From the time I landed to the time I left, I took my partying at Burning Man very seriously. I went all out until I passed out every day, then got up and did it again. One of the selling points for me has always been that I get to build and create while I’m out there, so I pushed myself hard physically to build and rebuild pieces of camp as the winds blew them down.
I had the added pleasure of a close friend joining me for the trip, got to fall in love for a few days, then do it again with another friend of a friend right before the event was over. The night of the Man Burn, I watched someone run into the giant structure fire. As he entered, a large piece of the frame collapsed around him and rescuers had to back off until it calmed down enough to drag him from the flames. His foot was still smoldering as he lay on the desert floor surrounded by emergency personnel. After being cas-e-vaced, he died from his wounds at the UC Davis Medical Center. Point being, it was an emotional week.
The artist that brought me out had been cordial in our brief passings throughout the event. Honestly, the idea of spending much time with her or on her project didn’t thrill me given that I was in the Land of Distraction, so I didn’t. Finally it was time to pack up, comb the campground for trash and stray tent spikes, and get ourselves and our art piece off the desert.
“I don’t want to go home!” she choked out between cigarette puffs and sobs. She was crying on and off all day as we packed. My patience had worn thin by this point, and we were all tired and out of energy, but dammit, we needed to go. My saving grace of a human that accompanied us out there couldn’t handle the emotional roller-coaster that would inevitably be our ride back, so she left early with a friend, and left me to deal with the artist on my own.
After enlisting the help of basically everyone but her, I was able to get the truck ready to go. She drove us off the desert, but the crying came along with us. The sun left the sky, and the amount of shit she gave about staying in her lane left with it.
“Would you mind staying in the lane?” I asked as she rolled a joint and swerved into the oncoming traffic side of the road, steering with her knees.
“There’s nobody coming! I can clearly see that! And you’re the LAST fucking person that should say anything about my driving!”
“My legal ability to drive and my actual ability to drive (or stay in a lane) are two different things.”
At this, she slammed on the brakes in the middle of a long line of traffic on a two-lane highway. “GET OUT! You can fucking walk the rest of the way!” she screamed at me, nearly jabbing me in the eye with her now-lit spliff.
“I’m not getting out! Drive the car, please!” I stayed buckled in, and she eventually started driving again. I was able to eek out an apology for the license thing (I apologized for this about four times over the course of the week, and thought we were past it, but I was wrong).
The rest of the drive to our “midway” (it was more like a quarter of the way) point was uneventful. We made it to a hotel, got a room together, showered 13 days of dust off ourselves, and got a decent night sleep in an actual bed, with actual air conditioning. The crying the next day was at least less frequent because she was well-rested.
We had a nice lunch at a bar and grill near Mono Lake. I had a nice conversation with my mom while the truck was being refueled, reassuring her that I was not dead. The artist was concerned that she had lost some drugs she had sympathetically purchased on my behalf, so we spent ten minutes looking through the truck before finding out a friend had taken them. We were ready to get on our way, and she said, “Okay, let me just roll this joint, get some coffee, and some cigarettes, then we’re out of here.”
I sighed. “Can we please just go?” I had work the next day, and my already-thin patience was becoming emaciated. She snapped. She called her dad on speaker phone, and complained loudly about how I was a drug addict and how I ruined her project. I felt like I really didn’t need to be there for the conversation, so I stepped out of the truck.
I tried to see if I could get my stuff out of the truck, but it was buried too far underneath the other shit in the back. I realized my wallet was in the truck, which she had locked at that point. I pointed to it and yelled through the window, “Just give me back my wallet!”
She opened the driver-side window, and threw my wallet into the street. Hundreds of dollars in loose bills fluttered in the wind and spread themselves across the street. As I collected them, she peeled out and sped off. I was reveling in a combination of astonishment and relief when the truck screeched to a halt in front of me again.
“You’re a drug addict piece of shit!” she yelled.
“I’m already out of the car! This is over!” I got out before she drove off again.
I collected myself, bought a sharpie from the gas station, and wrote, “Los Angeles” on a piece of cardboard, adding the Burning Man symbol for good measure. And I waited.