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Thursday, September 21, 2017

THE GOOD FATHER

     A year ago I came home raving about my first trip to Burning Man, the annual desert celebration. When my kids asked, "Can we go with you next year?", I was happy to comply.  How could any loving parent not expose their progeny to the world's craziest creative event?


       I first helped them acquire the proper wardrobe from local thrift stores.



Suitably attired, the Terry boys climbed aboard a giant camper bus in San Francesco three weeks ago. 



  We were a part of the Green Tortoise Tour Company's caravan heading east to the Nevada's Black Rock Desert. 
  Four  buses carried 150 people from 17 countries -ages ranging from 23 to 73- to the world's most incredible gathering. 
Rolling into the Sierra Mountains we  made new friends on our Magical Mystery Tour. 

     For seven days were would be camping in "Black Rock City", one of the least hospitable landscapes on earth.  
     
   The boys and I pitched our tents in the sun-baked desert where temperatures range from burning to freezing.  Our canvas shelters kept most of the dust out and all of the heat in.
    
      The 70,000 Burn fans attending every year think climatic hardships are well worth it. Where else can you be surrounded by so much incredible art,




spectacular vehicles,
and more smiles than 
you've ever imagined?
 
     

  



    Everyone attending has to bring their own food and water. There is nothing for sale except coffee and ice.  Also, there is no electricity, internet or phone service. 
   It actually prepared us to spend the following weeks living the same way after Hurricane Irma.

    Our friends at Green Tortoise made living in the desert not too difficult as they fed us and filled our canteens. The 100+ degree days were tough. Between noon and five you stayed in the shade and tried not to move. Our camp ("Tortoise Town", one of a thousand camps) had a large shaded 


area where you could lounge in a dusty chair or on the dusty ground.  

      Huddling in the shade of our bus
    
     The super-fine dirt is everywhere and we  almost got use to it.
         One of the Rangers (the 800 hippie police force who keep things from getting crazy) told me, "You've got to trust in the dust".

    Thousands of volunteers, like the Rangers, make Burning Man happen. I helped manage the performance stage and was a "wrangler" in Media Mecca.
    Mecca houses the PR people who assists the photographers and journalists who cover the event. This is one of my co-workers, Harold, who
always looked great. 

The Mississippi native does BMan in style living in an air-conditioned trailer, scooting around on an electric bike, and wearing a fresh set of brightly colored clothing every day.



   I enjoyed volunteering but it also gave me access to clean porto-potties and cold drinks from the Mecca bar.
     Most folks have to use the thousands of portable bathrooms with interiors like this
that are spread out over the the mile-wide temporary community.  
    While they are very dusty -inside and out- the toilet seats are not because they are "dusted" by the many
stoners sitting on them. Toilet paper is often in short supply. I always carried my own.

      You discover wonders big and small at Burning Man. Every group of potties has Purell hand sanitizers mounted on a pole. You push the white lever at the bottom and the gel shoots out.

    Some clever person modified them "burner-style". He or she replaced the Purell stickers with these, 

 





and added "Motion Activated" to some of the the push levers. 

   It was somethin' to see folks waving their hands beneath the pumper  hoping to squirt some "Purelsd" into their hands.
   It was very clever, very "burning man".  
    Last year I saw one of the porto-potties break away from the others and drive off.  It was one burner's amazing contribution, a robo-potty.

    While I was volunteering my two sons would explore other camps and the "Playa" everyday. That's the mile-wide open space in the middle of everything. There were over 300 art installations and thousands of happy, hugging people to enjoy.
Sometimes I'd join them and we'd witness marvelous things.

Friends playing next to the Temple


 



   Pink Camp created a Love Line. Four hundred people held hands and followed a leader. When I approached to take pictures every person passing smiled and said, "I love you!". It felt like they really meant it.  I told them the same.



 

I'll tell you more  about the "Zoetrope" later


At Planned Playahood you could crawl through a tunnel and be born again.

