I then volunteered to bring my artwork and work on the construction of the clock at Black Rock City. I received an early arrival pass which I now know is highly prized. This was my first time going to Burning Man. I have friends who have been going for years and have tried unsuccessfully to score an early entry pass. Perhaps I am blessed, or stupid. I think the latter is closer to the truth.
I arrived on Tuesday morning & spent the day setting up my camp: there was nothing for me to do on the clock. Wednesday; however, there was a lot to do! We dove into the construction project and worked 12-hours every day through that week. We worked our butts off that first week!
I worked primarily with the principle builder of the One Mile Clock clock towers. Arlen is a carpenter, 13 years younger than me yet he seems older and wiser than I ever expect to be. Arlen is a perfectionist who knows when to be a perfectionist and when to “let it go.”
After the first day working together, I began to anticipate his needs. I’d be connecting the nail gun to the power source, winding up the cord and getting ready to hand it up to Arlen about the time he’d say, “Jer! Hand me the nail gun!” Arlen would be rummaging around in his toolbox. I’d spot the screwdriver & hand it to him. “How the f**k did you know I needed that!” I don’t know… I just knew he was looking for that screwdriver. We worked well together.
Arlen is a seasoned Burner. This was my first Burn: I was a Burgin (Burner + Virgin = Burgin). I sensed that Arlen was truly at home in Black Rock City but was still holding back. But, that wasn’t my concern. I was workin’ my own experience processing all this new stimuli.
Arlen and I worked every day building that Clock. He told me much about his life and his girlfriend, Shannon. He brought tears to my eyes, the way he talked about her. I couldn’t wait to meet her.
Sunday evening, the gates to Black Rock City opened and Burners began to pour into Black Rock City. I didn’t see Arlen after Sunday morning and didn’t see him for several more days although I looked for him. I didn’t meet Shannon until near the end of that week. That was OK. They needed their time together. My Palm Springs friends had arrived and there was plenty to occupy my attention.
On the Saturday the Man was to burn, I was out on the Playa taking photographs of artwork installations. I turned around and there was Arlen! He was in his truck, doing maintenance on the One Mile Clock numbers. It was as if I was running into an old friend. We hugged & I asked Arlen about his reunion with Shannon.
Arlen apologized for not being around, that Shannon & he needed their space. He told me that he & Shannon were using their time at Burning Man to re-align their lives. He told me their story of addiction, how they’d hit bottom and how their Burning Man experience is pulling them through detox. I could tell this was difficult for Arlen to talk about. I offered assistance; whatever they needed. He told me I’d already done that by listening and being non-judgmental.
I pulled Arlen into a hug - thinking about yellow tutus and tiny top hats – and thanked him for being honest & including me in his life’s story. I said he & Shannon would be in my thoughts for good karma and, “Get your ass back to Center Camp and be with Shannon!” He smiled and drove off towards camp.
What do you do in situations like this? I took a swig of water, headed for the Temple of Transition and wrote a note on the wall sending Arlen & Shannon good thoughts.
I saw Arlen only once more that week: during the clean up of the Clock burn site, my last full day in Black Rock City. Three weeks later, I received a letter letting me know they were well, “ Burning Time and enjoying life.”
You never know from where friends come. Be well, my friends and welcome home.
Thank you for listening
Jerry L. Hanson