Fear & Moaning in Reno; A Brettbart Descent Into The Heart Of Burning Man
We were somewhere above Reno around the edge of the desert when the hangover wore off. I was stone-cold sober and bouncing through the air at 140 mph. The 4-seat Piper yawed and pitched in the wind. I leaned across and behind the pilot's seat for the suitcase that would remedy the situation and the plane dipped wildly in that direction sending the pilot, a retired Marine who'd flown helicopters in Vietnam, into fits of corrective action. "Whoa, whoa there," he yelled pulling back on the yoke. "Don't do that." He laughed with the confidence of a man who could kill us anytime and knew it. "This little bitch ain't made for stunt flying." I leaned back hard into my chair, determined to fight through the sobriety with everything I had.
My benefactors, the Coke Bros. had funded my trip, so I assumed the flight in would be on something large enough that my position in its interior didn't so greatly affect its flight path. The Marine chattered incessantly on his radio. "Piper LX4406, dropping to 4,500 feet at outer marker 1." "Piper LX4406 with visual on Cessna 172 Skyhawk at 2." Shit like that. God, it was like being at home with the wife. Just shut the fuck up already. Maybe the hangover wasn't gone after all. I pretended to be happy and gave my traveling companion, Doctor K E Mitchell, a thumbs up. Better she not know how desperate our current plight. She'll find out soon enough, I thought.
We dropped in around Razorback Mountain and dusty Black Rock City took shape below us. An inexplicable hieroglyph laid out onthe dry, dead lake bed of the Black Rock desert. The city, temporary. A week-long, dusty camper and tent city. 70,000 drug-fueled Communists participating in anti-American orgies. Burning Man 2017.
I was there to do a story for Brettbart.net, the voice of reason and sanity for wholesome Americans and Jesus-loving white people. It was time, Brettbart thought, to rip the veil from this bacchanal and show the good, pure tax-paying Americans what the addicts, hedonists, whores, johns and hippies were up to in this desert backwater. I'd heard things about Burning Man in the past. Lots of drugs and sex, some of it gay even. A dirty dive into the depths of depravity and Satan-worship. I'd be there for three days and nights, drinking whiskey high-balls and keeping a real close eye on the druggies. It was the Coke Bros idea that I should check in on these cockroaches. See what sort of infestation they were planning. Certainly, they didn't come all the way out to the desert, 80 miles from s decent bath, just to do drugs and fuck each other. You could do that in Sparks, if you had the money. Yes, surely there was something else going on here. Soros was obviously behind it, and if that was true, then this was ground zero of the politically correct, multi-cultural, pro-diverse, gay-loving, tax and spend, America-blaming world they were fighting to create.
We landed at the Black Rock "City" "Airport" and made arrangements with Michael to meet back in 3 days. The wind kicked dust up into my eyes and mouth as I pointed to our luggage and began moving along with the crowd toward the gate. Hundreds of out-of-work losers had also flown in. No problem. We'll just glide by them. We weren't waiting in line behind the children of so many disappointed parents. We'd almost made a clean break when the group bottlenecked at the only gate allowing entry from the dirtmac.
"I'm media." I yelled. No response.
"I'm media!" I yelled again, certain the apathetic response of the first attempt was due to the low din of engines and the high volume of wind.
"I'M MEDIA!" I screamed. Still nothing. Apparently, we would be waiting in line behind the children of disappointed parents. Eww, I thought to myself as a looked at their lean bodies. Most were barely clothed. Disgusting, I thought as I looked over them, letting my gaze drop and pause on each one individually. Hopefully, the line will move quickly to save me from this horror, but secretly I knew it wouldn't. This was a hippie-fest and cold, hard efficiency is as foreign to these societal anchors as is a shower. No, we'd be here for awhile, I thought, looking around for that one girl who seemed really suspicious the first time I looked at her.
Luckily, "security" at the Black Rock "City" "Airport" was pathetic. "Hey, Al Queda, want to attack an airport? Black Rock is WIDE open! I know, I know...why bother, right? Why murder 70,000 drags on our superior western culture when you could leave them alive to do their work? I get it. Regardless, security was non-existent and we were through the line in minutes where we met our connection, an olive-skinned but already dust-covered millennial with ringlets of brown hair falling onto her shoulders. Her eyes were brown and bright. Her pupils huge. She smiled at me for some reason.
"Hi, I'm Kendall," she said bubbly, "but my playa name is Sunflower."
"Your playa name?" I asked confused.
"Yeah, my playa name. Out here on the playa I'm Sunflower. I'm wide open to whatever comes."
