TOOK ME 30 HOURS TO GET OUT OF Black Rock this year.
shredded truck tires, full ignition-system meltdown, minor air-cleaner
fire, and several hacks to my brake and taillight wiring seemed
about what I deserved for attempting to drive, once again and
against its will, my 1969 junkyard crane truck home after attending
the Burning Man festival, two hours north of Reno, Nevada. But,
as is often the case, the event was not quite done with me: When
I got home and opened my e-mail, I found this -- already on its
1,000th or so bounce around the Burning Man e-mail ecosystem:
Tuesday at noon and going until 7 in the evening, the playa had
the worst whiteout conditions seen in the history of the event
in Black Rock. Whatever was not packed up by noon is now under
one inch to 18 inches of dust. They are having another whiteout
today, including gusts of up to 100 MPH.
are very serious conditions. We all have friends still on playa,
who are having to deal with this. The lucky few of us who got
out in time are home, rested and clean. If we can find it in our
bodies, souls and pocketbooks to go BACK to the playa now, the
project and our loved ones need us.
better to participate than to go rescue our friends, the DPW (Department
of Public Works), and the project in general? Hands are needed
to clean up MOOP (Matter Out of Place), help pack up camps still
left on playa, and guard piles of stuff against the scavengers,
which are everywhere, sadly.
the time I read this dispatch, it was too late to return. I had
already lived through the cataclysm; I was one of those who didn't
get out in time. I sat through the dust on Tuesday and Wednesday,
watching firsthand from the cab of the crane truck. I watched
as everything got buried and generally destroyed. Waves of blinding
white alkali scratched over the cab as my truck reeled with each
blinding gust. Loading anything ä was out of the question.
Trying to sleep in any vehicle was like trying to nap in a Shop
Vac -- running. No one could leave. You couldn't see for more
than a couple of feet. It was like being incarcerated, against
your will and better judgment, in one of the largest expanses
of open horizon in North America.
while I watched it, I remembered: This is what always happens.
is now clear that the first Tuesday after Labor Day causes large-scale
meteorological disturbances in northern Nevada -- disturbances
that result in high winds and the accompanying dust storms across
most of the Black Rock desert playa, the site where Burning Man
has arguably ended a day or two before. It's happened every year
for the last eight years, without hiccup. The old-timers will
even tell you that, back in the day, the wind blew twice that
hard, in both directions, simultaneously, and the dust was actually
more like sharpened volcanic pebbles dislodged and propelled from
the surrounding mountains. It went right through car paint and
blue tarps, chafing the skin to blood at 103 feet per second.
those who stay late know, the dust storms are key: Each year they
create a desert full of front-row seats for a performance in which
people you know and respect snap in curious and revealing ways.
The BMan literature makes claims for the transformative nature
of the event. But, in reality, the event is only the necessary
prelude for the real show: Eight days of no sleep, lethal dehydration,
substance abuse, unrequited sexual aggression, camp drama, faux-fire
warfare and heroic art catastrophes leaves everyone hanging on
a thin sliver, right and ready to deal with the skin-stinging,
eye-blinding and breath-preventing reality of a good dust storm.
And this is where the real tests begin.
it takes is about two hours of dust on Tuesday before things start
heading south on a screaming pulse jet. Within six hours, I get
in my vehicle (if it still runs) and start the camp tour to enjoy
the now-real scenes of the apocalypse and the generally accelerating
disassembly of humanity. Faint figures in full desert wrap quietly
scrounging discard piles for goodies contrast harshly with screams
of frustration as large metal objects are heaved into the backs
of U-Haul trucks. It quickly becomes clear who has "crossed
over" and lives in the desert, and who needs to get the hell
out of there and back to work.
dull truth is that, this year, as with every year, the Burning
Man Department of Public Works needed no concerned urban youth
to return to that chaos in a shiny Honda Civic, hoping to rescue
a DPW desert-hardened warrior, fingers deep in the mechanics of
a chopped Dodge Power Wagon. The trajectory of rescue would have
quickly been inverted.
DPW builds the site of Burning Man from dust and will return it
to dust before the real rain sets in sometime in November. All
traces of our creative excess will be erased, and the stillness
of Black Rock will be all that's left to thank them. As the DPW
announced several days later in an e-mail: "Curb your e-mails,
enjoy being home AND STAY THERE."
our recommended Condition Alpha Survival
our personal account of surviving Condition
Alpha at Burning Man 2002.