My Black Rock Wedding


by Steph

How Did I Get Here?

When I leaned over to whisper in Andrew’s ear while squished in an IHOP booth in Reno Nevada, I had no idea whether I wanted to really do what I was about to propose; since that’s basically what I was about to do. At that moment, memories of the past month flashed through my head, all the long nights of talking and lusting, confidences, tears, and bliss, all these came flooding over me. I also recalled holding the five-year-old I nannied in my lap, and how when I leant over to give Andrew a quick kiss she looked up at me and asked, ‘Are you going to marry him?’ and without thinking I had replied, ‘Sure, why not.’

Now you may be asking yourself, “How can someone propose and not know if they want to be married?” Quite easily, if you’re not taking it seriously. I have always loved a good party and weddings are usually great parties. I even enjoy ritual when it’s not cloaked in heavy amounts of dogma and remains fresh, vital, and relevant to those involved. These preferences partly explain how I came to find myself in an IHOP booth contemplating a haphazard proposal to my boyfriend. You see, we were on our way to Burning Man. A festival of intense, experimental, artistic anarchy that comes in the form of a temporary city, built in one of the harshest climates on the earth for only a week.

Having attended Burning Man two other years, I generally knew what to expect. Lots of heat, dust and incredible opportunities to create, destroy and explore various realms of myself and my boundaries. And was I ever excited to be going back. For Andrew, this was his first time. We had prepared food, costumes and articles for trading (nothing is for sale, only for barter on the desert floor, affectionately known as the playa), but we were never quite prepared for the intensity of our feelings for each other and our sudden need to be fully committed and devoted.

Now back to the IHOP, where I leant over and asked, ‘So are we going to do it?’ His reply, ‘Sure, why not.’

It’s very easy to get married in the state of Nevada, almost too easy. For the low price of $50 and the display of two driver’s licenses, anyone can walk into the city hall between eight a.m. and midnight and walk out with a wedding license. During the weeks before heading South, I had jokingly mentioned that we should get hitched. My reasons, I had never done it and it would be fun. For years I had prepared my family for disappointment, I would never do the big church wedding, heck I didn’t even believe that marriages could actually work, and the notion that one person would be able to put up with me ‘forever’ seemed ridiculous. Yet somehow, there I was, early morning Reno Nevada, August 27 2001, clutching a wedding license and beating a path to our rented SUV.

Black Rock City, Nevada

We didn’t mention our plans to any of the friends we were camped with or saw on our journeys around the city. Instead we had made plans to ‘marry’our friends in a mock ceremony at some point during the week. At Burning Man you can find almost every service you would find in the ‘normal’ world, but twisted into something very strange. You need Boy Scouts, there’s a troupe of them. Join up and try to get demerit badges in activities such as lap dancing or being a bitchy neighbour and triumph in their slogan of ‘Be Impaired’. The same goes with churches and wedding chapels. Every year, more and more denominations spring up offering their services.

Early our first morning on the playa, Andrew and I came across the Black Rock Wedding Chapel, complete with it’s own 7 foot Elvis head and a spin-a-vow wheel that resembled the one on Wheel of Fortune. This was the place. We knew it the moment we saw it. Only question was, did they have real ministers that could perform a legally binding service? As our luck would have it, three out of the four people that built the chapel were ministers with the Church of Universal Love, registered in the State of Nevada, and willing to perform a ceremony for us.

At this point I began to contemplate what I was doing. We had already decided that we would keep the marriage a secret from our friends and family for the next year, and just tell them on our anniversary. This satisfied three goals, one) that we not be questioned, since we had only been together just over a month, two) if it didn’t work out then no harm or embarrassment done, and three) it seemed a rather trickster thing to do. With the date set for Friday August 31st at sunset we began to make the rest of the wedding plans which gave us some distraction from really engaging with the real life possibilities of what we were about to do.

