Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Burning man and burning truck

The new truck
The Man Burns
The old truck burns

Burning man and burning truck a study in personal disasters.

More pictures on

I have a history of creating disasters; from running over my laptop with my truck to dropping my sea kayak twice with massive injuries. My Bioenergetic therapist says, “your’re not grounded”, I hear the words, “ bull in a china shop”, and I open the door of the boat car and ding the side of a black Jaguar owned by a very pissed floozy real estate agent. I’ve tried being super careful of my movements and to think ahead to the consequences of actions, but I am an action packed person, and shit happens all the time.

Burning man is an adventure, from the prep, sorting stuff out, loading up my camper and trailer and pickup cab with a large assortment of odds and ends, including camping equipment, party costumes especially the red pimpdaddy coat, food, water ice, and a million other accouterments for a week in the desert. I drive slick up from Benton to the Wigwam, the Indian museum local eatery in Fernley, finding block ice at last. The Safeway in Hawthorne had discontinued block ice, and I had iced up there just last year on my way with cathy on the 3-flat tire entry into burning man. (see previous blog) and made vocal my dissapointment that there were no blocks there. Oh well snafu again, I take it as a bump in the road, always solvable in one way or another. Jason and I learned doing field work and to use fluid logistics to work around any roadblocks. There is always a way to complete the journey or task at hand.

Darkness descends as I join the parade of burners headed to the nirvanah of desert events. Burning man; a week of performance art, exploration, people gawking, all genres of music, art cars up to 200 feet long festooned with lights, decorations and partying people dancing to techno, friends gathering and culminating with the burn, immolation of 200 foot high neon outlined statue of the man, the symbol of freedom from all earthly cares at least for a while. All for the price of survival in the desert and my $300 ticket clutched in my hand.

Trouble strikes first as I pull out of Empire, the last town before Gerlach, with a safe front yard to camp in overnight in Elizabeth’s and Kevin’s front yard. Bright lights beckon in the pitch black desert darkness, suddenly illuminated by the bubble gum machine flashing in the rear view, and I look in vain for a pull off. I signal and find a brushy shoulder and sit and wait for the law to come down on my head. Portly sheriff comes to the window, and I hand him my registration, drivers license, and proof of insurance. “Do you know your lights are out on the rear of the trailer?” he asks in a matter of fact tone cops use. “No, they were working when I left my home, I worked for 2 hours to get them going.” “Well they’re not working now,” I hand him the paperwork and he disappears into the oncoming headlights to do his dirty work.

He appears out of the dark again, “did you know you’re proof of insurance has expired?” oh shit, look at the dates, and sure enough, it’s the one that expired back in December, out of date. “I’m headed to Gerlach and have a friend there who can fix the lights, Kevin, lives on Diablo street”, “That’s ok, I won’t give you a fixit ticket but Ill have to cite you for lack of proof of insurance. You might be able to fax your current proof to the court, talk to the lady at his number” I scramble in vain looking for the correct scrap of paper. He points at the long ticket and has me sign it, and we are off in the parade again. “so near and yet so far” I sigh, defiantly bummed about the interaction, and my stupidity to not have checked the insurance. I had done that at the beginning of the summer, but it was nowhere to be found in my plastic bag of paper. WTF?? SNAFU!

Gerlach is hoppin, Brunos bar and motel full of cop cars, burner vehicles, the Miners club where I spent an evening with the Indian science teacher watching a triple overtime NCAA playoff basketball game last march; people spilling out the doors. I wend my way back to Elizabeth’s, looking for a quiet place to rest the night. No problem finding it but a big truck down the street has a noisy motor going, refrigerator truck for a food concession in a hastily thrown together marketplace for the burner hoard. I get Mitch on the cell, hes packing for Saline, no idea why the lights arnt working, oh well, ill be in the daylight tomorrow, no need to fix now. I tour the encampment, a food stand, and the huge parachute with a big stock of burner necessities, I buy 2 masks, and am armed for the dust storms with my doggles.

Pop the top on the camper and look around, all my accumulated camping traveling stuff here, chairs, portapotty, full kitchen, the refer, and comfortable bed and sleeping bags, all ready for beddy by. I mellow out, have some wine and snug in for the night lulled to sleep through the earplugs by the drone of the refer truck motor.

