"Hope and Fear: The Future"
Burning Man 2006
"I read as well as you no doubt have read  
The apostle when he speaks of maidenhead;  
He said, commandment of the Lord he'd none.  
Men may advise a woman to be one,  
But such advice is not commandment, no;  
He left the thing to our own judgment so. ..." --The Wife of Bath's Tale
Saturday: Saturday morning, September 2nd, I was up at dawn. My body was still on Oklahoma time, and it was mid-morning to me. The bar was empty, so I tried to clean up a little. There had been separate trash bags set aside for glass, plastic, and burnable paper, but somehow general trash got dumped on top of the sorted garbage. The bar  needed more tables. I got things sort of in order, then sat down to catch up on my journal. As I was writing, Ben arrived, and noticed I was "doing the Hunter Thompson thing." (Though I think any comparison would be a stretch.)  

As we were talking, two people rode up on bikes. One was a 40-something guy dressed like Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz." The other rider was a charming dark-haired girl in dark-rimmed glasses. Her name was Cory. The guy was called Gen, and he introduced themselves as "mother and daughter," having met that very morning. Cory was 23 years old, from New Mexico, and said she once took the train from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. The two of them rode off together into the dusty morning.  
About 9 AM, one of the camps across the Plaza started playing "Morning Train" by Sheena Easton on their loudspeakers. I was wondering when that would show up. Later on, they changed the tape, and started blasting Gregorian chants across the campsite. Spanky, D-Mo and Spoon soon arrived and hung out in the bar. Spanky started yelling at people with his megaphone, telling them to wake up. "You didn't pay $200 a ticket to come here and sleep!" he said. There was supposed to have been an art installation in the center of the Plaza, but Monday evening someone not paying attention crashed over it in their vehicle. The "evidence" was then taken out beyond the Esplanade and burned-- or so I heard.  Somehow, a philosophical question came up regarding an existentialist point made by Kierkegaard, but the discussion quickly moved on to food. So, there we were, sitting in the middle of the desert, drinking whiskey, eating Cheez-Its, listening to Gregorian chants and talking about Kierkegaard and I thought, Yup, I'm at Burning Man.  

Across the Plaza, some people were out with some fancy camera equipment, taking portraits of passing Burners. Steph kept pointing out what the photographer was doing wrong. Under the big army tent for breakfast, which I think included bacon, Michelle walked in, and as soon as we saw each other we started laughing, remembering how hard we laughed the night before. "Don't start!" she warned. There was plenty of coffee, but no tea, but Kris loaned me some of her tea bags, and I was a happy camper. That was nice of her. (Next time, however, I'm gonna bring an insulated cup. Owchy!) Steph practiced with her fire pots. Over by Iron Rose, there were dozens of people visiting their special bluegrass music day.  

I went for a walk out to the Temple of Hope. I was on a mission. The Temple always has memorials to people who have passed on, and that year was no exception. It was simple, yet very moving. Pictures, poems and messages were all over every surface. The Temple was literally covered with little memorials to relatives, friends, even beloved pets. Some were truly heartbreaking, and anybody who walked through there without being moved must have a heart of concrete. My mission was to put up a memorial to Mike Smalley and John Vaughn, two friends of mine who had passed away that year. I just wanted them to know they were loved, and missed.  While I was walking around, a man came up offering me to pick a card at random from his deck. They turned out to be tarot cards, and the one I happened to pick was the Page of Wands. It probably meant something for me to pick that particular card at that particular time, but I don't know what it would be. I also put out little memorials to Octavia Butler, Stanislaw Lem and Tim Hildebrandt.  


From the Temple, I walked out to the Belgian Project, nicknamed the "Belgian waffle" by Burners. I'll admit, when I first saw it, the outline first reminded me of the profile of Gamera, the giant flying turtle from Japanese monster movies. The structure itself was huge, but not monstrous. It was compelling, and intricate, and amazing. Walking in the shade of the structure was at once like walking through a forest and being inside a gigantic beehive. The long, straight lines combining into sweeping curves reminded me of a 3-D Spirograph picture. Plans were to set it ablaze Sunday night after the Temple burn. There were all kinds of rumors about it. One person said it cost $300,000 to build. Another said they hadn't put anything underneath to protect the playa against scorching, an offense punishable by fines, so they chose to pay the BLM fine, anyway. There was no way of knowing what was true or not. 

Someone appeared and announced, "Anybody else need a ride to Center Camp?" It was the driver of an art car, the Isle of Denial, and it was decorated like a Caribbean island-- complete with pirates! I managed to hop on just as it was leaving. It had many passengers, including a bunch of kids, and the pirates were keeping them entertained. It was a long way back to the Esplanade, and I was lucky to catch a ride. Along the way, I got to see lots of art installations I'd missed before. I hopped off just before the art car got to Center Camp.  

