Playing with superpowers at the Midway

BM-2015-Carnival-of-Mirrors“OhWow,” said Kelly as we walked into the Midway. “This is nothing like what I’d expected.”

“What had you expected?” Kelly is a virgin Burner.

“I’d tried to keep an open mind,” she said. “But it wasn’t … this.”

She thought about it as we passed a man on stilts in an animal costume who seems to have escaped from a zoo. He was gently nudging, and then swallowing, other visitors.

“I think it’s all the playfulness,” she said as we stood in line for a fortune teller. “I don’t think I realized that it could all be so playful. But of course it could, it’s so obvious, but I guess this is why people say you have to experience it to understand.”

Kelly is an ethnographer who studies how artists connect with communities on social media. We’d just met an hour-and-a-half before. Now we were about to have our darkest secrets revealed. It would go badly for me, well for her. But the secret romance she has buried in her closet would become a running joke between us for the rest of the night.

The fortune teller was sitting in a wooden booth, dressed to the nines, her full lips highlighted red and black making them look thin and emaciated. She’d been taking a long time with the people in front of us, but that didn’t scare anyone away; on the contrary, the line behind us just got longer. Her process seemed baroque, involving bowls, crystals, conversation, and things we couldn’t recognize.

“What’s amazing,” Kelly said as we waited, “is how little this kind of thing is valued. Society values iPads so highly, even if they’re just small, incremental, improvements over the last iPad – we build whole industries around that. But an experience like this? Completely personal and unique? Outside of communities like this, nobody recognizes how valuable these experiences are. That’s ridiculous.”

The people ahead of us walked away, talking. The fortune teller interrupted us. “How you doing tonight?”


The Midway is calling, to you and to Burning Man

BM-2015-Carnival-of-MirrorsHundreds of art cars were circling the Man, shining in the dark. A thousand more bicycles were parked outside of his perimeter, covered in glow-wire. They formed a barricade around the Midway, late at night, as though watching the Man in case he made a sudden move.

I walked towards the Midway, maneuvered through the art cars, and entered through the giant mouth of what I can only describe as an evil clown. I was in the belly of a beast

Do you know what a midway is? It’s a carnival, it’s a con, it’s a chance for shady characters to offer you suckers bets on games of chance, it’s a place where strange museums trade in impossible curiosities. It’s an opportunity for you to be the farm and lose your shirt and see behind the curtain. It contains dozens of games ranging from warped ski-ball to impossible arcades. There are two stages where opera singers and fire dancers practice their arts. At its heart is a maze of mirrors.

It is as glowy and chaotic and blinky as anything else at Burning Man, but it is also something that, for a few years, people were wondering if Burning Man was in danger of losing: it is personal.

As Burning Man ticket sales have leaped and bound over the years, the playa experience has gotten bigger, louder, and grander. This is not a bad thing: did you see the Trojan horse burn? The sea of art cars and art installations have begun to reach out to deep playa. There was never anything like it on earth, and then more people came. (more…)

Black Rock City 2015 Traffic Update

traffic jam

We are experiencing significant traffic delays due to slow vehicles on Highway 447. Estimated delays are up to 8 hours to reach Gerlach from Wadsworth. We recommend participants wait in Reno or elsewhere for several hours until the congestion is cleared.

For your own safety, if you’re stopped on Highway 447, please remain in your vehicle. And do not park on the shoulder of Interstate 80 — find an off ramp and park on a side road.

We will update this message with new information as soon as it becomes available.

You can also hear updates by tuning in to BMIR or by following @bmantraffic on Twitter.

[UPDATE: 8/31/15 2:00am]

At this time, the drive from Wadsworth to Gerlach is taking about 5 1/2 hours. Stay safe out there!

[UPDATE: 8/31/15 9:00am]

Travel times between Wadsworth and Gerlach dropped below 3 hours sometime between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. and we lifted recommended driving restrictions on Highway 447. C’mon out!

Your political agenda is as boring as it is irrelevant

Atlas' Globe (my name for this structure) - photo by Duncan Rawlinson
Photo by Duncan Rawlinson

(AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I would rather be writing about theme camps.  I would rather be writing about the Midway.  But in classic Burning Man fashion, my ride is over 30 hours late … you know who you are … and so I’m writing about a magazine piece that annoyed me.  Hey, I’ve gotta keep busy, you know?  I’ll see you out there.  One way or another I’ll see you out there.)

