Burning Man 2009: Reno-Vation

In Reno, at 8am Sunday morning, we hit Save Mart with our recycling
And our trash.
And we decide that, indeed
Our Tent has served us well
It has survived three Burning Men, if this one only just
But we toss it into the dumpster all the same,
As we thank it for its service
And look forward to perhaps a smaller tent next year
With tougher poles
And at least tomorrow, it will be a lot easier to pack for home
Without having to squeeze a tent into one of our dust-encrusted suitcases

We’re booked into Circus Circus again
Where a suite cost me all of $78
(About four times as much space, for half the price
of our hotel in the heart of San Francisco last year)
It’s a small price to pay after a week of no sleep
And no shower, and no shampoo
And not much brushing our teeth
Let alone a mattress or a clean pillow
Or a television set
Or a fridge
All of which is awaiting us on the twentieth floor

But we’re too early for check-in
So we go for breakfast in the casino diner
And as we stand there waiting to be seated
I realize that Campbell looks like nothing so much as a
Homeless runaway
In crusted hair, grey skin, ill-matching clothes and no socks
(but at least wearing crocs)
If he set foot on the street, the cops would surely pull him in
And sure enough, our server seats us far from the Sunday morning crowd
As possible
Though in every other capacity, the staff are perfectly friendly
Given the rowdiness of the hard-drinking casino customers
I’m sure we’re not the worst they get

On our two previous visits to Reno I found the city soulless
A poor man’s Las Vegas
Even its better options – a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s –
Flung far off in the suburbs in the strip malls
But because we have 24 hours at the hotel
Before flying home
I am determined to find a better Reno
(An alternative Reno? A real Reno?)
And picking up the free weekly paper in the diner
I see an ad for a farmers market and Sunday brunch
And after we’ve checked in to our suite
Where we will have separate rooms for the night
And Campbell has taken
The longest shower of his life
(I can hear him singing as he goes)
Though, like me, there is still a layer of crust
On him, as there will be for several days more
I tell him I want to hit the streets
And suss it out.
He’s not interested.
I’m not surprised
He’s given up on Reno
Besides, he’s been outdoors for 7 full days now
So, being a big boy,
He agrees to stay in the room and watch TV for an hour
While I go explore the Farmer’s Market area for myself

This cool little bus not only runs on time, even on holiday Sundays, from University of Nevada all the way to the Truckee River, but it’s FREE FREE FREE – and with free wi-fi on board to boot

And here’s where I come not to bury Reno but to praise it
Starting with the round-town bus,
It’s called the Sierra Spirit
And it’s free
That’s right
It’s free
And it shows up every ten minutes
Without fail
And it offers free wi-fi as well
Which is almost as remarkable as getting
Free wi-fi on our American Airlines flights to and from Reno
I have neither a computer, a blackberry or even a cell phone with me
I like to be incommunicado at Burning Man
So the point is redundant
Except that if I did have my laptop with me
It would be cheaper to ride round Reno on a bus
Than paying for a connection at the hotel
Nice one, Reno.

I find the Farmers Market on West Street, a block from the Truckee River
And barely two blocks from the mass of cheap pawn shops and tattoo parlours
And fast food restaurants and closed-up casinos
(the recession has clearly hurt downtown Reno)
It’s a brand new section
Just a block long
With an indoor mini-mall – West Street Market – of cool outlets
A little like Chelsea Market in NYC, or the better parts of Camden Market in London
There’s the West Street Wine Bar
Serving 50 choices by the glass (and guaranteeing each one’s freshness)
With a lovely girl in attendance who’s keen to hear about this year’s Burning Man
And tells me that the mini-mall and the farmer’s market and much of what’s going on
Around this whole area
Is only a year or so old
Which makes me feel better
For thinking that I missed it all last year (and before)

West Street Market: on West Street, believe it or not.