"I bet you are," I said back. "My name is Brett and my playa name is also Brett. That OK?" I steadied myself. Ready for the typical liberal blowback.
"Of course it is," she said probably too high on dope to be hypocritical. "Is this your first burn?"
"My first what?"
"Your first burn?"
"My first...burn? Burn, young lady, is not a noun. It's a verb. So, I'm afraid I'm a bit confused when you ask if this is my first "burn." If, however, you are, as I suspect, inquiring as to whether this is my first time at The Burning Man Festival, I say yes. Yes, it is, and thank you."
"Welcome home," she said pulling me into a tight hug.
Home? I thought. Jesus Christ, she's high as a kite. Who would live here?
"Now, let's get you two some transportation."
She led us past some perfectly good electric carts to an area where a garbage truck had seemingly dumped a few hundred bedazzled bicycles.
"What are these?" I asked.
"Transportation," she smiled back.
Before I could explain to our liaison we were media and therefore above such pedestrian modes of locomotion, she informed me that Black Rock City was a "leave no trace" environment and our bikes were the best chance to exit the playa without causing lasting damage. Sure, I thought, but who was going to pedal it, me?
We began pedaling for our camp. Me on a Huffy DynoCaster 3000 and the Doctor ferrying the luggage on the Schwinn behind me. Pedaling in sand is no easy feat and our camp was somewhere called 10:00 and Genuflect (fuckin' hippies) so I assumed our trek would be long and arduous. At least, I thought, once we get there and get settled into our suite I would be able to relax with a stiff cocktail and a bit of rest.
Our suite was actually something called a "shiftpod." An igloo-shaped monstrosity made of thick canvas built specifically to handle the high winds and sandstorms of the Burning Man festival. If the location of your soiree requires the invention of new nature-resistant lodging, maybe seek out a new location, like a country club in the Hamptons or anyplace in the Hamptons.
The Doctor began setting up our pod while I sat nearby on a cooler in the shade (provided by a man-made shade structure. There was no natural shade in this devilish inferno) and gazed out at my surroundings. What a God-forsaken Hellhole. Wind whipping the sand in columns of swirling dust. The sun baking and blasting every tent, pod and RV with relentless waves of unrelenting heat. Jesus fucking Christ, I thought, I need a drink.
"Where's the bourbon?"
"In the pod in its case," the Doctor replied still arranging my accoutrements.
"Well, bring it out here," I was a little annoyed I'll admit. The Doctor knows I don't like to watch labor without a good, stiff drink. The zipper on the pod's flap zipped open with a satisfying zwwwwwwwip and the Doctor popped out with the black leather suitcase that had housed my liquor when traveling since I was an undergrad at the Harvard of northeast Missouri, Northeast Missouri State University. She opened the case, retrieved a bottle of Tennessee whiskey and a glass and held both out toward me. There was a pause.
"Oh," I said realizing the Doctor's intent. "You want me to pour it myself. Hehe." Sometimes the Dr could be a bit selfish, but I usually chose to look past it.
With the pod arranged to my specifications, the Doctor toddled off to commiserate with the other members of our "camp." Burning Man attendees are arranged in "camps" organized around their common interests. You know, typical leftist clap-trap. Our camp was called, "Feed the Artists" and existed, they said, to feed the many artists at Burning Man who work so many hours preparing their art installations they forget to eat. I wasn't sure about any of that. I chose FtA because the food looked good. Menus of actual sustenance and delight and I chose it for me. I could give a fuck if an artist eats. If a dirty hippie ripping off America with an art grant forgets to eat, well, that's no skin off my balls. Let him starve and pass the prosciutto, I say. I zipped myself into the pod and laid the duvet from my housekeeper's bed at home on top of the air mattress that would pass for my bed for the next three days, turned the knob on the portable AC unit I had brought in and laid down to contemplate the sorry condition of man.
What a feeble attempt at fun this looked like it was going to be. No golf? Probably music. Oh well, it was important work that I was doing, so I'd just have to, as the people say,...suck it up. A shudder ran up my spine as I thought about it.
I awoke hours later to the sound of clanging bell. Shut the fuck up, I thought, closing my eyes in pursuit of more rest. It clanged again seconds later even more loudly. i covered my ears with the pillow.
"Dinner's ready," the Dr said from the other side of the pod.
"Dinner," she repeated.
"Wonderful," I said. "Have a boy bring me a full plate."
"I'm afraid it doesn't work that way," she said. "They want to meet you."
"Ugh. Fine. I'll be along directly," I said sitting up on the bed and placing my bare feet on the already sandy pod floor. "I'm on my way."
