Sunday, September 26, 2010

MRI and Test Results

I got a call from the genetics researcher at Stanford who has been working hard to unravel the mystery called Queen Teen. A few months ago Queen Teen had blood drawn while under anasthesia for an MRI. The researcher had uncovered two new tests that might pin-point the cause of Queen Teen's shrinking cerebellum, hearing loss, and visual impairment. The hypothesis is that she has a Mitochondrial Disorder and there is some evidence to support that, but so far no one has been able to diagnose a specific disease.

They couldn't do it this time either. As usual, the tests came back "normal."

The researcher sounded apologetic about the results, but I wasn't surprised.

"It's what I figured would happen," I said.

"She's still part of the research study, and they can examine hundreds of strands at a time instead of just a few," the researcher said, trying hard to give me hope. "If they find anything, I'll let you know."

"Thanks. I know this isn't your field, but is there any news about the MRI."

She said she thought that I would ask her that question, so she was prepared. The MRI report stated that there was no apparent degeneration as compared to her last MRI, which means it looks like the damage to her cerebellum has slowed down. Yes! When we go to the neuro-genetics clinic in November we'll be able to find out more specifics, but for now the outcome looks good. Why has the degeneration slowed or stopped? Is it the CoQ10 and other amino-acids? Maturity? Has the disease reached a plateau?

So many questions and probably never any real answers. It's okay. We're used to it. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a clear diagnosis, one that would fill in the blanks and tell me what we're dealing with and what will happen. It might make it easier to prepare. But on the other hand, I'm glad that everything is still up in the air. We just take it a day at a time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In other non-Burning Man news

I officially started my internship last week at the Earl Baum Center in Santa Rosa, and though I can't go into details about clients, I can say that I'm learning a lot in a very short period of time. My master teacher is an alumni of the SFSU O and M program, and had all the same teachers and classes I did. She too survived crossing 19th Avenue under blindfold, and now here she is working with clients, helping them with daily living skills, cane skills and street crossing. Gives me hope that soon I'll too have a case-load of students and my office in my car.

It's been challenging though. I'm driving three to four hours a day, from my home and then to the various client's homes throughout Sonoma County. The schedule can be hectic and some days we skip lunch trying to get to everyone. My master teacher tries hard to accommodate my needs, but a lot of the schedule is driven by client availability and location, so there's only so much she can do. I'm beginning to realize just how hard it's going to be juggling Queen Teen's continuing needs and a full time job. Will I be able to pull this off? It's looking more like I'll need to work part time for a while, with one day a week devoted to Queen Teen. How do other parents work and care for a child with disabilities? Maybe I'm just a wimp.

At the same time, I'm studying for my Master's exam in October, and my Certification exam in January. I should know all about Orientation and Mobility, right? Then why does it feel like I've forgotten every term every taught to me. Eye anatomy; common eye-conditions; the difference between a landmark and a clue; the necessary parts of a functional assessment; what color tint of shades to use for Macular Degeneration. All that info is in my brain somewhere, but I'm having to re-read much of the readings from my classes to make sense out of it.

But when I work with a client, the info appears. Instinctively I know how to teach orientation skills to a client. I may not remember all of the visual effects caused by Diabetic Retinopathy, but I do know how to teach, and I figure the details of what I learned in class will coalesce into retrievable, logical sense in my brain. Just takes a little time, and study.

Queen Teen is thrilled that I'm home evry night for dinner now. No more staying in San Fran far away from her. But I miss my weekly trips to the City by the Bay, and miss seeing my friends regularly. The City charges my batteries, so to speak. I need to plan some trips for fun.

Well, gotta get back to work. My master teacher will be here soon and then we're meeting a client. Thanks for hanging in there while I wrote about Burning Man (which everyone should go to at least once in their life).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Heading Home

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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Burn Night

The dust storm blew all night, with only a small break in the morning, long enough to use the toilet and boil water for coffee. Then the wind blew hard, throwing sheets of dust against our camp's shade structure. It reminded me of sheets of rain in a storm, gathering like a wall and moving fast across the city, with an occasional break between gusts, just a hint of blue sky before the sky turned beige.

