I'm still reeling from my experiences last week at Burning Man. Burning Man is without rival the most incredible event I've ever attended. Below is just a smattering of what happened. Some of the photos below are mine; most are claud334's (I was there for a lot of them, but my camera wasn't).
9/10ths of the Work, or, Getting There
I decided to go a couple weeks ago, grabbing tickets without knowing how I was getting there or how to find my camp when I did. I eventually found a ride from Reno on Craigslist, and cheap overnight bus tickets to Reno from San Francisco. I left for San Francisco Wednesday (halfway through the Burn) mid-day, with a quick goodbye to my clients, a brief bag pickup from my apartment, and a taxi to the airport.
At my stopover in Chicago, I got a message that my ride had a family emergency and couldn't come. I desperately called my previously rejected ride options-- no luck. So, after a brief visit in SF, I arrived in Reno, and made a hitching sign and waited around the airport. Along came three crazy looking individuals with seaweed dresses and hair falls and a huge Alice in Wonderland hat. I said, "Hey, are you headed to Burning Man?" "Yeah, and we're looking for riders!" We picked up a Cog. Sci. woman reading a book on DMT and set off.
We arrived to the event in the middle of a dust storm, and for a while couldn't see a foot in front of the car. I directed them to the intersection the map said my camp was near, and pulled my stuff into a nearby tent so they could go in search of their own camps. After a couple hours of walking around in airport sunglasses while the dust storm raged, asking if any knew of my camp, I found references to "Oracles" at Center Camp who could tell me. So I made my way there where I got my first real dose of Burning Man, bare-breasted singing massage beading coffee lounging dancing.
The Oracle read me the camp's self-submitted description and directed me to the big map. As I was walking away, he called out-- "And it also says here that they're part of the Hive, so try there."
The Hive is the greater-MIT/Boston camp-of-camps. The info worker used the word like you say the name of a sleeping god, a symbol which has lost the awe of its achievements, but not the awe of its being. It was the first camp-of-camps, and it's right on the Esplanade, front row center to the action.
I went to the spot where the camp should have been. There was a little sign there: "This space intentionally left blank." So I went to the Hive, asked around and found my friends, and shuttled stuff in. Later that night, I chewed some acid and went out to party. I lost my friends almost immediately, and wandered Burning Man, visiting dance domes and fire shows and roaming parties and laying on piles of pillows. And especially making seductive advances on the moon.
The Burn, or, the Best Game Town
Burning Man is 40000 of the best and freakiest artists, students, and wackos you've ever met, coming to the middle of the desert to party, and do art, chemicals, each other, and more art. They're dressed in wild costumes and home-made dresses, hats blinking, neon glowing, fire twirling. That is, when they're dressed at all-- lots of bare-breasted women, and a fair number of bare-it-all guys. Everyone brings to the party what they can to share-- glowsticks, chemicals, fire, food, art, domes-- and then we take every trace away at the end of the week, turning Black Rock City back into a featureless desert.
About half of Black Rock City is camps, of which hundreds have people hanging out or partying day and night. On the edges are huge domes and stages and crazier venues. One of the huge dance domes, throbbing with house and strobes, was connected to a smaller 60 ft. diameter "lounge dome", which had orgy beds and couches all around the perimeter, bathed in purple light and diffracted roaming green lasers.
The area is so huge it would take an hour just to walk across, so everyone brings bikes, and pimp them out with lights and feathers and contraptions. Hundreds of "art cars" roam around the desert, from cupcakes just big enough for one person to three-story pirate ships with sound systems to rival the gigantic domes. My first night, I jumped on an art car that was like a bar surrounded by pink and purple fur-covered swivel chairs, except everyone was laying on top of the bar.
The art cars are parties on wheels, going from one party to another, or stopping in the middle of nowhere to dance. Outside of the camps there are hundreds of art installations and huge structures. There was a jungle-gym metal flower, giant children's letter blocks, human-powered strobe monkeys, and a trebuchet that launched flaming pianos. I expected the Man, the centerpiece of all this madness, to be surrounded by commercial gigs, and I found him in a forest of art trees.
In fact, there's no commerce at all. If you're caught selling anything, you're thrown out. Everything is a gift. And it's all part of the incredible radical self-reliance vibe of the whole event. During the day, there's a non-stop Daily Confusion-style calendar of activities: Shaman Trancedance, Adult Diaper Parade, Catholic Schoolgirl Party, Orgasmic Vegan Sushi Dinner. I tried to go to a First Timer's Sex Orgy, but I was off by a day.
The nights are so beautiful. The wind stops, the air cools, and the people put on their lights and party until the sun comes up. One night there was a thousand-person lightsabre battle raging around the Man. From the middle of the desert, all you can see is a roaring fiery scatter on the horizon, of people, domes, and art cars.
The finales are huge. A circle of hundreds of firedancers and drummers, and fireworks better than Boston's, hailed the burning of the Man. An 8 story oil rig that held parties every night on its top was engulfed by 900 gallons of jet fuel. The Temple of Forgiveness was the most beautiful wooden structure I’ve ever seen, and like a sand mandala, it disappeared in an hour.
Afterburn, or, Until Next Time
A couple friends came in on BioTour, the vegetable-powered bus, and suggested I try to get a ride out on it. The lead guy, Ethan, apologized and said he couldn't take me, so I made a sign for San Francisco, shouldered my bags, and headed to the exit. The bus passed me, but soon hit the 4 traffic jam. I passed it, and took up a spot to hitch a ride. An hour later, the bus passed me again. And stopped. And offered me a ride. So cool!
They dropped us off near Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. We spent my last day hanging out there, getting high in the Haight-Ashbury park, and eating some good Mexican and Indian food. And then some potheads followed me home. I wonder if I should keep them.
A friend asked me what I'd learned from Burning Man. I didn't have a good answer at the time, and now that I do, it won't fit in this margin. But maybe that'll be another post.
Next year, I want to get you to come with me! We can form a camp, set up our own scene. If we get enough people, maybe we can even make an art car. I'm going to be much better equipped, and I can help all of you be similarly prepared. And I'm going to do an art installation. And I need to learn to juggle fire.
As long as they change next year's theme (*sticks tongue out*). Join me in emailing the BRC LLC and telling them to change it!