Somebody Went to Burning Man and All I Got Were These Lousy Crutches

by Kimmananda

We finished tricking out our camp, hanging all sorts of lights, pink flamingos, flags and banners. It became apparent to me that I was driving these two men crazy with my relentless desire to get our camp in order and they were both looking piqued and impatient with the ordeal. Monkey Boy and I had to talk through a couple of spats, but we squared them away pretty quickly. Riff, however, still seemed withdrawn and not easily approachable. The fact that he had over indulged the night before probably wasn’t helping much.

Monkey Boy and I took a long, circuitous bike ride around the playa to Center Camp and I was again astonished by remarkable feelings of freedom, bliss and genuine happiness. I was having a BLAST! Late afternoon we returned to the Mothership and after hanging out for a while, Monkey Boy took off to find some friends. Riff returned from his afternoon’s adventure and I asked him if he wanted to go out together. He said sure but wanted to nap and get something to eat. I got impatient and finally just asked if he minded if I took off on my own and he assured me it was no big deal. We agreed to hook up later.

It was getting dark when I rode out of camp and the playa was awash in glow sticks, L-wire, hokey spokes, art cars, and fire dancers. Strange images and sounds would go floating by, often coming out of nowhere. Out there, if you weren’t lit up with something you might as well be invisible. The colors and the lights, the characters and creations and sheer inventiveness completely filled my head with fantastic, often challenging, images. I had no filters up and everything was coming in at the same intense volume. I was flying high thinking to myself, “Wednesday night on the playa. I’m here. I DID it!” Happiness wished for and manifested.

Around midnight, somewhere out in Deep Space, I heard the chain rattle and come off my derailleur. I had a sick feeling as I realized how far from the Mothership I was, how little I knew about basic bike repair and just how dark dark can be. I pushed my bike to a small, lighted area nearby and made a half-hearted attempt to fix it but knew I didn’t have a clue. But after only a few moments of despair, it dawned on me that I could ask for help. That while self-reliance was a value of the community so was allowing community to be of service. So I stepped out into the darkness, cupped my hands around my mouth and spoke timidly into empty space “Hellllllo out there…Does anyone know how to fix a bike?”

In a tick, there was a shift in the shadows and two men rode up out of nowhere. They didn’t say much. I explained my situation and they seemed to know just what to do. One of them flipped my bike over and got to work while the other one watched. When they were done, they righted my bike, bid me good night and rode off into the darkness. A perfect Burning Man transaction, as if by magic.

I turned for home. My eyes were filled with pictures, my soul with experiences and my heart with light. I got disoriented and missed my turn at 9 so ended up cutting in at 8:30, a far less traveled and much darker street.

I could see the door of the Mothership about 50 feet ahead. The camp was all lit up and looked fabulous, even better than I had hoped. I realized how tired I was and was relieved to be so close to home. I looked down as I fumbled with the switch on my headlight and saw that my front wheel was wobbling dangerously. I regained some semblance of control, but when I looked up I was startled to see a 4 foot rebar stake looming up from the desert floor. Not marked, flagged or capped, I hit it straight on. The bike stopped dead and I was thrown forward. My basket took the brunt of the force and that probably saved me from a self-imposed lobotomy, because my face and the rebar collided right at the bridge of my nose.

The bike bounced back and collapsed onto my left side with my ankle trapped to the outside of the pedal. I hit the playa hard with the bike on top of me and the side of pedal went right through my ankle. It only hurt for a second and I guess I went into shock.

I was lying on my back staring up at the sky, and for the second time that night I didn’t have a fucking clue what to do. I knew I was pretty injured, but didn’t really want to think about it yet. Only reluctantly I surrendered to my new reality and finally called forlornly into the dark for help. Immediately shadow people came to my aid. A tall, good-looking blonde guy squatted down beside me and asked tenderly, “What happened sweetheart?” I was so relieved; I had a new best friend. On his heels other new best friends were quickly arriving. I could hear them talking, righting my bike and asking me all sorts of questions like where I lived and if Riff was there, did I need a medic and could I sit up? One girl took off for an ice pack and another girl held a flashlight to my face and without thinking said, “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!!! YOUR FACE!!!!” It freaked me out and in a panic I asked, “Is it true? Is my face fucked up???? Don’t say ‘OH MY GOD’ unless my face is really fucked up!!!!!” Realizing the anxiety she had created she quickly de-escalated and said, “no…no…you’re fine…I just saw the blood.” I was massively relieved.

The guys struggled to right me, eventually getting me up onto my good foot. I gingerly set my left foot down and felt the leg slide around in a very weird and painful way. I remember thinking it was probably broken and if so than this was NOT GOOD. My new friends quickly agreed that I couldn’t take so much as a single step, so the guys picked me up and carried me to the Mothership. I pushed myself backside first up the steps, hopped onto my couch and was real glad to be inside my own quarters.

Neither Riff nor Monkey Boy was home and the RV was crowded with folks. My neighbors, KB and Pretty Kathy were nurses and when they got wind of what was happening they came right over. I showed them my ankle and watched their faces as they visibly blanched. KB felt around and hesitantly pronounced it badly sprained. Pretty Kathy concurred with her friends’ diagnosis. Riff had sprained his ankle pretty badly about two months before, so I knew the drill on ‘sprained ankle care’ RICE: Rest/Ice/ Compression/Elevation.

