Category Archives: Burning Man

Nothing like the present(s)

Emanuel's interpretation of a sailboat
Emanuel's interpretation of a sailboat
Gabriel's interpretation of pirates
Gabriel's interpretation of pirates

On a May day between my birthday and Barry’s, we were sitting out in the cockpit, enjoying the shade of our beautiful bimini top and eating a mid-morning snack. As usual, the cockpit was a mess, full of tools and parts, which included a pile of teak scraps on top of the refrigerator. They’d been removed from someone else’s boat, so they all had bolt-holes through them, but the bolts had been taken out.

A little wasp, black with white stripes, flew over and landed on the pile. She looked around, selected one of the holes, and climbed in. A moment later, she flew away.

To my credit, I didn’t scream or jump around or do any of the hysterical things I normally do around insects. I simply picked up the piece of teak and studied the two tiny green caterpillars she’d left, now exposed on top of the fridge. “Nice of her to bring us a little gift, but I don’t think we need these,” I said, flicking them onto the ground and cleaning up the pile of wood. When she came back, she walked around for a while, confused, then left us another couple of caterpillars before leaving for good.

The next gift to arrive was even more remarkable and a lot more tasty.

At his gym in Vero Beach, Florida, my Dad met a retiree named Carlo. The conversation turned to Carlo’s passion, making sausage. “What? You haven’t tried my sausage? I’ll bring you some!” After his retirement, Carlo was at loose ends, so his kids and grandkids talked him into making sausage, something he’d done as a child with his Sicilian grandfather. It was so successful that it turned into a business. Now he makes and sells Carlo’s Lean Sicilian Sausage at the local Saturday market, and he also packs it in dry ice and ships it all over the country.

When the package arrived, the first thing we got excited about was the dry ice! We put chunks of it in water and giggled at the bubbles and the smoking effect, and Barry even put it in a drink. Then we fired up the  barbecue.

Barry's birthday feast - tzatziki, baba ghanouj, grilled onions, oranges, pistachios, kalamata olives, cotija cheese, and Carlo's fabulous sausage
Barry's birthday feast - tzatziki, baba ghanouj, grilled onions, oranges, pistachios, kalamata olives, cotija cheese, and Carlo's fabulous sausage

This stuff is magic! It’s full of flavor, but so finely ground that it melts in your mouth without the greasy feeling you usually get from sausage. I said it was the best sausage I’ve eaten. Barry said, “Yummy!”

And it was a lot tastier than the caterpillars would have been.

The next day, when Barry woke up on his birthday, he had a whole pile of presents. Being the hard worker he is, he spent the entire day doing electrical work on the boat, and he didn’t open any of them until evening, when Val and John came by for a piece of birthday pie. When he came up the ladder, Val had a big box under his arm and a shit-eating grin.

There’s a little back story to this one. Whenever a bunch of boaters get together, certain exciting topics  always come up in conversation. These include: 1. Cheap places to cruise, 2. Expensive places to cruise, 3. Marine toilets (this always seems to come up during dinner), and 4. Bedding compounds.

Val is a  proponent of 3M 5200, a polyurethane caulk with extremely strong adhesive properties. Barry and I prefer 3M 101, which is a low-adhesion polysulfide caulk, or butyl rubber, which comes on a roll and is also low-adhesion. After a glass of wine aboard Kuhelli one evening, the two of them got into an argument about it, and the fur really flew! Everyone was looking at Val and Barry, wondering if they were going to see a fistfight over bedding compounds.

That night, when Barry and I got home, I commented on the argument. He laughed, and said, “I’m sure Val knows that arguing with an engineer is like wrestling with a pig. Everybody gets dirty, but the pig likes it.”

So when Barry opened his birthday gift from Val, he found a cylindrical object with the following instructions:

Open in case of a leak from other sealant that gave up. This will happen sooner than you think!!!!
This is powerful stuff. Make sure when you use it you line up the pieces correctly, because after it cures, there is no known way to remove it. Why would you remove it if the pieces are perfectly lined up? Not because of a leak. That I am sure.

We were practically rolling in laughter when Barry pulled out the tube of 5200, which had been further labeled “EMERGENCY USE ONLY ON FLUTTERBY.”

5200: For "emergency" use only on Flutterby
5200: For "emergency" use only on Flutterby

It just didn’t seem like there was any way to top such a perfect birthday gift. But wait, there’s more!