I’ve spent 10 years working on this arrangement and these things, all designed to make life in even the most remote wilderness a comfortable, well-equipped experience, nothing needed. A few forgotten items, like the insurance proof, but otherwise all set for a week in the desert.

Desert dawn breaks with shafts of god light beaming from holes in clouds, chilly temp, I look for coffee in vain at the village, and brew my own cup, pound down a couple of hard boiled eggs, then batten down the hatches for the trip into the event. I have a list, I check it twice, patrol around the camper and trailer, find all in working order, a promise made to myself after running over my laptop. Tune in the fm to the KBIR, the burning man radio station, and head into the fray.

Traffic moves smoothly into the playa, I pull out of line to take a picture of the sign at entrance, always a hoot and creatively different, and a guy runs out to me yelling “its dangerous out there! Come back tomorrow and get your picture” He must be kidding, or putting on an act, I snap a couple of the sign with the new “Terryproof” camera, an Olympus 8000 tough, advertised to be good to 30 feet underwater and shock proof, just what I need to document the dusty environment. The SLR Nikon can stay in its pelican case dust proof, for only the clearest days. No need to expose that expensive piece of technology and monster lens to the invasive desert environment. At last count I have destroyed 5 cameras during my career to various twists of fate. The canon was wiped out by a huge wave on the Zambezi, and I was very lucky to have a spare Nikon to finish Africa.

Entrance is slow but easy, a far cry from last year; we waited around in the sun for Cathy to get her ticket from will call for 2 hours, then had another flat, destroying a tire on Bob’s trailer. I find an empty gate at the greeters, stop and pick up the map and book and I’m off to find Saline central. At Detroit and 8:15 a huge space opens up with Sherry’s flags, and her car and tent parked lonely in the middle. She’s napping and I knock on her car, out she unfolds all 6 feet and flowing red hair of her, joyous to see me the first person to arrive. Sourdough Sherry, retired nurse from Silver spring Nevada, Saline stalwart, has reserved our spot in the sun for the duration of the event. A quick look around and listen, finds no loud camps nearby and I back in and settle in.

A mild windstorm kicks up, and it doesn’t look like a good time to set up a complete camp, so I bring out the rudiments, a table, the chairs, recliner and my new bombproof chair (well see).

Fun Fun Debbie blows in with Ron and Pete, 3 hours wait in line, hot and dry and immediately set up shade, chairs and settle in. Saline Bat signs set up to tell where we are, and more pack in, Sherry the parking director.

Unfurl the mt bike, another prized possession, dual suspension GT, vintage 1995, but a great playa bike, cow horns turned up for easy riding. No lock, but who needs one? Check headlights and im off.
Time to head out to Earth Guardians, to find Canyon and survey the realm. It’s a new lighter pavilion, bar at the back, displays all around info center and lecturn at the front, now with a sound system, great for my talk. Last year we had 250 people, lets see if we can get more this year. Canyon is decked out in Cowboy kitsch and is busy doing organization for the Hot Springs patrol, I make sure I’m set for Thursday night at the Black Rock camp, and then cruise to her neatly arranged camp with 32 foot trailer and air conditioning blasting.

I nap, we party, and agree to meet at a party for playa info later, drinks, and red are the theme, ill wear the pimpdaddy coat, a red shag number with glistening foil embedded randomly. They’ll love that. Also the Uncle sam hat with natty dreads will top it off. Back at camp, a great thump thump sound system has been set up behind us. I go over and talk to the head guy friendly and remind him of the rules, no big systems in camp areas. He agrees and we part friends

Great success the party, and a monster margarita sends me with a motly crew off into the playa to take in the scene. Fast conversations, with an older lady, 13 years at playa info, great fun experiences.
We are lit, feeling no pain, and out onto the playa to check out the scene. We tour the art cars lined up for inspection, many new ones, mostly ships, 50 feet or so, with lights, sound systems and people partying. Mirror man comes along, Mike Bilbo, the BLM chief interpreter, with a new set of mirrors covering his body like armor. The Tin Man come to life.

