August 26th, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

A Magician Explores the Souk

A map of the Souk (your results may vary)

A map of the Souk (your results may vary)

Walking towards the Man in the darkness, Lyn said “Can we veer over in this direction?  I want to see that … that … thing.  It looks like an interesting thing.”

They all do.  We veered, and were confronted by a large circular structure with an impossible number of doors in.  How many were there?  12?  20?  30?  We didn’t count, instead focusing on the fact that there was nothing to distinguish one door from another – or what happened when you chose one over another.

There was nothing to do but choose … and hope.  We each picked different doors and walked in.

Inside, the back of each door was beautifully printed with an image of one of the Tarot deck’s major arcana, along with the card’s name and a brief description.  Lyn had walked in through The Devil.  I had walked in through Death.

We shivered, looked at the center of the room – a kind of contemplative shrine – and then examined the beautiful artwork on the doors.  Because having just come in randomly, we now had to deliberately choose which way to exit.

The choice was relatively easy for me.  Lyn, however, was giving it great deliberation.  “I’ll see you outside,” I said at last.

She nodded, I opened my door, and was through.  The desert air was still warm – it was a beautiful night.

Waiting, I looked around at some of the other blinking/shinning/fiery/musical art pieces that people were dancing around, without too much interest. I’ve always had a take it or leave it attitude towards playa art that tries to stun you with visual effects, and a strong preference for playa art that asks you to make relevant choices.  I had just finished the thought when I saw Lyn, having chosen her exit, walking around the circular building looking for me.

We proceeded to the Man.  “I knew you’d choose the Magician,” she said as we walked.  “Guess what I chose?” Read more »

August 25th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

Opening Day: wet, not so wild


As Peanut put it, Burning Man pressed the “pause” button today, as heavy rains and hail prevented people from getting in and out of Black Rock City, caused widespread power outages, and intensified the misery of people waiting in the “will call” lines at the box office.

The gates to the city officially opened at 10 am on Sunday, and for most of the day it seemed like the event was off to a pretty good start, despite harsh weather during the build that forced everyone to hustle to catch up to schedule.

Things got further off track as Sunday progressed, though, with horror tales of people spending as many as eight hours in the will-call line. The scene at the gate last night was unprecedented. As people wound round and around waiting in line on foot to pick up their will-call tickets, there weren’t any cars ready to be processed through the gate.

It almost seems like there’s a new challenge in the ticket system every year, and this year it has been the backlog at the will call window. Nimbus, Burning Man’s ticketing manager, said in her seven years with the organization, she’s never seen so many people arrive at the will-call window in such a short time frame.

Megan Miller, Burning Man’s director of communication, said, “There are a lot of factors that we’re looking at. Some of it is in our control, and some of it isn’t.”

The contributing factors include the number of tickets that are sold electronically and require a check-in. Those include the 3,000 tickets that were sold in the “oh my god” final sale in July, the 4,000 low-income tickets, and the increasing number of tickets sold to international participants, who now are about 20 percent of the population (the organization does not ship tickets internationally). Plus, all the tickets re-sold through the STEP program also require a visit to the will-call window.

And then there are the vagaries caused by dependence on technology: If the wifi is down or bad weather is affecting satellite signals, the check-in process is slowed. It’s still the desert out here, you know, and things just don’t work they way they do in the default world.

The will-call line was hours and hours long

The will-call line was hours and hours long

Still, for the people who were already inside the city, although the rain and hail was scary at times, and made the roads impassible by virtually any means – foot, bicycle or vehicle, it also gave participants another opportunity to prevail over the elements.

The good planners knew that plastic bags wrapped around your shoes prevent “playa platforms” from building up on the soles of your shoes. That was really only the beginning of it, though.

There was the simple approach to getting around: no shoes at all. (The mud doesn’t stick to your feet.) Then there was the utilitarian approach: Black or clear plastic bags, zip-locked or taped. Then there was the fashion-forward approach: White plastic bags arising to mid-calf. And then there was Helen Hickman, who took advantage of the weather to invent a new genre of playawear: the trash suit.

“I must say, it’s very becoming,” Larry Harvey said as he walked around Rod’s Road, sidestepping the muddy clumps and randomly talking to people hoping to start their burn.

Helen had a message: “I have to tell everyone, trash-bag wear is going to be the thing this year.”

The fabulous Helen, aka Danger Ass

The fabulous Helen, aka Danger Ass

Read more »

August 24th, 2014  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir: The Friendliest Kidnapping

IMG_6425After the events of last year, I was stunned to bump into Augustus St. George on the play last night!  It was four in the morning, and he was walking with a couple of rangers out of Decadent Oasis, a camp I’d never known his to associate with.  I asked him what was up.  He didn’t seem happy to give me the answer, but then he never seems happy.  Here’s what he told me:

I’d said I wasn’t coming to Burning Man again, and I always keep my word to criminals, bartenders, and women with low expectations.  Duchamp’s team of layers had been on me like a pack of rats on a cheese plate after last year’s showdown, and I was happy to retire.  I took my savings and bought a little place in Half-Moon Bay, right by the ocean.  The ocean’s expanding and the coast is eroding, and it will be gone in 30 years.  But so will I.