I asked KB’s hubby if he wouldn’t mind fetching me a medic and he was off like a shot. Everyone else split, but the nurses stayed with me till the BRC Ranger pulled up in his golf cart. He was a big, strapping guy who didn’t know much about how to help me, but took instruction real well and I’ve often found that quality very useful in men when they want to be helpful, but don’t quite know what to do. He told me that there was a doctor at the medic tent and that things were pretty quiet over there at the moment. I let him carry me to his golf cart and we headed off to the Medic.

I learned right then and there why folks build art cars. Cause they’re worth it.

By now it was about 1:30 in the morning. The physician on duty was a youngish East Indian woman. She looked at my ankle, poked around suspiciously, watching my face closely at all the places where I flinched or yelped. She was of the opinion that it was a really bad sprain. She “tsk, tsk’d” it, reminded me about “RICE” and was the first of many who told me that I should hope that it’s a break and not a sprain because apparently breaks heal better. I couldn’t believe I was getting bummed that it was only a “really bad sprain.”

To find out definitively would have meant either packing up the Mothership or taking a 2.5 hour ambulance ride to Reno for x-rays. I knew that leaving was going to be a one-way trip. If we broke camp we wouldn’t be back again this year. We had all worked so hard to get there, I was horrified by even the thought of leaving so I didn’t let myself consider it. Instead, I took the handful of ibuprofen packets and the pair of crutches that she offered and decided I could just as easily convalesce from my “bad sprain” in my sumptuous RV at the Burn, as I could at home on my own couch. Besides, everyone who ventured an opinion all agreed that they couldn’t cast it anyway, cause it was just too swollen.

So I chose to wait it out at Burning Man.

Riff had come back while I was at the medics’ station. KB and Pretty Kathy told him what had happened and he pedaled off to find me. When I first spotted him, I saw this strange smile on his face that I knew covered up his deep displeasure at my having gotten myself so seriously injured. Later, when we were alone, he ventured the opinion that my sprain was like his recent one, only his seemed a little worse. He headed to the bed in back while I cracked open my emergency kit, wrapped my ankle in a package of frozen veggies and conked out on the couch.

I remember having more than a twinge of annoyance and self-pity that I was in such pain and going to have to take care of myself. But I realized rather quickly that I had a refrigerator full of food, my own bathroom, air conditioning and copious amounts of serious pain medication. What else did I need? I decided to have a good time and bring the Burn to me by receiving whatever walked through the Motherships door.

The next afternoon, Riff and Monkey Boy went off to fetch ice and to leave a public service announcement over BMIR begging anyone with an art car to ferry me to the Burn on Saturday night. While they were gone, my neighbor Peter came over to introduce himself and see ‘the ankle’. He took my foot in his hands and gently put it through a series of rotations. He did it so skillfully I thought he might be a physical therapist. He told me he had been a skier so he knew all about injured ankles. He too thought it was a bad sprain and produced a couple of well worn ankle supports, ace bandages and a special sort of blue ice, frozen solid. I was very appreciative for the attention and felt in good hands.

He was very kind and seemed genuinely concerned. For that matter, everyone who came to visit, all sorts of neighbors and friends, seemed concerned. For the most part I kept myself on pain medication, ice packs and in SHOCK. Monkey Boy had long since hooked up with his friends and was dropping in now and again for visits, snacks and bathroom breaks. In the few moments now and again when I was alone I would hop down the hallway and head for the bathroom. There were a couple times I inadvertently put weight on my bum ankle and I felt my leg slip right off of my foot sending intense shooting pains up my calf. My toes were gradually turning a wicked shade of black and getting darker by the hour. Bruising was appearing all over my foot and ankle, and it got so swollen that the whole thing was starting to resemble a badly stuffed sausage.

Alas, no one responded to our public service announcement, so no ride to the Burn was forthcoming. The day of the Burn arrived with a kinetic kind of energy. It was clear that SOMETHING was going to happen. The weather had turned and the wind was kicking up, causing random dust storms that would sweep through leaving a fine layer of playa on everything. More and more folks were coming in covered in dust. In spite of their best efforts, both Riff and Monkey Boy couldn’t come up with a way to get me to the Burn that night. As the day wore on, the sad reality of really missing the event sank my spirits. I spent a lot of time meditating on my loss, and by 5 or so I had pretty much come to terms with it. I felt a little like Cinderella who wasn’t going to the ball after all.

Riff showed up to get ready for the Burn. He was distracted and irritable because the generator wasn’t working. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind setting up a couple chairs outside and maybe hanging out for awhile. Even though he didn’t look thrilled, he set them up and faced them in the general direction of the Man. I was hoping I might see the flames reach for the sky or maybe the fire works display.

After I got settled outside, I noticed a trike that I had seen out the window but had never paid attention to before. I didn’t know whom it belonged to, so I asked my neighbor if she knew whose it was and she said that it belonged to her younger sister. She explained that it had a flat tire that they planned to fix before the Burn. I asked her if I could borrow it and we made a trade where her sister could use my bike and I’d borrow the trike. The nurses from next door wandered over to see what was happening and we all debated the strength of the welds on the large basket that was between the two back wheels. Could it really hold me? KB’s tall husband, an engineer of some kind, jumped into the basket, hopped around aggressively and declared the basket safe. A simple, elegant plan was emerging right in the nick of time! I could get to the Burn in the basket, if I could find sometime to pedal the bike.

