And So On
We were solemnly advised to fill our gas tanks in Maxwell. We peel our sticky city-white thighs off the bench seat and tumble out of the dust-crusted pickup truck. Even under the prosaic shadow of gasoline pumps, the air here is velvety and languid, silently kneading the summer chill of San Francisco from my bones. The setting sun spills empyrean rainbow sherbet across the sky, drenching the surrounding fields in rose-colored light. As the crickets begin to sing in the high grass along the road, two boys pedal up, followed closely by a shaggy, happy-faced chocolate Lab; they buy Popsicles and ride off into the slowly gathering dusk, laughing with their dog. The local sheriff watches us from a distance as we buy gas and several bags of ice; he stops us outside the gas station to see if anyone's been smoking marijuana, then follows us out of town.
A small general store is meant to indicate the next town. The two-lane road is flanked by endless tawny fields and lazy-eyed cows; it stretches into the distance and disappears into a hedge of hills. When we emerge from the hills, daylight is done and the darkness is absolute, making the store easy to miss; the sign says it's an inn. We inch down a dirt road, shining our headlights on tree trunks, looking for a note or indication from S.P.A.M. Records -- the small East Bay label responsible for the proliferation of free, all-ages, nearly illegal, marathon punk shows called Geekfest. Finally, we see a paper plate nailed to a road marker with the S.P.A.M. logo and the hopeful epithet "Libertatia" scrawled across it.
Mythically, Libertatia was a pirate enclave established in Madagascar by Capt. Mission, one of many such havens scattered throughout the seas in the early 1700s. Libertatia was considered "pirate utopia," one of the truest manifestations of supportable anarchy -- no written laws, only moral principles based on the concept of individual liberty. In Libertatia, all men (and women if they were handy with a sword) held an equal vote, regardless of race, creed, or station. (Liberating slave ships was a full-time preoccupation.) Booty was seized and shared equally, but theft from their own was soundly discouraged, as was gambling and drunken fisticuffs. Music was of highest priority, and musicians were expected to perform on call, day and night, except during Sabbath.
Modern-day Libertatia is a seven-day collaboration between the East Bay's Geekfest and the similarly minded, San Francisco-based Pirate Punx. The principles of the temporary community are similar to its predecessor: Everyone is equal -- in this case, gutter punks, crusties, pirate punks, geeks, gamers, and goons -- everyone should contribute, no infighting or theft is allowed, and music is essential. To this last effect, more than 100 bands have been invited to perform at Libertatia, on public BLM land, in 90-degree heat, near a lake, in the middle of nowhere, far, far away from the stifling authority of The Man. In line with traditional pirate economics, admission is free if you can get there and the population sustains itself on the surplus of commercial overproduction -- that is to say, vegan mush is served in the morning and vegan gruel is served at night, made with donations from Food Not Bombs.
Sounds idyllic, if you like really loud punk music and have faith in the honor anarchy inspires among gutter punks, pirates, and the like.
We follow the sporadic trail of S.P.A.M. paper plates through a maze of dirt roads winding around the dark perimeter of Lake Ladoga. The thin, talon-shaped moon offers only enough light to reveal the immensity of the lake and the improbability of finding anyone. Fish leap out of the silvery water, large-eared hares dart in front of our tires, families of deer stand near the road blinking sleepily at the headlights. Our presence means nothing out here. The stars are dizzying. As we head down a small dirt incline, leading to the lakeshore, a leering man suddenly pitches against our windshield, wielding a dark bottle of beer.
"Are you Doug? Is Doug in there?" he slurs, pressing his face to the windshield before lurching off into the bushes. We roll a few more feet and find ourselves in the middle of a semicircle of ramshackle tents. A generator rumbles in the dark to our left. Grinding music blares from the open windows of half a dozen cars. Cigarette embers glow rhythmically beneath low-hanging tree branches as the mouths follow our progress. As we position the truck, our high beams catch the gleam of empty liquor bottles and piles of crushed beer cans strewn along the shore and a drunk sprawled out on the sand with his head dangling in the water. Two friends stumble out of the darkness and grab his combat boots, dragging him through the mud by his boot laces. A pit bull barks loudly, straining the leash that tethers her to a nearby tree. Three other large dogs join in before their owners shout them down.