A week before Barry’s birthday, we’d gone to the Beaufort Music Festival and gotten hooked on a new band, an alternative group called Bombadil. Our favorite song is called Jelly Bean Wine, which we’ve been playing over and over (you can hear it on their MySpace page, about the 5th song down). Since I have an interest in wine-label design, I decided to create some Jelly Bean Wine for Barry’s birthday. I picked up a bottle of Arbor Mist, which tastes like this generation’s version of Tickle Pink (don’t ask how I know). They take cheap wine, add corn syrup and kool-aid flavoring, and sell it like real wine with a screw cap. It’s the only wine you can buy in the gas station (don’t ask how I know).

My label involved a photo of jelly beans that I ran through the “spin” filter in Photoshop. Under the photo was the line from the song: “Perfect for a Sunday morning hangover.”

Meps' original label for Jelly Bean Wine. Our friend Tom says the label makes him dizzy, so I accomplished what I set out to design!
Meps' original label for Jelly Bean Wine. Our friend Tom says the label makes him dizzy, so I accomplished exactly what I set out to design!

It’s great as a piece of art. I’m not sure what would induce him to drink it. If he ever does, I’ll let you know.

Most people don’t get a that many birthday presents, let alone such creative and thoughtful ones. But all of these presents paled in comparison to the large, flat, mysterious box that came from Columbus, Ohio. We’d been waiting for Barry’s birthday to open it, but his sister told us, “It’s to both of you! Go ahead and open it.”

Inside, we found a Monopoly game. We looked at each other, puzzled. We knew that the Millers, parents and kids, love to play Monopoly, but how did they know we didn’t have the game? And where would we put it?

Then Barry lifted the lid and took out the board and exclaimed something like “Holy buckets!” (Notice that I said *like* “Holy buckets!” because Barry doesn’t actually say “Holy buckets!” it’s just more interesting that “Omigod!” which is probably what he did say. Or maybe he said, “Wow!” and I said, “Omigod, holy buckets!”)

The center of the Meps-n-Barryopoly board
The center of the Meps-n-Barryopoly board

We bent our heads over the most amazing game board we’d ever seen. In the center were caricatures of the two of us, dressed as pirates, superimposed on the name of the game, Meps-n-Barryopoly. Each location on the board is a place we have been to and written about — Arkansas, Crater Lake, North Carolina, Portugal, Brazil, the Bahamas. Instead of going to “jail,” our set says “go to house,” and the two most valuable properties, instead of Boardwalk and Park Place, are Seattle and Burning Man, our favorite places in the world. The game pieces are sculptures of us and our teddy bears, and the cards are completely re-written to reflect our travel adventures. Even the play money is replaced with Bear Bucks, complete with Frankie the Bear’s head on them.

It was the most marvelous thing I had ever seen.

A day later, when we went to play it, though, we discovered one thing absent from the box: The rules. With our friend Dick, we wracked our brains to remember how to play, and finally reverted to the phone. We admitted to Julie that we loved our present, but didn’t know what to do with it! So she put Barry’s nephew Emanuel on the phone, and he gave us detailed instructions as only an 8-year-old can.

It was a marathon game, lasting until almost 3 am, when we all collapsed from exhaustion. Evidently, there are different ways to play Monopoly, and some take longer than others. If you play by the official rules, the game is only supposed to last about 90 minutes!

One day, we’ll get this boat out cruising, and we’ll stop at Vero Beach to meet Carlo, thank my Dad, and play Meps-n-Barryopoly while we drink a toast with Jelly Bean Wine and watch our 5200 cure. But first, maybe another little road trip? We need to go up to Ohio and thank Julie and Cody and Emanuel and Gabriel personally!

(Pictures of the Monopoly set are below. I made ‘em big, so you can read the hilarious cards!)

The full Meps-n-Barryopoly board
The full Meps-n-Barryopoly board
The Chance cards
The Chance cards
The Burner's Chest cards
The Burner's Chest cards
The game pieces - Scuppers in his sweater, Barry with a mohawk, long-haired Meps, and chubby Frankie
The game pieces - Scuppers in his sweater, Barry with a mohawk, long-haired Meps, and chubby Frankie
The money and hand-colored cards -- all of them places where we've been (except for a few oceans)
The money and hand-colored cards -- all of them places where we've been (except for a few oceans). The $50 fun fee for Burning Man is a little low, but $2000 for euphoria seems about right.

Halloween is for amateurs

One year, when I worked at Expeditors, I dressed up as Cousin It for Halloween. My costume was incredibly simple — all I had to do was wear a trenchcoat, brush my hair over my face, and put some sunglasses over the hair.

