Late to dinner at a recent travel writers’ conference, I grabbed the only seat left on the patio. I’ll admit I looked carefully for other seats as the middle aged man I sat down next to had on a khaki shirt with some kind of animal pelt sewn on his sleeve, a big tooth hanging from a piece of rawhide around his neck, what looked like a Boy Scout badge sewn on the front by the left pocket, and a big red patch of fabric sewn over the back of his shirt that said, “Don’t talk to me.”
As the table of 8 was already engaged in conversation, I sat quietly. At a break in the chit-chat, the thin, dark-haired man on my right looked over the top of the glasses perched on his nose and said to Boy Scout Man, “Didn’t I see you at the Furries?”
“The one in Pittsburgh
“Nah. I didn’t get to that one. I was at Chicago, though. What a hoot!”
“Yeah. I love the Furries. I’m off to Mer-Palooza in a few weeks. That’s a great one, too.”
Hold on! Furries? Mer-Palooza? Down went my fork. “What are you talking about?”
Boy Scout Man explained. “The Furries are a bunch of guys into anthropomorphism…mostly metrosexual or gay, I think…but not me. I just like going to watch. They put on full-body furry animal suits and get together for conventions. Then there’s Anthrocon. That’s for people into cartoon characters. Everybody dresses up in a suit, like the ones at Disneyland…you know Mickey Mouse-like.”
“Yeah, I was there too,” said Glasses Guy. “I’m a photographer and I’m interested in community connection and culture…the weirder the better. Mer-Palooza is for women who dress up like mermaids. I’m traveling there next. It’s in Florida. And I just finished photographing the Association of Lincoln Presenters. That’s for men who dress up like Lincoln. They each get on stage and compete reciting the Gettysburg Address, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and things like that. Some of their wives come dressed up like Mary. Can you pass the salad? … Thanks. Have you been to Bronycon? I’ve photographed there too.”
“The Bronies are really strange,” …said the guy with the tooth, the Boy Scout patch, the pelt, and the sign on his back. What’s with all these men into My Little Pony?”
“That’s what I find so fascinating and what I want to document with my photos. I think this would make a great book. After all,” said Glasses Guy, “we’re all looking for a sense of community.”
The moral of this strange story? You don’t have to travel around the world to find unique culture. It can be right in your own neighborhood. So get out there and experience something different. Never been to a Monster Truck Race? How about visiting a club of people who collect old glass insulators from telephone poles? Or why not attend a convention of ventriloquists?
You can have an experience equally as unique as spending a day in Singapore or Ulaanbaatar—people dressed differently, people using unfamiliar words, people forming communities around something you don’t understand. Take a look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean.
So what local culture will you investigate?