We awoke in the morning to find a very different scene. The sun had come out, the wind and dust had stopped, and while it was still a little chilly, it was warming up nicely. Thaaaaat's better! Apparently we missed most of the debilitating 12-hour Dust Storm From Hell yesterday, but today was shaping up to be a marvelous sunny day. Timing is everything.
We took most of the morning to chat with our campmates, set stuff up, and get our bearings. Since we'd decided to conserve space in the RV's black water tank and use the public facilities during the day, it was nice to discover that our camp was located just around the corner from the porta-potties... close enough to get there quite easily, but not close enough to smell it! Across from the pots was a two-story club camp called Raise The Bar that pumped out music all day and night. Fortunately it was pretty decent music, for the most part, including a good bit of Thievery Corporation. Sweet!
Part of the setup, besides re-arranging items in the RV and some of its many storage spaces, was getting the bikes Playa-ready. Having a bike at Burning Man is essential, because of the long distances between points in Black Rock City. However, this is one of the few cases in life where having MORE pieces of flair is actually a good thing. Because we bought our bikes used in Sacramento, we didn't have as much opportunity to sass 'em up as others in our camp, but we did try to deck them out with a few fun accessories from home. Mark found a great horn for his bike. I attached a few flowers that had previously been used as napkin rings at my Aunt Barbara's Easter table, plus some pink duct tape that went smashingly with the bike's pink & purple paint job. We affixed the headlamps -- critically important for both lighting the way and helping prevent people from smashing into you, nothing worse than being a darkwad! -- and planned to add a few glowsticks after dark. They weren't nearly as stylin' as Bitchezz's Teenage Mutant Turtlemobile, or Cookie's Bugs Bunny bike with its own portable shade structure, but our bikes were ready for action.
A word about Playa nicknames. In keeping with the "radical self-expression" tenant of The Burn, lots of veterans adopt a Burner name. This is meant to reflect a key aspect of your inner self, one you often have to keep hidden while in polite society. Or sometimes it's a funny name that describes a situation you found yourself in once, or a personality quirk, or something that just tickles your fancy. One of our campmates is known as Ember, short for Nuclear Ember, which is an anagram of her full name. (Geeks rule!) Our dear friends Tony & Christina become Bitchezz & Mama Love in Burner circles. Mark is known on the Playa as Pringles. I, having already had many aliases in my checkered past, decided not to adopt a Playa name, unless a good one presented itself during the course of the week.
Bikes decked out, costumes unpacked, Playa names dusted off, we were ready to go out exploring. By this point, the heat of the afternoon had set in. Plus, we realized about a block into our little jaunt, all those warnings about the Playa being soft and unpredictable weren't just hype! See, the Black Rock Desert is what's left of a prehistoric lakebed that has dried up and turned to a fine sandy powder. Hence the name "Playa," which means "beach" in Spanish. Consider riding a bicycle on the wet hard-packed sand near the oceanfront... challenging, but not impossible. Then imagine a big dry sand dune popping up in the middle of that wet sand. Ay-yeeeeee! Add to that a bunch of ruts and bumps and potholes, akin to the finest DC streets, and you have yourself quite a sand trap. Water trucks went by from time to time, spraying down water in an attempt to flatten and smooth out the "streets," but this didn't help. (Except that it was always amusing to see a bunch of dirty ragged Burners scampering behind the trucks, looking for a free shower.) It was tough going, to say the least.
We did manage to visit Center Camp, which, as the name would imply, is at the center of things and provides a space to display medium-sized art installations, perform on one of several stages, practice hooping or yoga or any other movement that strikes your fancy, or purchase coffee. Ice and coffee are the only two things you can buy at Black Rock City. Everything else, from snacks to mixed drinks to handmade crafts, is gifted. It's quite a different modality from the "default" world. Trying to explain this to people who have never been to a Burn is a bit challenging. It's not really a barter system, as you're not expecting to get anything in return when you give someone a gift. Some gifts are quite elaborate. Many big theme camps have fully-stocked bars, lead workshops, or provide gourmet meals. A lot of people bring necklaces or tshirts or stickers or other handmade items to give out. Gifting can be as simple as passing out donuts (which I helped do at one point, and it was amazing how grateful people were for a donut hole at 2am) or it can be as elaborate as setting up the Playa's only four-star luxury resort (such as the Ashram Galactica, conveniently situated right on our block). It's a truly astonishing system.
Some other highlights from that afternoon's jaunt:
* visiting and then returning to the Golden Cafe, a delicious bar with a live music stage next door where Pringles plugged in his guitar and jaminated (plus he struck up a fortuitous conversation with Heather and Gregarious, who turned out to be excellent companions the rest of the week)
* a stroll down Bonneville Street to the Lazy-A** F**kers Camp, where we were greeted with the Breast Analysis Wheel (stolen from the camp across the street) and a man with a cardboard box on his head, doling out Free Breast Examinations
* Nemo's "Coach Rico" outfit... brilliant!
After a quick dinner, we headed out with Forward & Crystal to check out the Man. This year's theme was The American Dream, so the tower holding up His Dudeship was decked out with international flags. Someone pointed out that there was no American flag on the tower. Oooooooo, deep! This was another chance to check out the Esplanade (not in an RV this time!), the innermost concentric circle closest to the Man where most of the big party camps are located. Techno music thumped and bumped from every corner. Crazily lit up art cars, bikes, and people streamed by. Fire spinners did their thing at Fire Conclave in the middle of it all. It was nuts! From the top of the Man's tower, the view was unbelievable, like being in the middle of the world's biggest rave, on the moon. Not bad for the first day!