"Hope and Fear: The Future"
Burning Man 2006
"Even as on a Friday, truth to tell,    
The sun shines now, and now the rain comes fast,    
Even so can fickle Venus overcast    
The spirits of her people; as her day,    
Is changeful, so she changes her array.    
Seldom is Friday quite like all the week..." --The Knight's Tale 
Friday: I woke Friday morning very early. All I could see was the roof of my tent. Before moving a muscle, I stared straight up and said, Please let me find my ring. Please let me just find it. I stood up, and lifted my sleeping bag to shake it out–  

And there it was. It was on the floor of my tent, practically under my pillow. Now, some might say everything happens for a purpose. Some might say I found it because I prayed for it. When I later told one of the Greeters what happened, he said I was able to find it because I "let go," because I resigned myself to the powers of the universe. I don't know. I just know I was glad to have it back. When you wear something every day for 24 years, you kinda get attached to it.  

I tried to doze some more, but I didn't want to be late for my Greeter shift. I had planned on wearing a costume, to make things more fun, but it was freakin' cold outside. I just put on the cleanest clothes I could find, along with my sweatshirt, and headed out of camp. I didn't take Jenn's bike, because I had the idea the Greeter's Station was right around the corner. Uh, no. It wasn't. It was a lot further around than I thought, and I was quickly wishing I'd ridden the bike.  
As soon as the station came into view, I cut across the open playa. It had been a wet winter in Nevada. The Sun had baked the playa over the summer until it dried and cracked into sharp pebbles and fist-sized rocks. It was only in the high-traffic areas that it got pounded down into dust, filling in the cracks until the surface was like concrete. 

I was met at the Greeter Station by Nomad Jack, a lively, spiritual old gentleman. "You must be my relief!" he said, sounding relieved. The lead Greater for the shift was a cute brunette called Martha Mydear. It wasn't just her first time as a Greeter, it was her first time at Burning Man. "And now I'm in charge!" she said.  

Martha's relief arrived– it was Victoria! We'd been running into each other every year I'd been to Burning Man. She laughed and gave me a big hug. She remembered she had still not yet sent me some pictures from 2003 --But she hadn't forgotten me. She just hadn't gotten around to sending them yet. 

Victoria and Nomad Jack
 Cars started arriving, and I greeted my first vehicle. It was a white car, driven by a pair of veteran Burners named Donna and Chris. As Greeters, we had to make sure they knew where they were going, ask if they had water –remind them to drink!-- and say, "Welcome home!" If they had a video camera, they had to fill out a form and get a tag for their camera. I tried to be cheerful. Other Greeters arrived: Sunny, Vanity, Sancho, and Jim, a young kid with a spiky blue hair– he was probably the most outrageous of us all. Sancho had already done two other Greeter shifts that week. An older man walked up from the City. Blankets in hand, he was asking about trains from Reno to San Francisco and looking to hitch a ride back to Reno. He said he was a poet, and on the spot made up a poem about the Sun. I told him about riding Amtrak from Omaha, and he said he had hopped aboard freight trains many times– often within inches of his life. It took a while, but he found a ride back to Reno. I never caught his name. We saw a lot of first-time Burners –"virgins"-- come through that morning. For them, we had a little initiation ritual. We got them out of their cars and had them lie down in the playa. One kid told his mom, "But, I don't want to get dusty!" Boy, was he in the wrong place. Trying to stay clean on the playa was just delaying the inevitable.  

