Brevity is not my strong point so this is going to be a good exercise for me. The band Donn plays with (and I used to) Orkestar Zirkonium, was invited to play at Burning Man 2009 for the burn. I was lucky to go along as support (sous chef to the fabulous Erin Brindley). We left town Wednesday Sept 2 on the Mellinium Tortoise, aka Mel with Colin at the helm. There were 11 of us riding in this converted Greyhound bus - it was made into living quarters and had a dining area/ living room with a Mac, kitchen, bathroom, queen size bed, bunk beds, and a recording studio. Every bus should have a recording studio! The bathtub served as the pantry for non-perishables, and the fridge was stuff to the gills. We hauled a trailer full of bikes and water behind us, and our first stop was Eugene. We fueled, ate dinner in the Value Village parking lot (looking like proper gypsies) and headed to camp for the night, getting lost on the way. Getting lost on a bus is a lot different than getting lost in a car - your options for turn around space are a lot more limited. Jerry phoned Dean, the campground host, who met us at the gate on his Segway. He could really get around and puff on his cigarette at the same time! There we met three more people bringing our total to 14. Amazingly, we all fit and it was rather comfy!
Thursday we were on the road again heading towards Klamath Falls. We passed through some beautiful forest land and I kept an eye out for great trails! After fueling and lunch in the gas station parking area (we pick the nicest spots!), we headed on towards Gerlach and Burning Man. Going into CA, we remembered the fruit in the tub and when the inspector came aboard, she just looked in the fridge and declared us good to go. Whew! Later down the road, about 20 miles north of Alturas, Colin happened to look in the rear view mirror to watch the tire de-laminating on the trailer. Oops! He pulled over, put out the road hazard triangles, and proceeded to change the tire, only to discover there was no lug nut wrench for that size. So Anne started flagging down cars; one guy stopped on his way back from Burning Man and gave us a bottle of wine he said he made, but he didn't have a wrench. Meanwhile, Matt decided he needed to get a run in to get rid of his hangover, so he took off towards Alturas. The rest of the band members who weren't working on the tire got out their instruments and started practicing by the side of the road. It was all very surreal and added to the gypsy-like appearance. A forest service truck pulled over and they provided a wrench and some company. We managed to direct the sparse traffic around us, and finally, near the end, a CHiP pulled up to direct traffic and see if we were okay. Thanks, guy! He asked if the guy running down the road was with us and was he okay. Well, how can he be a drummer and be okay??? We took off, picked up Matt, got a new tire (and wrench!!) in Alturas and ventured forth.
The drive through the pass and then the desert was very beautiful with a nice moonrise. We got into Gerlach, the last town bfore Burning Man, about 9, where we fixed dinner and shopped the stands of Burning Man necessities. I got some goggles and a nice desert scarf and Tamara scored a cool pair of pants for $5! Finally we got back on the bus, and headed to the entrance. There we showed our tickets and they made us get out of the bus, and put our hands on it while they pretended to prepare for some bodily inspection. It was all very carnival-like and a little frat boyish. Next stop was another point where they "oriented" us virgins, having us roll in the playa dust, etc. FINALLY, we were allowed to go forth and find our camp, which was in Nectar Village. Sari, who had been there a couple years before, was very excited to get going and perform, despite it being midnight. Band bikes were unloaded, people changed into whites, and they took off to tour the playa, leaving Colin and me to find our exact location. Our host, Grady, directed us to the camp, where he and Colin immediately put up a shade structure. We shared camp with Gamelan X, a band from the Bay area that does Indonesian (mostly) percussion based music. Poor Colin had driven all day and was totally whipped but hung in there and got stuff set up. The band returned about 3:30, and left again, on foot this time, to play around the camps. I went to bed, stuck in my awesome earplugs (blocked out the constant bass beat of the electronica from the DJs on the playa and the art cars), and did not hear Donn get in the tent at 5:00.
