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

Friday, September 05, 2014

Burning Man: I Can See Clearly Now

(click on pictures to expand)

This picture is enhanced because it was so dusty on the playa.
So here I am, wrapped up with a bow.

I woke up Saturday feeling pretty good, considering. I unzipped a window and peeked out — clear sky, no dust, just sunshine. Benny popped out of his sleeping bag, his dust-plumped hair sticking up. I could barely talk him into getting dressed before running outside.

A half-hour later I emerged, ready for action, wearing a cowboy hat, goggles, a long pink sundress, sneakers and a leopard-print scarf. My tiny white backpack was stuffed with chapstick, sunblock, water bottles, eye drops, cotton swabs and lotion. I was ready.

We're ready for a big day!
Everyone at the camp seemed cheerier. Soon Michael was frying bacon and serving it on toast. An hour later we were gearing up for a long day out, packing food, water, fruit, spare goggles and extra face masks. Benny wanted to wear my Death Valley ball cap, so I tied a string around it and looped it over his neck. Then we tried to start off, but the delays were endless. Felix’s goggles needed adjusting. Milo’s chain fell off. Benny scraped his knee on his bike. I bungee corded an extra water bottle on Benny’s bike. Andrea couldn’t find her sunglasses. Felix’s laces needed to be tied. My hat blew away and I had to get it and tie it on. All this happened in front of our camp. Then we’d move forward a few feet and stop again. Benny’s goggles broke. My dress got caught in the bike chain. Andrea forgot the boiled eggs. Milo had to go to the bathroom. I finally figured out what was wrong with my bike — I needed my seat adjusted. Michael pulled it up five inches. So much better.

Benny, Milo and Felix.
We moved forward again and managed to round the corner, and in fits and starts we managed to make it to the edge of camp. By now the wind had picked up a little bit, forcing us to push up our scarves and bandanas, but it was still better than the day before. We rode along 5:30, dodging a huge octopus car and a pirate ship. Michael first, then boys, then me and Andrea in the rear. I could keep up easily now.

Milo, Andrea, Felix and the Man.
We burst out into the playa, wind kicking up a little bit. A red dragon rolled by, followed by a line of giant tea pot. Ahead, giant words emerged the sand — INSANITY and LOVE. We rode forward toward rising minarets. To my right the desert looked empty, like I'd landed on the planet Tatooine. Benny squealed as Jabba the Hutt's schooner drove by.

Benny rides toward the minaret named "Cosmic Praise."

The boys kept climbing.
Leaping into pillows. Burning Man definitely had a
10-year-old vibe.

We all stopped at a giant play structure, topped with a wide rope net with a stack of pillows in the middle. Everyone took turns leaping into the pillows, then retreated to a shady platform for lunch. We munched on boiled eggs, oranges, trail mix, potato chips and lots of water. I tried to pass around hand sanitizer but Michael just laughed. "We’re way beyond that," he said, and he was right.

The boys didn't want to leave the structure, so we adults just stood around in the shade and drank cocktails from a nearby party tent. Michael left to get ice for the camp, and the rest of us decided to ride closer to the Man. A giant metal rhino almost ran us over.

There's the dust devil in the center, left of the parasol
ferris wheel.
We were headed off the playa again when a dust devil sprang up, a mini volcano. I fell off my bike trying to take a picture of it, then got caught in the whiteout.  When the dust cleared (and now I truly understand that phrase), Andrea and the boys were gone. So I headed back to the camp by way of the Death Camp Barbie.

Hundreds of Barbies march to their deaths.

Back at the camp, we all rested and read books. After a delicious taco dinner, we started preparing for the Burn. They usually burned the Man at 9 p.m. and the wind had died down enough that it might actually happen on time. Going out for the burn required complex preparations. I inserted batteries into chains of LED lights for the bicycles. Michael wove some into Andrea's white fuzzy coat. I hung glow pendants around the boys' necks and snapped glow sticks on bike handlebars. I kept on the pink dress but topped it with a bright fuzzy-green cape. Felix wore a shiny blue cape. Andrea put on her tiara and we were ready. Unfortunately I misplaced my camera, so I have no pictures of the Burn. Here are some links to good ones, though.

An amazing panoramic from the feet of the Man by Michael Holden. That is just what it looked like.

More of Holden's absolutely beautiful photography of the entire event.

More incredible photography from the U.K.'s Daily Mail.

We arrived at the Burn and the playa was all lit up like Las Vegas. Music pounded, neon lights flashed and metal dragons and octopuses breathed fire. People shouted “baby burners!” as they saw the boys ride by. The music pounded in our chests. We put earplugs in our ears and moved closer. The man’s arms were raised high, which meant the burn was imminent. The crowd danced and cheered. Suddenly fireworks burst out of the man's chest, exploding in the wide sky. I lifted Benny as high as I could so he could see. Flames licked the mans legs and torso, then spread to the whole body. Soon he was an enormous, man-shaped bonfire. Despite the noise and the music, it was a peaceful scene. Everyone was happy, but many were quiet, even reflective. Nobody was screaming or throwing up or shouting that purple aliens were chasing them; nobody was performing lewd acts or cursing or starting fights. North Beach nightlife in San Francisco was more depraved than this.

I didn't want to leave, but Benny and I were departing Black Rock City early the next morning. So the two of us walked back first, and it was a nice quiet moment, emerging from the crowd and walking toward the glowing yellow galleon where our bikes were parked. It was surprisingly peaceful and a silver net of stars spread across the sky. We found our bikes and the two of us rode back to camp, me leading the way through the revelers with my headlamp glowing on my forehead and Benny close behind, ringing his bell to let me know he was there.

"What was your favorite part of Burning Man?" I asked Benny when we were tucked into our sleeping bags.

"Mmmmm," said Benny. That meant he was tired, because Benny liked nothing more than to rank things: his top five favorite foods, top 10 friends, top five cats, etc.

"What was that, honey?" I repeated. "What was your favorite part of Burning Man?"

"Everything," Benny said sleepily.

To be continued:

Burning Man: Exodus

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