Burning Man: WTF?

Sondra and I got on the road on Sunday around 10:30 in the morning, headed for Burning Man. Once we picked up groceries at Smith's (1740 Mountain City Hwy., Elko, NV), we figured it might be possible to arrive just after midnight — a first time for both of us. As it turned out, we arrived around 4 a.m. or so. It was interesting to arrive then, but I much preferred arriving in daytime. We slept on the ground until dawn then hunted down a spot — Bonneville at 5:15 — which was pretty centrally located.

We got the tents and shade set up, then the dust storm started. It was not only a harsh storm by Burning Man standards, but it was relentless. It lasted until dark. We tried getting around to pick up ice and such, but it was nearly impossible to do so. The shade I built got blown down, having snapped two segments of 1/2" water pipe. Fortunately they were just extension pieces so I was able to make the shade again, only it was short enough to hit the tent.

We finally got out to see things at night. I got the chance to try Ecstasy for the first time. It was apparently quite pure (sometimes, I guess, Speed is added which makes one more interested in dancing, or Cocaine is added which makes it suck). I liked it a lot. It created a sense of empathy with others which allowed me to easily put aside feelings of annoyance with others. I tended to look deeply at people and feel bonded with them. Its other dominant experiential effect greatly reduced my awareness of minor bodily irritations — achyness from the day, for instance, but also irritations like holding a flashlight.

Anyway, I started getting tired quite late and decided to head back to camp. Unfortunately I got hit with irresistible tiredness and ended up falling asleep on the way there. I became aware of walking in the dawn and slowly realized that I was not, in fact, dreaming, but experiencing reality. I got back to camp and got some sleep. Tuesday morning I got up and hunted down my trike that I left behind — someone had found it and brought it to their camp on the Esplanade where I found it. The light tube got damaged and the backpack went missing — fortunately only containing some water and a dust mask.

I had signed up to volunteer to work at the sound stage in the Center Camp and I actually made it on-time, despite having not seen a clock in more than a day. I worked the mixing board and learned a lot about using a large board. The performances were not all that interesting, and the four hours went by quite slowly. That night was my night off: each year at Burning Man, it seems I take one day and get some sleep … Tuesday was it this year.

For the rest of the week, things were pretty much the same … relatively pleasant weather and total boredom. Somehow, Burning Man didn't quite happen — it was more like a mock-up of Burning Man where people camp in the desert but don't bother to bring any good art, or try to act with tolerance, or act like a community at all. It was quite strange.

I think "The Bummer" was the art piece that summed up the whole event. It was a 4-times-or-so mock-up of a Hummer vehicle. From a distance, it indeed looked like it was intended, but I had to ask, "what's the point?" I mean, okay: a big Hummer … umm … and? Up close, it was like a plywood clubhouse. It had no detail inside, and it was apparently just dimensionally correct on the outside. I really didn't get it at all — and that's pretty much what all the artwork was like. Some were better than others, but none that I saw exceeded a modest level of mediocrity.

Saturday brought another horrendous day of dust storms. Sondra and I decided to call it quits. We got things packed up in the slightly-less-bad storm that continued into the night and left around 11 p.m., just a bit after they burned the Man figure. By 5 a.m. we made it to The Lovelock Inn (55 Cornell Ave., Lovelock, NV) which had beds and showers. We got on the road on Sunday refreshed and made it back to Colorado by the next night.

Along the way we tried to think of anything good about this year's Burning Man: something specifically awesome — anything, in fact, like what we had experienced in past years. Alas, the only maximal adjective we could come up with is "worst", only qualified by "ever".

Thankfully, we escaped it.

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Rochester to Glenwood Springs

So I headed out on Wednesday night, stopping at Paola's Burrito Place (1921 South Ave., formerly Big Dog's Hots) with Ali before saying our goodbyes. I drove until I got tired around Cleveland, then got up on Thursday and made it just inside Kansas. Of course, things took a downturn when the air conditioning in the Roadmaster gradually stopped working with a warning signal on the heating controls. At least I made it through the worst of it.