I hate Half-Moon Bay.  It’s a town for people who have very high expectations of their children.  But I love sitting on my balcony with a glass of something strong at sunset, watching the sun change the color of the ocean.  I was planning to live like this.  Unless there was something good on television.  Then I was planning to watch it.

But on Saturday, there was a ring at my door.

I turned on the intercom.  “What?”  It’s what I say instead of “Who.”

“It’s Melinda,” she said.  “Open up.”

Read more »

August 24th, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa, Uncategorized


800px-Sunrise_Lens_FlareSunday night, after dark, I’m walking down 4 o’clock towards the Esplanade.  Deep in unpleasant thoughts, lost in my head already, as I sometimes get at Burning Man.

From the opposite direction, a young woman rides her bike towards me.  I can barely see her in the glare of her headlights.

As we pass each other she calls out “You know you’re going the wrong direction!”

I try to see her, but darkness and light are all I get.  “Which direction should I be going?” I call back.

“All of them!” she shouts, without a moment’s hesitation, and then is gone.



August 24th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC, Environment

Breathing Sea Monkeys

my old neighborhood

my old neighborhood

When you’re on the playa a certain number of hours, you acclimate. That number of hours depends on your constitution, but after all the preparation and anticipation, the packing, driving and making it to the event sign on 34 and pulling off the pavement then making your slow progress through the Gate and later, through Greeters, you find your camp and get your essential shit together. You unpack everything you brought with you because we have a tendency to bring everything just in case we need anything and you set up your essentials shelter and water. For a few hours you’ll spend time with camp mates who were already here and have acclimated, or you’ll wander, or you’ll just collapse into  sleep, submersed in an ambient glowing soundscape of a City that is coming alive around you.

That first sleep comes on strong, cool and windswept beneath shivering shadows cast by tents and shade structures, to sleep and to dream in this wide open space where nature is the ultimate governess. And each breath away from the barrage of the default world we are all complicit in creating, complete with alluring suggestions regarding what you should believe and buy, each breath will clear your mind of any unhappy maniacal anxious material monkeys that our society packs on your shoulders all year, those screeching little rascals who crawl up your spine and tend to make you insane daily. You’ve worked on your art to gift, planned and set aside some of the tribute you pay to the world behind to come and camp out here to contribute to a community that’s one some of us believe is something that could be better than the one we leave behind.  We’re experimenting each year, trying to fine tune this on playa situation and some of us are hoping enough of here seeps out into there.

Read more »

August 23rd, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

Three friends, the Temple, and the heart of BRC

Ziffy in the Center Cafe

Ziffy in the Center Cafe

Michael Ziff and Craig Mullin have been coming to Burning Man since 1999, which, because it was in the ‘90s, should and does garner mad respect. We think the dividing line for old school is the year 2000; if you attended before then, you’re old school; if you started coming after, well, we’re happy to have you …

Ziffy and Corky therefore qualify as old school,  and on Friday, just a couple of days before the event starts, they had one of those fundamental kinds of Burning Man experiences that you can’t make up, ones that seem to happen with an almost unsettling regularity, and which restore your faith that you’ve made the right decision to attend again.

Because honestly, it’s not easy to come here.

It’s not easy to step away from the life you know and the people you love and maybe the job you have, to put it all in a state of suspended animation, not for a vacation, but for immersion and energy and maybe even renewal and rebirth. Yes, yes, Burning Man is a dirt rave and a hippy party and a corral for sparkle ponies, we get all that.

But it is also the opportunity to burn things away, both literally and figuratively. It is looking again at the life you are living, looking at it through a different lens, and judging it by different standards. It’s hard not to do that here, because in spite of the recent (and not really new) stories about how Burning Man has become a playground for the tech elite, for most people, the experience is anything but a contest in opulence.

Layna Joy said it pretty well out at the Man Base the other day. She said, “People are the currency here, and I’m rich. Money means nothing.” The strength and freshness of your personality and the authenticity of your life is what counts here.

Ziffy and Corky first came to Burning Man in 1999, and they went to the first Temple ever specifically built for Burning Man in 2000. That was David Best’s first year, and it was the first year there was an identifiable place for solemnity and reverence and memorial and yes, sadness, at Burning Man.

