Day 102: Ceti Alpha Five

With radios in our cars, Christine, Shannon, Tanja and I hit the road, on the way to the Playa. It’s about five hundred miles, and it’s slow going, but we’ve got radio chatter on our side.

::Everyone here?::
::::Here, we’re right behind you::::

We’ve got three vehicles, and one of them is pulling a trailer. And we drive as it gets dark.


…and drive and drive. And I learn some things about Burning Man.

::::So what about critters?::::
::Nothing lives there::
::::Mice? Beetles? Scorpions? Mosquitos?::::
::Nothing lives there. It’s like Mars, but with more dust. If you see a tumbleweed, it’ll be a major event::
::See dry scrub by the road? That’s the Amazon jungle compared to where we’re headed::

…and drive and drive…

::::How are the stars?::::
::In camp there’s too much light, but you can ride out into the desert, past all of the lights. Then they’re great::
::::I think I’m going to sleep outside, under the stars. No tent::::
::You’ll, ah, well okay. It’s up to you. Remember that there’s dust::
::::Right, I got that. Dust is okay::::

…and drive…

::::Everybody awake?::::
::Yep, we’re good::
(pause)          :::Yeah, I’m here:::
::Okay, time to stop for gas and coffee::

…and pick up supplies…


We’ve left the highway, and are on a dark, winding road in the middle of nowhere.

I’m wondering, what happens when you take 30,000 people, and put them in an environment where:

  • There’s no commerce. No one buying or selling anything.
  • There’s no contact with the outside world. No phone, almost no internet.
  • Everyone’s a visitor, no one lives there. Not even plants and animals.
  • The environment is harsh and serious.
  • There are no rules about clothing at all.
  • There’s fire and alcohol and drugs.

Do people turn evil? When do they wake up? Why do they go to sleep? Sleep… sleep sounds nice. NO! HEY! I’m awake. I’m awake.

It’s easy to spot other Burning Man vehicles. Sometimes it’s the bikes, or overburdened rear suspension. Other times it’s the elephants and eyeball-chickens painted on the side.


It’s still dark when traffic gets really slow. R e a l l y   s l o w, stop. S l o w stop.

It looks like the last scene from Field of Dreams. Hundreds of cars, all slowly headed the same place.

People are starting to crank up their music, and some get out of their cars and ride bikes along with the traffic. They’re ready to be there.

I notice it’s getting light in the East.


It’s strange to be in a never-ending line of cars as it gets light. I turn up my own radio, playing Long Line of Cars by Cake.


As we get closer I notice the vehicles are really interesting. There are all sorts of things attached to them.

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When I get to the security check, I’ve been driving for about eleven hours, and it’s real daylight. The guy looks in my car.

“Been here before?”
“What’s this?”
“What… oh it’s a robot.”
“Goodonya! Where’d you get that?”
“Made it this week.”
“Fuck me, welcome to the Playa robot maker! Is this video camera registered?”
“That’s a telescope.”
“Best answer all morning! Go on then.”


At the gate, there’s a “playa-virgin” ceremony to go through which involves contact with dust (I chose to walk on my hands through it) and ringing a big bell. I shouted an exclamation from Cabin Boy. If you’ve seen it, you know which one.

Now I’m inside the temporary place they call Black Rock City.

We don’t have a space pre-registered, but Christine turns on her charm, and sweet-talks us into being able to share someone else’s spot in an excellent location, right in the middle of everything. It’s so handy to have a cute woman in the group.

It’s a nice morning, but it’s going to get hot, so the first task is to build the sun-shelter. It’s a lot of work, but we’re pretty fast.


The ground is hard and flat, and the dust covering it looks and smells just like tan gym chalk.

We haven’t got a ladder, but that’s not a problem.

We take time to anchor the structure really well, because it’s a little windy. Better to be safe about it.

Once it’s up and stable, I have got to go exploring. I grab some water, hop on my bike, and vanish.


I don’t bring my camera with me, for two reasons:

  • The dust is in everything.
  • It’s already clear to me that this is a place where if you’re seeing something through a camera, you’re missing it.

