I woke up about 6 AM Sunday morning, September 4th, but went back to sleep and dozed until 7:30. Spoon was in the bar, and we talked for a little while. I had the last Dr. Pepper from my private stash. I went to the commissary for breakfast, and sat next to a guy called Flap. He had some strong opinions. Back at HOTD, Delee shared another frozen orange. I sat in the bar and had a long talk with Star. I told her about some stuff going on in my life, and she was very understanding. We talked about earthquakes and tornadoes. She lived in a place that had earthquakes, and I lived in the Midwest-- tornado alley. Star said that while she had earthquakes, at least I had seasons where I didn’t have to worry so much about tornadoes. She happened to be in the baseball stadium in San Francisco during the World Series earthquake back in 1989, which I watched on TV. She said after the quake stopped, everyone in the stadium cheered, for some reason. I’m glad we had a chance to talk.

I had one last Ranger shift to do that afternoon. I suited up and rode my bike over to HQ. After checking in, I spoke to Pocket Punk, and met up with Crizzly sitting on one of the benches. His shoulder had been bothering him since the Sandman training on Friday. I got paired up with Ranger Milky Wayne, and K8 sent us out to patrol the Esplanade. It was a beautiful day, blue skies, with just a little breeze. We rode all the way up to the 2 O’clock road, the big sound camps much quieter. Some were already packing up to leave.