You have two choices: you can hide in your tent out of the dust storm, or you can grab your goggles and face mask and deal with it. I chose the latter.

dust storm on the playa
Barbara and I met for coffee at 11:00, then hopped on our bicycles to ride out to the Temple. We stuck close to each other and stopped whenever the dust clouds got too thick to see more than 10 feet ahead. When there was a break, we rode on, stopping again when the view was obscured. At last we made it to the Temple where Barbara left items from two more of our friends, adding them to the cluster I'd left earlier. We walked around the Temple paying our respects. The grief in the Temple had grown since first I came and I fought tears, not wanting a runny nose inside my face mask. There were thousands of photographs, some of children. Several old wedding dresses flapped like antique lace flags. A fountain gurgled happily in defiance of the parched air, a memorial for three mountain climbers lost in a snow storm. An Asian man with a Buddhist meditation bell walked around the temple, rang his bell, bowed, chanted, and then moved on, blessing all the people at the temple, living and dead. We bowed to him and he blessed us, then smiled warmly, as if the sadness of the Temple couldn't reach him.

Barbara had to work that afternoon, so she rode back to Center Camp while I decided to ride East to the Dancing Woman. Keeping my eyes on tall, steel flowers in the distance, I rode until they were obscured by the dust. I waited, hunching my shoulders from the sting of the blasted dust, while minuscule flashes of light appeared in my vision. Was it caused by the particles in the air reflecting sunlight, or created by my own eyes? Once the dust cleared enough to reveal my landmark, I rode on, hopping from landmark to landmark until I reached the Dancing Woman. She was just as beautiful in the daylight, her metal mesh skin glowing white in the sun. From there, I rode due East until I reached the city at 2:00 and Esplanade.

I rode through the city, directly into the wind, the streets slowly clogged with thick dust making cycling that much harder. Worn out after only a few blocks, I got off my bike and walked. It was a good two miles to home, if not more, and I had to conserve my energy. Plus, I liked walking; I could explore more on foot. But after a half mile I was so tired I began searching for a place to rest. I turned a corner onto a street that provided a bit more shelter from the wind where I passed a woman holding a spray bottle.

"Would you like a lavender spritz?" she asked.

"Yes, please." I pulled off my goggles and mask and she sprayed me all over. Then she said, "If you have time, come in for a lavender treatment."

I looked at the tent and realized I'd found the elusive Lavender Camp. This camp is famous for their lavender treatments, which involves lying on an air mattress in the shade with a lavender eye mask while someone sprays cool lavender water above you and another person massages your head with a vibrating scalp massager. Absolute heaven, especially after riding several miles in a hot dust storm. It was just what I needed to get home. Feeling energized, I hopped back on my bike and rode home.

By Saturday, everyone is tired. Add a 24 hour dust storm and the anticipation of "the Burn" and there's bound to be drama. I could feel the intensity of the emotions in the city. There was even a minor blow up in our own camp. The Boonville camp had a major blow up. My father, Barbara and I joined them to ride out to the Man to watch him burn, but we were late because of the drama in their camp. Just as Barbara and I were thinking we should walk, the Boonies poured into the car and we drove off to join the massive party on the playa.

my dad

If there are 50,000 people in Black Rock City, then there are at least 40,000 on the playa when The Man burns, gathered in a huge ring around The Man and held back to a safe distance by the Black Rock City security team. When we arrived, Barbara and I jumped off the art car and dove into the crowd, but first I hugged my dad. He decided to stay with the Boonies. "Have a happy burn, and stay together," he said. Barbara and I pushed as far forward as we could to get a glimpse of the 1000 fire dances who perform before the man burned. When the dancers stopped and moved away, the anticipation grew as 40,000 eyes stared at the man for the first hint of flame. Suddenly, fireworks exploded around the man, shooting into the sky and exploding into green and gold shimmering stars. The fireworks grew in intensity, until at last the first flames appeared on the man. People were screaming, laughing, cheering, dancing, drumming, making out, talking loudly. The wind grew stronger, as if it were being sucked into the flames, making the man burn hotter, brighter. Dust slammed into us, so thick that there were times even the flaming man was slightly obscured. And then, with a twist of the four story frame, the man collapsed and fell into a pile of wood and coal.

