I decided to wear pants that day. I don't think I remembered to eat something for breakfast. I got dressed and took off on my bike. I rode a block to Hysteria, the outer ring of the Burning Man campsite, then circled around for about a half mile until I got to the Greeter's station. An amazing sunrise blossomed in the east, highlighted by some rosy, fluffy clouds. The dark, moody shapes on the horizon slowly turned into mountains. The Exodus crew was supposed to meet at 7 AM, but I didn't see any of them. There was a nice girl cleaning up the Greeter's station; I think her name was Brooke. She'd never seen the sunrise at Burning Man before, and was very impressed. From there, I walked my bike the better part of a mile down the dusty road to the Gate. That's where I parked my bike and waited for Exodus. I met up with Judge, who was keeping watch on things. He shared a bag of dates with me. He figured anything that was good enough for the Bedouins to eat must be good in the desert. He also tipped me off on how to clean playa out of my clothes. He said most detergents were alkali, which didn't clean out the alkali playa too well. The solution: instead of detergent, pour some lemon juice into the wash. The acid counteracts the alkali playa and cleans it out. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. Judge also gave me a pair of army surplus sunglasses. Some army guys dropped off a case of sunglasses at the Gate, and he was giving them away. I must have been karma: I had forgotten my sunglasses back home.
I can't get too cocky about it, though. I kept messing up on the radio. The volume was turned down when I got the radio, so even though I could hear most of the messages there were a bunch I was missing. A guy rode out to my position in a golf cart to fix it for me. Heck, I didn't know I was missing anything. Also, I didn't key the mike right, and sometimes I talked too fast. I must have been very frustrating for the other Exodus crew members. It was very hot and dry out on the road. Over the radio, I got ordered to open up both lanes of gravel road for exiting cars. That made a bunch of motorists happy. About five minutes later, however, I got ordered to close off the inbound lane. Somebody was wanting to get back in to Burning Man. Well, that was frustrating, because I could close off the inbound lane up to my position, but there was still three lanes of traffic coming out of the Gate. There was a tow truck that got up to where I was, and when the driver saw what was ahead of him, he just threw up his hands. He ended up charging forward down the inbound lane, pushing other cars out of his way. I got on the radio and suggested opening up a lane out on the playa for people trying to get back in to the event, so that we didn't have to keep opening and closing the inbound lane. The response I got was, "This is the way we've always done it." A little while later, however, a lane was opened up outside the fence.
I got the order to close off all exiting traffic, and lemmie just say that was a scary feeling: standing in front of hundreds of cars-- thousands of people-- with just me holding them back. My camelback canteen ran bone dry. Fortunately, people leaving gave me bottles of water and Gatorade to drink. They were lifesavers. Other people gave me stuff as they went by: necklaces, medallions, beads, seashells, a packet of genuine Swiss chocolate, and even a Burning Man flattened penny. One guy gave me a pocket knife, "because everybody needs a pocket knife." How did he know I'd lost my knife? Karma kept working on me. I got see just about every kind of RV ever made standing there on the side of the road. There was one rental RV that drove by: printed on the side of the RV was a picture of some kids sitting on a rock at Monument Valley. It took me a second to realize that just one week before, I had been standing on that very same rock in Monument Valley.
One passing motorist pointed out towards the highway and asked, "Is the other world still out there?" "Yeah," I said. "Sorry." He shook his head and drove on. The most humbling part of working Exodus was when people slowed down, looked me in the eye, and thanked me –me– for their Burning Man experience. That was an honor I did not deserve, and each one overwhelmed me. Erin drove back by to check up on me, and that's when I realized I'd been out in the Nevada sun with no shade for six hours. She came back about an hour later with my relief, a guy called Vassar. Just then, a car drove up from the highway. It was a guy who said he just drove up from San Francisco for Burning Man. He didn't have a ticket or anything; he just wanted to go in and take a look around. On Sunday afternoon? I got on the radio to see if it was all right, and about a dozen different people answered: "No." By that time, a lot of the artwork had been taken down, the Man had already burned, and thousands of people were leaving the event. The guy didn't seem happy about not being let in, after coming all the way from San Francisco. Someone on the radio commented, "Hey, I came all the way from Portland, but I had a ticket!" It was also a security issue, letting someone in that didn't have a ticket --and besides, who goes to a play in the last scene? "This isn't what I though Burning Man was all about!" he grumbled as he turned around and left.
