In 1996, I finally started to try to pay attention to when this took place.
In 1997, I was driving around the United States, and didn't return from that trip until the event was just about over. It didn't matter, I still didn't know how to get there, even if I knew where 'there' was.
But, we launched ourselves into complete focus on getting 'there' in '98.
We researched all the websites we could find, looked for articles in newspapers and magazines, even got the Burning Man coffee-table book and the Flash Back Burning Man video.
As soon as tickets went on sale ($100) we got them, and started making plans.
Over the last eight years, I've personally witnessed how big we've gotten. In 1998, we had just over 16,000 people. This year it was estimated to be around 40,000, although the last count I heard from DPW was 36,000.
Each year it becomes more emotional for me, especially leaving the playa. Each year I meet up with people I had met in prior years and meet up with new people who become wonderful friends.
Last year was supposed to be my last.
I let a girl talk me into going again this year.
I really did not want to go this year at all.
Even during the drive from Sacramento to Reno, I kept thinking to myself, "Why in the hell am I heading out here again?" And most of you are probably wondering, "Why in the hell not?" As I said, each year gets more and more emotional for me when I leave, and I knew it would be the same this year, and I didn't want to face that emotional drain while sitting in line trying to get off the playa at the end of our venture.
But I kept on. I just knew I was going to have a miserable time.
Even my greeter was an asshole. I arrived at 6:00AM on Monday. There were only like four cars ahead of me as I pulled in. I went into a lane that was unoccupied by any cars at the ticket taker station, and when I got up there, the guy was, "Who directed you into this line?" I told him nobody, as there was nobody directing traffic, and the signs (that were telling me which lane to go in) had been turned sideways, so I never even saw it. But the guy was being an asshole about it, and wouldn't listen when I said there was no one directing traffic (all he had to do was look up the lane and would have seen that clearly).
He made one of the new guys inspect my vehicle, telling him, "inspect it completely," in such a manner that it would delay getting to my campsite as long as possible. Fortunately, when I pack to head out to the playa, all you have to do is glance over my trailer and you can see I'm not hiding any people. The new guy liked my palm and banana trees, though. I don't think the new greeter even realized why the asshole one had wanted him to take his time. Meanwhile, he's telling the other cars that I'm trying to cut in line and making a big stink. The new guy was done inspecting my trailer in about a minute, about as long as it took for me to take off the bunjee cords holding the tarp down. Asshole greeter finally had no recourse but to let me through, so off I went, on to the real greeters (I don't know if we designate the ticket takers and inspectors as greeters or not, but that's what I've been calling them). I finally got a "Welcome Home" from one of them.
I had just gotten my shade structure and tent secured down when the winds started picking up. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get much else done, so I just waited a few hours, 'til they calmed down a bit, then headed out on my bike, and met up with my campmates from last year.
We tried to decide who should move their camps. One one hand, my shade structure was bigger, but they didn't like the location. On the other, they had only set up a couple of tents. It would be harder for me to move, and they had a great location. No one moved. After all their promises of coming over to visit, it ended up that I was always over there. Well, except when I was out and about.
The days and nights went by quickly. Too quickly.
Suddenly, it's Monday morning, and I'm starting to pack.
I am actually packed and ready to head out at around 10:00AM, so I head over to Hey! Camp to stay there for a few hours. I want to use the shower one last time, so that when I get on the road, I'm as clean as one can ever get in that environment. Besides, I needed to empty my shower bag.
I start telling them that this year is almost definately my last year, at least for a while. I still need to see Australia and Tahiti, and all sorts of other places.
When I finally decide that it is time to get off the playa, and as I'm saying my last goodbyes to these guys, I'm trying real hard not to break apart. I tell them I may never see them again, but let's keep in better contact via e-mail than we did this prior year.
This is my last year, I told them, then I went into my truck to take off, and completely lost it.
The wait in line just to get off the playa was over two hours long.
In that time, I regained my composure.
Then a little realization came to mind.
Next year will be the 20th anniversary of when it all started, his 20th birthday.
Can I miss that?
Can I really?