Every art car in the city seemed to be on the playa right then. Barbara and I wandered amongst them, following the pretty lights, and soaking in the chaos of The Burn. Tens of thousands of peoples were dancing and drinking and celebrating, despite the dust storm that seemed even stronger. Suddenly, the noise and press of humans became suffocating. Feeling like a trapped animal ten seconds from chewing her own pay off, I yelled for Barbara, "I'm freaking out." She took my arm and guided us away from the chaos, back to the city. Center Camp was quiet and cool since most of the city was out on the playa. We opened the bottle of champagne our friend Marnie had given us and shared a toast. Slowly my claustrophobia vanished, replaced by a calm eagerness to see more. A woman appeared, set up her paints, and began working on the painting near where we sat. She was so intense, her work so beautiful, Barbara and I were mesmerized watching her.

Thirty minutes later, we walked back to the playa. The crowds had disbursed and the dust storm had suddenly stopped. The sky was black and filled with stars again, the night warm and the gentle breeze kind. We walked to the pile of embers that was all that remained of the once gargantuan man, the heat still intense. People were gathered around, many nude, and Barbara said they would stay there until the very last coal was out. Barbara and I walked several miles that night, back and forth across the playa, from 1:00 to 10:00, resting once in the Temple to raise a toast to our friends and drink more champagne. At night, the Temple is lit from within by amber lights, creating a feeling of warmth and peace. Back in the city, we stopped at a huge disco and danced to techno while watching fire dancers. There was a large container of flaming water set beneath a giant flaming ball where people had gathered to manipulate the flame. A man handed me his lighter and asked it I wanted to try. I lit the lighter and ran it across the top of the water, which created a long line of flame, burning my thumb a little in the process. But it was beautiful to watch this dance between fire and water.

dressed up for The Burn, on a very dusty night

I think Barbara and I walked 5 miles that night. I didn't want it to end, there was so much to see and do that night, but my body was tired and I had to get up early to drive home the next morning. Barbara said she might stay up till dawn simply because she hadn't done that yet, plus she wasn't leaving until Monday. We walked back to my camp so she could get her bicycle and then hugged goodbye. I watched her ride off into the darkness and wondered what further adventures she would find on Burn Night.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Third Night

"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.

"Playa name?"

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.

I love the Esplanade. It is the last road before the open playa, marking the edge of the City. It's where most of the activity and events take place, where the biggest discos and the brightest lights shine. It can be chaos, especially at night. As the sun sets, the City lights come to life and the mood transforms from siesta to party. We walked together for a mile, then when we reached MalMart I announced I wanted to climb it. Barbara joined me while my dad rested. Before we could go inside, a very gorgeous young man in leather pants, swinging a leather strap in one hand, said we had pass by him first. Barbara and I looked at each other, then I stepped forward and turned around. He welcomed me into MalMart then slapped my butt with the strap, not too hard, but enough to sting. Barbara followed, and then we climbed four stories, almost to the top.

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."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Some of the fabulous art cars I saw

Discovered this site where photographers collected images of gorgeous art cars. Here's the link.

Aren't some of them amazing?

Stay tuned for the next installment of my Burning Man adventure.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Second Night

Home Sweet Home

As soon as the sun hit a corner of my tent, I was up and out, too hot to stay buried in my sleeping bag. Black Rock city in the daylight looks very different, more like an upscale refugee camp than a metropolis. Thousands of tents and RV's line wide dirt boulevards which break the city into blocks as large as the ones in downtown San Francisco. The porto-potties were a short walk from our camp, and I was happy to discover they were clean. Bacteria can't survive in the alkali desert, so the potties didn't reek.

