Burning Man 2002: Ranger Norman
Burning Man 2002: Ranger Norman
One of the pleasures given to senior Black Rock City Rangers is that of mentoring. Each year we get the privilege of providing hands-on traning during the event to new Rangers. Several years ago I was able to give
my take on the Art of Rangering. This year it was Ranger Lefty who first met Ranger Norman, and put him on the one true path, and it was my enviable task to mentor him. Ranger Norman (who lives at home with Mommy, if you catch the cinematic homage in the name) has a military background, great people skills, and a very comforting enthusiastic personality. I’m sure I’ll have more about, and by, him. For the first pass of this 2002 edition of the site, though…
From: Ranger Norman
To: Ranger Mickey
Subject: It’s ONLY a Week in the Desert!
Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2002 15:23:17 -0700
Here’s a little thing I wrote for an interested friend. It doesn’t cover much of the quality aspects, but it covers the timeline and focused on the quantitative aspects she’d understand. I’ll try to put some more quality thoughts on virtual paper and include them within the text or send them out later. Remember, though, I am still sub-Alpha Ranger Norman until such time as I’m properly trained. As for using the pix I sent, absolutely! Knock yourself out….
Subject: It’s ONLY a Week in the Desert!
… or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and just burn the Man’
Alright, this here little spiel on Burning Man barely breaks the surface. It’s truly too much to try to put on paper, or perhaps even into words. Still, here’s a try. I have pictures to add to this when opportunity presents for sharing. In the meantime, here’s what I could come up with in a couple of hours of typing.
So, let me try to recount my Burning Man experience this year, if I can even begin to quantify it. Bottom line: it was AWESOME!!! I had a blast, even in light of some less than favorable aspects of my experience, I still had a great time and have reaffirmed that I will attend this event every year I’m able unless it loses its magic or until I die.
A couple of days worth of shopping, packing, and van preparation had Erika (my flight attendant friend) and I on the road by around 10am on Monday, 26 Aug. A leisurely drive intended to have us on the playa (the cracked earth of powdery dust upon which ‘Black Rock City’ is built every year) around 4 – 5pm. Unfortunately, just after Tonopah, the van blew a tire and the timeline suffered from there on. No issues with changing to the spare, however I was intent on having a spare for the trip off the beaten path. So began the quest for a replacement identical tire. (FYI: the only place in Reno with an appreciable stock of Michelin tires is Costco) It was just before 11pm when we parked in our new address in Black Rock City, on the corner of 225^ and Mainmast right across from the port-a-johns. Tired from the road, we set out to sleep with visions of a being well-rested in the morning to set up camp…until we realized we’d parked next to the drum camp. They beat on every conceivable instrument of percussion until 3am. We slept shortly thereafter. And so, brought a close to the adventure of getting there.
Up late Tuesday morning, we (I) set up camp and squared away our gear. From there, out and about. It was great seeing the city in the early stages of development and while all the ‘die-hards’ were there. There’s a definite difference in the feel of the place when the people who come just to party show up vs the ‘die-hards’ who show up at the earliest opportunity. These are the cool folks. The folks who really believe in the concepts behind Burning Man. Anyway, Erika and I set about to check everything out and see what was what. The Man looked about the same as last year, though he was mounted on a much higher platform which had the look of a lighthouse. The Temple of Joy (as opposed to last year’s Temple of Tears) was mostly done and quite striking. The artist who creates these temples, David Best, has true vision and appreciation of the finer art of architecture. More on this later. So, we rolled up and down the streets for a while seeing the camps, the peoples, and what not. I cooked us up a reasonably excellent meal, camp-ready Red Beans and Rice with real chicken strips added. It turned out YUMMY!!! A short nap on a full stomach and it was time to dance, dance, dance!!! I think we boogied until about 4am or so. It was awesome! Just rode the Esplanade (inner-most ring of camps) looking for the cool dance places and stopped to dance whenever we found one. Lost Erika somewhere along the way, but kept on dancing. There was this old Mercedes military truck someone had converted into a mobile DJ booth complete with huge amps and fractal projections. On the front it read, “Space Cowboys”. This group was kicking the best heats I had heard on the playa! I danced by it on the Esplanade for about an hour when it just up and started rolling. I followed it on my bike, hopping off when it stopped, and riding circles around it when it rolled until it ended up at the ‘Space Lounge’ where I stayed for another couple of hours. Made my way, slowly, back to the van and slept hard that night (morning), drums and all!