And there was Riff.

The convergence of the two events, the generator’s failure and my “brilliant trike plan”, was too much on Riff’s already overtaxed psyche. When presented with the idea of his pedaling me out there, he stiffened and I knew that my idea was sunk. With tremendous authority and unwavering certainty, he declared my plan the “stupidest” idea he had ever heard, that it was “ill conceived” and “dangerous” and that he would have no part of it at all. I knew this was the kiss of death. He would not be budged.

I was crestfallen and angrily hissed, “I cannot believe you pick this moment of all times to abandon me.” My remark must have hit home cause he went ballistic. I angrily crutched my way over to KB’s camp and ragged Riff up one side and down the other to my friends. It must have been very satisfying, cause within just a few minutes, I returned to my chair quite calmed down, and was just settling in when Peter came walking by.

Leaping back onto my good foot, I grabbed his arm and whispered, “Peter…Peter! I have a way to get to the Burn…but Riff isn’t down for it and I can’t do it on my own!”

His eyes sparkled with glee. “And what is it my girl?” he smiled, looking right into my eyes.

I pointed to the trike and told him my plan. When I mentioned that the bike had a flat, his face lit up. “Let me just take care of that for you.” He gathered up the trike, pushed it toward his camp and there it was, a coach and a driver and I was going to the ball after all.

I hobbled into the Mothership floating on Cloud 9. Riff didn’t say much cause he was still steaming, though I noticed the generator was on. I briefly filled him in on my plan and busied myself getting gussied up for my big adventure. I could see out of the side window that the trike was upside down and Peter and the “boys,” all hunky young men in their 20-30’s, were huddled around working on it. I was elated to have such a whimsical and fanciful solution present itself at the last possible moment.

With my bad foot balanced on the sink, I took a quick birdbath and put on a fresh pair of PJ’s that I had brought for just this occasion. They were leopard print with big, showy red roses. I wore every sparkly I could easily lay my hands on and drenched myself in glitter. My ensemble was topped off with a purple velvet cape and I hung glow sticks off the end of my injured ankle. Sometime while I was getting ready, Riff gathered his things, said a hasty goodbye and took off.

Peter arrived with his son Paul and their friend Cory. He gently placed me in the basket which he had filled with a down sleeping bag, and after getting me squared away, he jumped on the trike and started pedaling madly as he and his boys towed me to the Burn.

We were almost the last folks out of town and the streets were deserted. We made slow but steady progress and pulled up just as the fire dancers were finishing. The crowd was in a state of high expectation, and parked behind us was what seemed to be every art car in existence, all lit up, with music blaring & dancers swaying. The crowd had mostly turned out in costume, and there were tons of masks and painted faces and bodies. I felt among kindred spirits, the other strange beings, and loved that I was one too. I was soaked in all this incredible stimulation. Filling myself with each inhalation and giggling at my own sensory overload.

The final pyrotechnics went off in a whimsical, glittering, phantasmagoric display of twirling and spinning lights in the black sky. The grandest grand finale of my life.

And then the Man was on fire.

He stayed standing a long time. A much longer time than I expected him to. I was sitting low in the basket while the crowd was standing, so I watched their faces change and shift in the firelight. Everyone was there for their own reasons, having their own experience, their own epiphanies, their own moments and I was channeling all of it. I let it pass through me, clinging to nothing but savoring each rich detail of what was in every moment. The essence of what feeds my soul was available in abundance all around me and I was tuned into it.

After the Man fell, Peter and the boys towed me back to the Esplanade. It was clear that the kids wanted to have their own evening and who could blame them? Being clever lads, they flagged down a playa cab, loaded me into the back and waved their dad and me off into the night.

It was amazing ride. Peter insisted on riding behind on the trike but held onto the side of the art car letting himself be towed. The guy at the wheel was a madman with a PA system and a flamethrower. His wife clearly loved him, thought the world of him, bless her heart, but he would shout the most obnoxious comments over his PA that were apropos of absolutely nothing. He’d randomly change direction, careening wildly across the dark playa, toward the latest thing that was on fire. At times, he’d park, leap out, shoot off his flamethrower and howl into the night sky. It was a sort of spontaneous and twisted Cirque du Soleil. In the back, Peter and I were having a grand old time. It didn’t matter to us one whit where we went or what we saw. His antics made us laugh and laugh. As far as I was concerned, I was finally back out on the playa, swimming in the sea of delights and that’s all that mattered to me.

All too soon the night was over.

The madman and his wife dropped us about 40 feet from my door. The ever patient Peter loaded me back onto the trike and pushed me the last little bit. There was an awkward moment at the bottom of the steps, so I gave him a big hug, turned and hopped inside.

On Sunday, Monkey Boy and Riff tore down camp while I shlepped around inside and got things squared away. Through the window I watched Peter and his boys take down their camp. We said our goodbyes and they shoved off around 4, heading for Reno and a long, hot shower. Leaving was sounding real good to me too as it seemed that the shock was finally wearing off and the reality of what I had done to myself was sinking in. We got ready so we could leave after that nights Temple burn.

