"I must find Barbara today!" I declared when I got up in the morning. Barbara is one of my closest friends and the person I'd originally planned to go to Burning Man with, but logistics made that impossible. So after a wonderful morning with Gitta before she and her family left for home, I rode my bike to Center Camp to check the espresso bar one more time. Barbara said she was working some coffee shifts, so that was the first place I checked when I got to Burning Man. But when I asked around, no one seemed to know her.
"What's her playa name?" a dark haired woman in a black, shredded t-shirt and Ugg boots asked.
At Burning Man, some people choose a playa name, a name that identifies them for who they "really" are. Not a title or label, but a name that reveals a little about their true nature. I met Squirrel, Jumper, HooDaddy and a man I think called himself Star Bliss, or maybe it was Starless... People will use their name exclusively at The Burn so no one will know them as John or Tracy.
Barbara had never mentioned a playa name, and since there are about a hundred people working the espresso bar, I decided to try asking again. This time I lucked out.
"I know Barbara. Blond, kind of perky?"
"Yes!" I shouted.
"She's my camp-mate."
Grabbing the woman's hand, I said "Thank you, thank you! You just made my whole day."
I wrote down my address with specific camp details so Barbara could find me and the woman said she'd give her the message when she got back to her camp. After that, I rode to my own camp to rest and see if Barbara would appear.
But I was too restless to stay in camp, so I grabbed my camera and played tourist, exploring my own neighborhood in this make-believe city. I climbed the scaffolding someone had erected for us to take in the view and watched the dust clouds swirl across the open playa, where The Man appeared and disappeared in their midst. Climbing down, I made a long circle down the avenues. People waved at me as I walked by, struck up conversations, invited me to join their games or rest in their bars. A man who had brought his son invited me to draw a picture on the side of their camper in honor of his son's fifth birthday. Passing an S and M tent, I watched one woman tie another woman to a large wooden frame with leather straps, then I stopped at a display of pastel teddy bears, burnt and mutilated and stuck on pikes. I listened to two terrible guitar players try to get into key without much success while the drummer kept the rhythm going and a crowd gathered to hear them play.
"It's in G..." said one.
"No, it's D..." said the other.
Finally someone in the crowd yelled, "Just stop!"
Back at 7:30, I explored a steel sculpture that made me think of a sea monster and sat on a cushion someone had left inside the curve of the structure. It felt safe inside the sculpture, secure and a little secluded, even though I was sitting in the middle of the street. This became my favorite place in the City, my own secret hide away, like the places I'd hole up inside when I was a kid. From that cushion, I could watch the people and art cars and bicycles zoom past on their way to some kind of adventure.
A man walked by my hiding place, pulling a rake across the dirt. Behind him walked a woman pulling a large barrel wheel. They walked back and forth and I realized they were making patterns in the dirt, so I crawled out to see. People would stop their bicycles to look at the images of stars and planets the barrel left behind as it rolled. One man said, "That is a cool gift."
My stomach growled so I went back to camp for dinner, and to get ready to promenade along the Esplanade with my dad and camp mates. As we were gathering in front of camp before sunset, I heard a woman yell, "Terena!" I turned and saw Barbara riding her bicycle toward me.
"Barbara!" I shouted. We hugged tightly. "I'm so glad you found me!"
She'd been hunting for me since Wednesday and was just as excited as me when her camp mate gave her my message. "As soon as I got it, I came to find you."
"You're just in time. Want to promenade with us?"
Barbara stashed her bike and joined our motley camp crew.
As we gazed across the city at all the lights, a strong wind blew a cloud of dust against us, making MalMart shiver with the gust. We climbed back down. It was odd for the wind to blow so hard at night, and it didn't stop. That wind blew so hard it kicked up a thick dust storm that obscured our vision and almost knocked the wind out of my lungs. Plus, I discovered my goggles weren't in my playa bag (a bag which you keep all your survival gear and never leave camp without).
"You don't have your goggles?" my dad said.
"I thought I did, but they're not in here." I kept digging in my bag.
"Virgins." He handed me his goggles and then lectured me on how important it is to never leave camp without the necessities. I felt 14 again. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know Dad. Sheesh.
My dad decided it was too windy for him to walk the Esplanade, and we'd lost our camp mates at the last bar, but Barbara and I decided to keep going. The further toward 3:00 we got, the thicker the dust became. We turned down a side street which seemed to cut the wind a bit and wandered down quieter streets. At one camp, we discovered a giant crane decorated with neon lights like a pink flamenco with the basket as the beak. At another, four musicians played quiet, gypsy type music under a mirror ball. We headed back to my neighborhood and took a turn on the tall swing, then we sat together in "my spot," and watched the nighttime City flow by.
I looped my arm around hers.
"I'm so glad we found each other out here."
Barbara squeezed my hand. "Me too."