Music was playing loud on the stage when I woke up at midnight. I was thinking how loud it was when I fell back asleep… I dreamed I was in a house with lots of small, connecting rooms, each with an old upright radio, and I was going from room to room trying to turn them down… I woke just after 3 AM Wednesday morning. The jam session was still going full-tilt, so I went ahead and got up and dressed for my Greeter shift. It was the first day of September. I was glad I packed my long underwear.

I went to the bar for the last song by the Dog Stars, the HOTD house band. I loaded up my bike and headed out for the Greeter station. I was surprised at how many vehicles were arriving. Traffic was steady, even at that early hour. Between my camp and Greeters I counted 30 vehicles coming in, except the 12th was a cop car, lights flashing. He was stopping the car ahead of him because the driver wasn’t wearing his seat belt. I parked my bike over by the porta potties set up off to the side of Greeters. The midnight to 4 AM shift was handled by a camp of about 40 people, who ran Greeters with all the lanes open. They were glad to see all of us on the 4-8 AM shift arrive. The group all posed for a group picture before taking off into the night.

I met Nan, short for Nancy, a charming girl in a faux leopard coat. The shift lead was Dick Tracy, a guy in a dark coat and pith helmet. There were about a half dozen of us, so we closed off all but four or five lanes. Traffic was pretty steady, but we never had more than two cars lined up at any time. I met a nice guy named Michael, and a lovely freckled girl named Rachel. Lots of happy people came through, happy to have made it to Burning Man. I spoke to a lovely girl named Leslie. She and her friend were driving a huge panel truck. Greeters always ask if campers know where they’re camping, and Leslie & friend did, because they had everyone else’s tents, sleeping bags and food in the back of their truck. I said, “I’ll bet they’ll be glad to see you!” There were lots of people from Los Angeles and San Francisco. A car with a guy from Australia was followed by a car with three women from Austria. I asked a guy from Oregon how long his drive was, and he said, “About three Red Bulls.” Big lights came down the road. It turned out to be a monster semi tow truck pulling a 30-foot RV. The RV had broken down (the driver said it “just wouldn’t start”), so he had his RV towed all the way to Black Rock City. The tow truck driver told me he’d towed vehicles out of Burning Man before, but never into it. I asked the driver where he broke down. He said the RV stopped running at Donner Pass—which was 70 miles the other side of Reno. The towing fee had to have been staggering. When the even was over, he’d have to have it towed back out of Black Rock City all the way to Reno… and then, he’d still need to get it fixed. One of the other Greeters said, “I hope he’s got a good AAA plan.”

One camper invited me to come his camp by for “tequila and eggs.” We all watched the Sun come up over the wide playa. I told people coming in right about then that they were “just in time for the show.” After the Sun was up, Dick Tracy came by checking our names off his list. In almost no time at all, our shift was over and he let us go. Nan gave me a little hug before she took off. Being a Greeter was fun, and I’d do it again, but it sure wore me out. I rode my bike back to camp. Breakfast was a tuna cup and a can of fruit cocktail. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I lied down… and couldn’t get back up again. I decided to take a short nap…
I woke up after an hour or so, felling much better. In the bar, a guy with a djembe drum was joined by another drummer, and they did an spontaneous jam session. I spoke with Michael, the brewmaster from a couple of years back. His tent was next to my parked car. He brought a big thermometer, which I hung up near the stage. In the bar, Robbie was cleaning up when he found a fancy loop earring which fit me perfectly. He had been out of it the previous day, still acclimating with the environment. On my way to the potties, a slim, charming blonde girl called Lizzie was having fun a the Kissing Booth. A naked, Mohawked guy named Vince was chatting her up.

It was warming up, so I changed into my Utilikilt. Moving stuff around in my tent, I finally found the music CDs I’d been looking for. I went for a ride on my bicycle. I rode out to the Esplanade and around to Radio Electra’s camp. I gave the CDs to the DJ in charge. He said they already had several gigabytes of music for the radio station. My CDs would be “assimilated.” Jenn’s friends Kiki and Ginger were there—they remembered me from the previous year. Jenn did not make it out to the playa that year. I gave them a bottle of my Irish stout homebrew to take to Jenn for me, along with a message: Burning Man just wasn’t the same without her. Halston was also camping there. I saw her in a lounge chair chatting with campmates. I got to say hi. She was working all graveyard shifts, but said she might see me during shift change. Since I hadn't worked my first Ranger shift, I still didn't have my lammie.

