July 8th, 2011  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Little Stories

July 8th, 2011  |  Filed under 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.

That moment when you’re leaning against the railing of some art car, dazed, head lolling to the music. It’s chilly and late, and you wonder if your night is over. Then again, it isn’t up to you. It’s up to the driver of this mutant vehicle, and she doesn’t seem to be very interested in the 3 o’clock plaza, your corridor back to camp. Your fellow Burner pokes you in the ribs.

“Wake up!” he insists.

“I’m awake,” you concede.

Photo: Mischa Steiner


The moment a passer-by smiles at you from underneath a carved, wooden wild boar mask with broken, black tusks.


The moment the man stands up in the sweat hut, as naked as everyone, and starts singing “Hey Jude.” You wonder what his job is in the default world.


Photo: Chance

The moment you slice your knuckle with the dull multi-tool trying to punch the last hole in the last tennis ball to cover the last stake, setting up your tent on the first day.

You would have been done, ready, finally at home, but now you’re washing blood and playa off your hand, opening last year’s dusty first aid kit, swabbing with alcohol, wrapping a bandage, and laughing at yourself.


When I remember Burning Man, the memories never arise in any particular order. Some smell or photograph or garment on the closet floor will send me backward through time to some precise moment in the middle of a week in the desert.

Those memories don’t seem to lose their vividness. They all feel like little stories, not just dry recollections of facts or events. They’re different from default-world memories.

What if we could see our everyday experiences as little stories like that?


Photo: Chance

The moment you recoil in horror, rounding a corner in some dark camp in the middle of nowhere, following macabre, crackling jazz, and seared into your memory forever are the unending gyrations of two disgusting, freak-show shadow puppets copulating like pornographic devils, driven by some infernal piston.

Only later that night does it become the funniest thing that has ever happened to you.


That moment when you’re just walking the Esplanade at night, minding your own business, when the whole horizon lights up and a fireball unfurls into the sky, and you realize that an artful structure that was a playground to you only yesterday has just been immolated by its creators.


The moment you and the person with whom you’ve been sitting for hours, hiding out from a nasty dust storm, realize you don’t know each other’s names.


That moment, late in the afternoon, when the tires hit paved road on 447 after idling in the dust all day long, and you realize you’re leaving, it’s over, and you’re going back.

And an hour later, you lock eyes with the gas station attendant and wonder what in the world he sees.


What moments do you remember best?

Photo: Chance

Submit your Tales From the Playa at reflections@burningman.com

41 Responses to “Little Stories”

  1. John Glueck Says:

    That moment – early in the morning, the sun just rising, your on the inner playa, alone and an art car goes past. Sitting on top, is a lone woman. You lock eyes, pass smiles, and in an instant a wonderful memory is forever burned into you mind.

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  2. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Howdy. Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, follow me on Twitter @JonMwords, or contact me through jonmitchell.me and let me know what you thought!

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  3. Fabiovieira Says:

    That Moment – Is every night when i am riding my bike towards the Esplanade and all i see is lights and fire and the closer i get the bigger the chills i get cuz i know i am about to enter e new world – I love it -

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  4. Molly Says:

    That moment when you’re crossing the playa and you compliment someone’s sparkling pink purse and they take it off and give it to you…without expecting anything in return.

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  5. Mikey Says:

    For at least two months after I got back home, I looked strangers on the street in the eye and said Hi to them. Made me wonder why we don’t do it every day.

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  6. Q Says:

    The moment when you are standing alone watching the glittering blazing amazing technicolor light fantastic happening right before your very eyes – thinking, god I wish I were sharing this with someone, anyone it doesn’t matter; and someone you’ve never met, and will never see again, takes your hand – like they were reading your mind.

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  7. Jason Cole Says:

    The moment I remember best (so far) is drinking from a water bottle on a trampoline with as much nonchalant gusto I’ve ever created and keeping a complete stranger from going to jail because the police officer who was 15 feet from that stranger (who had hidden a bong we all just used in his lap) turned tail and apologised to us saying he ‘had mistaken a water bottle for something else’.. The hwole group was so stunned and I was tripped out about the whole thing I left first and without getting the guys name or letting him thank me.. He was in a bit of shock too.

