The little alarm clock I got at the truck stop woke me up at 4 AM Thursday morning. I meant to take a quick shower that morning, but the air was just too crisp. Breakfast was a tuna cup, a can of fruit cocktail, and a Dr. Pepper, eaten under the Christmas lights in the kitchen tent. I brushed my teeth, which felt better. There were still people in the bar, drinking and talking. On my way back from the potties, Hot Rod gave me a high five. He said he got a couple hours of sleep. I said my sleep schedule was all screwed up, and he said, “Totally! Power naps are the way to go!”

At 5 AM I put on my Ranger hat and headed out for HQ. I headed up 8 O’Clock road and cut across the playa to Center Camp, then followed the Esplanade around to the Ranger Headquarters. It was my first real shift of the week. At the input window, I gave them the radio check-out form I’d already filled out over breakfast. I still had a while to wait, so I sat over by the burn barrel. Ranger Lazarus was in a chair, trying to stay awake after being on duty all night. As it got closer to 6 AM, Rangers began to converge under the shade structure. They were already making assignments when I joined the crowd. A lady Ranger asked me, “You got a partner? You do now.” Her name was Ms. Rie, from California. Her husband was retired and about to publish a novel.

Ms. Rie and I were assigned to patrol between 4 & 6 O’clock roads, so we took off on our bikes. The first issue we encountered was a gold-painted 2-person art car parked out in the street. Nobody was around anywhere. We pushed it over to the side. Over at Etheron Village, the party was still going strong (and loud). We found a couple of yellow bikes (painted green) chained together with a bike lock-- plus, the seats had been removed from both bikes. A lovely girl stopped us to ask hot to get a ride back to Reno—right away, that morning. She said she’d had enough of Burning Man and wanted to leave now. I said hitchhiking at the Gate could be unpredictable; we directed her to Playa Info to find a ride.

We heard a call for medical assistance, and Ms. Rie responded. It was at a camp at 5:30 & G. We took off on our bikes, and it was all I could do to keep up with her. We got to the intersection, but nobody was there. When the ambulance rolled by, we followed it most of a block to where the problem was. Overnight, a girl had fallen off an art car and hurt her shoulder. She tried to sleep it off, but it wasn’t getting better, so her friends called for help. The REMSA folks stabilized her, then took her to one of the med tents for evaluation. 
We  mostly walked our bikes everywhere the whole shift. As we walked, a guy in a black hoodie came alongside us to talk. He turned out to be a corporate vice president, in charge of music downloads for a big Internet site. He said they had 35 million songs in their archives. Ms. Rie and I stopped off at the Commissary, where she got a coffee and I got some hot tea. There were also sweetcakes. As we snacked, Ranger Sir Bill sat with us. Ranger Tulsa also walked by; he laughed at the nearby crowings of the rooster that was captured earlier in the week.

While we were on patrol, we stopped for a break at the N*U*D*E 4077 Camp. That’s where we met Bahama Mama, a very nice lady. The camp was full of folks that ran Element Eleven, a regional event near the hot springs of Seabase, Utah. The radio was full of chatter about two different elephant-shaped art cars, and about LE (Law Enforcement) response to a camp on the Esplanade; Ms. Rie had reservations about that particular camp when she went by earlier and spotted a row of bicycles, each with a price tag on it. Vending on the playa was a violation of the Burning Man rules. “Somebody’s going to jail,” she said.

We stopped at a camp called the Box Top, and got to talking about their art car, a solar-powered electric car built to look like it had been made out of Legos. They gave us some awesome patches. That was nice of them. 
We stopped at one camp where Kiki, one of Ms. Rie’s friends, was helping serve some whole wheat waffles, so we stopped for one. That was also the first time all week I had bacon. Kiki’s friend, Queen-something, was leaving the playa early, “but it’s a good thing,” she insisted, because she was leaving to help promote the debut of a new beer called Dirty Blonde.
Down the road, a DPW guy flagged us down, pointed to a Ford F150 truck with a trailer, and said, “Could you get rid of that?” It seemed to be parked in the road. The driver was nowhere in sight. We asked around the neighboring camps, but nobody knew whose truck it was. The DPW guy said, “After 24 hours, we can put it on Ebay!” The driver finally showed up and moved it.
When the shift was over, Ms. Rie said she’d work with me again. That felt good. At the check-out window, I got my meal ticket and finally got my lammie. I also got to carry my radio for the rest of the event. I took my meal ticket and went straight to the Commissary, where I was able to get a substantial lunch. I got a couple of hard boiled eggs, too, and a bag of chips to go. I sat next to a DPW guy named Rick who had been awake since 4:30. From there, I went back to HOTD and changed into cooler clothes. I was lying in my tent, all spread out in my Utilikilt, and I guess I took a short nap. When I woke up, I took a shower and it felt wonderful. Where was only a gallon or so left in my first water jug, so I took it to the shower for others to use. That was when I opened my second jug of water. In the bar, I relaxed. Grasshopper was back, so we talked for a while. I was also pleased to see Pope Catherine I, who gave me two very nice hugs. Her eyeball sport drink bottle had acquired a “swarthy” moustache. Wow, she was pretty. When she left, I never saw her again for the rest of the event.
Donnie said he was from Portland, Oregon, which is near Aberdeen, where Kurt Kolbain lived. “I know why Kolbain killed himself,” Donnie said: “Aberdeen sucks! It’s Redneck Central!” Gomer tried one of my Irish stouts and gave me a thumbs-up. I told Claudia I really enjoyed her singing, and Werner gave me one of their CD’s. That was very generous of them. When darkness fell, I went to the kitchen and fixed myself some 3-cheese tortellini. I had no tomato sauce, so I chopped up my last tomato. It came out excellent. As I was eating, I looked out at the night sky and spotted a tiny pinprick of light about 10 degrees over the horizon. It was moving parallel to the horizon, and not blinking, and since it was moving too fast to be a plane I figured it must be a satellite. I made so much food, I couldn’t finish it, so I gave it to Gomer when he came back from his gig at Center Camp. It was 9-ish when I lied down to get some sleep. I made sure to set my alarm clock, and I wasn’t worried about getting up on time for my Friday shift. I set it for 4:20 AM.

I woke up about midnight to the sound of some really bad music coming from the stage. There was a girl on stage trying to sing some folk songs. I like folk songs… when they’re sung well. This girl was way off-key. I walked to the porta potties. Above, a big, red light was moving directly over me. There was nobody around for me to point it out to. I thought maybe it was a satellite, because it wasn’t blinking, but just as it passed over me, it seemed to change direction—the light flickered, and I watched it break up into a cloud of red dust. I just watched some space junk re-enter the atmosphere! A girl walked by just as it disappeared, and I tried to describe what happened—it was amazing. I went back to bed just as a loud band got up on stage. I told myself I’d slept through loud music before. I can put myself to sleep…

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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