Here’s a good rule of thumb: anytime someone tries writing a dry, humorless, assessment of people having fun, they will end up with an essay that is dry, humorless, and forgettable.

Knowing that, I’d like to make a few observations inspired by Jacobin’s essay on how Burning Man has betrayed us all by failing to be a socialist paradise, while there is still a chance that someone will remember having read it.

There’s a great deal of refutation and correction that I could offer to the piece – from its statement that “Burning Man’s tagline and central principle is radical self-expression.” (No, in fact there are 10 Principles, none of which are identified as superior to the others) to its assessment that a few theme camps run by rich people are fundamentally altering the experience of Burning Man (“Caravansicle” is a well established debacle, but almost nobody actually noticed it was happening at Burning Man itself: which is to say that it actually had no impact on most people’s experience.  In fact, aside from Caravansicle I challenge any Burner to think of a memorable theme camp run by the 1% – while I know that anyone who’s attended can think of dozens of experiences they had with camps organized by volunteers and n’er do wells, the people who have always made Burning Man what it is). But such refutation would be an exercise in defensiveness applied to pointlessness.

Because the central argument of Jacobin’s Burning Man piece has nothing to do with Burning Man specifically: rather, it is the implicit argument that the only “legitimate” experience a person can have is one which is in alignment with “correct” politics.

The piece, after all, gives absolutely no consideration to Burning Man as a lived experience, as a generator of art, or a source of fun. It does not consider Burning Man’s philosophy on its own terms, or what actual Burners get out of the experience. Instead, its sole focus is to condemn Burning Man because (based on estimates) just under 3% of Burners make over $300,000 annually.

Ironically, a piece championing the needs of the 99% utterly ignores their experiences of Burning Man, because we don’t count.  Zuckerberg, Tananbaum, Page, and other gazillionaires are all name-checked, but no Burners who aren’t gazillionaires are named, let alone quoted or talked to. Far from being independent actors with our own reasons for going to Burning Man, we are an undifferentiated mass of not-rich-people who may be building, running, and living in Black Rock City, but whose motives and experiences aren’t worth considering.

Thanks, champion of the people!


Get the Info You Need as You Approach Black Rock City

Traffic at the Gate, 2010 (Photo by George Post)
Traffic at the Gate, 2010 (Photo by George Post)

Want to know what’s up as you approach Black Rock City? Yeah you do. We’ll begin top-of-the-hour (because that’s what fancy news outlets do) news reports with traffic and weather starting at midnight tonight. Because these are the things you want to know.

Pro tip: Download the iHeartRadio app and tune into BMIR before turning on to Highway 447 so you’ll have a sense of how long Gate wait time is.

When you turn on to Gate Road, switch to GARS 95.1 FM for all the info you need to prepare, plus hear our latest public service announcements (PSAs, in the parlance).

Once you’re in Black Rock City, tune into BMIR 94.5 FM radio.

And remember: the Black Rock City gate officially opens at 10 a.m. Sunday — don’t arrive before then if you don’t have an Early Arrival pass. Yes, really.

We look forward to seeing you on playa!

2015 Art Tours

The New ARTery sign  photo Sydney Erthal
The New ARTery sign
photo Sydney Erthal

This year, as we have in the past,  the ARTery offers Audio Art Tours for many of the projects that are going up all around us in Black Rock City at this very moment and can be listened to as you wander about the playa. There are over 350 Art Installations for you to enjoy this year so having a description of the art you interact with is essential. Art is appearing everywhere. Be the person in your group who knows something about the art you find while wandering the playa. Get the tour now to have something wonderful to do in line while awaiting entry to Burning Man this year.

The downloadable Audio Art Tour, put together by Jim Tierney, Kit Kat, Evonne Heyning and Dazzle!, will prepare you for your awesome art-filled playa experience. Download the MP3s and listen to them on your way to BRC!

More about ART tours on playa can be found here.

Is that a towering lenticular, or are you just happy to see us?



Well now THAT’S more like it!

We were pounded early this morning by a moderately fierce whiteout/brownout windstorm, and all of a sudden it felt like Burning Man.

It seems like forever since we’ve had a good, hours-long sand blasting, and we thought we were in for one today. But the dust became intermittent, and by 9 am or so the sun started working its way through the gloom. Then the skies got all blue and fabulous, and fantastic-looking clouds made everyone look skyward and go “ooooohhhh!”

We became mesmerized by the sight and wandered out of camp, and the next thing we knew we were at the Man Base, where Mr. Blue and Melissa and Opa and the rest of the lighting crews were putting in their final touches. The sideshows set up around the maze were in various stages of completion.