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  8. Erika Shmerika Says:

    It’s your first burn, you are handed a ticket and swept away without knowing what the hell Burning Man is. It’s that first moment, riding onto the playa on your newly freaked out bike, seeing the amazing landscape, art and people, looking everyone in the eyes and letting all your cooped up energy gush out of your body, feeling a shiver going through your entire body, and realizing this is not just a giant party in the desert, but a community that stands for so much more than you ever thought, and then realizing this is gonna be one fucking awesome week! ~*~ Then at the end of the week, you realize just how much Burning Man has opened and changed you.

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  9. Butterrcup Says:

    That moment… hasn’t happened for me yet. First time on the Playa this year and spending some of that time as a first time Greeter welcoming y’all home and helping to create a lot of first moments for others!

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  10. Pyx Says:

    Cuddling up on the outskirts of the playa and looking for shooting stars under the huge streak of the milky way galaxy with some cute boy who I’d only met a few hours before and never saw again.

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  11. Jennifer Schilling Says:

    My eyes teared up reading these…b/c they are all true….and the thought of not going this year just tears my heart in two!!!

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  12. DhammaSeeker Says:

    That moment of bliss when you walk to the back of the Temple and look up to find an honest-to-god unicorn backlit by the setting sun writing a heartfelt inscription. And the corresponding moment of joy back in the default world when you discover that exact moment was captured by someone and posted on YouTube! http://is.gd/bQ2DE8

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  13. Bolt Says:

    While searching for my bike for 4 hrs after the burn & sandstorm one year,
    I meet this awesome lady who gave me a chocolate ball
    laced with cayenne pepper & some euphoric supplement. Tasted good, kept me warm and it kept me alive )*(. I ended up finding my bike too & camp with a little chocolate ball to spare!

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  14. Ranger Siggo Says:

    Sitting with a perfectly cooked burger someone had made (gifted) to me, late afternoon, perfect temperature. Stranger walks up and hands me a cold beer and says “here, this will go perfect with that” Feeling so grateful and overwhelmed that I stood up, took off the most amazing playa gift I have ever been given (a hand-crafted stainless-steel necklace with my Playa name on it) and gave it to him without reservation. I have never had a moment when I felt so at peace with all things.

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  15. Shaymana Says:

    It was my eleventh year, and her first. Very early in the week and she was just seeing the inner playa for the first time ever at night. I was exuberant; looking and talking and telling her what I wanted to go do and see. She was speechless. I asked her why she was not talking. She just silently looked me in the eye and then gestured at the 360 degrees of amazing. I laughed. Realizing that it was her first wide-eyed moment, I took a minute to slowly turn a circle and take it all in again through her eyes. “I love this place and I love everyone here!”, I yelled at the top of my lungs! We hugged and then commenced our adventure night out.

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  16. NicePeace Says:

    That moment you realize you have never been to the Playa was about to sell your ticket, and starting reading these moments with tears in your eyes and wondered how you could miss it again this year. I will be there for new moments. THIS is my right of passage!


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  17. Issimo Says:

    The moment in the default world when I made a long awaited visit to a neon covered, jumbo-tron infested, tourist destination and realized that I couldn’t bear the fact that it had all been built to fleece my pockets and guarantee that every performer got every dime and more that they could milk from the people who came to see them. I had seen the gift of art for the first time on the playa and knew that it was the only way to truly experience it. Unconditionally gifted.

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  18. Oom Says:

    The first time, waiting for the Man to burn. Tens of thousands of us, all lit up in all the ways there are. Gorgeous art cars mingle with the people, flinging glowing sounds and colors at the black desert night. Everyone is on the same vibration, doing this improbable thing in an inconvenient place. Astounding.

