Day 9: That night was downright frosty–it was freezing out, and I woke up in the night to pull dusty clothes and blankets over my sleeping bag to make it warmer. I fell back asleep immediately. It was about 9-ish or so when I woke up Saturday morning, September 4th. Rolling over, I found the Whiskey & Whores shot glass was still in my pocket. (Ouch.)

I saw Gomer as soon as I got up. He was at the Whiskey & Whores Saloon Friday night. He and Ginger were headed out to the airport. He had his camcorder, and he was hoping to hitch a ride on a plane to get some shots from the air. I thought of Galaxy's boyfriend being a pilot, and told Ginger to tell her hi for me if she saw her. I agreed to tend the bar until they got back. I found the bar a mess. I was picking up chairs and straightening up when the air became filled with the booming sounds of the "Star Wars" theme music. Just then, a guy driving a reproduction of Luke Skywalker's landspeeder came rolling around the corner. The music was coming from the boom box in his front seat. He turned the corner and disappeared down the street, music slowly fading into the distance. It was yet another surreal moment I'd gotten used to having while at Burning Man. Was it Saturday already?

A blonde guy from Tuna Camp down the street came by, asking if I had anything for a "scurvy dog." I made him a drink with rum. He invited me and everyone in camp to drop by for some tuna. Apparently, they'd brought a lot of tuna, and needed to get rid of it. The fabulous Gibbon dropped by with his housemate Elizabeth, a very nice lady who danced to some music from across the street. I didn't know how to mix many drinks, so I mixed up some vodka with cranberry/cherry juice, and it seemed to sell well. A lovely, buxom woman named Rebecca dropped by in the company of a guy giving away backscratchers. She was from Huntsville, Alabama, and wore the bottom half of an "I Dream of Jeanie" costume (which I was familiar with). Tricky, a guy from the other side of the camp, brought over some logs for the burn barrel. He even brought over kindling for the logs. He had a bunch of leftover food, and planned to cook it up and bring it over for everybody. I met a pretty girl called Special Kay; she had a piercing in her left cheek. A guy named Ray showed up and gifted me with some beef jerky and breath mints. He and his girlfriend Naomi were from Las Vegas. Naomi, a tiny girl with pale blonde hair, used to be Amish before she "escaped" from that lifestyle. She never even saw a television before she was 17 years old. Now, she worked as a dancer in Vegas, and it seemed the only logical progression from Amish girl to stripper seemed to be to go to Burning Man. Gomer showed up with a plate of Mark's Mexican hash, and told me to go back and get some more. I had two helpings–it was very good. Back at the bar, Gomer gave me a hard-boiled egg. I felt something I hadn't felt at Burning Man before: full.

Ginger returned and said she didn't see Galaxy at the airport. Sitting in the MASH tent with everybody, she was glad she could finally put faces to all the email addresses in the HOTD list. She said she loved it when people who only knew each other online got to finally meet face to face and became instant friends. "That's what we come here for," she said, then smiled as she added, "–And the drugs." I had left one of my water jugs by the shower, but when I went by it had disappeared. Actually, Bob had taken it to refill it. Bob had a cellphone with an antenna for reaching civilization from hard-to-reach areas, but it was having limited success. A long piece of PVC pipe was set up behind the bar, with the antenna on top, and after several tries he was able to get a dial tone... but not much else. We were way out in the middle of nowhere, far from civilization.

In the bright middle of the day, I took my camera and rode my bike out to the Temple of Stars. On the way, I passed several art installations, such as the house built of inflated trashbags. I also passed the whimsical cupcake cars-- three little cars built in the shape of tasty cupcakes. I loved those guys. They were hilarious. It was a long way out to the Temple. It had taken all week to construct–it was huge. Immense ramps let up to it from either side. On the arch at the beginning of one ramp, someone wrote "ABANDON FEAR AND DOUBT – LIVE." It took a while to climb up the ramp, including going over a barrel-shaped ladder, to the main Temple. Memorials were everywhere. A girl that had died just a couple of weeks before the event was remembered with a life-sized photograph, surrounded by notes from family and friends. Scrap pieces of lumber lay about everywhere, available for people to write notes or tributes. I did one in memory of science fiction author Hal Clement, who had died recently. Most of the memorials were written on the sides of the Temple, on the floors, steps, walls and bannisters. All were heartfelt and moving. I read one that said simply, "I'm sorry. I'll try to be stronger." I mentioned out loud about how some of them were just downright heartbreaking, and the guy behind me added, "Just like... life."

Inside the Temple, the hollow spire rose high above us. It was very peaceful. Some people wept. I spoke with a lady behind me named Karen. I remarked about the 2003 Temple burn, when I felt like the messages weren't just being sent, but were being delivered to loved ones long gone. She said that the messages were being delivered, but not when they were burned. The messages were delivered as soon as they were written down, because "they come from the heart of the writer." I walked my bike back towards camp. The surface of the playa was much more packed than earlier in the week and easier to get around on. I found a big, glass marble just sitting out on the ground. The Orgazmo machine was missing from the Gasso Station, but I later found out they just moved it around back for women who didn't like an audience. Near Sloth Camp, a girl with a ticket in her hand stepped up to me. She said, "Excuse me, I have to give you a kiss." She gave me a little kiss on the cheek– and then added, "–and a pat on the butt," and she gave me a harmless little slap on my left cheek. I didn't know what to say, so I thanked her. At the Tikidome, I was treated to a snack of cool celery by a lovely blue-eyed blonde girl named Lauren. They were serving celery with peanut butter, but I liked my celery "neat."

