The Evolving World
Burning Man 2009
 
 
I woke just before dawn Tuesday, September 1st. I figured I got about five hours of sleep, but I felt fully rested. There was not a breath of wind in the air. I hooked up the propane stove and cooked myself a can of ravioli, my first real meal since… a while. As I was cooking, I realized I didn’t bring anything to clean out the pot. There were no towels, but I did have… bread. After I finished eating, I used the bread to sop up the last of the sauce and ate the bread. After a quick rinse, it was all clean.

I boiled some water for tea. As it was boiling, a guy called D’nish asked if I was making coffee. I had some instant coffee, but he decided to look elsewhere. I took my tea and sat alone in the bar. As I sat there, a young girl with bruises on her face walked in and asked for some water. She said she “got drugged” in the night and “spent the night in the infirmary.” She drank some water, then wandered off looking for her camp. I walked up to Playa Info to see how many people were on the playa so far. It wasn’t posted on the board, so I asked the girl at the desk what the population was. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Two?” Apparently, sarcasm was just another service. When I returned to HOTD, the Joyism art car pulled up, returning Dot from doing a Greeter shift. Silicon Village did a Greeter shift early that morning. I would've joined in, but I needed to rest up for my Ranger shift.

I was sitting on the empty stage when the charming Persnickity stopped to chat with me. We traded Burning Man stories. She was really nice. She said the box office had what they called “miracle tickets” that people would buy and then leave at the office to be gifted to needy people. I changed shirts and rode my bike out to the Raygun Rocketship. It was a beautiful version of a 1950’s-style space ship, with fins and everything. I took my film camera with me. When I want to make sure I've got a picture of something, I use the digital camera. When I want to take a photograph, I use the 35mm.
I rode out to the Man, which was even more impressive not veiled in dust. Lots of people were out there, despite the early hour. People were writing messages on the structure with permanent markers: greetings, opinions, statements of life and the universe. The funniest I found said simply, "I have a permanent marker." From there, I went way up to the 2 O'Clock Street and rode along the Esplanade, looking at art. I found the Lost Penguin Camp, where a friend of mine was supposed to be camped. It looked like everyone was still asleep. Back at HOTD, I cleaned up the bar a little and delivered the inspirational posters I made for the camp and Pandora's. Lisa D. was serving up chicken and avocado sandwiches, courtesy of Jarvis. It had been a beautiful morning, but about 11:30 the wind picked up again, and it looked like it would be another dusty day. I relaxed in the bar with one of my last soda pops and looked over the BRC map, familiarizing myself with landmarks and theme camps. Lisa said I looked "official." I was glad I got a good night's sleep. It was going to be a long day.

Tuesday was the day I was scheduled to do my mentoring shift with the Black Rock Rangers. Earlier that year, I went through a day of Ranger training at Interfuse, a regional burn in Missouri. I volunteered to be a ranger there and at another, smaller burn that summer. If I didn't do a mentoring shift at Burning Man that year, I'd have to take the training all over again. I was set to do a swing shift in the company of a senior Ranger, from 1 PM to 8:15 PM. The mentoring shift is an on-the-job test to see if you've got what it takes to be a Ranger. I was ready way early. Jarvis was going to be cooking all kinds of stuff for supper, but I would be on duty. I showed up at Ranger HQ just after 12:30. I was issued a vest, identifying me as an Alpha Ranger-- basically, a Ranger in training. To tell the truth, I wasn't that worried. Whatever happened happened. I was just glad to get the training. The Alphas were split up into teams, each team led by a senior Ranger as a mentor. I was teamed with a guy called Magic and a charming girl called Foxy Romaine. Our mentor was Martin Jay, and our radio code was Team Haiku. We took off walking down the streets.
 