We were on our way back when we got flagged down by a girl with long dark hair. I'm going to call her Jane here, and she’d been harassed all week by a guy she met at a dance camp. He gave her a card, like a credit card, and she stuck it in her jacket pocket, but then she lost her jacket at a different camp. He’d been by her camp several times that week, bugging her about it. We said we’d look into it. At the time, HQ was holding the yearly pin ceremony, so we rode over to HQ for that. Ranger Tool opened up that year’s pins, which turned out to be hot pink in color. The pin ceremony rolled right into the ice cream social, so everybody got a bowl of ice cream provided by Ranger Ice Cream (who, ironically, was lactose intolerant). Ms. Rie had been reading my Facebook posts, and asked me, “What did you eat for lunch?” I saw Coco, whom I had met at Juplaya, in line for ice cream. She gave me an awesome button. Tank Girl helped me find Ranger Fuzzy, who had some stuff for me.
Afterwards, Milky Wayne and I found where the alledged stalker was camped. He wasn’t there, but his girlfriend was, and she elaborated on the story. The card in question was made especially for the camp, a limited number, each one of a kind, and when the girl took it, she was flirting with him and told him to come by her camp to get it. Naturally, when he went by and she didn’t have it, he was upset. He kept going back to see if she’d found her jacket and his card. Milky Wayne did most of the negotiating, and did a great job. He found out the guy and his camp would be on-playa until that Thursday, and if the card turned up the girl would have every opportunity to return it. They even confirmed they could all still be friends. When we found Jane’s camp, she wasn’t there, but her campmates were. They said they’d pass along the message, but maintained that the guy with the card “wasn’t right.” It sounded to me like there was plenty of blame to go around: one side didn’t respect property, and the other didn’t respect personal space.
We got a call that there was something going on around D Street, so we rode over to check it out. We found a fire crew on scene pulling smoking mattresses out of a big RV. Milky Wayne and I closed off the street so that the fire crew could work. The owner, who stood around naked watching the fire crew, had been holding “workshops” in “sensuality” all week. His neighbors just called it the “orgy van.” It looked like everything in the RV behind the driver’s seat had been ripped out and replaced with plastic-covered mattresses. I spoke to the fire crew leader. He said it looked like there had been a short in the wiring under the floor. That ignited a mattress, but a mattress doesn’t just burst into flame; it smolders. The fire slowly spread underneath until it found something really combustible, and that’s when the RV filled with smoke. The chief said it had probably been smoldering for days. The crew pulled the mattresses out and cut them open to be sure. While we directed traffic, I swear I had to turn away twenty people who had been coming for the 3 PM “seminar.” Mostly couples, but more than a few single females. One disappointed couple asked where the Decadent Dome was. The RV turned out to be drivable, but the owner would have to pile all the burned stuff back inside and dump it safely off-playa. I figured he’d be back the next year. If the fire had held off another half hour, the RV would’ve been full of people, so things could have turned out a lot worse.
We got a lost child call, so pretty much every Ranger on duty swarmed into our area. We talked to some neighbors, who saw the kid, a 5-year-old in a dragon costume. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten “lost.” The kid had wandered away from camp a couple more times that week. Every time, the parents would blow it off. “He knows this place better than we do,” they’d say. “He’ll be fine.” When the child was reunited back at camp, the Rangers as well as the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office had a long discussion with his parents.
While riding along the outer streets, I noticed they were mostly empty. In my experience, Sunday at Burning Man usually brought a stead stream of cars exiting the event. That afternoon, I saw one car leave, and a little while later saw an RV leave, but there was hardly any traffic at all, and I thought, Holy crap, everybody’s waiting until Monday to leave. There were tons of people on playa that year attending Burning Man for the first time-- newcomers unaware of what was coming. The Monday exodus looked like it was going to be a nightmare.
Milky Wayne and I stopped at Outpost Berlin to top off our canteens. Inkwell was asleep in one of the lounge chairs under the shade. Going on 5 PM, we got a call to check out folks at an Esplanade camp. When we showed up, it turned out to have been a scene of activity all day. Some guy showed up Sunday morning in a big RV and just pulled into their camp, uninvited. The guy brought his dog with him (which was not allowed by Burning Man rules) as well as some potted marijuana plants, which he set out in the sun. Not cool, man. The side of his RV was painted with NOT A BURNER POSER (which was funny, since only a poser would show up after the burn.) After refusing to leave, the Rangers were called in, and when the jerk still wouldn’t leave law enforcement was called in. Things went south from there. The guy was in handcuffs briefly, and after getting written up by BLM, and his plants confiscated, he and his RV were escorted off the playa. HQ made it a Green Dot call because there was a report someone was very upset and crying after the matter concluded. Seeing somebody get arrested can be a trigger issue for some folks, so I walked around talking to everybody I found. I spoke to the mayor of the village, I talked to participants staying in the camp, I spoke to neighbors camped next door, and I even talked to the bartender of their bar. Everyone I spoke to seemed pleased as punch the jerk was gone. It’s possible what the witnesses saw were tears of joy.
After reporting back to HQ, Milky Wayne and I went to Center Camp for some tea. A beautiful girl was doing acrobatics on silk curtains, and she was just poetry to watch. By then, our shift was over. I logged out and turned in my radio for the last time. For my last meal in the commissary, I sat across from a young mother feeding tomatoes to her infant daughter. 
At HOTD, a girl came by looking for a beer. Looking back at my preparations before leaving home, I felt silly shopping around for microbrew beers to take to the playa. A couple of case of cheap stuff would’ve been just fine. I think it was Double Dutch that cooked up a batch of spicy hot links for everyone.
There was a lovely sunset that evening. I waited until after dark before riding out for the Temple burn. Down the street from my camp, a shadowy figure danced around sparkler fireworks under the skeleton of a dome. In the dim light of dusk, I could see thousands of bicycles converging towards the distant site. As darkness fell, all you could see were glimpses of bicycles, decorated with blinky lights on glowsticks. Art cars rolled by, some covered in light, others not so much. I imagined what it must be like in some busy, midnight harbor, where huge ships lumbered by, seen only as strings of connect-the-dot lights. There was a half-dome art structure a couple hundred yards from the Temple, so that’s where I locked up my bike. Lots of other people were doing the same.
I walked past the ring of parked art cars and sat down in the dust, about eight rows back from the perimeter. I wondered which Rangers were working the line that evening. A very young girl in front of me asked for a cigarette, and when I didn’t have any she got up to find some. She and her friend stretched out and lounged on the ground, taking up lots of space. The balloon guy I spoke to Friday morning seemed to have another string of balloons stretched out over the Temple. It was a much shorter string, with white balloons, and I feared they would tangle on the tallest tower. A gust of wind carried the string over, and I watched in fascination as the string was cut loose, floating silently over the crowd. It floated silently overhead in the still air. I looked back over my shoulder, and watched it disappear into the night sky, looking much like the Nexus energy ribbon from “Star Trek Generations.”
The crowd got fired up when the lights from dozens of green laser pointers started squiggling across the walls of the Temple. “Lasers off!” the crowd chanted, but the lasertards in the audience ignored them, thinking they were the height of awsomeness. Some girl got up and tried to get the crowd to do “the wave,” but she met with resistance. “It’s the fu*king Temple burn, you *ssh*le!” someone cried. Eventually, the spotlights illuminating the Temple went out, and only then did the lasertards put their pointers away.
A light flashed inside one tower, and flames appeared under the arches. Until the flames appeared, the crowd had been milling about, talking, getting restless… but then a silence fell across the playa. 

The flames spread quickly throughout the structure, and every step was met with total silence. It was surreal sitting in the middle of thousands and thousands of people, none of them making any sound at all. Which is not to say there was no sound: the fire spread quickly up the inside of the tallest tower, and as the interior was engulfed in flames there was a sound—a great exhaling, a sigh of the Earth, as if the Temple took one last breath and then resigned itself to the fates. 

The entire Temple was ablaze, and one by one the towers fell. I heard sobbing all around me as people wept, leaning on strangers for support. Not tears of sadness or regret, but cleansing tears, a sincere emotional release.

Only when the last tower crumbled did the thousands of people all around me wake from their respectful silence and rise as one. The perimeter fell, but I did not join the mass of humanity seeking the warmth of the fire. I made my way back to the art piece, found my bike, and took my time rolling across the empty playa. The stars were gorgeous that night. It was like I could see millions of miles, back through time to when the universe began...

Prologue Aug. 24  Aug. 25 Aug. 26 Aug. 27 Aug. 28 
 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
Sept.6 Sept. 7 Sept. 8  Sept. 9 & Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2011 by Tim Frayser
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