Wednesday, April 20, 2011
It's 10:00AM, and my last day at Burning Man has NOT gotten off to a good start. Having retired a little after 5:00AM, I had planned to sleep in to at least noon or 1:00. But Alison Krauss has other ideas. OK...it probably isn't Alison Krauss herself, but a group playing Bluegrass music is parked in their mutant vehicle right next to my camper. They're only there for ten minutes or so but, even when they leave, I can not get back to sleep.
So...now I'm up...staggering bleary-eyed out of the camper and off to the porta-johns. Perhaps my luck has changed because, when I get there, there's no line. But heading back to camp in my somewhat "dazed" state, I turn the wrong way and, soon, I'm lost. This particular wrong turn, however, is a fortunate one. I haven't walked more than a minute or so when one of my fellow "Burners" motions me over to her camp and tells me that I look like I need a Bloody Mary. Of course I do! Soon, I'm on my second Bloody Mary and someone has given me a plate of scrambled eggs...I'm feeling human again.
Now feeling much (MUCH) better, I resume my trip back to camp. But wait...now I'm being invited into another camp for a...champagne tasting! Wow, that's the last thing I would expect out here...although, by now, I should know better. They're not serving "El cheapo bubbly", this is the real stuff...Mumm's, Veuve, Laurent Perrier...and it all good (and cold). Four or five glasses later, life is looking up.
But...it's now almost noon, and I haven't had coffee yet. So...over to center camp for two cups before finally getting back to camp. I expected that the caffeine would wake me up, but it has had the opposite effect...I'm feeling sleepy. My plan is to lay down for an hour or so for a "power nap" but, when I wake up and look at my watch, it's after 5:00PM! I have, quite literally, slept the day away.
So...now I've got work to do. I jot down a little "departure checklist" and get to it. First, I head over to center camp for ice for cold beer. Then, back at camp, it's time to pack up...bungee down the bicycle, sort out trash, pull out clothes for tomorrow, etc. An hour or so later, I'm pretty much packed...and...the beer is cold. And, for the next two hours or so, I sit in the shade of the camper and have a few beers, read, listen to music.
Around 8:00PM, I head over to Barnaby's tent with my cooler and share the last of my beers with my fellow campers. One wise piece of advice that I pick up is to secure my vehicle and camper during tonight's "burn". Because just about all of the 55,000 people here will be watching the "burn", it provides the perfect opportunity for a few larcenous individuals to do a little breaking and entering. This is also an opportunity for me to say goodbye to my campmates. I'll have more to say on this later...but there's a sense of community at Burning Man...particularly in my camp. We've worked together, eaten together, shared a drink (or two)...and...we've shared a unique experience here. I like these people, and I will miss them when I leave here tomorrow.
After six days here, my camp is running low on food...so...it's everyone for him(her)self. I'm actually in good shape here...I've got cans of Staghouse Chili from Costco, a big piece of cheese, a whole box of Ritz crackers, several bottles of wine, and a few candy bars. And that's the dinner that I enjoy as the sun goes down over the mountains.
Around 9:30PM or so, as I am lingering over my last glass of wine, I start to notice a lot of movement as a huge procession has begun...people are heading for the playa for the "burn". After I stow my valuables out of sight and lock up the Escape and the camper, I go over the "equipment" for tonight. I'm taking my bandana, goggles, headlamp, camera, and a "fanny pack" with smokes, water...and...my Backtracker.
And...soon...I'm part of the procession...from every direction, tens of thousands of people on the move. Also, the wind has picked up and it is REALLY dusty...I can barely see ten feet, so it's good that I'm part of a herd that knows where it's going.
Now, out on the playa, I take an hour or so to just wander around through the throngs of people, artworks, mutant vehicles, etc. The atmosphere is, to say the least, festive...all around me, people are singing...dancing...hugging one another.
At last, I take up a spot directly in front of the "man"...although I'm several thousand people back.
And then, to the sound of rhythmic drumming, a procession of women (all dressed in white) marches through the crowd accompanied by much cheering. Soon, these women and others begin twirling fire-tipped batons to the sound of the drums. This continues for several minutes as they dance around the "man". It reminds me of the ceremony that the islanders performed to summon the beast in the movie King Kong...or...sort of "America's Best Cheerleaders" on mescaline. Meanwhile, the drumming is louder...and faster.
And then...silence...as the drumming abruptly stops, and a hush (really) falls upon the crowd. The quiet is eerie out here, and there's a feeling of anticipation rushing through the crowd. Then..a few scattered cheers soon joined by thousands. Fireworks have begun to shoot from the "man"...skyrockets arching up through the night sky...and many sparkling pinwheels exploding on the "man" himself.
All at once, a huge roar erupts from the crowd as the fireworks end...down at the bottom of one corner of the "man", there's a small flame. And, as the flames spread through the base structure, the crowd is going crazy. Soon, the flames work their way up the "man" and, in the chill of the desert night, you can feel the heat of the "burn".
Now, the entire "man" is engulfed in flame...lighting up the whole area...the heat is intense...and the roar from the crowd is deafening. The "man" starts to lean as the flames increase. Then, without warning, the whole structure collapses in a pile of flaming timbers, glowing ashes and sparks...anther huge roar from the crowd.
And so...that is the "burn". For awhile, nobody moves except to hug the people next to them. Then, slowly at first, parts of the crowd turn and head out from the playa. I'm in one of those "parts"...the wind and dust are now so heavy that I can hardly see my own feet...I'm just hunkered down, following the crowd. Soon, I can tell that I'm back in center camp and, from there, I find my way back to camp.
Tucked down behind my camper, I'm figuring out my next move. This being my last night at Burning Man, I had planned to spend at least a few hours out exploring before bed. But the wind and dust are really heavy now...when I stand up from behind the camper, I get a heavy blast in my face...and...that's it for me.
Inside the camper, I'm out like a light.