Feeding Tofu to Cowboys

In the summer of 2001, Maid Marian somehow convinced the unsuspecting — but curiously adventurous — Randal Smith to go out to the 80-Acres Ranch, Burning Man’s then rag-tag staging ground, and work with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to help set up the infrastructure for Black Rock City.


Randal miraculously survived to tell the tale, and he told it in Feeding Tofu to Cowboys, a fantastic online journal recounting his experiences of living among (and feeding) these hardscrabble carnies playing city builders in the remote Nevada desert.

Rather than modernizing the presentation, we’ve preserved the original Feeding Tofu to Cowboys, because the format (including the Wallpaper of the Day) paints as compelling a picture as the content itself.


It’s 2001 and this morning I saw the world blow up.

My static filled TV screen plays, reports, replays the image of two towers, the rock solid skyline I’ve always known come tumbling down in a cloud of fire, smoke and dust. Thousands of people are immediately rocked by the sight and sound of the explosion and I sit sterile at a distance, unsure of how to process the images I am seeing. Are they real or just another Hollywood special effect?

And then I think about Burning Man. And how, only a week ago, I was one of thousands of people encircling a giant explosion of fire, smoke and dust and how ecstatic the sight was and how much joy I felt to be home. And how privileged I am to have witnessed this in my lifetime.

So, now I struggle to put pieces together. In such a short period of time I have seen the absolute greatest spectacle of mankind — the possibility of Black Rock City, a city built on the foundation of it’s own impending destruction, and the absolute depths of humankind — the purely vindictive mass destruction of American icons and the countless lives lost in the process.

When I see the Towers as part of the skyline I know so well, I think of home, as in the place I am from. I consider my family and friends and those experiences that have made me who I am. I spent 18 years in New York knowing that the Twin Towers, like a good piece of pizza or my Mom’s warm blankets would always be there. Until, of course, someone takes them away. Images of the home I love, destroyed by fear.

Which brings me back to Black Rock City, as Burning Man has become another symbol of home — an androgynous man who presides over his domain, welcoming weary travelers every year. The only constant being his own fiery destruction. This powerful image of my metaphysical home, destroyed… this time by love.

In the days following the destruction of the Man, I felt within me a peace I had not felt previously, a true understanding that everything was all right the way it was and the way it would be. I am filled with joy of the adventure I experienced each day and each night I spent there. Over the two weeks I spent in the desert no experience was like another and no person I encountered the same either. This city, immense in scope was built purely on the spirit of all that works about humanity. Black Rock City is about possibility; about creating from within for no other reason than because we can. It is about art and connection; about freedom, peace, adventure and destruction as a release of that which binds us. There is no time, no money, no politics, no good, and no evil. There is what there is and it is all brought in by the citizens of the city, for when there is no city, there is nothing. Each person brings a gift, whether an engraved necklace with a picture of the man, or a song, or back rub or drink of water. Why? If you ask, you don’t understand.

The very nature of the event attracts the truly greatest specimens of humanity, for only the truly gifted would be prepared enough and interest in taking on the harsh desert environment to create a gift as magical as a city that is not there. There are metal sculptures that sprout colored fire and giant mushrooms that you climb, interactive mazes, dance clubs in the middle of nowhere, glowstick fisherman, life size Pac-Man, music, dust, Emerald cities, re-imagined igloos and oh, my God, did you see that? And then it’s gone? Why? Why not? Does it have a purpose? Only that which we say.

The shopping list alone is somewhat daunting: tent, sleeping bag, water, rebar, furry hat, zip ties, can food, glow sticks, gas masks, costumes, bike (decorated), lip balm, nail polish. Huh? It’s all part of the experience and all part in creating a community strength. It’s the harsh environment that brings us together. Sometimes, the worst brings out the best.

And it’s all because of the people, the community that is created out of Black Rock City, for one week in the desert and the other weeks not. For me, it’s about family. I went to Black Rock as part of a Nuclear Family, a central group of authentic freedom, support and love. This group of people truly represents the best that we as a race have to offer. Do we have degrees and PhDs and wealth and understanding of quantum physics? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not the point. What we have is each other and we are only as good as the others in our family. The network of support is a gift beyond words and it resonates with a sound, loud enough to destroy a building.

So when I see the destruction of today and what is truly possible when a small group of people so committed to something make it happen, I take pause. If this faceless group, so committed to destruction can accomplish what we, safe and sound in America never thought possible, I shudder to think what’s possible if another group did so out of freedom, peace, love and creativity.

Burning Man is indeed a miracle and is something that we shall be thankful for forever and ever. In two short weeks, I have seen all that is good about humanity, as strange and perverse as so-called “normal” people would have us (remember, we’re the weird ones) and all that is bad.

So, I watch my physical home covered in dust and smoke and think of my (meta)physical home all covered in dust and smoke. One explosions over turned by another and the eerie similarity of the two scenes. The background is different. The foreground is different. But somewhere, deep inside at the hottest part of the fire, they overlap. It’s is in here I stand and know that everything is still alright as long as we are all creating and we are doing so together.

by Jon Fox

Tale of Two Cities

I feel like I am having a nightmare and that soon I will awake. Terror and destruction have captured the world, hitting so close to my home that I feel out of place walking on the streets. I am not whole, part of me is here, part is with those who wade through rubble in the streets of New York, and part of me still remains in paradise on the playa. For I was waiting for some stimulus to bring me down off the cloud that I am floating on from my life changing experience last week. I had changed and the world around me looked different. Life tragedies occurring this week, car accidents and mass murders, chipped away but did not make a dent into my awaking and still my spirits floated like the mist off the falls of Niagara. All that has changed.

I am still a changed person, but the world around me has been altered as well. The most horrifying images stared back at me through the TV after I received the worst wake-up call ever. I only hope that I wake up to find I am still on the playa, the dream an after-effect of many sleep-deprived days causing delusional and disturbing images. I know I will never wake, that I am here on this earth and that the spirit I brought back with me from the desert cannot shield me from the evils that roam the lands.

As news trickles in I am not sure if someone who touched my life along the way lies victim to the hand of a few who believe that this is right. I know there is no absolute right or wrong, the experience on the playa was as close to right as one can get, but the empty space that was once a majestic symbol of democracy and freedom is as close to wrong as it gets. I fret for the moment when I find out that the unknown friend was getting their morning coffee, while I lay asleep, buffered by our entire country.

As much as I want to express my own happiness and growth, I must concede to reality and visit the side of sadness and depression that I have know far too well in my life. The tears swell in my eyes thinking of those who lie dead covered in the dust from a modern marvel that took years to build, but only minutes to destroy. The dust is reminiscent of the playa, a side effect of our own actions out there that is as much a recurring reminder that we have our weaknesses and limitations, as it is a nuisance in the daily living. The dust from the playa brought tears to my eyes, tears of joy from the awaking of my spirit within. The dust I witnessed on the tube 3000 miles away brought only tears of sorrow and pain.

Should I put a picture side by side of the two events? They both look similar, a white cloud that looms close to the earth carrying particles that test the human strength and endurance. Should such an identical image from each event be found, it is unimaginable that the spirit underlying be as opposite from each other as possible. One place, the center of the world, the other as desolate as one can get in our country. In a white out they both look the same. The image taken of myself with a loved one covered in dust brought to me memories of such joy. Should that picture be identified from a different locale on a different day, it would be interpreted as faces of gloom and despair. Could such happiness be regarded as pain? If the truth is blowing with the dust through the playa, shall I ever find it? I am only lucky for all I gave and received when the man burned, for it has helped me get through the days like today.

by Freshiedoug