Anatomy of a prank gone wrong

Rockstar Librarian GuideBMIR is a major distribution site for the Rockstar Librarian Guide, which means they have people coming in and asking for it all the time.

Last year, the prevailing way to handle it was to shout “BOX!” over and over again at anyone who came in and asked for a guide.  “BOX!” we’d shout at them.  “BOX!” until they’d realize that the box they were standing right next to had a bunch in it.  Only then would we explain the rules about limiting them to one per camp to make sure they get the widest possible distribution.

That’s still happening this year, but there’s a lot of other approaches too.  BMIR Station Manager Mao’s favorite, when I’m around, is to tell them “Sorry, we just ran out.  We don’t have anymore.  But Caveat’s got it all in his head.  He’s basically the living Rockstar Librarian database.  So you can take him.”

They always give me a strange once over.  “What, you mean, like, ask him what shows we want to know about?”

“No,” says  Mao.  “Take him to your camp!  Go ahead.  It’s fine.  He’ll fill everybody at your camp in on whatever you need to know, and then you can send him back.  Keep him as long as you need.  He’ll be really good.”

This goes on for a while, but no one actually takes the bait, and eventually we tell them where the guidebooks are and give them the “one-per-camp” spiel.

But the other day, a young woman desperate to bring a Rockstar Librarian Guide back to her camp said.  “Um … okay.”

“Great,” I said, picking up my backpack.  “Where are we going?”

“Okay,” she said again, as though trying to convince herself.  “We’ll, um, take you back to camp.” (more…)

Respecting the badge

Zecon_Toll_BoothA sweltering 4 p.m. at 8:15 and A.  I’m sitting in a stranger’s camp recovering from the heat – they have been kind enough to mist me and offer water.  Across the street, I see something funny.

A young man and woman – in their early 20s if they were a day – have opened up a toll plaza at the side of the road.  They have a surprisingly realistic toll booth, including an arm that rises and lowers mechanically, that the young woman is manning, while the young man is out in the street in a cap and uniform demanding that bicyclists and pedestrians going one way stop and pay the toll.

It’s a classic bit, and well executed.  But, I think, they could use a couple of pro-tips.  The first one is that if you’re going to pull this off you really have to commandeer a part of the road.  Having their toll booth off to the side makes it too easy to ignore – and you really should have more than one person in the middle of the street trying to stop traffic.  I don’t mean to sound preachy on this, but trust me, it makes all the difference.

The second tip I offer to him as I step out of the shade and into the line to pay the toll:  you need to give people a reason to stop beyond just the fact that a toll exists.  Believe it or not it really makes a difference to some people.  “Come on you guys,” I shout at some bicyclists ignoring the bit.  “The toll supports the roads!  If you want roads at Burning Man, you’ve got to pay the toll!  Come on, how else can they maintain the roads?”

He gives me a look and picks it up immediately, adding it to his patter.  “Toll for road maintenance!” he calls out.  “Traffic going this way needs to pay the toll so that Burning Man can have roads next year!”

The kid’s good, I think.  Got a promising future.  

Standing in line, I see what the “toll” is.  You have to display a talent.  The young woman behind the booth is great at coaxing the people who have stopped into dancing, or singing, or doing a flip.  This is a great bit, and I start thinking about what I’ll do when my turn comes up.

“Road toll!” the young man shouts.  “All traffic going in this direction has to stop!  Don’t you want to support the roads in Black Rock City?”

Then a cop car … going this direction … pulls up and stops right next to him.  The officer rolls downy the window and leans out of it.

(more…)

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?” (more…)

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.”

(more…)

Headlight

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.

 

 

Technology and Immediacy at Burning Man (A slightly less than Socratic dialogue)

Ah, technology ... how it burns  (Image by Stefan Krause)
Ah, technology … how it burns (Image by Stefan Krause)

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

Every now and then someone proposes a new technological fix for what many at Burning Man don’t see as a problem in the first place. The debate that results usually boils down to a parody of intellectual discussion, as performed by a sparkle pony named “Meerkat” and a shirtcocker named “Thunder”:

MEERKAT: “YOU AND YOUR PHONE DON’T UNDERSTAND OR RESPECT THE 10 PRINCIPLES!”

