Veteran burner that he is, my boyfriend also is a self-proclaimed minimalist. Which means he’d been happy in a small tent at Burning Man, never entertaining the option of RV camping. I was fine with a tent, too, until we “crossed over” last year and decided to rent one. He decided to do this because his East-coast-fair-skinned-doctor brother had finally consented to come with us to BM. And then, his brother changed his mind at the last minute and didn’t go. That left us with a twenty-foot space for the two of us.
With extra room in the RV, we decided to stop in Reno at the ride-share and pick up a few fellow burners on the way. There were several people waiting for rides. Some told us they’d arranged for their rides already. That left three.
The first two were friendly virgin Burners from Israel. They said they’d just finished their stint in the army so had decided to travel to the U.S. for BM. Both were really excited about their first Burn.
My boyfriend took me aside. “It’s fine for us to give the two young guys a ride, but we need to ask the third guy as well. I found out he’s been waiting here for a long time for a ride.”
I gulped. The “third guy” was a little more intimidating then the polite Israelis. In fact, those two were now sharing their coffee with the others who were waiting. This other guy was standing alone, head down, surveying the dust on his black boots. In fact, he was dressed completely in black and also had some kind of black cape draped around him. His hair was greasy and hung down to his shoulders.
“Are you sure we have to ask him?” I whispered to my boyfriend.
“Yes. He was here first. And it’s the Burning Man way. We have plenty of room.” He nudged me again to go ask this other guy while he filled our water containers.
Reluctantly, I approached and asked him if he needed a ride to BRC. He nodded and said with a grateful tone that he did. And this was John.
The two Israeli guys, Yoav and Tal, chattered away in the RV. They’d already arranged to join a theme camp once there. John was quiet but offered that he’d be camping alone.
I found that John was way more minimalistic than my boyfriend could ever be. He didn’t have a tent but planned to sleep under a small tarp. He had the bare amount of food for survival, mostly some kind of sausages from Mexico. I was relieved when he showed me that he’d brought water bags.
It was easy to become friends with Yoav and Tal. Even after we dropped them off at their camp, they often stopped by to see us at ours. In fact, they ended up traveling back to California with us afterward and staying with us for a week.
But John became our friend, too. Because he had a quieter nature, it took a bit longer to get to know him than our other two new friends. John had a gentleness about him that didn’t show through when you took that first glance. Soft-spoken, he also showed a caring and considerateness when you least expected it.
We found this out because we invited John to stay at our camp with us and share the shade structure. He didn’t often let me share our food, but occasionally took it. He wanted to be self-reliant. Sometimes he let me give him Gatorade and water, especially when his water store was depleted. I found it interesting talking to him, learning about his life which was so very different than mine.
I felt bad for having been reluctant to invite him to go with us on that first day. If I hadn’t we would have missed out on some of the things that I love about Burning Man: making new friends and being able to be yourself without judgment from other people.
And that was John. He taught me a lot, not by what he said but by what he did. He was purely himself, in Burning Man and out of BM. The first day there he stripped off his black clothes until he had nothing on but his boots and hat.
I looked into his clear, blue eyes. And I wondered how I could have ever been afraid of him.