The man had burned; time to go home. Because of work, I couldn't stay for the Temple burn, so I quickly packed up and departed Black Rock City. I was ready. I had seen more beautifully marvelous things in four nights than I have seen in 40 years, but you can't survive on only water and creativity. Eventually, you have to come back to Earth, wash off the dust, eat some real food, and reconnect with the tangible. The human body can only dance under the stars for so long before it needs a full night of sleep. My body was going through moisture withdrawals and dreaming of pizza.
It is amazing how much dust people pack out with them every year, so much dust I imagine the Black Rock desert sinks an inch after every Burning Man. If everyone shook just the dust from their tent into one big pile we could create a hill as tall as the Man itself. I gave up trying to keep the dust out of my van and just shoved everything in, then tossed a bag of garbage on top. There's no garbage service at Burning Man; everything you bring in must be hauled out, coffee grounds and cigarette butts included. The tiny desert towns on the road leading back to Highway 80 and Reno make a tidy sum collecting our garbage for us as we pass through, and the local schools make enough money washing the dust from our cars to keep their sports programs alive.
My dad checked the fluids in my car once I was loaded up and ready to go, then we hugged goodbye. He was heading North to Oregon while I aimed West to Northern California.
"Thanks for sharing this with me, darlin," he said. "You're a citizen of Black Rock City now."
I grinned. "Love you, Pop." We hugged again, suddenly sad because we might not see each other for another year.
It can take two or three hours to get out of the City because 50,000 people are trying to exit through one narrow gate, but I lucked out and beat the rush, leaving the playa in only an hour and 15 minutes. Then I drove the long, two lane road through the high desert, stopping in Gerhlach where I paid $5 to drop my trash. It's good to support the local economy, especially since they've just let us throw the biggest party in the world in their back yard. The locals smiled and waved, seeming happy we were there. A blond woman in a "Wallace Construction" t-shirt asked, "Did you have fun?
"It was great," I said.
She smiled. "I'm glad you had a good time."
The road felt like it had grown longer and the wind kept trying to push my mini-van back the way I'd come. I stopped for a coffee at an Indian Taco stand, then kept going. I had a 12 hour drive ahead of me, but first, I had a pit-stop in Reno.
Gitta lives in a small, 1930's bungalow across the river from the Casinos and when I'd asked if I could stop at her house on the way home, she was happy to oblige. As soon as I got there, her husband made me a snack and a cappuccino, then I took the most wonderful shower of my entire life. Every pore on my skin opened wide to gulp down the delicious water. I washed my hair twice, loving the feel of soap sliding through clean hair. I will never take bathing for granted again. After that, I wolfed down the Gluten Free lasagna she had bought me, even my toe-nails feeling hungry.
Gitta's daughter gave me the grand tour of all her toys and then Gitta gave me a tour of her garden. One of the best things about my Burning Man trip, besides Burning Man, was spending so much time with her. We've been friends since the 8th grade, but now we live 10 hours apart and rarely get to see each other. It was 4:00 by the time I got ready to leave, but I didn't want to go. I miss her already.
At last, I headed home, and this time when I climbed the Donner Summit my car didn't overheat. Just after one AM, I rolled into my driveway and then climbed into my soft, clean bed with the crisp sheets, eventually dreaming of fire dancers, dust devils and a million gleaming stars over a black land.