Thursday, September 07, 2006

Reconstructing Burning Man, #2: Setting Up @ 9:20 & Guess

This is Part II of a series on my recent trek to the annual Burning Man fete in Nevada's Black Rock desert. If you haven't read the first segment yet, scroll on down and take a look.

[Note: All photos courtsey of the lovely Liz S. Why? It's a long-ass story, and well. Because.]

At dusk we finally found a spot at about 9:20 between Fate and Guess. Black Rock City is set up like a semi-circular clock—the wicker effigy, the Man, in the center and the avenues (2:00, 3:00, 4:30, etc) extend like rays around him. Streets are positioned like concentric circles and move out from the center to create makeshift neighborhoods. This year the names of the streets reflected the festival’s theme—future as the sum of our hopes and fears. (Destiny, Eager, Fate). The inner-most street, the Esplanade, is home to theme camps, dance clubs and art installations. (There was even a roller skating rink on the Esplanade—which came in handy. One of our camp-mates was the Washington State State Rollerskating Champion two years in a row and we finally pressured him into showing us his moves.)

So. Everything centers around the playa, pictured below. And on the playa are massive installation pieces, roving art cars, Center camp (where you can buy ice and coffee), and The Man.

It took us a while to find the right spot: we needed a big enough space for the others who were due to arrive later that night and the next day and we didn’t want to be too close to any thumping music. (Some of the camps played techno nonstop all five days we were there. Annoying enough two streets away, but it would have been hellish right next door.)

In the desert, as soon as the sun disappears, the air gets cold very quickly. So, in the dark and quickly icy air, we quickly set up our shade structure and three tents.

Now, R. and I used to have our own tent, but last year when we moved to Brooklyn we made the mistake of leaving it in our trunk overnight and the thing was stolen. (The latch on our trunk was smashed in the process so that we still can’t open it from the outside but need to use the lever on the driver’s side.) So we borrowed my parents’ old tent and, in the chaos around our departure we both neglected to open set it up on a trial run. Big mistake. They’re not the neatest nor most careful people, and last time they’d used this tent they’d packed it away wet. We unrolled it to find a stinky, mildewed mess. But okay. No big deal. We were in a desert. Probably the best place to dry out a moist tent. Right. Ah. But there was more. We had the wrong poles! So for about thirty minutes, M. and his two engineer friends struggled to figure out: 1) why the poles weren’t fitting this particular tent, and 2) how we could possibly make them fit. A few slits in the tent’s sides, a MacGyver-like geri-rig later and our tent was fully standing and fully roped down, secured with rebar hammered into the desert crust. (Desert winds can be brutal, I was told.) Otherwise we’d have had to turn around and head back to the Gerlach motel. M brought inflatable mattresses and we shoved those into our tents, tossed our sleeping bags on top and turned toward the already glittering city.

It was too late to get dressed up. Plus, we were still tired from the 7 hour drive from SF.

So we took our bikes down from the racks, decorated them with a few coils of glo-sticks, duct-taped flashlights to the handlebars and headed on out into the night. We took a quick tour around—first to visit the Man, then to take a quick peek at an installation piece/dance club we started calling The Waffle. (By Thursday night Uchronia, as we later learned it was called, was mostly set up and each night at dusk massive green lights shone up through its beams.) I felt like I was standing inside a giant’s game of pick-up sticks.

It was a quiet night and we spent hours cruising through half dark sandy streets, calling ahead to M2, the group’s fastest biker, as we darted from one loud party and flashing cluster of lights to another.

And then, at about midnight or maybe later (somehow, each night I'd think it was a few hours earlier or later than it actually was... I'd never been in the fucking ballpark) someone led me into this weird crowd just standing there in the dark, looking at the sky. I looked back at M and M2 and N who all just smiled, nodding gleefully. What the hell? I mouthed. Silence. Then whooossssshhh and above me gaps in a giant steel structure erupted into flames. It was a massive dragon, and the flames its vertebrae. Festooned partgoers all around me were equally agape, hundreds of us oohing and ahhing at the eddying light, all of us nestled together against the dragon's sizzling spine.

Tomorrow: The Bike Gang Forms, LED Lights & House of Lotus


Blogger Buttercup said...

How awesome you're having this adventure. I want to be camping too!!!!

Keep up the posts.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Camie Vog said...

"MacGyver-like geri-rig"! What a picturesque description.

This place looks so cool. Thank you for telling us all about it. Since I don't think I'll be able to go anytime soon, due to kids, reading your fun is the next best thing.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trying to post again.

I wanted to say once more Thanks for taking the time to write in such detail...I want to know everything!

You have singlehandedly made Burning Man a possibility for me now. I am far less daunted now, thinking about going. (though I would want to go with a gang too.)

10:54 AM  

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