Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reconstructing Burning Man

I'm still feeling like shit--how does one get the flu in the desert??--but don't want to put off writing about Buring Man for too long lest the details skitter away like desert sand.

So I'm going to do this slowly, in parts, over several days. Pictures will come later. Due to several personal (uh. sloth) and financial (uh. we're broke) I'm still digital camera-less, but no worries, pictures of Vacaville and some of Burning Man will arrive shortly.

As you all know, R. and I spent several days in Vacaville visiting my sister where she lives on a lesbian owned and operated organic farm. The chicks I met there were all very interesting and intelligent. The surrounding ranchers were also unexpected. One conversation I overheard: rancher X says to organic farmer A., "You know when people ask me how I can take a whole herd of cattle I've spent such long hours caring for to slaughter, I say I see them as objects, as commodities. But when that cow died this morning--in breach, lost the calf too, I realized there must have been something else to it. It ruined my whole fucking day. Even now--" and here he looked out over the clear-skied Pleasants Valley--"I can't get it out of my mind. So there must be something." All this while picking peaches.

Sunday night our friend M. drove out to Vacavillle and spent the night and next morning with us. Then he and R. drove west to Napa to go wine tasting. I stayed behind with my sister and worked in the fields beside the others that afternoon and the entire next day. There was a seductive meditative quality to the work--picking and packing and moving down one row to the next. The hot sun beating down and talking quietly with your co-workers. But I don't know if I could have done it a third day. By that night my fingers were all cut and dirty, my nails ripped, my back sunburnt. I was so tired I just collapsed onto that bed in the camper-van. (G. lives in a yurt. R. and I stayed in an empty camper van further toward the creek.)

On Tuesday evening G. drove me back into SF and we met R. and M. at the Marina where M. was playing in his weekly volleyball game. We ate Thai food and then G. headed back east to Pleasants Valley. I showered, had a glass of wine from the bottle R. and M. had brought back from Napa and helped the boys load up our van and car with more than enough supplies for five days in the desert. (Hmmm. Four cases of baby-wipes. What did they think was going to happen out there…?.) My mind was racing--with the things I'd learned out at the farm and about what to expect tomorrow at Burning Man.

But also: a weird sense of urgency... that I was at the edge of something. And that it was almost too late. For what I had no idea. I'm still not entirely sure, but... Well more on that later.)

I collapsed onto the blow-up mattress M. had set up for us in his office. I fell asleep thinking about the years past--about grad school when many a night M. and R. and I had stayed up all hours drinking and smoking pot and talking about literature and art and TV and people in our classes and whatever the fuck came up and then years later when the three of us had joined together to form a makeshift publishing company called Collective 3 and published a single book, In Thirds, with excerpts of my novel, R.'s novel, and M.'s poetry. How good that had felt and how much I'd missed my friend since he'd moved to SF. And how even though we still get to saw him several times a year--more than we ever did in Cville--it still never seems like enough time.

We were friends, true, but really more like family. Kindred spirits, I suppose, but that sounds too trite, too Ann of Green Gables. And now we were heading into the desert to seek our visions together. I honestly don't think we would have gone out to Black Rock with anyone else. But when M. says something's important. Well, we both just trust there must be something to it.

And then it was light. But that kind of weak SF light, barely there, soft and dim. Tiptoeing in on little cat paws….

We loaded the last of our gear into the van, downed a few espressos (I think I've mentioned before that M. has an espresso machine in his apartment) and went over to pick up his friend, N. N. is an Israeli, a fellow SF-techie, and had gone to Burning Man with M. last year. A soft-spoken, intelligent man who's not only seen more than his share of fighting but has also traveled the world… Getting to know N. was one of the most unexpectedly wonderful things about the trip.

