|Day 6: Black Rock City
I woke up about 4 AM Saturday morning, Aug. 30.
Actually, it was the shivering that woke me up. I closed the windows, bundled
up, pulled playa-dusty clothes over on top of me and went back to sleep.
I was back up just after dawn, pleasantly rested.
I don't know if it was the altitude (over 4,000 feet)
or the early morning temperature, but my MRE's weren't getting completely
cooked. So, I cooked up the shrimp jambalaya and let it simmer for 20 minutes
instead of 15. That did the trick. My friend in the Reserves was right...
it was delightfully spicy. Over at HOTD, nobody was up yet, so I tidied
up a little, throwing away trash and putting the chairs back. I walked
through Center Camp. A naked man was on one of the stages, giving a complex,
frantic poetry monologue.
Playa Info said that as of 4 PM Friday, Black Rock City
had 28,761 people. That was just incredible. With all those people
in one place, I still felt completely safe wherever I went. There were
also cops everywhere, from pretty much every jurisdiction within 200 miles.
There were cops from Reno, Winnemucca, and even Elko, from all the way
across the state. There's no telling how many plain clothes cops were wandering
The only cross words I heard the whole week was from a
girl yelling at her boyfriend from atop a bus. I thought it was performance
art, but it seems she was mad at her boyfriend for letting his friend call
her a name. She paced across the top of the bus, throwing clothes down
at him. As of Saturday morning, I was on my 8th roll of film.
About mid-morning, people started showing up at HOTD,
so I went over to hang out. I also shared the rest of my beef jerky. People
were sharing all kinds of food. I had a swig of scotch, jerky, cheese,
and for the first time I ate a kipper. It was really fishy. Friday night,
a girl drank too much and got sick, something she denied. "I caught the
flu," she insisted. "I drank 13 daiquiris without eating, and I caught
the flu!" One of her friends had been wanting a V-8 Juice, so I brought
one over for her. Her husband, who worked at Wal-Mart, was sorting clothes
earlier and gave her something, saying, "Put this someplace where it won't
get dirty." She just looked at him. It was hopeless. Playa dust was everywhere.
My hair was crusted over with playa dust. I would wash it out with water,
but soon enough it would just get cemented into place by the dust. I'd
go to run my fingers through my hair, and my fingers would just bonk against
the surface. It didn't matter if you had an RV. It didn't matter if you
had a shower. As soon as you stepped outside and into the wind, you were
covered with playa dust all over again.
The alkali dust of the playa was finer than sand--it was
finer than talc. The first time some got kicked on my bare foot,
I swear it felt like water. And when it gets wet, it doesn't turn
into mud. It turns into a sticky, glue-like clay. People told me about
a rain storm back about 2000. Every step you took would leave a layer of
the sticky clay on the bottom of your shoes. By the time you took ten steps,
you were practically walking on stilts of clay.
People in fan-powered parachutes flew overhead. I went
wandering around. A guy came out of one camp and handed me a cold can of
Heiniken, then walked off. I finished it, and recycled the can at Center
Camp. There was a pinball machine that made orgasmic sounds instead of
bells and dings. Another guy was giving away... potatoes. Big ones, too.
I climbed up into the Kalaidasphere, a massive art piece with two rotating
"stained glass" domes inside each other. The inside platform was about
20 feet high, and as the domes rotated you could see through them all over
Black Rock City from there. The whole campsite was seven miles around.
On the Esplanade, a bottomless man was taking a picture
of a topless woman (who was laughing at the surreal absurdity of it all).
I passed the La Contessa, a full-sized Spanish galleon someone had
built on top of a bus. And it moved! A group called Camp Arachnid held
a "fun, friendly" class in rope bondage. Other camps offered classes in
belly dancing, erotic poetry reading, and how to kiss better. One campsite
was called Jonestown, and they were serving free Kool-Aide to people passing
by. Down the road from them, I found the Hands Across the Playa Camp, so
I stopped to hang out with them for a while. I met Yoni, and finally got
to see what Julie looked like. They were good people. I got a cool badge
for participating. I went back to my camp and ate my potato.
I met a very nice blonde girl from Canada named Joy. I
gave her a bandana. That may have been where I met Lisa, who was from Connecticut.
