Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Burn, Baby, Burn

A Higher Power wants me to go to Burning Man.

That’s the only logical conclusion I can draw from the events of the past two weeks. I certainly didn’t plan to take my first step toward attending a counterculture art rave in the Nevada desert when I woke up Aug. 18. It was Benny’s first day of school, and my main concern was getting a spot to take his picture before the bell. Which I did, of course.

But my friends Andrea and Michael were there, and we fell to talking. Michael’s an artist who takes his amazing lighted sculptures all over the U.S. (including Grand Rapids, Mich. of all places) and Andrea does sound editing for motion pictures. Just standing near them made me cooler, so it was no surprise to hear them talking about Burning Man. They go every year as a family and their son Milo is one of Benny’s closest friends.

“You should go, too, you and Ron and Benny,” Andrea said.

“We don’t have tickets,” I said.

“You could get them on Craigslist.”

“Uh huh,” I said. I could just see myself getting mugged in the Castro by a drug-crazed lunatic pretending to be a drug-crazed lunatic with a Burning Man ticket.

It was intriguing, though. So I went home and scanned Craigslist, and yes, there were plenty of tickets, but the face-value ones were like day lilies, blooming and dying in minutes. So I gave up on my dreams of practicing radical self-expression on a dried-up lakebed and reorganized my kitchen cupboards.

Andrea, however, didn’t let it lie. She started emailing me tips for snagging a hot ticket, and when it became obvious I was ignoring them, she started casting for one herself. (By now Ron had made his total – and sensible – lack of interest known and I was looking for only one ticket. Benny was free.) I found myself time-stealing at work, reading articles about the event and staring agog at the pictures and vehicles. On Thursday, Aug. 21, I received the text – she found one, and bought it for me. The first and biggest hurdle was overcome. Benny and I were going to Burning Man in a week!

But I needed a vehicle pass. I quickly connected on Craigslist with a guy who lived just 15 minutes away. I picked Benny up from school and swung by and we met up at the corner by his apartment. Hurdle number two cleared!

By now Benny was catching on to the whole thing. “You need a bike, Mom,” he said.

Oh, crud. I didn’t have a bike. I didn’t want to ruin Ron’s nice bike in an alkaline desert, and anyway it was a road bike. I needed fat tires for the playa. So I emailed a bicycle shop in North Beach. The next morning Ron and I turned up before work, and there was the perfect mountain bike, a “burner bike,” for $120. Then we needed a bike rack, so the next day we went to REI, which of course was having a sale, and picked up one of those crazy racks you stick on the back of the car.

So obviously a Higher Power Has Spoken: “And thus shall ye attend the bacchanalia and spend thy days wiping desert dust off ye child.”

That’s not to say the course to this reckless enterprise has run entirely smooth. I haven’t slept well in days. The bike rack turned out to be an enormous pain to install. (The instructions said it wouldn’t fit a Honda Fit, but the Internet said no, it won’t fit a Honda Fit Sport, and then we had to figure out the measurement between the rivets, and so on …) The list of provisions I needed to pack grew longer and longer and longer, and Andrea just wanted to know what costumes I was bringing.

Costumes? I’m over here pricing ski goggles and getting Benny’s sleeping bag repaired and she wants to know about my kick-ass wig and sequined halter top. My wardrobe tends toward the Boring Mom About Town side of style, and I was simply going to have to radically participate in the community wearing my khakis. Anyway, I needed provisions. I printed out a list and took it to Target, brought it all home and took everything out of its original packaging (“Leave No Trace!”). Then I wrote down everything I forgot and snuck out of work yesterday to finish my shopping at the hardware store (mask, propane tank) and Walgreens. I also talked to my brother Greg, who recently returned from his Army deployment in Kuwait. He thinks I’m crazy, but gave me good advice about surviving desert environments.

Now almost everything is tucked into baggies and stuffed inside plastic boxes. Ron has put the tent and other camping equipment in the car. The ticket and vehicle pass are displayed in the mirror by the front door. Benny and I leave Thursday at noon, where the plan is to spend the night in Reno and arrive at Black Rock City Friday morning.

So why am I doing this, might you ask? I’m not entirely sure. Does anybody really know why they do anything? As far as I can tell, people go to Burning Man for their own reasons, reasons they themselves may not understand. For some it’s the drugs, for some it’s the sex, for some it’s the art, for some it’s the feeling of belonging in a world that feels less than welcoming. For some it’s the friends they bring. For some it’s an escape. My guess I won’t know why I’m going to Burning Man until after I’ve returned. In the meantime, I’ve got this black and silver dress from a past Halloween, perfect for dancing at the Burn. It’s a sign.

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