Into The Brown - A Journey
I’d like to say that I was a Browncoat from the beginning, but the truth is, I was a viewer of Firefly when it was aired, but wasn’t truly a Browncoat until December 2007. The tipping point was the Browncoat Cruise. It seemed an ideal opportunity to meet a small group of Browncoats while on a real vacation and to possibly rub elbows with a celebrity or two.
My wife and I were completely overwhelmed by the Browncoat Cruise and left the experience with more than a few new friends. But there is woefully little Browncoat activity in our area despite our trying to drum up little Shindigs and Showings here and there and we decided to tour the ‘Verse in our own way and go “Into the Brown”.
We decided to go in the late summer for this trip. We wanted to avoid most of the crowds. We weren’t planning to go to Dragon*Con and so the weekend after was a good time to visit with friends we knew would be attending. We started sending emails and calling to make an itinerary.
I wanted to visit my cousin in California as part of this trip. He had had a health scare and it seemed a good time to connect. It meant that our trip would miss some of our new friends in Seattle and Utah but it also allowed us to use airline miles for the trip.
By coincidence another friend of ours from Australia moved to L.A. about a month before our trip so we were able to add her to the itinerary. Another chance alignment meant that friends from England would be in Washington DC on the day before we left. A few emails and calls and we arranged dinner with them on the night before we flew out.
We were able to put the final touches on the travel plans only a couple of weeks before the trip. I have to mention here that even though I am writing up this travelogue, my wife Heather was the mastermind of logistics for this trip. Without her meticulous planning neither of us would have gone anywhere.
|Drive/Subway to Washington, DC. Dinner with Browncoats.|
|Cab to Baltimore. Fly to L.A. Bus to Santa Barbara, CA.|
|Visit with cousin.|
|Take train to Camarillo, CA. Drive to Valencia,CA. Dinner with Browncoats. Drive to Santa Monica, CA|
|Visit with Australian Friend.|
|Fly to Denver, CO. Drive to Monument.|
|Visit with Browncoats.|
|Drive to Alberqerque, NM. Dinner with Browncoats.|
|Drive to Smithville, TX|
|Visit with Browncoats.|
|Fly to Indianapolis. Bus to Bloomington.|
|Visit with Browncoats.|
|Fly back to Baltimore via Charlotte. Cab home.|
There were eight distinct get-togethers on this trip and each of them was fun, unique and special.
|Browncoats Lyn and Kevin|
|Jay, my cousin, and his partner Brian|
|Amanda our Australian friend|
|Browncoats Therese and Michael|
|Browncoats Dan and Sandy|
|Browncoats Chuck and Mary|
|Hawke and Cedric (The Bedlam Bards)|
These symbols represent the forms of transportation we used:
Serenity, Into the Brown by MrDave2176
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1) Browncoats Lyn and Kevin: Day 0
Lyn and Kevin are from England and we first met them on the cruise. They were visiting Washington DC and New York for a few days and just happened to be in DC just before we left. When we were first planning this, we were thrilled at a chance to see them again. We chose a nice downtown seafood restaurant and drove to the nearest Metro station and took the subway to visit.
Lyn is a super-Browncoat and attends a lot of conventions and so we had a chance to hear about her experiences at cons in England and the US and to hear where she’d be. Kevin is a Browncoat as well, but not like Lyn. Adam Baldwin is Lyn’s favorite actor from the series and she told us how Mark Sheppard likes to address her as “Adam’s number one fan” by sight – a title she is slightly embarrassed about but doesn’t deny.
Kevin talked about his family and his retirement and about his experiences travelling. He was somewhat low-key to Lyn’s bubbly exuberance. They remind me of my wife and I in a way. We reminisced some and talked about our upcoming trip and started to get excited. It was the first I’d really thought about the trip and it seemed such a crazy thing to do.
But as this thought goes through my mind, I hear Lyn talking about this Con and that event she was planning to attend and I realiize why we are doing it. It is to be with people like Lyn and Kevin – people like me and my wife who are real and normal and connected to others like us through a common interest. It doesn’t matter what that interest is, just that it is powerful enough to draw us together, and it is important to us that we try to maintain the connection.
2) Jay and Brian: Days 1-2
My cousin Jay is actually my first cousin once removed (he’s my Mother’s first cousin). Age-wise he’s almost dead in the middle between my mother and me. His partner, Brian is only a few years older than I am. Jay is a great guy and was one of the few of my relatives that my wife had not met.
Jay and Brian travelled to Australia a few years ago and fell in love with the place. They have lots of Australian friends and so I took advantage of this trip to go and visit with them. I had a feeling that Heather would get along with them and wasn’t disappointed. I thought Jay and Brian were going to kidnap her! It made me feel good to know that they thought I had made a good choice in life partners.
