Ripe

The first drink I ever legally bought myself was a $7 airplane beer on the flight to Burning Man 2008. It was my first time. The theme was The American Dream, and as far as I could tell, this was it. Happy 21st birthday to me.

Diesel, my lover and associate, was in the seat beside me. She had more than something to do with getting me into this. We shared a blood brother, Harry; he and I played in a band together, and he was coming, too. There was also Val, AKA Human, another friend of theirs, whom I was just getting to know. But Vivid was the one who brought this all together. To the extent that going to Burning Man was any one person’s idea, it was his.

PHOTO: Jon Mitchell

Vivid hailed from Mendo, and he was in with the Phat Cat Lounge, a wild younger-brother camp to the Skinny Kitty Teahouse, which appeared to be a venerable outfit. He had the plan. Diesel and I would fly out to Oakland from Boston, where he, Val, and Harry would pick us up, and we’d strap our bags to the roof of his Subaru and take a midnight drive into the hills. The next day, we would buy supplies and try not to forget anything. Then, the day after, we’d go to Burning Man.

At some point that Spring, I remember Vivid saying “We should go to Burning Man,” and I remember replying “Hell yeah.”

But how did I know what to say? Why didn’t I have to ask “What’s Burning Man?”, a question I would try to answer for years hence? I was from Atlanta, not the West Coast. My parents enjoy rock and roll music, but they just don’t get dubstep. I had romantic visions of Woodstock and Wattstax and the March on Washington. I yearned for mass demonstrations of the human spirit, but when I was told I should go to Burning Man, how did I know that was the one?

Burning Man started the year before I was born. Was it always part of the ambience? Did I just pick it up out of the airwaves? Wow, what a cosmic idea. No, I had to be exposed to it by culture-makers. I know the punchline of the Malcolm In The Middle episode, so I must have seen that at some point. That came out in ’05, the same year I went to some kind of one-night costume party in Atlanta called Ripe.

PHOTO: Jon Mitchell
PHOTO: Jon Mitchell

What was Ripe? Was it a regional burn? I don’t even know if it was affiliated. It seems that the Ripe website has moved to Japan, so who knows? I remember understanding that it was “like Burning Man,” though. It was, sort of. It had fire dancing, port-a-potties, and blinky lights. It even had little art cars. My friends and I participated, too. We brought large post-it pads, wrote little ditties and drew doodles on them, then we stuck them on walls and port-a-potty doors, inviting others to deface them at will.

Looking back on this little art project makes me proud. It was spontaneous, it encouraged participation, and it was collaborative. This kind of sharing was instinctual to us, and it was right in line with what I would learn and practice later at Burning Man.

Ripe was “like Burning Man” philosophically, but it couldn’t hold a candle physically. People biked to it, but there was no room to bike inside the gates. I doubt I ever even mentioned Ripe to my crew of virgin Burners, because we all understood Burning Man to be something of serious significance, “really big,” “like a city.” This was our expectation.

PHOTO: Tom Pendergast

I don’t think I was prepared, though, to have my expectations blown away, as I did. It caused us to coin a new word, since the ones we knew all failed to convey the magnitude of the 2008 burn to first-timers. We called it “giganto.” No retrospective can convey my first impression as well as what I wrote on the playa at the time, and thank god I have that.

See, at my first burn, I had my head down writing as soon as I could process what was happening. Fortunately, that took four days, but by Thursday, I was reporting furiously, trying to distill something about Burning Man I could share with the default world. This meant I was sitting back and observing, like some kind of tourist in a Hawaiian shirt, and this left me with more questions than answers about what I had just experienced, when it was all over. It hasn’t been like that since.

PHOTO: Jon Mitchell

My desire to share Burning Man has increased dramatically. And look at me now, on the Burning Blog. How very Millennial. But now, at least, I have found a balance between sharing with the default world and Immediacy on the playa.

What’s changed? I’ve realized how much Burners miss home in the colder months of the year. Millennial sharing instincts have proven helpful for this.

If I’ve learned anything yet about documenting Burning Man, it’s this: Don’t say “look how cool my week at Burning Man was,” when you could be asking, “remember how cool our week at Burning Man was?”

I believe this is the goodness at the heart of the Millennial Attitude, this sharing instinct. And that’s one of our core principles, isn’t it?

About the author: Jon Mitchell

I'm the managing editor at Burning Man. I wrote this book and this record. I co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012, which lives at templestories.com. I've been a Burner since 2008.

4 thoughts on “Ripe

  • 2008 was my first burn as well, so I completely understand what you mean when you say you were blown away by the sheer SCALE of the thing. I remember climbing the "Elevation" installation, sitting in the chair at the very top, and marveling at how BIG it all was and how amazing people are to create so much beauty.

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  • Wow, Cat, thanks for your comment. It gave me a Burner spine-tingle moment, because I received it literally three seconds after clicking “Submit” on a new Burning Man post.

    That moment for me was atop the Babylon tower. I would have been out of my mind marveling at the thing, but there were these two musicians, totally mellow, dressed up in stars and stripes and drumming and picking on a banjo, and it made it all seem, impossibly, kind of understandable.

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