Back at HOTD, the joint was jumping. Double Dutch even showed up to do a set on stage. I climbed up on top of the bar to get pictures of the whole Plaza. In the army tent, Claudia shared some ramen noodles with me. One of the funny things about Burning Man is that you learn to really appreciate food. All food. Everything you eat turns into the best thing you've ever eaten. We had ramen noodles, and they were the best ramen noodles ever!  
I met a beautiful blonde girl called Essa.  She lived in San Francisco, but she used to live in Ohio, "So we're almost neighbors," she said. Curly did a set on stage, including the "Oompa Loompa" song, as well as some covers, and then the band broke for supper. Mark had some ribs cooking on a grill, and they were delicious. I helped with the coals. Kris donated some sausages that were wonderful. No bacon, though.  
I kept watching the sky. Clouds moved through, making the playa almost overcast. Someone was blowing huge smoke rings into the sky again. I was watching for the sunset, because I didn't want to be late for the burn. I went by Iron Rose camp, because I got invited to go to the burn in their art car. I met Annika, Jenn's campmate, a tall , pretty brunette. Two of her campmates had some running gag going. The first one said, "Hello, you dirty little whore." The other replied, with the sweetest little smile, "Fuck off and die what?" I also met Aimee, a sweet girl excited about her first Burning Man. The sunset was magnificent. The Moon was pretty, too, coming up in the east. I talked to Wendy and George, her significant other, who it turns out had read my website.  

When it got dark, everyone piled onto the Iron Rose art car. I hoped there'd be enough room for me. It was a tight squeeze, but we made it. I'd never ridden to the burn in an art car before. It beats walking all to heck. The playa was already crowded and rippling with energy. There were thousands of people on foot, encircling the Man. We joined the ring of art cars encircling those thousands of people. There were art cars there I'd never seen before-- Burning Man was so huge, it was easy to miss stuff. A car built like a big rubber duck pulled around a corner and came close to hitting me. Damn you, duck! Someone else built a Yellow Submarine-- a perfect replica of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine. They drove it right up behind us. It was beautiful. Burn night was the only time I ever saw it. A couple of tall art cars tried to pull in front of us, obstructing our view, but they got shouted out of the way. One guy rolled up what looked like a massage table on wheels next to the art car. It had poles on the corners so that the whole thing could be curtained off. I wondered what the point of that was-- you couldn't even sit on top to watch the burn. George finally put out a line of caution tape, to keep other cars from parking in front of us.  

I was excited. I'd never watched the burn from so far back before. Every other time, I'd tried to get as close as possible. Being further back gave a whole new perspective. The sight of thousands of people, milling around in the dark-- all wearing or carrying blinking, glowing, colorful lights --remains indescribable. Someone shot off a fireworks rocket, which exploted high above us, leaving a big, white cloud. Immediately, everyone on the playa with a laser started pointing them through the cloud, crisscrossing it with glowing green beams of light. The wind was calm, so the cloud hung above us for a long time. I didn't bring my 35mm camera that year, just my digital camera and a couple of disposable cameras. I didn't expect to get any good nighttime shots, but I tried my best.  

A whoop went up from the crowd as the Man's arms were raised, signaling the beginning of the performance. Hundreds of fire dancers came out to perform in the open space around the Man. From our spot far back, we couldn't see much. All we could see was the occasional flaming object pop over the heads of the crowds in front of us, like fiery popping corn. Jenn pointed out someone had a flaming jumprope! There was plenty of music from all directions. Aimee climbed up on the side of the art car and was dancing to the beat. Anytime her skirt got worked up, one of her campmates would pull it back down. I think it was Heidi that pointed to the covered bed on wheels and shouted, "Oh, my God! They're having sex! They're having sex in there!" Indeed, from what I could tell through the curtains, that's exactly what they were doing. They'd wheeled a bed out to the playa so that they could have sex while the Man burned.  
The fire dancers performed for almost a half hour. It took a while for them to clear the field-- and then, the fireworks started. Rockets burst up from the base of the Man, exploding high above the crowd. Big starbursts, sparkling mortars, bright, fiery colors --and they just kept coming. Some rockets were aimed so that they exploded out from the Man like giant flowers, blossoming in the sky. Suddenly, flames erupted from the top of the structure. Rockets continued to erupt from the structure even as it became engulfed in flames. Standing two hundred yards away, I could still feel the heat.  
The Man was completely on fire, even his head, when part of the structure gave way and he sank down to his "waist." We could see chunks of flooring break away and fall in the conflagration. Finally, a great moan rose from the thousands watching as the last, stubborn torso of the Man broke apart and fell into the flames. The remainder of the structure continued to burn for the better part of a half hour before it finally broke apart at last. That platform was really built well. The art car loaded up to head back to camp. Everyone at Iron Rose was amazing.  
I took off walking with Jenn across the crowded playa. Everyone had lights and music cranked up. At Center Camp, we stopped to rest. There was a game being played with a big, cushy ball made from dozens of Winnie the Poon dolls, almost as big as a bean bag chair. Two guys were brought in to wrestle over the ball, one dressed as a dinosaur, the other dressed as a bear, each trying to capture the "Pooh ball." It was very funny. On down the Esplanade, I passed the Thunderdome. All the years I'd been to Burning Man, that night was the busiest I'd ever seen it. The dome was so covered with spectators, you couldn't see inside. Luckily, the Death Guild had set up cameras and closed-circuit screens so that you could still watch the action. Inside, two girls  were hanging off bungee cords and fighting with short, foam bats. Surrounded by hundreds of people, watching two girls that both looked like River from the TV show "Firefly" wail on each other to the loud, pounding beat of Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" was just a little surreal. I passed Hella Delicious while we were watching the action, still topless. I visited with people for a while, then went on to bed. I had to get some sleep to get ready for my Exodus duty in the morning. The evening confirmed: Burning Man is felt on a personal level, but it's nice to have someone to share it with.  

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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