The trip

Fear and loathing on the road to the American dream

Everyone I tell about my project thinks I'm nuts. Maybe they're right. But many progressives have been pushed to the brink of madness by what this country is becoming. Besides, it's too late to turn back now, so I'm going to take the trip and try to drag all of you along with me.

The basic plan is to drive from San Francisco to Denver in a rented Chevy Impala, stopping by Burning Man on the way there and back, covering the Democratic National Convention in the middle, reporting and posting to the Guardian's Politics blog the whole way, and then producing a cover story by the end.

What do these two epic events have in common besides synchronicity? For starters, they each have strong roots in San Francisco and will be disproportionately peopled by Bay Area residents. And this year's Burning Man art theme — American Dream — is an obvious effort to achieve sociopolitical relevance. These two great American pageants are promoting similar goals from opposite directions.

"Burning Man doesn't mean anything unless it affects the way we live our lives back home," event founder Larry Harvey told me earlier this year as we chatted in his rent-controlled apartment on Alamo Square. "That city is connecting to itself faster than anyone knows. And if they can do that, they can connect to the world. That's why for three years I've done these sociopolitical themes, so they know they can apply it. Because if it's just a vacation," he said, pausing to choose his next words carefully, "we've been on vacation long enough."

Liberal Democrats also feel they've been lost in the political wilderness for long enough, and they hope Barack Obama is the one to lead them out of the desert and into power. And I'll be chronicling their launch, from when I pick up my convention press credentials the morning of Aug. 25 to when Obama addresses 75,000 people in Mile High Stadium four days later, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Then it's back to the playa for the big freakout.

If truth be told, which is my intention, I don't know what I'll write. I'll embrace the chaos and let the road provide the narrative. But expect insightful juxtaposition of two realms I've covered extensively over the past two decades — the political culture and the counterculture — peppered with perspective from my yin-yang travel mates: Democratic Party bigwig Donnie Fowler and performer Kid Beyond, a.k.a. Andrew Chaikin.

This is a story of who we are and what we may become. I hope you'll join the journey.