Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.
We finished tricking out our camp, hanging all sorts of lights, pink flamingos, flags and banners. It became apparent to me that I was driving these two men crazy with my relentless desire to get our camp in order and they were both looking piqued and impatient with the ordeal. Monkey Boy and I had to talk through a couple of spats, but we squared them away pretty quickly. Riff, however, still seemed withdrawn and not easily approachable. The fact that he had over indulged the night before probably wasn’t helping much.
Monkey Boy and I took a long, circuitous bike ride around the playa to Center Camp and I was again astonished by remarkable feelings of freedom, bliss and genuine happiness. I was having a BLAST! Late afternoon we returned to the Mothership and after hanging out for a while, Monkey Boy took off to find some friends. Riff returned from his afternoon’s adventure and I asked him if he wanted to go out together. He said sure but wanted to nap and get something to eat. I got impatient and finally just asked if he minded if I took off on my own and he assured me it was no big deal. We agreed to hook up later.
It was getting dark when I rode out of camp and the playa was awash in glow sticks, L-wire, hokey spokes, art cars, and fire dancers. Strange images and sounds would go floating by, often coming out of nowhere. Out there, if you weren’t lit up with something you might as well be invisible. The colors and the lights, the characters and creations and sheer inventiveness completely filled my head with fantastic, often challenging, images. I had no filters up and everything was coming in at the same intense volume. I was flying high thinking to myself, “Wednesday night on the playa. I’m here. I DID it!” Happiness wished for and manifested.
Around midnight, somewhere out in Deep Space, I heard the chain rattle and come off my derailleur. I had a sick feeling as I realized how far from the Mothership I was, how little I knew about basic bike repair and just how dark dark can be. I pushed my bike to a small, lighted area nearby and made a half-hearted attempt to fix it but knew I didn’t have a clue. But after only a few moments of despair, it dawned on me that I could ask for help. That while self-reliance was a value of the community so was allowing community to be of service. So I stepped out into the darkness, cupped my hands around my mouth and spoke timidly into empty space “Hellllllo out there…Does anyone know how to fix a bike?”
In a tick, there was a shift in the shadows and two men rode up out of nowhere. They didn’t say much. I explained my situation and they seemed to know just what to do. One of them flipped my bike over and got to work while the other one watched. When they were done, they righted my bike, bid me good night and rode off into the darkness. A perfect Burning Man transaction, as if by magic.
I turned for home. My eyes were filled with pictures, my soul with experiences and my heart with light. I got disoriented and missed my turn at 9 so ended up cutting in at 8:30, a far less traveled and much darker street.
I could see the door of the Mothership about 50 feet ahead. The camp was all lit up and looked fabulous, even better than I had hoped. I realized how tired I was and was relieved to be so close to home. I looked down as I fumbled with the switch on my headlight and saw that my front wheel was wobbling dangerously. I regained some semblance of control, but when I looked up I was startled to see a 4 foot rebar stake looming up from the desert floor. Not marked, flagged or capped, I hit it straight on. The bike stopped dead and I was thrown forward. My basket took the brunt of the force and that probably saved me from a self-imposed lobotomy, because my face and the rebar collided right at the bridge of my nose.
The bike bounced back and collapsed onto my left side with my ankle trapped to the outside of the pedal. I hit the playa hard with the bike on top of me and the side of pedal went right through my ankle. It only hurt for a second and I guess I went into shock.
I was lying on my back staring up at the sky, and for the second time that night I didn’t have a fucking clue what to do. I knew I was pretty injured, but didn’t really want to think about it yet. Only reluctantly I surrendered to my new reality and finally called forlornly into the dark for help. Immediately shadow people came to my aid. A tall, good-looking blonde guy squatted down beside me and asked tenderly, “What happened sweetheart?” I was so relieved; I had a new best friend. On his heels other new best friends were quickly arriving. I could hear them talking, righting my bike and asking me all sorts of questions like where I lived and if Riff was there, did I need a medic and could I sit up? One girl took off for an ice pack and another girl held a flashlight to my face and without thinking said, “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!!! YOUR FACE!!!!” It freaked me out and in a panic I asked, “Is it true? Is my face fucked up???? Don’t say ‘OH MY GOD’ unless my face is really fucked up!!!!!” Realizing the anxiety she had created she quickly de-escalated and said, “no…no…you’re fine…I just saw the blood.” I was massively relieved.
