You can’t get to a particular spot along the coast in Big Sur in any of the usual and normal ways.
You can’t, for example, just head down Route 1 listening to the stern yet comforting voice of the GPS guiding you confidently, determinedly, to your destination. Because you will be told that you have arrived when you are right in the middle of one of the many bridges that span the coastal highway, and if you take the suggested right turn, you will plummet to the sea.
And you can’t just open a map on your phone and find out exactly where you are because … silly you … there hasn’t been cell service for miles. Many miles.
So you continue on for a bit, hoping for the best, hoping for a sign, hoping to be able to find a place to turn around, if it comes to that. But how many more miles should we go? We were due at a certain time, and that time has arrived, and we don’t know if we’ve missed the entrance to where we were supposed to be, or whether we simply haven’t come to it yet and should just keep going.
Eventually we decide to do things the old-fashioned way. We make a U-turn and return to the entrance of the state park we whizzed by earlier and ask: “Have we passed Esalen yet?”
We’re conflicted even just saying the word.
We know a bit about the Esalen Institute, more by anecdote than formal inquiry. We know it as a center of the Human Potential Movement, we know that it might be the high church of the religion of no religion, and we know that writers and thinkers and questers of all natures have come here on spiritual journeys. And while we would never question the motivations behind a spiritual journey, we’ve also speculated, as a schoolboy might, about the nature of those activities, both psychological and otherwise.
And oh yes of course, we’ve heard that Esalen is spectacularly beautiful, soothing to the soul and body, a place of power and inspiration.
What we don’t know in this moment, though, is how the locals view the place, and the local now standing before us is a big-hatted park ranger who is already a little annoyed with us because we hadn’t come to a full stop at the guard station quickly enough for his liking. So we’re off on the wrong foot and now we’re asking about that Esalen place, and we’re not sure at all at how this query will be received.
“No, you haven’t passed it yet,” the ranger says maybe a little too loudly but thankfully non-judgmentally. “It’s about 20 minutes down the road. There’s a sign.”
Megan Miller is the director of communications for Burning Man. She is bright and engaging, and she tells us that she first came to Esalen at the age of three with her mom, who was making a trek from their home in Alaska to Mexico. Esalen was a stop along the way. It was supposed to be a brief visit, but it wound up lasting longer. Megan is standing in front of about 50 people in a large tent that is about 15 feet from the edge of a cliff that dives to the sea. It is dark, and you can’t see, but you can hear the surf pounding the rocks below. (more…)
There was a thin morning sun illuminating the steps of the Saloon as workers gathered to hear whether the playa had dried out enough to allow Resto work to resume after a two and a half day wipeout. The air was chilly, bordering on cold, and if there were pumpkins on the porch, they likely would have had frost on them.
Coyote sauntered across the street, muttering “It’s not summer anymore.” No, for sure, it’s not. But the rain had stopped, and that was a good thing. “At least it wasn’t snow,” Coyote said. Snow? During Resto? “Sure,” he said. “We had to call it one day because it was coming down sideways.”
Ok, we’ll count our blessings, then, that it’s only been rain, and not freezing cold, too. People went inside for the morning meeting, and the Cobra Commander and D.A. gave the word that the BLM inspection had been moved back until Tuesday. That was the good news. The bad news was that the Resto team was going to need just about every minute of that time, because there was a LOT left to do.
“This is the year we are absolutely not going to fail,” D.A. said. The Cobra said there would be a full work day tomorrow, and a full work day Monday, as well. “We’re good,” he said. “Let’s kill it.”
So the troops loaded onto school buses and headed out to the playa. And you had to be on a school bus, or some other fleet vehicle, because there were no personal cars allowed this day. The playa was too wet, and if you tried to drive, you would likely get stuck, and no one wanted to waste time rescuing you.
The drive out Route 34 gave a hint of what was to come. The rain from the past several days made the playa look like it was covered with water, because the sun was glinting off the surface. But the desert was only wet, not submerged. But there WERE rivers of water in the depressions caused by off-roaders. Those were rippling in the morning sun, and the “tide” looked like it was carrying the water back to town. And when the buses traversed the desert streams, there was lots of splashing water and a pretty good jolt if you were seated in the back of the bus.