I downed a quick breakfast and a cup of tea, then my dad and I rode our bikes to Center Camp, the only place in Black Rock city to get an espresso, and where I was meeting my best friend, Gitta. She'd arrived with her husband and little girl two days earlier and we'd arranged to meet for coffee at 10:30 on Thursday. I'm glad we planned ahead, because it is almost impossible to find people at Burning Man. I had a list of people to visit and their relative addresses (4:30 and Cairo, 5:30 and Frankfurt, The DPW Ghetto), and was desperately trying to find my friend Barbara, who I was originally going to Burning Man with. No luck. You tend to find people by planning ahead, or through happy coincidences. You'll be out for a stroll in the evening and run into the person you wanted to see drinking a beer in a pub-camp you just happened to step into.

Gitta and her husband and little girl gave my dad and I a tour in their car of some of the artwork out on the playa. The weather was incredible, warm but not too hot, with a light breeze, not enough to kick up the dust, and a sky more blue saturated than I've ever seen before. We played in the shade of some giant balloons where a man was giving people rides by putting them in harnesses attached to the balloons. I wanted to go for a ride, but the line was long and Gitta's daughter was tired (she's two). The number of children out there surprised me. I had no idea it was family friendly, but there's a large "Kid's Camp" and lots of kids activities, plus the city planners keep the more freaky, sexually explicit camps far away from the children. My friend's daughter loves Burning Man, especially exploring all the art.

When it was nap time, my dad and I joined two of our camp-mates for a bicycle ride across the playa  to see The Man. Six stories tall, made of wood, metal and neon, the Man is the heart of Burning Man. You can see him from anywhere in the city, standing watch over the playa, until he is sacraficed on Saturday night. Then we went to The Temple, a huge, 4000 square foot, 50 feet tall structure made of interlacing wooden planks. The walls are covered with mementos and messages to people who have died, or to lost loves, lost dreams, goals, hopes, obsessions, and desires... anything people want to let go of when the Temple is burned on Sunday. My father brought ashes of a dear friend who had died last year, and I brought a piece of paper which I'd written, "Must control, and anticipate, everything, all the time, and never stop," around the word "Fear." I shoved the paper between two planks of wood in a protected alcove, and beside it placed something another friend had asked me to leave for her. We're both hoping to let go of these obsessions and fears, and maybe knowing their burned to ash along with a thousand other griefs will help. Later, I rode to the intersection where Gitta's camp was, but never found her actual camp. Instead I went back to my camp to rest for when the sun went down.

Wearing red velvet pants, a red shirt and a cap with glow-in-the-dark fairies, I went to find the Boonville Cabaret with my dad. This is my family, my father's best friends, and some of the people I grew up with. As we walked, one of those happy coincidences occured when Gitta and her husband and daughter parked their car just as I was walking by. The Boonville Cabaret was having a show, an open mic with story tellers and musicians. My dad wanted me to sing a song and Gitta urged me to, but my typical stage fright kept me silent. Even out there, where outrageous is the norm and even people who can't sing think they should, I was too shy to sing a song I've been practicing for several weeks in my kitchen. Instead, I jumped on stage and shouted "I'm a virgin!" Everyone cheered. Then I told the story of breaking down on my way to Burning Man, which was more embarrassing than singing. This stage-fright of mine is a real social crippler.

At last, the show ended and we loaded up in the Boonie's art car, a large, open air cargo bus decorated like a gypsy wagon. I rode in the very back on the window ledge where I could see the most. The sun had gone down and once again the city was transformed into a thriving, shining, colorful city of DIY dreams.

