I woke in the middle of the night/early Saturday morning freezing. It was bitterly cold out. I heard no sound anywhere, except for the distant thump of bass from a sound camp far away and the flapping of flags over at Center Camp. I dozed off… and when I woke, it was to the sound of a trumpet playing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” The Sun was already up. I’d slept all the way through the night. I had dreams, and as I rose they seemed so real, but the longer I was up the more they faded away; without the strength of actually memories they had nothing to hold on to.

I heard big band music. There were a dozen or so people in the bar, none of whom I knew, including the bartender, who was dressed in a disturbingly clean tuxedo. I decided to boil some water for tea. Mark got up and cooked up a batch of bacon for folks in the bar. I spoke to Anne, who wanted to visit the Temple before it got too hot out. In the MASH tent, I cooked up a packet of ramen noodles. One packet was two servings? Really? I sat in the bar with my noodles, where a guy named Brian was chatting with a pretty girl from Sidney, Australia. There were three guys in the bar that morning named Brian, and three Brians more back in their camp. “You guys are breeding!” the Sidney girl said, calling the bar a “Brian magnet.” Somebody made a batch of mimosas, but they ran out of orange juice to go with the champagne, so they used Skittles. It was a batch of Skimosas.

I got on my bike and went for a ride out to the Man. I wanted to get my picture taken with the shirt from my martial arts school. A very nice girl helped, but just then a gust a wind almost blew my hat off, so I ended up with a bunch of pictures of me fixing my hat. Off to the side, Wall Street looked different somehow. I rode closer, and was surprised to see a Frogbat on top of one of the buildings. Frogbat was the traditional effigy at the annual Juplaya get-together. What the heck did Frogbat have to do with Wall Street?
Frogbat at Wall Street, 2012
Frogbat at 4th of Juplaya, 2011

I rode back past the towering Mal Mart and the Party Naked Tiki Bar. Breakfast was a scrambled egg taco. I had a big evening ahead, so I just relaxed around the bar. Around noon, somebody gifted me a bloody Mary, and just got enough for taste. I figured I’d be okay to go by the time my shift came around. I was able to send and receive text messages from back home—everything back home was okay. I burned my arm a little on the coffee pot plugging in my smartphone to recharge it. Virginie decided to leave the playa early, as did John C. and Payette. Kirs and Anne gave me hugs as they packed up. Across the street, Pimp yr Bike camp seemed to be packing up to leave, too.

I was talking in the bar about brewing and Oklahoma beer, and a beautiful girl in sunglasses came over. She was called Thumper, and it turned out she went to school in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Her dad was a teacher there, and she got her degree at OSU. Portland, Oregon was her home these days. She worked in advertising, and actually knew the people who came up with the whole Old Spice “Look at your man, now look at me” campaign. She watched “Mad Men,” and wondered where her martini meetings were. Thumper was with the Black Rock Boutique, and knew the people who did the Death Star Car. She’d never heard of the “Oklahoma beer is like having sex in a canoe” joke.* She was really nice, and had a terrific laugh. I told her about my website. When she left, she kissed me goodbye.

I spoke to Jarvis, who traveled around and actually visited Tulsa once. “For a big town, it’s a small town,” he observed. That may have been when Tigger showed up; I almost didn’t recognize him. I took a shower, and got clean! I got... temporarily clean! Brian Bong cooked up some amazing pulled pork tacos. The bar was busy that afternoon, and I had fun people-watching and talking to folks as they passed through.

At 4:30, I started getting ready for my Sandman shift at the burn. I brought blinkys to wear on shift, and forgot every one of them when I left for HQ. I showed up early, so that I’d be able to fill up my Camelbak. We mustered together at 5:30. Legba handed out our new, improved armbands. We would be set up in two units: Legba was the lead on the 3 O’clock side of the Man, Vegas would be on the 9 O’clock side. Every Sandman has a partner. I got partnered with Ranger Batman. We had 15 minutes until we headed out, so I rushed back to camp to get my long sleeve shirt, just in case.

The Rangers started the traditional walk to the Man, but the Sandmen all hung back and walked out separately. We ended up one pair short on the 3 O’clock side, but figured we’d adjust once we got out to the Man. When we arrived, we were assigned our special lammies, and then helped take down the perimeter fence circling the Man, which kept people out while the pyrotechnics guys did their stuff. A crew came along pulling the fence posts. Art cars were already arriving.

Fire crews had a ring of pink tassels stuck in the ground in a circle 100 feet from the Man. This was No Man’s Land—or, as it was also called, “God’s Hand.” We were told that if anybody crossed that line, we were to use our own judgement, but to not chase a runner past that line. The Sandmen spread out about 10 feet out from God’s Hand, forming the inner perimeter. Rangers were already stationed on the outer perimeter. In between was where the fire dancers would perform. I was at the 8 O’clock position, with Crizzly on my right and Batman on my left.

It started to get dark. More people started to line up along the perimeter. I met Climber, who was in a silver jacket. I was a little stiff, so I started doing some stretching exercises. Batman said, “It’s no good to get too limber too soon.” The fire performers arrived by themselves and in bunches. Vegas said our line was basically behind their setups, but with enough room between us and No Man’s Land for the backfield to work. Vegas noted, “At least we’re on the windward side for once.” A group of performers from San Diego set up right in front of me. The fire quadrant lead, Daniel, came up and introduced himself. Just then, all over the perimeter, people suddenly started howling: the full Moon had just risen.

