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Thanks for Greeting!

Island Life

Some people don’t like clowns- I have a hard time with greeters. In greeting terms, I am thinking of people who stand in your way and wish you well when all that you really wanted to do was get in, do whatever it was that you came for and then get out in a way and manner that is unpestered by smiling faces and stock voicings of good wishes and glad tidings. In the worst case, I am thinking of the large, lumbering dolt in Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy, who stands at the entrance to an interminably large and futuristic version of a certain discount box store and drones on in an expressionless monotone: "Welcome to Costco- I Love You." In the best of greeter cases, with "best" being in subjective and conditional quotes, one can find oneself being welcomed "home" every time one goes to Burning Man. From the first time crossing the final threshold to Black Rock City to this latest, eleventh passage, home has not been how I would describe or envision it, but that’s just me. In truth, I am not sure how I would describe it- the Burning Man experience- and perhaps that is why we keep going.

In a way, getting past the greeters is a certain measure of accomplishment when making the trek to Black Rock City. This year, for starters, there was first the Great Ticket Debacle in which, instead of the usual first come, first served manner of ticket dispersement, the people at the Burning Man Organization- affectionately known as the Borg- decided to go to a lottery form of distribution. Once the dust settled on the first round of ticketing, many of the long time burners found themselves ticketless, which led to a steady stream of verbiage not found on daytime TV directed at anyone who chose to pick up a phone or open an email at the home offices in San Francisco. We managed to get tickets during the first round, but at a rate that only a credit card could afford, and certainly at a cost a lot higher than the ones we had gotten in previous years when time of sales opening online diligence had been rewarded by tickets at or near the lowest cost level offered.

Next, there was the question of transportation, which we left up till the last few weeks to be decided upon. The RV had been the vehicle of choice for years, even though the track record for getting there without problems had been one of disappointment and regret. It was decided that if we were to chance it once more, the rodent urine soaked ceiling material had to be removed and replaced. This took the better part of two weeks and involved learning curves of new dimensions. Along the way, the rooftop air conditioner that was never used was removed, the roof was scraped of a variety of waterproof coatings and repainted in brilliant white. All of the now 30 plus year old plastic roof attachments- refrigerator vent, toilet vent, 14" roof vent- were removed, replaced and resealed with a second vent with a fan added where the a.c. had been deleted. All that and the addition of some colorful l.e.d. bars of lights inside made for a welcoming and cheery interior. It was all ready to go except for the go part- it needed to be started which was accomplished with a new battery and some ether spray- vroooom.

All seemed well as we rolled toward the north end dock for some last minute supply pickups in Seattle. And then all of a sudden it wasn’t. We had, of course, made the classic mistake over the past year and that was to not drive the vehicle. With its voracious appetite for regular gas, it is not the first thing that comes to mind when needing to get from here to wherever. And the problematic fragrance of overextended rodent inhabitation made it an even less likely choice of conveyance. At any rate, we were 50 yards from getting on the boat when everything cut off and refused to restart- we were hand pushed to a resting spot next to the passenger waiting area and left to contemplate our next move, which didn’t seem likely to be under our own power.

After a call to our trusty road shaman, Layne Stocker, we got a diagnosis and a tow back to the home front with a list of parts to be gathered the next day. After a successful supply trip, Layne had us back up and running by noon on Monday, at which point I headed up town for some fresh fuel, and as I pulled in to the pumps the RV died again. Thinking it was perhaps the bad gas that had been there over winter, I added some fresh stuff and tried for a successful sequence of compression, ignition and combustion, but it was not to be. Layne was summoned again- we can be trouble that way- and arrived with more ideas and tests. With a bypass in place it was running again, but on the way back down our driveway everything shut off and I glided to stop in our parking lot. It was time for plan B.

Wendy had revamped her pickup earlier in the Summer with some needed maintenance and the addition of my old aluminum canopy, which she cleaned up and we replaced and fixed some parts and reinforced some failed welds. As with when we had to abandon the RV in Bend last year with imminent brake failure, we had to re-imagine our basic needs into a smaller transport space. Within two hours most of the necessities were crammed to the ceiling in the back of the truck and we were on our way.

Waking up in Madras, Oregon the next morning, we were greeted with an unusually thick layer of smoke that we soon found was coming from forest fires in California. As we drove further south the smoke just got thicker, and it seemed that the fire might be just around the corner or over the next pass. About 40 miles from our destination we drove out from under the brown mass that was trailing off into spindly fingers that tapered and dissipated into the bluest skies we had seen since Portland. Getting there two days late, we pretty much just drove right up to the gate, and there were the greeters, or greeter as it was in our particular case and portal to the city. His cowboy hat, aviator goggles, hot pants and pink tutu were a bit of comic relief, and after hearing of our multiple years of entry he dispensed with the usual banter and let us pass.

Having not made it back into the scaled back video program, and finding when we got there that all the postal delivery positions were filled, I found that I had nothing more to do than sight see and visit with past acquaintances- this was not a bad thing. The unfortunate part was that I found the cartoon in the New Yorker that depicted a bunch of business types chatting in groups over a variety of drinks under a hot sun and a caption that read "I thought Burning Man would be more interesting" to be a bit prophetic. Unlike years past, there wasn’t a whole lot of interest, or particular note, to see. I didn’t take many pictures. And on Burn Night, when we chose to watch from a distance and avoid the troublesome crowds, we were verbally accosted from behind by a truckload of what appeared to be members of one of the city crews- either DPW (Department of Public Works) or Gate, who are both generally surly and at best indifferent to the rest of the population of the City. When in referring to us over his megaphone, the driver of the truck said something about hitting the accelerator and running us down, I thought for a second and responded with the only thing that seemed appropriate. In a loud voice I responded: "Thank You for Greeting!" What I have learned over the years is that if you work for either DPW or Gate, the last thing you want to be called is a Greeter. There were no further threats from the megaphone, but as they drove off I did hear someone say in a tone that was tinged with humility and annoyance: "We aren’t fucking greeters." At this point, some might say- why do you continue to go there? All I could say to that might be- I don’t know, maybe moments like this?