He lived to tell the tale

Dick Hughes at the trailer park, packing up his stuff.

Dick Hughes is on his way home from the playa right now. His work’s not done, and the event hasn’t even started, but still he’s on his way back to Oregon.

And this is a very good thing.

Dick’s been coming out to the playa since 2005. He joined the DPW to help build Black Rock City in 2007,  the year of the Green Man.

And he was here again this year for the building of the fence. He was out there early with the others. He wasn’t pounding stakes “because I’d like to be able to use my joints the rest of the week!” he laughed, but he was there for the hours of pulling and tying to get the trash fence attached to the stakes.

That night, though, he wasn’t feeling so good. He had a touch of indigestion, “but not like anything I’ve felt before.” He wasn’t too concerned, and he decided to have a beer and just try to relax and recover from the grueling day.

But he wasn’t feeling so great the next morning, either. And so there he was,  in the Black Rock offices in Gerlach, talking about his discomfort with the medics. He was feeling a little woozy and out of it.

By Tuesday afternoon, Dick was in a Reno hospital, having a stent put in his femoral artery. The artery had become partially blocked, and if it had become totally blocked, it’s likely his heart would have burst and he would have died.

But none of that happened. Instead, he got the medical treatment he needed, and in a timely manner. By Friday evening, incredibly, he was back on the playa, talking about the experience.

No, he’s not working with the DPW. He’s finished with that for the year, and maybe forever. He was thinking that it might have been his last year anyway — he’s 64, and this is a young person’s game.

So he packed up and left the playa this morning. He wasn’t supposed to lift anything heavier than five pounds for at least five days, so he took that advice and laid low in Gerlach.  Now he’ll drive back to Oregon, where he lives with his wife, two cats, and several hundred thousand bees. “There’s a lot of feminine energy around,” he laughed. And there was also a great deal of sentiment that he should get back to Oregon as fast as he could.

Dick’s an interesting and intelligent man who was taken with the Burner spirit relatively late in life. He liked the atmosphere, the freedom,  the spontaneity of letting things happen as they are supposed to happen, maybe not the way you thought they would or should.

“I’ve shaken the hands of two men who’ve walked on the moon,” Dick was saying over dinner. He has a math and engineering background, and a degree of the University of Iowa. He worked on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 space launches, and Skylab after that.

He lived most of his adult life in the Bay Area, in Fremont, before “the finances” got too challenging there. “The finances, the infrastructure … there’s just too many people,” Dick said. He said it laughingly, though, with a twinkle in his eye. He doesn’t seem to harbor much ill will about anything.

You’d think a man who’d just undergone a heart procedure and was looking at a long lonely trip back to Oregon would be a little down in the dumps. Not Dick. He might have been a little sheepish, a little apologetic, but sad? Nope. Not a bit. This seemed like it was going to turn into another good story for a man who has lots of them.

There’s one other little wrinkle to this one: Dick and his wife let their insurance lapse at the end of July. Right — that was nine days before he had his trip to the hospital. The COBRA payments were too high to handle, so their plan was to skip a month, then get on his wife’s insurance when she vested with her new firm. That would have happened on September 1.  “I guess I lost that gamble,” Dick said.

(Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the fact that this country makes medical insurance affordable only to those who work for a firm that offers benefits — well, it’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong.)

Anyway, Dick’s on his way back home now, and the work and the party will go on without him. But he wasn’t chagrined about it, and you shouldn’t be either.

But the next time you hear someone complain about all the “rules” set up around Burning Man these days, all the “controls” that supposedly rob the event of its rebel status, think of Dick. He’d have died in the desert if it weren’t for the medical services team — Corey, Poltergeist and Big Spoon — that was on site. They knew what to do, they did it quickly and efficiently, and Dick gets to go home to be with the wife and the cats and the bees again.

 

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

16 thoughts on “He lived to tell the tale

  • Another great piece, Curley. Thank you for shining some light on such an interesting man. Safe travels, Mr. Hughes!

    I love your photos and your words. You can tell that you really appreciate the people and the process.

    See you Thursday!

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  • May we all gain some of Mr. Hughes’ positive attitude. I hope his trip home is safe and only mildly adventurous.

    Is it possible that he may need some assistance in the medical bills arena? I’m sure there are many of us who would be willing to pitch in…

    Thanks to the medical crew for being good at what they do.

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  • Thanks for giving the boy another tale to tell. Good job to all; Dick too for not ignoring his symptoms.
    Now, however, he is lamenting not having a ticket for BM….geeeez.
    Somebody put his mind at ease!

    A 2005 Green BM friend who has kept up with him.

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  • Thanks for the article John. Dick will be an inspiration for anyone who reads this post. I’m 62 and starting living in BRC about the same time as Dick. But I’d never say it’s a “young persons game”. Of course I don’t “pull fencing” but still enjoy the complete spontaneity. We’ll miss you in spirit Dick!! Enjoy those pets.

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  • Anyone here have any experience with funding an account for something like this?
    I’ll help…I have a paypal account, send money…no, just kidding.

    but seriously, what are the “how to’s” ?

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  • I’m with Brenda, Bless you Dick. Also, I’m pretty active in the virtual BM world and would be glad to pass the word there about any effort to raise funds for Dick’s medical bills.

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  • I got wind of this – surprised and flattered.

    My first thoughts were of what I thought when I heard a sob story ending with ‘and they didn’t have insurance.’ My thoughts were generally, ‘dumbsh*t.’

    There’s a rational explanation. I was moving out of the coverage area of the previous plan [23 years] and had applied and all looked good with a replacement insurance provider. Coverage was ending on 7/31 period. Mid-July the new company changes its’ mind – so nothing for August insofar as insurance. So do I hide under a rock and cancel August? No hospitalization for over 50 years, fairly low risk factors for heart, stroke, renal and all that and no chronic illness – I chose to not hide under a rock – bad bet. There was workman’s comp, right? mistake. Workman’s comp is not there for the worker.

    All you burners would probably be better off buying some extra beer or sunscreen or something. However, if you’re one of those burners that appear in Forbes magazine’s annual list you may wish to contact John for further information on where to send the chump change.

    Nothing much expected as everyone’s busy and up against deadlines, the organization is 1.25% [benefits divided by accrued liabilities] behind me, and the original insurance denial can be contested and overturned – not betting on much but I can see my way clear.

    Thanks Flophouse, I did learn that a scorpion is pretty much like a wasp sting and the discomfort was totally gone within hours unlike a mosquito bite.

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