Chapter 7 – We Are Dust in the Wind – Day 1, Part 2

Originally published 1/10/2009 and titled “All We Are is Dust in the Wind” but that got a lot of hits from people looking for music – go figure.

It has taken quite a lot to get to this point in my journal – I hope that my readers will hang in there and check back from time to time as I write more.  I will get it all down here eventually, and in as correct an order as my old-fart brain can manage.  It is tempting, sometimes to skip around, as I often do when retelling my story to groups of friends.  But this journal needs to be complete and as chronological as possible.

And now back to where I left off….

The sun was now fully up on day one of Burning Man. I returned to my temporary RV parking spot, unlocked and unslung the mountain bike from the back of the RV and proceeded to explore the neighborhood.  I started by riding ‘around the block’ and familiarizing myself with the streets in daylight.  Lamplighters Lounge was just off the ‘wheel’ road where ‘Dart’ and ‘wheel’ roads converge near the six o’clock road. Confusing?

For a look at the layout of Black Rock City in 2008 – go here -

After going around the block, I rode outward on the six o’clock radial street to the outer edge road – “K-car”.  (Each ring street outside the Esplanade was named after an American car – this year being the ‘American Dream’ theme  and cars being part of the American Dream- alphabetically from A through K – they were Allanté, Bonneville, Corvair, Dart (loved it), Edsel, Fairlane (owned one), Gremlin, Hummer, Impala (drive one sometimes), Jeep, and K-car).

From six o’clock and K-car I rode counterclockwise until I arrived at 5:30 and then turned back inward toward the center again – returning to Lamplighters village.  At this point, I was feeling the burn – in my legs – I hadn’t ridden my bike for over two years.  What I didn’t even think about, at the time, was that I was also riding at over 4000 feet above sea level.  Despite that, I had no problems with shortness of breath when riding. 

I did, however, have the challenge of “soft spots” on the playa.  Apparently, due to a lack of rain last year (yes, it rains there – sometimes even during Burning Man), the playa had a lot of spots where the normally hard surface was pocked with areas that had the consistency of a child’s sand box. Rumor has it that many an unwary bicycle rider performed the famed “face-plant” maneuver while riding this year. For me, it was like riding through deep mud and made the burn of peddling all that more painful.

Passing through the village, I checked to see if anyone was awake yet who could direct me to my permanent camping spot. No one was, so I continued on with my explorations.  Getting back on the wheel road again I rode clockwise past the spot that all the lost souls had inquired about during the early morning hours in the lounge. It was still a deserted, empty plot. There was supposed to be a real hot nightspot setting up there with a well known big-city DJ and pounding music all night long.

The weather was not what I had been expecting.  It was only in the seventies and nowhere near as dry as I had anticipated it would be. It was actually more comfortable due to the lowered humidity, but not dry like Phoenix, Arizona, where you walk out into the heat and feel your face starting to mummify right away.  I found it well within my comfort range but remained cautiously optimistic – the day was still young.

I headed back toward the village again, mindful that all Lamplighters were required to attend a meeting in the lounge at 10:00am  I got back to my RV just as a young couple was arriving and looking to see where their camping space would be.  Jeremy and his virgin ‘burner’ camp mate LeanneTheLeo introduced themselves and we all went in search of anyone who might be up by now to tell us where we should make our camp sites. Eventually we found Snotto (Tony) who directed us to the spots he thought we should use.  I was told to put the RV next to the kitchen tent – directly in line with several camouflaged porta-potties.  These, I was told, were for our camp use.  I hadn’t expected we’d have our own, thinking I would have to walk to one of the radial streets to find a porta-potty but here they were, right next door!

Moving the RV would have to wait, it was now time for the meeting. All of us stood or sat around the lounge as we were given instructions and important information we would need throughout the coming week.  All new Lamplighters would be required to attend a ‘Lamplighting 101′ training session in the chapel area at 4pm – one hour before lamplighting time.  Some folks who were part of the lamplighters council, introduced themselves and the meeting went quickly.  We were informed that there would be a camp shower for those who could supply their own water for its use, and to keep an eye out for a large van with a porta-potty-like building in pieces on the roof.  They would be bringing the shower building with them, all the way from North Carolina.

The meeting was just wrapping up around 11:00 when the wind began picking up speed outside and a dust devil the width of a city block and over a hundred feet high passed through the area somewhere around five o’clock and Gremlin on it’s way toward the center of the city, toward the man. These are not quite like a Tornado or a Hurricane, although gusts can reach 70 mile per hour.  They are mostly a danger to any ill-secured shelters or loose items in their way. I’ve been told that it is no fun watching your tent become a kite and having to travel long distances to the trash fence line to look for it.  The trash fence is the 9-mile long pentagonal fence around the event area that seems to catch a lot of wind-blown trash.

I watched in awe as this massive elemental force passed through the city.   Then, in its wake came the rolling clouds of the first dust storm of the week.

The first dust storm of the week moves in to stay.

The first dust storm of the week moves in to stay.

