"Hope and Fear: The Future"
Burning Man 2006
"O gut! O belly! O you stinking cod,   
Filled full of dung, with all corruption found!   
At either end of you foul is the sound."  --The Pardoner's Tale
 
Sunday: Late Saturday night, the skies gave way to typical playa winds, pounding the tents and shade structures. The winds mostly died down just before sunrise. I woke up just after dawn. I felt great-- refreshed and vigorous. I went out riding on Jenn's bike. I passed Aimee, who was still up and talking to someone. I saw Mark, who wondered if I'd been up all night. Gomer, Werner & Claudia were on top of the bar, watching the Sunrise. Back in my tent, I changed into my Guidolon t-shirt and filled up my Camelbak with water. Breakfast was an apple and a Coke. I got on the bike and headed out. It looked like it would be a beautiful day.  

Cars and RV's were already making their way down the dusty road. Thus began the Exodus-- or, as I called it, the Every RV Ever Made Parade. I pedaled over to the Greeter's Station, where we'd gathered the year before. It was right at 7 AM when I arrived. The Greeter gates had been removed, leaving a clear path to the wide road leading to the Gate. The shade structure and porta potties remained. Right after I arrived, a car showed up. It was Odd Wally, one of the Exodus coordinators, whom I may have talked to on the radio once. We were soon joined by a girl called Sam, a guy called Cuddles and a guy I'm gonna call Mick. Our first job of the day was to set out the cones marking the exit lanes. The Exodus road had five lanes, instead of the three in 2005. That was encouraging. One lane was even dedicated to incoming traffic, something I had tried to point out was necessary. It looked like everything was under control. There was a pickup pulling a trailer of cones. I walked alongside the truck, straightening out the lines of cones and making sure there was enough room for vehicles to get between the rows. A water truck came through, wetting down the playa. We watched as two lanes of traffic quickly filled up with cars. Since the exit lanes seemed under control, we got reassigned. Our new duties put us out on the highway directing traffic between the City and Gerlach. Odd Wally drove us out towards Three Mile Road. It was a rush to zoom across the open playa at 70 MPH.  

The Three Mile Road was the original entrance to Burning Man before they moved the event to a different location on the playa. It was the road I was assigned to direct traffic on the year before. I knew that hard ground well. Out on the highway, we headed back towards Gerlach. We pulled off at the "Y" just outside of town, where the road out of Gerlach splits: Highway 447 going north, and Highway 34 going northeast towards the City. It was just 8 AM.  
 
I was stationed on the Highway 34 side, managing the traffic out of Black Rock city and making sure it slowed down entering Gerlach. Mick was over on the Highway 447 side, keeping local traffic from crashing into the lines of exiting Burners. Sam was down the road, towards the town; her job was to signal us to stop traffic if any locals needed to turn left onto 447. Our job was to protect local traffic while keeping the flow of Burners moving out. We were all issued radios to keep in touch.  

The first few hours went by smoothly. By 9 AM, I was counting about 10 cars per minute going past me. That was at it's peak. We'd have about 10 or 12 cars go by, then there'd be a few minutes of nothing until the next bunch arrived. The morning clouds were still as feathery and beautiful as they'd been all week. By 10 AM, or so, the ascending Sun had burned away most of the clouds. The skies above the Black Rock Desert returned to their familiar clarity.  
  
It was starting to get hot. 

By 10 AM, the exiting Burner vehicles passing me was peaking about 15 per minute. They still came in bunches. A passing motorist slowed down to tell me there were "objects" in the road between Gerlach and the Gate, so I reported that on my radio. I never heard back what they were. Mostly, Sam would radio me to stop traffic for local cars. I tried to tell her to just wave at me, to cut the radio traffic, but she never got the message. We did get a report to be on the lookout for a white van that had been stolen from some Burner. A little after 11 AM, someone came to relieve Sam, and she left. That kind of gave me the idea Mick and I would be relieved soon. Odd Wally showed up with "brunch" --a box breakfast for each of us. There was eggs, potatoes and bacon (all cold, but I didn't care, I was so hungry at that point), along with a banana and a cookie. It was hard to eat and hold the sign up at the same time; we had to be attentive of the oncoming traffic. I also didn't want to slack off and make us look bad. In fact, a Nevada Dept. of Transportation truck circled by. The driver called out, "Keep up the good work!" I never got a chance to share that with anybody.  

About 11:30, Mick suggested we change places. I had been enjoying waving goodbye to people as they went by. Since I figured we'd be going off shift-at noon anyway, I said okay and took position on 447. Mick said he didn't think we got off-shift until 3 PM. I thought, Oh, well. I was on my Hwy. 34 post for 3 1/2 hours. During that time, I probably waved to about two thousand people as they drove by. 