I looked over my wardrobe. I allowed my eyes to pass the $3,000 silk kimono that hung next to my portable AC unit and settled on a simple pleated short and tee shirt ensemble meant to blend in with poor people. The tee shirt said something clever about religion, so I knew it would be perfect. I slipped on my cheapest Kenneth Cole loafers and grabbed the zipper at the bottom of my pod's "door." It moved roughly 2 inches before locking up. I tried it again. Stuck. At the same point. I tried it a few more times and the zipper remained unable to move past the spot just 2 inches from where it started. No bother. Probably just some sand stuck in the zipper's teeth. I tried it again. Nothing.
"The zipper seems to be stuck, Dr. Mitchell," I said loudly assuring my plight would be heard on the other side of the canvas. "Try it from that side."
The Doctor tugged on the zipper from the other side, but again the zipper failed to move. "Can't get it," she said through the canvas. "It's stuck." The Doctor was nothing if not the complete master of things of which all were aware.
"Guess I can't come to dinner and meet everyone," I shot back trying to sound sad. I didn't really feel like dinner anyway, the desert having sapped my appetite like so many HRC election parties. I hadn't even had my post-nap whiskey yet, anyway. To think, I almost went out there...unwhiskeyed. Ooooh, another shudder ran up my spine.
"Yep, looks like I won't be able to meet everyone right now. Tell them I'll be out when I can and look forward to making their aquaint then."
"OK," said the Doctor. "And I'll make you a plate."
"Great, great," I said as she hurried off. "And I'll make myself a drink." I looked around for the whiskey-filled suitcase. EEEEEK!, It's...out there. On the other side of the canvas. Mere feet away, but separated by an eternity.
"DOCTOR!" I bellowed, but it was no use. She was gone. Off eating and chatting with the others. Once again, concerned only with herself.
I tried the zipper again and I yelled a few more times. Each attempt was as feeble as a Democrat's attempt winning a midterm. Frustrated, I sat back on the bed and stared at the gray walls that entombed me. The canvas was stitched into tiny triangles each measuring about an inch across. Counting the triangles on all six walls of the pod must total in the thousands. I wondered how many there were all together.
6,042. I came to that number on my third attempt. At which point I had been in the pod somewhere near a month and a half, best I could tell. I'd lost count two other times, but with the sobriety I was currently suffering through, I was able, the third time, to stay on task and count the triangles on each of the six separate wall pieces. Later it was pointed out to me that I could've just counted the triangles on one wall and multiplied the answer by six, but at the time, without whiskey, these sorts of insights were unattainable to me.
By now, the music outside had kicked up considerably. A loud, regular thumping of a bass sound that resembled the gastrointestinal rumblings of a dying mammoth. How do people listen to this? They can't possibly like it. Certainly can't dance to it. How are you supposed to court a lady if you can't pull her in cheek to cheek and dance the box step? It defies logic.
And where was the Doctor? Surely, by now she was through supping with the unwashed. Why hasn't she returned with assistance, or at least a stiff drink? God, this was awful. Fuck hippies and their ridiculous festivals! This sucked!
"Hello!" I bellowed. "HELLO, DOCTOR. ARE YOU OUT THERE?" My pleas were drown out under the thumping oince oince of the music coming from the camp next door. It was relentless and without melody. I pictured the kids out there listening to it. Motionless. Heads down defeated, moaning and grunting, staring at their phones. It had to be. You just couldn't dance to this! I dug around in my bag for the earplugs I'd packed. I might be sober, but that didn't mean I had to be awake. I squished the wax earplugs into my ears and unzipped my toiletries bag where I kept my emergency Xanax. Always have a few Xanax on hand, in case you're sober. I popped a 30 mg bar into my mouth and settled into the softness of the duvet. Maybe best to just get a fresh start tomorrow. The duvet wrapped my naked body in a Xanax dream. Ahhh, sweet Phillipina, you'll never know the joy your only blanket has given me. How could I ever thank you. Oh, that's right. By paying you $9.00 an hour to clean my house. You're welcome, Phillipina. So, so welcomeeeeeeeeeeeeeertydhgbfgcngjnfhkfhk.
I awoke bright and early the next morning to find my tent dilemma solved and my flap wide open. A canister of compressed air had been used to blow the sand from the zipper mechanism and Dr. Mitchell had then been able to free me from my canvas prison with ease. The desert air smelled of perspiration and bacon. Like someone had been working really hard to ruin a PETA meeting.
"Breakfast is ready," the Doctor said from the bright light of the open flap.
