Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Burning Man 24: Meeting The Man

I wandered for some time out into the desert, tripping my ass off and enjoying the big installments. The huge clothesline-lookin' thing I'd seen my first morning out turned out to be some sort of huge wing, or rather it transformed from clothesline full of rags to a horizontal array of frighteningly loud...somethings. I don't know. I was too scared to get close to it--it was really singing, and I figured since most of OUR shit had already blown down, I'd be smart to stay well out of range of any snapping cable. If any of that canvas (or whatever it was) came loose, it'd wrap me up and tumble me into the fence, untold miles away.

OK, that's an exaggeration. I think the whole event is in an area of about 5 square miles, but it's hard to grasp size when you're in the midst of a flat white plain.

My next stop was The Man. I hadn't seen him at night from up close, so that seemed appropriate--after all, two nights from now I'd be witnessing his immolation.

The amount of engineering that goes into that thing is really hard to grasp until you've at least tried to build a seven foot PVC cube that will withstand winds like we saw that year. Imagine a wooden structure, about 45 feet tall, balanced on two points. Maybe they weren't points, exactly, but they sure as hell weren't snowshoes. Now imagine this entire thing is covered in neon, and has to be somewhat articulated (the arms stay down during the week, then get raised above his head on Saturday night), and absolutely CANNOT fall over.

As a side note, I've got some friends in Reno that want to sneak in and burn the thing down a couple of nights early. There are times when I think being a part of this would be the high point of my life, and there are times when I cringe at the thought--mostly because the thought of those crazy bastards from DPS on the hunt for us out in the desert (their desert, let's face it) is genuinely scary.

I don't know. The Man is a little anti-climactic, in a lot of ways. I mean, he represents a lot of things to a lot of different people, but it's hard to stand out there in the cold and be consistently awed by a big glowing matchstick. So I headed out to the fence.

Being out at the fence at night is probably the most impressive thing you can do, except maybe being out at the fence at night on the top of Daud's bus. Or being out there with the love of your life, and...well, never mind. That wasn't this year, at any rate, and getting out to the edge and seeing just how huge and crazy the whole thing had gotten in just two days was enough to make me sit down crosslegged and spend a few minutes fumbling around for some more LSD. Which I found, then had to wait another hour before it kicked in.

Words can't describe it. At least I can't use words to describe it. It's dark (obviously), and directly to the west is a huge, glowing, sprawling, raucous city that you could spend an entire night examining from a couple of miles away. You can't see the entire thing up close in a week--and I've learned it's not wise to try.

But at the same time, you're in the midst of a huge white plain, a plain that completely dwarfs the 25,000 person city you live in. From out at the fence, you can see the luminescence that moonlight lends to the dry white floor. If you look carefully (especially if you look over the fence, away from camp, the whole dry lakebed glows slightly. And if you're on enough acid, you can imagine what it was like when all of it was underwater.

I sat out there for a while, pondering time, the nature of human society, and whether I was going to get laid out here (I didn't). Some people rode by on bikes, shooting roman candles at each other, and I watched the colors zip along the ground beneath them. No one seemed to notice the fella with the blue helix hair, even with the soft beeping still emanating from somewhere behind my ear.

Eventually, everyone went away, and even some of the bigger lights back in camp started to go dark. I saw that the wind was coming up, and realized I was cold, and eventually found myself headed back to camp. More out of loneliness than anything--that and being afraid of mushed by some out of control art car that wasn't looking too closely for passed out hippies on the far edges of camp.

So I walked, back past the Man, back past the still madly flapping Wing (or whatever), past a big maze, and back onto the Esplanade (the innermost street in the horseshoe). I hadda pee.

After locating a suitably clean bathroom, I noticed the winds were still really bad. Somehow this hadn't been too much of a hassle out on the open playa, but back in town, I really didn't like it.

Thus, an error. Instead of plodding back down the Esplanade to the entry to Center Camp, I cut out through some tents in some sort of feebleminded attempt at a shortcut.

I know, I know. We'd nearly been baked to death under the Nevada sun not five days ago, because of a shortcut called the Jungo Road. All I can really say is that I was tripping, people. Cut me some slack.

I soon found myself hopelessly lost. I was in the midst of this hellaciously well designed grid of streets, most of which were plainly marked. How I got lost, I'll never be able to tell. I know the wind picked up, as did the dust, and shortly it was a choice between having my goggles on and being able to see everything but the street signs and having the goggles off, which stung my eyes but allowed me to squint and read those signs.

It didn't matter. I wandered aimlessly for some time, until finally the wind settled down and I was able to orient myself by the flags at Center Camp again. I was bone-weary, and stupid from booze and drugs, and nearly decapitated myself upon arriving back at the camp. Thankfully, Dan wasn't around to take up space on the mattress, so I had a luxurious three or four hours of sleep before the sun came up. The last thing I remember that night was pulling my boots off and stuffing them behind my head to support my hair. And then, after a few minutes, turning off the beeping.


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