From the farmer’s market I pick up some home-grown lavendar gifts for the wife
And some home-made wasabi mustard
And from inside, I pass up the wine,
get a delightful iced mint green tea from the newly relocated bar Se7en,
and some fresh watermelon from a deli.
But when I sit down to have the melon in the courtyard
I simply can’t resist a mimosa
At only $1.50, freshly poured in front of me
Despite the fact I basically didn’t sleep last night.
I’m falling for Reno fast
And after sipping on my mimosa, and enjoying this block to the full
I meander on down to the Truckee River
Where, to my astonishment
I see that it has been redirected, rebuilt and redesigned
To create a Whitewater Park
Here in the middle of downtown
Where, this sunny Labor Day Sunday, kayakers and young swimmers
– and tubers, just like in Phoenicia –
Are out making the very most of it
And families are lounging on the rocks that surround it
And I see that Sierra Nevada –
the bottled beer of Burning Man –
has a Tap Bar right alongside it
And sitting on one of the rocks that leads right down to the river
a young guy is playing guitar
Or at least trying to
He asks, a little facetiously, if I’m carrying a spare E string,
There’s an ambience of quiet urban contentment to the whole surroundings
This is the Reno I’ve been looking for!

How often do Architects Drawings look like pie-in-the-sky dreams?

I jump the Sierra Spirit back to Circus Circus
And tell Campbell to forget the hotel pool
(which we would have to pay for anyway)
We’re going to go swimming in the Truckee
And maybe even tubing
And we gather up our swim clothes
And jump on board the free bus
And though the tubing seems like too big a deal,
(We don’t really have time or energy for the whole renting and shuttling game
that we can easily play at home in Phoenicia, despite the fact that someone
died out tubing the Esopus this summer
which kind of put a dampener on the season)
We head off to the civic portapotties, change into our seim gear
We putter on down the rocks, and take off into the river
Which has been designed to incorporate some simple slides for swimmers,
Cyclical tides that sweep you out but bring you right back where you started
And some white-water rapids for kayakers and tubers
Who are out in the dozens.
Making the very most of the official end of summer.

…Well, the only thing wrong with the architect’s drawing above is that it didn’t show the swimmers and tubers also enjoying Downtown’s Whitewater Park!

But the water is bone-cold!
I’m talking freezing!
This comes as something of a shock
Reno in summer is boiling
And the desert has hardly been lacking for heat
And we can’t believe this water is actually colder than the Catskills
We’re told it’s because it streams down from the ski mountains above Lake Tahoe
Which maintain their snow well into the summer
My Vibram Five Fingers keep my feet reasonably protected
From the chill
And I’m able to swim against the tide for an entertaining while
But Campbell, normally no slouch, is having little of it
Though he does at least get himself wet from head to toe
For the second time in a few hours
Which was the first time in a week

We are soon both shivering
So we get changed again
And Campbell gets a treat from a candy store
And I get a pint from Sierra Nevada’s taproom
The comparatively low-alcohol Kellerweis
Which is almost as refreshing as the cold Truckee River
(And thanks for the free snifters of the Celebration Ale and the Anniversary Ale)
And as we sit outdoors by the banks of the Truckee
Campbell regales me with his continued plans for his Art Car Spore Tour
And only once asks me to hurry up so we can get home…
Because I think even he realizes that this is a perfectly nice way to spend a
Lazy Sunday Afternoon, got no time for worries
And when we’re done, we stop in the Imperial Lounge round the corner
And pick up its pizza menu
And back in the hotel room
Forsake the multitude of casinos downstairs
And fork over far too much money to watch
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
On our hotel TV
I order us each a pizza from Imperial
And some fries to go
Because I suspect that the lack of calorie intake in the desert
Will soon start catching up with us
Now we’re back in what some would call the real world
Though I’m perfectly happy
With the Alternate Reality
Out there in the desert

Inside of the Sierra Taproom is neat and tidy. Outdoors is not quite as nice as this, but you’re right on the Truckee, and you just know the beer is good and fresh.