The guys struggled to right me, eventually getting me up onto my good foot. I gingerly set my left foot down and felt the leg slide around in a very weird and painful way. I remember thinking it was probably broken and if so than this was NOT GOOD. My new friends quickly agreed that I couldn’t take so much as a single step, so the guys picked me up and carried me to the Mothership. I pushed myself backside first up the steps, hopped onto my couch and was real glad to be inside my own quarters.
Neither Riff nor Monkey Boy was home and the RV was crowded with folks. My neighbors, KB and Pretty Kathy were nurses and when they got wind of what was happening they came right over. I showed them my ankle and watched their faces as they visibly blanched. KB felt around and hesitantly pronounced it badly sprained. Pretty Kathy concurred with her friends’ diagnosis. Riff had sprained his ankle pretty badly about two months before, so I knew the drill on ‘sprained ankle care’ RICE: Rest/Ice/ Compression/Elevation.
I asked KB’s hubby if he wouldn’t mind fetching me a medic and he was off like a shot. Everyone else split, but the nurses stayed with me till the BRC Ranger pulled up in his golf cart. He was a big, strapping guy who didn’t know much about how to help me, but took instruction real well and I’ve often found that quality very useful in men when they want to be helpful, but don’t quite know what to do. He told me that there was a doctor at the medic tent and that things were pretty quiet over there at the moment. I let him carry me to his golf cart and we headed off to the Medic.
I learned right then and there why folks build art cars. Cause they’re worth it.
By now it was about 1:30 in the morning. The physician on duty was a youngish East Indian woman. She looked at my ankle, poked around suspiciously, watching my face closely at all the places where I flinched or yelped. She was of the opinion that it was a really bad sprain. She “tsk, tsk’d” it, reminded me about “RICE” and was the first of many who told me that I should hope that it’s a break and not a sprain because apparently breaks heal better. I couldn’t believe I was getting bummed that it was only a “really bad sprain.”
To find out definitively would have meant either packing up the Mothership or taking a 2.5 hour ambulance ride to Reno for x-rays. I knew that leaving was going to be a one-way trip. If we broke camp we wouldn’t be back again this year. We had all worked so hard to get there, I was horrified by even the thought of leaving so I didn’t let myself consider it. Instead, I took the handful of ibuprofen packets and the pair of crutches that she offered and decided I could just as easily convalesce from my “bad sprain” in my sumptuous RV at the Burn, as I could at home on my own couch. Besides, everyone who ventured an opinion all agreed that they couldn’t cast it anyway, cause it was just too swollen.
So I chose to wait it out at Burning Man.
Riff had come back while I was at the medics’ station. KB and Pretty Kathy told him what had happened and he pedaled off to find me. When I first spotted him, I saw this strange smile on his face that I knew covered up his deep displeasure at my having gotten myself so seriously injured. Later, when we were alone, he ventured the opinion that my sprain was like his recent one, only his seemed a little worse. He headed to the bed in back while I cracked open my emergency kit, wrapped my ankle in a package of frozen veggies and conked out on the couch.
I remember having more than a twinge of annoyance and self-pity that I was in such pain and going to have to take care of myself. But I realized rather quickly that I had a refrigerator full of food, my own bathroom, air conditioning and copious amounts of serious pain medication. What else did I need? I decided to have a good time and bring the Burn to me by receiving whatever walked through the Motherships door.
The next afternoon, Riff and Monkey Boy went off to fetch ice and to leave a public service announcement over BMIR begging anyone with an art car to ferry me to the Burn on Saturday night. While they were gone, my neighbor Peter came over to introduce himself and see ‘the ankle’. He took my foot in his hands and gently put it through a series of rotations. He did it so skillfully I thought he might be a physical therapist. He told me he had been a skier so he knew all about injured ankles. He too thought it was a bad sprain and produced a couple of well worn ankle supports, ace bandages and a special sort of blue ice, frozen solid. I was very appreciative for the attention and felt in good hands.
He was very kind and seemed genuinely concerned. For that matter, everyone who came to visit, all sorts of neighbors and friends, seemed concerned. For the most part I kept myself on pain medication, ice packs and in SHOCK. Monkey Boy had long since hooked up with his friends and was dropping in now and again for visits, snacks and bathroom breaks. In the few moments now and again when I was alone I would hop down the hallway and head for the bathroom. There were a couple times I inadvertently put weight on my bum ankle and I felt my leg slip right off of my foot sending intense shooting pains up my calf. My toes were gradually turning a wicked shade of black and getting darker by the hour. Bruising was appearing all over my foot and ankle, and it got so swollen that the whole thing was starting to resemble a badly stuffed sausage.