On the way through otherwise-dreadful Kansas, I saw a billboard for a GM dealership in Hays, about halfway across Kansas. Crap. I guess they do work. Anyway, I went to James Motor Works, Co. (108 E. 13th St., Hays, KS). I talked with Dan and they got me right in to check out the A.C. It turned out there is a leak (which I knew, having added more coolant before I left) and the ventilation system computer shuts things down when the compressor cycles too much. I got it recharged there — they were really nice and it was "only" $100 or so. Afterward I got a recommendation for lunch, and I went to Gella's Diner and Lb. Brewing Company (117 E. 11th St., Hays, KS) right around the corner. I had a really good Oatmeal Stout and a great Patty Melt: a "beef patty topped with mushrooms, schmeltz (caramelized onions) and provolone cheese on buttered marbled rye toast". Mmm. I met this guy who happened to be from Colorado and we chatted a bit before I got back on the road.

I made it to Colorado around 2:30 p.m. and managed to snap a self-portrait along the way:

Self-portrait (sort-of)

See the wagon? To be honest, it's larger than it appears.

Unfortunately, my timing was such that I got to Denver at almost exactly 5:00 p.m. Yeesh. It wasn't too bad, but getting up the mountain took a while. I made it to Sondra and Will's around 8 and got settled in. We'll be leaving on Sunday morning in a little convoy for Burning Man. Hopefully in air-conditioned comfort.

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Dinner and a Movie with Ali

Ali and I tried out that whole dinner-and-a-movie deal — the one where you can get free tickets for The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) for everyone at your table at Highland Park Diner (960 S. Clinton Ave.) if you spend at least $12.50 each. It's not that the Cinema is all that expensive, but it was a good excuse to spend a little more than usual on dinner. After all, even though Highland Diner is pricier than average, it's still kind of hard to spend that much per person.

The first film was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which Ali enjoyed more than I did. The thing I always enjoyed about the series is the way that the highly improbable circumstances are at least physically possible — it's set in the past of our daily world with a twist that there's a bit more magic and ancient booby traps continue to function flawlessly. In the latest installment, however, the action is just too far beyond unlikely: getting blown-clear from a nuclear blast, or going over a waterfall and surviving completely unscathed, for instance.

I also condemn the film for having internal inconsistencies indicative of a changing script. In one instance, Jones has strong knowledge of an unusual artifact but later claims he was kept in the dark and knew nothing. That artifact was supposed to be magnetic — able to deflect hanging lights from tens of feet away — but could be easily loaded into a steel Jeep. I also recall at least one instance where a character starts arguing with another, but that argument was almost edited out, and in the next shot, they're all fine again.

Ali had to skip Hellboy II: The Golden Army but I went back to see it. I liked it a lot more than Indiana Jones. I wasn't all that keen on it being so comic-book-like because some of the scenes would have worked as a comic book panel — where your imagination fixes the incongruities as if in a dream — but when rendered in film-form, they're shown to be rather absurd. That said, the dialog is snappy, funny, and overall the film is just fun to watch.

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Duck, You Sucker at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Giù la testa (A Fistful of Dynamite, or Duck, You Sucker). According to Michael Neault in his introduction of the movie, Sergio Leone — after having made several movies celebrating political revolution — Duck, You Sucker takes a much more cynical view of it.  It also happens to be that there are no fewer than four versions of the film, and the one we got to see was presumed to be the "original" director's cut.

I immediate thought that as much as The Bridge on the River Kwai is a testament to the rational insanity of war, Duck, You Sucker shows war as a black comedy. In the film, John — a former Irish Republican Army explosives expert — gets paired up with Juan — a poor thief in Mexico. That is, despite John's best efforts to avoid it. And to avoid getting roped into another revolution … sort of … it seems that getting involved in revolution is more of an addictive habit than anything. Juan, in the mean time, is also trying to avoid getting into the revolution. But he accidentally keeps saving people and making terriffic progress for the revolutionaries.

As revolutions are, there are advances made by each side, making it seem like no progress is made on either front overall until perhaps, one of the parties involved just gets too tired of fighting — or forgets what the point was in the first place.

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