What had I come for? Clarity, in a sense. Perspective. But most of all I came to participate, to experience the whole range of possibilities at hand. It had seemed to take all day Saturday just to get my bearings. I spent all day Sunday trying to pack as much experience into my waking hours as I could.
And now this was it: the big night. Everything had been building toward this, and finally, the last tattered remains of social convention would be shed in apocalyptic celebration. We forged our way through the chaos after the burn for a while. Then, very quickly, the day caught up with me. I had been out and about all day long, my feet were killing me and I really just needed to lie down. I went back to camp for, I thought, a quick nap.
I slept most soundly the whole night through, even as the final frenzied carousing went on all around me. I woke up just after dawn. Black Rock City was the quietest it had been since we arrived.
It was over. Everyone would be gone soon, back to the mundane world, where none of the things I had seen here were even permitted, much less celebrated as they had been in this place. I couldn't believe it. I cursed myself for my lack of foresight.
Even though I had missed the big night, I felt as if there was still something to be salvaged. I still had a little time, and it seemed I had the place almost completely to myself. There were a few people milling about here and there, but mostly everyone was just asleep. I got on my bike and set out to survey the damage.
Since there didn't seem to be much to see in town -- even Center Camp was deserted -- I headed out onto the playa. As I cycled past the charred heap that had been the obelisk that spat flaming cinders at me the night before, I thought it would be good to get a picture of the morning after from the same place where I had witnessed the burn.
Amazingly, the cone I had been sitting next to the night before was still standing, though all its neighbors had been knocked to the ground in the rush to circle the Man. And more amazingly, a part of what was left of the Man was still burning. He had burned all through the night.
It was over. The Man had burned, the night was gone and with it any chance I may have had to find what I had come for. I had wandered around for two days only to sleep through the most important part.
So I stood there with only the desert morning wind in my ears, watching that last flame lick the base of the Man and asking myself where I should go next. As if in answer to my question, the wind abruptly died down and I became dimly aware of a faint pulsing noise at the very edge of hearing.
I looked around. What was that noise? Where could it be coming from? When I figured out it was coming from the north end of camp, I immediately understood what it was: techno. Somehow, incredibly, while the city slept, the dance still went on.
As I pedaled out of the empty desert with only the dim throb of the music to guide me, the melancholy of that morning washed away from me. Somehow it seemed -- if these people could still be dancing, even though the night was long since past and the real world now loomed a scant few hours away and they were still out there dancing -- that no matter what I felt I had lost, I had still gained much more than that.
Jesse James Garrett