Captain Thermo’s Report from the Playa

500 miles to Vegas.
2/10/02: Woke up early (for me) at 5:30, in Fernley, NV. The buzz was on, something about going to the playa no matter what month it is gets me going. I’m simply in love with the place. I think it’s the sheer space and scope, the vastness, the silence, deafening. Being a sound guy, silence is a precious commodity I rarely get to savor. Got into Gerlach about 7:30, just missed the sunrise, dang. Outside air temperature: 17 degrees. Gerlach on a Sunday in February is about as close to a ghost town as you can get. Not a creature was stirring, not even me. I needed more coffee! Drove around 447 to the main BM entrance. I was very hesitant about leaving the gravel on this trip, as, I could see that the playa was WET.

Like reflecting the morning sun wet, mainly out in the middle. The margins seemed ok, a quick recon on foot confirmed this, so I began driving out to our village, The GLOM at n40.45.286 x w119.14.673, got about half way when I noticed the playa ahead getting darker, as in “you’re fucked” darker. So I stopped the car and got out to investigate, yep, that was water over there, there was actually a ‘shore’ to it, but it was frozen solid! Could have driven on it, but I had a bad feeling about trying to get AAA to come out there to get me if I got stuck. So I left the car on the drier lighter colored surface and began walking the last half-mile out to camp.

It was weird, the center of the playa was definitely a giant goo pit but being frozen solid it was quite walkable. There was some interesting formations, like up thrust berms caused by the clay freezing and heaving upwards at different times. Many beautiful and fascinating patterns caused by the freezing of the goo. I’d have to say that dust will not be as big a problem this year, but what do I know? It certainly wasn’t (or hadn’t been) this wet last year when I’d been there.

9:00 Got to The GLOM. Two words “Fucking Weird.” I had this feeling last year and it was back. What a magnificent and lonely place. So barren and desolate. WOW. Stood there for a full five minutes listening to…Nothing. Just a slight breeze, but the lack of any sound whatsoever is really quite startling. So I began to look for trash. Now before I go on I have to admit that I left half-cooked charcoal on the playa this year when we pulled out. This was pointed out to me by one of our village leaders when I got home. And hats off to him for cleaning up my mess, DUHO! So this is not the pot calling the kettle black here folks, I’m just as guilty as anyone of leaving a mess behind.

We cover each others asses, and that’s what me picking shit out of the playa is all about: Getting that BLM permit for this year. Anyway, here’s what I found. In our camp I found virtually nothing, except a cigarette butt, which unfortunately was frozen solid into the surface, and I forgot to bring any hand tools to assist with it’s removal, so there it stays, cemented into place. The lack of debris so amazed me that I began circling the center of our camp (the B.A.S.S.) looking for more and literally couldn’t find anything! We fucking rock. Or so it would seem.

So I headed out to the man at 40.45.290 x 119.14.186. On the way, I found a piece of some unidentifiable material, which I was able to pry loose and collect. At the man, I found some ‘man debris’, including some screws, and some neon pieces, which I again was unable to remove. If only I’d remembered my leatherman tool! Genuine man debris! Damn. One interesting feature is that, right at the man there is a slight depression, which has caused a large puddle to form. I suspect this was from the burn blanket installation & removal. I found a small piece of the mausoleum in this area and was really bummed I couldn’t recover that. I could also clearly see the “6 o clock” line out to the man, presumably from the amount of traffic it received, but you can tell it’s the main drag. Pictures to follow.

From the man I began walking the 6 o clock line into center camp, but got distracted by a large mound of snow off in the distance. I found this to be a “snow dune”! It had dumped on the area 4 nights before, and apparently, snow acts like the dust does out there and blows around until it finds something to latch onto, presto! Snow dune. This was kind of grey/brown or I would have eaten some of it, I’ve eaten enough playa thank you very much. Pretty cool though, it was about 2 feet high.