I had not really spent much time with Jay and Brian together before this. It was sort of an abstraction in my head that they were living together as a (married!) gay couple, but it hadn’t really struck home to me how well they fit together. I had met Brian on a few occasions by himself and could see how he and Jay might have been a match, but it was good to encounter them together.
Jay and Brian have two pugs named Rosie and Lucy who are like children to them. I have to say that the little critters were adorable and I practically had to keep Heather from stuffing them in our luggage. I think we may see pugs in our house before long.
We had a great time with Jay and Brian and it set a high-bar of expectation for the rest of the trip. The energy of seeing them again, seeing them together, feeling their love for Heather and their love for me made that part of the tip emotionally significant. We shall have to go back.
3) Browncoats Therese and Michael Day 3
We met Therese and Michael on the Cruise along with their daughter Francesca who played in the RPG that I ran there. Therese is a weaver and loves to sew and do costumes and I remember having a lot of fun talking to her about those things during Speed-Friending. Michael works in Camarillo which was convenient to the train from Santa Barbara, and we had arranged to have him pick us up at the station (about a 40 minute drive) and ride back to their house.
Our original plan was to have another friend, Sherlynn (whom we knew from the LABN board) meet us in Valencia to join us for dinner and then ride with her back to her home in Reseda (about an hour’s drive) and take a cab to Santa Monica (about a 10 minute drive). Unfortunately circumstances intervened and Sherlynn had to drop out. Michael very generously offered to drive us to Santa Monica (an hour’s drive one-way after midnight!). We owe them something special for that!
Therese and Michael had invited their neighbors and their two boys (who were the Browncoats who had introduced them to Firefly) to dinner to join us. We talked for a while about food, about travel, about work, jobs, life, and well it just cascaded from there. It was a fabulous meal. The highlight was the apple pie with the Serenity symbol on it. Very Browncoaty.
After dinner we watched the episode Out of Gas. I enjoy the episodes more sometimes when we can watch with other people because we all know them so well and can point out things that others might have missed. It was fun to meet new Browncoats but it was Therese and Michael’s generosity to what are essentially strangers that got me.
I dislike making people go out of their way for me as it makes me uncomfortable to think that I am being a burden. People who pay for my meals or who do unexpectedly generous things for me put me off my guard. It wasn’t the only time people were kind on this journey and it made me very glad that we had decided to explore Browncoat culture and associate ourselves with these people.
4) Amanda from Australia: Days 4-5
Heather and I met in an online community called LABN and Amanda was one of the folks from that board. She lived in Australia when we first met her online, but later moved to London around the time we were taking a trip there, then she moved back to Australia then to L.A.
In catching up with her she told us about her new man, David (yes, another one!). David had been in London when she was there and they first met even though he is an American. He and Amanda are well suited to each other and I can see why they’d hit it off.
We spent days at the beach and in and around Santa Monica. The hotel was on the primary bus lane and since her David was working during the day and she hasn’t gotten the hang of driving the US yet, it was convenient to get to town that way. It did mean a ton of walking though.
That proved significant since the one day we thought we’d not walk much turned out to be the day we walked the most. Poor Heather wore the wrong shoes that day and ended up with a monster blister. I, on the other hand, swelled up in the heat like a bloated fish and had to keep stopping to puff like a bellows. I felt terribly fat and out of shape.
Heather and I were both appalled that neither David nor Amanda had seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog so we forced her to sit and watch it in the afternoon. We were also ashamed that our friend had not seen the Firefly series yet. She had seen the movie and was a big fan of Buffy and Angel, but had somehow avoided Firefly. We made her swear on a stack of shot glasses (they were handy) that she’d remedy that.
Somewhere around the second day we realized that it had been three years since we had last seen Amanda. It didn’t feel like that long. It felt like it had only been a few months. We fell into the easy patter and comfortable presence of friends. Even her David, whom we had not met, fell into the mix like he belonged.
These are our friends. We might not see them often, but they are as close to us as our family. The physical separation does not dim the emotional bond we share with these people any more than it does with our family. In this case, absence has definitely made our hearts grow fonder.
5) Browncoats Dan and Sandy: Day 6-7
Dan and Sandy were among the first Browncoats we met on the Cruise. In fact, I think they were standing in line with us when we were checking in. I know Sandy was the first “Browncoat hug” I received that day. Dan and Sandy are remarkable people. They have an easy-going manner and a welcoming way that makes you like them immediately.
I can’t say I have ever seen either of them look sour or out-of-sorts. And while I don’t kid myself for a second to think that they never feel that way they have never showed it to me. They have two great kids and a pack of cool dogs and a herd of interesting cats living in their home. A home, I might add, that was one of the coolest homes I’ve ever seen. It has an elevator, a waterfall, a huge deck and an actual theatre among other things! They welcomed us into their (very cool) home and made us feel like part of the family. In short, it was cool.
