Thursday, February 5, 2015
Burning Man Stories: Megalopolis Burn and Dust Storm 2010
I had made friends with our neighbors, from the theme camp called "Little Crack Whore." So one night I biked out with them to watch the large art installation, Megalopolis, burn to the ground amid great fanfare and fireworks.
These guys had been cool the whole week, starting out with setup, our two camps helping each other and lending tools when needed. When I twisted my ankle from partying too hard at a club, they helped out with some Alleve and ice. They also had fun amenities in their camp, like the large-scale Jenga set, which they called Junga. Their repurposed T-shirt shade cloth was an idea which our camp took and ran with. They invited me to try their kissing booth one night, and it worked out pretty well. They also had me over for dinner, and served a very satisfying home-style meal.
So we rode out on Friday night, the scheduled time for the largest burn, aside from the Man or the Temple. This year it was Megalopolis. This was a small city of six buildings under six stories tall. It was modeled after San Francisco, as I recall, with a TransAmerica Pyramid-esque building in the center and other, somewhat boxy, office-looking buildings around it. It was a fairly extensive piece of work. It was a warm night, so I dressed accordingly, wearing nothing but a scarf, plus shoes and socks, and maybe a hat. My bike basket could carry my effects, such as water.
The fire show started. Fireworks rained into the sky, and as the buildings burned, each one took on a different color flame, no doubt from added chemicals or something. Some spat out sparks, others just burned. We were enjoying this as the dust seemed to be picking up. Soon it became obvious that dust masks and goggles would be necessary. I was looking around to the other burners, some of whom were putting on their dust gear early, while others waited, to get a sense of when it was time to strap on my own gear. It's a bit of a nuisance having the goggles and mask on: my breathing is limited, my warm breath is trapped against my face, and the goggles get dusty constantly.
The show ended when the buildings collapsed, leaving a nice bonfire, and my party saddled up to leave. We headed off, into the dust storm. This year, there were mounds of loose dust scattered around the playa, due to freezing temperatures late in the season. The dust mounds were tough to traverse, like biking on loose sand.
With the dust and my goggles limiting my vision, and mounds slowing progress on the bike, I soon lost my group in the haze. I just dismounted my bike and walked slowly, as though in a dense fog.
This was a total whiteout, at night, and only occasionally did other the lights of other people become visible in the haze. At some point, loud music approached, and the headlights of an art car. A fairly large one, it carried a few dozen people, all relaxed and partying. It was all I could do to follow it, figuring that at least it was some sign of civilization. There were a number of people following it on bike or jogging on foot, so it seemed like a safe bet. Sure, we might be heading in the wrong direction and end up getting lost, but at least we'd be lost together, along with a bright colorful vehicle with plenty of music and drinks.
The music was catchy, perhaps techno remixes of classic rock or funk songs. I just remember being in good spirits, dancing along to it as I walked my bike, in the dust storm, naked except for a scarf, hat, shoes and dust gear. A party atmosphere prevailed as we moved slowly on. The speed limit for vehicles on the playa is 5 mph, so it was not hard to keep up. Just a hint of uncertainty added to the sense of adventure and gave a dreamlike quality to the experience. Really, it felt like this rolling party was in its own little bubble, invisible from the outside, surrounded by an opaque wall of dust and darkness.
Eventually, some faint lights emerged from the fog ahead, and we saw we were approaching the Esplanade. Back at the city, we began to recognize landmarks and to get our bearings. The car turned itself towards its home camp, and the pedestrians following along fanned off to their separate destinations. The party ended like it began, spontaneously and naturally.