After the snow dune I wandered over towards the esplanade around 5:00 & found various debris in this area which I was able to recover, this included a piece of a CD (?), a tie wrap, a Corona bottle cap and some other little stuff like a rubber band (that was being dissolved by the playa) and some bits & pieces. It was random which stuff I was able to pry out of the cement/ice and not. This included a full string of pearls that I had to leave behind. I got a fair bit of gak though. I found some pistachio shells (the bane of the LLC) and got most of them up by prying and kicking on them. Who would just throw these out on the playa! Hey, for that matter who would leave half-cooked charcoal behind? WE WOULD! Duho again.

Off to Center Camp at 40.45.024 x 119.14.573, found a few things, some bits of wood, a bottle cap, more tie wraps and some other stuff. For being the most populated place in BRC, Center Camp was cleaned down to the granular level and we should thank DPW’s cleanup crew for leaving it spotless. Fuck me, you couldn’t tell what happened here just 5 short months ago.

On the way back to The GLOM I came across a piece of rebar that had not been removed. This was protruding about 3 inches from the playa surface. I kicked at it, but really, if it were coming out easy it would be gone already. Maybe it was hiding beneath a dust drift during the cleanup. In fact, I’m told that many items were hiding beneath the dust this past year. This is a VERY strong argument for not driving around willy nilly in BRC when no one’s home. This is a flat tire waiting to happen! And you ain’t getting that plugged, that tire is gone. The rebar is at 40.45.119 x 119.14.648 is any of you DPW gods wanna go get it.

Walking back to The GLOM I found a few more items like a piece of clothesline, another bottle cap, and another cigarette butt that I was able to remove. Jeez what is it with us smokers tossing butts about? I remember carrying many a butt back to camp in my pockets. It seems that when the playa gets wet, like in soaked, stuff starts floating back up, and this is the single biggest reason to leave no trace. It doesn’t matter how good a job DPW and the clean up crew does after we leave. When it saturates, it releases the MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) and the MOOP comes back to haunt us. Moop sucks.

Walking back to the car, a very interesting thing happened; the playa began to thaw… all at once! Suddenly I had “playa foot” where just a few minutes ago I had been walking on what appeared to be solid ground. Now I was tracking more & more goo with every step. It was becoming difficult to walk, glop glop glop glop. I quickly realized that, had I decided to drive out on the frozen goo, the goo would have entrapped me there in my rental car as it all began to thaw in the sun’s warming rays. Goo Bastards!! Good thing I parked over on the lighter/drier surface huh? I hightailed it towards the car. Glop glop glop glop. You know, I forgot how much I hate the playa (he he he). Looking back across the wet zone, where BRC sits. Got all teary eyed and shit. Damn I love this place. Found a rather large piece of the black rock sitting on the surface, which I snagged for my collection (yea I collect rocks), it’s heavy, dense, kind of like me.

Drove back over to the gravel at the main entrance to change clothes and to try and get this damn playa off my shoes! No luck, rental car is trashed with playa. Sound familiar? Oh well, hopefully they won’t hit me for the cleanup fee. Went back through Gerlach, thinking to myself “you people put up with so much, you deserve this quiet time, sleep gentle Gerlachians, sleep”. Headed for Vegas 505 miles away (that’s right, I’m an animal). But it’s really not that far is it? The playa is a state of mind, and the weird looks I constantly get from people I describe the event too and show pictures too verifies this. Or maybe it’s the goo I’m now washing off my shoes in this $40 motel room off the strip. I think I’ll go hit the buffet.

At the risk of gushing I have to say that DPW fucking ROCKS. The fact that 26,000 of us can go out there and trash the place, and then 5 months later all I could find is a meager pocketful of crap is simply amazing. The fact that this event happens at all is amazing. We should all take pause to reflect on how truly lucky we are. Consider that when your normal life starts sucking, and consider that in 6 months we’re gonna do it again. Hell muthafuggin yea.

by Captain Thermo

About the author: Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by participants. Submit your story here.