Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (8 of 8)

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 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.

Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (3 of 8)

LOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE by Pinball

So I know what they say about me. Just between you fine readers and myself, about 80% of it is kinda true. The trick is to shift that 20% bullshit in the right places. Don’t be fooled: Bullshit is not always a problem. It can be a cosmetic. Your job. Your family. Your social circles. It’s always one unspoken masquerade or another. If you keep your mask on and dance well, you will be rewarded. Burning Man is no exception. Amongst the desert-goers, we construct “playadentities” on a number of levels. They’re like art cars for your ego.

I didn’t invent these rules and I never claimed to be good at them. Judge me all you want. Consider any sense of moral superiority I inspire in you as my gift to the community. Everything I’m going to tell you is true, but you didn’t hear it from me.

But in the spirit of honesty, my memory of most of the week is a dusty fucking blur. The chronology is especially hazy, so I’ll condense what I can into a fast-forwarded approximation:

Alright so my camp the Duck Pond is having our Early Bird Sunday night party. We’re balls-deep in a full-tilt rager by the time the gates are scheduled to open. The Pond may spend all year sharing duckie photos but when the clock strikes partytime they’re All-Pro. Madrone asks for my help moving Freddie who drunkenly passed out in the wrong tent. Turns out he got dosed with date rape drug but luckily Freddie didn’t get fingered. I meet a girl with blonde dreadlocks who might’ve qualified as my “Mondaynighter” if we had bonded more. We slam shots of bourbon, share vitamins in my tent, make out and I crash. Next thing the sun is up and I’m pissing behind some cars with NO MEMORY of getting up to pee. When I get back to my tent the girl is gone but this isn’t a problem. I ponder this mystery a few seconds before sleeping off a few more hours of the inevitable hangover. After I can no longer hide from consciousness behind my eyelids I go sit at our front porch. This area of community shade has become cozy with hammocks, a table stocked with booze, a bean bag chair and an unnecessary sign that reads “FRONT PORCH” (which I wonder if belonged to the camp known as the Front Porch). Plenty of lush trappings that can lull you into a self-congratulatory stupor, but like all things at Burning Man it’s refreshing in moderation. I have a strange conversation with Bolivar who won’t come out of his tent for some reason which is probably self-pleasure related. He’s an intense weirdo who thinks he’s a tough guy. Some people think his outfits are clever, but I’m not the only one from whom he earns blank stares. I try to be nice even though he’s too old for the angry college dropout vibe he gives off. Whatever. It’s his problem and we’ll go on pretending to be friends for years. I leave camp and head over to the French Quarter. It’s impressive and the 2nd story balcony is packed. Advertised treats include coffee, lemonade and gumbo but I have no patience for the long lines and move on. The air is dusty but hardly apocalyptic. Center Camp is as uneventful as ever and host to a more undesignated breed of burner as I weave through the hula hoop aficionados, capoeira show-offs and the Black Rock equivalent of street urchins. I hit my threshold for sage and B.O. before finding a punk rock show on the back of a flatbed truck with a DPW mosh pit next to a dragon art car. I stop at a bar called Homojitos which I didn’t immediately recognize was a gay bar. I stay for a mojito anyway (excellent) and converse with the bartender while another man with a camera takes about 40 photos of me. On the way back to camp I spot a massage workshop with a posted schedule which I note but never revisit. The daytime party at the Pond is raging so I stick around. Melanie (who I’d made an effort to be nicer to) haplessly fucks up our tenuous rapport by telling me my “work ethic has greatly improved this year.” God knows why she thinks her opinion is important but I consider that her problem. I meet a cute college senior from Vancouver who studies film. Back at my tent, we discuss Guillermo del Toro movies and her budding bisexuality before we make out. I jot down where she’ll be later which I promptly but unintentionally forget. Later I enjoy my campmates’ anecdotes, jokes and little white lies like fine hors d’oeuvres before dinner, which consists of a lovely Cuban spread. I ask Joe if I should feel guilty for kissing a 21-year-old but he assures me that she should feel grateful. I stuff my face like a hog and lay in my tent where I start to dream before I’ve fully fallen asleep. 4 hours later I wake up mumbling about fascist dystopias before slamming an energy drink and meeting Jason for a night ride. Turns out he’s a formidable road dog whom I hadn’t gotten to know before. We drift from one sound system to the next and find some people with a flat tire. Amazingly Jason has a spare tube in his hydration pack along with a pump. He fixes the wheel, saves their night and thinks nothing of the deed. We discuss life, women and Alaska as we cruise the playa and I silently reassess my own merits. Robot Heart is rocking out as the dawn shines its rays on our night-weathered faces. I spot the blonde dreadlocked girl I made out with earlier snuggled up with an older guy on an art car/giant chair known as Chairman of the Bored and I decide not to wave. Leaving my bike I wander aimlessly until I come face-to-tentacle with El Pulpo Mechanico aka the Steampunk Octopus. Its originality, craftsmanship and very existence is awe inspiring and represents everything I believe is right about Burning Man but I am absolutely unmoved by the wonder I find here which is a sign of me being dead inside and possibly having a problem.