I suspect the reason I won the costume contest was actually not how I looked, but how I acted. Whenever I wasn’t at my desk (and I don’t think Expeditors got their money out of me that day), I would stand up, hold my arms at my sides, and scuffle-scoot across the carpet, making high-pitched bursts of squeaking noises. In a men-must-wear-ties business environment, it drew a lot of laughs.

That Halloween evening, I came home from work, triumphant with success. I wanted to take my winning costume out again, so I talked Barry into going to Trolloween that night. “But what am I going to wear?” he asked.

I started thinking, and I got out the life-sized crow my Dad had given us in honor of our boat, the Northern Crow. “How about putting this on your shoulder?” It was styrofoam-light, with realistic glossy black feathers. I dug out a huge green jacket with a hood to go with it.

“You look great!” I enthused, after he was dressed. His face was hidden deep in the hood, and the crow looked real, wired onto his shoulder. He’d added black longjohns, a pair of leather hiking boots, and a big wooden hiking staff. But peering into the mirror, he frowned.

“What do I tell people I am?”

“You’re not a kid any more. It’s only little kids who get asked, ‘What are you?’ on Halloween!”

That night, my award-winning Cousin It costume was a complete failure. Without the bright fluorescent lights of the office, I couldn’t see a thing. And my scoot-and-squeak performance didn’t translate to the large crowd, nor was it fast enough to keep up with the parade.

But Barry was a huge success. Everyone who saw the crow did a double-take and asked if it was real. Over and over, I heard (although I couldn’t see a damn thing) people saying to Barry, “Great costume, man!”

At the end of the evening, he was as triumphant as I’d been earlier.

Since then, we’re not afraid to dress up in non-representational costumes (although Barry did dress as Jolly Roger Rabbit at Burning Man in 2007). Our costume bins are full of things that are colorful and wildly patterned, and it’s just a matter of putting the right colors and textures together with the right wigs, hats, and shoes.

The next time you dress up, if anyone asks what you are, here’s what you do. Put your arms at your sides, shuffle-scoot quickly across the ground, and make high-pitched bursts of squeaking noises. I guarantee, they won’t ask twice.

A little costume inspiration

Following are a few of my favorite Burning Man costume photos. Please be forewarned, some of the images are very revealing, and although there is no outright nudity, you might see more of Meps (and some other people) than you really want to.

Brazilian cosmonauts wings Shelly Sailor gals Ribbon lady No Account Meps’ hands Rad’s new costume Pink meets Red ConeyThe CD lady Ms. Caution Tape meets ShellyBelly dancing guys A strange bumblebee Barry in his dragon snake shirt

At a crossroads

Well, that last piece of mine was a total flop. Across the internet, I could hear my readers rolling their eyes. They wanted a lively Burning Man report with crazy costumes, naked people, and dancing boys. Instead, I got all serious.Sorry ’bout that.

I will now proceed to Day Two, when the sun came out with all the crazy costumes, naked people, and dancing boys.

The dancing boys were on top of a large Penske rental truck parked across from the Squid Wagon. One of them wore only a pair of fur hot pants with a long, furry tail. He was my favorite, and I worried that he might trip over his tail and fall off the truck.

The sun was bearing down on us, so we set to work on our flaccid shade structure. First, we unloaded the roof of the van — two bicycles, a room-sized piece of Berber carpet, and one disassembled porta-potty.

That porta-potty was the reason we were camping with the Lamplighters.

Sometime in July, our cell phone rang in the Morehead City Salvation Army, where we were shopping (unsuccessfully; it’s a boring thrift store) for costumes. A Burner named Cosmo had seen my number posted on a Burning Man ride board. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in carrying a large parcel in our van, in exchange for some gas money. “It’s a shower for the Lamplighters,” he told me.

Cosmo asked me “Where are you camping?” I admitted that we hadn’t figured that out yet. “You should camp with Lamplighters,” he said. “It’s a fantastic group of people — they’re just like family to me. Sometimes, I don’t even leave the camp the whole time.”

Barry thought joining the Lamplighters sounded like a great idea, a completely different experience from last year. Instead of a small group of Seattlites near the outer edge of the city, we’d be with a large international group right in the center of the city, with a communal kitchen and lounge. But was this fellow Cosmo some kind of nut? How could he go to Burning Man without leaving his camp?

We never actually met the man before we set out on our cross-country journey. We made the arrangements by phone, and one weekend, he dropped off a large, lumpy pile of plastic parts at my brother’s house in Durham. A few days later, we stopped through, strapped it to the top of the van, and carried it across the USA to Cosmo and the Lamplighters.

