ARRIVE by Damian
It’s Saturday afternoon and we’re finally approaching Black Rock City. We’ve been on the road since dawn hauling our camp’s infrastructure in a rental truck. Our early morning disorientation was a fitting precursor. Now Pandora’s box is finally in sight and the familiar unreality is setting in.
My friend and driving partner, Medium Tim, is in the passenger seat looking dispassionately at the ever-slowing procession of cars in front of us. Don’t be fooled by the name; he’s 6’3” and built like an Alabama cinderblock shithouse. You’d never guess from his intimidating physique that he was a San Francisco software engineer with a heart of gold. (That proverbial heart, by the way, is cast entirely from the thin gold flakes that float in bottles of Goldschläger.)
Traffic has now slowed to a stop. We’re officially in line. A few people have gotten out of their cars and are socializing. One acne-scarred young man is walking aimlessly in a utilikilt without a shirt. His thin pale torso and unconfident posture suggest he doesn’t attend many outdoor festivals.
“No!” Medium Tim shouts. “It’s not time to party yet. Get back in your fucking cars! Express yourselves later. Or how about you don’t?”
I chuckle and he asks if that was mean of him. A cheesy rock song is playing on the radio. It will be the last of the non-electronic music we hear for the next week.
I glance over at the SUV next to us. There’s a man with long hair, a woman in a sequin-studded cowboy hat and a little boy in a child safety seat in the back.
“Well the good news,” I say to Tim. “is that we finally made it to Disneyland.”
“You got a problem with children?”
“I love children. Just not at the movies and not at Burning Man.”
“Whatever, dude. You’re a monster. Child-hater! You should just dress like Freddy Krueger and creep around Kidsville every night. They’ll beg their parents to never bring them to Burning Man again.”
“That’s so wrong… and genius. Let me rephrase this. There should be some limits to the age and/or number of kids running around out here.”
“So you’re not Freddy Krueger. Maybe just the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
“I’ve never actually seen that?”
“Are you shitting me? You’ve seen Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas 700 times but you’ve never seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? You are a goddamn monster.”
“I’m a child of the 90s. Fuck yourself. Look at that kid in the car next to us. He’s, what, 3? Does he really need to be here? How many parties would you bring a baby to?”
“My kids is a dog and she’s almost 20. That’s beyond octogenarian in dog years.”
“She looks good for her age.”
“I’m not on the pro-kid side of the debate,” Tim says. “There are too many fucking debates. I just like to bust your scrote. You’re always nostalgic for an era of Burning Man you’ve never been to.”
“Let’s not deny we’re in an age of decline here. We got the ticket lottery, plug-and-play camps, growing police presence, guerilla commodification stunts…”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve read your blog. It’s like the rantings of the Unabomber. You spend too much time feeding the Facebook trolls.”
“So you’re not cynical, Tim? This is like your 12th burn.”
“13th. And I am cynical. I don’t know if I’m getting everything out of it that I want anymore.”
“But we still come back. There’s still something here we can’t get elsewhere, right? Something more than the sum of its parts?”
Tim doesn’t answer. Neither of us subscribes to the myth that BRC is a utopia where everyone’s dreams come true. Make no mistake: You can be left to wallow in your misery like some archetypal tragic fool. Every year, burners come here with their hands out and their hearts open, ready for the playa gods to gift them some grand, serendipitous blessing. At the end of the week, more than a few find themselves alone in their own custom-crafted hell, holding onto the random pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit anywhere.
We’re almost to the gate when the DJ on the radio announces that someone has lost a cat. As he gives a description of the animal, the restrained contempt in the DJ’s voice suggests that his disgust at such an avoidable occurrence matches our own.
“Now I gotta worry about running over toddlers and cats,” I say. “God, wouldn’t that be fucked up? People die here every year, but if a kid died it would be a catastrophe.”
“You think that’d be the end of Burning Man?”
“Potentially. I don’t know. That would definitely be the end of the accused.”
“You would go to prison if you ran over a kid,” Tim says. “Even by accident, the courts and the media would crucify you along with the whole fucking event. They’ll say you were a anarchist and a hippie and someone will rape you in Nevada prison.”
“Are you saying I’d be raped because of the ‘anarchist/hippie’ label?”
“No, you’ll be raped for the label of ‘sweet meat’ you’ve got written all over your androgynous face. Quit worrying about yourself and your own violated poopshoot, you selfish bastard! The goddamn future of Burning Man is at stake here!”
“Eat a medium dick.”
We finally reach the ticket takers. I roll down the window and say, “What seems to be the problem, officer?”
The ticket guy grins. “Wanna tell me why you were going so fast?”
“My wife here is going into labor,” I say.
“I just need to make it to Camp Stork-n-Torque in time to have a safe and blissful delivery,” says Tim.
The ticket guy looks at the large, muscular man in the passenger seat and chuckles as he scans our tickets and early arrival passes. He says, “Newborns are always party-appropriate.”
I open the back of the truck to show him we’re not hiding stowaways or contraband. While I’m back there I retrieve my goggles and the over-decorated respirator I call a “riding mask.”
“Speaking of the Unabomber,” Tim mutters.
I say, “If you can’t handle the freaks, make haste exiting the kingdom.”
The ticket guy hands us back our papers and says, “Well you folks drive slow and have a good one. Welcome home.”
Tim screams “God bless us everyone!”
“That’s a mighty fine lady you got there.”
“She’s a looker,” I say.