Day 1 (Getting) THERE
I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. I am going to Burning Man. It’s really true.
The day started like any other. I got my son up, made sure he had breakfast and a lunch and got him off to school, except this time the van was full of supplies for the Playa.
“Bring me back some stuff!” He says when he gets out. I smile, and tell him to be good.
A couple of hours later, I’m on the road with my riders heading toward the Playa. My riders are Amy, a 13-year Burner with serious art construction cred, and Mia a college girl newbie with aspirations to work in Community Arts. She marvels at us, as Amy and I giggle our way up Interstate 80, singing along with the playlist made especially for this journey. After a couple of brief stops, we finally turn off at mile marker 43 in Nevada just east of Reno.
Amy turns and tells Mia, “this is where the real journey begins.”
“She’s right” I agree.
“What do you mean?” Mia asks.
“You’ll see.” I say.
As we turn in Wadsworth onto the road that takes us to Gerlach the landscape is suddenly a beautiful pastiche of browns, tans and sage against a very blue sky. We take our time on this road. Not only are the speed limits strictly enforced, but this is where the most accidents occur. People get so excited to be on that road that leads to our destination, that they forget themselves and perhaps what’s safe or, they aren’t that conscious about it to begin with.
The road is two lanes, narrow, long and mostly straight. It’s agonizing. We want to be there so badly, but I force myself to drive a sensible speed, partially because I have the responsibility of passengers and partially because I couldn’t afford the two front tires my mechanic recommended.
We pass by an impossibly blue lake, familiar rock formations, and land that to me feels enchanted. It’s tribal land. I recognize that we are visitors, passing through and do everything I can to do so with respect and care.
At this point, my lack of foresight has deprived us of music. I realize I forgot the iPod charger. All we can do now is look at the road before us, and anticipate. To pass the time we tell our best Playa tales. Amy’s are great. She tells how her friends came to the Playa in a cab once from Reno after rolling their car. The fare was something like $200. My tales aren’t nearly as interesting. I just talk about how excited I am to be on my first kid-free Burn. “I’ve never gone with absolutely no responsibility to anyone else,” I say. “Monday, I was daydreaming about being able to do this one day, and today, (Thursday) it’s true.”
We have to make one more, brief stop before we get to Gerlach and then to the Playa. I have to see my Indian Taco lady, whose stand I have stopped at every year. She sees me jump out of my van and waves through the window at me.
“Where are the babies?” she asks.
“Grandma’s” I grin back.
After a very brief moment of confusion, she smiles back at me. “Good for you!” She says.
I only buy a 7up, and promise to stop by on the way out. We really want to get there.
Amy and I begin groaning at the road, that appears to be never ending. “Just after that ridge.” We say. “No that one.” The drive is much harder in daylight. At least at night you can see the glow of lights ahead. We keep hoping for the towns of Empire and Gerlach to appear. The giddiness and anticipation is almost unbearable when they finally do.
That’s it!” Amy says. “That’s where we are going.” Mia looks confused. “I thought it would be bigger.” She says. “No honey, that’s just the portal, if you will.” I clarify. “You’ll see.”
We pass through Empire and it’s sole store, and then Gerlach, which now offers some sort of Playa supply flea market. We wave at the locals, who smile and wave back, and finally, make the last turn before we get there.
“That’s where we’re going.” I explain to Mia as Amy frantically tries to find BMIR on the radio. We are driving beside an expanse of pale, flat nothingness. “That’s the Playa,” I say.
Thirteen miles later we turn onto the Playa itself. Amy and I cheer as we do. There is almost no line to get in, and I could easily drop my riders and go, but I decide to wait for them at Will Call so I can drive them in too.
There are a few people outside the gate holding signs, pleading for tickets. Some people just can’t stay away and come on hope. Before long, Amy and Mia both have their tickets and we are admitted in.
“Welcome home!” is what the greeters always say. We get out, and hug our greeters like long lost friends with good Playa Hugs that always feel real and sincere. Mia still looks confused. “Do you know them?” she asks. “No. This is just home.” I say.
BACK Day 1
I woke up tired and somewhat disoriented. My desert metabolism is confused, as is my inner routine. Instead of thinking about finding shoes to go to the port-o-jon I force myself up to make sure Nolan got up for school. The default world came crashing in on me last night as I realized that the van really needs those tires now. Plus with the distraction of unloading and cleaning, I hadn’t noticed we got new neighbors just a couple of doors down. We’ve already had a shooting, my 19-year-old tells me. “Great.” I say. It’s then that I notice there are cars lined up and down the street and no fewer than 50 kids in their yard, making all kinds of ruckus. This morning I realize why. Instead of cars outside the house, it’s limos, and everyone is wearing black. They had a shooting all right. And it was just three doors down. Nolan gets picked up for school, and I sleep a little longer. My body just does not want to cooperate in this environment. Finally when I do get up, everything feels foreign, and almost heavy.
My inner routine is off. Instead of goggles, facemask, sunscreen and water, I struggle to find keys, cell phone, wallet and ferry pass. It takes me forever to get out of the house, so I can limp my poor van to the mechanic for new tires. After dropping it off, I walk to the ferry terminal and observe how different the sound is. No joy, no frivolity, no laughter no thumpa-thumpa coming from insane art cars. If there is any music at all, it’s a more oppressive, bow-chick-bow of gangsta-rap. The walk to the ferry feels so much different than my morning treks on the Playa. The only song I really hear along the way are the high pitch moans of red-winged black birds that have taken residence in front of the ferry building, where I go to wait for my boat that will take me to work.