Our camping spot, assigned to us by a fellow called Snotto, was on an alley that ran through the camp. To one side were a forest of tents and the elaborate Lamplighter kitchen. On the other side were the dancing boys and the Lamplighter bar and lounge. Behind us were Cosmo’s Ryder truck and a large cardboard box that we assumed was for storage. And in front, about 20 feet away, was a small row of porta-potties.

As soon as we emerged from the van, it was apparent that our campsite wasn’t on a high-traffic pedestrian walkway — it WAS the high-traffic walkway. The problem was, we needed our shade structure to keep the interior of the van from turning into an oven, and there was no way to reef the sail.

Our home at the crossroadsAs we set up the giant canopy, I fretted about all those strangers walking through “our” space. Could we hang sheets or set up chairs to keep them from walking under our shade structure, or across our carpet?

Around then, a woman walked by on her way to the porta-potties. She was wearing a beautifully colorful costume, and I complimented her on it. A fellow passed on his way to the kitchen, wearing a 70’s-patterned muumuu, and we got into a conversation about how he found it on the internet. Then a neighbor came from another direction. He wasn’t sure which way to go — there didn’t seem to be a route for him that didn’t go through our space.

“Please, feel free to come through this way — you’re not bothering us at all,” I said. “We can’t figure out any way to make this shade structure smaller, so just come on through and enjoy it.”

That was how we met one of the most interesting Lamplighters, No Account, known around camp as Noah. The lady in the beautiful costume was Day-Zee. The dancing boy was Christopher, but I never learned the name of the man with the amazing muumuu.

I started to relax. What if we didn’t “claim” the space, but actually welcomed people walking through? What would happen?

What happened was that we met dozens and dozens of fun people on their way to the kitchen, the bar, or the bathroom. We were inescapable — since we attached part of the shade structure to our neighbor Mike’s RV, even people who didn’t stop to say hello had to pass under our guy rope, decorated with the same colorful yacht pennants used at our wedding in 1991.

Once the structure was up, we turned our attention to our costumes, packed in three large plastic totes. Mike unloaded his bicycle, grabbed his camera, and set off to see the art.

About 45 minutes later, when Mike returned, we were still there, digging through the costume boxes. He was puzzled. “Haven’t you left yet?” he asked.

Mike on his bikeWhat had happened was this: As we sorted through the costumes, people came walking through our camp. We said hello and got into conversations with them. So the 45 minutes included about 5 minutes of costume-sorting and 40 minutes of making new friends.

We’d been admiring Swagmeister’s tatoos, teasing Boxes With Bears about his upcoming wedding, and gossiping with Sean about the dancing boys across the way. Then Leanne and Jeremy came by, and we introduced them to Mike. But he had more to see, so he went off again.

When he returned, we were still there. “Haven’t you guys left yet?” he asked, incredulous. “We’re almost ready!” we said. Barry was just tying the turtle sarong that went with his mind-blowing bowling shirt. I had zipped up my pink knee-high boots and was tying on the pink-and-green hat.

“Have you met Mr. Mister?” we asked. “He’s the guy camping in those cardboard boxes over there.”

This particular hour had been spent visiting with Mr. Mister, who gave me a tour of his home. He’d used aircraft part boxes to construct a shelter that was neatly organized and nearly dustproof. In previous years, he’d learned to make it fairly tall, because people didn’t realize it was a house. He’d once been in bed when an amorous couple sat on top of him and started making out.

With all the visitors, it took us forever to blow up the four inflatable space aliens, A. Leeanne, Ros Well, Lou Wheeze, and Gert Rude, and put on their jeweled neck collars so their heads wouldn’t droop. Then I strapped them onto my bike and assembled their spacecraft. Barry put together his flying apparition and hung it from his bike.

Finally, late in the afternoon, we took off. To Mike, it must have seemed that we dawdled around camp all day. But we’d actually gotten a lot done, from engineering an unusual and sturdy shade structure to assembling ourselves and our bicycles as art. For we were not just there to see Burning Man, we were there to be seen by Burning Man.

Meps and Barry at campAlong the way, we made a lot of new friends. I wish I had pictures of more of them. Heck, I wish I knew more of their names. They were strangers when they came to our crossroads, but they weren’t strangers when they left. And that’s the most time-consuming — and entertaining — thing we did for days.