Medusa in the dust
Medusa in the dust

The Man Base crew was packing up shop, Silver Coon and Toolshop were putting all the tools back in the trailer container. It’ll be hauled off the playa to get everything ready for the big opening.

But this morning it looked like we were going to lose an entire day. The dust was so thick you couldn’t see the Center Café from Ring Road, and the wanderers who had ventured out were bent over in the wind, trying to see through fogged-up goggles.

Even veteran Burners like Flackmaster were disoriented. We ran into him as we made our way back to camp, and he seemed awfully glad to have found his way home.


The last DPW morning meeting was scheduled for the Depot today, but Playground made the call to postpone it at least for a day. It didn’t make any sense to have people trying to make their way around the city. That would be asking for trouble.

We were listening on the radio when Just George, out near the perimeter, was trying to meet up with Cowboy Carl. “I’m just going to be sitting here with my lights on,” he said tentatively, knowing that he’d be an easy target. “I’ll do my best to hit you,” Carl said.

But after a couple of hours, things lightened up. The weather forecasts have high wind advisories in effect until this evening, so we’re pretty much expecting occasional whiteouts most of the day. It reminded us of the old George Carlin weather report line: “Light followed by increasing darkness.” So it’ll be periods of dust followed by increasing amazingness.

The clouds over the playa, and if someone could help us out with the name of the art piece here, that would be appreciated
The clouds over the playa, and if someone could help us out with the name of the art piece here, that would be appreciated

The amazingness this morning included those clouds, which were, we were told, towering alto lenticulars. Matt Step works at the Man, and he’s also a pilot. “Seeing one this big is really rare,” he said. The wind whipping over the Sierra contributes to the formation, and glider pilots especially love to see them. “World records (for gliding) are set in Reno,” Matt said. “You get a massive column of lift, and sink. It can be scary as hell.”

Matt Step
Matt Step

Things actually took a turn for the weird last night, when a giant hazy rainbow appeared around the moon. It was a little like when you look at the sun after you’ve been swimming in a chlorinated pool and your eyes are all fuzzy. The first thing we did was to ask the person next to us, “Hey, do you see that??” Yes, they saw it too.

The rings round the
The rings round the

It’s a nice time to be on the playa. The big art cars aren’t allowed on the playa yet, so almost everyone was on foot or on a bicycle. It evoked a simpler time. We admit to being darktards – we wandered out without any lights on, but the moon was almost full and it was easy to see and be seen.

We heard reports of long waits at the Gates to get in the city, as the last of the early arrivers were pulling in. We’re guessing that if anything, it’ll be harder to get an early arrival pass next year.

Some of the early arrivers didn’t seem too clear on all the concepts, either. We talked to Shane Saw Sisco, who had been out on the Gate lines overnight. The Gate people have to check your car to make sure you’re not smuggling anyone in. Twice last night, Sisco said, he was asked to take off his shoes before getting into the RVs he needed to check.

Um, no.

Shane with his copy of the Gate Bingo card
Shane with his copy of the Gate Bingo card

And some more photos from out and about:

Melissa at the Man Base
Melissa at the Man Base
Jennifer Raiser, the do-everything, be-everywhere writer extraordinaire, did a Man Base guard shift and was caught in the dust storm this morning. "All this time and this is when you take my picture?" she said.
Jennifer Raiser, the do-everything, be-everywhere writer extraordinaire, did a Man Base guard shift last night and was caught in the dust storm this morning. “All this time and this is when you take my picture?” she said.

The in-between time

At the last spire party yesterday
At the last spire party yesterday

We’re caught between the now and the almost now in Black Rock City.

The work’s not finished, but it’s getting close.

The streets are as busy as they’ve ever been. The big theme camps have rolled in, and so have the artists. It’s a weird in-between time when it’s still ok to drive your car, but the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists has shot way up.

There was a giant kickball game outside the Center Café last night, and judging by the shouts, it was World Cup intense. We first thought it was incongruous that all the dusty funky types would be so into the competition, but this isn’t really a hippie encampment. It’s more broad than that, more diverse, in temperament, outlook, and, while we’re at it, age.

We know the Black Rock Census keeps excellent track of the demographics of the participants, but it seems to us that an even wider mix of people here in the build-up.

Today was the first day almost since we can remember that it wasn’t bright and sunny. Early last week there were a few days when the sun and moon were shrouded in a red haze from distant wildfires, but of late the skies have been crystalline, the clouds dramatic, the sunsets mind-numbing.

