You Can Go Back Home But Sometimes It Might Not Be There

by Freeze

After three years at Burning Man and reading stories of cleanup after the burn, I had a desire to return to see the playa uninhabited. When my wife Stephanie wanted a few days “out of Dodge, but not the coast this time,” I suggested a trip to the site of my wonderful experiences. She has seen the pictures and heard the stories but as many of us know, it’s not like being there. I wanted to at least show her the place. I knew my burning buddy Rick and his wife Beth needed some escape time also so I invited them to come along and they happily joined the journey.

On November 4th, after a two and a half hour drive from Woodland, we arrived in Reno for lunch at the Pneumatic Diner. After their fine vegetarian fare we headed out. Stephanie asks, “We’re going to drive for two hours, look around at nothing, and then drive two hours back to spend the night in Reno, is that right?” That was my plan and I have to say I was just a little nervous hauling all these friends along on my little outing. To what?

Going there, at that time, without the eager anticipation of getting to “the event,” was an entirely different experience than the three previous trips I’d made to the black rock desert. It was a chilly wind that blew without the massive amount of dust, as recent rain had settled every thing down. There were great grey clouds mixed with blue sky, bright light and dark shadows, and very little traffic. The beauty of the area made the trip go by in pleasant delight.

We passed the entrance to the playa not recognizing it without the city to pull us in, turned around and drove back to the rocky entrance and down to the playa floor, all crusted over with a slightly dampish look. Stephanie made me stop about a hundred feet onto the playa so she could get out and look at the tires to make sure we weren’t gathering up playa muck, heading to a stuckness that would require us all to take the long walk back to Gerlach. She was satisfied but still nervous as I sped out onto the playa letting go of the steering wheel at times with nothing to obstruct our progress. I thought that there would surely be some evidence of the road in and the streets of Black Rock City, but there was none. There was absolutely nothing to indicate that anything happened in this wide open space, unrelieved by any artifact. Nothing. What appeared to be chunks of burnt debris, possible evidence of the last burn, turned out to be … black rocks!!!

So I drove out to what seemed like the middle where Rick and I thought we might be “on site,” stopped, and we all got out. There was nothing but the sound of wind in our ears and the uninterrupted flatness of the playa. Then we started to look around. MOOP! Not much but some. Several tiny beads shaped like skulls were “floating” on the crusty surface, spread out over a twenty foot radius. We imagined somebody’s broken necklace lost in the dust, floating apart after the first rain. Then a few nuts, a bolt with wingnut attached. My mind pictured sturdily made structures of fantastic form and texture, these small parts of their fastenings left like molted feathers of birds long since flown away. We found a hair pin with a half dozen sparkly sequins and a large, nail-like stake with only the top exposed. I kicked it loose and pulled it out. I imagined the dusty playa wind ripping the tarp off of the grommet that was still attached. We walked around for a while finding a few tiny bits of wire and a couple of coins and decided it was time to leave. As I opened the door to get in the car, Rick told me to look down, and just outside the door was a two inch tall simple welded wire image of The Man. What a fantastic end to our time on the playa. What seemed like ten minutes had actually been an hour and we were all happy and content with our experience there.

The drive back to Reno was just as spectacular as the drive out and we arrived in Reno as darkness gave the downtown its brightly lit sparkly splendor. It was a sad place. All this brightness lit up to lure in the desperate seekers of a fortune that even if they won it would not satisfy their need for light in their souls. I think of the color and light on the playa during burning man and realize that we bring them as an expression of our inner light. Brought to share, and to join together the lights of our beings to create joy and pleasure and maybe a little inspiration for our lives there and beyond. As we drove home the next day I realized that I wanted to see how it happened and that some year, maybe this next one, I would spend more time after the burn helping to clean up the playa to recreate what we had just seen, the clean fresh playa, waiting for our return.

The Cyclopath

by Justine Smith

The Cyclopath rides up, and stops next to me. Moments ago, my bike suffered a broken chain in the depths of the desert. The sun beats down on my second day, in my first year on the playa.

He looks freaky. Wrapped in torn black shreds, covered in dust, he looks at me and smiles, “Your chain is broken.” I find this obvious statement hilarious and laugh. He responds by detaching a small black toolbox from the rack over his rear tire, and begins sifting through the implements within.

Pulling out a small tool I have never seen, and won’t again for many years, he squats down next to my flaccid chain. A few grunts and whistles later, my chain is whole again. I feel whole as well. The stranger introduces himself. I feel my name as something foreign, not suitable for this exchange.

The Cyclopath rides into the void.

I come again and again, hoping to find him, thank him, tell him I came back for him, because of him. I find everyone but him. But he is there, I feel it. And he must remember me, and that moment of synchronicity. Two strangers well met on the playa, providing something for each other.


by Karen Tracy

I finish packing my van and begin driving to the fabled BurningMan event on the playa on Wednesday, 6:30 in the morning, with my cat Bela. Arrive in Black Rock City late Wednesday – 16 hours of driving. I’ve never driven 16 hours before. Ever. The rare air circulating about this near legendary event kindles a kind of sleepless excitement.

