||"O gut! O belly! O you stinking
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
--I-- shared what I had with others.
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.