The Evolving World
Burning Man 2009
I woke up Sunday morning at… 6:30? I could have slept in, but I woke
up anyway. Sheesh. I layered-up to go to the porta potties because it was
downright chilly outside. Dot had already taken her shade structure
down. There were still people hanging out tin the bar. When I got back
to my tent, I had to wash dust out of everything before I could make myself
a cup of tea. I sat in the bar to write and wake up. The shoes didn’t kill
me during the burn the night before, so I figured I’d try them again.
I finished my tea and walked out to the remains of the Man. On the way,
a man with glasses asked me the time. It was 7:30. “Good,” he said. “Now
I can see if my sundial is accurate.” When I checked my time again, I discovered
the crystal of my watch was cracked! When did that happen? There was a
crowd at the site of the Man. A pile of timbers still burned, and lumps
of embers still smoked. One guy was even cooking a pot of coffee on the
hot ashes. Nails were everywhere, scorched by the burn. Nevertheless, a
naked, barefoot girl played guitar among the coals. I brought a little
bottle with me, and collected some ashes of the Man. The bottle felt warm
in my pocket. The blue bus from New Mexico rolled by, music playing loud,
the sides adorned with a giant nautilus. I would have hitched a ride, but
it was headed the opposite way I was going. I’d really meant to ride more
art cars that year. Now, it was already Sunday.
I walked along the Esplanade, then headed back to my tent. Breakfast was
ramen noodles and a can of fruit cocktail. I had one of Pop’s Hops, the
beer my friend Sherry got me when she went down Route 66. I remembered
the dream with Mom, and had a little cry in my tent. About mid-morning
I went by the Med Tent. My feet were giving me twinges of pain. It sounded
like somebody in the back of the tent was unhappy about something. One
guy was lying still with an IV in his arm. (The day before, a burner lay
dozing while a friend sat next to his cot.) A nurse named Stephanie looked
at my right foot and frowned. The blister had opened up, exposing raw flesh.
She cleaned it and put a “big ass bandage” on it. She told me to keep it
clean and have it looked at again before I left the playa.
I tried to clean up my tent. The winds had blown little dunes of dust
on the inside floor. All around me, people were cleaning up, packing, preparing
to leave. A guy was giving away extra bottles of water alongside the road.
At the porta potties, I could see down the street at the line of cars lined
up for exodus, already bumper-to-bumper. My plan was to stay for the Temple
burn, then make my exodus. Once I was off-playa, I figured I'd pull over
alongside the road and catch a few hours of sleep before hitting the road
for Beatty. I'd never left that early before. I was looking forward to
it. It had been a still morning, but by 10 AM the winds started to pick
up. Part of the shade structure over the bar, which had been ripped by
high winds, was missing that morning.
Draining my ice chest, I found my last soda pop and drank it in the bar
as I caught up on my writing. Someone shared some sliced meat and a cookie
called a madalene. Sweets sat at the bar, tended by a blonde valley girl
wearing fairy wings. P-Nut finished cleaning up behind the bar, then wrote
on the white board, “P-Nut has left the building.” And he did. Serolynne
walked by wearing a top hat. Jarvis was working on the grey water containers.
I offered to help, but he had everything under control. The blowing dust
was really thick. I tried to take a nap in my tent, but the winds whipped
the fabric too violently. Still, I think I managed to doze a little.
When I got up, the sky was white with dust. I walked to the potties.
I walked along with a girl who was drunk as a skunk. She said she hadn’t
slept in two days. I sat in the bar listening to music. Relaxing back in
my camp chair, I almost fell asleep. I talked to two guys from the Bay
Area; it was their first burn. I spoke with a pretty blonde girl from Perth,
Australia named Stephanie. She just got her law degree and had recently
traveled through Europe. She highly recommended the west coast of Australia.
She said there were long stretches of beaches with hardly any people at
It was close to 4 PM, so I got my Ranger hat and shirt and made my way
to Ranger HQ. It was time for the pin ceremony. There were a lot of Rangers
there, and more kept coming. I spoke to one named Kermit. He talked to
a Ranger called Rodent, who had worked as a sandman during the Saturday
night burn. Rodent took his job very seriously: his eyes narrowed as he
remembered the scene, and said, "I was like the cheetah at the watering
hole..." During the burn, there was a runner several sections over from
my position, but the sandmen got him before he could hurt himself. Ranger
Borderline had pink hair. I met Ranger Rusty, whose companion gave me a
Someone called my name: it was Foxy Romaine, who seemed very happy. There
were several people I didn't see. Chameleon, K8 and Scoutmaster got up
to make the presentations. First, there were special pins given out to
Rangers who had served for 10 years. Then, we all got our 2009 pins. Ranger
Seadog gave a little talk about the Alphas. "The new Rangers kicked ass!"
he cried, and everyone cheered. Besides the pins, we also got Ranger patches.
There were also "Ranger widow" patches for significant others back home.
I finished my beer and left the can at Recycle Camp on my way back to HOTD.
We were joined by Stephanie's friend Sara, who was born in Singapore.
She worked as a waitress and bartender. Sara wished there was a burner
event in Australia, near where she lived in Melbourne, but another bartender
from the South Bank said it "wouldn't be cool" to have a burn after the
recent brush fires in Melbourne-- it was a big disaster for the country,
the biggest fires in recent history. Stephanie's brother ran after a water
truck --with his clothes on-- to get clean under its spray of water. He
came back soaked and said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Stephanie
left for a while, then came back for Sara, who was dozing in a camp chair.