Everyone scurried to get their protective gear in place.  The website, and experienced burners had recommended carrying it with you at all times, which I had.  I had purchased some swimming goggles, to seal out dust from my eyes, and a good protective face mask used to stop drywall dust, which this dust was very similar to.  The goggles, however, sealed too well and my eyeballs felt the vacuum, as if they would be sucked out of my head.  Perhaps buying this type of goggles had been a mistake.  After hunkering down in the lounge for awhile, and seeing some of the veteran burners completely ignoring the dust flying through the lounge, my concerns diminished.

The blowing dust created an almost white-out outside the lounge. Periodically, the wind would subside for a moment and it would appear that the storm was over, only to start up again harder than before.  In this weather, everyone is cautioned not to drive or ride bikes – accidents during dust storms account for many injuries at Burning Man each year.  So, moving the RV to my new spot would have to wait yet a little longer. The breathing gear was working well and I felt restricted, waiting in the lounge for a lull that might not get there any time soon. I yearned to get out and explore some more. Now that I had been well dusted, I decided to get out and embrace this new experience. Instead of waiting out the storm in the RV, I was going for a walk.

I adjusted my goggles one more time and then stepped into the storm.  I walked through the village, and the chapel, seeing as I went that I was not the only person out and about in the storm.  Visibility was about 20-30 feet when I crossed the center camp road and made my way to the center camp cafe again.

I knew, from my ‘research’ that in dust storms, the cafe in center camp fills with ‘refugees’ from the storm.  This turned out to be quite correct.  There was a packed house.  And yet, things there were moving along as they had earlier, just more crowded.  Lines for tea / coffee / lemonade were longer.  All the usual events in the cafe were progressing despite the storm outside.

Looking up through the roof over the ‘circus ring’, which is open to the sky, I could see a clear blue sky and very few puffs of dust.

View of the cafe during a dust storm

Center camp cafe - Blue skies above but near-whiteout at the entryways

 Looking out any doorway was a different sight altogether.

Dust envelops a sculpture outside the cafe

Dust envelops the 'curmudgeon' sculpture outside the cafe.

Dust obscures citizens of Black Rock City outside the cafe.

Dust obscures citizens of Black Rock City outside the cafe.

Many veteran burners had foregone the use of their masks and goggles inside the cafe.  Most had found seats to watch the entertainment or enjoy their beverages.  Everyone seemed to just take the storm in stride, after all, it was Burning Man and if there wasn’t at least one dust storm, the week seemed incomplete.  Many ignored the dust filtering lightly through the area and into their beverages. The cafe seemed like just another smoke filled venue and I have been told that a pinch of alkaline playa dust is the perfect addition to a bloody Mary.

After observing all the people there for a while longer, and seeing that the storm did not look like it would subside any time soon, I decided to head back and try, carefully, to move the RV into its allotted space.  I crossed back over to the village and headed to the RV.  As I passed the lane where my spot was to be I noticed that several others had set up camp nearby.  One of those was about to pound a stake and line into the middle of where I was to park. I walked over, introduced myself and quickly explained the situation.  Barry, and Meps (Margaret) were setting up the shade structure for their van.  These two, I discovered later, were the folks who had brought out the shower unit on top of their van.  They were using an old sailboat sail as shade.  We quickly worked out that I would bring the RV over, park and they could tie off the shade structure on the RVs bumper or hitch.

Anxious to get the RV moving and keep as much dust out as possible, I jumped in the side door and didn’t notice that it hadn’t latched completely.  I pulled the RV onto the lane by the kitchen and heard the side door pop, at about that same time – several big plastic boxes (to keep the dust out) of clothes fell off the couch and popped open too.  I stopped the truck and for some reason, instead of going back through the RV, I got out of the drivers door and ran around to the side to get in and pick up the clothes before they were completely covered in dust.

I shut the door again, this time fully latched and made my way to the front cab.  There I discovered a ‘winter’ wonderland of dust in the cab and on the dashboard and console, having left the drivers side door open in my haste to save the clothes.  Now I had more dust in the RV than I bargained for and I hadn’t even had the chance to put down the drop cloths I had brought along to keep the dust off everything.  The Playa was laughing at me.  Defeated by dust, I just shrugged and parked the RV and sorted out all the fallen clothes boxes while my new neighbors tied off their shade to the back wheel.

Time moves in strange ways on the Playa.  As I worked to get my things sorted out, it was soon after 3:00 PM.  I realized that I would not have another opportunity to sit and eat until Dinner that night.  Eating right, and drinking copious amounts of fluid are essential when living in the dessert.  I had the luxury of the microwave in the RV to help with that.  I could run the generator. and thus the AC when needed so technically I was not roughing it there, not like some folks staying in small tents.

I decided to establish a pattern, or ritual of always eating something in the afternoon, before heading off to light lamps.  3:00 PM there was 6:00 PM here at home.  And dinner, in lamplighter village, was always served after the last group returned from their route.  This usually meant around 9:00 PM (Midnight at home).  I see now where they recommend eating at the proper time for the time zone you are in to prevent jet lag.  This worked out for me as well.  I prepared a non-refrigerated microwave meal, took my time eating, sat, and read a book for awhile before heading over to the lounge to hang out until it was time for the lamplighters 101 class in the chapel.

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