Alas, no one responded to our public service announcement, so no ride to the Burn was forthcoming. The day of the Burn arrived with a kinetic kind of energy. It was clear that SOMETHING was going to happen. The weather had turned and the wind was kicking up, causing random dust storms that would sweep through leaving a fine layer of playa on everything. More and more folks were coming in covered in dust. In spite of their best efforts, both Riff and Monkey Boy couldn’t come up with a way to get me to the Burn that night. As the day wore on, the sad reality of really missing the event sank my spirits. I spent a lot of time meditating on my loss, and by 5 or so I had pretty much come to terms with it. I felt a little like Cinderella who wasn’t going to the ball after all.
Riff showed up to get ready for the Burn. He was distracted and irritable because the generator wasn’t working. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind setting up a couple chairs outside and maybe hanging out for awhile. Even though he didn’t look thrilled, he set them up and faced them in the general direction of the Man. I was hoping I might see the flames reach for the sky or maybe the fire works display.
After I got settled outside, I noticed a trike that I had seen out the window but had never paid attention to before. I didn’t know whom it belonged to, so I asked my neighbor if she knew whose it was and she said that it belonged to her younger sister. She explained that it had a flat tire that they planned to fix before the Burn. I asked her if I could borrow it and we made a trade where her sister could use my bike and I’d borrow the trike. The nurses from next door wandered over to see what was happening and we all debated the strength of the welds on the large basket that was between the two back wheels. Could it really hold me? KB’s tall husband, an engineer of some kind, jumped into the basket, hopped around aggressively and declared the basket safe. A simple, elegant plan was emerging right in the nick of time! I could get to the Burn in the basket, if I could find sometime to pedal the bike.
And there was Riff.
The convergence of the two events, the generator’s failure and my “brilliant trike plan”, was too much on Riff’s already overtaxed psyche. When presented with the idea of his pedaling me out there, he stiffened and I knew that my idea was sunk. With tremendous authority and unwavering certainty, he declared my plan the “stupidest” idea he had ever heard, that it was “ill conceived” and “dangerous” and that he would have no part of it at all. I knew this was the kiss of death. He would not be budged.
I was crestfallen and angrily hissed, “I cannot believe you pick this moment of all times to abandon me.” My remark must have hit home cause he went ballistic. I angrily crutched my way over to KB’s camp and ragged Riff up one side and down the other to my friends. It must have been very satisfying, cause within just a few minutes, I returned to my chair quite calmed down, and was just settling in when Peter came walking by.
Leaping back onto my good foot, I grabbed his arm and whispered, “Peter…Peter! I have a way to get to the Burn…but Riff isn’t down for it and I can’t do it on my own!”
His eyes sparkled with glee. “And what is it my girl?” he smiled, looking right into my eyes.
I pointed to the trike and told him my plan. When I mentioned that the bike had a flat, his face lit up. “Let me just take care of that for you.” He gathered up the trike, pushed it toward his camp and there it was, a coach and a driver and I was going to the ball after all.
I hobbled into the Mothership floating on Cloud 9. Riff didn’t say much cause he was still steaming, though I noticed the generator was on. I briefly filled him in on my plan and busied myself getting gussied up for my big adventure. I could see out of the side window that the trike was upside down and Peter and the “boys,” all hunky young men in their 20-30′s, were huddled around working on it. I was elated to have such a whimsical and fanciful solution present itself at the last possible moment.
With my bad foot balanced on the sink, I took a quick birdbath and put on a fresh pair of PJ’s that I had brought for just this occasion. They were leopard print with big, showy red roses. I wore every sparkly I could easily lay my hands on and drenched myself in glitter. My ensemble was topped off with a purple velvet cape and I hung glow sticks off the end of my injured ankle. Sometime while I was getting ready, Riff gathered his things, said a hasty goodbye and took off.
Peter arrived with his son Paul and their friend Cory. He gently placed me in the basket which he had filled with a down sleeping bag, and after getting me squared away, he jumped on the trike and started pedaling madly as he and his boys towed me to the Burn.