Illumination, navigation, celebration

All across the country, all our supporters want to know: How was Burning Man? The short answer is, IT WAS GREAT! The long answer is very long, so I’ll break it up into several pieces. The first one follows.

My first day at Burning Man was a blur. Literally.

The whiteout started at the worst possible time. We had partially unrolled the unwieldy 30-foot sail over the top of the Squid Wagon, and we had to abandon it and dive inside.

For a long time, we sat watching fine playa dust sift through tiny cracks in the doors and windows. Then we started trying to unearth the dust masks and goggles we’d brought to protect our lungs and eyes. Meanwhile, the sail flapped and chafed against the van, and we couldn’t see five feet. Finally, wearing our protective gear, we groped our way to the Lamplighters’ lounge, almost missing it in the total whiteout.

Was this what we’d driven across the country for?

The storm hadn’t abated by 5 pm, when we coughed and hacked our way to the Lamplighter Chapel. We milled around with the other newbies, until someone directed us to Digital Dan at the signup board. Dan is a tall, handsome man, and he looked like a sexy, elegant monk in his flame-decorated Lamplighter robe. He was also mysteriously silent. At the time, I thought that was to keep the process solemn and avoid back-talk. It seemed so appropriate that it was days later I finally realized he has a health issue that prevents him from talking.

Barry and I had seen pictures of the Lamplighting processions, but we were new to the complex, labor-intensive process. Each night, this volunteer public utility lights over a thousand kerosene lanterns and carries them, in robed processions, to 20-foot lampposts along the city’s major streets.

Each route requires dozens of people who sign up for one of four roles: A luminary, who leads each group; carriers, who carry 12 lanterns on long sturdy poles across their shoulders; lifters, who use long, slender poles to hang the lanterns on the lampposts; and support, the people who keep lanterns lit and take care of carriers’ and lifters’ needs.

That first night, Barry signed up as a lifter on the lengthy 2 o’clock route. I was nervous — was I strong enough to carry 30 pounds of lanterns and pole? Was I agile enough to hang lanterns 20 feet in the air? I decided to sign up as support, since that sounded easier.

There were about a hundred people milling about in the dust, cleaning lamps, trimming wicks, and using turkey basters to fill the reservoirs with kerosene. The tricky part was lighting the lamps in the storm, and I fretted about my ability to keep the lamps lit.

Finally, the robetenders helped us put on our robes and tied the cowls behind our heads. Then we gathered into groups, according to our routes. Our luminary, an old hand by the name of Jeff-Who, introduced to the lead carrier, a wild and crazy young woman named Ducky. She immediately began group bonding activities, including calling us the “Deuces” and inventing our own gang sign. Looking at Ducky and another carrier, a slender, silver-haired woman, I thought maybe carrying lanterns wouldn’t be so tough — they looked pretty normal, not like body builders.

So when Jeff-Who reviewed our roles and mentioned that support people would be expected to take over if a carrier or lifter was unable to finish the route, I wasn’t too worried.

Maybe I should have been.

We began lifting the loaded poles onto the carriers’ shoulders. I saw the silver-haired woman falter, then begin to walk slowly toward the front of the chapel. She seemed to be having trouble.

She didn’t quite make it to the fire cauldron, where all the routes gather for a convocation before spreading out. I found myself stepping in, putting a rolled towel around my neck and taking the heavy load on my shoulders. It wasn’t a question of whether or not I could do it. She could not, so I had to.

The load was so heavy and the wind so strong that all I could do was slowly place one foot in front of the other, following the person in front of me. I couldn’t turn my head, so I couldn’t see except straight in front of me. I was too focused on the pain in my neck and shoulders and arms to see anything, anyway. To make matters worse, the lanterns developed a maddening swing that got worse with every step.

Damn. This was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and I hadn’t even signed up for it.

Worse yet, I was near the end of the line, and the lifters weren’t taking my lamps and lightening my load. I was right at the edge of my physical limit, and I festered as I carried my load, angry at being ignored. But I was too exhausted by the task at hand to even complain.

I later realized we’d been sent out with extra lanterns. Since mine were swinging so much, they’d mostly blown out. In the fierce wind and whiteout, the lifters had all they could do to hang lanterns that were actually lit.

When it was all over, I stood in the middle of the road with my head down, like a horse that’s about to collapse in exhaustion. Someone took my lanterns and my pole, but I could barely get my arms down. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to use them for the rest of the week. I practically had to be lifted onto the truck for the ride back, where I heard Jeff-Who telling us this was the worst weather he’d ever seen for Lamplighting.