I didn't relish meeting these people, but I was famished and I knew the meeting was inevitable anyway. Better to just get it over with, especially if getting it over with involved whatever it was that smelled like bacon.
Breakfast went smoothly and all bought my cover story. I was a struggling, yet handsome comedian living in West Hollywood, California. I purposely chose the gayest, most accursed town in all of the Americas knowing these PC leftists would hear it and accept me immediately. It worked like a Republican gerrymander. I was a bit worried about passing myself off as a comedian, but I thought a few jokes at the expense of Jesus and President Trump, a couple of swears, and a grab of my dick now and then and I'd be fine.
After breakfast the Doctor and I pedaled off into our first foray into the belly of the beast. It was hot. 100* Fahrenheit and no shade. The wind spun the sand up into our eyes, nose, and mouth. I pulled down my ski goggles and covered my mouth and nose with the bandana some hippie had given me. "Go ahead, take it," he said when he realized I had nothing to block the sand from my airway. "It's yours. Enjoy brother." Pffft, brother. You wish. Anyway, I was glad now to have the bandana tied around my neck as the Doctor and I pedaled through the softening earth. We pedaled past a sea of barely clad millennials writhing and thrusting to more of the same noise I'd blocked out the night before, past make-shift bars (the first good idea I'd seen here) and hastily constructed lounges. One even a two-story affair with a trampoline in the center. This I was sure would fall causing massive injury by day two. After what seemed an eternity, the Doctor pedaled past the last of the camps and into the center area of the festival. A huge expanse dotted with pointless art installations and littered with more children on bikes. Has no one heard of the internal combustion engine in these parts? Fuck, I was getting tired. At the center of the expanse sat the man. Or rather, stood the Man. Burning Man revolved around the ritual of burning a wooden man as symbolic of some sort of nonsense only a brain ravaged by drugs could comprehend. This year the Man was inside an elaborate temple structure that reached 75 or so feet into the air. We parked our bikes next to it and moved in for a closer look. Hippies were lined up to go inside. Probably where the meetings are happening, I thought. When we got inside I was surprised to find empty minds chatting and hugging each other, all with toothy smiles on their faces. Of course, the meetings to plot the overthrow of Christian America wouldn't be in here. Too obvious. We moved on.
The night moves over the desert slowly, like Sandburg's fog: on little cat's feet. The color changes from dusty white, squinty-eyed harsh to soft pink and purple. The temperature drops significantly. In this case, from un-fucking-bearable to I just might make it. I sat with a grown man who went by the name Kernal Angus and discussed the happenings at this weirdo jamboree. Burning Man, he said, was about radical self-reliance, and ritual, brother and sisterhood, love and art. Art? I thought. I haven't seen one painting or statue since I got out here. Sure, I saw a 60 foot tall palace made of flowers that shot fire, but art? Hmmm, I don't think so.
By nightfall the desert had come alive with the colorful, flashing lights of kids with too much time and LSD on their hands. Thousands of them had adorned their bikes and their bodies with red, green, and blue lights that flashed, glimmered and shone across the desert for as far as you could see. It looked like a hundred thousand Christmas trees had become sentient and were now pedaling around a dry lake bed looking for Christmas. Best get out there, I thought. Sadly, this story can't write itself from a bar in a member's only country club. I was going to have to get out there. I instructed the Doctor to prepare herself for merriment and excused myself to the latrine to freshen up. Luckily, we had our own facilities and I wouldn't have to share a toilet with throngs of unwashed masses.
When I emerged, the Doctor was waiting for me with the bicycles. She had fallen in line with the group and, like her bike, was covered in flashing, colorful light. "My God, Mitchell. You're going to give me a seizure."
"You should put some on too," she replied. "If you don't, you--"
"Pshaw," I shot back. "I'm a grown adult. I'm not dressing like a child in a fever dream."
"But, you should-"
"Should nothing. Let's go." And I pedaled off unadorned into the depths of the drug-fueled depravity. Immediately I was overtaken by a sound.
WHOOOOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! came the blast of a foghorn not ten feet from my side. I looked up to see a boat, more actually a yacht coming straight for me across the sand.
WHOOOOOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOOOOO! The captain? hit his horn again and I pedaled away to his starboard side, the monstrosity just grazing my back tire. As it passed, the music from its upper deck assailed my eardrums. More thumping bass, but at least this time with rhythm and melody. I looked toward its origin and saw a hundred or so bikini-clad girls and boys dancing and frolicking above me.
