In 2011, I mostly stayed in camp, led and participated in our theme camp's events. I made only a few jaunts out on the playa during the week. One of those was late at night into the wee hours, biking around the inner playa, seeing all kinds of amazing sights.
But I knew I'd hit the jackpot when I rounded the corner on a back-lit wall to see a small slice of a 50's-style diner hopping along and serving a sizable crowd. This was in a remote corner of the deep playa, near the trash-fence, the official boundary of the event. An artful sign lit up in pink proclaimed this to be the "Dust City Diner," an installation I had heard of before.
The waitresses all sported beehive hairdos, cat-eye glasses, and pink waitress uniforms, and were hot! The cook at the grill wore a "domestic violence tank top" (commonly called a wife-beater). They had clearly taken great pains to include every detail of a 50's diner: the stools with puffy red seats, ashtrays, napkin dispensers, salt, pepper and sugar shakers.
From the stories I'd heard, the staff of the DCD would happily ignore and "diss" anyone standing around the installation, who was not actually sitting on one of the dozen-or-so stools at the counter. Those on the stools were the "customers" and were given attention and service. I was prepared for this, and was not disappointed that they were not distributing food to all comers. I just hung out and watched the performance of serving, taking orders, cooking, dancing to the music, and bawdy joking, etc. Eventually, some customers in the stools were ready to move on, and I graduated to a foot stool. These were strategically placed at the corners of the counter, where there was enough room to stand on the foot-stool and enjoy the diner's service. They offered coffee, which I gladly accepted. They insisted on using their cups, rather than those of participants, to keep the diner theme intact.
I enjoyed the conversation around the counter, though I can't for the life of me remember what was discussed. Soon, a stool was vacated, and I got to enjoy full customer status. At some point, a waitress would yell out, "Who wants a grilled cheese?" and took a count of how many to make. Not long after, they served piping hot grilled cheese sandwiches with a pickle on the side. It was cut in half, so I shared mine with someone next to me who had sat down prior to the order being taken. To the guy occupying the footstool next to me, I offered the pickle, which he accepted. This was just excellent: hot food made by someone else, out in the middle of absolute nowhere. I hung around for another round of sandwiches which I again got to share with others. Satisfied with the snack and refreshment, I relinquished my coveted spot at the counter, and moved on.
These amazing, unexpected and magical experiences lurk at burning man, hiding in the vast expanse and darkness, just waiting to be discovered.