The radio chatter was busy all day. I could hear Scarecrow, Spider, Entropy and Odd Wally juggle the lanes of traffic leaving the City. Cuddles sounded like he ended up directing traffic on the gravel road-- my old job. A couple of cars broke down while sitting in line, and traffic had to be routed around them until they could be pushed off to the side. A couple of people wanted Exodus to call a tow truck for their stalled cars, but the Exodus folks had enough on their hands. The Burner's only other option was to hitchhike into Gerlach and call AAA. (And hope the highway patrol didn't catch them illegally hitchhiking on the highway.) One passing car had a kayak strapped to the roof. Who brings a kayak to Burning Man? 

At 1 PM, my Camelbak ran out of water. It was really starting to get uncomfortable out there. My skin felt like it was frying in the sun like so much bacon.  

About 2 PM Sunday, somebody reported over the radio about a survey he'd been doing of exiting vehicles. He said cars were taking about 3 hours to get out and RV's were taking about one and a half hours. I overheard a radio exchange between an Exodus person and a girl from BMIR radio. When she found out it was taking 3 hours to get out, she said, "Oh, my gosh! I thought it was just flowing along!" Just after that, a huge tow truck zoomed by, pulling two dusty fehicles behind it. Two PM was when I told Mick my water had been gone for an hour.  

From my position on the highway,  I could see clouds of dust way off on the playa rising from the moving vehicles. Someone on the radio was looking for a certain flagger. "What's your 20?" he asked. The reply was, "I might be 10 feet from you, but there's so much dust I can't see!" 

I was keeping watch on the traffic southbound on 447. There were some local vehicles, but mostly it was motorcyclists in fancy black leathers and big, touring machines. The cycles seemed to all have California plates. They'd come through one, two, sometimes seven or eight at a time. A couple of people stopped to ask the way to Burning Man. One young man said he was going to pick up his mother at the Gate. I pointed them down Highway 34, and they took off. One vehicle that didn't stop when I flagged at them was a BLM Ranger vehicle. He zoomed past me and swept in front of a particular Burner car that had BLM symbols taped to the sides. The Ranger pulled the car over to the side, and tore the signs off their car. He intervied them for a few minutes, and even took their pictures with his digital camera. I don't know what that was all about.  

Trixie from the Burning Man office in Gerlach got on the radio. She said she had a couple of people in her office with ticket stubs that were denied entrance when they tried to re-enter the City. A Gate person came online, and said he believed they bought the stubs from exiting Burners. He said that they weren't going to "get into the City by lying." We heard a story of a sports car that almost ran over an Exodus volunteer as it cut out of line and tore across the playa, exiting at the Three Mile Road. The story was that the highway patrol had caught the car outside of Gerlach, ticketed the driver, and then escorted the car back into the City to the end of the line, so that he could exit like everybody else. That was some wild west justice for you.  

It looked like we wouldn't get relieved until 3 PM after all. I kept checking my watch, counting down the time for the end of our shift. First it was 2 hours away, then 1 1/2 hours, then one, then a half hour... then it was 3 PM-- and relief was nowhere in sight. Chatter on the radio was not encouraging. There was talk of "scouring the City" for flaggers to replace us. (I'm sorry, but Sunday afternoon of the event was not the time to start recruiting volunteers.) Word came over on the radio that they'd "try" to get us some water "in an hour or so."  
 

They couldn't just put anybody out on the road directing traffic. In order to direct traffic in Nevada, you had to be a licensed state flagger, like me. I had my training and took my test the year before. I had my license and ID with me the whole time I was out there. Putting an unlicensed, untrained flagger out directing traffic was not only dangerous but illegal, and subject to fines. It's not just in Nevada, either. Thirty states require flaggers to be trained and certified before going on the job.   
Soon after 3 PM, traffic got very heavy on the road. In no time at all, the line of cars stretched bumper-to-bumper down 34, disappearing to the northeast. It was beginning to look like we'd never get off that road, like we'd be there forever. There was no place to stand beside the road where both feet were on level ground. You always had to have your weight on one foot or the other. My hips were aching. I couldn't sit down or anything like that; it would've been dangerous, unprofessional, and make Burning Man look bad.  