We were almost the last folks out of town and the streets were deserted. We made slow but steady progress and pulled up just as the fire dancers were finishing. The crowd was in a state of high expectation, and parked behind us was what seemed to be every art car in existence, all lit up, with music blaring & dancers swaying. The crowd had mostly turned out in costume, and there were tons of masks and painted faces and bodies. I felt among kindred spirits, the other strange beings, and loved that I was one too. I was soaked in all this incredible stimulation. Filling myself with each inhalation and giggling at my own sensory overload.
The final pyrotechnics went off in a whimsical, glittering, phantasmagoric display of twirling and spinning lights in the black sky. The grandest grand finale of my life.
And then the Man was on fire.
He stayed standing a long time. A much longer time than I expected him to. I was sitting low in the basket while the crowd was standing, so I watched their faces change and shift in the firelight. Everyone was there for their own reasons, having their own experience, their own epiphanies, their own moments and I was channeling all of it. I let it pass through me, clinging to nothing but savoring each rich detail of what was in every moment. The essence of what feeds my soul was available in abundance all around me and I was tuned into it.
After the Man fell, Peter and the boys towed me back to the Esplanade. It was clear that the kids wanted to have their own evening and who could blame them? Being clever lads, they flagged down a playa cab, loaded me into the back and waved their dad and me off into the night.
It was amazing ride. Peter insisted on riding behind on the trike but held onto the side of the art car letting himself be towed. The guy at the wheel was a madman with a PA system and a flamethrower. His wife clearly loved him, thought the world of him, bless her heart, but he would shout the most obnoxious comments over his PA that were apropos of absolutely nothing. He’d randomly change direction, careening wildly across the dark playa, toward the latest thing that was on fire. At times, he’d park, leap out, shoot off his flamethrower and howl into the night sky. It was a sort of spontaneous and twisted Cirque du Soleil. In the back, Peter and I were having a grand old time. It didn’t matter to us one whit where we went or what we saw. His antics made us laugh and laugh. As far as I was concerned, I was finally back out on the playa, swimming in the sea of delights and that’s all that mattered to me.
All too soon the night was over.
The madman and his wife dropped us about 40 feet from my door. The ever patient Peter loaded me back onto the trike and pushed me the last little bit. There was an awkward moment at the bottom of the steps, so I gave him a big hug, turned and hopped inside.
On Sunday, Monkey Boy and Riff tore down camp while I shlepped around inside and got things squared away. Through the window I watched Peter and his boys take down their camp. We said our goodbyes and they shoved off around 4, heading for Reno and a long, hot shower. Leaving was sounding real good to me too as it seemed that the shock was finally wearing off and the reality of what I had done to myself was sinking in. We got ready so we could leave after that nights Temple burn.
Riff & I ended up in another squabble about some shit, seemed like just about every conversation pretty quickly ended up going there. I had brought a special package to burn at the Temple, so he took it and some other materials, rode out there and placed them all at the center altar. He wanted to be sure to be there when they lit it so he could videotape it. He packed his equipment and took off.
The nurses from the next camp came over and we had a nice long visit. We’d grown really fond of each other. When Riff got back later he seemed somehow changed, mellowed out, and for the first time he took some interest in my swollen ankle. He even took pictures of us and my injury. Things between us began to feel a little normal again and I was relieved.
He took a shower and got ready to drive us out. Monkey Boy got back and helped us negotiate the pull out. We left the playa around 1 am Monday morning.
About 5am, we pulled up to the Kaiser ER in Roseville. The place was deserted so I got seen and x-rayed pretty quickly. The doctor came in and told us that I had broken my ankle in three places and had a 50/50 chance of needing surgery that would likely involve pins and screws. Eeeeew. He put a temp cast on it, gave me a big fat pain shot and recommended that I get to an orthopedist ASAP. I slept all the way home.
One week to the day after the accident, I saw an orthopedist. The breaks go thru to the joint so they had to put me in a long leg cast that goes from the bottom of my foot, over my knee to halfway up my thigh. I am completely immobile and off my feet for at least 4 weeks, maybe more. It often hurts like HELL but be that as it may.
GOING TO BURNING MAN WAS AN INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE, WORTH EVERY MINUTE AND I CAN HARDLY WAIT FOR NEXT YEAR.
See you on the playa. :
Plan your burn
Burn your plan :-)
POSTSCRIPT: I wrote this one week post burn and am submitting it five weeks later on the day they took the last cast off. I’ve been back at work part time for a couple weeks and I expect in a couple more weeks I’ll be full time again and able to return to my vigorous yoga practice. So after all is said and done, “No harm, no foul.” Thanks for letting me tell my story.