“Are the aliens on their way now or are they already among us?” I asked with interest, pulling out my notebook. It’s not often I get to consult a true expert on intergalactic invaders, and I wanted answers.
“Oh, they’re here,” said Justin, a member of the watch group Allies for Humanity. He sounded intelligent, calm, and remarkably plausible for a man whose t-shirt read “Our Turf, Get Lost, NO to Alien Intervention.” His bicycle was festooned with inflatable little green men and pamphlets offering “Free Alien Info!!!” He added, “The aliens can’t survive in our atmosphere, so of course, they’re not here themselves.” He gave a little chuckle, as if to suggest thinking that would be totally loony. I had to agree. “What they do is take our DNA and mingle it with theirs to produce hybrids. And those hybrids are walking among us.”
“Have you met any?”
“Oh yes. Would you like to see a picture of one?” Yes! Yes I would! He opened his phone and began scrolling through his photos.
Justin showed me a slightly blurry image of himself standing next to a wide-eyed, impossibly smooth- skinned, extremely full-lipped woman. Botox, collagen, and plastic surgery? Or a hybrid of human-ET DNA? Justin had no doubts. “You can tell she’s a hybrid because she never blinked. Not once.” So that’s the big tip-off. “And when I went to shake her hand, she grabbed my wrist, and I felt a surge of electricity shoot up my arm.” Tip-off number two! Folks, you might want to take notes.
This enthralling conversation took place on Saturday at the Fairfax Festival, held every June in the village next to mine in northern California. Fairfax embraced the 1960s with such enthusiasm the residents never wanted to let it go, and they have kept the countercultural spirit alive for generations. A wild parade kicks off two days of music, street food, and arts in an atmosphere reminiscent of the Merry Pranksters of yore.
I arrived to find an eye-popping throng sporting tie-dyed everything — t-shirts, pajama pants, banners, and one dog’s paws — and the glorious rainbow stripes of LGBTQIA+ Pride.
Having attended this festival before, I knew the best place to start was the parade staging area. There participants were vibrating with excited anticipation as they made final adjustments to costumes, props, and decorations. No one was shy about posing for photos. I happily chatted with Sharon, an “inspirationist” artist, Elena the unicorn, and members of the Cirque de Fairfax, then watched recyclers rehearsing their dance with garbage bins.
One nattily dressed gentleman displayed a red t-shirt saying “Marxist do it with class.” I asked why he was a Marxist. He eyed me as if this were a very odd question. “Because it makes sense,” he said.
When I commented on the t-shirt he smiled ruefully. “These kids, they don’t get it.” But maybe they were hipper to his message than he realized. Although old-school Marxism is still viewed as being way out in far left field, polls show that Americans’ enthusiasm for capitalism is on the wane, and voters, especially Black Americans, women, and those under 35, are starting to harbor warmer thoughts about socialism. Today more than half of young Republicans are (gasp!) in favor of reducing the wealth gap. Is the class system starting to crumble?
Eventually, and surprisingly close to the scheduled time, the parade got underway. Rich and I moved out to the street so we could cheer everyone on as they eased out onto the short parade route. A hundred-year-old woman waved merrily at me from a vintage car. The number of centenarians in the US has doubled in the last 20 years to about 90,000, and I think she could tell I’m hoping to be one of them someday. A small, distracted-looking contingent from the local cannabis dispensary wandered past. The climate activists were out, with sober messages and dull decorations constrained by worries about wasting precious resources.
A gun control advocate pushed along a coffin draped with toy assault rifles on which was written “Can we shoot or consume our way to a future worth living in?” I called out something encouraging, and he stopped, ran over to me, and began rummaging around in his pocket. At last he pulled out a crisp $2 bill and handed it to me. “Use it for something worthwhile,” he said. I promised I would.
There were kids everywhere, clustered in school groups and scout troops, waving diversity flags, carrying gay pride banners, petting dogs, strumming fake guitars, and (in the case of one baby) riding on the back of a hot pink gorilla with a bubble gun. As a child born in the buttoned-down fifties, I wondered what it would have been like to grow up in a world where moms and dads — an entire village of them — could be so uninhibited. The mind reels.
Nonconformists have a lot of fun but they don’t always lead easy lives. Places like Fairfax provide a relatively safe haven, but the world at large is difficult for all of us to navigate, and doubly so for those who feel like outliers. If we’re lucky we learn, as sixties icon Wavy Gravy put it, “Laughter is the valve on the pressure cooker of life.” Comedian and LGBTQIA+ activist Margaret Cho says, “Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think ... Our ability to laugh directly coincides with our ability to fight. If we make fun of it, we can transcend it.” Words to live by.
By the time the last truck rolled out of the staging area, both my phone’s photo capacity and my energy level were drained. Rich and I made our way through the throng to a café for coffee and a restorative biscotti. When the caffeine and sugar had kicked my brain back into gear, I said to Rich, “These are my people. Absolute Nutters, one and all.”
As my regular readers know, the original concept of our Nutters World Tour was to seek out goofy people, places, and events so I could have fun writing about them. However, the feedback we got from our friends, relatives, and bartenders soon made it clear that the Nutters in question were, in fact, Rich and myself. Our world tour was really all about the two of us stumbling into micro-communities we ordinarily wouldn’t inhabit and learning how to connect with people there.
That was easy in Fairfax. I may not precisely share everyone’s viewpoint about saving the world or the galaxy, but it was great fun to revisit the California counterculture of my youth. And I deeply appreciated the sincerity, good humor, and kindness I found in every encounter. But one person left me with a responsibility I don’t know how to fulfill. What meaningful use can I find for that $2 bill? If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments section below!
JUST JOINING US? THE NUTTERS' WORLD TOUR SO FAR
IN PROGRESS: THE NUTTERS' TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
Why Isn't Anyone Banning My Books (Alameda)
When Pigs Fly (Yes, They Can!) (Sacramento Pig Races)
Do You Believe in Magic? (Alameda's Macabre Market)
My Close Encounter with the Skeptic Society (Outer Space)
The Nutters' Guide to Modern Comfort Food (My Kitchen)
Relationships: Do Humans Stand a Ghost of a Chance? (Hangtown)
For Nutters, There's No Place Like California (Petaluma Chicken & Egg Day)
Can Artificial Intelligence Help Me Plan the Next Nutters Tour?
RECENTLY COMPLETED: THE NUTTERS' TOUR OF SPAIN
Spain Never Runs Out of Offbeat Curiosities (Zaragoza, Barcelona, Tarragona)
I Travel Deep into the Heart of Nuttiness (Palencia & Pamplona)
Road Warriors: Let the Good Times Roar (Léon & Oviedo)
Travel Alert: You Can't Always Get What You Want... (Madrid & Burgos)
Gobsmacked at Every Turn but Embracing the Chaos (Jaén & Valdepeñas)
All Aboard for the Nutters Tour of Spain (Packing & Organizing)
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and outrageously delicious food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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