We saw pictures of our friends back in the Bay Area, and KarltheFog was much in evidence, although it seems like a heat wave is baking the area lately.

After the spire was planted, it was time for the sledge toss competition
After the spire was planted, it was time for the sledge toss competition

Here, the temperatures the past few days have only been in the mid to high 80s, and the nights have been chilly. The big weather news is that high winds are supposed to be coming our way. By the time you read this, the predictions could have changed, so the best thing to do is check the Burning Man website for the latest info. But better to get the big winds behind us now, rather than when there are tens of thousands of cars kicking up dust on Gate Road. All the people here already will get an early test of just how well they’ve tied down their stuff.

The last spire was pounded into the playa yesterday, and all the crews plus a bunch of looky-loos came by to celebrate.

There was all sorts of general jank strewn about the site. Random trenching was done for no apparent reason, and holes that were dug were immediately filled in with kicked dirt. There were cars hoisted in the air, a compost pile and random pieces of fence. There were radio antennas and road signs, including one for Spoono’s Road.

Rushing the spire
Rushing the spire

In general, it was a celebration of the end of the build. The last spire usually takes place the last Thursday before the event, but in the past couple of years, rain and other interruptions have pushed the work schedule back and its been held on Friday. But this has been a relatively smooth year, work-wise and weather-wise.

The Spires crew did the honors of getting the whole thing started, because spires is what they do. Marleyne was shooting anvils, and the sledge-throwing contest rounded out the festivities. (River was the winner.)

You can check the whole thing out at 4:20 and Esplanade, right near the Thunderdome. It’s a quite amazing collection of … stuff … put together by the most amazing people anywhere. See for yourself:

You need something? These folks can probably get it
You need something? These folks can probably get it


Stinger fashioned an OSHA blindfold for Coyote
Stinger fashioned an OSHA blindfold for Coyote


The yellow bike crew moves in
The yellow bike crew moves in
The last spire goes up
The last spire goes up





Pope Phabulous, his Hyster, and a contribution
Pope Phabulous, his Hyster, and a contribution
All the way from Georgia
All the way from Georgia









The last spire
The last spire





Cowboy Carl may look a little taken aback by it all, but we know it's not true
Cowboy Carl may look a little taken aback by it all, but we know it’s not true







The dread crew
The dread crew















Doyle's car is street legal in Detroit, where he's living
Doyle’s car is street legal in Detroit, where he’s living
There are some great dogs out here; this one's everywhere
There are some great dogs out here; this one’s everywhere




Rain, the sledge-toss winner
Rain, the sledge-toss winner


Marleyne got a necklace from Spoono several years ago
Marleyne got a necklace from Spoono several years ago
Goatt's on the the Artica build this year
Goatt’s on the the Artica build this year
The finished project
The finished project



The sign team has been working since the middle of July on creating and signs that help you find your friends, find your way back to camp, and help others find you when you might need help.

But something really crappy has been taking place over the past several days. It’s not a new problem, but it might be surprising in that it’s going on when the only people out here are supposed to be working, either setting up the city or building art.

The signs crew, the people you're hurting the most, besides yourselves, when you take the street signs down
The signs crew, the people you’re hurting the most, besides yourselves, when you take the street signs down

The street signs are being stolen. Already. Even before the gates have opened. Most of the signs on 4 o’clock were gone the day after they went up.

“It’s at the heart of the event,” said Jenerator. “Nobody steals art at Burning Man, and the street signs are our art.”

There are 300 intersections in Black City, and each of them has a double-sided sign with the names of the streets – Arcade, Ballyhoo, Carny, Donniker, Ersatz, Freak Show, Geek, Hanky Pank, Illusion, Jolly, Kook and Laughing Sal. They are all hand-painted by the sign shop crew, then installed all over the city.

It’s not a new problem. Folks have been taking the “souvenirs” for as long as they’ve been put out, but the deal is you’re supposed to wait until Saturday of the event to take them down. The Burning Man organization even has a special program to deal with the problem – Adopt a Street Sign, aka ASS. You can read all about it right here but essentially, if someone takes off with a sign from your corner, put a new one to help the people who’ve lost their way, and to help the people who may be trying to help you if there’s an emergency.

“You wait until the Man burns, or you’re a dick,” as Bam Bam put it, ever so succinctly. “We want you to take them”, added Stabby Abby, “but just wait.”

Bottom line: be an ASS, don’ be a douche.