The Maker Faire was a like a 4H show where the majority of people held masters degrees and the only pork was at the BBQ stand. No better time than Earth Day for the first Do-It-Yourself fest put on by O'Reilly's Make Magazine. At least a third of the exhibits dealt outright with green technology--converting a VW to veggie oil, building a backyard wind-powered generator, knitting with bamboo fiber, and the like. But really, the whole shebang was about sustainability--feeding that particular, mad strain of the American psyche that prefers tinkering, hacking, and modding over consuming things as they come.
The crowd was equal parts San Francisco and Silicon Valley--cultural creatives and super-empowered dorks, childlike adults and adult-like kids. People were pretty much passionate about everything open source, yet laid-back. And of course there were dweebs. The single, long line to get in early Saturday afternoon showed a larger than anticipated turnout. Two men behind me agreed.
A: I’m surprised these guys get their girlfriends to come,
the ones that have girlfriends.
B: We went to the Home & Garden Show, the one where you can bring your wives.
A: One thing I won’t be going to is a cat show.
B: Just because cats don’t give a shit.
A: A dog show’s bad enough.
The pair behind me continued to blather about the idiocy of having only one ticket booth there (though at another recent, worse-organized outdoor event a "stupid" woman at the counter couldn’t multitask between two queues). A. mentioned a female friend who hunts for meteorites in the Arctic ice ("You drive and then you actually see them because it’s just ice and you see rock, what else is it?"). Then he brought up Stirling engines, reminisced about crouching below railroad trestles as a kid to feel trains thrash by inches overhead (not as stupid as seeing how close to the train you can be, he defended himself). That reminded B. of riding trains between Nepalese and Indian border towns as a child and how "the poor people" waited alongside the tracks to collect a basket’s worth of coal by the day’s end. Both fussed about how fussy women are at meals.
Near the front of the line, an imperious little
boy, 8ish, ordered the green column from which he swung, "Get off my kingdom." What
kind of maker (or taker) he’ll grow up to become is anyone’s guess, but I bet I enjoy more free time than he does already.
Not a moment too soon, we entered the gates of the San Mateo County Expo Center. First action spotted: middle-aged geeks gliding along the lawn in a game of Segway Polo (I guess this one’s Mr. Apple Steve Wozniak).
Hand-crank computer historians, steampunk robot engineers, birders, felters, screen- and Gocco-printers, free radio renegades, stencil artists, 1820s time travelers, IKEA shopping cart chairmakers (left), rotary cell phone talkers, makers of mini-blimps whose personalities mimic whales, spud gun power shooters, biodiesel and hybrid and electric engine modders, knitters, a backyard monorail rider, door-unlocking subcutaneous RFID chip self-implanters, surfriders, designers of precision-perfect hardwood puzzles, multicolor LED lamp inventors, fair use freaks, thimble musicians, hydroponics planters, clothes swappers, stop-motion animators. And of course, a faire couldn't earn its "e" without some Medieval element (right).
The point was to make, not just take it in. And people were just jumping in, whatever they could get their hands on. You could bring old gadgets for recycling, or tote old clothes for the Bizarre Bazaar and Swap-o-Rama-Rama. Hack your remote control’s infrared to turn on the lights in the room rather than the TV. Play with a robot giraffe or turn your body shape into a constellation of stars on the wall. Spin the LED- or circuit-board-encrusted wheels of your bike. We first stopped at a table where you could craft a solar-powered insect to crawl.
The few commercial areas featured small businesses, some quirky like MyPacifiers, which are labeled with your baby’s name so you won’t stick the sucker in the wrong pucker. Santa Rosa’s electric car and bike company, ZAP, is starting to market portable electric gadget chargers that power iPods, laptops, and camcorders on the go. Each is named after a noted river, like the Mississippi (is the threat of flooding the selling point?). Next month the company will sell a thin-film solar-powered backpack to rival the Juice Bag.
Only afterwards did I hear people refer to the fair in any jaded and blasé way. If you read too much about tech, you probably didn’t spot anything mind-shattering or new there, but that didn’t even matter.
How could I resist feeling a personal sense of awe: that it’s been years since I’ve haven't felt any elbowed annoyance, any sense of collective cultural disappointment, any horror at resigning to mediocrity, claustrophobia, or pandering, in such a big crowd of people? This hive hums well.