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  19. Nurse Bacon Says:

    The moment I realized this was truly a family reunion of like minded and kind hearted folks. The moment my husband proposed to me. Riding bikes with one of my dearest friends. Sunrise cruises with my Armageddon crew.

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  20. Granger Says:

    You’ve bought your generator and espresso machine to the playa. Your friend has bought his motorized trike, which just happens to be tricked-out like the Starship Enterprise. Together, you set out just before dawn, the morning after the Burn, on the Star Trek Trike with 5 lbs of coffee, milk, sugar, the generator, and the espresso machine. You see people off in the hazy distance, tired people, who are far from their camps, and who have been out dancing all night long. You plot a course for them, drive right up, and offer to make them whatever kind of fancy espresso drink their heart desires. In a state approaching disbelief, they say “No way!”. You say “Yes way!”, and prove it by making them one. They can hardly believe how good it tastes, because when it comes to pulling shots of espresso, you don’t f*ck around. Hugs and smiles abound! Two weeks later, you’re back in SF, talking to your friend about The Burn. You tell him about your Star Trek Trike espresso venture. In a state approaching disbelief, he says “No way!”. He says “no way”, because, coincidentally, his roomate, a person unknown to you, came back from the playa and told him a story about how these crazily dressed MoFo’s on a Star Trek Trike, drove up to him the morning after the Burn, when his need was deepest, and there in the middle of the dusty, vast wasteland, made him the best cappuccino he had ever tasted!

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  21. Lazer fingers Says:

    Hmmm, specific moments . . Arriving in 2003 to a dust storm and realizing I wanted to turn around and get the hell out of there. Going to a certain activity listed in the WWW and finding myself in an open group sex venue. The first Burn fireworks in 2003. My first trip through the Human Carcass Wash. My first Monday opening ceremony with Crimson Rose. Dr. Megavolt. The Crude Awakenings fireball. The first bike ride up to the huge stupendous Euchronia in 2006 was an ooh ah moment equivalent to the first look at into the Grand Canyon, stepping out the tunnel into the open in the Roman Colosseum, and the first take off in an airliner- just spine chilling awesome ! (it burned nicely too).
    Generic moments, ones that always get me . . . Leaving 447 and hitting the playa. The man collapsing. Spotting delightful people in delightful garb. Dust storms (I have learned to love them). Monday opening ceremony. Big bursts of flames from various sources. Sunsets. Sunrises. Ice cold drinks in the heat of the afternoon.

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  22. Lazer fingers Says:

    Oh yeah one more notorious one. The moment I looked down the 6:30 axis under the lunar eclipse monday around 3 am and realizing the man was burning.

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  23. HikerTed Says:

    Waiting in a line for hours to get a massage that never happens cuz the masseuse never returns from lunch but it doesn’t matter at all cuz I just became friends with a beautiful lady from Kazakstan who taught me the beginning steps to Tai Chi. This is the most amazing, indescribable place on earth…and I can’t wait to return!

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  24. Darwin Says:

    The moment when I turned to the person jammed quite close to me for several hours on a human propelled art car and finally introduced myself. Of course she said, I’m Susan and I never forget a neighbor. Then the memories roll in of saving a neighbors camp from blowing away. Six of us trying to hold it down while others drove in our spare rebar stakes. It was taking off like an airplane. She painted my fingernails with dayglo paint as thanks, now I remember.

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  25. GoatBoy Says:

    Arriving in staging my first year, getting in a megaphone screaming match, then getting fed the most amazing moonshine by some crazy red neck…

    Lounging and drinking at the Petting Zoo, meeting people there I could talk to with out words…

    The Ganesha bus appearing dramatically out of a nasty night time dust storm… the expressions on peoples faces at the moment… still gives me chills…

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  26. TwoHott Says:

    So many moments…

    Ok, my first moment. My first night on the playa as an obvious virgin. I wander up to the biggest art I see – Crude Awakening. They tell me to go away — they are not quite ready yet. So what do I do? I simply said the magic words, “Really, need a hand? Can I help?” I never felt so welcome. Went from being part of the problem to a participant in the solution in four words. What awesome people. I still treasure the beautiful playa gift from the beautiful people working on that awesome work.