On the ground, we had them wave their arms and legs to make "playa angels." Nomad Jack told virgins this was to get them back in touch with nature, but I said it was to acclimate them to the environment. Then, we got them up and took them to the bell, and told them to ring the bell as hard as they could and, as loud as they could, yell, "I'm not a virgin any more!" The older folks coming though thought this was hilarious. Everybody welcomed virgin Burners a little differently. The Greeters used to give virgins a spanking, but there was some sort of lawsuit that stopped that practice. (Victoria said spankings were out, but joked that "complimentary fistings" were available upon request. Twisting around the old inspirational poster, Victoria said, "Give me a fisting, and I live today. Teach me to fist, and I live forever...") I got to meet Topless Deb, the head Greeter, who stopped by to check on things. Traffic seemed light that morning. We took care of maybe 20 cars an hour. I think most everybody coming to Burning Man was already there by Friday. One carload of girls invited me to a Critical Tits painting party later that day. I made buttons for everybody on my Greeter shift, but I might've missed Sancho. Three cars showed up from inside the City with smashed windows. It seems that during the Wednesday white-out, a big shade structure got blown over, knocking out their windshields. That was the only time they had before the holiday weekend to go get them fixed in Reno. One guy rode by on a bike with some extra tickets to sell. We sent him forward to the Gate. He came back an hour or so later, pleased with his sales. A friendly, almost naked couple hung out at the station with us. The girl, Zoe, was very nice. Her husband was joking with new arrivals, saying they could make out with Zoe in exchange for beer. "I can't believe you'd pimp me out for beer!" she laughed. At noon, our reliefs arrived. Sancho shook my hand, and we all went our separate ways. My shift as a Greeter was a completely positive experience. Everyone was happy– the arrivals were happy to be there, and we were happy they arrived.  
I changed out of my sweatshirt, and realized everything I had on was khaki-colored– just like the Rangers. (No wonder people kept asking me for directions.) I went back to camp and talked with Star and Anne before changing into my Utilikilt. Star said I looked better in the kilt. I was really hungry. All I'd had for breakfast was some beef jerky, but by the time I got back to camp they were cleaning up the lunch dishes. I was wearing an unbuttoned shirt when I walked around the porta-potties. I looked down and thought, dang, I had a gut when I got here. All the walking around the playa was paying off. I went to wash my hair in the shower, but somebody else's clothes were already there. I waited, but nobody showed up. I finally went ahead and took a quick shower. It turned out to be Jessica's clothes on the chair. She stopped outside the shower and asked if I saw her razor inside, but I didn't see it anywhere. I later apologized for cutting in line ahead of her, and she just laughed it off.  
About 2 that afternoon, I was recovered enough from my Greeter shift to get out for a while. Near 9 O'Clock & Fate, I finally found Pandora's camp, full of Burners from the Midwest. I was wanting to take them a collage of pictures I took at Interfuse. I made a couple of spares, too, in case anybody wanted extras. I didn't see anybody I knew until Queen Bee showed up. I missed seeing Miranda: she was off at the Critical Tits parade, which I also missed. They had a really big camp, and invited me to come back when the bar was open. I rode Jenn's bike past Spank the Monkey, but it was asleep. Literally. Everyone was sprawled out under their shade structure, sound asleep. I rode out to the Man, and took lots of pictures. A pretty girl with a parasol and a very revealing costume strolled by with her boyfriend. I asked if I could take her picture, and she said no, which was okay with me... but her boyfriend was busy taking pictures of girls in revealing (and no) costumes. That kind of attitude just encourages photographers to be more sneaky at taking pictures and not ask at all. Taking Jenn's advice, I cruised around looking at art. There was a bunch to see, lots of it absolutely amazing. I was impressed by the cathedral and the giant Martian tripod with the head that rotated around.  
I cut back across the open playa headed back towards camp when I heard a SPROING from Jenn's bike. The shift cable had broken off and wrapped itself around the rear axle. I got the cable off, and the bike still worked, I just couldn't shift gears anymore. I felt awful about messing up her bike, after her being so nice to loan it to me. I took it back to her camp right away. Jenn wasn't there. Wendy, one of her campmates, said it was an accident, and Jenn probably wouldn't be mad, but borrowing something and returning it broken still seemed like a crappy thing to do.  
 Art on the Playa
I walked back to camp. Claudia did another set on the stage, followed by Lotus, a sultry, curly-haired blonde singer that just burned up the place. She had great range, and knew how to work the crowd. She was hot. Some guy with an orange beard set up a massage table under the shade near the stage. I saw Jessica get a quick massage. He worked on several people that weekend. I sat & talked to Star for a while. She offered me a Sierra Nevada Ale, and said I could raid their beer stash anytime. Star gifted everyone with little black dog tags to wear around the neck. It wasn't until I put on my glasses that I realized they were all personalized. That was really thoughtful of her.  
Supper was macaroni, chili and hot dogs. As we were cooking, Jenn dropped by. I apologized for the bike. The bike was still ride-able, you just couldn't shift gears, is all. She had been up late, and didn't wake up until 4 that afternoon. She invited me to go over to her camp for supper, but our supper was almost done– as was I. I'd been up since 6 AM and felt very flushed & drained. I was also feeling not at all "fresh." I said I'd catch up with her later. I ate 2 chili dogs and some chili mac. The army tent was kind of dark, so I brought over my little camp lantern. After supper, I just lost all energy. As I walked back to my tent, Star said goodnight; I must've looked really tired. I pulled the sleeping bag over me and fell asleep almost immediately. I figured I'd nap for an hour or so and get up refreshed...  
I woke up after dark. My watch said it was– holy crap, one AM? Someone was on stage doing a drum solo as I headed out for the porta-potties, but he was joined by a guitarist when I got returned. I went for a walk. I walked out onto the playa. The giant steel snake was up and running, spitting fire from all angles and glowing hot. Out at the Man, workers had already sealed off the area. Engineers were moving walls and artwork, and pyrotechnicians were in the middle of inflaminating the structure. Starting that early, it promised to be an awesome burn. I walked back to camp by way of the 3 O'Clock Plaza. I hadn't been in that part of the City all week. One camp had a giant, day-glow praying mantis. I stopped at Bad Idea Theater, which was showing an old Steve McQueen movie with all the dialogue re-dubbed. It was pretty funny. I finally found the Gasso Station, which still had the hydraulic spanking machine, but I didn't see the Orgazmatron anywhere.  

I stopped at the intersection of 3 and Eager to get my bearings. A passing guy said, in a heavy German accent, "We are at a crossroads." "Aren't we all?" I asked. I could see the big sign for Hair of the Dog two blocks away. The camp across the Plaza showed "Rocky Horror" again, then showed the awful sequel, "Shock Treatment." When I saw the character that looked like Truman Capote playing the Joker, I knew I'd seen enough.  
The HOTD stage was still up and going strong. Mark and one of the Crazy Canadians from next door were doing a duet, a stream of consciousness rap that I ended up calling "Mint Toothpicks, My Blood Smells Like Hell." This was followed by a 10-minute long symphony about grilled cheese sandwiches. It was absolutely hysterical. Michelle & Emory were working the bar, and at one point we all had our heads down from laughing so hard. It was one of those times you try to explain to people and they look at you like you're crazy or something. You just had to be there. A guy named Ben showed up to jam with his clarinet. Others got up to sing and play music. It turned into open mike night at Hair of the Dog. I finally crashed about 4 AM, my sides hurting from laughing so much. It still makes me laugh to think about it.

Introduction -- The Journey West 
 Tuesday -- Wednesday -- Thursday -- Friday -- Saturday -- Sunday 
Monday --  The Journey East -- Epilogue
All original content (c)opyright 2006  
by Tim Frayser 
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