I rode by Whiskey & Whores, but nobody was there. I got a shot of whiskey from Jimmy, the bartender, and gave him a new shot glass for the bar (in return for the one I sorta kinda sorta appropriated). Out on the street, a pretty brunette girl was doing a pole dance atop a motorboat on wheels. She gave her audience more than a couple of peeks. I took a couple of pictures. That was when my SLR camera started to mess up. When I pressed the shutter, it would click off two pictures instead of just one. This was on top of my digital camera messing up. I thought, I got two broken cameras now? I went back to Hair of the Dog, and sonofagun that's where I found Anomaly. She was up on stage singing with the band. She had on a pair of red vampire wings, a huge black strap-on dildo, and a cape adorned with a fringe of fake bloody tampons. She was singing a song about her camp: "Whiskey --and Whores! ...Whiskey  –and Whores..!" That was pretty much the whole song.  After that, she sang a sort of rap song about her adventure the year before at HOTD. For the next song, she got off stage and danced with Spanky and others in the audience. When she saw me, she smiled and came over and gave me a kiss and a big hug. I asked if her camp had anything planned for after the Burn, and she said "We haven't decided yet." At some point, she was on the roof of the bar, drinking and yelling at people passing by.

Seratonin played next, and they really rocked the house. (I later found out the band broke up that weekend, so I got to see their final performance.) I saw Nanette dancing with her boyfriend, and Jennifer's brunette friend was on the couch with her boyfriend. There was lots of singing and dancing all through the bar. Teri came up and gave me a big hug, and said I was one of the people in camp she really trusted. I helped out at the bar when the music died down. A PedEx guy from the Black Rock Post Office (their motto: "There is no ‘team' in ‘fuck you.' ") stepped over for a drink. It seems he took some acid or something and spent most of the day on the couch tripping because he couldn't find a camp's address. Tricky mixed up some food at his trailer, and invited everyone over for a bite. Someone also gave me what they said was a hash brownie, which didn't seem to have much of an effect on me, except for the cooooolorrrrrrssss...

When darkness fell, I made my way out to the Man. There was already a big crowd encircling the structure. I found a good spot about the second row back. A girl named Jill sat in front of me with her boyfriend. They were both from Texas, and wore cowboy hats. To my left was a 20-year-old guy on his first Burn. He shared a gallon of vodka and cranberry juice he had in his backpack. To my right was a lesbian couple; the topless one looked like Lucy Lawless. As the sun set, the air grew chill. The organizers waited until the last light of the sun disappeared beyond the western horizon. There were hundred of people all around me, patiently waiting. Right when it got all quiet, respectful and still, a loud whisper came over the Ranger walkie-talkies: "Hey... does anybody have any lube..?" Everyone laughed. That eased the tension. Some music started, and hundreds of fire dancers came out onto the ground surrounding the Observatory. In sync with the music, the dancers all performed in unison, and it was very impressive. One by one, however, individuals emerged from the crowd and started doing individual performances. A guy with a flaming sword appeared, and then two girls stepped forward with twin flaming swords. A semi-naked dancer spit fire high into the air, and a pixieish blonde girl came up and danced with a flaming hoop. I thought I saw Ginger in the mass of dancers, wearing a red corset. There was even a man snapping a flaming bullwhip.

After a half hour of amazing fire dancing, the field was cleared, and suddenly flames appeared in the alcoves of the Observatory. Fireworks erupted from inside, and there were bright, colorful explosions high above the Man. The main walls of the Observatory burst into flame, and the Man was surrounded by a ring of fire. More fireworks came, with loud, thunderous booms. The dome of the Observatory collapsed inward slightly. Suddenly, off to my left, a guy in a ball cap stood up from about five rows back, quickly stepped between the people in front of him, and took off running towards the burning Observatory. The Rangers spotted him immediately, and it took three to tackle the guy and bring him down. Was he trying to commit suicide? By then, the entire Observatory was engulfed in flames. The heat was intense. The Man was still mostly intact, although his legs and torso were smoking. Just before the whole figure was aflame, the support beams buckled, and the Man seemed to bow to the audience as he dove into the flames below. The crowd surged forward, hands upraised, the heat from the fire spreading outwards. Music started. People began to dance. I circled the flames once, then started inching my way out from the mass of people. It was an incredible experience.

By Saturday, there were over 35,000 people encamped at Burning Man, and it's a good bet most of them were out there with me on that packed desert floor. Many art cars were driving around out on the exposed playa, including one that had neon built into an arch over the car so that it looked like a huge buzzsaw cutting through the desert. I got turned around in the confusion, and it took me a while to make my way back to Hair of the Dog. Everyone was putting on long sleeves and bundling up against the desert chill. Star said the Burn was "awesome!" She mentioned to someone how I had looked her up in 2003 after reading her posts on LiveJournal. "And now he's part of the camp!" She and a bunch of others were heading back out on the playa to a concert by the Mutaytor, but it was being held way back out beyond where the Man had been... By then, it was well after midnight, Oklahoma time, and my feet were really hurting. I decided to skip the concert. Instead, I hit a bunch of the camps between us and Center Camp. In the east, a humble Half Moon rose, dimmed by the still-burning light of the Burn. Eventually, I made my way back to Satori, re-inflated the air mattress, and crashed for the night. As I was dozing off, far out on the other side of the encampment, I could hear someone doing monster-oke to "Bohemian Rhapsody"...
Free pancake breakfast near Center Camp
Phone call to God
The Temple of Stars
Exploring the Temple
Hair of the Dog
The final performance of the Seratonins
Service with a smile
Anomaly raps
The Man's last sunset
Fire dancers
The Man falls

  Prologue -- Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6 -- Day 7 -- Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Day 13 -- Day 14 -- Epilogue
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All original content (c)opyright 2004 by Tim Frayser