Riff & I ended up in another squabble about some shit, seemed like just about every conversation pretty quickly ended up going there. I had brought a special package to burn at the Temple, so he took it and some other materials, rode out there and placed them all at the center altar. He wanted to be sure to be there when they lit it so he could videotape it. He packed his equipment and took off.

The nurses from the next camp came over and we had a nice long visit. We’d grown really fond of each other. When Riff got back later he seemed somehow changed, mellowed out, and for the first time he took some interest in my swollen ankle. He even took pictures of us and my injury. Things between us began to feel a little normal again and I was relieved.

He took a shower and got ready to drive us out. Monkey Boy got back and helped us negotiate the pull out. We left the playa around 1 am Monday morning.

About 5am, we pulled up to the Kaiser ER in Roseville. The place was deserted so I got seen and x-rayed pretty quickly. The doctor came in and told us that I had broken my ankle in three places and had a 50/50 chance of needing surgery that would likely involve pins and screws. Eeeeew. He put a temp cast on it, gave me a big fat pain shot and recommended that I get to an orthopedist ASAP. I slept all the way home.

One week to the day after the accident, I saw an orthopedist. The breaks go thru to the joint so they had to put me in a long leg cast that goes from the bottom of my foot, over my knee to halfway up my thigh. I am completely immobile and off my feet for at least 4 weeks, maybe more. It often hurts like HELL but be that as it may.


See you on the playa. :

Plan your burn
Burn your plan :-)

POSTSCRIPT: I wrote this one week post burn and am submitting it five weeks later on the day they took the last cast off. I’ve been back at work part time for a couple weeks and I expect in a couple more weeks I’ll be full time again and able to return to my vigorous yoga practice. So after all is said and done, “No harm, no foul.” Thanks for letting me tell my story.


Moving a Head – Spontaneity at Its Best

by JK

Burn Night 2005.

The man’s arms rose as the din of thousands of cheering desert children irrevocably announced the arrival of PART II. A week’s worth of explosive creativity didn’t end tonight; it’s transcended to the next level.

The largest circle of people I ever stood in. The sexiest fire-dancers I ever saw. The most furious fireworks show I ever witnessed. And, of course, the greatest ball of flame. After brilliantly withstanding the climbing fire for several minutes, the Man’s leg finally buckled and he began to fall with one arm still raised overhead. As he crashed into the Playa, it was as if he was smashing the earth with a great war hammer. Rightly so, because the best was yet to come!

Burners don’t just burn the Man. They burn everything imagination lets them. Tonight the Playa truly came alive. Fire, dust, drumming, dancing, howling, hugging, smoke, wind, skin, fur, electricity, rhythm, demons, angels, smiles, rebirth.

Hours later, the spirit of the Man still burned brightly, beneath a glowing heap of embers. Flickering faces of every brother and sister encircled the shrine, showing no signs of weariness. But, inevitably, the Burner’s greatest fear finally made its appearance from the shadows in the back of everyone’s mind: There was nothing left to burn.

Time to get productive. Time to get spontaneous!

One of the masterminds behind the GIANT version of the Man, quickly came up with the idea to burn “the Head.” For those of you who, somehow, did not see the Giant Man, it was a replica that was so large, only his head and arm were visible above the Playa. It resembled the fallen Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes. His head alone was seemingly large enough to function as a small house.

Let’s see… It’s Big. (check) It’s the Man. (check) Equation = Good burning material!

Let’s still see… Big. Far. Ok. Man. Hmmmm. Good burning material!

Let’s be real. It’s Big.

Hmmm. It’s Big. Really Far. And Really BIG.

WHO CARES! (Gotta love how true Burner spirit won out over logical reason.)

Quickly, a handful of us who were standing around the fire set about summoning “movers” to help us retrieve The Head and add it to the fiery wreckage of The Man.

Must – keep – burning!

Soon, approximately thirty people were rounded up. In a glorious instance of classic Burning Man history, a sizeable chunk of the fire-dancing crowd broke away from the fire itself and vectored out, into total darkness, on foot without even so much as a flashlight. Moments later, I found myself walking alongside our leader (one of the creators of the Giant Man), as he navigated the pack toward its destination… also known as sheer and utter doom.

Only minutes later, our party began to diminish. What started as a quick jaunt to go over and grab “The Head” gradually became an act of survival. But nothing could prepare us for what was to come.

Cold darkness surrounded the party. Our numbers dropped to half of what they were. Still, the fifteen or so among us assumed a new fiery passion, like none I’ve ever witnessed. Our voices broke through the icy night. Chanting. Shouting. Recruiting every passerby we saw with this mantra: “Burn the Head. BURN THE HEAD!”

Most steered clear of what must have appeared to be an angry mob of pirates, making a blind march in double-time toward some unknown destination, all the while shouting, “Burn it! Burn it!”

Only then… WAY past the point of no return, did we realize this wild goose chase was taking us too far away. Had it been a mile? Two? Someone jokes, “I think that’s Gerlach ahead.”

“No way, it’s Empire!”

Hopes began to dwindle. We were left with perhaps only a dozen survivors in our party, when at last, our destination appeared in the distance. Like some lonely, dark monolith, a Great-Big-Head rose before us.