Wake to meet my neighbor. Lovely little woman named Ace. Her show-and-tell includes a found object, just lying there in the dust as she was walking back from the porta-potties, a butane lighter with a color image of the Ace of Hearts on it.

“Sucker works, too” she told me. Thus the magic begins.

Attribute one sparkle of this magic to use of handles. Not love handles. Handles like CB handles which take the place of names that your mother would recognize. “Playa names” they’re called. Mine is Joshua. Curiously, folks use imagery in their monikers, which could be famously flattering or perhaps quite the opposite. Beast. 2Wild. Misery. Wicked. Junkyard. Tadpole, Mysterious lovely people with unknown identities make for magic.

Ace is camped with PortaPlaya. He takes me couple of nights later to a local hot spring for a hot soak under simply magnificent stars. The $20-out-then-back-in policy lapses for staff and other early arrivals leaving to use the hot springs. Up to the time the event opens it’s OK to go soak and return free of charge as long as you have your laminates. But I get ahead of myself.

Black Rock City, the playa, Burning Man. One place, infinite characterizations. The curious first-timer needs an open mind and a near death-grip on the Survival Guide. The experienced Burner still strains to relate an encapsulated version:


The town I call home in Reality Camp or Default World or the real world is one-third the size of Black Rock City. For one week every year, the magnitude of this experiment in radically self-expressed community-building challenges a vastly expanded imagination. Matt Taibbi reporting for Rolling Stone even calls it “God’s own playground”. Matt also complains that the entire event speaks to elitist, self-selected, white art snobs with techno-savvy mascots building dream machines and adult toys.

I disagree. The dream machines and adult toys, present in abundance, are manifestations of this mostly white club of “Burners.” All cultural creatives are invited, however. The irony of picturing Michael Franti next to color-restricted claims did not escape this participant. While the strife-torn black community self selects as a matter of survival, the Burner community lacks nothing in vitality or validity by virtue of being intentionally constructed. On the contrary, intentional communities notoriously fail for trying too hard. Not Black Rock City.

Larry Harvey, Burning Man’s demi-god & first Burner speaks now of a “gifting economy.” Bring what you have and give what you can. I make necklaces of ribbon and Chap-Stick. Another Burnette brings her Polaroid and lots of film. Each encounter produces a color keepsake. Playa gifts are a tradition but so are the enormous art projects.

In years before I became a Burner, commonly accepted protocol demanded “No Spectators.” Participants, well, they participated. Producing theme camps. Erecting massive art worthy of any large city. Interacting in compulsively creative applications, like the long gone drive-by shooting range. But logical extrapolation to the current 35,700+ census requires morphing the previous protocol.

Now Burning Man embraces rules, and spectators. Witness the recent “Malcolm In The Middle Goes To Burning Man” episode. Like any fair sized city, we have constructs and constructors. DPW, or Department of Public Works, builds our streets and our signs. They’re a grungy, kinda goth, highly effective bunch. Early in the week, I lose my laminates, those precious plastic ID cards we worker B’s wear around our necks. They just unclipped themselves and dropped into the dust somewhere. Several hours later and a mile from where I noticed my lams missing, I’m taking in the assembly of a 3-story wooden clock tower. A DPW rig rolls up with the driver holding up my laminates comparing the photo with my face. More magic.

Place I “work” is inside the fence the cops call home. Sign even says “Law Enforcement Only.” On the playa dust, I find a spray-painted body outline like a crime scene, with shell casings scattered about. Humorous Law Enforcement art installation. One of Black Rock City’s cops, Cladwell, has gone and left home without his shaving kit. He’s not minding the growth on his face but lacking a toothbrush and toothpaste, he’s hating the growth on his teeth. He asks me plaintively if I know the unpleasant effect of trying to get by with soap and a fingertip instead. He’s impressed to tears when I produce a case of both toothbrushes and Crest. I function as one of Black Rock City’s emergency dentists, among other things. Cladwell is his playa name and his idea of being well clad is wearing a condom on his head. He’s a virgin Burner, here for the first time and he fits right in. He’s now completely convinced of the magic in this place.

Bunny, a fellow Ranger grabs at a flying piece of paper in the wind. Turns out to be a vehicle pink slip. Walking windward, she discovers a family setting up camp and they ask if they are OK to camp here. She’s not even in uniform; she has the cutest smile. She reads out the name on the pink slip and hops away after handing the astonished participant his pink slip.

“Synchrondipity” my wordsmithed creation conveys the synchronous serendipity that permeates Black Rock City. Late in the week, I exhaust myself on the silks learning to climb and do tricks on vertical fabric ropes in Firefly Ariel Dance School. I share with Cladwell that I’ve developed a very sore throat and we both smile knowingly when he produces an unopened bag of zinc lozenges.