Saturday, October 02, 2004

Burning Man 2004 6: The Exodus

Break down is ALWAYS a bitch. This year, it was further complicated by Twin A's (smart) idea of renting a storage space, which allowed me to move all the Node's stuff out of my garage permanently. Unfortunately, it also meant an additional journey to Lovelock, NV, which is about an hour in the opposite direction from Reno. Given that this was all taking place on Labor Day, we were just operating on faith that this was going to be possible at all, and once the trailer was loaded Twin A and I headed out.

This also had the result of us leaving the crew to finish up packing and cleaning up, which I felt guilty about doing, but as Twin A pointed out, we've been last out every single year we've ever been. And I was exhausted.

The problem with leaving Burning Man on Monday afternoon is that everyone else is doing the same thing. I mean, a lot of tourists leave on Sunday, but I think Monday is probably peak. Imagine funneling 30k people out of the event site via one little two lane road. It's a nightmare, and the Org does a great job. But there's no way to make it pleasant, except to keep the a/c on full blast and listen to the CD player. Which broke, about 2 hours into waiting, with my entire trip home left to go.

So we sat in line, and crept forward at speeds reaching 5 mph, until we reached the gate, roughly 3 hours after we got out of camp. Once on an actual road, things picked up somewhat, as cars and RV's spread out. It was getting dark, though, and we both felt time creeping past as the sun dropped behind the mountains. We didn't get back in cellphone range until well after dark, probably around 8:30. We'd left camp at about 3:30.

The storage guy was, surprisingly, still willing to meet us. He suggested we call him when we finally got on I-80, which was a long, long 45 minutes later. When we called, he didn't answer.

Fuck. Typical--we couldn't make ANY decisions until we heard back from him. There was no point at all in driving towards Lovelock if he was going to be asleep, and there was no point in driving to Reno and then turning around to drive back when he called. So we stopped and got gas, and drove around Fernley looking for a Burger King. Trying not to panic.

Something I've failed to mention is that all the stuff going into the storage building wasn't in the trailer--we were also having to coordinate with the silver bus, driven by Daud, so it wasn't just a matter of getting US there, we also had to get HIM there. And cellphones are BAD in this part of the country, yo, so I was perfectly happy to let Twin A run the show. I just drove the van, and let him deal with the frustrating stuff.

Finally, the storage guy called us back, and cheerfully gave us directions to Lovelock, including where he would meet us. We were both greatly relieved, since "no storage building" equalled either "finding the crew of the bus a place to sleep overnight in Reno," which they would not have been happy about, or "letting them store all of the bus contents in Denver all year," which they wouldn't have been happy with, either.

So it was in high spirits (or at least wonder at our good fortune) that we took off towards Lovelock NV. With no CD player, exhausted, and filthy. It was about 9:30.

Exactly five miles south of Lovelock, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw sparks where one of my trailer tires should have been. Fuck.

I had been smart, and didn't store the spare tire at the front of the trailer. I had been dumb, however, in that I hadn't checked to make sure that I had a jack or a fourway (one of the many things I left to my employees, which was just idiotic on my part). Fuckity fuck.

The rim was completely useless, and the trailer was loaded in such a way that soon part of the undercarriage would be wearing itself away on the I drove at a safe speed until that happened, and pulled over. Our only hope was that the bus was somewhere close to us, and would notice and stop to help.

The storage guy called back, wanting to know if we were lost. Twin A told him no, we had a flat, and were waiting on help. The guy asked where we were, then actually came to us, with a jack and a fourway, and while I changed the tire, they sat in the cab of his truck and signed paperwork. Soon we were on our way, with poor directions and less cash, but happy. And completely whipped, I thought. Back when I thought I knew what tired was. We still had to unload, then drive back to Reno.

We got lost twice, or rather missed our turns twice, but ultimately came to the storage lot. I drank one of these really terrible energy drinks called "Wheel Horse," which came in a can that looked suspiciously like an old Schlitz can...and tasted not a jot better. This gave me the energy to keep moving long enough for us to get all of the trailer contents into the building. Tightly packed--I have no idea how we managed it, because at this point in the evening we were communicating via grunts and hand gestures. Speaking was too much of an effort.

But we finished it, man. And just as Twin A was sitting down to enjoy a well earned smoke, I saw the silver bus glide by in the moonlight, missing us. Staggering to my feet, I called Daud's cellphone, and he circled back to us.