It was HUGE! But nobody cared. We were exhausted.

After a few moments of rest, our leader directed us into removing the non-burnable materials affixed to the outside of the head. Wires were clipped. Metal removed. And fluorescent bulbs shattered as hands began to tear apart at what nobody could really see. But, who cares? It was big and burnable. ‘Nuff said.

Of course, the voice of reason, like a forgotten ghost, spoke up again. It became painfully obvious that burning this big piece of junk right where it sat would be waaaay too intelligent, on many levels. We were freezing, tired, and all standing in the dark wondering how on Earth we would even move the damn thing. Hell, we even had enough people to start a new bonfire and start drumming again.

(snap back to fantasy)

“Six to a side!” Our leader rejuvenated what little energy we had left, and everyone suddenly realized this suicide mission wasn’t going to be over until he said it was over! Like greedy ants, we assumed positions on either side of the giant (lest we say “forbidden”) fruit and lifted…

Oh my god, the bitch was heavy!

Not only that, each member of our party had come from a different walk of life. Some of us were big, short, fat, thin, old, young… Here I was, fairly short myself, pushing UP as hard as I could, while the movers in front and in back of me rested a side of the mammoth Head on their shoulders. Jokes and curses immediately followed. It was clear there was no WAY we were going to carry this thing all the way back. No WAY!

So, of course, we set out carrying it anyway. We were mad. Not to spoil any illusions or anything, but we were completely crazy. But who cared? This was Burning Man after all!

If people avoided our path before, now they scrambled out of our way in a god-fearing panic. Our momentum was, indeed, great. A few times, deserted bicycles were yanked out of our way with the swiftness and precision of a S.W.A.T. Team. We weren’t stopping for anything.

A couple of times we had to set the bitch down. But every time we got a little closer to the original burn, our hopes raised a notch. Perhaps we will make it, we thought. It’s a possibility. Perhaps. Then we rearranged to accommodate for passers-by who volunteered to help us bear the weight of our newfound burden. A burden born of wild, purely spontaneous Burn Night gusto.

Freezing, tired, wasted, delirious, driven, mad, by, the HEAD! The Head, it’s going to burn! Burn the Head! BURN The Head!

In unison, we all rose once more and launched across the Playa with a frightful passion. The strength of numbers was our ally. Blind faith was our map. The promise of newfound fire was our fuel.

I couldn’t imagine what it must have looked like… this gigantic representation of the Burning Man’s head floating across the Playa in the dark, carried by this mob of insane, driven people chanting in unison “Burn it! Burn it!”

Then. The fire. It came into sight. At long last! Our planet Earth is in sight. We-had-RETURNED!

At this point, I was standing under the leading-edge of the head along, with about five fellow vertically-challenged movers, while our taller movers lined the sides. Despite what we had been through, our pace now sustained at an unstoppable brisk walk. Just when all seemed like everything was going to be all right, someone shouted “Ramming Speed!” I couldn’t help myself. Nobody could. Flirt with death. Ride the snake. “RAMMING SPEED!!”

The head launched forward across the Playa at double speed. We found ourselves running. RUNNING. With this huge thing on our backs! Not only that, we were running straight toward a crowd. And, beyond that, a blazing fire! All reason was lost. There was no such thing as “try.” Only “do.” To the lake. The ancient lake…

The people in the fire crowd slowly turned their heads. Their jaws dropped. They scattered like mice as this, this Head, emerged from the darkness on a collision coarse straight for them.

Bicycles were flung out of our way. The meek were swept aside like driftwood on the reckless sea. A great parting of the human waters left our fiery target destination in full view. Almost there. Almost there. The crowd began to cheer.

What happened next, I seemed to perceive in slow-motion. Yet, it was undeniably happening in real-time, which was, quite simply, too fast. Within a second, I realized that I was running straight into a fire at ramming speed. I tried to duck to the side and get out of the way, but failed on first try as a side of the head fell onto my shoulder, delivering a good reminder of what pain feels like. A side of our cargo landed on a taller mover, who had just surpassed me still carrying the thing. I leaped out of the way and the structure, again, fell on the man in front of me, square into his back. Somehow we both managed to get out of the way as the remainder of our great offering plowed into the fire. It was a close call but was answered with great celebration.

Our mission was accomplished! We did it! I immediately asked the guy in front of me if he was ok. He assured me he was all right.

Almost as quickly as the blaze of sparks rose in the air, everyone was once again dancing around the re-awakened fire.

One thing, if anything, was for certain: participation had meaning. This was perhaps but one single hour of Burning Man. And the night was still young.


by Jaylynn Bailey

Well, it’s 7 am in the morning here in LA and it’s been two days since I’ve come home from my first Burning Man experience. It’s taken me that long to catch up on my sleep and to brush out the tangle-knot (the size of a coconut) from the back of my hair. No one bothered to tell me to braid it and by the second day on the Playa, it was hopeless.

I will never forget the feeling I had driving into LA on the trip back, exhaustion sighing from every fiber, every pore. Every hippie I’d befriended at Burning Man piled leg over ass in the RV. Sleeping in humps, snuggled head-first like wooly mammoths on some bitter, prehistoric night. Snorting. Coffee-less. Spent and blissfully unaware. As if the long Pleistocene winter were fading fast, and the hard, hot summer of their Paleolithic extinction would be soon upon them. The lights of the city rising up like a circus tent in the distance. I was giddy on Pepsi and gossip from Rachael, one of my new friends.