DIY? Yes... and no. There is a lot of money poured into some of the "camps." But just because they have money (one dance club cost a million bucks), does it mean they aren't DIY. Groups of people get together, pool their resources and talent, and create fabulous "gifts" to the community: interactive art, dance clubs with video screens and laser lights, entertainment like circus performances, fire dancers, and live bands, and traveling food stands giving away quesadillas at midnight and pancakes at dawn. And all for free. No money changes hands out there (except for coffee and ice). Everything is a gift, and you only reciprocate if you're able.

We drove to the opposite end of the city to a club called Skinny Kitty, so named for it's display of mummified cats (real?). There we danced under a half dome of canvas and watched the silk performers twirl and twist above our heads. Then we loaded back up and headed out onto the playa where an impromptu art car party had begun underneath the 30 ft. tall dancing woman. I walked through the sea of dancing bodies and swirling lights, the music of 10 different art cars competing for my attention, and stood beneath the woman, watching as the lights under her steel mesh skin changed color and moved. Her entire frame balanced on one toe, and despite her great mass, she appeared weightless. Then I turned to look across the playa toward the city, which was a long ring of lights, as if we were on the sea and the city was the harbor. I started to dance and the stars over head seemed to join me.

My father joined me. Grinning, he said, "You're eyes are shining. I love watching you take this all in."

I laughed. "It's pretty amazing."

Then I danced with my dad to the beat of the music from our gypsy art car.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - First Night

I've been home several days and I'm still cleaning playa dust out of my camping gear and clothes. That stuff is everywhere! More like talcum powder than house-dust, it dissipates with the slightest breath and resettles softly on areas I already cleaned. Now I understand why people say, "Make peace with the dust." There really isn't much more you can do.

I've also been thinking about all the sights, sounds, textures, smells and experiences I felt out there on the playa, and trying to write it all down. This also seems like an impossible task. There is nothing like Burning Man, no comparison I can make. Even the environment feels like a far away planet. But I'll do my best to share what happened during my Burning Man adventure.

The adventure started before I got there. My car, a 1995 Honda Odyssey with 220,000 miles on her, overheated on the Donner grade (climbing the Sierras). I pulled over to the side of the road and waited for her to cool off, then checked the fluids. Everything looked okay. Two CHP officers checked on me and one said he'd be back later to make sure I wasn't still sitting there. After 20 minutes I started up the mountain again, only for the car to overheat AGAIN. I pulled over, let the car rest, drove for a bit, pulled over again, waited, drove, pulled over, waited, drove.... until at last I made it to a gas station 3 miles away, a process that took an hour and a half. At the gas station, I called AAA and tried not to cry. Then, two motor-homes pulled in to the parking lot, each with Burning Man symbols painted on the side. A man came up to my car and asked what was wrong.

"It keeps over heating."

"Did you check the fluids?" he asked.


After asking me how long I'd been sitting there, he opened the radiator cap and stuck his finger in. "Radiator's empty."

I was dumb struck! All this time, I'd been checking the overflow, not the actual radiator! I felt like a typical, car-stupid, "girl."

The man filled it with water and then left, just as the tow-truck arrived. The driver checked my car and since I didn't need a tow, offered to follow me up the rest of the grade "just in case." I tipped him for driving all the way out there and for making sure I made it up the mountain. When we got to Truckee, he turned off and I continued on to Burning Man. The car was running great, but I bought two containers of radiator fluid to make sure.

It is a long, long way to Burning Man. After making Reno I still had a two hour drive on a two lane road through the high desert. When at last I reached the gate to Black Rock City, the temporary city where Burning Man takes place, it was almost dark. I'd left home at 8 am and had been traveling for 12 hours. Sitting in my car, idling with thousands of others trying to get through the entrance, I tuned the radio to BMR (the Burning Man radio station) and watched the people around me as they excitedly chatted, smoked, shared a meal and introduced themselves to people waiting with them. A couple beside me waved and asked me if I was alone.

"No. I'm meeting my dad. He's already in camp."

"You're dad? Wow... That's neat. You don't look like a kid..." She faltered, as if suddenly embarrassed by implying I look old. "I mean, you're an adult, like us."

