my very favourite art car

Duane Flatmo’s steampunk-styled artcar, El Pulpo Mechanico

El Pulpo was made entirely from recycled materials, mostly scavenged scrap metal, and only completely assembled for the very first time on playa.

It was astonishing, how there could be so much in one place. We arrived to a line-up, dust and darkness and running lights, every tenth vehicle hosting a tiny party of celebrants, giddy to finally arrive. I pulled my bike off the back of the car, explored back and forth, gliding as if flying from conversation to conversation, stopping to chat wherever I could. The line moved fast, though, and soon we were past the gate, pushing past the empty playa to the city, lights, music, and chaos swelling out of the dust, guiding our way.

The greeters, when you meet them, have a particular script. They ask if you’re new, if this is your first year, if you need to ring the bell or roll in the dust, as they hand you your booklet, your maps, and miscellaneous stickers. Mostly, though, what they say is, “welcome home”. There are layers to it, acceptance, comfort, joy. It is rote, but it is meaningful, and it was fascinating to feel the reply this time, to know that this trip was already different from last year, already more.

I set up my camp in the dark, assembling poles and slipping them into clips by touch, my small tidy pile of belongings lit only by the ambient light of a lantern that a new campmate Quan sweetly brought out to me after I’d already put up my tent. I fell asleep wrapped in simplicity, my bedding still clean of playa, wondering where Tony was, wondering at the stars. I was briefly disappointed in myself, at my driving exhaustion, my inability to go out and explore, but tomorrow would be okay too, I decided, freshly minted, a perfect block of time, seasoned and ready to be carved.

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