Wednesday late-morning was my first bit of volunteer commitment: a Nevada State Highway Flagger certification course. I spent all afternoon in a nice air-conditioned room learning how to stop traffic, slow traffic, and allow traffic to proceed. I can now go out and make $22/hr freelance at this, should I so desire. Can’t beat that! I took this course at the behest of the ‘Exodus’ crew – those magical people who manage to clean 30,000 participants out of Burning Man in two short days on a one lane road with each vehicle taking roughly 1 – 2 hours. Not bad at all when you think about it. Anyway, the course was cake, I passed the test, I went home. Grabbed a snack back at the van and stopped by the Black Rock Rangers HQ. These are the in-house, volunteer keepers-of-the-peace at Black Rock City. They try to handle everything before calling on the few law enforcement officers who work the City. I read about them on the volunteer website and thought being a Ranger was right up my alley – I have some skills to offer, the job sounds like something I’d like. Well, I missed all the training so there was no way for me to get into it this time, but I went ahead and stopped in to see what I could do now that I was there. I talked with one of the honchos, Bob, who said he couldn’t think of much but that I should come out on Friday and he’d see what he could hook me up with. I said I would and rode out to the Temple of Joy to help, and help I did. I did some menial pick this up, move this, take this from here to there stuff. But, I also did some creative expressive make-these-curved-pieces-of-wood-look-like-a-plant-&-think-voluptuous stuff. Very enriching! It felt awesome to contribute some of my self, my own vision, to this amazing work of beauty! The first really rewarding bit of service I had done. Well, in addition I worked with a few cool folks including a sculptor from San Jose named Barbara whom I agreed to meet later for dancing (and that’s all). Anyway, before departing for dinner and dancing, David Best called his creation complete and explained the origins of this pinnacle on the playa. Seems 4 years ago, a dear friend of his died in a motorcycle accident. The next year, at BM, David built the Temple of Sorrow in his honor as a means of grieving and for others to grieve over loved ones lost. Inside each temple are altars upon which folks can pen their tributes, memorials, whatever. When the altars fill up, there are wooden blocks for people to do the same and these blocks will be thrown into the structure and burned en masse the day after the Man burns. So, began the tradition. Last year the tradition continued with the Temple of Tears; this year, the Temple of Joy. It seems David is tired of being unhappy. Anyway, after the speech, some speculation, and a brief note to Opa scrawled on one of the altars, I hit camp, ate, slept, and ventured out looking for my dancing partner for the evening. I ran into a guy I met last year on the way, as well as several new and interesting people, and finally found Barb. We danced and chilled out for five hours or so. It was good hanging out with her and I definitely got the vibe of ‘do more’ from her, but I didn’t. The best part is, at the end of the night, I just went my separate way and wished her a happy burn. In the past, the time and intimacy (of conversation) we shared would have prompted me to exchange contact info with her and start correspondence, but I have a hard enough time keeping up my correspondence – as you well know – so I felt no need to add another person to that neglected list. How free-ing to meet someone, enjoy their time, conversation, and personality and let it go at the end of the night. Just another way I’m turning into a more callous bastard, maybe, but very healthy for ME, I think. We’ll see. I slept alright that night…lots of thoughts buzzing.
Thursday morning, I was up just a little early for my first bit of volunteering – a shift at the Bus Depot. There was a shuttle that took people into the nearby towns to make phone calls or buy supplies. I did that for the afternoon and made it back to camp for dinner and a brief nap (I don’t think I ever napped more than 45 minutes nor did I ever sleep more than five hours straight the whole time there). I have no real recollection of what I did Thursday night unless I’ve confused it with some of the activities noted above, but I’m sure I had fun.