And Ziffy and Corky were out at the Temple again yesterday, too, even as workers were installing decorative panels in the still-under-construction dome. They wanted to be in the Temple at the exact moment, 11:11 a.m., that their friend Daniel, back in Vancouver,  would have himself removed from life support and thus end his long battle against terminal cancer. Read more »

August 23rd, 2014  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

The Shrouded Man

man seidney erthalThis is my first little post from the Playa. It is a beautiful day, the temperature is in the mid 80s, there is a mild breeze, the theme camps are arriving and the city is getting populated. I have spent the day meeting new people in my camp, the pretty newbie from Georgia, and ever smiling photographer Fonzi, and hanging with 20 year veterans like Eggchairsteve. New family and old family. And then I ran into Sidney Erthal, my friend and a fabulous photographer, and we decided you might like to see a different view of the Man. Whether you are already on the Playa, on your way here, or staying home this year, this is the new Man, bigger and better than ever, topping off at over 100 feet. More later…

Photo: Sidney Erthal Photography 

August 22nd, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

Things come to a head

The Man rises from behind the souks that ring the perimeter

The Man rises from behind the souks that ring the perimeter

The Man got a head today, and he’s a better Man for it.

Actually, he’s had a head for some time now, but it just hadn’t been put on his body. That was rectified this morning when Bruiser, Joe the Builder and their crews lifted the 3,400-pound thing and put it atop his torso.

His enormous face is lined with blue neon, and the skull will glow with red light from within. The neon color scheme is similar to 2008’s American Dream, and the combined colors will cast a purplish/reddish glow. “Larry said he wanted a subdued effect,” Dana was saying as he watched the Man’s head lifted into place.

The Man site was quickly transformed from a work site to an installation site, and Oopah and his crews were putting the finishing touches on the tent-like Souks that ring the man on the ground. The Souks replace the Regional art installations this year, and rumors are flying about the guests who might make anonymous appearances in them to talk with Burners, so you’ll definitely want to check them out.

Bruiser and his dad before the lift began. "I'm just here to supervise," dad said

Bruiser and his dad before the lift began. “I’m just here to supervise,” dad said

This morning’s lift was almost anticlimactic from the drama of a couple of mornings ago when the Man’s legs were raised and his torso was put on top of them. All was smooth sailing, as Bruiser’s crane didn’t seem to strain in the slightest. Pirate maneuvered a boom lift to keep track of the guide wires, and Goatt was back on playa to help lower the head into place.

The process of building the Man’s head was quite a departure this year. Normally, the Man Krewe heads to the work ranch at the end of June and spends a week or so building the normal Man, then many of them head to the desert for Fourth of Juplaya. This year, though, most of the work was done right on site, right next to the Man Base crew, which did the construction on the Man’s body.

“Honestly, I’m kind of ready to be done with it,” Bodie was saying the other day. “It’s been a lot more intensive this year.”

Instead of building the same Man as they always do, with slight variations and embellishments to distinguish each year’s Man, this year the head had to be invented before it could be built. So it meant for long days, some setbacks, but at the end, a very worthy dome. “We were bent over, leaning backwards on 12-foot ladders,” Bodie was saying.

“There the head flies, and now I fly,” Commander Bob said as he watched the lift.

Commander Bob watches the lift

Commander Bob watches the lift

For Andrew Johnstone, who did the design of this year’s gargantuan Man, the feeling was a little different: “I feel like a giant weight has been transferred to the Man’s shoulders from my shoulders,” he said.

The design of the Man germinated a couple of years ago, even before last year’s giant flying saucer was built. Andrew said Larry came to him asked what seemed to be a rhetorical question: “What if we built a giant Man?” Andrew started ruminating on the idea, and now here it is.

The man’s head seems quite nicely perched on the spine, and there was a bit of wiggle room built into the process to allow for that. After that head was lowered onto the 20×20-foot spine, holes were drilled through the wood to fix its place.

And now that the head is where it belongs, and now that Black Rock City has its focal point, the big structure will go from being various pieces lying on the ground to perhaps the most-photographed object since the Golden Gate Bridge.

And it also seems that we’re that much closer to being ready for the gates to open, and that’s a fine thing, too.


The Man rests on the side before the lift began

The Man rests on the side before the lift began

Getting ready for insertion

Getting ready for insertion

The first lift

The first lift

Getting ready to receive the head

Getting ready to receive the head

Bruiser during the lift

Bruiser during the lift


The side of the Man's head

The side of the Man’s head


Metal Shop Heather getting ready to go



Brandon, Pirate and Joe the Builder held the guide wires in a boom lift as the Man’s head was lifted by the crane


It was a choreographed dance as the Man’s head ascended


Close to the top

Close to the top


There was an opening with half an inch clearing all around that had to sit on the Man's spine.

There was an opening with half an inch clearing all around that had to sit on the Man’s spine.

And at the end, the Man stood tall

And at the end, the Man stood tall