Though I’d been in Black Rock City for a mere ten days, I felt like I’d been gone a year.

It’s difficult to articulate what I experienced during those terrible and glorious days on the godless, dust-filled Playa. Especially in light of what happened while I was gone. Everything that seemed to matter then, everything that seemed so important, every salient insight, everything that seemed to have so much weight and significance as I hurried my way home through Reno then Sacramento and on into the flat, dumb-eyed steer country of central California, everything I rehearsed in my head that I might write or talk about, everything I felt then, seems now to pale in comparison to the horror of one of the greatest cities in the world having been wiped clean from the planet by wind and rain, lack of city planning and federal dollars.

New Orleans. Fuck me. Gone.

Well, shit. So am I.

The desert is a hard and terrible place, an unforgiving mecca for the weird and displaced. The Playa at Black Rock, even more so. The wind blows at 40 mph on a good day. On a bad day, the dust blows so fiercely that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. A total white-out. For a 35-year-old, out of shape, white girl like myself, the Playa was, at best, an adversarial environment. At worst, a premature grave. A place to make jerky-Jay. A last stand. An Alamo. A Fallujah-fuck.

It was bad.

But when it wasn’t indescribably bad, it was awesome. It was incredible. It was Herculean. While I was in Black Rock City, there were three perfect days (before I got locked out the RV for 20 hours). The wind died. The dust stalled. And the sky opened up. For the first time in my life, I saw the Milky Way. The Great Milky Way. Uncurling like a stripper’s finger. Hip-sway. C’mon. Why don’t you? Oh, c’mon. You know you want to. Wow. And the Pleiades. All clustered together like school girls giggling into their hands. The red tint of Mars. I never knew Mars was actually red. Like, you can see that from earth, all that way. Oh, the cool blue of Venus. Or was it Jupiter? I had never seen so many stars in my whole life. Ever. I felt insignificant. On the lip of the abyss. Speechless. If there had been a sliver of grass to grab hold of out there, I would have held on for dear life. I was terrified I might float away. Disappear into infinity. I have never seen such a sky. If that was all that I had experienced and nothing else, the trip and the hardship would have been worth it.

But it wasn’t. I met this couple who are devout Catholics. They don’t believe in pre-marital sex, but, at the same time, they’re nudists. So, the man dipped his pecker in day-glo blue and the girl painted smiley-faces on her nipples and they cruised around Black Rock all day, day after day, on their scooter. I met a gypsy girl from San Francisco. Well, sort of from San Francisco. She’s not really from anywhere. But then, that’s kind of the point of being a gypsy, yes? She took pity on a poor, Playa virgin like myself out there in the midst of the Mardi Gras atmosphere and lent me some costumes to wear. She was wonderful. By the time she’d finished with me, I looked like Tank Girl. I was outfitted for anything, even the worst dust storm the Playa could throw at me.

All the folks I met out there, new friends, have been calling me. And I’ve been calling them. I had a few of them over for dinner last night. It’s like, we don’t really want to see each other, but we don’t really know how to let go of the pace of life at Burning Man. We need to spend time together and talk to decompress. But at the same time, I hate them. I hate them in the way one hates their best friend after having driven cross country with them. I hate their stink. I hate the way they eat a burrito. I hate the way they cross their legs. But I love them, too. In the way that one loves their best friend with whom having driven cross country.

It’s like family. You know you can change nothing about them, all their little irritating quirks. You’ve seen them naked. Happy. Sad. Depressed. Scared. Enraged. Heart-broken. High. Drunk. Hung-over. Sick. Unhinged. Ecstatic.

I went to Burning Man expecting an experience. Like going to Europe. Or college. I came away from it a reluctant member of a new family. In ten days, I lived a lifetime with those people. I will never again be the person I was when I left LA. It’s true, I will never again look at a can of Beanie Weenies in the same way, either. But it wasn’t the canned goods that changed me, or the insufferable dust or the hardship.

See, after the third day, the booze stopped working. I thought I could get through the unbelievable heat and wind and dust and all the other unpleasantries I knew were waiting before me by drinking. What did I know? Booze had never let me down before. But when my piss turned the color of Coke, I knew I had to cleanse. So I started drinking water. Gallons of it. By the fifth day, I’d stopped eating. The heat just simply takes your appetite away. There’s no other way to explain it. It’s just too damn hot to chew. Or digest. Anything more than a morsel or two makes you nauseated. I’d open a can of Beanie Weenies at noon and I’d have to force myself to finish it by sundown. I lost 15 pounds in 9 days.

Despite the conventional wisdom that anticipated some magical psychological transformation, my Burning Man experience didn’t consist of a spiritual cleansing. It was a physical one. My body was simply unprepared for the harshness of that climate. Once I was no longer able to eat, I deteriorated quite rapidly. My feet, my hands, my lungs, my vision. I don’t know. Maybe it was spiritual in spite of that, or even as a direct result. Careening into day 8, 3 days without food and still trying desperately to keep myself hydrated, I must have looked like some desert mystic, hollow-eyed and savage hair. Babbling about my former life’s miseries as if they were a novel I’d read by Toni Morrison. Rambling on to anyone who’d listen about how silly I’d been to fret and worry over love and heartache and the impenetrable loneliness of being alive and knowing your life has a “best if used by” stamp on it. How silly. How silly. You’re alive now and that’s all that matters. Cough, cough. Spoon up another bite of cold Spaghetti-Ohs, just enough fuel to get you out on the Playa to see the life-size Mousetrap game or the merry-go-round made out of boulders and rope. The tribal drum circle. The fire dancers. The pirate ship called The Contessa, built to sail on sand.

