Back in the day when I was new to a divorce, new to reclaiming my life, new to the hula hoop and new to the very small community of hoopers I’d met along the way, I was also new to the Burning Man community. Very new.
I’d recently attended my first Burner-inspired event in a rife-with-fire-hazards type of warehouse in Brooklyn when friend and fellow hooper, Sarah H., had invited me to tag along with her, meet up with some friends in the city and attend this party. I knew hardly a soul, felt a bit out of sorts (though warmly welcomed by Sarah’s friends in NY), and I wondered if I’d find my place and footing with this community. I wasn’t sure.
Though I was pretty sure traipsing around New York City in fire-hazard-y warehouses wasn’t really calling to me. Plus, at 42, I felt at the cusp of being too old to be hanging out in such environments.
Soon after that adventure, I heard about a Burning Man-inspired event coming up–Santarchy D.C. My curiosity was piqued, but there were some hurdles to overcome. For starters, the event was in D.C. (and had all the attendant issues of getting into the city, parking, and so on). I didn’t know anyone going, nor did I have anyone to go with, so there was little likelihood I was going to make it there, much as it intrigued me.
a hoop opens the door
Around that time, I’d had the ill-conceived notion of making some money 1) selling hand-made hula hoops, which was a short-lived vision (as I was terrible at wrapping and designing the hoops, and I found it stressful to make them), 2) being hired for parties to show up with hoops and re-teach adults how to hula hoop and 3) maybe even teaching some classes. Like I said, it was an ill-conceived notion.
But as it had been at least a conceived notion, and as I had pursued this notion–at least in my initial hurrah and excitement–I had an inventory of hoops that needed selling. Thank goodness, someone, somewhere, somehow in my small community of people knew someone looking for an adult hula hoop to buy.
I connected with this potential buyer (Sherri S.), made a plan to meet at a cafe in Takoma Park, Maryland, and met up with her and her husband Wil on a Friday evening for a bite to eat and a hula hoop sale.
Sherri asked me if I was going to Santarchy the next day, and I hemmed a bit, then hawed. I told her I didn’t have anything to wear, which prompted her to offer me a Santa hat. “Come! You’ll have fun,” she said. “Figure out something themed to wear, but if nothing else, I’ll have a Santa hat for you. We’ll be on the steps of the Natural History Museum where the group gathers at 1 p.m.”
Encouraged and feeling a ray of sunshine and possibility, I told her I might just join them.
santa sends a sign
After we finished the meal and consummated the hoop transaction, we said our goodbyes; and I promptly headed to a nearby thrift store, which closed at 8 p.m. I arrived around 7:30–feeling a bit stressed about the short window of time I had to shop. Then I opened my car door, looked down and saw some folded bills. It was $42 in cash. Yep. I took that as a sign: Santa was calling me home.
Elated, I entered the store, though still clueless as to what I was going to get for my outfit though confident I’d figure something out.
Santa once again sent a sign when a pair of wide-legged, Santa-red, plushy velour, elastic-band, petite (and ridiculously short) pants found their way into my hands. Four dollars-ish later, they were mine, and I headed home to figure out my outfit and the logistics for the day ahead.
cotton balls and elmer’s glue
I did some online research and discovered cotton balls can be unrolled and glued onto fabric to look like faux fur on a Santa outfit, and I did just that. From my closet, I pulled out a gorgeous, vintage Persian lamb swing coat, which had been my mother’s, and a pair of white kid gloves (which were never ever ever the same after wearing them at Santarchy), a pair of not-too-high-heeled black boots and a black purse. I was set.
In the mostly pre-GPS world of 2005, I made it to D.C–stressed but on time. I parked in some spot likely to earn me a parking ticket in a couple hours, trekked over to the gathering place and found myself facing a sea of Santas on the steps of the Natural History Museum. What a lovey sight! I promptly ran into a Santa and someone I’d known 20 years prior. (Another sign from Santa.) Sherri and Wil were there, as well, with the promised Santa hat for me, which I have to this day; my outfit was complete, and I was ready to Ho-Ho-Ho!
Off to the merry-go-round we went, then to the Washington Monument, and the White House and Christmas display they had there. Much caroling, lots of Santas giving candy and small toys to kids (and adults), and gobs of fun walking among the many Santas, reindeers, Jack Frosts, Ghosts of Christmas Past and whatever creative and fun outfits people had cobbled together.
We weren’t the largest of crowds. Maybe 100 of us. Maybe more. Nothing like the crazy, alcohol-infused Santacon bar crawls of mixed reputation and notoriety. And we weren’t all dressed in same-same Santa outfits as is common in Santa bar crawls–quite the opposite, actually. It was more like an artistic experiment in “Interpretative Santa.”
The Flickr tag Santarchy DC shows many a photo. Here are some examples of what we be like.
what’s happening here?
For as much fun as I had laughing with other Santas, engaging with passersby (especially children), and stopping with all the Santas here and there at a bar for a bite to eat or quick shot of whiskey, I was most taken with how kind the other Santas were. I was a stranger. An unknown, and yet the Santas were friendly and warm to me. The conversations along the way, as we went from one iconic D.C. fixture to another, were quite enjoyable, but one conversation in particular stayed with me.
I got to talking to two guys–Lee Mayjahs? and another guy, whom I soon discovered were from Philadelphia. Philadelphia? What? Why would anyone come from Philadelphia all the way to D.C. for an event such as this? And yet they had. What the heck? To me, in the mostly pre-GPS world of 2005, with a borderline learning disability about reading maps, doing something like hauling off to another city for an adventure did not sound fun. But here were these two guys who had done just that. (They were also probably much better at reading a map than I was. Or maybe they had GPS in their cars then. IDK.)
Lee spoke, sincerely, about how he’d travel anywhere to be with his tribe (by which I understood he meant other burners), and I was intrigued. Lee also encouraged me to get on Tribe.net, the pre-Facebook-for-everyone social platform where many burners were connecting, and a week or so later I ever so hesitantly joined my first social media platform and created an account, though it months would pass before I dared post a photo.
As the evening went on, as we danced at our final destination bar, and as I met new people, I felt a desire to know more people like this, and I knew I wanted to start attending the local Burning Man events, which I did–come that following spring.
I’d felt something. I’d felt welcome. I’d felt incredibly free to be My Version of Myself (a clear thee in this group). I wanted more of that–and more of them–in my life.
And I made that happen … in ways and at a level of which I had no idea then how impactful and meaningful it would be to me in the coming years.
Yesterday was the annual Santarchy D.C. event, and I didn’t go. By choice. I didn’t feel like it. Communities change. People change. Priorities change. For many years, Santarchy D.C. was one of my favorite events of the year. The whole DC Burner Santa scene was a hoot with the annual Naughty Snowball, the Santarchy march/stroll/meandering, annual Christmas Eve parties and annual Christmas Day brunches. Busy, busy, busy. And fun. But yeah, change is the stuff of life. And that’s ok. It’s necessary.
Great memories along the way and I may yet return, though I don’t need to go every year and all the time.
Here’s me and my friend Santa, aka Phil, at the 2015 Santarchy D.C. I saw this car, saw the color of my outfit and just had to stop for a photo. Had to!