We head with the throngs out to the man, he’s looking great on a big high scaffold, outlined in neon a real spectacle. People are lined up climbing a set of stairs underneath and watching the scene. Art cars, blaring techo, costumes, lots a light wire all around, Mike’s looking for a special bar, but doesn’t find it, so Canyon and I head to my camp for mellowness and food. She’s bushed, and I am too, so we return to our camps and bunk down for the night.

up late, fix the sun shade and tarp over the camper, joshing with danee, bob, ffdebbie and a host of others. head off to cyns office to write brian about the ticket.

roam with canyon to the home brew place, free beer, you need a cup tho, we return for that, then do more rambling and find spankys wine bar, great old hits, i get spanked for not having a cup, (mine was full of beer) that hurt! many years from my last spanking

canyon has a meeting, but we agree to meet at playa info for their party, in red, ill wear the pimp daddy coat and top hat with dreads.

i find arcane in his shop, way out on the playa, no elizabeth, so i dunnoo if she goes tot the hotsprings tmw or not. he is deep in grease and a fuel pump, so i mosey to 9th and try to find leopard martini lounge hiddden in the back of someplace . find the deep end, now with a different name, but 500 or so people partying and huge sound system. back home to a quick dinner, and nap then off to the party. again no cup, i have to go back to canyons to fetch. after part of a margarita, i quit and we tour the art cars, all lit up now and belching flame, sitting there stalled by the bureaucracy, a slow down at dew.

we walk to the man and it is beautiful on a 3 story pedestal and much neon many colors. the crowd ebbs and flows and i head to camp, watching a 50 foot crystal of blinking light bulbs in all colors. great show. cruise in, little noise and sleep. at 3 get up and throng are still raging out there a n art car comes by blaring music. oh well back to the bed.
day 2 tuesday

Another day, more clouds and cool, just right for our enjoyment of the playa which we have experienced so hot and windy, downright uncomfortable, but we hardy souls can take it for the rewards in store. I rig the monster sunshade, cutting it in half cause silver bob arrived in the night and is parked next to me, leaking water from his drinking supply. He hit a cattle guard coming into Gerlach at 70 and it popped loose a pipe and we have a mud pond.

We visit, the polish woman’s army arrived during the night, she now split with abalone al, but mom and cousin are there spouting polish and handing out “polish camp burning man” buttons to all. The giving of gifts, one of the mainstays of the bman culture, I have a pocket full of orthoclase feldspar crystals I brought from Benton for trade.
Yesterday at the home brew stand I traded for an IPA. And got some wine and a spanking for not having a cup with me at Spankys wine bar. That hurt.

All the days are melding together, we get up, head out to the playa, and check out the art, then back to Earth Guardians, and Canyons lair, then more exploration. Central camp is always happening. With 3 stages, coffee and a center performance space, people doing hula hoops, which now is an art form, yoga, juggling, plastic balls rolling down arms over backs and then arms again, a new artform.

I check in at the BMIR radio main booth, a cool container. have a great time with the dudes there, recording my blurb for my talk, “be there” all in bman speak.

Back to Canyon’s for a cool nap and then out to the fray. Christine shows up and we talk about going out to the Black Rock, and she’s into it. Canyon is leaving Friday morning for Oregon, and will not be with us. Cathy has stayed in santa Barbara with more pressing things. So I need another person. I will go myself if necessary, but the prospect of getting away from the madness for a night in the silent desert, with the moon coming up late for light.

We spend Wednesday roaming camps, I find Leopard Martini Lounge and have a martin, woha, that was powerful! Stanford prof Elizabeth Miller was there, and her friend, we party, and I snooze back at the camp after joining in on the afternoon cocktail party, sparkplugged by the polish womens army. Donnee has set up with another woman and the whole gang is there, even the Hollanders, juke and kees, great friends.

I look in vain for my pack, I had it on last night, but it is nowhere around, has all my playa gear; doggles, mask, 3L water bladder, first aid etc, a loss. I check the lost and found to no avail. Damn, another disaster. I look in vain also for my power cord for my computer, it is gone too, might have been in the pack. This is a real loss, no way to write every day as I usually do. Damn. This losing shit has gotta stop.

