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February 2nd, 2003  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

What Goes Around…

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.


by Dr. Lizard

It was 1996, and I had been wandering around for a while. Pepe’s opera had begun and I had a good view. It was hard to make much sense out of the opera, especially in my somewhat enhanced state, but I was enjoying the spectacle.

Quite suddenly, I felt myself overcome by a wave of dizziness. It overtook me so quickly that I sat down promptly in one swift motion, lest I keel over on the spot. Speaking of spots, as I sat there surrounded by strangers, the spots in my vision danced and pulsed. That part I had experienced before, but the waves of weakness startled me. Sitting cross-legged I felt safe from collapsing but I was queasy and unsteady. Gulping back “the fear” I put my head down in my hands and tried to reason with myself.

“What is this? What brought this on? I’ve never felt this before. Did I eat something bad? No haven’t eaten in a while. Could I be dehydrated? But it’s night. Can you get dehydrated at night?” That was when I realized that I wasn’t carrying water… and I hadn’t had a drink in — well, by my most approximate guess, about three hours. I had been running around in the desert, talking to people, checking stuff out. And the weather was calm and cool. The sun had set long ago. But the alkali… it is hygroscopic, I knew that. It’s the technical term for a mineral that absorbs water from its surroundings. Gypsum and talc are common examples. And the playa contains a lot of gypsum. It sucks the moisture right out of you.

I recalled seeing a girl blithely walking across the encampment suddenly keel over the day before. Rangers ran in and knelt by her. Dehydration. It hits you suddenly. They took her away on a stretcher.

Now that I was sure what had happened to me, the next step was what to do, Though I was surrounded by burners, I felt more than a little tongue-tied, and also embarrassed. Could I make it back to camp? I knew I didn’t have the strength. Then I realized, I had been talking to a guy with an art car — Host — you know, the van with the Beetle welded on top, just before the opera started. He should be parked about thirty feet behind me if he hasn’t moved. He’ll have water!

I rested a few moments and then, summoning my remaining strength, stood and turned. Yup, the Host was still there. In retrospect I still don’t know why I didn’t just ask whoever was next to me for water. But I didn’t. Half falling, half walking, I pushed through the seething churning crowd and stumbled toward the van. Mike (I think that’s his name — don’t hate me if I get it wrong ok?) was there, and talking with some very cute girls. It occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t interrupt, but this was a matter of life or death! Somewhat rudely, I imagine, I stumbled up and leaned on the van.

“I need some water, man — I think I ‘m dehydrated” I managed to blurt out.

He smiled gently, reached behind him into the van, and handed me a quart bottle of water, right out of the cooler — sealed. I remember it was crystal geyser. I downed the whole bottle, and stayed leaning against the van while my strength came back. It was uncanny. I never want to feel that again.

Once I felt better, I thanked Mike profusely and headed back to camp. The girls had stuck around, though they didn’t seem to think very highly of me. I was just glad that Mike had had some water. When I got to camp, I drank half a gallon before I stopped feeling thirsty. Then I stayed up the rest of the night and had a great time!

So let that be a warning to you. By the time you feel it, it will be too late. Drink water at all times. Piss clear.

But my story does not end there. The following year -1997- I brought two quart bottles of crystal geyser with me. They were in the cooler from home to the desert, despite my campmates’ entreaties to make more room. No I said, when I see this guy, I have to repay his gift — twofold. And I want it to be ice-cold. They didn’t understand. By the fifth day, I was wondering if he would even show.

But then I saw it, the Host, meandering across the desert. I ran to the cooler, grabbed the water bottles, and ran toward where I ‘d seen the van. It was a ways off. He had stopped and gotten out. As I approached, I saw he was talking to two guys. Before I got within earshot, I saw the two guys turn and walk away, dejected. A few moments later, he turned and saw me.

“Hey! Remember me? I just wanted to thank you for the water you gave me last year. You saved my life!” I held out the two frosty bottles of water to him.

His expression as he looked at the bottles, then at me, was not at all what I expected. His face fell, and sadly, he gestured at the two guys, now too far away to call out to. “Those guys? They just asked me for water, and I said no, because I’ve given away so much water already this year I’m worried we won’t have enough for ourselves. And now here you are.”

Our eyes met with the knowing understanding that accompanies a playa parable.