I take the bus down to Imperial pick up the pizzas
And wish I could stick about in this giant bar
Which looks like one of the coolest bars on earth
I’ve suddenly fallen in love with Reno
And while I know that some of this is the post-Burning Man high
It’s also truly felt and sincerely meant
For, I have discovered on my travels, that despite one’s prejudices
Every single American city, town, or region has its cool corner (and more)
It just took a while to find Reno’s
And now I’m knocked out by its civic pride, its free buses,
its Downtown Makeover
(and what a great web site you created, hope you don’t mind me borrowing some pics)
Its Whitewater Park, its farmers market, its multitude of microbrew pups,
its outdoor performance space, its new minor league baseball team
(Which completes its season on Labor Day, having attracted over 7,000 fans to
each of its several dozen home games)
and its green policy
The pizza and fries from Imperial are pretty damn good as well
We devour the food as we watch the ultra-violent movie
(If it wasn’t set in the hi-tech make-believe future, I might have had to turn it off)
and I fall asleep several times in the process
Our lights are both out by 9pm
I sleep the next nine hours entirely uninterrupted
This never happens to me
Unless I’m recovering from the lack of sleep
At Burning Man

The following morning, Labor Day
We look far more presentable as we head out to the airport
(I’ve taken in another run downtown in the early morning chill
Jogging the many footbridges that criss-cross the Truckee
Why would I ever run a hotel treadmill when I have this alternative?)
Though the shuttle bus driver complains about our dust-covered suitcases
All the same.
A friendly stewardess on the shuttle asks us all about Burning Man
And we show her the pictures on our camera
Now that I’ve recharged the battery
The only other passenger turns out to be an English kid
Who’s been volunteering out here the last few months
And as part of his adventuring got to camp out at Black Rock
Earlier in the summer
You don’t need a permit to do so
And presuming the winds don’t pick up and make it a nightmare
I imagine it must be one of the most serene experiences in the world
Under a new moon and a clear sky
Gazing up at the billions of stars
Reminded just how insignificant we all are

At Reno Airport we meet one of the ladies from Mom’s Camp
She’s shocked to find out her ticket has been “canceled”
Until it’s revealed that she’s mistaken her arrival time in Minneapolis
For her departure time from Reno
This is extremely unfortunate, the kind of mistake I used to make
When I was younger
The kind you can understand making
After your first trip to Burning Man
But she’s understandably upset because even though she’s offered StandBy
She’s trying to get back to the east coast and all the flights are full
This Labor Day
I offer her our sympathies and understanding, and assure her it will all work out
And almost offer her a hug
Yet I find there to be something ironic
About a Mom’s Camp member, of all Burners, mistaking their flight home
Perhaps they should have stopped in at Dad’s Camp for directions?

Still, there’s something about the Burning Man goodwill
That extends in both directions on both journeys
Its happens every year, if only in the smallest of ways
Such as when, starved for real food (we didn’t have time for a hotel breakfast)
I stop in at TGIF’s at Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, order up the veggie burger
And the waitress is kind enough to inform me that there is cheese inside the actual burger
But that they can make up a vegan quesadilla with lots of fresh veg
And I thank her kindly
And tip her graciously
And order a plate of fries on the side all the same
I can not believe how hungry I suddenly am

Traveling back home during the day is so much saner and safer
Than flying back on the Red-Eye
As on previous years
When the lack of sleep
Made my drive back from the New York airports
As perilous as any I’ve ever undertaken
I feel comparatively fresh as we set off from La Guardia at 10:30pm
(Only 7:30 pm west coast time, and I’ve had that good night’s sleep)
It’s only a two-hour drive home
And it passes quickly enough
With an absence of traffic heading north to the Catskills
All the cars would have been coming the other way today
Holiday makers heading back to the City, for work tomorrow
The summer is over

Campbell climbs into bed at 12:30 am
In seven hours flat, he will start High School
I trust he will receive as good an education there, on a daily basis,
As he does at Burning Man, annually.
Welcome Home

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3 Comment(s)

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