Friday, February 20, 2004

Burning Man 20: Sunrise/The Black Car

By the time I got down and stole a beer from the Boyscouts (remember kids: always brush your teeth after drinking absinthe), the sun was bright enough for me to navigate by. I was cold, VERY cold, but since I was moving around it wasn't debilitating. Since I didn't feel like going to bed just yet (in part because I couldn't bear to unzip the tent and see Dan's snoring face), I popped another hit if A and set about gridding the camp.

Gridding the camp, also known as "moop patrol," also known as "cleanup," is the process smart Burners (or any Leave No Trace people, I suppose) use to make sure their camp is GONE at the end of the week. Basically it means examining every square foot of bare ground and removing anything that doesn't belong ("moop" = Matter Out Of Place). Everyone's supposed to do it at the end of the week, but smart people do it every morning. I'd unilaterally decided that was one of my jobs, since, well, since I felt like it. Tidiness is not a personality trait of mine, so I didn't really derive much pleasure in it. Maybe I felt part of the community by doing it. I'm certainly not anti-environmental, and I definitely wanted this party to be around next year, so it seemed like a no brainer to do whatever I could to keep the blowing trash to a minimum.

The whole damn CAMP was only 75' x 100' (if I remember correctly), and I was still fairly sharp eyed from the drugs and had nothing but time on my hands. The result was that in an hour I had a handful of PVC shavings, slivers of celluloid film, and one bottle cap. I was just finishing up (and in fact was contemplating whether celluloid was recycleable or not) when Dan coasted into camp on a bicycle. He looked pretty well worn down, which I think is a necessary thing for him to get any sleep at all, but completely blissed out. He gestured ambiguously towards the brightening horizon, then pushed the bike over on the ground and staggered to the tent.

Now, I hadn't been on a bike in something close to 15 years, and you guys can laugh, but I'd NEVER been on a bike with more than one gear. Nevertheless, I started pedaling east, hoping to reach the fence before the sun got up over the horizon.

By the time I hit the open playa, I realized that I was really, awesomely, out of shape. Shortly after that I began to grok that this place was actually HUGE, that is, I was going to have to hump it to get out to the fence in time.

This was made doubly difficult because of all the interesting stuff that had been thrown up out there:

1) A wall of TV's, 25' tall and 25' long. None were on at that time.
2) The beginnings of a tower of human urine.
3) What looked like a three hundred foot long clothesline draped in rags.
4) Off in the distance, a pair of hundred foot long dominoes.
5) Christmas lights on a set of poles.
6) A four foot pedestal with a six inch sculpture of the Man rotating in it.
7) The Man (under construction, but still pretty impressive-I didn't stop yet to admire him).

And the strangest thing of all, way the fuck out past the dominoes, the Man, and everything else: Some sort of mid-forties era car, painted matte black, except for the windows. It was pointed directly into the rising sun, and had mannequins in the front seat. An old woman and an old man, the old woman with brass-framed round glasses, and the old man with a long, cottonly beard. They looked like Santa and Mrs. Claus, only in street clothes.

My curiosity got the better of me, and I circled around for another view, this time closer. The dummies had their eyes closed, and had been positioned in the car to present the illusion of repose. Weird. What was this supposed to represent? Why the car? Obviously, someone had taken quite a bit of time and expended a lot of effort to get the car out here. Why leave it out in the middle of nowhere and throw a couple of weirdly lifelike mannequins in it? Why was it facing east? What, Gentle Reader, was the point?

I circled again--much closer this time, and finally decided there had to be something I was missing. I pulled up next to the driver's door, and peered into the car.

The male mannequin opened his eyes.

We scared the shit out of each other. I pedaled away, fast, and never looked back. On my way in from the fence, the whole thing was gone.

I made the fence just a little late. Close enough for my purposes, though.

It's kind of hard to figure out which way to face, when you're out there at the top of the U. The sun's coming up, and it's reflecting off of the white alkali lakebed (the playa, remember?), and simultaneously fingering its way into the sky. The playa stretches off to the horizon, so at times you can imagine that if you walk far enough, you could walk right into the sun.

On the other hand, if you turn around and face generally west, you can see the whole event spread out before you like some vast carnival. Heat shimmers start showing up an hour after sunrise, at times, so if you squint real hard it's almost like a mirage.

The fence is a pretty mundane thing, until you start thinking about it. It's made of tposts and orange construction fence, and it's only about 4' tall. It's not made for keeping people in or out, except inasmuch as it's a pretty effective marker of where our city limits is. Out past the fence is, well, another country--and by the time you've been living with these people for three or four days, a very strange and slightly frightening country it is.

The most effective thing about the fence is that it keeps a lot of trash from blowing out of the area. I hear it's pretty interesting to walk the fence every morning, and see what's collected there overnight, but I've never done it.

On the way back, I skirted where the black car santa claus sun worshippers had been and wound up close to the huge dominoes. By this time, the sun was completely above the horizon, and I was starting to warm up a bit, but the acid was starting to wear off, for good this time. I was mortal, and hungover. I probably looked a lot like Dan Pugh--utterly drained, but completely blissed out.

As I approached the dominoes, I heard the steady thump-thump-thump of dance music, which although I'm definitely no dancer still attracted my attention. What the hell were these people doing up dancing at 8am?

It soon became apparent that there were about 10 people who were not only dancing, they were playing with fire! Five or six fire spinners (fire poi, I guess), a couple of jugglers, and a fire eater.

This finally popped my bubble, although I was still utterly happy and content. Twelve hours ago I had felt like we were Artists--Kings and Queens of Burning Man, showing people how things were done. Now, as I was pedalling slowly back to my tent, to sleep, I run across the better part of a dozen people STILL dancing like dervishes and juggling fucking FIRE.

We were good, and I thought we'd be much better as time went on, but for sheer energy and spirit we were so low in the food chain that I couldn't even see the top. I rolled back into camp a half hour later, exhausted and content. Don't ask me where I slept, or even IF I slept. My mind was awhirl with the events of the night and morning...and things hadn't even started happening yet.


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