Each of us got to use the radio. We were on a special frequency so that we didn't mix in with the regular Ranger radio traffic. Martin Jay tested us on several points. We'd pass a group of people, and he'd stop and ask us what they were doing-- or what they were doing wrong. We took turns radioing in our position. The shift lead would make an announcement on the radio, and each team had to call back confirming we got the message. 
After a couple of hours, we headed back to HQ. That's where we split up again and got teamed with a different mentor. The senior Rangers were intent on making teams of Alphas that had not met before. I got teamed with Space Cadet, a guy who was from Reno but who now lived in the Bay Area, a girl from New Jersey called Inkwell, and a big guy from Chicago called Job Bless (who kept having to correct people on his name). That team didn't work out because our mentor knew one of us. So, we got split up again. I ended up on a team mentored by Chameleon, with Inkwell and a guy from Philadelphia called Draco. I spotted Chemistry, with whom I'd trained at Interfuse, going on her mentoring shift. We took off walking again. In the second part of the mentoring shift, they started running scenarios-- mock simulations to test our responses. We were out on the Esplanade doing pretty good until the battery in our radio died. So, we walked over to Tokyo Base to get a replacement battery. The wind gusted off and on all afternoon.

At Tokyo Base, we got to refil our canteens while the radio was being worked on. I helped a couple of people who stopped by asking for directions. One participant locked her keys in her car; a Ranger called Sledgehammer was dispatched with the proper tools. Refreshed and recharged, we took off again and ran through some more scenarios. 

There was one where we had to figure out what to do with a camp that was shooting bottle rockets at people. My solution seemed logical, if not very flashy. At one point, Chameleon took each of us aside to talk to us. When we returned to HQ, Chameleon said to just hang out. I thought we'd be going out for more scenarios. After a while, the Alphas were told that decisions would be made soon, and to come back at 5:30. 

I walked back to HOTD. I was at the bar, waiting to get a beer when a guy called Stargazer pulled one out of his pocket and gave it to me. I met a girl called Cam from Iron Rose camp. Jarvis said supper would be served at 6. I hoped I'd be back in time. 

 

I returned to Ranger HQ at 5:30, but they weren't done yet. There were no chairs, so I sat on the ground with my back against a post and almost napped. A little after 6, a senior Ranger called Action Man came out to congratulate us. We all passed! Boxes of uniform shirts and hats were brought out. One by one, they called our names, and we received our uniforms. I think I cheered when they called my name. It was a complete thrill! As part of the initiation process, we all stood in a row and dropped our hats on the ground in front of us. The mentors then all took turns stomping on our hats. It was a long-standing tradition. I made it! I'm a Black Rock Ranger!
I even managed to get back to camp in time for supper: burritos and lentil soup. I couldn't stop smiling. The Animal Control truck was at Hair of the Dog, and music was playing. There was a camp a block over that had an art car built to look like one of the giant sandworms from the movie “Dune.” It even had a mouth that opened and closed. I walked over to Iron Rose. There was going to be belly dancining their camp that eveing. Their big tent had lots of pillows to lounge on, like the home of an Arabian prince. The dancers were very impressive. I met a charming girl named Sage. She was from Spokane, Washington, and wished she could belly dance. Jenn stopped by to see some old friends. I met her friend Wendy, who was wearing a red top hat. I talked to a guy called Safari. It was his second Burning Man, and he had a pith helmet but he lost it, so that evening he was wearing a dinosaur hat. Dawn was there-- I found out she was with the French Maid Brigade, which was going to have a parade (a French maid brigade parade) on Thursday.

I went on a ride out onto the open playa on the Joyism art car. We stopped at a light display called the Cubatron: hundreds of ping pong ball-sized lights that changed color in patterns. Wild and mesmerizing. We got so entranced with the lights the art car almost took off without us. We caught up with it at the porta potties. The Joyism car took us way the heck out to the far reaches of the campsite, out past 10 & E, where we found a huge party camp. Someone gave me a drink made with vodka and Orange Crush. Someone commented Sierra Mist was "the muscatel of soda." I found Jenn and we went riding on a different art car, out to the Wedge-- a huge slide, several stories up. I started to make the climb up, but when I got to the halfway point my thing about high places got the best of me. Jenn and I walked over to Center Camp, then back to Hair of the Dog. I was still excited about becoming a Ranger, and had trouble settling down. I finally got to bed about 2:30 or so. It was a magical night.
 

  
 
LINKS
The Raygun Gothic Rocketship 
Cubatron L5 
Black Rock Rangers 
The Wedge 
All original content copyright 2009 by Tim Frayser. If your image appears on this site, and you'd rather it didn't, drop me a line and I'll remove it. Pictures appearing on this website are for personal use and are not for sale. 
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Introduction  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3 
Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday 
Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Epilogue