I ride for miles and miles, and after a while every oddity starts to seem sensible and normal. The outfits are excellent. Right away, I see…

  • flamboyant glittering things with giant wings and metal teeth
  • viking helmets and capes of green fur
  • very sheer skirts which start at the waist, and end just below the waist

…and right away I’m glad I brought my hat. It’ll help me fit in.

Note: Don’t worry, people will doubtless post pictures some of the things I’m describing. Search for Burning Man 2008 in a few days, and you’ll see them.

I ride out into the desert, toward the Man (an 80-foot-tall structure which will be burned in a few days). There are dust devils out here. Pretty big ones. When they hit you, I have to close your eyes and mouth, and hold my breath.

Riding my bike as fast as I can through a really big dust devil, I discover that there are (WHAM!) soft patches of sand which will grab your tire and throw you off. I lie in the sand and check my bleeding shin, waiting for this one to pass, but it doesn’t.

After a while, it clears up, and then immediately gets worse. I feel like it’s stripping a layer of paint off of me.

I should have brought a dust mask and some goggles. Next time. For now, I’ll make do, and try to find my way back to camp. Visibility is less than 20 feet, so it takes a while.


I’m told this dust storm is very unusual. It lasts all day long.

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All day. The wind is outrageous. Venturing out into it is sketchy, but a few people still do.

Back at camp, I borrow a dust mask permanently (thanks guys!), and decorate it so I can tell it’s mine.


We venture out now and then to make sure the structure is still holding, and get supplies from our cars. Even inside the trailer, the dust is everywhere. By the way, I’ve decided not to sleep outside tonight.

There’s some old guy with grey hair in the mirror.

The dust isn’t just in my hair, it is my hair.

THIS is Ceti Alpha Five!

The best thing about being trapped in the trailer is the spicy Indian chicken my muse made for us. It’s the perfect lunch, sort of like pure concentrated love.

DSCN2031 DSCN2033

In the evening, the wind starts to slow down, and we go out to survey the damage. It’s a mess, but the structure held. Just barely.


As it calms down, people start to emerge. They’re still wearing masks, but for miles around you can feel the beginning of that a very very large party.


DSCN2042 DSCN2043

People are helping each other rebuild their camps, focusing on the music and decoration first. If someone needs something, someone they’ve never met gets it for them.


I’m told this skull-tree marks “Firstcamp,” occupied by the founders of Burning Man.

The night turns lively right away. Music, dancing, fire, food, and thousands of friendly people.

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The huge jets of flame near our camp are actually coming from a tricycle driven by a stunningly beautiful woman. With fire.

Is it okay to fall in love just for a few minutes at a time?
I’ve decided that it is, and that this may be an essential skill here. I have not checked this with my muse.

You can just see her excellent boots here. Love, I tell you.

While searching for a friend of hers, Christine ends up leading me into a birthday party, where the theme is simply “Pink.” The cute birthday girl, Ali, makes it clear that I haven’t work nearly enough pink to her party, so she starts giving me things. Pink things.

The only blog-safe items among them are these:


…so now I have another hat not to wear when I travel interdimensionally.

Still, she’s right. I do belong at her pink party now. Those glasses make it hard to see exactly who’s who. They’re sort of like ultra-powerful rose-colored beer goggles. I decide that’s too much danger, and wear them up on the brim of the hat.

It’s late when we get back to camp. We make dinner (a combination of Christine-love and Muse-love).

While I’m cooking the potatoes, the trailer’s smoke alarm goes off. Excellent, giant jets of flame from hot fire-bike-chick, and my potatoes set off the alarm. I pull it from the ceiling, disable it, and set it outside. Anyone else complains about the potatoes, they get the same.

After dinner, I head out on my own, exploring. By 3:15, I’m back in bed, catching up on two days’ sleep.

Random assertion: When no one’s looking and there are no rules, people will help each other.

Steganographic data: 1826/0.7/15.0

Days remaining in Secret Plan 158: 8

One thought on “Day 102: Ceti Alpha Five

  1. Eric Johnston enters the desert abyss pre-storm 2008… only to return as a Dustin Hoffmanish preincarnation of Khan Noonien Singh. Oh the wiles of Burning Man!

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