I also met a guy named Sam, and when I told him I was a first-timer, he
said that once I saw the Man burn, I'd "never be the same again." I checked
out Center Camp again, then went riding around on my bike. Out at the Man,
rangers had the whole platform area roped off as they prepared the for
the burn that night. Pyrotechnicians were setting up the fireworks, and
bales of hay were being hauled inside the structure as fuel. I rode out
beyond the Temple, and saw something that was truly amazing. Way out in
the desert, someone had set up a swing set of enormous proportions. Steel
girders were set up in a big dome, and hanging underneath by heavy battleship
chains were five swings... each of which was a five-ton block of granite!
The structure was enormous! Not only that, but the blocks of granite had
notches on them so that you could climb up and ride them. It was one of
the most amazing things I'd ever seen! How the hell did they even set up
such a thing? It was a small example of the overwhelming scale of Burning
Man, the end result of putting thousands of wildly creative people in a
place where they can do anything they can imagine.
Going back, I found the G-Spot again! I was so glad I
was able to find the G-Spot. Now that I knew where the G-Spot was, I'll
always be able to find it. (It was on the corner of Creed and Karmic Circle.)
Not only that, but there was nobody at the bar, so I ended up being the
bartender for a while. That's where I met a nice girl named Trina. I also
met a guy named Vincent, who couldn't believe how old I was, even after
I quoted him dates. He had lots of theories about the JFK assassination,
and couldn't believe I had never taken the drug Ecstacy. It was like, Are
you breathing? By then, it was getting close to dusk, so I headed back
to my camp, grabbed my cameras, and headed out to the Man. Excitement was
in the air.
Right before the burn, a performer called the Mutaytor
called together as many drummers as he could find to create " the heartbeat
of the Man." He hoped to get the world's largest collection of drummers
together for it.
I got out to the Man early enough that I was only about
7 rows back. I was right in front, facing the steps. The folks in front
of us sat down, but there was a huge guy dressed up like some Mad
Max warrior in front of me that wouldn't sit down for the longest time.
When he did, I still had to look around him. The Man was glowing with blue
neon high above us... and suddenly, his arms raised! Somewhere, a rhythmic
drumming sound started, and from within the Man's chest a red neon heart
began to pulse in time with the beat. The labyrinth had been removed from
in front of the Man, and in the space surrounding the platform fire dancers
appeared. Hundreds and hundreds of fire dancers. The swirling, flashing,
darting flames shot around like a zillion fireflies. About that time, something
happened. The Man's left arm came back down, and the blue neon inside the
left arm and leg went out. The Man had a stroke! The fire dancers continued,
and eventually moved on. Still, the rhythmic beat continued. Then, fireworks
shot out from around the man. Huge rockets shot up from the base, exploding
in myriad colors above the Man. Everyone stood and crowded forward. Suddenly,
flames appeared in the platform. Within moments, the whole platform was
engulfed in flame, smoke soaring high in the air. The Man was consumed
in the conflagration, and the heat was tremendous. I stretched out my hands
to the flames, and could feel the heat singing the hairs on my arms. Burning
ash rained down on us. All around me, people were yelling, waving, dancing,
singing, and suddenly the people around me crushed in closer, and I was
swept up in the crowd as the assembled mob began to circle the fire. I
ended up getting closer and closer, until I was right on the edge of the
blaze. The burn was extraordinary, thrilling, the colorful flames invigorating.
There was magic to the moment, a deep, subhuman fascination with the all-consuming
fire. I felt overwhelmed. I worked my way outward from the swirling mass
of humanity...I had to catch my breath. Looking back, I'll bet the fire
could be seen for miles.
On my way back to camp, I passed the Thunderdome. There
was a big line of people waiting to go inside to duke it out on bungee
cords. They were really pounding each other, too, with no helmets or anything.
Outside, people had climbed up on top of the dome and were looking down
at the fighters, just like in the movie, chanting, "Two men enter, one
man leaves..." A group called the Space Virgins had built a Greek temple
on the Esplanade. Another constructed a huge, intricate maze that was supposed
to simulate a voyage to Mars. Out on the playa, one bunch of people had
set up a giant tesla coil, which generated 20-foot bolts of lightning.
One of the other camps nearby had a platform that rose
about 20 feet up. I climbed up to check out the view. Below me, hundreds
of bicycles decorated in lights and glowsticks swarmed in all directions
across an unlit plain ten times the size of a football field creating a
kinetic, swirling matrix of kaleidoscopic neon colors. The whole evening
was one big blur of funny, bright, fantastic, lively, brilliant, fiery,
passionate, tremendous, surreal images. It was a wild, magic night....