Thurs morning prep for the campout. Christine is coming with which will make it much more interesting. I detach the shade structure and trailer and pack the loose stuff inside to weather the trek across the playa. Back to EG, all is ready for me to give my talk, Canyon has arranged our egress and ingress with a slip of paper for each of us, all we need but our ticket to get back in. I pickup Christine at 3 pm, then to EG for the fashion show, great costumes, Canyon in her cowgirl outfit, raging around being the king or queen pin of the hot spring guardians. We meet the others, and ready escape behind the EG van, going to the playa to distribute more guardians at hot springs.

We cruise into the vast expanse of the playa, 20 miles following confusing tracks, finally finding the right one headed to the Black rock. Two naked women are the guardians we are replacing. Short conversation, and we go on to the playacita, and instantly agree that a site on th e ridge would be ideal, 360 degree huge view mountains and playa all the way to the event site. We settle in, great conversations, great views of the sunset like a great orange across the playa, miles and miles of nothing out there. A lone vehicle heads north up the playa leaving a plume of white dust behind. I heat up the stewp and we devour it, absolutely delish. Washed down with zin.

Darkness falls, I blow off some mortors, and am not into rigging the fire launcher, so we cruise and crash, a faint thump thump from burning man and flashing lights 20 miles away, with the Black rock faintly outlined in the dark. (see photo)

We stir early, coffee, light bkfst, and we are off across the vast plain. We approach the fence, following the same path, and notice 3 trucks converging on us cornering us. After checking our credentials, we are led to the entrance gate, where we wait in line and check in again, and on our way back to the event. Another check for Arcane and Elizabeth at the mechanics outpost to no avail. And back into the fray, with the camping packed in, thousands of people wandering around. I drop my lecture stuff off at canyons and snooze on her bed; she is on her way to Oregon to yet another party for the weekend, back Tuesday oh well, we all have our priorities.

Im moved into canyons trailer, but return the truck to park in the Saline camp, re rig the sunshade and hang there for the rest of the day with forays out to find friends or have another cocktail party with the polish womens army, they are loud and raging, shouting about some wrongdoing. I hang with Tahoe Bob, Sherry, and share a bottle with Kees and Joke, my last one, oh well there is plenty out there. Ride the bike over to EG, snooze, then out onto the playa in the evening, getting really busy out there, art cars galore, now 4 big boat floats, cruising on the playa sea. Lights galore, fire sculptures, Big boom explosions, hoards of people. I walk the play exploring a stage with dances, juggling acts. The thunderdome is raging with people tethered on ropes thwacking each other with boffers, people clinging above on the frame of the dome, packed in on the ground, dust flying, faces grimaced in combat, techno music blaring. Back to the trailer to the AC and read and fall asleep on the soft queen bed of the queen of the desert.

Saturday, big day, I putter around at Saline camp, get bkfst, go back to the trailer and get set for the performance art of geology. I pack them in, 350 at best count, standing room only, and dozens of questions, the publicity worked. Another nap, out amidst a slight windstorm, nothing like previous years, we are blessed with a cool windless time.

Sit in front of EG, watching the crowd, the scene and talking to people, answering more geologic questions. I manage a fart, it comes out wet and I run leaking to the truck and shit is everywhere. Another disaster, this has gotta stop. Clean up in the EG shower in, no one there, great. Chug some Pepto and munch a couple of imodiums and im back in to the fray.

Walk to the burn, the frantic crowd packing around the barriers, I weave around among the art cars, do the complete tour around the circle, 50,000 people making a monster noise, lights, dance thing.

The burn starts after the man’s arms rise with a great fireworks display that goes on and on, then a huge explosion of fire and he starts to burn. A great symbol of the discarding of cares and time of catharsis. I wander around and see all I can see in the crowd and art cars, big sound systems, man what time energy and money goes into this.

Sunday, move out of the trailer, find my bike missing, someone wanted it more than I do, I left it in front of EG, that was a mistake. It was 13 years old, a heavy GT dual suspension bike, with many great memories, shit this disaster/loss thing has gotta stop. Getting the truck, I drive on to the playa to check out the temple, take some pix and inscribe Turtle Jim’s name on the structure to remember that great man.

