I’m catching a ride out with a friend whose plans are less like clockwork and more like cats chasing a laser pointer. So once we started talking about “when we’re going to leave” I started making some rounds, telling people “this might not actually be the last time I see you this year, but it also might be, so let’s make the formal goodbye now.”
I was at BMIR: my home away from home on the playa. I said goodbye to Kanizzle. I said goodbye to Decibel, and to Ben, and to Mao, and even to that one girl who keeps sneaking up behind me and cupping my ear. I don’t know what her deal is, but she’s definitely been part of my experience. We all hugged it out in tender, sad, moments. None of us have ever seen each other outside of Burning Man.
Then a guy I didn’t recognize looked up from a coach. “Oh no!” he said. “You’re LEAVING?”
I felt pretty guilty about not recognizing him, but I don’t actually have a great head for faces or names, so I know there are people who I should recognize at BMIR but don’t. “Well, sort of,” I said. “I might be back later, but I don’t know for sure, so I’m making sure I hit everybody …”
“C’mere,” he said. He stood up and gave me a passionate embrace. I hugged him back. He was obviously so affected by whatever moments we had shared.
“Listen,” he said. “Don’t ever forget that what you do is so, so, important.”
“Making this radio station run … a gift for every listener out there on the playa … it’s just such an amazing thing you do …”
I paused the hug. “You … you don’t actually know what I do, do you.”
“Tell me,” he said.
I pulled away. “You … have no idea who I am, do you.”
He thought about it. “Well, no, but … I know you’re here at the radio station …”
My face fell. I stepped back. “OH MY GOD! You just STOLE a goodbye hug!”
He stepped towards me. Opened his arm. “Tell me what you do.”
“WHAT? NO!” I took another step back. “No! I can’t believe you did that! I was saying goodbye to people I actually care about, and you just jumped into the line! Who DOES that?”
He took another step forward. “I’m listening now. I want to know you.”
“No! Back off! This is unacceptable! You can’t just … You took a hug you didn’t earn!” I held my hand up in a “stop” gesture. “I’m leaving now.” I backed up slowly, still facing him.
He started following me out of the station. “My ears are open!”
“No! That’s not the point! NO! Stay! That was an involuntary hug! You are not part of my goodbye rounds, I do not consent to this intimacy!”
He stood in place, his hippy feeling desperately hurt as I backed out into the hot sun, holding my hand out to keep him at bay.
I made it 30 feet, worried he was going to jump-hug me the whole time, before he slinked back into the radio station and I escaped into Center Camp.
I can think of no better example of the clash of cultures and manners that sometimes occurs at Burning Man than that.
God I hope he was just screwing with me.
Caveat is the author (under a clever pseudonym) of “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City,” which has nothing to do with Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com