I decided to rescue her. "My dad is 62. He's been coming for years."

"That is so cool. You're lucky to have a dad into Burning Man."

Yeah, I am pretty lucky. How many people can claim they went to Burning Man with their 62 year old dad? There have been times growing up I'd wished a had a "typical dad," one that wouldn't embarrass me in front of my friends. But none of those non-embarrassing dads would ever go to Burning Man.

It took over an hour to get through the gate, and at last I made it to the "greeters." A very cute young man (there's some sweet eye-candy at Burning Man!) welcomed me, handed me a map and program of events, and then asked, "Have you been here before?" When I said no, he invited me to ring the bell.

Getting out of my car, I walked to a large, iron prayer bell and grabbed the medal rod he offered me. Then I rang that bell with all my might, making my arms shudder with the force. Everyone cheered and I laughed. At last, I was here!

But then I had to find my camp, and my dad. The city is laid out like a clock, with streets leading away from the center numbered (6:00, 6:30, 7:00, 7:30...) and the cross streets named after cities (Athens, Beirut, Cairo...). My camp was near 7:30 and Hanoi. It was night time. The streets were a sea of people and bicycles and every camp was lit up with Christmas lights and neon. I turned right on 7:30 then drove down the street hunting for Hanoi while at the same time trying not to kill any pedestrians. One person yelled, "Park your car!" Go to hell, I wanted to scream. I was tired, lost, and hungry and all I wanted to do was find my dad. Hanoi Street appeared and I turned left, then realized as I drove there was no way I'd ever find my dad's camp. None of the camps are marked. There are no addresses, just a sea of nondescript tents. "I guess I'll have to just park and sleep in the car and look for him when the sun comes up," I said to myself.

Then suddenly, my dad's face appeared at my window. He had bounced up to my car like a kid on Christmas morning, with a huge grin on his face. Sitting outside camp all evening in a lawn chair, he'd been watching for me. After directing me to our camp, he helped me set up my tent and get settled, then invited me on a walk to see the neighborhood. I was exhausted and nauseous with altitude sickness (Black Rock City is at 4500 feet), but eager to see some of the sights.

The very first walk through the city that night felt like I'd stepped into the heart of chaos. Competing sounds from a hundred different sources flooded my ears; flashes of colored light and blasts of fire slashed the darkness; people raced past on decorated bicycles with bells ringing loudly; art cars slowly drove by with people dancing to techno on the roofs; camps on either side were packed with people dancing, drinking, playing games, laughing, singing songs. The overall feeling of the city was madly happy. We walked down to the Esplanade which runs along the edge of the playa where the swirl of activity was even more frenetic and I watched as huge, glowing art cars moved across the dark playa like neon boats in a black sea. We walked back to our street, 7:30, and my dad pointed out MalMart, a huge six story structure people could climb to take in the view and dance. "That's our landmark. If you get lost, head to the Esplanada and look for MalMart. The landmarks change in this city, but I doubt MalMart will go away."

We walked back to camp and sat together under the starlight while I tried to eat my apple. It was almost midnight. The stars, so crisp and strong, were as incredible as the city. Eventually though, my body demanded I get some sleep. I crawled into my sleeping bag and put in ear plugs, which only helped block the roar of the city a little. Frank Sinatra sang in my mind, "I want to wake up, in a city that doesn't sleep..."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning Man- right now all I can say is Wow!

I've been trying to think of something coherent to write that will convey my experiences at Burning Man, but all I can come up with is...


For now, I'll let pictures show what I'm trying to say.

Black Rock City, Nevada

30 foot tall dancing woman 
Flame throwing giant steel tricycle.
my friend's gypsy art car
Temple in the dust storm
Fish swimming across the playa  
me (blue hair) and my camp mates

I'll write more about my adventures once my brain shakes off the remaining playa dust and I can think with more sophisticated words than "Duuuuude! That was aaaawwwwessssooooommmmme!"