I pulled the stakes for my tent, dropped & folded it up. Except
for the one camp chair in the bar, I was packed up in no time. Rupert came
through enlisting help to take down the statue at the Silicon Village archway.
It took about a dozen of us, but we got it down in one piece. He shook
everyone's hand in appreciation. I saw Billy talking to Spoon, who said,
"You need a beer." And I did! Billy wore a shirt that said QUIT
WORK MAKE MUSIC. Dot and her camp were gone when I got back from the pin
ceremony. The plan for the bar was to wait until after the Temple burn,
then take down the big sections in the calm of the night. That way, there
would be less to do in the windy daylight. D-Mo slept all day so that he
could help take the bar down that night. I decided to delay my exodus until
after dismantling the bar that evening. Above, the sky was beige with dust.
I ate some bacon with Anne, Lisa, D-Mo, Billy and Mark. Mark told me about
some beermaking Hobbits that had an annual homebrewing event in the Bay
||I sat in the bar writing notes. As I sat, a serious, dark-haired girl
with a ring in her lip sat at my table. She took out a notebook and started
drawing furiously. The wind was relentless. Alex sat talking to Spoon.
Alex's week had been sidetracked by an unknown illness. When she finally
felt good enough to go to the Med Tent, they said it was a virus that just
needed to run its course. It was good to see her up and around.
Lisa D. shared some of her chicken stir-fry with me. I told her about the
upcoming Worldcon, which would be in Reno in 2011, but ended a week before
Burning Man started. What would I do for that week? She suggested I go
to San Francisco and hang out. That sounded like a great idea. As darkness
began to fall, I hitched a ride out to the Temple on the Party Snail. The
"shell" was pulled back to give passengers a better view. Dozens of other
art cars, decorated with neon and lights, met us far out in the desert.
I'd brought my film camera with me, and got some strange looks from guys
carrying digital cameras; I was "old school." On top of the Snail, I had
a great view of the Temple, but the frame was too wobbly for me. I needed
to be stable to get low-light pictures, so I disembarked and found a place
on the perimeter.
It was dark by then, and we could see figures around the Temple doing last-minute
work. Someone let out a cry, and in the dark skies high above us we could
see the flutter of parachutes... and then flames! There were five or six
parachutists in the sky, each trailing a tail of fire, swooping and swirling
among the stars. That was thrilling. Fire spread quickly through the Temple
as thousands of people sat in silent respect. There were some scattered
"Woo's" from people who probably didn't understand the context of the Temple.
It was a quiet somber burn, very mellow.
|A guy called Diesel drove up on a mobile stripper pole and headed for
the bar. It was turning to late afternoon. Looking down the 6 O'clock Street,
a constant parade of cars, trucks and RV's headed towards the exodus, disappearing
in the clouds of dust.
I spoke to a lovely girl called Madalena, who had some impressive dance
moves: classical ballet stuff. I told her about my dream with Mom in it.
She suggested maybe it was Mom's way of telling me it was okay for me to
move on. When Madalena left, she danced off into the dust; hers was a gentle
soul. I looked around the bar for my camp chair, but I couldn't find it
anywhere. A stranger said, "Sorry, man."
As I sat watching the flames, it sure seemed like I'd been away from
home for a long time. The bulk of the structure fell quickly, but one stairway
resisted the flames for a long time. I overheard the girl next to me say
to herself, "Boy, they built that staircase to last!" Eventually,
it fell as well, and one by one the crowds rose to their feet. I climbed
back up to the top of the Party Snail for the ride back to camp. From the
top, it seemed three of the surrounding art cars all had flame throwers,
so a contest ensued to see which could shoot the most impressive pillar
of fire. One multiple burst of flame illuminated the landscape, and I quickly
snapped a picture.
Would I have gotten that shot with my digital camera? I don't think so.
I looked around at all the art cars around us, and quickly saw the beginnings
of a traffic jam. It would take a long time to get untangled from the various
vehicles, so I decided to just walk back to camp. I took off walking and
navigated my way around the vehicles until I was back in open playa. I
had a flashlight, but the bright Moon lit my way very well. It was by moonlight
that I came upon a bicycle, alone and orphaned, lying in the dust. No one
was anywhere near it. I saw that the chain had come loose and figured somebody
must have just abandoned it. The pedals didn't work, but I could stand
on one pedal and coast along on it. So, I rode the orphan bike all the
way back to the Esplanade. That's where I made my last visit to the Med
Tent. Since I was getting ready to leave, I thought I should have my foot
looked at one last time. There were lots of people coming and going through
the Med Tent. Some drunk girls cut in line ahead of me. A nurse looked
at my foot and put a new bandage on it.
I left the orphan bike at Ranger HQ and walked back to HOTD, ready
to go to work dismantling the bar. When I arrived, however, things seemed
to be pretty normal. Folks were sitting around drinking, talking, and listening
to a banjo player on stage play bluegrass music. It didn't look like the
takedown would start anytime soon. So, I climbed into Satori to take a
little nap until work got under way. I was asleep almost instantly.
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Building the Temple
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