Dick Hughes is on his way home from the playa right now. His work’s not done, and the event hasn’t even started, but still he’s on his way back to Oregon.
And this is a very good thing.
Dick’s been coming out to the playa since 2005. He joined the DPW to help build Black Rock City in 2007, the year of the Green Man.
And he was here again this year for the building of the fence. He was out there early with the others. He wasn’t pounding stakes “because I’d like to be able to use my joints the rest of the week!” he laughed, but he was there for the hours of pulling and tying to get the trash fence attached to the stakes.
That night, though, he wasn’t feeling so good. He had a touch of indigestion, “but not like anything I’ve felt before.” He wasn’t too concerned, and he decided to have a beer and just try to relax and recover from the grueling day.
But he wasn’t feeling so great the next morning, either. And so there he was, in the Black Rock offices in Gerlach, talking about his discomfort with the medics. He was feeling a little woozy and out of it.
By Tuesday afternoon, Dick was in a Reno hospital, having a stent put in his femoral artery. The artery had become partially blocked, and if it had become totally blocked, it’s likely his heart would have burst and he would have died.
But none of that happened. Instead, he got the medical treatment he needed, and in a timely manner. By Friday evening, incredibly, he was back on the playa, talking about the experience.
No, he’s not working with the DPW. He’s finished with that for the year, and maybe forever. He was thinking that it might have been his last year anyway — he’s 64, and this is a young person’s game.
So he packed up and left the playa this morning. He wasn’t supposed to lift anything heavier than five pounds for at least five days, so he took that advice and laid low in Gerlach. Now he’ll drive back to Oregon, where he lives with his wife, two cats, and several hundred thousand bees. “There’s a lot of feminine energy around,” he laughed. And there was also a great deal of sentiment that he should get back to Oregon as fast as he could.
Dick’s an interesting and intelligent man who was taken with the Burner spirit relatively late in life. He liked the atmosphere, the freedom, the spontaneity of letting things happen as they are supposed to happen, maybe not the way you thought they would or should.
“I’ve shaken the hands of two men who’ve walked on the moon,” Dick was saying over dinner. He has a math and engineering background, and a degree of the University of Iowa. He worked on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 space launches, and Skylab after that.
He lived most of his adult life in the Bay Area, in Fremont, before “the finances” got too challenging there. “The finances, the infrastructure … there’s just too many people,” Dick said. He said it laughingly, though, with a twinkle in his eye. He doesn’t seem to harbor much ill will about anything.
You’d think a man who’d just undergone a heart procedure and was looking at a long lonely trip back to Oregon would be a little down in the dumps. Not Dick. He might have been a little sheepish, a little apologetic, but sad? Nope. Not a bit. This seemed like it was going to turn into another good story for a man who has lots of them.
There’s one other little wrinkle to this one: Dick and his wife let their insurance lapse at the end of July. Right — that was nine days before he had his trip to the hospital. The COBRA payments were too high to handle, so their plan was to skip a month, then get on his wife’s insurance when she vested with her new firm. That would have happened on September 1. “I guess I lost that gamble,” Dick said.
(Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the fact that this country makes medical insurance affordable only to those who work for a firm that offers benefits — well, it’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong.)
Anyway, Dick’s on his way back home now, and the work and the party will go on without him. But he wasn’t chagrined about it, and you shouldn’t be either.
But the next time you hear someone complain about all the “rules” set up around Burning Man these days, all the “controls” that supposedly rob the event of its rebel status, think of Dick. He’d have died in the desert if it weren’t for the medical services team — Corey, Poltergeist and Big Spoon — that was on site. They knew what to do, they did it quickly and efficiently, and Dick gets to go home to be with the wife and the cats and the bees again.