 
 The Man was enclosed in a temple this year.



    










 At Burning Man there are no spectators. Everyone performs in some way. The Terry Boyz set up a Bad Portrait Studio just south of
The Man.  




 For hours we drew pictures that didn't look much like the people sitting in front of us.
   They seemed pleased anyway.
   
   My family grew when I acquired a third son, "Ahmet",  a highly animated gastroenterologist from Holland. He asked me to adopt him. Ahmet explained that he wanted an additional father, one that would take him to the desert festival every year. 

    On Friday we ran into our Miami musician friends, Cuci and Toni who perform all over (and at BMan) as "Afrobeta".  We spotted Cuci singing in the Black Rock City Choir.
   
    I later observed Miami's history wizard, Cesar Becerra, broadcasting a live TV show from Center Camp. I got a little suspicious when I noticed his 'camera' was actually a tripod-mounted cereal box. That's was very Burning Man too.
 
     


     




   




    


   All of BMan's events are centered around "The Burn" on Saturday night. That's when The Man is set ablaze in spectacular glory.

  
   
   The Big Burn always has a carnival atmosphere and this year The Man was lit up surrounded by 60,000 people and hundreds of glowing mutant vehicles. 

  
      The carnival continued through the night as we visited many of the rolling sculptures. Each had its own party. We danced through crowds with me
gyrating a bit with my kids and Lena, our new friend from Cairo. 
We had a terrific time that magical night. It was Mardi Gras in the desert.

       Another BMan tradition occurs at sunrise the next morning when people gather to be warmed by the still-glowing embers. Some even cook french toast on The Man's remains. 
But this year was different. 

    The fire's site was fenced off and rangers stood guard. I asked one, "Why?" and he told me some fool had run into the fire during the burn.  Fortunately we did not see this happen as we were on the far side of the mega-blaze.
     I later learned the 41-year-old Oklahoman was apparently hell-bent on doing himself in. The ranger told me he ran at the fire four times -and  tackled briefly by multiple guards- before he succeeded.  
   It was shocking, something I did not think  possible. I guess when someone decides to run off the edge of the Grand Canyon there's little you can do.  99% of the canyon's rim is not fenced.
     On Sunday night they had the traditional "Temple Burn" and a protective fence was added.  They also asked for 400 extra volunteers to stand guard against possible "runners".  I was one of them.
 





For more than two hours we took a knee and watched the crowd.
 
They watched the temple collapse as it became tiny stars drifting up to heaven. 

    

Finally, it was over, the end of the amazing 31st desert gathering. 

    On Monday morning we loaded our dusty selves on to our buses and
headed back to the other world.  We arrived at our friend's house in Berkeley after dark. 

Tired puppies heading home

     His backyard was cool and quiet under distant stars, not unlike the desert.                   

    Although there were comfy beds inside, we opted to "burn" one more night. We slept on the lawn. 
Even now I'm still dreaming about those incredible days in the desert.

                               __________

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A STORM TOO LONG

     My sons and I spent a week camping in the Nevada desert two weeks ago.


   
     We were attending the Burning Man Festival which requires attendees to practice “radical self reliance”. You must provide your own food, water, and electricity. There is nothing for sale but ice and coffee.
    When we returned to Miami -and Hurricane Irma- our lives got even more “radical”.  After the storm we were without the basics and for days, there was nothing for sale. I can do without coffee but iced drinks?  They comfort me so through sweltering days.


     As I write this our part of Coconut Grove has been without power for ten days.  At night I dream of ice. During the day Francesca and I camp on our back porch. 

 

    These no-breeze 92 degree days suck but we know that some day we’ll look back on this lingering sweat storm and think, “Yeah, except for breakfasts on the porch, that really did suck”.

    No doubt hundreds of years ago the Calusa Indians said the same thing. Nobody really loves the heat, or hurricanes, not even a little category one 'cane like Irma.