As the days moved on I realized that I did want to be married for real. I wanted to commit myself fully to Andrew who was the most incredible person I had ever encountered. I started wanting to build a life with someone and create a bond that went beyond what trust could describe. I felt I was in a minor quandary, here I was feeling a yearning for established notions of commitment and monogamy, but I didn’t want to express myself in a traditional way during our wedding. Neither did Andrew.

We were lucky enough to find bachelor and bachelorette parties going on Wednesday night for another couple that we could just join in with. We also managed to procure Black Rock’s only magical taxi to shuttle us to Friday’s service. Everything just seemed to fall into place including our intention to make this a real marriage. In my mind, this decision was cemented when Andrew looked me deep in the eyes one night and told me that he did want to commit and could not be with anyone else.

Waking up Friday morning in our tie-dyed dome I began to get excited. We had chosen our wedding outfits from costumes we brought with us. As we made amulets from sand dollars, crystals, stones and hand blown marbles that were playa gifts, the reality of our wedding began to set in. That day Andrew asked the next door neighbour who he had bonded with to be the best man. At this point we had given up the decision to keep our nuptials a secret and told a select few, the rest would be told at the service or when we got back home. I was lucky enough to have three of my close friends attending Burning Man, so I felt happy that our community would bless our love. I would also have three of the most interesting and diverse looking bridesmaids I’ve ever seen.

The Wedding

After downing a shot of tequila each Andrew and I climbed into the taxi and were off to the chapel. When we arrived there was a fluster of activity, friends arriving and gathering, the ministers making last minute checks with us, and many shocked faces as we told them we were getting legally married. As the dust settled and the sun began it’s decent, Andrew and I stood surrounded by friends and the ministers in front of the large Elvis head.

Dressed in my ‘Princess Leia’ outfit and clutching a mismatched bouquet of blinking roses and dusty blooms given to me by friends and neighbours, I felt in awe of my sexy partner in his homemade fractal pants and pink cowboy hat. We had managed to put together a wedding that felt fun and special to us in four days, without much stress and with no disagreements. Many of our friends still in shock at our announcement observed our happiness with yells of encouragement and smiles as wide as canyons.

Much to the consternation of our ministers, we had chosen to recite the Elvis vows they kept for mock ceremonies. With silly promises of not stepping on his ‘blue suede shoes’, or treating him like a ‘hound dog’, I vowed that he would always be ‘my teddy bear’. Andrew promised to ‘love me tender’ and never leave me at the ‘heartbreak hotel’ and to always be my ‘hunk-a hunk-a burnin love’. These vows delivered in full Elvis style elicited laughs and grins from us and the crowd that had gathered during the ceremony. While posing for pictures with our friends I realized that this was the wedding I had always dreamed of, despite that realistically with all of the luck and randomness, our wedding could have never been planned exactly this way. Feeling the craziness of being at Burning Man for the week, combined with the intensity of our connection and the joy of our simple ceremony, I was overwhelmed with a sense of euphoria that is always better when shared with those you love.

We certainly didn’t have a ‘traditional’ wedding, but we created a meaningful ritual that worked for us on many levels. We’ve been told repeatedly by different people that ours was the best wedding they have ever attended. Our friend Kodiak who photographed the wedding wrote that our ceremony was ‘full of life and love’. It was also full of a lot of our personalities. We managed to keep the parts that worked for us within the traditional marriage ceremony; a gathering of friends, a legally binding ceremony, a bouquet of flowers to toss, vows, an exchange of love tokens and of course the kissing of the bride. But we also managed to make it an expression of ourselves by creating our own amulets, wearing what made us feel special and comfortable, and keeping the ceremony full of life and fun as well as short.

After the wedding we co-opted the Black Rock Boy Scout’s Mamboree and turned it into a wedding reception. To end off our streak of ‘planning’luck, the Boy Scouts had a cake, which we ceremoniously borrowed as our wedding cake and fed each other pieces in the traditional way. Like most things and events on the playa our wedding was magical, strange and once in a lifetime experience, afterall, not everyone gets a free wedding cake that says ‘ASS’.

About the author: Tales From The Playa

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

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