Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

September 8, 2005 Burning Man: On the way out.

I left Burning Man on Tuesday morning, the day after the event ended. The playa was different as I drove out, quiet, scattered with a few remaining camps, a few bits of wood or cardboard left behind, an after-party feel in the air. I headed back to Gerlach, where I checked the price of gasoline, to see how bad it had gotten in the week since Katrina hit New Orleans. $3.30 a gallon, thirty cents above the week before, not nearly as bad as rumor had suggested. I retraced my route to Cedarville, California, where I had another breakfast at the place where I’d stopped on the way in. Gas there was up to $3.69 – but on the way in several locals had told me that the station owner was a price gouger, so that was no surprise.

In a coffee house across from the restaurant, I got to talking to two old ladies from the town. They had never been to Burning Man, but they were pretty curious. I ended up showing them my photographs, to give them an idea of what the camps were about, the art cars, the open playa, and above all the dust storms. They weren’t deterred. Another

burner who had joined our table seconded my encouragement that they check it out sometime, that they wouldn’t feel out of place even with gray hair and wrinkles.

Leaving Cedarville, I stopped retracing my steps, and headed towards Lakeview, Oregon with only a few thoughts in mind:
A clean, air conditioned motel.
Sheets and a real bed.
A shower. Maybe two or three, with lots of hot water, and shampoo, and conditioner.
A laundromat.
A car wash.
A hose to clean my bike.
The bathtub, to wash the dust off everything else in my van; the bike rack, the cooler, the jugs of water, my dishes hidden in their not-so-airtight cupboard, my water bottles.

I thought I’d stay just a night in Lakeview, but it took two full days at the relative luxury of the Best Western to really feel clean again. The dust, it turned out, was even more insidious than I'd expected. Not only was it in everything I had exposed to the playa air, but it was in everything I'd stashed away, as well. I dusted the books in the cupboard in the back of the van that I hadn’t opened once, washed all the curtains in the van (except one, which I most absurdly forgot), shook out the rug, gave up and threw out the doormat, scrubbed down my chest-of-drawers, even bought solvent to clean the duct tape glue off my cupboards that dated back a year and a half. I did five loads of laundry, rinsed load after load of things in my bathtub, went through two full rolls of paper towels. Spent fifteen minutes hosing Matilda in the car wash and then washed her entire body down with a vinegar-and-water solution. It was exhausting. On the playa, I was constantly reminded to drink lots of water, but in Lakeview I forgot to notice that it was just as hot and dry, so by Wednesday night I collapsed in my room wondering why I had so little energy left.

As I drove out of town on Thursday morning, I passed a dust-covered pick-up with the unmistakable look of fellow evacuees from Black Rock City. I honked and gave them a thumbs-up, but Matilda was gleaming bright and clean in the sunlight, so I’m not sure they realized I was one of them – though in fact, I had talked to those same guys a week earlier in the Cedarville gas station on our way in.

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All text and photos on this site ©Joy E. Hecht.