The Evolving World
Burning Man 2009
I opened my eyes. My watch said it was just before 3 AM. I got up and
looked around. There were no sounds at the bar. Nobody was dismantling
anything. It looked like things wouldn't get started for a long time. It
was time to go.
I never found my camp chair. It looked like it was gifted to the playa.
I hit the porta potties, then climbed behind Satori's wheel and started
the engine. I pulled out of camp and headed down towards the outermost
road. Ahead, I could see other headlights, other people leaving. There
were two cars ahead of me and two behind me when I passed Greeters. The
road was bumpy and dusty, but the sky was clear. Near the Gate, a figure
appeared out of the darkness, asking if I had any leftover beer for the
DPW, but I was clean out. As I came up to the highway, there was a sign
advising people to drive carefully, and "please don't die." It took 31
minutes from camp to pavement-- not a bad exodus at all.
Gerlach was almost completely dark that time of night. It looked like
even the streetlights had been turned out. I pulled over because I finally
had bars on my cellphone and I could check my text messages. I had been
listening to the Burning Man radio station. As soon as I headed south from
Gerlach, the signal faded and died into static. There were many cars parked
at the closed and silent Empire Store parking lot: burners waiting for
it to open or just sleeping. That was my plan, to get off-playa and then
find a place to park and nap for a few hours. It didn't work out that way.
It seems everyone else in the world had the same idea. All the way down
from Gerlach, there were vehicles packed in every side road, parking area
and wide shoulder. I figured I'd better just keep going.
A half hour from Gerlach I caught up with a line of cars on their exodus.
The night sky was magnificent. I could make out Orion high over the Nightingale
Mountains. As I came up on Marble Bluff, I could see emergency lights ahead.
A white truck was off on the shoulder, lying on its side. I went slowly
through Wadsworth, then pulled into the Love's truck stop in Fernley. Inside,
I washed up, got a Dr. Pepper, a sandwich and $30 of gas. There was just
a tinge of light off to the eastern horizon. The big dumpster in the parking
lot was already full of garbage. I tossed what trash I had and hit the
road. Going through Fernley, a local cop pulled right behind me and followed
me all the way out of town.
It was just after 6 AM and the Sun was just cracking over the horizon when
I pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot in Fallon, "the Oasis of Nevada."
It was just three hours after leaving camp. I needed to get some supplies,
food and medicine for my feet. I called home, sent a text message to Will,
and made a voice post to LiveJournal. The Sun was blinding as I pulled
out of town, turning down Taylor Street headed south. It was Labor Day,
and that evening was the last night the Tulsa Drillers would play in Driller
Outside of town, I pulled over alongside an irrigation ditch to change
shirts. The highway was very quiet. Down the road, I came up to where I
found the Schurz Shoe Tree the year before... but it was gone! I mean completely
gone. There wasn't even a stump left. What the heck happened
to the Schurz Shoe Tree?
It was 7:50 when Walker Lake came into view. It all seemed so familiar.
There were actually lonely campers at some of the lakeside campsites. The
place was usually so empty. I opened my window, and the wind blew playa
dust everywhere. Instead of getting rid of the dust, I just redistributed
it, primarily up my nose.
A cop sat patiently waiting beside the road. There were no cops visible
when I went through Hawthorne and headed east towards the Gabbs Valley
Range. The stark, barren beauty always gets to me. Just before 9 I pulled
into Mina. I stopped for some breakfast at the Desert Lobster Inn. The
sign on the door said "Cash only, please. We don't have a credit card machine
yet." Inside, there was lots of woodwork. "Sit anywhere you like," the
cook said, giving me a menu. I ordered scrambled eggs, hash browns and
The Desert Lobster sold t-shirts with the Bureau of Land Management logo
that read "Bureau of Landgrabbing Maggots." A family of travelers sat at
the big table. The place was clean and tidy. When I got my stuff, my orange
juice was only half full, and the water came with no ice. The food was
served on plastic plates with plastic cutlery, and the hash browns looked
suspiciously like potato cakes from Arby's... but, the food was hot and
fresh, and it was nice to sit down to a hot meal in an air conditioned
room. I even had jelly with my toast. Outside, a couple of grey-haired
guys were taking pictures of the boat-converted-to-restaurant. They must
have been at Burning Man, too. "Wasn't that an amazing time?" one asked.
They went inside to look around, but didn't stay.
It was a shock to calculate I was only two and a half hours away from
Beatty, where I'd planned to spend the night. My schedule was all off-kilter.
I'd planned to stop and sleep somewhere, but leaving at 3 AM and driving
straight through accelerated my timetable. I suddenly found myself with
time on my hands. It was an odd feeling. Heading out of Mina, I counted
two cars and a semi truck at the Wildcat Ranch, the brothel just outside
of town. The morning had turned bright and a little chilly. I kept seeing
signs for historical markers ahead, but somehow kept missing the markers.
To the west, the Excelsior Mountains loomed quietly.