"Get some lights on, Darktard! You're gonna kill yourself!" one of them yelled as they sailed past. Darktard? What the fuck did that mean? Before I could answer a rabbit pedaled past from my left, then three girls in silver lame and yellow lights scraped by from my right. "Get some fucking lights on, dude," one of them said as they pedaled away. "You're gonna kill yourself."
I looked through all the lights for a chance to pedal back to the relative safety of my camp. It was only about 60 feet, but I traversed it wildly, serpentining back and forth through drug-addled hippie after drug-addled hippie, each adorned with enough lights on their person to safely assist the landing of a 747.
The Doctor was waiting for me when I got back to camp.
"You need the lights so people can see you," she said.
I moved past her and to my pod without a word. Better luck tomorrow, I thought.
I awoke for breakfast, ate in silence and retreated immediately after to my pod. It was simply too hot during the day to do much of anything. With my air conditioner on max cool, I mixed myself a whiskey high-ball, popped another 30mg Xanax and laid down to formulate a plan for tonight's foray. The leftists were up to something, I just knew it. So far, however, it appeared to be only pedaling around aimlessly high on dope. Certainly there was more to it than that. I vowed, no matter how frightening, to get out there tonight and discover what that was. But first, a nap.
I awoke before dinner but late enough in the afternoon that the sun was no longer punishing us for being here and the air was cool and the breeze soft. I roused Dr Mitchell and informed her of my plan. I would venture out into the great unknown in search of answers and possibly whiskey. I had $163 an an American Express platinum card in my wallet, surely enough to get a couple of good, stiff drinks and ply a few secrets from the rabble of this desert boondoggle. The Doctor and I pedaled off into the interior of the "city." The sun throwing up streaks of orange, red, and yellow in front of us. We'd pedaled for mere minutes when my Dynocaster began experiencing difficulty. The chain to the back tire began to slip and my pedaling became a hit or miss sort of affair. We pulled over in front of a camp called Children of Chaos to see about a fix. The Doctor flipped the bike over in the sand and I wandered toward the shade of the nearby camp.
"Hello. Welcome." A woman clad in a goth-like black dominatrix outfit beckoned from the cool confines a few feet away. "Trouble with the bike?"
"Nothing the Doctor can't handle, I'm sure." I replied. "Do you happen to have any whiskey?"
"As a matter of fact, we do. Come in. Sit." She led me to a barstool in front of a makeshift bar and sat me down. "We've got bourbon, scotch, Jameson...what do ya feel like?"
"Kentucky bourbon, please." I removed my wallet from my pocket and pulled out a $20.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
"I'm sorry," I said a little confused. "Is it more?" I began to rifle through my wallet again to fish out another bill.
"No. It's nothing."
"Nothing? What do you mean, nothing? Everything's something, lady."
"Not here it isn't. There's no money here. It's a gifting society."
"Yeah, everything's a gift." She slid the tumbler of whiskey toward me. "There's no money at Burning Man."
I knew it! Communism. I was getting close.
The Doctor had my chain tightened in minutes and was ready to pedal off, but I was three whiskeys in at that point and beginning to break down the dominatrix in front of me. "Let's stay here a moment, Doctor. If you don't mind, of course." I said with a nod to the dominatrix.
"Of course not," she said. "Stay as long as you'd like. You can even stay and be guests at our wedding."
"Yeah, I'm friendship marrying my playa wife today. We're having the ceremony in an hour."
A gay wedding in the desert to celebrate friendship. If there was anything more liberal that this it'd have to take place in George Soros' front yard.
"Sounds lovely," I lied. The dominatrix poured the Doctor a drink and she hopped up onto the barstool next to me.
"So," I began, "What do you think of this President and America, etc?"
The dominatrix smiled. "Oh, I don't know. I probably have strong opinions about both of those things, but I'll be damned if I can remember them out here," she said with a wink toward the Doctor.
I wasn't going to be put off so easily. "So, does Soros sign your checks or do they come through a dummy company?"
The Dominatrix laughed. "You're a trip, man. And you look like you're out of whiskey. Want another?"
She was reading me, exposing my weak spots. Obviously, a high level operative.
"Of course." I was determined to play it cool.
"Guy like you, you need a slap shot."
She smiled with toothy deviousness and motioned for me to follow her. Through a curtain and into the open area of her camp. On a table in the sunlight sat a cooler.
"Nancy!" the Dominatrix yelled. "Hey Pants, get out here. Someone wants to meet you."
From the trailer behind the cooler emerged a smiling girl clad in fur and carrying a bullhorn. "Who dares to bother me, Nancy Pants, on this important day of nuptial bliss?" The amplified words echoed over the playa.