I have to say that their children are every bit as remarkable as Dan and Sandy. Their son is clever, creative and active despite Asperger’s syndrome. Even though he’s a handful he’s most definitely going to be a remarkable person one day. Their daughter is beautiful, bright, and creative as well. If River and Simon have real-world counterparts, I’d say it was those two.
Dan made it very clear that it was useless of us to reach for our wallets. He made a point of paying for everything. Remember when I said I feel uncomfortable letting people be generous to me? Dan was so gracious he didn’t let me have a chance to feel uncomfortable. I also made him promise to let me return the favor should he come to visit me. He agreed that it was only fair.
We had a cookout with another cruise friend, Kim, on our last day. We had hoped to see Anna from the cruise as well since she had recently moved to the area but somehow we missed connecting. Fabulous food, great weather, good company, and a lot of rum smoothies made it a celebration of friendship. We rounded it out with the BDM, Ariel, Trash as well as the Buffy episodes Once More With Feeling and Hush.
I didn’t want to leave but we had a schedule to keep. I do hope that they take us up on the offer to visit Maryland. I would like an opportunity to show them the kind of hospitality they showed us. More than that, I want to share our family with them like they share theirs with us.
6) Browncoats Chuck and Mary: Day 8
It was a lot longer drive to Albuquerque than I had thought but it wasn’t a hard drive. We got there just about 6PM which was perfect timing. I had met Chuck and Mary on the cruise but had not spent a lot of time with them – there was a lot to do and too many people to meet, and I am sorry now that I had not. In our one night with them I learned how interesting they were.
We were joined for dinner by Shawn and Alycia who we had also met on the cruise. Shawn was hard to forget as he had been the centerpiece of one of Jonathan Woodward’s “performance art” bits. We had also had some interaction during the cruise and it was great to see him again. I immediately recognized Alycia from the cruise but didn’t remember ever speaking to her during the trip, and after diner, as with Chuck and Mary, I was sorry I hadn’t.
Shawn drives a wheelchair due to spinal injuries and was recovering from a pulmonary embolism only a few weeks prior that had caused him to flat-line on the treatment table more than once. I have to say, he was in a good mood for such an ordeal – but that’s Shawn for you – a laugh in the face of adversity.
We were glad to hear news from Dragon*Con since Chuck and Mary had just returned from Atlanta the weekend before. We saw all of the nifty stuff they brought back and heard the stories from the Browncoat Events. It made me both sorry we’d not gone and glad that we’d not had to endure the crowds at the same time. We were pleased to hear a second report of the rumor about another Browncoat cruise.
Things have been hard for Chuck and Mary, too. They weren’t down or depressed about it, but rather had a sort of calm acceptance about it that made us empathize rather than feel sorry for them. They also didn’t dwell on their situation either. I only mention it because it was still fun to visit with them even though times were tough. It lent an air of “make hay while the sun shines” punctuation to the evening that was also part of why we took this journey in the first place. We left the next morning vowing to make a point of spending time with all of our dinner companions at the next Browncoat function where we found ourselves together.
Interlude - The Drive Days 9-10
When you hear 917 miles you don’t think of it as being over 12 hours of your life driving. But when you are driving it feels as if your ass is about to explode and your head will drop off and roll into your lap. The car we rented did okay while averaging around 80 MPH at 20.9 MPG and we didn’t find ourselves completely insane or divorced by the end of it. But I have a better appreciation for the Serenity crew’s feelings when Wash complains about 18 hours vs. 9 days of travel “off the radar”.
All in all, I think we probably were only slightly better off for driving. With money, time, and convenience being factors, we decided to drive in order to minimize time in airports. However, if any one of those three things had not been a factor…I’d have been on a plane in a heartbeat.
We slept in a hotel in Van Horn which is about halfway to Smithville. I think I got bit by a spider or scorpion on my leg. It is a week later and it is still red and is tender to the touch. Heather ran into a yucca plant and bruised her wrist. We ate dinner in a “country kitchen” type place whose idea of a “smoking area” was a sign next to one of the eight or so tables.
The highlight of the experience was the staff at the hotel who were professional and pleasant. They helped us change rooms when it became evident that someone had been smoking in the non-smoking room and did so without any eye-rolling or complaint. We had a good breakfast for the road. We arrived in Smithville around 6PM and checked into the B&B.
7) The Bedlam Bards Days 11-12
We consider ourselves fortunate to know guys like Cedric and Hawke. They are a lot like the other musicians we know from the Celtic Festival and the local Ren-Faire so they aren’t intimidating like other celebrities are. And while they might argue that they aren’t celebrities, they are to us – even as they are friends.
We ate dinner with them on the cruise as one of the “celebrity dinner” options, and I was pleased to meet Joyce, Cedric’s wife. The five of us got along very well as we are kindred spirits. We all love food, music, travel, life, spirit, history, movies, television, technology, and games. Not to mention Firefly, Serenity, Joss, and the stuff that drew us together. It wasn’t surprising that we bonded.
