Burning Man 2004-act one


 This year I have two stories to tell. Following is my general account, and the story of my participation in the first Planetarium on the Playa can be seen here.




































 After a couple hour delay in leaving our now traditional Grass Valley stopover point friend Michael and I finally reached the Playa about 6 PM opening day, thankfully with still enough daylight to set up camp. The trip was pleasingly uneventful, and once again the last tiny town was left behind and the cars on the road slowed at the improvised special event exit into the Playa. The line of vehicles to the gate inched along, giving me a chance to look around and notice the weather was better than last year on the way in. The first layer of greeters told us to have our tickets in hand, next we were herded into lines depending on the size of our vehicles. Several layers of greeters sorted out the categories of vehicles by size and directed them to different lanes.
  Most vehicle were at least casually searched, primarily for stowaways but also for obvious weapons and large fireworks.
I was stopped by someone who motioned me forward until my bumper almost touched him, he had me open my trunk and I got out to watch what he did. Rather than try to take apart my carefully fitted layers of tarps, tents, and containers of supplies he reached in up to his shoulder and apparently groped about whatever hollows he found, while making good humor of it and watching my reaction. I stood watching him with mild amusement, trying to remember if there was anything sharp he might encounter. It was not an intimidating thing like going through Customs where people enjoy bullying you, it was more of a humorous encounter for people who had no stowaways, rifles, or skyrockets.
  Finally being waved on, I closed up my trunk, gave up my ticket to the next greeter which for me a young woman eager to give good advice. As the larger piece of ticket was returned to me I told her this was my eighth year and she seemed relieved to not have to give the introductory course to yet another novice. She made sure I knew about the advisability carrying a light at night when walking about. After receiving the map and event literature I drove ahead past the traditional series of signs bearing scraps of wisdom, then into the nearest radially placed road and past the road signs. The concentric streets were labeled this year after the orbits of the planets. Mercury, Venus Earth , Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were represented, with the tenth outermost street named after the largest known Kuiper Belt Object, Sedna.
  As always, the design of Black Rock City is a large thick 'C', tilted NNW, of encampments forming a vast Tent City. All is symmetrical around the Man, this year located at 40 degrees 45' 17.1" North, 119 degrees,14' 11.1" West. From here concentric arcs and radiating lines are scribed upon the desert by the lack of structures rather than by any kind of prepared roads. Water trucks constantly kept these roads watered down and dust to a minimum. We set up our tents, with the entrances facing north, with a large plastic tarp staked down between the cars to provide a non playa 'courtyard'. The location of the camping site was 40 degrees 45 ' 42.6" N, 119 degrees 14' 40.2" W.

  I led the search for a camping site, initially turning left at Jupiter and trying to end up nearest to where I knew the Bok Globule dome would be, off center from the Man-Center Camp axis toward the direction. I found refreshingly little claimed empty territory compared to last year. People were building in most fenced off regions. Just as the Sun set behind the mountains we settled at the Jupiter-Saturn block, at the 9:00-9:30 location.
  Not long after we were secured the wind picked up, first in intermittent breezes one hardly noticed than in snappy gusts arriving in increasing episodes. The playa surface had been rained on earlier in the month, resulting in a loose fluffy crust which crumbled into dust when disturbed. A little of the ground appeared still dark with moisture but this quickly faded except on the continually sprayed roads. People who had been there awhile told of terrible white out conditions a couple days previously. By 9 PM I was grateful not to be trying to set up my tent under current conditions! At nightfall I noticed there were many lights already in place, but parts of the horizon were blocked by dense walls of dust being driven along by the winds. The sound of flapping fabric and wind being sliced into by varieties of obstacles filled the night.
As I took a look around in a later calmer interval it became obvious that there was an apparent building frenzy from the first moment, so that at least a third of the inner city appeared to be in place on opening night. This stage was generally reached days later in earlier years. While wandering about a young Israeli man gave me a necklace with a nicely enameled metal eye-hand image, which he told me to wear for luck. I feel it is in ones interests to accept good luck when offered and I gratefully wore it except one day, which of course was the day I suffered some annoying reverses. The Moonlight was the brightest it would be at the event, however it was too windy for me to casually decide to walk great distances. The tent rippled in the wind as I fell asleep.