"Tis I, your bride, with another who deems himself worthy of receiving your blessing."
"Splendid." She said into the bullhorn before setting it down and approaching me. She was tan and tattooed and stared right into me with her deep brown eyes. Wow, this was some real Soros bullshit right here. I'm in deep.
"Splendid indeed." She said right to me before erupting in a fit of giggles. "Step right this way."
The dominatrix grabbed my head and lead me to a place directly in front of the cooler. A 3/4 full handle of Jim Beam sat on a barstool next to it. The Dominatrix took up a position on one side of the cooler, Nancy a position on the other side.
Nancy spoke. "You have been deemed worthy of receiving the ultimate blessing this gathering has to bestow. Are you ready?"
Before I could say anything, the two women opened the lid of the cooler, grabbed me by the back of the head land and dunked me up to my neck in the icy water inside. It was startling and amazingly refreshing at the same time. The heat of the day burned away immediately. The ice and the water soothing my sun-baked skin. At the moment I was just beginning to thoroughly enjoy the bath, the women yanked my head back up out of the ice and I opened my mouth to suck in a breath of air. I was about to begin enjoying that air when the one called Nancy put the bottle of Beam to my lips and lifted its bottom into the air, pouring its contents down into my throat, just ahead of the air I was so looking forward to breathing. The whiskey hit my stomach and I inhaled and exhaled somehow at the same time, sending my body into a fit of brief confusion at the sheer impossibility. I was about to dive into the existential ramifications of that impossibility when I felt a stinging slap on my left cheek, followed immediately by one just as stinging on my right.
"Slap shot! The crowd around me yelled devolving into fits of laughter.
There would be no epiphanies here. The Doctor and I said our good-byes and pedaled off into the now darkening night. She had adorned the Dynocaster with gaudy flashing lights and handed me a white top hat that flashed just as gaudily. We flipped the switches on both and I lit up like a Mexican fiesta. The Doctor did the same and we pedaled out into the playa to search for more clues.
We were pedaling past the wooden man set to burn at the festival's culmination when the Doctor mentioned that she'd met a crew of friendlies the night I'd spent trapped in the pod. They went by the name "The Dang Gang" and they drove an art car designed to look like a medieval Chinese schooner.
"Why are you telling me this now?" I asked trying not to topple over in the deepening sand.
"Because they're right in front of us."
I looked up to see a giant medieval Chinese schooner cutting across the sand in front of us. It had an enormous red sail and dragon-like wings illuminated in bright neon. 70's funk was blasting from its exterior and few dozen people danced in silhouette on its deck. The Doctor began pedaling for it, determined not to let it out of her sight. I didn't see the point, but the last place I wanted to be was out here alone, so I pedaled too, determined not to let her out of mine. We caught up with the "boat" after a few minutes and joined the other bikers who were pedaling alongside and around the schooner as it slowly cut across the playa. From my perch on the Dynocaster I could see the vessel had two levels. On the main level there was a dance floor and what looked like a large bar. I could also vaguely make out the shapes of people laying on a large bed adorned with multiple pillows in the interior of its rooms. The upper level also had a dance floor filled with dozens of dancers writhing and shaking. There appeared to be another area to lay down up there and above that, two gas-fed flames burning brightly.
The Doctor signaled to member of the schooner's crew and moments later the ship slowed to a halt. A ladder dropped down from the back of the vessel and a tall, smiling man in a safari hat came bounding out arms outstretched.
"Mitchell!" He yelled excitedly hurrying toward her and throwing his arms around her. "It's so great to see you!"
He must be one of the friendlies, eschewing the more formal, "Doctor."
"Come on board. Alan and Holly are here too. Alan! Holly!" He yelled back at the boat. "Come on out. Mitchell's here!"
Moment's later a goateed man in a fur coat and a beautiful, smiling woman in a tight black suit and curly black wig stepped down from the boat and moved toward the Doctor.
"Mitchell!" They both yelled as excitedly as the man in the safari hat. "So glad you're here."
They all hugged and laughed and chatted a few moments more while I sat quietly on my bike behind them. Eventually, the Doctor swung the conversation around to me.
"Oh, you guys. I want you to meet my friend. This is Brett."
"Oh, Hi Brett," they all said together swarming me with hugs like a litter of puppies.
"I'm Fletcher," said the one in the hat. "And this is Holly and Alan."
"So great to see you," Holly said. "You're wonderful." Her smile was bright and her eyes warm. Alan put his fur-covered arm around me.