    Love you all!

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  27. Corvus Says:

    Walking from Fire of Fires into the dark, trying to figure which set of lights is Raygun Gothic Rocket. The wind picks up and a dust cloud rolls over me. It’s not very high — I can still see stars overhead — but down where I’m at all the lights are gone, invisible in the murk. I pause, thinking I could get lost, then realize the dust doesn’t inhibit the sound from the 10 o’clock oontz camps, I can hear them in that direction over there. It is then I realize I will never be lost in BRC — sound camps or no — it is the default world in which I get lost. (Never did find the Rocket that night, though)

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  28. swervy Says:

    The moment i got out of the car for my first burn and a white painted ghost came out of the darkness and told me he was God and to give him things to eat, and I realized i was in for one hell of a ride..

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  29. Homiesinheaven Says:

    watching the dust slowly roll in to engulf the neon horizon while out near the trash fence late at night. the blending of all the techno into one horrible nightmare of sound yet, it’s all beautiful and peaceful:


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  30. Q Says:

    That moment when you realize…. SHARK ATTACK!

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    The moment when I’m tripping hard, sitting at camp tying knots for the big spin and my brother pulls up in the same mind set on a borrowed bike. He says to me “you have to try this it’s fantastic.” So I get on and go in a small circle and come back to the the project at hand. At that moment he realizes I am having a way better time then him on the bike. Burning Man 1996 Rave camp

    Being pulled by sound towards the clanker, a jungle gym of scrap metal, and oil drums somewhere on the open Playa. Proceeded to start banging on the scrap with the mini spin. Then their was silence, I got a little nervous and thought that maybe I just ruined the groove that was going on. So I stepped away and circled around this sonic heap until I found the oil drums. I started laying down a steady pounding bass beat, after a couple of bars the clanker exploded into a percussive free for all. The mini spin shattered. I made it back later in the week but it wasn’t the same, no rhythm. To this day I have no idea, what or where it was, and I never saw it in the day. Good Times Burning Man 2000

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  32. Tangerine Says:

    The moment I was greeted by the greeters was like I was coming home for the first time~Stepping onto the playa barefoot & feeling the playa going through my toes~Seeing my first sunrise on the open playa-breath taking-having a complete stranger approach me with sun screen and then proceeding to rub some sunscreen on my already beat red shoulders while I was trying(trying)to dig a hole on the playa to display the brass burning man figure I had made~I was startled at first & this lady just said”oh, honey you are frying out here please let me put some on so you can enjoy the rest of your first week I said “Thank u so much”& then she was gone~Hearing & then seeing Dr. mega volt(The god of electricity)Amazing~Receiving the human package(Richie) on the big metal fire breathing Dragon (I DIDN’T GET TO RIDE ON DAMMIT)This poor guy had been blind folded & hadn’t even seen the playa(after he had been there 13 hours until he was delivered to me Via UPS (United playa service)I had to sign for him & everything~we took him all over until we couldn’t stand him being blind folded any longer so we ordered him to take his blind fold off~He was so grateful that the next morning we discovered a thank u note & a little karate bear at our camp~He was camping a block away from us~Trippy~Shaving the burning man into my (husband now)boyfriends chest boy did he get a lot of compliments~It was way better the next year cuz he had the man shaved on his chest & back~(If anyone remembers big Daddy hair bears chest & back & has pictures e-mail me I would love to see all the pics that were taken)Cotton mouth monkey boy hanging on the lamp lighter posts out of his mind & having a grand time~hula hooping ladies dressed in animal fur outfits wearing ass less chaps in center camp mesmerizing~my little sex vixen Pocahontas I wanted to play with her but she didn’t want to~saving mickey mouse and all the human lab rats in that god awful fucking stupid maze under the man~I could ramble for years but I’m done now~My years are 2000-2001-2005~I will come home again!Love to all my family & fellow burners~See U out on THE PLAYA!~P.s.2001 was the Best year when I saw the man burn with no problems,Interruptions,or foul play~Love you Mr.Man!

