We’ve been planning our return to Black Rock City for months now. The RV is packed with clothes, food, bedding, and a case of wine. We’ve loaded up the components of our art projects, a 20′ dome, and a 12×20 foot building to house our photo studios. We’ve got about a thousand wet wipes (which are more efficient than a shower.)
We leave Sausalito at 10am, make a stop at Home Depot, and then arrive at Melissa’s at 11am. After loading some more stuff into the RV (two more cases of wine!) we depart heading east along highway 80. Crossing the Sierra the air is thick with smoke from wildfires.
I’m amazed by my ability to drive this RV. It completely fills the width of a lane. Going through a toll booth, the mirrors on both sizes are within a few inches of the booth walls to either side. The back end sticks out 8 feet past the rear wheels, and swings wide in turns. Gusts of wind swat the entire RV to the side suddenly. The entire drive feels like playing a marathon video game where you only get one life.
We stop in Reno to pick up 90 gallons of water (in 5-gallon jugs) as well as our rented playa bikes. At 5pm we’re heading north out of Reno. The air is like Los Angeles on a very, very bad day in the 1970’s. The sun shines overhead like an angry red boil. We arrive at Black Rock City at a very reasonable 7pm, but then wait for a long period of time in the line to the Gate. (While we’re waiting, Melissa complains that the mural of happy children on the back of the RV is ‘too wholesome’, so I use some pink gaffer’s tape to de-wholesomeize them.) When we finally reach the Gate (motto: “We don’t hug!”) our RV is searched for stowaways, and our Early Access passes are checked. Then we head inwards to the Greeters (motto: “Want a hug?”). The Greeters welcome us, kiss us on the cheek, and ask us about our journey. They scan our EA passes and warn us about the police. (“They’re being real bastards this year!”)
Then we’re through the gate and inside Black Rock City. We pass a large area filled with bicycles. Apparently local Law Enforcement is ticketing people whose bike racks occlude their license plate, so the Black Rock Rangers are having these people drop their bikes into a guarded ‘lot’ until they can walk back to claim them.
We find our designated placement area and park the RV in its designated spot. Placed camps are usually carefully packed with tents, campers, and cars arranged like puzzle pieces, so we park the RV using tape measures.
The wind has died down to nothing, and we quickly erect the dome and then pound in 12 stakes to keep the entire thing from rolling away across the desert when the wind returns. The moon has risen and is the same blood red as the sun it replaced. Melissa mutters about how she should be measuring the particulates that we’re breathing through our cloth dust masks.
On Friday morning we build the photo studio barn and put up signage. Melissa is hunkered down in her minivan, which has become a small mobile lab filled with gear. She is wiring up instruments, running conduits, and madly tinkering with the intensity that only scientists and artists can achieve.
Rumors are flying across the playa that a sinkhole has opened up on Highway 80 in the Sierra, swallowing every lane but one. There is no way to know if this is true, but it seems insane on the face of it. Sinkholes open up in Florida, in Appalachia, but not in the Sierra Nevada. Yet campmates that are due to arrive don’t.
Adjustment to the playa is difficult on relationships. Dan, Bobby, and I have family meetings / therapy sessions several times during the day, and communication skills and the importance of praise is discussed repeatedly, followed by napping. It’s only Friday, but our camp is looking good.
In the evening a large truck appears, filled with miles of copper wire and one very OCD electrician. A dozen power-hungry campers gather around one of the village generators like it is a spring of cool water in the desert. The grumpy electrician pulls rolls of thick cable out of the back of the truck, and we’re told in detail how to extend the cables into long, perfectly parallel lengths to various regions of the village. At the end of every five cables is a large black junction box looking like it fell off a decrepit starship. Once every cable has been run, the electrician disappears. Someone suggests that perhaps he went to get dinner. We shrug and return to our camps.
A few hours later someone yells “we’re live!” and civilization flows to us along copper conduits. We sit in the air-conditioned RV, eating freshly-made tabbouleh from Louie’s Deli in Sausalito, a treat for our second night on the playa.
We open a bottle of rosé and enjoy a chilled glass together, chatting about nothing in particular, pondering a sinkhole opening in the major highway to Burning Man, under an apocalyptic blood-red sun.