"Hey Brett, want some tea?"
After the slap shot and all the sand in the air, my throat was a little soar. A little tea might be just the trick.
"I'd love some," I replied.
"Drink this," he said presenting me with a mason jar filled with a greenish brown liquid. "It's mushroom and ginger."
I'd never heard of putting mushrooms in tea, but the ginger sounded good. I took the jar and brought it to my lips. It tasted odd, but did feel good on my throat so I slaked it down in a few big gulps.
"Wow, partner." Alan said smiling. "You're a real trooper. There was an ounce of mushrooms in there and you polished it off. Good luck."
That seemed like an odd thing to say, but figured it must just be some sort of Burning Man salutation.
We hung our bikes on the back of the ship and walked up the steps into the bowels of the machine. There indeed was a full bar complete with bartender. Holly.
"What can I get you?" she asked.
"How 'bout an Old-Fashioned?" I asked.
She laughed. "You're funny. How about a whiskey and water?"
I took my drink as the Doctor took my hand. Holly walked us past the dance floor and up the steps to the second level. She led us to the back of the ship where another mattress and pillows housed a handful of lounging people.
"Check this out," she said pointing to a small metal box mounted on the ship's frame. There were four buttons on the face of the box, three of them black, one red. "Press the red one."
The Doctor pushed the button. WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH! A red hot blast of gas fed flame erupted from the torches above us. The entire briefly alight in false daylight. "Wow," said the Doctor.
"I know," Holly replied laughing. "I fucking know."
"Do it again," I said.
We laid down among the lounging riders on the mattress and propped some pillows behind our head, offering us a view of the entire playa. The lights danced in the distance. A shimmering ballet of color. The lights seemed different somehow from up here. Warmer. Like they wanted to hug me.
"The lights want to hug me," I said to the Doctor. She smiled back.
"Of course they do, baby," she said squeezing in tightly beside me. "Of course they do."
The ship began to slowly slip from its sandy moors and move again across the playa. The lights swam around me. The music swirled in my ears and through my head. Man, that's good whiskey, I thought. I took another sip when the Doctor leaned in.
"Here. Dip your finger in here then put it in your mouth." She held out a tiny bag filled with white crystals. Ah, I thought. Some Novocain. To numb the steering effects of the sand and the whiskey on my throat. Good thinking. I dipped my finger in and theninto my mouth as instructed. The pain reliever was more sour than I expected.
"Whooo, sour." I tried to say, but it somehow came out, "Oooooosssrrrrrrrrrrr."
The Doctor smiled and touched the tip of her nose to mine.
"And one for the Doctor," she said dipping her pinkie finger in and sucking the white crystals from its tip. She pulled me in close. Her skin felt softer and warmer than anything I ever remember feeling before. Like the softest pajamas in a field of marshmallows. I sank down into the flowery depths of her bosom unable to even distinguish between where she left off and the pillows started. The warmth enveloped me and in moments I was back in the womb safe and protected. I was part of the Doctor and the pillows and the bed. We were one thing and we floated gently across the sand. The stars above me twinkled and flashed in the dark night. Meteors and comets came alive and shot across the murky blackness. I could see every star in the heavens. I could see what they were all up to. Had they been up there this whole time? I tried to ask the Doctor if she knew about the stars and whether they had been there this whole time, but all that came out was a smile. Aha, I thought, this is a dream! I stared back up at the ultra-wide 3-D TV screen that was the night sky and closed my eyes.
WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH! The playa lit up again as someone else had pressed the red button.
"Do it again," I mumbled, eyes closed. "Do it again."
I awoke at dawn to the sound of Stevie Wonder blasting from a speaker and the sight of a big orange sun rising out of the desert mountains. The Doctor, and everybody for that matter, were gone. Panic. Where am I? Am I dead? Where is everybody? I pulled my head up over the edge of the top rail of the boat and peered out. Below was the Doctor and all the others from earlier. All dancing on the dry, dusty sand. "We Can Work It Out" blaring from the ship's interior. It gave me hope. Maybe we could work it out. I'd never felt this way before. I'd never known this...hope. It scared me a little. Then, I remembered. Oh yeah, it's all a dream. Nothing to be afraid of because it's nothing but a dream.