Vassar took over my position, and Erin gave me a lift back to my bike. I forgot I still had her Exodus vest on, so I left it in the shed at the Gate. The wind really picked up as I biked back to camp. I passed dozens of cars trying to inch their way out in the blinding dust. When I got back to Hair of the Dog, I was exhausted. I felt all dried out –withered, even. I changed clothes and relaxed under the shade of the bar. Pamela was on stage with the band, singing a series of torch songs mixed with themes from 1960's sitcoms. Somebody yelled for her to sing "Freebird." I was gonna take a shower, but when I checked my water tanks they were all empty. Just then, the water truck drove by, spraying the road, and I thought, what the heck. So, I ran behind the truck and got completely soaked. It felt good to get at least the top layer of dust off me, though. I was exhausted from being on my feet all day. As I was relaxing, Jenn showed up, and we sat and talked and listened to the band. That may have been when Connie got up to sing a few songs. There was a crazy naked guy break dancing up in front of the stage. I called him Crazy Naked Guy. In between songs, Crazy Naked Guy would prance around with a spray bottle of water and squirt people. That part was at least refreshing.
After Jenn took off with her friends, I started packing. Working Exodus confirmed that the earlier I hit the road out of Burning Man, the better. I pulled the back tarp off the van and reconnected the bike rack. That was when I found my glasses– I thought I'd lost them along with my knife. Mark let me borrow a gallon of gasoline for the trip back. I figured I had enough, but I wanted to be sure I'd get to Fernley. In the bar, I talked with a girl named Grace and a guy named David about brain experiments. It was a joy to see Victoria again; we had met briefly the year before. We exchanged addresses. I met a very cute blonde girl called Bosh. She was popular.
Supper was a weenie roast, and for that we all piled into the rental truck and drove out onto the playa. There was an art piece that featured several human figures kneeling in prayer, but instead of heads they had butane torches. That's what we used to cook the weenies. I ate two. By then, it was getting dark, and I knew I'd be chilly in my Utilikilt, so I hurried back to camp to change into pants. I was afraid I'd miss out on the Temple burn, but I got there in plenty of time. I could tell it was a smaller crowd than for the Man, but there were still thousands of people out there surrounding the structure. Art cars were all around. I found a spot a few rows back from the front.
The Temple was shrouded in darkness, but I could see figures moving around. It looked like they were carrying buckets of something. A small group of figures were praying in front of the Temple. Finally, everyone vacated the area. Flickers of fire appeared within the Temple. It didn't take but a couple of minutes for the whole Temple to be engulfed in flames. The mood was completely different from the circus atmosphere of the night before, and way different from the frenzy of 2004. That night, thousands of people stood in complete silence, their faces illuminated by the flames of the Temple. It was a solemn, respectful moment frozen in time as the messages within the Temple fell to the fires and rose Heavenward. Colors danced inside the flames. One by one the walls of the structure fell, until all that was left was a sole Zen arch, framed in the flickering heat. Then, it fell as well. As the people turned to leave, there were not a few tears amongst the crowd.
I had lost my way in the darkness and confusion of the
burn. I didn't know where I was, and by Sunday evening all the street signs
had been torn down as souvenirs. Ahead, though, was a bright light amongst
the din of the Esplanade, and it seemed as good a thing to head for as
any. The closer I got, however, the more familiar it became. It was the
new HOTD sign that had been erected over the bar. I'd been able to see
it all the way out to the playa. The bar was jumping when I got back, with
singing, dancing, music, drinking and visiting. I stayed up for a while,
but the weight of the day finally crashed in on me. I gave Ginger Petunia
a big goodbye hug and headed for my van. I had a long day of driving ahead
of me. I crawled into the back of Satori, pulled the covers over me, and
closed my eyes. As I drifted off, I could hear Spanky up on stage with
the mike. He was singing "Freebird."
Burning Man: Portland
Oscar Meyer weiners
|All original content (c)opyright 2005 by Tim Frayser
Last Updated: September, 2005