I couldn't find any radio stations, so I listened to my MP3 player. Just
before 10:30, 282 miles from Burning Man, I stopped at Miller's Rest Area,
near Tonopah. ("No trucks") I needed to stop and recharge-- I was getting
kind of woozy on the road. It was a big, clean roadside park, with picnic
tables and tall shade trees. There were several spigots for fresh water.
A vanload of burners were already there when I pulled up, washing up. I
washed one of my towels, because I figured wherever I got my next shower
I'd need a clean towel to dry off with.
As I hung it up to dry, I sat at one of the picnic tables and ate an
apple. As I sat there, a truck pulling a trailer pulled into the rest area.
A guy came up and asked if I wanted some water. "You look pretty dusty,"
he said. He'd just come from Burning Man, too, and found himself with excess
supplies. They'd packed too much water, and it would get dumped otherwise,
so I took five gallons off his hands. I asked how his burn went, and he
said it was a little mixed. He said his friend Mary, sitting in the front
seat of the pickup, had a "fabulous time." Mary nodded in agreement, adding,
In Tonopah, "the Queen of the Silver Camps," gasoline was selling for $3.19
a gallon. I pulled down a side street and went up a hill to the Tonopah
Mining Park and museum, but it was padlocked. Leaving town, I felt like
I should've stopped for a Dr. Pepper. I passed through Goldfield just before
noon. I kept thinking, I was just here! It felt like I hadn't left. I stopped
at a little convenience store called Dusty Fenders. The sign out front
said "weird beer here." Indeed, they had many brands of beer in the cooler.
I just got a soda. I asked "Dusty" how business was going. "Not bad for
a Labor Day," he said.
Traffic picked up some on the highway. I kept seeing other burners on the
road, dusty cars hauling bicycles tricked out with flags and teddy bears.
Near the turnoff for Scotty's Castle, the vehicles all around me started
playing a passing game with each other as we dodged chunks of blown tires
all over the pavement. It was just after 1 PM when I rolled into
Beatty-- a town I had calculated I wouldn't get to until sunset. I pulled
into the Space Station and was assigned slot 3, right next to a big trailer.
It was $23 for the night. I headed for the bathroom and got my first real
shower, with real soap, in a week. That's when I found all kinds of bumps
and scrapes on my skin. There was a big bruise on my ribs-- when did that
happen? I checked out the little Laundromat. Apparently, local folks use
it, too. A blonde girl that was doing some loads said she saved a machine
for me. There were two bookcases full of books next the washing machines.
They were all romance novels. The park also had a little store, and the
prices were surprisingly reasonable. It was a bright, windless day.
||When the truck with the trailer left, I read "The Shroom," an Onion-esque
newspaper I found in the Med Tent at Burning Man. Funny stuff. It turned
out K8 helped put it together.
As I was getting ready to leave, I found a plaque explaining the Miller
Rest Area. It was named after the old mining town of Miller, which had
prospered for decades before it finally folded in 1947. The town itself
was named after Charles R. Miller, the vice president of the Tonopah Mining
Co. and a former governor of Delaware. And after all that, the memory of
an entire community, a place where families lived their whole lives, came
down to a rest area on a lonely 2-lane road. My towel was mostly dry, so
I hit the road again.
I unloaded my gear and washed off all my pots. I had a little picnic
table, so I set them out to dry in the Sun. I emptied one tub of gear and
used it to soak my left foot, which was cracking badly from a case of "playa
foot." There was also a new blister. I found a pebble imbedded in the heel
of my right foot. I dug it out with my Swiss Army knife, disinfected it
and bandaged it up. My feet were a mess. I got a Dr. Pepper and bandaged
up my feet. I started a load of laundry after the blonde girl was finished.
She was having trouble getting her car started. Some friends came by to
work on it. They ended up towing it away. Beer was $1.60. I got one and
sat in the shade next to the store. There was no shade at my slot-- I would
have to wait for sunset to cook supper. Unless you had an RV with built-in
shade, there was little shade to be had. I had to tell myself to wait.
I kept thinking there was someplace I needed to be, somewhere I needed
to go, but then a voice inside me said, No, you don't.
The RV camp had free WiFi, for people with laptops, free electricity,
to recharge your batteries, and free cable TV, for people with televisions.
I had none of these. All I wanted was a quiet place to sleep. Clean laundry
yielded clean underwear! A guy in an RV pulled up into the slot next to
me, headed for Vegas. When some friends arrived, however, he pulled out
and headed on down the road.
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|As soon as the Sun got low enough, I got out the stove and cooked up
some Frito chili pies. I made a mental note to never again bring
canned chili that didn't have a pull-top. One inch into opening the can
of chili the can opener broke, and I had to use a hammer and screwdriver
to get it open! The chili pies turned out hot and filling, though. Beer
helped. Sunset meant I could go straight to sleep. After only four hours
of sleep Sunday night and driving almost 400 miles, it didn't take me long
at all to drop off...