 Tuesday started out with a loud generator roaring about 4 meters (15 feet) from my tent, which fortunately was muffled into only a minor annoyance by my earplugs. I later visited my neighbor and diplomatically asked him to use the generator only after noon, and he graciously agreed. Thereafter I never heard his particularly loud generator in the mornings. Tuesday was a good day to begin exploring even though the city is traditionally 'finished' later in the week. A number of projects were still being built well after the event opened, including the finishing touches on the Man's pedestal. Considering the atrocious weather conditions people had to work in each finished project represented the conclusion of a titanic struggle.
  This year the event theme was 'The vault Of Heaven', with numerous references to space such as rockets, Saturns, stars and psychedelia displayed in numerous variations on camps and in some Art Cars. The amount of major art projects seemed reduced from previous years although later reflection indicated they were more spread out than before. A short distance away at 'Jupiter' street a 25 foot tall pyramidal framework was being covered with a thick silver mylar sheeting which I learned could be bought by the roll in gardening supply stores. Their silver pyramid became the closest major landmark one could use on the way to o my camp.
The demographics of the attendees appeared similar to that seen in previous years. Most were youngish, in their 20's and 30's, with a generous sprinkling of older people (including older than me) but from what I saw very few children this year. The police seemed to be keeping a low profile, even more so than last year. Certainly the undercover efforts undoubtedly in progress were intended to be inconspicuous. I saw air conditioned BLM vehicles, their grim faced occupants squinting at the people outside with the appearance of sadistic prison guards searching for victims.
The weather made itself a topic of conversation wherever I went, with tales of 'white out' conditions a couple days earlier circulating. As the hours passed whipping gusts tore across the region to near crisis levels. Raindrops evidently carried from miles away brought small points of coolness to dry sun baked skin. Tents were literally pushed to their limits and scraps of trash bounced by them along the ground. As masses of dust glided through our region and buffeted nearby structures I started making sure things like lawn chairs and garbage bags wouldn't fly from my camp. Major dust clouds seemed from my perspective to consistently gather toward the direction of the Center Camp complex. Although fearsome conditions were obviously being experienced not far away my location remained relatively untouched by the dust storms.

 The silver mylar covering I had applied to my tent the previous evening was already tearing. I tried to keep up with the new rips forming and spreading in the jerky gusts, using plastic brown tape to reattach opposing parts of the torn mylar. As the wind intensified I played a grim game of 'catch up' repairing tears and trying to anticipate where new ones might form. Exasperated, I unpacked one of the several clean sheets I had brought and using some clamps attached the sheet edges to the tent poles so as to cover the South side of the tent, from which the wind consistently came.






 Sunset took place behind the nearby mountains overlooked by a few dissolving puffy clouds. A general 'yipping' imitating wolf and coyote howls rose from no particular direction as people reacted to something widely seen, the indirect golden glow of the bright Moon extending from behind the distant eastern mountains. Bright yellow specks then peeked from behind a mountain which quickly merged into the round edge of the nearly full Moon slowly rising into the windy night. Clouds stretched across the sky, hiding the Moon and adding their etherial glowing beauty to the surrounding spectacle.
The chilly wind tore across the dark playa, sending dark walls of dust aloft which often hid large portions of the Tent City lights. Sometimes in calmer intervals the dust would hang suspended in a sharply bounded layer perhaps 200 feet high, the interior volume glowing softly in the colors of the brighter lights imbedded within. The wind noisily fluttered against my ears and the airborne dust made me resort to my rubber industrial mask more than once that night. The cold gusts continued much of the night, and I retreated to my camp for a meal and rest. Each night was very cold, obliging me to stuff one of my spare sheets around the opening of my sleeping bag around me to form a 'plug' allowing my body heat to accumulate around me. The cold persisted in my mylar insulated tent until nearly noon the next day.

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