I couldn’t believe I’d been on-playa for seven days, a whole week-- and I wouldn’t be leaving for another four days. Out on Rod’s Road, a parade of ladybug cars rolled by, all driven by Rangers. They’d been confiscated and were headed for the impound lot. Did the Rangers have a fleet of cars now? In the MASH tent, I started to cook up some ramen noodles, but my propane canister ran empty. That was the first time I’d ever killed a propane canister. I had another, luckily. From camp, I watched a thunderhead off to the east, but it soon lumbered northward. A lady walked through playing bagpipes. She said she’d been playing since 1972, but couldn’t play as soon as she arrived on the playa because the reeds in the pipes needed time to acclimate. Jarvis joked, “Why do bagpipers walk when they play? They’re trying to get away from the sound.” The Party Snail arrived and brought us more mixers.
I cleaned my feet, put on moisturizer, and got out some clean socks. I’d brought a bag of new socks just for my Ranger shifts. I pulled the inserts out of my shoes and put them in my boots, to see what would happen. I checked in for my afternoon shift, and got paired up with Ranger Orion, who was celebrating his 10th year at Burning Man. Kimistry was at HQ, so I asked her what happened with the missing child report on Thursday. (That was why the Gate was closed most of Thursday afternoon.) Kimistry said the call had been changed from missing child to “runaway,” and there were now wanted posters up at the Ranger outposts as people looked for the 17-year-old girl. I ran into Pitbull, from Sandman training, and saw Firecracker.
Ranger SciFi made announcements for the afternoon shift. There seemed to be a lot of activity along the 5:30 road. The ladybug cars had been ordered confiscated, but there were still four unaccounted for. We were told to keep an eye out for them. Services were on the way for a plane that had unexpectedly landed on the outer playa. SciFi assigned Orion and me to Zone 4, 8 to 10 O’clock, so we took off on our bikes. The air was calm, but the sky was full of unsettled clouds.
Orion and I circled around and headed for the outer ring. At one camp, I moved a couple of bikes out of the road and reminded the bartender to be vigilant. Back on L, a guy on a wind surfboard said the winds might be shifting to the east. The clouds were really swirling around, darkening parts of the playa. That’s where the Minibego zoomed by. It was a scale model of a Winnebego RV, build to fit over a go-cart frame. Orion knew the owner, and said he just rents a new go-cart every year.
I think it was at Outpost Tokyo we overheard somebody tell the story of two cases of epic failure. A guy at a camp thought it would be a great idea to store gasoline in water bottles. The second failure was when a different guy thought he’d do somebody a favor and refill their Camelbak—from one of the water bottles filled with gasoline. No one involved was amused.
It was mid-afternoon, and after listening to other Rangers get reassigned, he called in to dispatch to see if they wanted us anyplace different. Dispatch called back and sent us across the city to the 2 to 4 O’clock wedge. We started to cut across the inner playa, which would have takes us right by the Critical Tits parade (oh, shucks) but just then a wave of dust hit, turning into an intense white-out. For several minutes, we couldn’t see five feet in front of us. That’s when I found a big feather floating across the ground; I stuck it in my hat.
The roads on that end of the city were all thick with dunes of playa
dust covering a hard, pocketed surface, which made bike riding particularly
hard. “This side sucks,” Orion noted. We slowed down to make sure everything
was safe at a camp that was having a stripper pole contest. The camp across
the street was doing ballroom dancing, and they seemed to be trying to
outdo each other. The roads got more hard-packed and a little easier to
ride on the further out we went. We headed out towards the 2 O’clock road,
and I pointed out the amazing scorpion car… but a pretty girl in a pink
wig said they were dismantling it. Technical difficulties had kept the
art car from operation, and rather than spending the whole time trying
to make it work, they decided to shut it down, enjoy the burn, and try
again next year. It was a mature, responsible attitude.
|We rounded the corner at the end of L and started back up towards the
Esplanade. Orion had his own website, and had actually heard of mine. The
last two ladybug cars were found parked together on the Esplanade. We rangered
the local porta-potties and found they were in dire need of service. Orion
actually used his knife to lock out a particularly nasty potty. That’s
where we were when we got the word that the missing, runaway teenager had
been found, and was currently in the company of a sheriff’s deputy.
A collective sigh of relief seemed to rise across the playa. Orion pointed
out, “She has no idea how much trouble she stirred up.”
Someone on the radio quipped, “Can we open the Gate now?”
We started down the Esplanade, and that’s when a show-stopping, overwhelming white-out slammed down on everybody. Visibility disappeared all together, and there was nothing to do but stand there helpless, hammered by the wind and the dust. Any kind of movement at all during something like that could put you in the path of a bicycle, or an art car. The best thing to do is to stand still until it passes, but this one took a long time to pass. The wind pushed playa dust in around the edges of my goggles and into my eyes. The Sun got blacked out, there was so much dust pounding across the playa.
Back at Hair of the Dog, I relaxed on the “porch.” Mark shared a beer, and some macaroni. (The secret ingredient was love.) Shadow was helping out behind the bar, and was very popular. Curly was playing a gig at Cirque de Cliché that evening, but I was beat and lied down in my tent to take a nap. When I got up two hours later, it was already dark. In the bar, I met up with Spoon, and we sat talking and telling old jokes and tales of the road. J.C. and Harvest arrived and unfurled a banner declaring HOTD “Sad Song Camp.” They proceeded to play sad songs on the speakers, and the sadder they were, the funnier they became. It was a tempestuous night, with high winds and lots of dust in the air. The big HOTD letters at the front of the bar were swinging back and forth in the wind. Just sitting and talking to someone made you want to put on dust goggles. Somebody said the Anubis burn was awesome. The whole tent was shaking from the wind when I crashed for the night. I knew it was going to be a cold night, so I got out my extra sleeping bag to snuggle under.