Donn and I were up at 7:30, and I was in desparate need of an espresso! The propane hadn't been turned on and I didn't want to wake Colin, so we hopped on our bikes to tour the camps and buy and espresso at Center House. That and ice are about the only two things you can buy there; all the rest is self supplied or gifted. On the way there, we ran into my friend Dan, who goes every year, and Foxy, a first timer and mother of Master Nashwan. It was a fortunate meeting, as I had no idea where Dan was camped and I wanted to spend some time with him! We got my espresso (Donn brought caffeine pills) which was REALLY REALLY good and put me in the best mood ever, and rode back to camp. There, people were slowly coming alive and awake. The day was loose and free, with some going around to see stuff and others hanging out. I rode around and found Dan's camp, and visited a while. I was still getting oriented (I'm slow that way) so I didn't take in as much of the art as I would have liked. I did love riding my burner bike around as it made me feel like a little kid again! And I made lots of trips to the bathroom. The playa is laid out like a hemi-wheel, with the spoke streets numbered like a clock, every half hour, and the radial streets as letters starting with "A" in the center. Our camp was at 8:00 and Fossil (8 o'clock and F). The porta johns were on all the spoke streets every two blocks starting between Chaos and DNA. The theme this year was Evolution, so all the streets were named aptly.
Friday night, there was a marching band contest at Center House, and Orkestar Zirkonium was one of the five contestants. The band members rode their bikes to Center House while we support folks walked, but somehow we all ended up there at the same time. The contest was lots of fun and in the end, they took second to March Fourth, a fabulous marching band based out of Portland. If you have never heard this band, you are in for a treat. They will get you up out of your seat and onto the floor - such awesome energy! OZ played afterward and lots of folks danced and enjoyed their energy. Ivan's friend Jenna showed up with a gallon of whiskey, which was passed around the band, and disappeared quickly. I only took one slug as it helped clear up my nose from all the dust. But others weren't so frugal and consequences ensued later. We caught a ride on the Birthday Cake art car where the band played while it rode around the playa. It was a great way to celebrate Sari's birthday! Unfortunately, one person wasn't able to keep his whiskey down and he was whisked back to camp in another art car. Good thing we had walked, as we managed to get all the bikes back to camp. I had a blast riding Josh's bike, a little girl's sting ray complete with banana seat and coaster brakes. I even zoomed past Donn on his adult sized bike. I want one!!
Another late night to bed and then we were up early again. This time I had coffee in camp; it was Saturday, the day of the night of the big burn. I rode over to Hushville (Dan's camp) where I found Scot (Master Nashwan) and Foxy napping, but no Dan. I visited with them til Dan came back. Then Dan took me to meet God, who was holding a discussion with a rabbi who had stopped by. I sat on a couch and chatted with another fellow who was also a burn virgin. The rabbi sang a beautiful chant in either Yiddish or Hebrew, and then rode off. A woman came out of a tent and announced that gale force winds were headed our way in a couple of hours with major dust storms. I decided to hightail it back to camp to batten down the hatches and warn others. There were several minor dust storms going on already, and as the day progressed, they got worse. We spent a lot of time just hanging out in the bus, while others went out on to the playa in white-out conditions. Josh and Paul looked like old men when they returned, with white hair and faces. Sometime during the day (I think it was Saturday) Colin hopped an art car and lost his night time glasses, which were hooked on to his kilt. He was doomed to wearing sunglasses, but after trying on several of the campers' glasses, Donn's came closest to his prescription. So we were okay (sort of) if he had to do night driving.