Friday, I stopped back by the Rangers in the late morning and chilled with folks, met folks, and talked more with Bob about what I could do. It was brought up that my size and stature would be helpful working the perimeter at the Burn to keep people from running into where the performers were swinging, belching, or generally flinging fire. In addition, someone recommended I work a Hot Springs Patrol as they were always hurting for people to do that. As part of the agreement with BLM, the Burning Man organization agreed to keep participants out of the local hot springs to save both the ecology and the participants (last year, a woman chased her husband who chased their dog into a particularly hot – 186 degree – hot spring and they all died). So, I wandered over to see what they had available and all that was left for the day was an overnight at the hot springs. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to spend 14 hours out away from the City, but I signed up as a show of good faith and because I can’t be choosy if I’m wanting to help my community. My departure time was to be 5pm, some two and a half hours hence at this point. I went back the van, packed for an overnight away, ate, napped, and rode off towards the departure point – a van would take me the 20 or so miles to the spring. On the way to center camp, who do I see? Nicole! She made it! She was just wandering up to find me. We said hey, she gave me a pin, we said bye, and that was all I saw of her at BM. Pity, but it happens. I got to the departure point and the old guy who was driving me out, Fearless Freddie, was an old crusty bastard who barely spoke except to criticize who reminded me soooooooo much of my grandfather. Almost spooky. He packed up me and ‘Lonefeather’, my buddy for the night, and Lonefeather’s dog and away we went. We got the hot spring, which sat at the base of THE Black Rock for which the entire area is named. It was 6pm. Fearless dropped a challenge about climbing the Black Rock and drove off. I had about an hour and a half until sunset so I figured why not. I met a couple of locals camping around the other side of the Rock who decreed it would take me two hours to climb and descend the great Black Rock. Sounded like a challenge to me! I went for it. Forty near-hyperventilating minutes to the top, I stood in the midst of a breathtaking view with lightning and fiery sunset encroaching upon me. It was spectacular! I commended myself for enduring the exhausting climb (hands required) which I nearly ceased a couple of times for sake of safety and sanity. Pishaw! I made it…I earned it! I found a more relaxed way down and was back amongst the locals an hour and a half after I started. I think I earned some respect for it. I went back to ‘camp’ and found Lonefeather had made some friends – a couple of early-20s guys drinking beer, smoking pot, and off-roading. *shrug* He took off with them; I opted to stay behind. Just moments after I watched them, with anticipation of disaster, roll over the horizon and off for points unknown, the wind picked up, the rain fell, and I scoured my bag for my Personal Survival Gear – thinking it would only be a casual and quiet night, I didn’t pack a tent. I did, however, pack a ‘space blanket’ which I found, unwrapped, and draped over my body which I draped over my gear. Ever hold one of those strange, awkward, and uncomfortable positions long enough to fall asleep in it? Well, I did. I think I slept about fifteen minutes which meant it rained on me for about an hour or so. After the rain, I found a nice place on a hill to lay my bag, bullshited with Lonefeather for a bit after he returned, and drifted off to sleep around midnight. I woke up a couple of times in the night, but I think I got about 5 hours of fair-quality sleep by the time I woke up at 6am. No drum camp out at the hot springs. In fact, when retiring for the night, not a sound except the buzzing of random insects could be heard. By morning, the wind must have shifted because the distant beats of Black Rock City were barely audible when facing it.
So, an early morning wake up on Saturday followed by a brisk walk to wake up the tired and abused legs from the previous evening’s hike/climb…a long day lay ahead. I was due to work a five hour shift at the ‘info’ tent at 9am. It turned out Fearless was late and I didn’t make it back to center camp until 10am, so I worked four hours at info, grabbed a meal, a brief nap, and rolled to the Ranger’s HQ to get the rundown on working perimeter. They gave me a hat, to keep, and a vest, to wear, so I looked official for the event and then pointed at my leash-holders. I followed them out, listened to their wisdom, and found myself ‘in charge’ of a 120 ft section of perimeter which I shared with a really cool Ranger called Mickey. I will say this night and this work was by far the most gratifying work I’ve done in some time. I excelled, my crowd – as a whole – was favorably responsive, and I loved it. I joked with them, flirted with them, convinced them to behave as a whole to the point they governed themselves, and I tried to take care of them. They took care of me. We asked the first six ‘rows’ or so of people to sit to afford those in the back a better view and less desire to push up to the front – they all sat for me. I got them up and stretched them out when there were lulls in the pre-burn entertainment – they all thanked me. And then, when I expected a stampede of possessed pyromaniacs to rush the smoldering pile that remained from the last crashing fall of the Man, I looked up to see hundreds of eyes on me awaiting my direction – they all waited for me. It felt really good to be good at something and to get that feedback accordingly. I did well enough to be asked to come back for the Temple burn perimeter the next night. I loved it! Considering how work’s been lately, it was really REALLY nice to be appreciated [Mickey, I know you were instrumental in keeping the crowd happy and keeping me from being beaten by an angry mob. The background on the work haze is I’ve always been considered an overachiever and a good officer who can get things done outside of official channels until my latest two bosses who see such skills as ‘shady, underhanded, under-the-radar, half-assed’, and ‘manipulative’. Amazing how individual personalities affect an entire organization.] After the burn, Mickey convinced the powers that be to let him take me with him on his shift, so we walked the beat at Black Rock City. It was a really good night and I’m so glad for it. We rolled as the more mellow 5-0 until about 3am and I wandered back to the van for sleep.