I think it was then that I drank the second energy drink. I had been saving it for the drive back to Reno, but as the Denver crew was pretty well crippled by one ailment or another (or handicapped, in some cases--one of the guys didn't have thumbs, which I didn't find out until later), I knew we'd be doing most of the lifting ourselves. And, of course, the heavy stuff was actually ON TOP of the bus, so most of the heavy lifting was done on a fairly narrow platform, 10 feet off the ground.

I had completely given up on keeping my body in any sort of useable shape, at this point, so the bus actually got unloaded in very good time, and soon we were on our way back to Reno, Twin A sleeping and me feeling my entire back begin to tighten into funny shapes.

We arrived in Reno at approximately 4am, and this is where things got weird.

One of my favorite parts of Burning Man is getting back into civilization, filthy, exhausted, and hungry, and suddenly remembering that money is king (especially in Reno). You can get what you want by waving money at people--and in this case, as we limped into a brightly lit, red carpeted casino called the "El Dorado," we wanted a room. The room had been booked, so all we had to do was remain dressed and upright and sign the appropriate documents, then show our room keys to a security guard who would have been amused had he not already seen fifty other groups just like us. We staggered upstairs, and Twin A got the first shower by dint of a) having actually paid for the room and b) having substantially less hair than I did, which meant that his shower would be shorter than mine.

I set out to see what damage had been done to my hair.

I knew it was going to be bad, kids, it always is. The hair's long, and that's very inconvenient in the desert, so in years past (when it wasn't blue and sticking straight up), I've had it braided. Actually, scratch that. In 2001, it was braided. In 2002, I never got around to doing anything with it, so it spent the week in a sort of half assed bun, which is exactly how it went this year. Unfortunately, during the latter part of the week some of the hair on the front of my head began to fly free of the bun, and since the hair tie I was using had basically become tied to my head by the rest of my hair, I just slapped some water on the free stuff and pasted it back to my head. It wasn't until the last day that I realized this was effective simply because there was so much dust in it that I was essentially sticking this hair to my head with small amounts of playa mud. Not so easy to get out...

I cut the hair tie out and was not surprised to find that nothing really changed. I decided that this could all wait, so I sat on the bed and began to remove my boots.

I'd been wearing those boots for about 4 days straight, scared to take them off because I probably wouldn't get them back on again. My feet, last time I checked, were pretty good examples of what happens when you don't treat your feet well, so I'd just opted to hobble around in boots and not think about it til later, which is something I tend to do about a lot of things relating to Burning Man.

But I was going to have to shower (remember the first time you had sex with someone you really loved? it's like licking an ashtray compared to your first shower after Burning Man), and shower soon, so I spent the next 120 minutes getting my boots off.

The feet were pretty bad, and were really going to hurt once they got some hot water on them, but I was so glad to be free of those boots that I didn't think twice about it. Twin A was conked out minutes after leaving the bathroom, so I had plenty of time to scrub my entire body. I washed the front part of my scalp, and sort of got the back dreadlock wet, but since I couldn't raise my arms over my head anymore, I elected to wait til later to work on the brushing out.

I sacked out at 5am. We were to meet the rest of the crew downstairs at 8:15.

[Twin A will kvetch if I don't tell you that he'd arranged for us to sleep later, by way of leaving a voicemail on Twin C's cellphone, telling him to call my cellphone, and that would have worked had I not left my cellphone in the van, so I volunteered to go downstairs and make plans with the crew at 8:15. I didn't have the heart to wake him up, though.]

Anyway, the important thing to take away from all this is that I STILL hadn't had more than 4 consecutive hours of sleep in about 2 weeks, and I was still 2 time zones away from home. After agreeing to meet the crew at 9:15, I went back upstairs to...shave, I guess. Certainly no time to get any meaningful amount of sleep. But at 9:15, no one was around. At 9:30, no one was around, and the security guard was starting to regale me with stories about Vietnam, for some reason. At about 9:45, Twin A came toddling out of the elevator, and we adjourned to the restaurant for some crappy breakfast.

When we returned to the lobby, our crew was present, and we beat feet for the parking lot, said our goodbyes, and made the discovery that the spare I'd put on the trailer was larger than the other one on that side. "Fuck it," I thought, I'm driving this fucker. I am out of here! And I was--an hour later, I was driving through scenic Lovelock again, on my way to Denver.


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