When I got back, I walked into my apartment expecting a sense of homecoming. There’s my cat. There’s my toilet. There’s my shower and faucet and running water kicks ass, oh yeah! But instead, I found a place that seemed abandoned. My home. I really did feel like I’d been gone for years. My bed seemed new to me. My phone. My television. It was weird. Like I’d walked in on someone else’s life. Like I’d interrupted someone else in the midst of carrying on their daily activities. There were dishes in my sink. I must have left them there. But I didn’t recognize them.

Burning Man changed me, yes. But not in any way that I would have been able to anticipate. The experience of Burning Man itself defies generalization. There were some folks who went out there to get naked for a week. That was their experience. There were others who went out there to get drunk and dance to techno-trance for a week. That was their experience. There were others, there were 50,000 others, who went out there to do whatever it was their hearts and minds compelled them to do. And that was their experience. We camped next to a guy who had brought an entire rollerskating rink with him. In pieces he’d trucked it in. For 10 days, 24 hours a day, he played Old School music like Prince and MC Hammer and all that 80’s shit. Like some messianic DJ, he held court for anyone and everyone who dared to put on a pair of his skates. I myself, I must confess, took a turn or two.

Burning Man. I know now why they call it that. It’s not because it’s so fucking hot out there it takes your breath away. It’s not because the people there are incandescent with something genuine and inarticulate. It’s not because you stay up all night and dance to the light of diesel-fueled break-beats. It’s not because the Playa dust sets your tender pink lungs on fire like lava. It’s not all the art the size of small buildings doomed to the match. And it’s not because, on the last day, they burn the Wicker Man. It’s not any of that. It’s called Burning Man because, when you commit, when you really and truly commit to the Playa and to the people there, you throw yourself on the pyre.

All your preconceived notions, all the baggage you’ve shouldered along unknowingly, all that shit-stinking, sub-cutaneous, toxic, Twinkie-filled you. When you throw yourself on the pyre, when you really and truly do that, when you are emptied of everything except water, when you haven’t shit for a week (and you begin to realize, “Oh. THAT’S why they don’t have more Port-O-Lets.”), when you’ve had your freak-out because someone took your Baby Wipes and didn’t bring them back, when you’ve had your second freak-out and your third because there’s no more ice and it’s not your turn, goddammit, to walk the 5 blocks into camp and you’ve already done it like, 7 times, and you’re hungry and tired and more empty than you’ve ever been in your life and you’re sick to death of trying to talk logistics to your campmates because they’re all fucked up and you stink, you really and truly stink, and you know it because you can smell yourself and everything you own is covered in that white Playa dust that clings like clay and you’ve stood in line for hours to eat a good, hot meal because your friend said this camp has a good spread but by the time you get up there all they have left is hummus and saltines and you haven’t slept more than 3 hours a night for days and days and the guy spitting fire on the Mutant Vehicle just a few feet away looks like the devil himself and all your deep buried, so deep you thought they were fossils buried, prejudices about other people come surging to the surface all of the sudden and now you’re absolutely convinced that everything black and horrible you’ve always suspected in the dark of night about your fellow man is true and you’re sure, you’re absolutely sure, that you cannot take another minute of it… just then… something truly magical happens.

You see it. Like an open-handed smack in the face. Like something that happens on daytime television, but it’s happening to you. You feel it. That shock. The hot sting. The smart, undeniable burn that rises on your own cheek. You realize all of the sudden that this is you. You’ve done this. You’ve made this happen. It’s been you. All along. And nobody but you. There’s nobody else to blame. And you turn then to see your limp body already blistering on somebody else’s Zen fire. Nothing means nothing. You see your own vacant eyes staring back at you. Your slack jaw. And somebody is chanting for you. Somebody is beating a drum to you. Somebody is dancing barefoot in the bitter black of the Playa night. For you. Just for you.

And you realize, oh my. I brought a body here. I did. Not knowing it. I did. I really did. A body I’ve carried for too long. That weighs more than anyone can shoulder. A body so heavy it sends my back into spasms from the burden. A body that won’t stay buried. A body that must, that absolutely must, be burned. To set the fucker free. To set the goddamn, withering bag of monkey-piss and shit and guts and worms and halleljah cunt-puss free.

And, like the Phoenix, to be allowed to rise again. Clean and pure and free. Singing it’s glorious song.