    The worse part was waiting, watching the TV meteorologists us, “A class five hurricane is heading directly for Miami. In three says you are going to be so screwed!”.

   We worked non-stop screwing on shutters and
waited for our own version of Wizard of Oz, which really could have happened. 
 
    Hurricanes spawn occasional tornadoes. One lifted my mother’s house in Miami’s Hurricane of 1926. Her family was still hiding in a hole when it landed two blocks away. While it was ripped apart, my mother’s sister (my Aunt Dorothy) remembered finding, in the ruins, a bowl of pears miraculously left intact.



DAY MINUS ONE
    On Saturday, the day before Irma hit us, it seemed half the town had evacuated. Five millions Floridians had headed north.  At least two-thirds of my street fled succumbing to 140  mph wind warnings.  But then we learned it was edging to the west and our city would be spared the worst.  Hurricanes are like that, unpredictable. 


 
 Around five p.m. Dylan and I rode our bikes down to the bay to see the waves whip up.
 
The day before it arrived a banyan tree fell in a 45 m.p.h. gust.  It blocked Douglas Road for the next six days. 


After six p.m. the wind was such that you did not want to venture outside. Tree limbs were beginning to fall and electricity failed.

   DAY ONE
    We were hit by the western edge of Irma for twelve hours on Sunday, from dawn to dusk.  While winds were thrashing the trees above our back yard it was almost calm at ground level. The huge houses around us but they offered  protection. We were able to watch the show sitting on our back porch which became,




    I watched the show from my camping chair.  When the winds topped ninety I’d run inside where more than a sheet of plywood overhead would protect me.
Big wind continued on through the night and into into the next day.

DAY TWO

 We woke up on Monday to see streets looking like this,


     Avocado Avenue at Plaza Street, looking west. It is still blocked a twelve days after the storm.

 
A walk down to Coconut Grove’s bay shore revealed scenes like this,

Scotty's Landing. It used to be our favorite hang out.   

 
 Scotty's patio




  

     The storm  scared us and it’s aftermath is a mega-mess but in Miami, it seems like 98% of the houses were spared.  If you parked your car under a tree (bad idea!) it probably got crunched.
 
 Rick's car (insured)

No one was hurt except for the Grove sailor who decided to ride it out in his boat.  Irma relocated it to the Mutiny Hotel parking lot on Bayshore Drive. They found his body in the pile of seaweed nearby, another nominee for a Darwin Award.
      Most streets were blocked by fallen trees. It was kind of cool to climb through them to check on the neighbors who stayed.

DAY THREE
    By now most streets were cleared and there were huge piles of tree debris lining the road.  I enjoy pulling it back onto my street again. 
In my own version of “traffic calming” Range Rovers are forced to zig-zag slowly through Glenn’s Rotting Limb Gauntlet. I'd like to slow the morning traffic in front of my house like this everyday.


DAY FOUR THROUGH ELEVEN
    These sweltering days are all the same.  We are hot and at times, grouchy.  We pretend that cold showers aren't that bad. We are fortunate in many ways, we have been through storms that took our water as well.
     The power company tells us we’ll get juice on day eleven,  manana.  Most grocery stores are open again, powered by generators, but still they can't suppy ice for us un-connected.

     Some of our neighbors have annoying generators of their own. Nights are hot and all of our windows, open.  Sleeping near a neighbor’s  chugging generator is like trying to nap in your  yard while a lawn man cuts the grass.

    
 
   We have no electricity, cell phone, or internet service. Thankfully I found a hotel lobby three miles away with “everything”.  I spend afternoons there posing as a guest as I breathe in the AC, enjoy iced drinks, and communicate with friends.  I still lack the nerve to use their pool. 

    Hopefully I can go home for good soon. Radical reliance is getting old. I look forward to the day when I can radically rely on my Kenmore to fill my glass with ice again.
         _________________________________