It was when Willy used a forklift to load my Plymouth Volare onto a flatbed that the muffler finally got knocked off. Bout time. There was only some shredded lace of rust still holding it on. Now the Volare had a deep guttural growl, like a Harley. I guess after decades of bashing it out on the playa, it deserved to be feared. Her wide flat cop car body may have been battered into a junkyard queen, and all the windows gone, but its huge big-block V-8 still gobbled and growled.
It was Ladies Night 2013. The Burning Man event was a few weeks away so Black Rock City still belonged to the Desert Carnies slugging the city in. This annual party was everyone’s favorite. The whole town dressed up in sexy women’s wear, guys, girls, or whatever. The hilarity was always in how quick some of the burliest dudes would be ready to doll up.
It’s shocking how little encouragement it takes for even the most testosteronic of them to shimmy into a sparkle skirt and party bra and smear on cakes of makeup. (And a shot of whiskey always helps.)
The Volare was running rattier than the norm that day with a failing alternator, but the night was calling and any night on the Volare was a roll of the dice anyway. With jumper cables in the trunk, a posse of darlings climbed aboard and we sailed scantily clad into the grand evening. I had gone with “cheerleader” this year with pigtails and a crazy short skirt. I might as well have been wearing a frilly scarf around my waist. At least the thigh-high fishnets were sorta keeping my legs warm. Ahh, the price of being sexy. I think DA, our Playa Restoration manager, had the larger challenge as his tutu was a bit small, shall we say, and was squeezing any blood/warmth out of critical regions. My sidekick, Scott Bruka, was also a cheerleader, but I’m certain we weren’t on the same team. There was going to be some hair-pulling before the night was through. All in all, we had about ten boisterous beauties aboard and a treasure map of participating staff camps to terrorize! The playa was our oyster! Or so we thought.
Ladies Night 2013 was also the night that the Bureau of Land Management hatched their “Shock and Awe” plan.
Special Agent-In-Charge, Dan Love, was in his inaugural year and wanted to jangle his spurs. He had lined up a full battalion of SUVs to descend on the night with a single agenda: PULL EVERYONE OVER! For whatever reason. They were to hit us with their lights, their giant bully SUVs, their dogs, their badges, their citations. It was a playa-wide shakedown.
“Dude! Look at this shit,” said Bruka as we panned the city. “It’s a fucking sea of cops out there.”
We had been cruising the backside of the city and had stopped in at the DPW Depot. Standing on the deck we could see the flashing lights of what seemed like hundreds of cops stretching to the horizon.
“It’s like COP-NADO out there!” Said DA.
“You watch too many movies, dude”, Bruka replied.
“I say we call it and scramble to the Bologna Hole and play the night out there,” I said. “These guys wanna take our night. Let’s let ‘em swing their dicks around. It’s just a show of force that'll fizzle out in a couple of days. Always does. We were gonna end up at the Hole anyway.”
The Bologna Hole was our DPW bicycle camp and sat about a mile into the city grid. It was a straight shot.
“If we shut our lights down and sneak between the blocks, we can give 'em the slip. Let’s load up!”
Our only giveaway was the gutter groan of the missing muffler, so we climbed aboard, started it up, and crept along into the night like Ninja.
Another “Show of Force” was brewing. One that didn’t give two shits about us OR the cops. A storm front was moving in from the south.
“Coyote!” shouted DA from the roof of the Volare. He was lying on his stomach and dangling his head through the missing windshield. “Do you see the black clouds coming at us? Don’t much like the look of those!”
“Me neither,” said Bruka, “The temp is sure to start dropping and I’m not wearing any underpants under this skirt. And you know what that means…”
“None of us are,” I replied. “Don’t have to worry about low-hanging fruit tonight! Alright everyone - If this storm does what it looks like it’s gonna do, we may need to jump into one of the containers at the Hole!”
Right on cue, a pretty powerful flash of lightning followed by the rumble of thunder hurried the point. I nudged the gas and the Volare perked up with the growl of a straight pipe.
I spotted the BLM Ranger’s colossal SUV long before he spotted me. Normally I would have shut down and cloaked but the battery was getting low and the storm was looming. We putted along, keeping our heads low and cutting the blocks. But the straight pipe missing muffler gave us away. The Roller glommed onto us like a bulldog. Then came the blinding glare of authority with stadium searchlights and red and blue flashers to be seen from the heavens.
“Shit!” said Burka. “We’re so close to the Bologna Hole!” “I know,” I replied. “It’s only about a half-mile further!”
We sat in the whitewash of scrutiny, something we hadn’t planned for. I mean, who of us can remember a time getting pulled over while driving a windowless DPW wreck wearing cheerleader outfits, hair in pigtails, and no underwear? But this was OUR town! We would not be bullied!
We sat for a moment while spits of rain started pelting us.
“This Ranger’s sure taking a chance pulling us now,” DA said from the roof. “He must be new. Doesn’t he know that we’re all about to get stranded out here?”
“He’s also taking for-fucking-ever! I’m going to go talk to the guy,” I said. “We don’t have time for this. This storm’s moving pretty fast.”
I creaked open the bashed-up door of the car and got out. A brisk wind immediately blew my skirt up, flashing the Ranger with all my business. What a time to be under stadium lights!
