Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Burning Man 8: The Last Leg

By now, you must be almost as glad we're almost to Burning Man as we were. I'll skip the rest of the drive on I80, because I slept most of the way through it, and I'm sure Dan will email me if there's something interesting. Suffice it to say that we hit the exit for the twin metropoli of Fernley and Wadsworth. It's kind of a screwy place, especially when you've been driving interstates for two days, but with the help of a local policeman/sheriff, we were on our way up the last road to Burning Man.

Let's take a minute to reflect on the oddity of Salt Lake City again. SLC's a huge city, and a beautiful one, even at night. The police there are no doubt professional, courteous, and kind. The Washoe Country sheriff's office patrols the highways and byways of an area that's not quite as unpleasant as it sounds, but is still pretty damn unpleasant. There are lots of mines, and miners, and bars, and domiciles I really can't help but call shacks. In essence, a town that looks like it can get rough at times. The people were, without exception, nice people, but we didn't meet any of them til well after this event. So my point is, why were we so much more willing to stop and talk to a cop (asking directions to Burning Man, for chrissake) in Wadsworth NV than we were in SLC Utah? Weird stuff. Maybe I'll expand on that later.

Anyway, there was a reprise of the excitement we first experienced when hitting the road in Oklahoma, a sense that there were no more fuckups to be made, and pretty soon we'd be where we were going. I was so happy to be off the interstate, in fact, that I completely forgot to be nervous about meeting all these artists and helping them do something I'd never in the world thought I'd be helping with. There was a lot of joking and laughing (slightly giddy laughter, too) and pointing out the windows and the beginnings of a discussion about what things would be like.

An hour and a half later, we're back to the way we were before--tired, mumbling guys who are both leaning close to the dash to see where we're going. We knew we weren't lost--there's no way to get lost. We certainly knew we hadn't passed it...we just hadn't realized it was so far off the beaten track. Or interstate.

It wouldn't have mattered much if we hadn't been racing the daylight to get there before dark. You pass within a quarter mile of Pyramid Lake, which is beautiful (and also, incidentally, one of the biggest pelican rookeries in the world), and there are lots of interesting geological and horticultural things to keep your mind busy. It's also free range cattle land, so there are also a lot of cattle guards and actual free range cattle standing on/near/within sight of the road. This is dangerous as all hell, if you're driving (especially at night), so SLOW THE FUCK DOWN if you're driving after dark. The shoulders of the road (nominally State Highway 447, if I remember right) are soft or nonexistent, and it's hilly country, so there's a) nowhere to swerve if you come up on a cow (or something) in the road, and b) no way to see very far ahead in the first place. I REPEAT: slow down. People don't die on the road every year, but I know several fatalities have occurred over the years.

So we kept it around 40 (or less, when the grades were too steep). After an eternity, it seemed, we approached Gerlach, officially the last town before Burning Man. That's when we started seeing Burners. The gas stations and the store and the shoulders of the road were covered with RV's, mutated cars, motorcycles, cop cars, hippies, goths, and the occasional bemused local who forgot what week it was. The town was/is small. I had the feeling that I saw more people parked waiting for gas and buying last minute items than the town normally supports through the entire year. And the event didn't even officially start til Monday.

I'd like to reiterate that the people of Gerlach and Empire (and even Nixon and Wadsworth/Fernley) have never been anything other than kind, helpful, and pleasant to everyone I know who's been. This was a little surprising to me, since if this sort of crowd showed up in Oklahoma, they would have been arrested on some kind of charge posthaste. Granted, there's been some trouble lately with the Zoning Board in the area, but I'll leave that for the BMOrg to tell you about.

We crawled through town, dodging buses, people, dogs and tumbleweeds (well, not really tumbleweeds, but it COULD HAPPEN, dammit), and hit the other side. And there, a few miles away, was the playa.

It's huge. It's much, much bigger than I thought it would be, and it was flat and featureless and dead white. I think it's around 200 square miles, if I remember right, but that doesn't do it justice. We drove 30 minutes before we even SAW the BM front gate--that may help out a little bit.

But that's what we did. We drove, and saw the sign, and turned off onto the desert floor for the first time.

The playa is, like I said, actually a giant alkali lake bed, which actually still gets some ponding on it during the winter months. It looks a lot like a cracked, dried Oklahoma lakebed, except it was white, whereas Oklahoma's is red. And huge, if I haven't made that painfully clear.

At this point, I began to worry about my ticket. We were in the middle of chaos, with campers, trucks, art cars, buses, RV's and various other vehicles competing to see which could cover the Greeters (the first bunch of people you meet when you come in, who welcome you home and give you a map and directions) with the most fine white dust. There were also a couple of people directing traffic, which was rather confusing because we didn't want to go where they pointed, but rather to the ticket counter...which was a small oasis of (relative) calm. Dan and I got out of the car, cracked a beer, and turned around to see a half dozen of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. They had an ice chest full of beer, a battery operated CD player, and not much in the way of clothing. Topless, in fact. They were, however, dancing like mad and punctuating things with reassuring rebel yells and shouts of "where's the pipe?"

At this point, I realized everything was going to be OK.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home