I awoke hours later, somehow on my bed in my pod. The trip there was not in my memory. My mouth felt like most of the playa had taken up residence in it. There was a water bottle on the table next to me. I grabbed it and chugged as much water as I could. I looked at my watch. 3:30. 3:30? I had a flight out of here in two hours. I dressed quickly and stepped from the cool of the air conditioned pod into the bright, white heat of the desert afternoon. The camp was alive with activity, prepping for the night's meal. I strode up and exchanged pleasantries with a few of them. They were warm and welcoming, which I recognized with suspicion. They were banding together to prepare the biggest meal of the week. An evening soirée in which many of the artists responsible for the flashing mess of art littering the sand would stop in for a meal. It was about communion with the fellow man, they said. Communion? I thought. Communion sounds a lot like Communism, if you ask me. My thoughts were proved correct by the way they were all working together for no pay to realize a vision. I tried my best to hide my disgust, grunting a few, "yeah"s and "that's great"s before moving toward the bar. A stiff drink is what I need. Something to take the edge of this vision of Marxist delight. Sure, it works out here, for you. Of course, it does. You're all on drugs! I popped an emergency Xanax in my mouth and washed it down with a sip of whiskey.
"HOLD A POLE! HOLD A POLE! WE'VE GOT INCOMING!" A Mad Max looking camper was pointing out toward the open playa. "COVER THE FOOD AND HOLD A POLE!" A wall of brown sand was barreling for the camp toward us swallowing the art and the cars and the bicyclists exposed on the playa. "EVERYBODY HOLD A POLE!" the camper yelled again. Each camper grabbed one of the sixteen or so poles that held up our shade structure and braced for the coming engulfment. The kitchen crew was frantically pulling long stretches of aluminum foil from its box and wrapping them over the pots and pans that contained tonight's delicacy. I grabbed a pole myself, pulled the ski goggles I'd been keeping perched on my cap down over my eyes, placed my bandana over my mouth and nose and stared straight into the onslaught that approached. It hit with a thunderous whoosh and a stinging blast of hot sand. In just seconds visibility was reduced to zero. I literally couldn't see the whiskey in my hand in front of my face. Egad! The whiskey. I'd forgotten to cover. Damnit, it surely ruined, filled to it's rim with sand and dust. The wind continued to whip the sand at us ferociously. It lifted the taut tarps providing our shade nearly pulling the poles out of the ground with it. "HOLD THE POLES! HOLD THE POLES!" Came the cry again from somewhere in the sand. I gripped my pole tighter determined not to be the guy who let the camp fly away. It fought me, determined to take flight. I held on, the sand still stinging my face and arms. And then, as quickly as it came, it was over.
"Wooo-Hooo!" One of the campers yelled. "Hell yeah!" The rest of the campers joined in, hooting and hollering like animals just glad to be alive. I hooted along, just to keep up appearances, of course. Not because standing strong and holding your ground during a sand storm felt liberating and exhilarating or anything.
The camp was a mess. Tables tipped over. Chairs strewn around like toys in a petulant child's bedroom. Everything covered with a thick layer of white sand. We pulled off our masks and bandanas revealing hellish patterns of sandy damage. Any exposed skin completely caked with sand, while all covered areas clean. The campers laughed and snapped pictures of the hilarity of it all. I was above that sort of thing, of course. And besides, this was no time for celebration. My whiskey was ruined. Luckily, that's when the Xanax kicked in. I made another whiskey and sat down to watch as the camp put itself back together; all the campers pitching in, righting tables and wiping down chairs. The kitchen crew went back to work as well buzzing around the ovens like bees in a hive. In minutes it was like it all had never happened. I sipped my whiskey.
An hour later I was in the air again over the dust and the noise and the heat. The "man" would burn later this night, but I would be in Reno, neck deep in a tub of hot water, a whiskey in my hand and a lady on her way over to help me remember what I'd seen. She was $500 an hour, but the Coke Bros. could afford it. And, besides, she was essential to the reconstruction. I'd been to the belly of the liberal fantasy. A world with no corporate presence. No capitalism. No money exchanging hands, whatsoever, but rather a gifting society. One where its members contributed for the sheer excitement of it all with no expectation of reward. An idyllic world of heavenly proportion. A utopia amidst the shimmering heat. Art for art's sake and love for love's sake. And that's when it hit me. There was no secret leftist agenda happening here, they actually believed this bullshit. They believed in consciousness expansion, without ever giving a thought to the harsh reality of an America they helped to bring down. What these people were pushing was the illusion of a lifestyle that maybe didn't have to be an illusion after all. What if word gets out? What if people find out it could all work? It all comes crashing down around us, that's what. A load-bearing stud pulled from the inner sanctum of the American Dream. I had a lot of work to do.
There was a knock on my hotel room door. Good, I thought, we can get started. I stepped out of the tub and wrapped a towel around my waist before answering. I hope she's a redhead.