I got into the van with M., R. hopped into the car with N., and we were off, down Route 80 toward Reno where were to pick up M2 at his parents’ house. Talking with M. for the four-hour trip to Reno was a relief. I've been kind of lonely here in NYC this past year.... Meeting people in a new city when you work at home isn't the easiest. And to find myself sitting next to someone who knows me so well, who loves me despite my myriad eccentricities… Well. I’m sure you all know how it goes. He's known me long enough, knows my family, R., R's family, so that I don't have to waste time explaining the details of stories. I can launch straight into reflection, straight into the meat of a tale. Straight into how my view of something or someone has changed and why. That's the best thing about old friends, I suppose: that you don't have to provide back-story. They already know what's happened before and how it affected you. Usually better than you do.

Then we arrived in Reno and picked up M2. M2's parents own a cleaning business and their garage, where the coolers were being stored, was lined with cleaning supplies and products. I was still a little sleepy (I'd started to nod off a little by the time we'd reached Truckeee) but remember leaning over a cooler of dry ice, then gazing up to look at M2 as he spoke, seeing rows of cleaners and megarolls of trash bags angling away from his head like in some hybrid supermarket. Eerie.

We were off. East of Reno then due north into the desert. Soon we were on a one-lane road, desert to our left and right, sandy mountain ridges around us. When we cruised past Pyramid Lake in Piute country, M. called us on the walkie-talkie (after Reno he hopped in with N. and R. and I drove the rest of the way together) to say, hey, shit, look at that desert mirage.) The icy blue water danced past us. It was getting hotter. The sun brighter and sharper than I’d ever seen before.

And then we hit Gerlach. We stopped for gas and a soda and to pee. People were congregated outside. Everyone all excited and every once in a while a chick decked out in a funky hat strolled by. All anticipation. All nervous chatter. I bought some pretzels and devoured them. I was on the edge of a strange pool just aching to jump in.

We got back into our cars and drove the remaining fifteen miles to Burning Man. Our walkie-talkies were crossing channels with another caravan. A stranger told a story about friends of his who, after Burning Man, settled in Gerlach for two years and had a baby out here. So what's worse, this stranger queried: To choose Gerlach or to be born into Gerlach. A few miles out we saw a massive dust storm kick up on the desert floor. By the time we hit the line of cars snaking back from the gates, the storm was in full force and we stalled. For two hours we stood still. Talking back and forth with our walkie-talkies, then donning our goggles and dust masks, we headed out into the make-shift parking lot.

I saw cars altered to look like metallic armadillos with six-foot penises, women wearing cowboy boots and little bitty skirts, their bare breasts painted to look like pursed mouths. I saw a man saunter past, his ripped T-shirt barely covering his naked groin and others with full gas masks, covered in sand and leather and metal. All against a whited-out landscape. Everyone wearing gas masks and dust masks and full goggles. MadMax meets Tatouine.

Dance music thrummed through me.

Where was I? What kind of place had M. taken us to?

Finally the dust settled enough for us to see across the desert to the mass of tents huddled together and the lights, strobe and day-glo and bright as hell, just beginning to gleam in the darkening air. We inched our cars forward to the gate. R. rolled down his window and a man, dressed in an exact replica of Britney Spears’ naughty catholic schoolgirl’s outfit leaned in and drawled, “Welcome Home.”

Tomorrow: We settle in. 9:20 between Fate and Guess.


Blogger Red said...

Almost as good as being there! Can't wait for the second instalment (and I hope both you and R are on the mend...).

2:24 AM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Oh wow, that was incredible. I am all watery eyed.

"Welcome home."

I relate to the feeling of a new place and not knowing anyone...very much my situation here. And I relate to the feeling of relief of being with a freind who just simply knows you, but doesn't box you in either.

I too, hope you are feeling better and I can't wait to next posts...

10:56 AM  
Blogger Wandering Coyote said...

Wow. Excellent first installment. I enjoyed reading about your reconnecting with your college friend. Looking forward to the next chapter!

5:55 PM  
Blogger Camie Vog said...

Glad to have you back! I've been looking forward to hearing about your trip. Sorry to hear that your ill. I hope your sickness didn't impose on your trip.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Minerva Jane said...

I am actually feeling much better. Don't know if it was a bug I picked up at my sisters (she and the other two farmers were both sick when I got there) or some nasty flu I heard was going around at BM. Either way, thank god I didn't really start to feel sick until the day we left.

10:04 PM  

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