LEAVE by Damian
The sun isn’t up yet when Medium Tim sounds off “Woodstock is over, you dirty hippies! Escape from Black Rock City!”
I’m not quite coherent or cohesive when my body rises and begins stuffing things into a duffle bag. I don’t snap out of autopilot until Tim announces we should leave in 15 minutes.
God knows why I didn’t put more of my belongings in the truck yesterday. I’m taking apart my tent while brushing my teeth and getting dressed. There’s no way any of us are leaving in 15 minutes, but it is important we beat the Exodus. The line to leave Burning Man can be a brutal stretch of your sanity. I remember once being stuck in a car for 6 hours before even reaching the highway.
Of course, I also remember the time I got stranded here without a ride home.
And the year before that, a miserable few of us were left to breakdown the entire camp by ourselves. We didn’t finish until 4:30 am.
There are many terrible epilogues a burner can be dealt. If we can just dodge a few more bullets, we’ll have gotten away with murder.
I cram the last of my gear into the back of the truck and put the lock on. I’m climbing into the driver’s seat when I spot a familiar someone riding by on a bicycle.
Quick! What was her name?
“Francesca!” I call out. She glances back and skids to a stop.
“Gimme, like, 90 seconds,” I tell Tim.
“What the fuck, Damian,” he sighs. “You better make that shit count!”
Nearly falling out of the truck, I resist the urge to sprint to the black-haired girl in the road. She’s wearing a shaggy blue parka and has obviously been out all night. Still looking hot, though.
“You remembered me,” she croaks. Her voice is almost gone. “Good eye and good memory.”
“You make an impression on both.” She smiles, happier to see me than expected. Great smile.
“How was your Burning Man?”
“Relaxing,” I say. “Stress-free. Exactly what I wanted.”
“Your camp doesn’t waste any time, does it?” she asks as she looks over at the few straggler tents that remain of the Duckpond.
“We’re not big on long goodbyes. How long are you here for?”
“Leaving after the Temple burn. Will you be around for that?”
“Naw. I’ll leave it for the people who need it. Let the shushers and the chatterboxes duke it out.”
“Very generalizing. And which category would you fall into?”
“That would be ‘truck driver’. We’re about to haul away the camp’s parts and pieces in about a minute.”
“42 seconds!” shouts Tim from the truck.
“Well that’s too bad,” Francesca says. “You never came back to dance. Guess you’ll never know if I’m any good.”
“Guess not. Just like you’ll never know if I’m a good kisser.”
“Ha! Well I guess we have a burning conundrum.”
“You have a fiery lexicon.”
“So you think you’ve earned a kiss?”
“Oh, absolutely not. But seeing as how I reached out and seized such an unlikely gem of synchronicity today, it would be a shame to let such a rare playa moment go to waste.”
I can’t believe I just said something that stupid, but I don’t flinch.
She squints her eyes at me and says, “Maybe you earned a peck.”
“A little peck.”
Green light. I make this one count.
When I get back to the truck, the engine is on and Tim is scrolling through his phone for driving music.
Without looking up he says, “Nice to see you pull a rabbit out of a hat back there.”
“And for my next trick…” I say, shifting the gear into “D” and slowly rolling our asses out of the near-empty lot we called home for the past week.
The roads are so clear that staying under 5 mph is like a Zen exercise. I can’t believe there are no other cars. We’re actually beating the Exodus. I want to floor it so bad. I want to step on the gas before the Universe, the playa and God all change their minds. The entire way to the gate, we creep along like the Pink Panther behind the back of that guileless inspector.
And then, freedom. Open highway. I’ve never felt such triumph from something so unremarkable.
Leaving unscathed was our last stunt. We’ve had our fill. Next comes hot showers, warm beds and the glory of survivors mistaken for returning heroes.
Exit stage west. Restore default settings.