I didn’t sleep much at all – about half an hour – when I had to be back up, at 0600 on Sunday, to meet up with Bob, who is also a photographer, so he could get some pictures of me. He said I was one of the ‘beautiful people’ and he wanted photographic proof that such people attend Burning Man. Flattered, I agreed; I do have the sensibilities of a woman, remember. Turned out he was busy, as were all the Rangers, with an assortment of chaos that occurred overnight and in the wee hours. Anyway, while at Ranger HQ, I heard that the Exodus crew was in desperate need of help, so I went back the van, grabbed gear, and started my Exodus shift early. It was cool. Of all the cars I waved through my particular spot – the first flagger they’d see on their way out of the north end of camp, I only had three cars with dickheads at the helm. What are the odds of that? Most folks were really cool and I got so much free stuff from lots of cool people who would just pitch me things. Very good job for ‘schwag’ – the name given to the free trinkets, shirts, whatever people make for BM. I filled my backpack and pockets in no time. I also covered myself and everything I brought with a substantial layer of dust. My normally blue shoes were completely off-white. It was worth it, though; I enjoyed waving at everyone on their way out. I got back to the van with a couple of hours to eat, sleep, and clean up for the next bit of Rangering. It worked out well; I met up with Mickey again and we wandered around some. Met some really cool people, ate at the commissary for employees – awesome food!!! – and rolled out to set up the perimeter. Not such a good perimeter. A different attitude from the crowd and a lot less Rangers to guard a large circle meant I had more folks to watch than I could keep up with in such a friendly and jovial manner. We also had a few people who repeatedly broke the perimeter trying to run to the still burning Temple. The burning Temple, by the way, was an amazing thing! The flames rose to some 150ft, well over the 50ft tall structure and lit the entire area. The balsa wood filigree structure burned white hot and warmed my back from some 400ft. The substructure burned less hot, but equally high. It really was moving to watch and to think that such love-inspired toil would be put up in smoke in a few lingering minutes. As the structure was collapsing on itself, I saw one of the repeat offenders break the ranks of the Rangers and run towards the fire. Well, I didn’t see anyone else chasing him so I bolted after him and ran him down fairly quickly. I stopped him by holding his shoulder and he proceeded to tell me, in his best stoned Jeff Spiccoli imitation, how the other Rangers let him go. Another Ranger ran up to me confirming this and telling me it wasn’t my fault since I didn’t have a radio, so I patted the dude on the back and told him to be careful and felt a bit like an ass for being too ‘heavy handed’. I was vindicated later when Mickey told me that was exactly what I should have done and he would have berated me if I hadn’t. I still felt a bit like an ass. Oh well. I rolled with him on the remainder of his shift. We escorted a young lady and her would-be-suitor to her camp to gather her belongings as she was being harassed by a stalker. After arriving to no stalker, Mickey let it out of the bag that I was there for muscle to beat the shit out of said stalker if he’d shown up. Well, it’s good to know the imposing act works. =) No stalker, no action, and no energy had me off to bed around 1am. I slept like the dead.
[Actually, what I meant to convey was that IN ADDITION to Norman’s organizational and operational skills (it was great having someone else with military experience in my squad) his in-shape body would have been my implement of choice should the alleged stalker appear. — Mickey]
I woke up at 5:30am on Monday to be photographed by Bob. I’ll share them when I get them. Otherwise, I did my last hanging with the Rangers, said my goodbyes, thanked them, and went back to pack up the van. We were out of camp by 10am-ish, off the playa by around 11:30am, and on the road home. We stopped at a truck stop off I-80 and grabbed much-needed showers. I was dying from lack of sleep so I had Erika drive from just above Hawthorne to Tonopah so I could nap. That nap and some Red Bull had me well awake for the drive home. Just about an hour or so from home, we got pulled over and discovered Mom had let the van registration lapse – it hadn’t been registered since 2000. The cop let the speeding – turns out the speedometer registers slow by about 7mph – and lack of proof of insurance go, thankfully; those would have added up to nearly a grand in fines as opposed to the mere hundred I now owe to Nye County. Other than that, we made it home uneventfully. It was good to be home, though I think I could have stayed at Black Rock City considerably longer.
As for the trip with Erika, it was less than smooth and pleasant at times – downright tumultuous once or twice – but tolerable overall. I don’t think I’ll be asking her, or foreseeably anyone else, to join me in my camping space next year. I think I will make this a trip for me to be spent with friends or on my own completely on my terms. It’s better that way, I think. Still, I had fun, I felt ‘of use’, and it was everything I could have asked and more. You know, coming from such a nomadic upbringing, I can claim a lot of hometowns. I usually claim LA as it’s where I spent most of my time. Sometimes I claim Hanford, CA since that’s where I went to High School. Once in a while I’ll even claim Lexington, KY since I was born there. Honestly, if I claimed a hometown because it was most representative of what I value in a community – of where I feel most ‘at home’ – it would be Black Rock City, regardless of the fact it stands for only one week a year.
PLAYA DUST WEB RING
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