I woke the next morning, Monday, September 5th, in total silence. There was no music, no talking, no oontz oontz oontz, only a gentle breeze. I went for a walk out beyond the Esplanade. The Sun rose over a sleepy campsite; people dozed in the shade of art projects. An art car built like a giant wicker wooly mammoth rolled by. I walked past BMIR just as they turned on their loudspeakers. Even at that early hour, they were reporting a 3 to 4 hour wait in the exodus.
Back at camp, Brian helped Star take down her tent. She packed up, said her goodbyes, and was heading out by 9 AM. Otis borrowed my bicycle to go make a phone call. He’d lost his car keys, and even if he could get in his car, he couldn’t start it. He needed to call AAA for a tow. He knew somebody that had a phone that worked in the desert. I passed Bumblebee coming back from the potties. Lots of other people were packing up, too. Somebody cooked up some cheesy eggs. Alex talked about “the classic playa breakfast: bacon and beer.” Somebody talked about a trip to the Salton Sea, and further trips there were discouraged. It sounded like a dreary place.

I started packing up all my stuff and loading it into the van. The last step was to reattach the bike rack on the tailgate. If Otis had returned with my bike, I could’ve thought about heading out… except, the van was hemmed-in on all sides by tents and other vehicles. I checked Satori’s oil—it was okay—and test-started it for the first time in a week. By noon, BMIR was reporting the wait in the exodus line had increased to 5 hours. That was just to get to the pavement, and did not include the long drive back to Fernley and civilization.

A bunch of us took down the camp’s big shade structures. A sudden gust of wind threatened to take the structure away before we could get it completely down. The sky was slightly overcast, which helped cool things down a little. Next door, Migh was gone. She packed up and left on Sunday. Femcar’s RV was still there. Just past noon, the Sun came out and it began to get really hot. Someone handed out Icy Pops, which were cold and refreshing. Otis returned with my bike right before 1 PM. AAA was on the way. Soon afterwards, I heard that there was some huge accident on Interstate 80. The highway was completely shut down. BMIR revised their exodus report, saying it was taking 7 hours to exit the city. They were advising everyone to just stay in the city for the time being. People who were already stuck in line were advised to just make camp where they were.

A guy dressed as Jesus Christ walked by, and Alex called out, “What would you do?” Somebody complained that the previous night’s hot links had given everyone a bad case of the “firey squirts.” At 2 PM, I realized the big truck that had been parked behind my tent all week had moved. If there wasn’t a 7-hour wait to get out, I could’ve left right then. At the potties, I heard people say that the accident on I-80 was so bad that traffic was stopped in both directions. It was looking like I would have to spend another night on the playa. I would lose the money I’d spent for my RV park reservation, but that couldn’t be helped.

Everyone huddled under the shade structure. Nobody seemed to be going anywhere anytime soon. It turned into a lazy day. People lounged in the shade. I even dozed a little. When I woke up, nothing had changed… except the big truck had moved back behind the van, blocking me in again. There was still a 7-hour wait to get out. Alex shared what leftover food they had: hot dog buns and cheese. The Sun was getting low in the west when the AAA truck arrived for Otis. I realized that when his Kia got towed out of the way I could move my van, so as soon as he got hitched up I moved Satori closer to the street. At 6:15, I was free! I spoke to the tow truck driver before they left. He said traffic seemed to be flowing “steady” out of the city.

I helped D-Mo load trash bags into the back of Sparty, the big panel truck. D-Mo said it might be the last burn for Sparty, which was getting worn down by travels to the playa. It was time to move on. I was nervous about having enough gas, so Lisa let me have a couple of gallons. That took a load off my mind. I spotted Ranger Judas out in the street, coming off shift. He said people were being “strongly encouraged” to wait until Tuesday morning to attempt leaving. Bumblebee came by with another Ranger, who said things should speed up about midnight. What concerned me was that I knew the guys directing traffic out on the gravel road would be going off-duty at 2 AM. After that, it would be everybody for themselves, out in the dark. That’s what made me decide to go. A bunch of other people in the camp were going to caravan out after the Sun went down. I figured I would follow along.

Lisa was surprised I could find room to sleep inside my van, even with all my stuff. Scrap lumber was being taken out to a big bonfire where the Man used to be. I volunteered to take the camp's scraps out. It was weird to drive Satori out beyond the Esplanade, where normally nothing but art cars were allowed. There was a small crowd of people at the bonfire, torching the remains of camp structures they didn't want to haul back home. It was equally weird to drive the van back to camp, down the avenue of lampposts leading to Center Camp.

We all got together for a group hug, a hilarious “cinnamon roll hug.”  Rerun’s ambulance needed a jump, but once that got started we all started out in a line, me at the end of six cars. It was 8:30 when I pulled out of camp. I quickly lost sight of most of the others. Night quickly surrounded the van as I got in line with hundreds of other vehicles. A bright half Moon poked over the shadowy mountains. Clouds were moving in. Everyone inched along slowly. It was almost a half hour before I got as far as the Will Call office. I was listening to BMIR, which reported artist David Best would be returning in 2012 to do the Temple again. Traffic came to a halt right about then.