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  33. Tangerine Says:

    I’m sorry I cursed please take the cuss words out I didn’t read the comment policy till after I posted~please post the rest if U like it!Thank U

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  34. Smooches Says:

    My most profound moments are tied together by 3 years. In 2005, a dear friend died suddenly Wednesday night of a massive heart attack. We wore silver cloth armbands as a sign of friendship and love.

    In 2008, I am working on the Temple Crew, Basura Sagrada. It’s early in the morning and I’m walking out to the porta-potty in the bright sunshine. As I look where I am stepping, there is a silver armband on the playa waiting for me.

    Thank you Sam Rich.

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  35. Biff Says:

    That moment, when you arrive and are trying to find your camp, the frustration starts to set in, you pull over, get out of the car, sit down, crack open a frosty cold adult malt beverage and start pondering on what a great fucking week you are about to have.

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  36. zephyrmuse Says:

    The moment ,first burn my first time at the temple and i find my self crying and i dont know why i am but finding it as a beging of a relise of all 38 nyears of emotion i have been hideing deepinside for what ever reason i had ,and haveing my best friend see me cry and hold me and say it all right ,then later watching the temple burn feeling the same emotion again but feeling better at the same time cause i relised it ok to cry

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  37. almost there Says:

    The moment you are caught in the middle of a dust storm and you find yourself thinking about the girl you made plans with before the burn to meet on the playa. You think to yourself “I wish I would have printed out that damn email. I wonder where she is.”

    And all of a sudden, she materializes from the dust storm in all her playa glory and gives you a kiss.

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  38. Rev Says:

    Volunteering at the airport last year on Saturday, cause, why the hell not?

    Toward the end of my shift, a pilot walks past and says, “Hey you. Want to go up?” YES.

    So we do a beautiful tour of Black Rock Desert, and when we’re coming in for approach, about 75 feet above the playa, the dashboard starts to spark and smoke. He calmly cuts the engine, and we glide in for a landing, opening the doors to let the smoke billow out.

    Moral: I flew into Burning Man, on Burn Night, in a plane that was on fire. The trifecta.

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  39. Miss GO Says:

    The moment a few days before you leave when you wake up and realize that you are heading back to the place you call home, and the moment when you get out of the car for the first time and are astounded that you made it back yet again. The moment when you realize that one week from now it will only be monday! And then you ponder the marvelous week ahead of you..

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  40. Luscious Lucy Lips Says:

    That moment when you look at your little sister who is just blossoming in front of your eyes, as she is standing there dusty and crying with joy and grief and being completely overwhelmed

    That moment with your fur-lined playa coat becomes a pillow, and a blanket for two, because it can.

    That moment when you decide to hop another art-car, only you realize it’s moving a little too quickly. You jump on, it’s going to fast to balance, you jump back off… only to your dismay the ground isn’t moving and you tumble hard, smiling for the fuck of it..

    That moment when the bartender pulls out his slow-roast pork in mole sauce, just for you to try…

    That moment when you realize the person sitting across from you has done an entire case of whippets in about 30 minutes…

    That moment when your good friend tries to shoot your leg out wrestling style in the middle of the dance floor while wearing a bunny-suit onesy…

    That moment when you’re dancing, she’s dancing, and she looks back over her shoulder into your eyes, then stares at your mouth… waiting.

    That moment when you realize this guy has been drinking far too much beer and not enough water or electrolytes and could possibly be at risk for dehydration. So you force feed him 2 liters of emergen-C water.

    That moment when you’re at your desk and realize you can’t even feel the residue of the what you felt so strongly while covered in dust, stinking like a work-horse, hot under your shade structure. You know you’re missing something, and can even identify it, but have no way of getting it back.

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  41. Jon Mitchell Says:

    @Luscious Lucy Lips: I feel you on every single one. Especially the little sister one. This was my brother’s first burn. He was a champion.

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