We got a call that it would be okay to ask passing Burners for water. Mick talked to one car while he had it stopped, and they gave him a can of beer. One can. He drank it down all by himself. Another driver threw him a candy bar. He ate it all by himself... All the time, I was 25 feet away, on the 447 side where no Burners were passing by. He never offered to share. He never asked for something extra for me. That pretty much dissolved whatever "team spirit" I had left.  It was like I was invisible, like I didn't exist.    

Maybe I didn't exist. I didn't care. I was hungry, out of water, I had to pee, there was no shade, my feet hurt, my muscles ached, my joints cracked in pain, and my skin was starting to blister. I felt dizzy. Nothing mattered anymore. I'd moved beyond anger. I'd trancended frustration. I had no guilt, no shame, no desire, no fear. I was invincible.  
  
Suddenly, the sky became really blue, the passing clouds became brilliant white, and the green brush became really, really, really green. The Earth pulsed to my every heartbeat. Rocks vibrated at my slghtest thought. Clouds knew my name... It was a very Siddharthy moment.   

Right at 4 PM, Odd Wally showed up, nine hours after I went on duty for what I thought was going to be a 4-hour shift. He took my sign and reflector vest, and took position on the 447 highway. Someone else relieved Sam's relief, who'd been on his post since 11. When he got to the car, he was very vocal about his frustrations. "This is fucked-up, man!" he said. "They could've got on the radio and told us it was gonna be a while-- not just leave us out there like that!" Odd Wally invited us to sit in his car, but it was parked in a way that there was no part of the inside that wasn't in direct sunlight. I got out and sat on the ground in the shade of the car, my face cooled by the exhaust of exiting vehicles. Odd Wally managed to get a bottle of water from a passing Burner, which I shared with Sam's relief. When he asked Mick if he wanted some water, Mick said he still had some! After telling him I was out of water --in the desert-- he let me stand in the sun for two hours without sharing.   

 
A car arrived with two replacements --one of them was Sam. They had been reluctant to volunteer without being told how long they'd have to work. Well, we weren't told, either. Odd Wally drove me, Mick & Sam's relief back to the City. He thanked us for our hard work, and said, "The volunteer coordinator didn't even make it on-playa this year." Odd Wally said several people didn't show up to help out with Exodus, and I got the impression folks that had gone to the training that week didn't show up, either. That left the Exodus crew very short-handed. And it was only Sunday.   
The road back to BRC was bumper-to-bumper all the way from Gerlach to the gravel road-- and beyond. The line of cars snaked into the playa from the highway. We passed all five lanes of exiting vehicles, stopped in their tracks like it was one huge parking lot. Nobody looked like they were moving at all. One problem was that cars in line were overheating. People would idle in one place with the air conditioning going, and the cars couldn't take it. At the Gate watchtower, one of the Perimeter staff brought us all bottles of beer-- but they weren't twist-off caps. Fortunately, I had a bottle opener.   

   --I-- shared what I had with others.  
   --I-- performed my duty with honor.  
   --I-- finished that beer in 60 seconds.   

They dropped me off at the Greeter's Station, where Jenn's bike sat waiting, and where I finally got to pee in the porta potties. Back at Hair of the Dog, I was literally fried. I drank a lot of water to rehydrate myself. Star saw how sunburned I was, and sprayed my arms with lotion. Colleen even fixed me a wrap sandwich with cold cuts and cheese; it was wonderful. The kindness and generosity everyone showed me left me speechless. Everybody was so wonderful. Compassion, kindness, and common human decency-- maybe that's what Burning Man is really all about. My feet were cracked and calloused, and Star showed off the double callous on her foot, one on top of another. Mine were still gooey. I was played out. I had no energy any more. I thought, Turn me over-- I'm done 

I did not anticipate working Exodus again. I knew it would be tough out there. I knew I'd be working hard. I realize the First Noble Truth of Zen says that all life is suffering-- but the Second Noble Truth says that suffering comes from desire... and I did not desire to repeat such an exhausting,  life-sucking experience anytime soon. 
 
Star & Tigger both gave me big hugs before they took off. We figured we'd all meet up again in Reno... Night was falling fast. I managed to make it over to Iron Rose. Jenn was just on her way to the Temple burn, but stopped to say hi. She was amazed at how sunburned I was. The bunches of pillows in their common tent were really comfortable. When I worked up enough strength, I made it back to HOTD. Moving at all was a supreme effort.  After dark, off on the horizon, I could see the flames of the Temple flicking above the line of tents and domes. I felt bad I wasn't there to honor my friends Mike and John, but true memorials don't come from wooden structures or paper tributes-- they come from the heart. I stared at the distant flames and said a little prayer for my friends. I miss them. Eventually, I crawled into my dusty tent, and fell fast asleep. 

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