I was part of five lanes of traffic, that I could see. After we were stopped a few minutes my lane moved up a few feet. I had to roll my window up because the exhaust from the truck idling next to me was choking me. Everyone was stopped. I saw people walking around the stopped cars. One guy was riding around on a bicycle. Porta potties had been conveniently placed beside the road, along the exodus path. About 15 minutes later, all the lanes merged forward. The cars in the lane to my right merged into my lane, and then I was in the leftmost lane. As it usually happens to me at the bank, all the other lanes seemed to be moving faster than mine.

There was an empty lane to the left of my position. Beyond that was a perimeter fence. A guy in a pickup rolled up outside the fence, telling people there should be eight lanes of cars exiting the playa. Brian Bong’s car was ahead of mine, and when he moved into the vacant lane I followed him. A guy in an RV yelled at me about cutting in line, but I was just doing what the guy in the pickup said to do. There were other cars in that lane, ahead and behind me. The next time all the lanes stopped, however, a different guy walked down the line of cars in my lane; he said we were actually in the one inbound lane, and we’d have to merge back in. It was a half hour before the lines moved again, but when they did, Brian’s car didn’t move. The battery was dead! I pulled the van alongside it, but got too close and our side mirrors smooshed against each other. As luck would have it, my toolbox with my jumper cables was within reach. Brian hooked up the batteries, and I had to rev the engine to get his battery recharged. Meanwhile, hundreds of cars were passing us. (The guy in the RV probably passed us with much satisfaction.) When he got recharged, he wanted me to “take the point” so he could get back in his car, but the van was right up against a fence post—I couldn’t move forward. He got back in from the passenger side and took off. I followed, and we both merged back into the proper lanes.
We rolled ahead maybe a half mile or more before stopping again. Off to the side, I could see the open playa, illuminated by moonlght, empty all the way to the mountains. Far off in the distance, two police cars, lights flashing, zoomed across the flat plain. I had been watching a spotlight up ahead but lost sight of it. I also lost sight of Brian’s car. The wind died down, but it was still very chilly. I put on a second shirt. I also chugged a Red Bull to stay awake. The Moon was very bright. Above, the stars were amazing. To my right, I could see through the windows of an RV stopped a couple of lanes over. Inside, people were walking around, tired and frustrated. I had been turning off my engine at every stop, to conserve gasoline. Other cars were getting the hint, but I was concerned about Brian’s car—if he turned off the engine, would it start again?

When my lane moved again, I could see cars ahead merging into other lanes. The spotlight reappeared, and I came to a stop right next to it. It was an industrial light to help the flaggers manage the traffic. The lanes merged, and I found myself deep inside the lines of cars. A dusty guy casually walked around the stopped cars, eating from a bowl. Other people walked about. I saw Ranger Wee Heavy, reminding a driver to turn her headlights back on. A half hour after stopping at the spotlight, I was moving again. All the lanes around me were moving, too. I could tell from the surface of the road I was getting close to the highway. The washboard surface of the road slowed down any speeders. Three hours after leaving camp, I could see the highway ahead, lined with headlights. The air was thick with exhaust fumes. Lanes merged, then merged again, and suddenly there were two lanes of cars inching up the short incline towards more big lights.  After three and a half hours in line, I pulled Satori up onto the pavement and turned towards Gerlach just after midnight. I made it—but I still had miles to go before I could sleep.

Ahead was a steady line of red lights heading off into the distance. I realized I’d arrived at Burning Man after dark, and that’s how I was leaving. There were shops and salespeople along the road in Gerlach, selling various travel accessories and offering hot showers. There were more at the Empire store, still open through the night. It was another hour and a half before I made it to Nixon, and after 2 AM when I rolled into the truck stop just outside Fernley. I thought I saw Ranger Peaches at the gas pumps. I got $10 worth of gas, avoiding the “I Survived Burning Man” t-shirts inside the store. I rolled through Fernley and stopped at the Fox Run convenience store, picking up a beer and a microwave breakfast croissant, the most appetizing thing they had. I ate it in the car.
Down the road, I pulled into the Desert Rose RV park. As they said, my reservation was tacked up on a board outside the closed office. It told me my spot number, but not where it was; there was no map of the RV park. It took a couple of circuits of the park to find where I needed to be, which turned out to be conveniently near the showers and laundry. Once I was parked in place, I took a long, hot, wonderful shower. It felt good to be clean, and with food in me. With my smartphone, I was able to access the Internet, and I got to read email for the first time in over a week. Slowly, I was able to wind down, and managed to fall asleep about 4 AM.

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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