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 all.
 
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.

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 cold beer.
 
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.

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 Area.
 

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. 
 
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."
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.
 
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.

  
 
LINKS
Perth, Australia 
Exodus 
Building the Temple 
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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