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.
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.
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.
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.
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.