Last Saturday My Son Found His People at the Maker Faire

Last Saturday my seven year old son found his people at the Maker Faire.

It started on the train ride from the Menlo Park station. Normally the 9:34am train heading North on a Saturday is about as busy as the vomit circumscribed dive bars that dot its rails in each of the peninsula towns on the route at that time of day on a weekend. Not so this Saturday. When the train arrived, three passengers exited at our door and nearly twenty waited to board. The bent sheet aluminum stairs led up to a sea of people. Nobody on the train moved. All new passengers pushed their way in, increasing the density of humanity. There was a rare confluence of events happening that day: an afternoon Giants game, and the Bay Area Maker Faire. We were headed for the latter.

Unfortunately, we entered on the bike car. Fewer seats means more people standing. Add to this the occasional bike entering and exiting through the densely packed festival goers and you have the perfect conditions for a fist fight. Side note: I witnessed no fewer than six fist fights in the bike car during my four years bike commuting on the caltrain in the late nineties. How do you think surly contractors get to work after they lose their license for a DWI? Anyway, I was surprised to see that the crowd was filled with the computer engineering grad students I used to cross paths with in the air conditioned dungeons of the science buildings when I was an undergrad at UCSC. At least, that’s what they looked like.

“Daddy, can I have a pony tail like that?”

Three men within our limited view had long pony tails they had grown out of the four inches of hair that comes out of the back of one’s neck along the cervical spine. Way too long to be classified as a soccer rocker, but it might have started that way.

The forty year-old woman sitting next to us, cross-legged on the floor, was wearing thick brown corduroys, coke bottle glasses, and was reading a graphic novel entitled Judge Dredd. Cody tugged at my sleeve.

“Daddy, she’s reading Judge Dredd. When I finish Athena: Grey Eyed Goddess, can I get that one?”

I smiled, hoping she wouldn’t notice his interest. She did. A day laced with next-book-negotiation later, we eventually settled on Zeus: King of the Gods.

When at last we arrived at the Hillsdale station, nearly the entire passenger load exited. Hundreds of people walked the half mile to the San Mateo County fairgrounds to join thousands of others where I discovered that my son was probably adopted.

We entered in the bicycle arena and immediately witnessed all kinds of hacked bicycles in races, doing wheelies, revolving dangerously in the whiskeydrome. This is what I came to see, great art in action. Cody was impressed, but the moment when I came to question my role in his conception was when we entered the Expo Hall.

Inside, hundreds of exhibitors shared their projects. There were novel construction kits for young kids that used electronic ink, robots of all shapes and sizes independently navigating amongst the crowd, and a center stage with physics demonstrations like a vacuum accelerated ping pong ball that penetrated a coke can. All of those vaguely interested my son; perhaps mostly because he entertained my enthusiasm. Then we almost walked by the mummy robot without noticing it.

“Stop! Daddy, check this out.”

By the time I turned around, he was already lifting the gauze to see what was underneath it.

“Look, but don’t touch.” I said.

I think that last comment must have been broadcast to the entire community because I could swear that for a moment there was silence in this hall of four thousand people.

“This is the Maker Faire, sir. That’s what we do. Go ahead son, have a look.” Said the woman to whom the mummy, and incidentally a giant spider-robot belonged.

Others looked at me and smiled knowingly. I thought I might have to drink a beer out of my sneaker or pile naked with all of the other first timer’s into a phone booth. No such luck.

The rest of the day was spent like this.. Cody walked until he saw something interesting. He politely asked whoever seemed to be in charge if he could touch it or do it or make it (the polite asking part was our compromise). Then, he would ask a few questions. A conversation would ensue about how this thing works and how he could get involved or do it at home. Sometimes he even got a business card. And then he would do it again. I followed and needlessly thanked everyone who gave him their time.

Every time we passed a motorized muffin car or an oversized space marine I would try to get Cody to stop for a photo. It was hopeless. There were too many sea monsters to scratch out of linoleum block, soldering irons to tear apart old motherboards with, and fire spitting steel sculptures to climb. My predilection for the ironic is so last generation.

Exhausted at the end of it all, we both napped on the train ride home and nearly missed our stop. When we finally collapsed into our house, my wife greeted Cody with the standard interview. “How was it?”

He simply said, “Mommy, I’m not that weird.”

About Jack West

Teacher, team member, father, neighbor.

22 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Truly laughing right now. Your Uncle Tom’s kids are nothing like him at all – no interest in the computers, maths and sciences…except maybe the fake blood for Halloween. xoxo Aunt Judy

  2. alberth

    No Cody you’re not that weird. Give it time, dedication, some study, hard work, and effort and you may yet become that weird!

  3. My 9 year old son had the time of his life, too. I let go of my inner helicopter parent, and let him and my 13 year old daughter explore on their own, armed with his camera and her cellphone. The entire event was magical and I can’t even to put into words a decent description, so thanks for this post.

  4. My heart goes out to the kid. My mother can still tell you about the day in 1982 when I was happy to announce I wasn’t a freak after all.

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