But our ordeal was not over.

The truck made a detour on the way home, out to the Man. That route had run out of lanterns, and they needed us to light and hang some of our extras.

It had only been about ten minutes, but somehow I found use of my arms again. I picked up a lifting pole and managed to hang a lantern. And another one. I drifted away from Barry, towards an empty lamppost, and then onto another one. Finally, I ran out of lanterns. As I turned back towards the truck, I panicked. It had totally vanished in the whiteout.

First came fear, then adrenaline, and then, when I found the truck, relief. And more relief when Barry appeared out of the whiteout.

We arrived back at Lamplighter Village exhausted. The kitchen crew had held dinner for us, but we could barely lift our forks.

This was Day One of a typical Burning Man experience. We’ve often heard it said that the event will push your boundaries, whatever they are. Even — especially — if you don’t know what they are. Evidently, I had some boundaries regarding strength and stamina that needed pushing. Day One of Burning Man 2008 was great!

A journey of 6000 miles begins with a single uh-oh

It took us a day and a half just to pack the van. Barry had bolted additional 2-by-4’s onto the roof rack, and while I sorted and packed clothes and food and toys and cmping gear, he was strapping a room-sized piece of carpet, our mizzen sail, and a collection of conduit and PVC on the top.

Then we carefully went through the boat, stowing our fiberglass tools and boatyard-skanky clothes and our dorm-sized refrigerator inside. We removed all loose items from the deck and the area around our jackstands, set off a bug bomb inside to eradicate the palmetto bugs, and locked the companionway. The last thing we did was take down the ladder.

And then I turned the key, and the Squid Wagon did not start.

How is it that an inanimate object, a simple dumb non-sentient vehicle, can know that we are about to ask it to drive 6000 miles? Whoever heard of a lazy van?

But Squidley knew that we were about to head on a cross-country road trip, and instead of a giant diesel-sized roar, there was just a tiny whimper.

Luckily, Kenny Bock keeps a portable charger for such emergencies, which probably occur every few days around boats. We got the van started, I got hugs from all my favorite guys in the yard (that’s Randy, Larry, and Dale) and we headed west.

In truth, we’d simply run the batteries down with the dome lights while doing all that packing. Once Squidley realized that we really were heading all the way to Nevada with a deconstructed port-a-potty strapped on top, he decided to cooperate.

As I write this, we’re driving across Utah on I-80. The sunshine on the Great Salt Lake is achingly beautiful, and there are many sailboats out there.

The sails don’t tempt us at all. We continue on, away from the water and toward the Nevada desert.

Our first encounter with other pilgrims was in the middle of Nebraska, in a Cabela’s parking lot. When we came out, we found a note on our windshield: “We shall see you at the gates of heaven.” It was in response to one we’d left on a New York van on our way into the store: “See you at home!” We never actually saw them, only their vehicle, which featured mountain bikes and (the dead giveaway) a large Burning Man logo.

Our next encounter was on I-80, somewhere in Wyoming. At the Squid Wagon’s usual 60 mph, we rarely pass anyone, but some Burners travel even slower, laden with art and gas cans and misshapen trailers of curious gear. Last night, we honked and waved as we slowly passed a converted shool bus with dozens of hula-hoops strapped to the back.

We’re all excited and happy to be going to Black Rock City, that amazing temporary city of 50,000 people, where Burning Man is held. We come from all over the world, from Australia and Scotland and New York and San Francisco and Seattle and, of course, North Carolina. We bring art and costumes and food and drink to share, and we bring a spirit of freedom and generosity not found anywhere else in the world.

As usual, our voyage across the country to this amazing event included a lot of stops along the way. We started with my brother in North Carolina, then detoured to Ohio to see a whole passel of friends, siblings, in-laws, and nephews. This was followed by a stop with my aunts, where we stayed in a convent crammed into a twin bed (there’s no reason for a double bed in a convent, evidently).

Best of all was the shopping, which started during a rendezvous with Margaret’s Dad in South Carolina and ended during a rendezvous with Barry’s Mom and Dad in Nevada. The list included Lucite platform shoes, pink knee-high boots, inflatable aliens, and 8 packages of tofu. We’ll have to write more about that — and the port-a-potty on our roof, and the original Tin Roof Sundae, and the tag-team oil change — later, when we emerge from our week-long communications blackout.

Through it all, Squidley has started each day with a giant roar and that diesel rumble that sounds like a UPS truck. I think that van has a sense of humor, and has been laughing at us all the way across the country.