It was breathtaking, that moment. My heart skipped on up to the Pleiades. I wouldn’t go back and turn down my Burning Man invite for all the oil in Saudi Arabia. The hungry writer stumbling in the desert holding hands with her new-found friends. The accidental mystic. The fool. The blubbering fool. The heat on her face from somebody’s ridiculous fire. Knowing she dragged her slumbering and reluctant self there by the heels. And somehow managed to leave that sad bitch there. That sad, all-knowing, ugly fucking bitch. Knowing she didn’t have to laugh when she realized it. Knowing she shouldn’t. Knowing no one would fault her for it. But laughing anyway. Laughing because she knows that she doesn’t have to. Laughing. From deep down. Until it hurts laughing. Laughing. Silly, stupid laughing. Knowing she could cry, but laughing anyway. Goddamn it. She was laughing.

I went to Burning Man hoping to escape all the feeble insecurities that I had allowed into my life, all the doubts and questions about my talent and trajectory that I’d opened the door for in the last year. Hell, I’d cooked dinner for them. I’d opened a bottle of wine and settled in for a good, long conversation about all the reasons why I shouldn’t, why I couldn’t. Why my white-trash background precludes my ability. Why it doesn’t make any difference how much I want it, or how much talent I have. All that matters is that nobody in my family has ever done shit except rut and squeeze out litters of kids and keep Wal-Mart in business. Why the family I’d grown up with knew me best. Why I, of all people, don’t deserve to make it. Why I, of all people, shouldn’t make it. All those voices of childhood. All those years of either fuck-you or indifference.

I went to Burning Man hoping to forget that girl for awhile, just a little while, that snickering, sure voice. (We camped on Amnesia, ironically). I never dreamed I wouldn’t have to go back to her eventually. I never in a million years dreamed I might actually be able to leave her there, sad and spent, a charred husk, a vacant mockery. Her ugly buck-teeth glistening in the moonlight, her limbs curled up like a blackened shrimp on the grill. But something more happened. Beyond my control. I burned that girl. I did. Like a fucking rag. Like incense. When it came time to hurl her in, she was, unbelievably, light as air. I picked her up and threw her on the pyre and I watched her go up in smoke to the sound of drumbeats, like 50,000 vital hearts pulsing in defiance of the cold, bitter night. I listened and watched as she writhed and screamed and begged for her life. I watched her curl up like a tuft of hair and blow away. I showed no mercy. I didn’t even blink.

Afterwards, I ventured into the still hot embers, poking at them with a long stick. Just to be sure. There were other voices there, unknown to me. Despondent voices. Angry ones. Lonely and bitter ones. But among the din, I heard my girl, my sad, sub-cutaneous girl. She whimpered. Defeated. Weak. Feeble and undone. And she said to me finally, “You win.” She said, “You are strong, you bitch. You are.”

And then, on a gust of hot Playa wind, she was gone.

“Good riddance,” I said, looking up at the god-almighty stars that night, my breath catching on the great, collective song just beginning to take shape. One of my new friends called out to me in the dark. “Good fucking riddance,” I said, as he led me away.

You sad, inbred trailer-fuck. You cheap breeder. You black, inconsolable reptile that gulps down hope with dead eyes and teeth like a smile. You mouth. You eating machine. You unapologetic gullet. You insatiable thirst. You monstrous liar. You scraper. You sniveling nibbler. Burn, you motherfucker. Burn.

BLM Inspection

(and this blogger’s final wrap-up)

Coyote (Photo by Cloe)
Coyote (Photo by Cloe)

Coyote (Tony Perez) is our Clean-Up Manager. He’s also in charge of surveying (and superintending) Black Rock City, serving on the DPW Council, and telling bad jokes the whole time.


He drives around in a big yellow truck with delineator cones and empty beer cans in the bed, usually accompanied by a cute girl or two in the cab. He conducts the Golden Spike ceremony and the Green T-Stake ceremony, and the 4:20 Spire ceremony – then he goes back into town and tends bar at the Black Rock. Oh, and occasionally he’ll cook up a gourmet meal or two, while espousing common-sense philosophy and stories about Burning Man in years past.

This is exactly the sort of person you want in charge of things out here. It’s no joke when he tells you that the event hinges on him doing his job right. If he doesn’t run Clean-Up smoothly – if we fail that inspection – then the event doesn’t happen.


What City?

The Green T-Stake ceremony marks the end of DPW’s work

As they say in the biz, it’s a wrap. Today, the cleanup crew swung the last rake, picked up the last traffic cone, chased the last piece of runaway moop. Black Rock City is gone, leaving no trace…


It was a good day all around; in fact, it felt a lot like the last day of school. Line Sweeps meandered through the outer edges of the city, then took a walk down Gate Road. There was so little moop that we ended up taking a few unscheduled breaks, just sitting around on the playa and chatting.

Breaktime, more


DPW Talent Nite

Yes, it was as scary as it sounds.

Mayfield was really excited about having a talent show. He kept announcing it at the morning meetings, almost ad nauseam. It sounded like a pretty dorky idea at first, but Mayfield has a knack for convincing people – and besides, he kept reminding us that we could do it DPW-style.

He was right, too. He had wrangled up a big group of volunteers for the weekend; the Black Rock Social Club was packed to the gills for the best talent show this little blogger has ever seen.

Click any small photo to enlarge it. And please excuse the dust on my camera lens!

The show was hosted by Tremain Calm and Sleep Dep. Pandragon and Tom each performed spoken word (which was excellent, despite Mayfield’s repeated warnings that anyone reciting poetry would be fed to Lazlo). Next up was a very disturbing clown act by Fitz in Your Mouth.