered washboards and spoons to their audience so I played with them for a while.

In the bleak morning, the sun rose and the puke-glazed cesspool that is the Quarter was revealed through the flimsy sense of revelry smeared across it like shaky lipstick on an old whore's face, I boarded the train for a peaceful and pleasant ride home. Not one crazy person talked to me.

After a brief stop in Chicago to set plans in motion, I hopped in a car with Matt the Rat and two choppers bound for mpls and the May Day parade. The Minneapolis Scallywags and the Black Label Bike Club had well-represented themselves at our Critical Mass and St. Ratrick's Day, so I wanted to help assert our territory by staking a claim in the parade.

On the way up, we took a detour to the place where they make all those giant fiberglass sculptures in front of businesses all over the midwest. They had a graveyard, and we strolled among the giant cows, frogs, dinosaurs, Big Boys, and just about anything else you could imagine. We went down the road and checked out another grotto.

As soon as we pulled into town, we headed to the Hard Times Cafe, and sure enough there were twenty tallbikes parked out front. But the pile was just in preparation for the next day's activities. As Matt and I rode up on our choppers, we saw some colors and said hello. Into the cafe we were rushed, but despite the pile of bikes out front (including the Tallest Bike in the World, it's four-frame little brother, and three or four trip-highs) there was only one bike club member there. He told us that just around the corner at the Weinery they were doing some desperate last-minute chopping.

The Weinery was closed and its grounds converted over to an emergency chopping center. The junkyard where they usually chopped was being paved over by Imminent Domain, so they had to make do with what they could. We said hello all around helped them chop a bit, test-riding the various bikes they had laying around. Then I went to a sleepover with a bunch of Scallywags, where we watched Beyond the Thunderdome to fire up for the parade. While I slept, I dreamt of Rat Patrollers and Scallywags riding bikes in the Thunderdome: "Two gangs enter! One gang leaves!"

Politics had separated the two bike clubs in the parade. For the first time, the organizers allowed the BLBC to ride in front of the parade, instead of just having it forced upon them like in the previous seven parades. But the aging hippies who put it on deemed that colors that said, "Jesus is Lord" belonged in the free speech section at the end of the parade. Though they felt slighted, they had a secret weapon, and would end up ruling the parade.

We did the usual pre-parade thumb-sitting and then things got rolling. Strange headed the parade on the Tallest Bike. There were probably fifty bike-club members up front, and the neighborhood streets were packed with cheering paradegoers. They seemed to cheer for every passing bike. Matt and I rode side-by-side on our choppers, calmly scurrying along as tallbikers whipped past, did tricks, and hooted and hollered. I was in full battle armor, a stark contrast to the peace-loving rest of the parade, dressed as doves, swans, and ladybugs. But my bike launched no missles, only bubbles from the Pollution Emission Emulation Unit, proving that even things that look tough can be fragile on the inside... *sniff*