Sunday, February 10, 2013

Burning Man Stories: Crude Awakening


"Crude Awakening" was a ninety foot observation tower designed to look like an oil derrick, to fit into the year's theme, the Green Man.  The largest climbable structure on the playa, easily seen from a mile away, it beckoned to all.  Early in the week, I had trekked out in hopes of ascending it, but each time, it was still undergoing construction and inspection to ensure the safety of all participants, and thus I was kept out.  By the time it finally opened on Thursday, I was too busy or tired to make it back.  I heard reports from my camp mates about how great the view was, but it was just too late for me, particularly since they planned to burn it Friday night.

My friend and camp mate, Louis was one who enjoyed climbing the tower, and planned to film its burning using a tripod.  I walked out with him to enjoy the night's festivities.  Having arrived plenty early, we claimed a spot close to the safety perimeter, marked off with posts and string.  Louis set up his camera and I mingled and danced among the art cars blaring their music as the crowd began amassing around us. 

Soon enough, I had to pee.  I had not prepared for this contingency, and finding a bathroom on the open playa was a problem at this point, before they had lit beacons.  First I thought I could hold it.  The tower was scheduled to burn at 10:00.  Little did I know that the exact times of the scheduled burns are as fickle as times usually are on the playa; things start more or less on time, give or take a few hours.  I knew if I left Louis I'd never find him again in the crowd, but it was an emergency.  So I said goodbye and began the mile-long trek back to camp across the open playa.  I kept looking back at the derrick, convinced it would erupt in flames at any moment.  About halfway back, the fireworks began: streams of silver and gold sparks shooting into the sky and waving back and forth like sprinklers.  I confess that I am less impressed with fireworks than the average person, having seen more than enough at amusement parks, and past Burns.  I was intent on catching the big burn, but so far, it had only been fireworks, and the tower stood unscathed.  As I approached the Esplanade opposite the tower, I saw a group of theme campers seated on beach chairs waiting for the explosion like everyone else with bored expressions.  Sometimes the fireworks displays at Burning Man go a little long, and one starts to think, "Just burn the darn thing already, so we can get back to partying."  I really had to go by now, and was caring less and less about the tower.  I started the hike up the spoke towards the bank of "blue rooms" and passed a young couple walking a bit slower, the woman of which was complaining loudly of the lateness of the burn.  "They said they'd burn it at ten, and THEY'RE LIARS!" I heard.  I was mad too, but not as mad as her!

Walking backwards to keep an eye on the tower, I finally reached the port-a-johns and flung open the door of the end one, which was larger with urinal troughs (to accommodate multiple men at once, and reduce the traffic in the other ones).  I figured, they've already been shooting off fireworks for a half an hour, so surely they will wait another two minutes, right?  I had just begun, when I saw through the cracked door, the ground light up bright orange, and a loud group howl went up from the direction of the tower.  Trying feebly to cut off the flow, I pulled up my pants and stumbled out of there.  I just barely caught a glimpse of a bit of fuel burning up into the atmosphere, but it was too late to catch the massive fireball that was later reported by Louis to be the biggest explosion he'd ever witnessed.  The poor timing had made me miss it, and I was a bit miffed, but ultimately I didn't care any more, and stomped back in to finish what I'd started.

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