THUNDER: “YOU’RE A LUDDITE TRADITIONALIST WHO DOESN’T APPRECIATE TECHNOLOGY!”

MEERKAT: “HEY, LOOK, A GIANT PIRATE SHIP PILOTED BY COOKIE MONSTER!”

THUNDER: “I’M GOING TO POST ABOUT IT TO ALL MY FRIENDS!”

MEERKAT: “DAMN YOU, TRAITOR!”

THUNDER: “WHY CAN’T I GET A SIGNAL? OH CRUEL WORLD!”

 

This is a lot of fun to watch at three in the morning, but it’s not productive.

If we’re going to have a productive debate about technology, the terms of the discussion really need to change.

The first thing to realize is that an event in the desert founded on radical self-reliance can’t be anti-technology. Technology is a form of radical self-reliance. What you can’t do yourself you develop tools to do, and tools become machines, and machines become systems – and systems become “technology” as a whole. We absolutely rely on our tools to survive, let alone to build and thrive, and the idea that Burning Man culture is incompatible with the development of better tools is ludicrous.

(more…)

Burning Man soundscape = Audio Magic

Photo by Polaris
Photo by Polaris

The following is a description of “An Audio Journey” through the 2013 Burning Man – which can be listened to and downloaded for free here – by creators Josh and Jex of BMIR.

Almost one year ago to date, Joshua and I were running around the playa with a recorder capturing soundscapes, bikes, art car tires, wind, art project bass tones, fire, the burn, thoughts, moments, tears, anxieties, and messages of love. The goal: to create a piece of audio magic that embodied the soundscape – sampling, creating drum kits, crafting music all with nothing but sounds from the playa and using the words of the burners that inhabited the dust as the lyrics. A job we knew would be full of sweat, time, and technically detailed passion. A job that would be well worth every moment. *EVERY SINGLE SOUND ENCAPSULATED IN THIS PIECE IS FROM THE PLAYA, 2013, NOT ONE OUTSIDE PIECE OF AUDIO WAS USED.* This is a piece of audio magic whose soul intention is to be a gift to you. To you, our fellow burners, to you the ones who’ve never been, to you the ones who aren’t going this year, to you the ones who are already en route, to you the ones who are just a bit curious of what our magic tastes like. After almost one year, Volume 1 of what we hope to be a yearly gift for your auditory pleasure is complete. Please enjoy a journey into the dust…a massive thank you to the art projects and burners we recorded: $tephen Ra$pa, Carmen Mauk, Madeleine Belle, Joe Everyday, Davina the Dragon Crew (Christian Breedon, Kristin Bowdy, Parker Galore, Carter Smith, etc…), Shanna, Ted the Weather Pimp, the Playa Jazz Cafe, Cleu Camp, the Center Camp Cafe Marching Band Competition, Keno Mapp, Matt Fusello, Polaris from Media Mecca, Nick Sunderberg, the Cathedral of Celestial Mathgic, Ilya Pieper, the whole BMIR crew, the fires and drums of conclave, the Man, the Temple, Orson Welles, all of your damn P’s that were popped throughout the recording process… and everyone else who contributed to this anonymously…we love you all! Burn bright…)’(

 

Check it out … and think of home. 

 

A Playa Public Service Announcement: Where’s the Orgy?

Photo by Nevit (Creative Commons License)
Photo by Nevit (Creative Commons License)

It’s a well known fact that at Burning Man, “I’m here because I love art” is a synonym for “you look amazing naked.”

In fact, according to a recent survey, 50% of people attend Burning Man “for all the cock,” and 2/3rds of the remaining 50% are lying.

But getting to Burning Man is only half the battle. Once you’re here, how do you find an orgy?

Fortunately that’s today’s playa tip!

Listen below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

Or click here

Caveat is the author (under a clever pseudonym) of “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City,” which has nothing to do with Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com