I woke up Sunday, September 1st about 7:15. I didn't feel very rested
at all. Outside, it had turned windy. Clouds were moving in from the west;
not smoke or dust, real clouds. I had been in the desert for a week. I
found two people crouched behind the bar. They were either stealing booze
or having sex. Maybe both. They took their backpacks and left when I showed
up. The band Dooki Doodle played during the night. Their banner still hung
at the back of the stage. The early morning playa was quiet. I was all
alone, the cool breeze blowing through the empty bar, when a guy in a blue
pickup rolled by, pointed at me and yelled, “Whazzzzaaaa!”
The crotch puncher was broken beyond repair, the boxing glove dangling
limply out of the secret door, like the dead alien's hand at the end of
the original "War of the Worlds." Breakfast was a can of chicken salad
on crackers (it even came with a little spoon) and a can of fruit cocktail.
It was the only day of the whole trip I didn’t have anything planned, didn’t
have to be anywhere. The whole Shrunken Heads Camp next door was gone,
disappeared in the night. A lot of people were packing up and leaving.
Molly walked through camp. A huge art car rolled down the road playing
I sat behind the bar and served uncomplicated drinks. I met a couple
named Chelsea and Quest; for her, “it’s still last night.” Quest picked
up the bar’s Jaegermeister and drank straight from the bottle. Not cool.
At least he finished it. I talked to a guy named Roul about telepathy and
comic books. He thought he had met the inventor of Paypal at one of the
other camps. A guy called Thunder Jesus came behind the bar and started
serving drinks, scooping ice out of the cooler with his hands. Also not
cool. Another guy with a megaphone was telling jokes until Ollie told him
to turn it down.
I was sitting at a table catching up on my writing when a blonde, topless
girl with a purple backpack said, “That’s what I should have been doing
all along.” She said she journals everything in her life, but when she
comes to Burning Man she never writes anything. I pointed to her camera
and said she at least had a photo journal of where she went. A very pretty
brunette girl got pushed around on the purple dinosaur by her boyfriend.
Steph warned that the weather service was predicting rain for the
playa, starting about noon Monday and going on until midnight. People that
didn’t get out early were likely to be stuck. Janey said she heard if the
rain was too bad, the Gate would be closed for 24 hours. The rumor
mill was running wild. Exodus was looking to be a big, sloppy mess.
I went by BMIR to see if they had any updates on how the Exodus was going
so far. A lady there said it was currently “a clusterf*ck” because of all
the people leaving early… because they were spooked at the idea of Exodus
being bad. I had the feeling the city would be a ghost town by Monday
afternoon. I got to meet Shelly, the very nice girl that had been camped
next to me all week. I also talked to a couple named Kim and Chili. Brian
Bong fried up a batch of tasty won tons. Some of them were made with taco
meat: he called those “Juan tons.” Someone else cooked up a big
pot of ramen noodles. That was lunch for me.
||We started taking the bar apart. Even when we were down to one little
table, people kept coming up for drinks. Ollie and I walked down the street
to Swag Mart, where we scored some awesome Burning Man necklaces. I was
sorry to see him and Honeybee leave mid-afternoon.
I put on my hat and hurried over to HQ for the pin ceremony. The service
pins were fuchsia that year. Some people got 10-year pins. I asked Duney
if he could get me another Green Dot patch. He didn’t have any extra patches,
but he had an extra shirt with a patch already on it he could let me have.
(When I picked it up later, I dropped off a gift that seemed immediately
inadequate.) Back in camp, we took down the shade structure, while Brian
pulled up the rebar stakes. The stage was taken apart.
I rode my bike past BMIR, but I still couldn’t get a signal on the
cellphone. The radio station was urging people to hold off leaving the
city until 4 AM that night, because of all the people planning to leave
immediately following the Temple burn. There was a 20% chance of rain on
Monday. To me, that meant an 80% chance it wouldn’t rain, but that didn’t
stop people from heading out. Steph reported the new weather report had
the storm starting at 3 AM Monday morning instead of noon. Maybe the rain
would be over by the time I left the city.
As the Sun started to get low, I rode my bike out to the Temple. I rode
past the big wolf sculpture that people kept climbing and falling off of
all week. There was a light scattering of people around the Temple perimeter
as the Sun went down. Only a couple of art cars had shown up. I parked
my bike with a bunch of other bikes. Since I no longer had a bike lock,
I strung a bunch of zip ties together and wrapped it around the back tire,
hoping that would be enough to deter a thief. I had a green light which
I left on in the basket so I could find it again.
|Usually, I would find myself a place to sit for the whole burn. That
evening, I decided to wander around, and maybe get some pictures from a
variety of angles. I’m afraid I was not as emotionally invested in the
Temple that year as I had been in the past. I should have found a spot
to sit. My feet hurt, and I was tired from the ride out.
I expected a long wait, but shortly after 8 PM fire crews walked around
the base of the Temple, setting small fires. The ones at the corners spread
quickly, and then a torch fired up at the top of the pyramid. Other charges
went off igniting the whole structure. I could see flames from inside.
The wind changed, and for the second time that weekend I had to rush
away from a cloud of burning embers. “Look out look out look out!”
one guy cried as a book-sized ember fell on a stack of bicycles, exploding
into a splash of sparks. I could feel particulates falling on me, the larger
ones bursting apart as they hit the ground. The unexpected scramble ended
quickly, and a somber silence fell over the crowd. I looked back, and saw
we had been joined by thousands of spectators, on foot, bike and art car.
The Temple was quickly consumed in flames. It collapsed in on itself, until
the last line of supports slumped over in resignation. A great cry went
up from thousands of voices, and people rushed forward to circle the flames.
By then, the area all around me was choked with people and vehicles. The
scramble put me further from the perimeter than I had realized. I was disoriented,
stumbling around in the dark, until I found the art car I’d parked my bike
next to. As I worked my way through the mass of humanity, I couldn’t find
my bicycle. Did it get stolen? I spent about 15 minutes looking
for it, until I found it in a pile of bicycles, quite by accident… because
somebody turned off the light I left in the basket. The hell?
Back in camp, Billy asked if I knew the Temple was going to be burned
early. I didn’t-- I figured they would wait until 9 or so. It turned out
a decision had been made somewhere to burn the Temple a little early, so
that people could join the Exodus. I helped Rerun take down the back shade,
then I went to my tent. The wind was really picking up as I headed to bed.
Last updated: September, 2013