We wanted to see Joyce and Cedric again because the cruise was sort of a “working place” with the Bards being guests and all. This was a chance to be with them in a more casual environment that was more like friends should be. It was pure serendipity that the B&B was on the same road as their home. I knew from talking to them that Hawke lived in a small hut on their property as well.
Visiting Joyce and Cedric is kind of like visiting a wildlife preserve. Between cats, dogs and rats there is the rural environment. I kept expecting to see Marlin Perkins (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom) peering around a tree remarking at the “Bard’s natural habitat”. I am not sure why I expected it was like that but it seemed so natural that I wasn’t surprised to see it was exactly that way (without Marlin Perkins, though).
After “the drive” it was nice to relax, watch some TV, eat some good food, hang out and veg out. We got to play with the rats, get bitten by the cats, and run with the dog. We had a nice swim and dip in the spa at the B&B. We sat on the porch and sang some songs and heard some new compositions. Hawke gave us one of his new CDs. The next night we went to Austin and saw the bats (all 1.5 million of them!) that live under the bridge go out for the night.
We came to Smithville a little stressed, a little worn out and a lot overloaded. It was almost too much to deal with all the driving, the planes, the hotels and the friends. Great times. Lots of fun. But after more than a week on the road we were just about done in. Joyce, Cedric, and Hawke made us feel casual, relaxed, unstressed and at home again. We had been re-centered and were prepared for the last leg of our odyssey.
8) Browncoat Tim: Days 13-14
Tim was someone I knew from the BBS for the cruise. I shook his hand the first day at the hotel, and immediately sensed he was a kindred spirit on the Browncoat journey. We spent a lot of time together since he was assigned to our table for dinner (there’s that serendipity again) and we had a lot of similar interests. Between Joyce, Cedric, Hawke, Sandy, Dan, Lyn, Kevin and Tim we had a regular crowd that hung around on that boat. But Tim was a little more…something. He belonged.
We took the bus to Bloomington from the airport in Indianapolis, and despite some hard travelling pains were glad to see Tim waiting when we arrived. He took us to our hotel and we headed into town to see what treasures Bloomington had in store for us.
A few weeks earlier, Tim had been out to see us. He had decided that two days of our impending visit was insufficient and determined to come out to see us in a preemptive visit. We proudly showed him our town and displayed its treasures for him (as well a Browncoat banquet) and he was determined to return the favor.
Tim had arranged a travelling meal that consisted of appetizers and mains in different restaurants and was a lot of fun (I’ll have to steal that idea). The next day we had a full day in the State park with a Browncoat cookout and episodes to see. It took a while for everyone to show up, but in the end we had about a dozen who turned up to meet us strangers.
We had plenty of food, desserts, and the Firefly episodes Serenity and Out of Gas as well as a few of the cruise highlights from the DVD. Later, we toured the “pioneer village” at the park and on the way home drove through a few local sights. It was nice to meet so many Browncoats and to see Tim in his element as proselytizer and Serenity/Firefly evangelist. He believes so hard.
That evening, I realized that Tim was more like a brother to me. He means a lot to Heather and me and we care for him more than a friend. He has a special place in our hearts. We had saved the best for last.
We got home at around noon on Sunday almost two weeks (give or take a few hours) from when we left. We had spent a lot of time with some outstanding people and were exhausted and glad to be home.
Overall, the entire journey was more than 6,000 miles and used cabs, cars, trains, planes, busses, subways and some shoe-leather. We went to 16 cities1 not counting the ones we passed through without stopping. We sustained minor scratches, bruises, and at least one poisonous bug bite. We met almost forty2 Browncoats and made one recruit (maybe two!), eight dogs3, seven cats4, four rats (plus some more I saw but didn’t actually meet) and a hedgehog.
We came home with one roll of film, a CD of photos, a music CD, some sand, a geode and both of the stuffed animals we had taken along (no crew lost!). Although I bought a pound of stone-ground cornmeal, I lost it along the way, but it only cost me $2 so I didn’t fret about it.
We will probably never do this again but I am very glad we did it this once. I will certainly be out to visit some of these people again in order to see more of them, their families and communities. This trip, more than anything, confirmed what it was to really be a Browncoat. It means we belong to a family.
1 Washington, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Camarillo, Valencia, Santa Monica, Denver, Monument, Albuquerque, Van Horn, Smithville, Austin, Indianapolis, Bloomington and Charlotte
2 7 in Valencia, 5 in Monument, 4 in Albuquerque, 3 in Smithville, 19 in Bloomington
3 2 in Santa Barbara, 2 in Valencia, 3 in Monument, 1 in Smithville
4 3 in Monument, 4 in Smithville