Back at Silicon Village, I donated a 6-pack of my homebrew to the bar. Mark was surprised I made my own beer. “Of all people…” Steph quipped. Mark made street tacos for lunch, and they were excellent. On the stage, a guy named Steven Stoll played acoustic guitar. A girl with strawberry-red hair, and a bikini to match, walked by. I spoke with the Potentate of the Seven Sins Lounge, who invited me over for a big party Thursday night.(I didn't make it.) 
I went for a bike ride. I rode out to the Man and climbed all the way to the top of the tower. Lots of people were milling around in the shade underneath. A girl in a blue top was very relaxed in her boyfriend’s lap. Upstairs, the view was tremendous. You could see the entire campsite from up there. At the base was a memorial to firefighters who had died in the line of duty the past year. The list was way too long. 
From there, I rode out to the Temple, which was a 3-story mass of thin wooden planks, built like a great ocean wave frozen in time. Spray-painted graffiti was displayed in big letters across the structure chicane. I parked my bike and walked inside. The walls were already covered with memorial, messages and scrawled thoughts. Little cubbyholes were built in at various points; they were already filled with messages. I realized the  cubbyholes reminded me of cliff dwellings, tiny sacred places for early civilizations. The Temple was ancient as well as modern. Many people were sitting in the shady parts, writing, reading or just thinking.
I heard somebody say, “Tapestry?” It was Dot, one of my campmates from the previous year. She was camping at Hushville that year, in a bamboo teepee. I walked around for a while reading the messages, always heartbreaking. Along an outer wall, a girl in red was yelling at a participant who had climbed up the sides of the structure to write more graffiti. “Get down!” she yelled. “Get down! Get the f*ck down! You’re gonna ruin it for everybody!” As soon as the guy got down, she started yelling at two other guys that had climbed up a different part of the Temple. “Get down!”

It was searing hot out, with no wind at all, but way out on the playa I spotted a dust devil, then two, then another one—and then quadruple dust devils, grinding their way across the desert. Back at camp, I got a good seat for the Merkin Fashion Show: live music, dancing, and lots of funny outfits. I laughed out loud, but just as it started the battery of my digital camera died. I didn’t let it bother me. When the show was over, I plugged it into a power strip in the kitchen tent to recharge, and put a bowl over it to hide it. What did bother me was an annoying spot on all the pictures in my digital camera. I first noticed it way back in the New Mexico campground. I kept cleaning the lens but it kept coming back.

I relaxed and spoke with Artie, who was from India but now lived in San Francisco. She looked through my notebook and liked my maps. As we were talking, Kamikaze Kelly arrived at the bar. He said there was a tense situation in his camp and just nad to walk away before things went south. KK said to keep an eye out for his comments about Burning Man online in his blog. Sweet liked my homebrew beer. Mark said, “It’s drinkable!” My beer seemed to be going okay, so I brought the rest of it to the bar. 
I sat back and listened to some live music. A blonde girl whose name I did not catch came around arranging little googly eyes on the tables. She said a friend of hers was so freaked out by eyes that just the mention of eyes induced vomiting. I said her friend should see a doctor about that… except, “seeing” would imply eyes, so her friend was screwed. The blonde girl came back late and sprayed some lemony stuff on one of my wrists. She told me to rub my wrists together, breathe deeply 6 times, and say, I am an enlightened being. It was indeed relaxing, but the smell kept reminding me of Lemon Pledge.

Claudia and Werner arrived in camp! Claudia gave me a big hug, and said her kids liked my cartoons. An older gentleman arrived with balloons: one balloon, actually, about two feet in diameter and in a roll hundreds of feet long. With Mark’s approval, we hooked it up to a fan and started running the long, pink balloon along the ceilings of the shade structures. The whole thing had to have been over 500 feet long. Running up and down the peaks of both big tents, there was still a lot left. I was holding the end as the Balloon Man was moving his ladder, standing there with a pink thing two feet wide and over 8 feet long, and I said, “Why yes, I am a porn star, why do you ask?”

I figured I should get something to eat. Back in the kitchen tent, I heated up a can of ravioli. It took longer to clean up afterwards than it was to cook. I made a note from now on to only bring camp foods that were easy to clean up afterwards. I talked to Mark about the police presence that year. He said someone camping nearby had already been ticketed for possession of pot. Darkness fell. I got tired. I didn’t like wussing out and going to bed early like some old person, but I just didn’t have any energy. When I crashed, it didn’t take me any time at all to fall asleep… But then, I woke up at 10, and again at midnight, 2 AM and 3 AM. I guess I was anxious about my upcoming Ranger shift…

Prologue Aug. 26  Aug. 27 Aug. 28 Aug. 29
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
The Long Road Home  Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2010 by Tim Frayser
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