I couldn’t gauge his reaction with the lights in my eyes, but I bet he wasn't planning on seeing man parts this early on. I stepped light after pulling my skirt back down with dignity and made my way to his window. The guy was a rookie! He didn’t look more than twenty years old. Might even have been his first day on the job. He had no idea what to do with us and I can only imagine what was blowing through his mind as I approached. At least he can see I’m unarmed, I mused. Glancing back and seeing my crew through his eyes brought the glaring context of how silly it all was. He sat there with slack jaw as he stared at a bashed to hell seventies Plymouth with no windows, piled high with burly dudes clad in dresses, skirts, and makeup!
“Good evening Ranger," I said when I got to his open window. "I wonder if you could tell me why you’re pulling us over this evening?”
The Ranger started talking as if he were reading off a cue card.
“The reason I stopped you is that you were exceeding the speed limit. You were going ten miles an hour and the limit is five.”
I say again, who can remember getting stopped for speeding while doing ten miles an hour? And I wasn’t even driving on a road!
“I also noticed that there’s some drinking of alcoholic beverages,” our young Ranger continued.
“I’m the driver,” I replied, “and I’m not drinking. Only the passengers have alcoholic beverages. Just like in a limousine.”
“Um, that car doesn’t exactly look like a limousine.” The rookie actually cracked a smile. He was ours now.
“It’s OUR limousine, sir! OUR limousine! A limousine is a STATE OF MIND, sir! A STATE OF MIND! Besides, I’m the City Superintendent of the city site, and it’s my job to set the speed limits until the event starts. Right now it’s FIFTEEN miles per hour. FIFTEEN!”
Our young rookie was flummoxed. He wasn't expecting a man in a skirt schooling him on the law this night. “I’m going to have to call this in. Please return to your vehicle, sir.”
“I can do that,” I replied. “But you should know that this storm is about to strand us both. all we need to do is make it to those camp lights in the distance. If you cut us loose, we’ll head straight there. It’s already starting to rain and nobody’s going to be driving anywhere once that front hits!”
The Ranger sat for a moment. He was starting to feel the powers of a higher authority as the gusts started rocking the vehicles. He got on his radio and started chattering in cop-talk which was numbers and letters to me. I looked back at my faithful crew and saw antsy looks as the wind was also dropping the temps fast. Precious moments passed. It was raining for real now and all of us were gritting teeth as we watched the playa start to soak. We all knew it was infamous for switching from drivable to hopelessly stuck in mud in a flip of a switch. That switch was dangerously close!
“Mr. Ranger, sir,” I interrupted and he continued to chatter on the radio. “If you don’t cut us loose right now, we really are going to have way bigger problems than going ten miles an hour out on the open playa! We’ll BOTH be stuck in mud out here! I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a playa storm before, but…”
“Yeah,” he half muttered, “I’ve heard it can get bad out here.”
“I take it this is your first time out here?” “Um, well, yes. This is my first few hours out here actually.” He poked his head out the window and regarded the black sky. “Ok. I’ll cut you loose, but you have to go straight to that camp and not drive the rest of the night.” “Believe me, sir, ain’t nobody gonna be driving the rest of this night anyway! You have my word.” The Ranger gave us the sign and cut us loose. I ran to the car, climbed into the heap, and hit the start button.
Wo wo wo wo wo wooo woooooo woooo - click click click - silence
“SHIT!! THE FUCKING BATTERY’S DEAD!”
A collective groan of panic hit. Then we all got the same idea.
“LET’S GET A JUMP FROM THE BLM RANGER DUDE! HEY HEY,” we all yelled, “DON’T LEAVE! DON’T LEAVE! COME GIVE US A JUMP!!”
The BLM Ranger slowly came to a stop of confusion and indecision. He was trying to get ahead of the storm, but his conscience was kinking in. He was new after all. We all swarmed his SUV in our respective outfits. It was a scene!
“PLEASE PLEASE DON’T STRAND US OUT HERE!”
“Well, I’m not sure if I’m allowed…”
“We’re the only ones out here! I have the cables right here!”
We all started scrambling like bees with skirts.
There are times in life when your mind will screen-shot a moment. This was that time. Picture a black and wind-whipped rainy night with two of the most unlikely vehicles parked nose to nose with their hoods up - a bashed to hell Plymouth Volare and a brand new BLM Ranger SUV with all lights blaring. Now add several macho dudes in skirts climbing all over the vehicles hooking up cables. Now add Scott Bruka standing on the bumper of the Volare bending over under the hood with his skirt blowing up and his full hairy moon pointed at the rookie of the year who was painfully averting his eyes. This has been burned into my memory like a weld. I'm still laughing!
Wo wo wo wo - click click click - wo wo wo WOWOWOWOWO - BROOOOOMMMM!
The Chrysler 318 V8 roared to life with its muffler-less roar of the GODS! A cheer rose from everyone! And if I’m not mistaken, I saw our rookie Ranger fist-pumping the air! He had protected! He had served!
We bit our hero adieu, climbed aboard our jaunty ship, and cranked the wheel toward the lights of safe harbor. I glanced back to see how our rookie hero was doing, and he had vanished into the blackened swirl. Just in time. The playa was just starting to make the switch as our tires were flinging clods of mud. I buried the gas pedal and we scrambled to the warm lights of the Bologna Hole leaving deep gashes in the mud and breaking every speed limit ever set!