That night, the dust was blowing strong, but the storm was predicted to die down by 10. The band had to be in position about 8:30, so after they dressed and Sari passed out our badges which would get us in the inner circle (!!), we processed towards the man. About halfway, the band split into two groups. Ours was the lead group, and visibility was down to about 5-10 feet. We pulled up next to some brightly lit art cars, and the drummers started playing, thinking this would attract the other group's attention. Several long minutes later they started to appear, coming towards us, but then headed off in a different direction. I ran out, got them and led them to the rest of the band. Whew! We made it to 3:00 where we waited for the procession to begin. Security checked our badges several times over, so it was quite the privilege to be in the inner circle. The dust storm slowly died down, our torch bearers appeared, and the band marched and played around the perimeter of the inner circle. It was really fun to tag along and dance, and at one point, a guy dressed completely in a drum major outfit appeared out of the crowd and directed the band! When the circle was complete, we settled down in the dust to watch the fire performers. They put on an amazing show; I hadn't seen anything like that since my first Trolloween in 1998 (the fire marshal put the kibosh on that!). At some point, we were asked to move further into the circle, which put us much closer to the fire. Soon, the fireworks started and before I knew it, the whole structure was ablaze. At one point it was so hot, everyone had to put on goggles. I was sitting next to Paul and we decided to lay down, which seemed to work, as it put us under the heat. It was quite a fire show - beautiful to watch!
The next morning I wanted to get to Center House for an espresso, but the line was really long when we got there. Donn gave me one of his caffeine pills at the usual dose for him, which sent my heart rate sky high! We rode out to the temple and checked out the scene. It was very heavy, emotionally speaking, with different people or groups mourning over lost friends and lovers from the past year. There was a beautiful poster of Shane McConkey, the extreme skier who died last December. I could only take so much, so we went out to our bikes. There were so many other bikes that ours were hard to find but my beautiful streamers and hi rise bars came through and we were on our way. We stopped by the slide, which was sort of a super slide covered in astro turf, with various objects (sleds, sheets, whatever) to slide down on. At the bottom, which was abrupt, there was a stack of cushions to crash into. I had knelt on enough astro turf in high school, as a drill leader at Band Day, that I had no desire to slide on it. Plus there was a sign noting that there were on average twelve injuries per day. Donn decided he had to try it. He found an old plastic sled and walked up to the top, where, eventually, he hopped on and slid down. It was a successful slide, and the cushions needed restacking. He helped put the last cushion high up on the pile, and something slipped, knocking his glasses off. I watched as they landed in two pieces, breaking at one side of the nose bridge. I grabbed them, and said 'dude, you're f**ked!' and then 'oh, we're f**ked!' They were meant to be Colin's back-up glasses - oops! We headed back to Center House to see if they could be repaired, but Playa Hardware was closed down so no luck. We got back to camp and told the tale, and Colin said no problem! He took Donn's glasses and fashioned a new nose piece out of wire and knots. It looked a little wonky on Donn, but it worked!
That night the band processed to the Temple and created lots of good energy. As we approached, they quieted down, as this burn was a more somber affair. Not everyone understood that but enough did that they weren't that obnoxious. There was a procession, which we couldn't see much of since we were towards the back of the crowd, but then flaming parachuters started appearing in the sky. That was totally cool!! I don't know how many there were but it was more than a couple! Soon after, the temple started burning, along with all the memorials that were put up. When it was about done, we stood up and the band processed out with Ethiopique. Very fitting. The River Boat art car owner asked Sari if the band would come play on it, so we headed that way, where we rode around the playa for a while. Afterward, we eventually ended up at camp and got ready for the long drive home the next day.
The bus got packed the next morning and we were on the road by 8:00, after goodbyes to Grady et al. We only sat in line to leave about 1.5 hours, and Sari gathered some playa dust in a baggie while we waited. The ride to Ashland was fairly uneventful, except when Colin tried to turn the bus around on the road between Klamath Falls and Ashland. Just didn't happen. We stayed at Emigrant Lake campground, and broke open that bottle of wine the burner guy gave us. It tasted a little funny, but Donn drank most of it. Apparently, he was really funny (I went to bed); who knows what was in the wine? He doesn't remember much. The next day we were on the road early and made it back to Boeing Field by 7:00 - ahead of schedule!
It was a fun trip and I want to return next year, early, so I can take in more stuff. I didn't take many photos of the art but there are some great ones out there. My pics can be seen here. And last, here's an interesting article about Burning Man. I'm looking forward to my next burn!