In the distance, scattered fireworks exploded over the city. To my left, I could see the Coat Hanger art car, and the flaming unicorn car drove by. The Man lit up for the last time. We were reminded over the radio that no bicycles were allowed inside the perimeter. A fire dancer brought some supplies in by bike, but then rolled it back out to park it. It was dark, and someone out on the 9 o’clock line lit a Chinese lantern: a candle inside a paper bag. I watched it rise and float high over me… and straight for the Man. Seriously, it came within a foot or so of colliding with the Man’s head, and if it had caught the structure on fire early there would’ve been serious problems.

It was just after 8 that we got word the procession had left Center Camp. People started to fill in along the outer perimeter. At first, it didn’t seem like many, but I could soon tell there were lots more out in the growing darkness. The procession from Center Camp arrived and made its way around the outer perimeter. Everyone in the crowd cheered when the arms of the Man raised. (There was a special team of engineers that raised them with hidden cables.) That was when the fire dancers went to work. From the perspective of the inner perimeter, the fire performers were amazing to watch. All in front of me, the performers danced with fiery hoops, flaming swords, fire-laden fans and bullwhips, all to the driving beat of multiple drums. When the dancers were done, they all settled down in groups between the inner and outer perimeters. I spoke with them beforehand, asking them to stay where they were once they sat down, for safety’s sake.

Once the dancers were settled down, the fireworks display began. I was able to see some of the fireworks, since all I had to do was look up, but I couldn’t get the full effect. The racket was deafening. Most of the fireworks went straight up, except for a stray rocket that shot out right over me. The Man caught on fire during the fireworks display. The structure caught fire from the inside out, and spread quickly. There was still more pyrotechnics to come. I glanced over my shoulder in time to see a fireball explode from the upper decks of the structure. The heat was intense. The backs of my arms and legs felt very hot. There was another explosion behind me. Hot air rushed past me, and the faces of everyone in front of me suddenly lit up. The fire performers, the ones that work with fire and play with fire and know all about fire, went Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! and got up and started moving back away from the Man. That’s how I knew the conflagration was major. Vegas came up behind me and said, “Find someplace safe.” I moved forward, away from the blaze, but where I could still see everyone. I held my ground for a few minutes before moving back into position.
I heard more than saw the Man fall. They were hoping it would fall straight down into the structure, but I think it went off to the side. The Man base kind of caved in on itself. At one point, there was just the outer wall, and then it fell by sections one by one. Right about then, a guy got up and moved through the crowd towards me. I held up my hand and intercepted. He held out what looked like a sealed prescription bottle. The guy said he wanted to go forward and throw the ashes of his deceased father into the fire. A number of things went through my mind: (A) I’m sorry for your loss. (B) Something like that is really more appropriate for the Temple. (C) You had a whole week to place your father’s ashes in the structure—what were you going to do, toss him in like you were playing horseshoes? What I told him, ultimately, was, “After.” After the perimeter was down, he could do what he wanted, but I could not let him in while there was a danger. He shook my hand and went back to his seat.
The last big section fell. At once, everyone stood. Everyone. Forty-some thousand people. The crowd rushed forward, a wall of fire-lit faces, overwhelming the perimeter rangers in front of me with sheer numbers and flooding into the danger zone. The only thing holding them back were the Sandmen. A call on the radio reminded us the inner perimeter had to be held. I held out my hands to stop the approaching crowd, a gesture that immediately seemed feeble and ridiculous—but it seemed to work. “We’re just trying to keep people safe!!” I cried.
“Thank you, Ranger!” a smiling girl yelled. I think the people immediately in front of me seemed to understand the concern the danger… but the thousands of people behind them did not understand. They wanted in. They wanted in now. I looked over my shoulder long enough to see most of the structure was down, except for one tall blazing pole—something big enough to fall on somebody and hurt them. No doubt, I thought, the fire crews were working to bring it down; they just needed time. Come on, guys, make the call!

There was a roar off to my left. By the light of the blaze behind me, I saw dozens of people flooding past the Sandmen, rushing forward towards the fire. No! No! No! I thought... but there was nothing we could do to stop them. We had a porous border. The crowd swept past me like a tidal surge. A girl crashed into me and hugged me so tightly she spun me completely around before disappearing into the mass of swirling humanity. I stood there among hundreds and hundreds of people, all going forward towards the fire. I met up with Batman in the confusing, jumbled crowd, and we started to leave. Unknown to us or anyone else on the playa, deep inside the hot embers of the Man there was still an unexploded charge of fireworks. As we were walking away, it detonated with a loud WOMP!  Fortunately, it didn’t hurt anybody. “That’s why we wait!” cried Batman.

The Sandmen assembled at the rally point, and our job was done. I walked back to HQ with another Ranger, whose name escaped me; he made buttons to give away to people. I turned in my radio at HQ and got my meal ticket. I was beat. My feet hurt. Back in camp, all I wanted to do was relax. I wanted to write a little, but --I couldn’t find my glasses anywhere! I panicked a little, and thought how much it would suck to go through the rest of the burn without glasses, but I finally calmed myself down. I would be leaving on Tuesday, and if worse came to worse I could find some reading glasses at a drugstore. There was nothing more to do that night. I decided to look for them in the morning.

*"It's f***ing close to water."

Prologue  Aug. 22  Aug. 23  Aug. 24  Aug. 25 
Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday  Monday 
Sept. 4  Sept. 5  Sept. 6  Sept. 7 & Epilogue
Original material (c)opyright 2012 by Tim Frayser
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LINKS: Skittles Oklahoma State University 
Last updated: September, 2012