We arrived on the playa just after sunset on Saturday. We spent the day driving from the Sausalito to Reno. In Reno we bought 120 pounds of dry ice, 100 bananas for Bobby’s photo project, and some delicious hot pizza from Black Rock Pizza, our last supper in the default reality.
We drove north through the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation, and alongside beautiful and holy Pyramid Lake. In general Indians have been given the crappiest land, and this reservation is no exception. It’s dry scrubland, nothing but dirt and tumbleweeds. You can see why the residents consider the lake holy… it’s the only thing that makes the area habitable. Naturally the water is alkaline and not drinkable. We stopped alongside the road to photograph the lake, and below us a family had set up a blanket alongside the shore and boys were splashing one another. The sun was rapidly setting, and we’re 60 miles from Black Rock, so we resisted the urge to go swimming with them.
So here we are, in a mile-long line to get to the gate inspection. We wander around. When the intermittent dust storms blow through we breathe through masks or shemaghs and using our night goggles (which are not tinted). Behind us a bus filled with Death Guild members dances in front of their car to the music pumping out of the bus. Two lanes to the right is an RV with a disco light show and four twenty-somethings rocking out in their own private dance club. Four lanes over a fifty-foot yacht sits in line, dwarfing everything around it and astounding us with its audacity. Every 10 minutes or so the line moves, and we run back to our VW bus to move forward twenty feet.
We finally get to the gate after a four-hour wait, and the process is very quick. The gate staff checks our early access permits and our tickets, and then asks whether we have any virgins in the car. Cousin Jon and Chino Loco sheepishly raise their hands, and they’re asked to step out of the vehicle. “Okay, we need you to do a few things. Please lay down here” says the gate agent, pointing at the inch-thick dust of the gate. Jon & Chino lay down, looking confused. “Okay, now make dust angels.” Their confusion transforms to big grins, and their arms wave up and down, making swoops in the thick dust of the gate. I fret for the condition of the back seat of the van (aka my bed). “You’re now part of the playa” says the gate agent. “Welcome home. There’s one more thing you need to do.” And then both Chino and Cousin Jon take a mallet, and slam a gong while yelling “I’m not a virgin any more!“
We drive slowly into the city, which is still fairly empty. We find Camp Above The Limit. It’s too late and too windy to set up the dome, so we have Cousin Jon sleep in the Saraswati Tea House, a beautiful and comfortable space lined with pillows and soft mattresses. Chino, Senex, and I bed down in the upper and lower bunks of the van, and we fall asleep to the never-ending bass line and distant laughter of the playa.
The next day we build the dome and get most of the enormous amount of crap unloaded from our van and into the dome. Once that is (mostly) settled, Chino and I get onto our bikes and head out to the airport. We drive around Center Camp, which is still being assembled, and past several sculptures still being assembled by large cranes, and then we head outwards on 5:00.
Chino and I drive out on 5:00 to the edge of the city at Lilac. At around Hyacinth we encounter a man laying in the dust, not moving. We stop to check if he is okay, and he tells us that he’s just waiting for his friends. While we bike, periodic dust white-outs completely wipe out visibility. We continue on, passing Lilac and continue outwards towards the airport.
Just outside the airport is a man flying a kite-board kite. The wind is roaring, and he’s occasionally lifted off of his feet. After watching him for a while, he offers to allow me to take the handlebar. With a little hesitation, I take control and fly the kite for a while. It’s exhilarating. I feel like it’s me up there in the sky, swooping and diving with the kite.
At the airport planes are arriving with regularity, and we talk with the security staff and with the air traffic controller, who normally works the airport in Fresno. The BRC Airport is one of my assignments as a photographer, and I take some shots. I’m told to come back on Wednesday, when 100 planes will be parked at any given time.
A man and his son arrive. They clear customs, and the boy is so clearly happy to be here and is grinning from ear to ear. It’s his first visit to Black Rock City, and with a flourish he smashes the gong, yelling triumphantly “I’m not a virgin any more!“
We return to camp in time for the 6pm camp meeting. During the meeting Jazz Dancer arrives, and soon gets settled into the dome. By sundown has spent hours dancing at the Black Rock Roller Disco as well as Tangoed up in Blues, and has astutely exclaimed “This is just like Second Life, but real!”
Leviticus and Toro also arrive that evening. Also first-timers, they’re clearly overwhelmed, and a little stunned to find themselves in this dusty alternate reality. I love that our family is assembling here on the playa, ready for our week in the dust. The next morning we serve coffee in the Café Kona, and meet tons of wonderful new people. If you give a coffee drinker their first morning coffee, it forms a bond stronger than that between mother and child.
The café doesn’t have a cover yet, but the coffee is black and hot and deliciously fresh from Kona, Hawaii. Life is good.
Addendum: All blog posts from the event have to be pre-approved, and I’ve been having trouble with that. I apologize for the delay in this post, and hope to get future posts out more promptly.