Back to saline camp, hook up the trailer, try the lights, they work fine, something is fucked up with the wiring. Load up the trailer with camping gear, pack the camper and get everything set for an early morning departure, Tahoe Bob next door leaves at 3 am, so that should wake me up. We repair to the Lift truck for the temple burn with Sherry and Tahoe Bob, George and his son, a great view from far away.

Up at 3am with the roar of T Bobs van engine, fold up the camper check all sides, turn off the propane for safety, and off on the exodus, already a line at the road, but a short wait and im off into the empty quarter. Down the Smoke creek desert dirt road, the road of 3 flats, taking it easily to avoid that. Snooze at the reservoir, then on to the Hot springs, burners there, long soak and conversations about the event. Off down the road toward Pyramid Lake

. I was doing my favorite thing, cruising a scenic road in my 4 wheel drive Toyota Tacoma and pop top camper with trailer in tow thinking of great music over the xm stereo, planning a rib lunch in Sparks, parking the trailer at Mitch’s then with Christine’s support, flying to Tulsa to connube with Judy. A loud explosion from the back of the rig and a view of smoke and flames in the rear view mirror startled me from my reverie of desert scenery. Things went south fast, I jumped out to see the back of the camper and interior engulfed in flames, and no fire extinguisher, a paltry few gallons of water in the cooler and no one around for miles. All I could do is grab important things like the computer, projector, camera, a few clothes, a box with critical stuff: address books, checks, and a few other things. Then things started exploding around the cab, the propane tanks in the back, windows and I backed off. The initial explosion was the windows blowing out with the fire already raging inside. My phones were inside, along with my neck wallet with credit cards and new drivers lisence just replenished after losing my wallet in june. Now here is a real disaster, everything else pales in comparison.

No one around, so I just watch,take some pictures and some notes as to what was inside. Finally a pickup comes down a side road, the ranch kid takes one look and goes back to phone the fire dept, I know it is 30 miles away in Nixon, so have no hope of stopping the inferno. He returns with a crew to make sure a brush fire doesn’t start. Finally the police show up and the fire engine, mostly Indians. They start up the pump, but nothing comes out, a tap on the tank confirms that there is no water in there. The ranch crew has Backpack water sprayers, and they go to work on the brush and a few squirts on the carcass, a shadow of its former self. Oh well I was looking for another truck, looks like ill get one now.

I make a plan, tow the trailer to Christine’s, and stay there until she returns and somehow get id so I can get on the plane in 2 days to go to Tulsa. Finally AAA arrives with a strong woman-man team with a flatbed, after sending a regular tow truck by mistake. They go about the business of dragging the carcass onto the flatbed, cleaning up the site and hitching the trailer up with the original ball, a 1 7/8, I was able to take off the truck, much to their surprise.

We make the long trip to Sparks, slow on the dirt road, then to Christine’s. I talk to Mike, and we agree I’ll stay with him if I can’t get into C’s house. I can’t find the key,so I find a side window open and I’m in. She is still incognito at Burning Man, comes in at 3am, surprised to see me, and she understands and is supportive, helping me get a phone, money, the police report, a plan to get through tsa and onto the plane. Windy has my passport in Sonoma County and emails the image and my birth certificate to me at Christine’s. Mike is going to Truckee anyway to hang a painting, so I ride along get a new license from DMV (nobody there cause their computers were down this morning). I also go to B of A and get a debit card and use a check to put money into that account, have a beer with Mike at the Hilltopper where he has a display of paintings.

Early early Christine and I go to the airport and they except me seeing the birth cert and new license and my sad story backed up by police report and glossy photos, and I’m on the plane to Denver and Tulsa and into Judy’s arms.

How did it happen? They all asked, and I dunno, all I know is I was tooling merrily along the Pyramid lake road, fresh from a Burning Man with several disasters and triumphs, and a soak in the the Smoke Creek valley hot spring when all hell broke loose. Something ignited and caught fire in the back, I had some propane tanks, some strike anywhere matches, and waterproof matches, but we will never know. Mitch fetched the trailer the next day and it still sits at his place in Washoe Heights.

4571 words Copyright Terry Wright 2010

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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