As roll was being called along the shoreline, Phoenix Firestarter was doing stretches off to the side. “It helps me get my mind where I need it to be,” she said. And what she needed to be, and everyone else needed to be, was focused. There were a lot of streets left to sweep, and there were orange cones all over the playa, meaning that the Special Forces team would need to give them special attention to get them cleaned up.
And then off everyone went, the line sweepers and the fluffers and the scribes and the line bosses and the special forces, maybe 80 people overall, off to to make the most of the day.
By lunchtime, it had become clear that people were making serious progress. The special forces reported “busting” 150 cones — six people in three trucks, cleaning and sweeping and raking the worst hot spots, and doing it fast and clean.
The regular lines moved through the middle of the city in the morning, then tackled the Esplanade in the afternoon. They were moving well, too, but then new clouds started moving in, and the wind picked up, and the weather forecasts that had predicted rain by 4 in the afternoon started to look pretty good.
The troops took a morale break around 2:30 in the afternoon, and by that time the sky had gone dark, and it looked like rain was already hitting Gerlach. There was also lightning in the distance, so the smart move was to get everyone off playa and back into town. And good thing, too. By 4 pm, sure enough, the rain arrived with a wallop, and with it came a lot of thunder and lightning, as well.
So that was it for the day — lots of progress, but more rain, and tomorrow’s work day looks threatened. The Hun will have her moop map update in another post, but for now, there are lots of antsy people wondering how it’s all going to get done.
Hi all, we’re subbing today for the very capable Hun and her Resto blog cohort Summer Burkes to bring you news from the playa.
And in a word, there is no news.
No moop map update, no reports from the lines, no nothing.
The crews have been idled in town since midday Wednesday, when a dust storm chased everyone back to town. Then the rain moved in on Thursday, and it rained and rained and rained.
By the late afternoon, there was standing water where Black Rock City used to be, and when there is water, you simply can’t walk or drive on the playa, which really hurts Resto efforts. The sun popped out toward the end of the day, reminding everyone how ridiculously gorgeous it is here, but it was too late to begin drying things out.
This morning dawned beautifully, and the work crews duly gathered for their customary 7:30 morning meeting, but work was called off for at least the first half of the day.
A little after noon, people began to gather with their moop sticks outside the Saloon, hoping that things would have dried out enough to be able to get out there. But no go. Booya and Bubblegique and Phoenix had made an exploratory trip to the Shoreline, but the news was not so good. In fact, Bubblegique got stuck, and if the desert whisperer himself got stuck, you can imagine what would have happened to a busload of pent-up moopers. It would not have been pretty.
So we’ll try again tomorrow.
There’s at least one more street to go over, and the pressure is on, because the BLM inspection is scheduled for Monday.
The sky was steel blue and the Temple of Promise glowed golden in the chill night air. Scissor lifts and booms hovered against the sky in the distance, and people were gathering in small groups on the ground. Soon the giant art cars would circle too, their lights bright and pulsing, but their sound systems mute.
It was the last night of the Burn, and as is usually the case, there was only silence in the night. The Temple crew slowly and silently carried flaming torches toward piled stacks of wood, which had arrived in the desert only a few weeks before.
In maybe 30 minutes, it was all gone. The soaring arches, the shiny copper, and the collective purpose of the hundred or so people who had come together to make a place of remembrance and reflection.
A solitary voice called out of the darkness: “I love you!” The hundreds, maybe thousands of names scrawled on the Temple, were invoked as one. Soon other people from different parts of the perimeter were calling out, as well: “I love you!” “I love you!” “I love you!”
Burning Man was small this year. Oh, it was as big as ever in some ways: a nine-mile chunk of the Black Rock desert cordoned off behind an orange trash fence. There was big art, and big sound, and a bursting-the-seams crowd. But still, Burning Man was small. It might have been the afternoon dust storms or the nighttime chill, but the most significant moments came when you were huddling with friends around a burn barrel, or sharing an unexpected meal, or having a quiet conversation at the back of a dusty bar.
Somehow, Burning Man became human-sized again: the Man himself was scaled down from last year’s stubborn behemoth, and the village-y Midway invited people to linger and explore. A mystery telephone at 10 o’clock and the trash fence invited people to make dinner reservations at a lush eatery in the city. And the cold forced bodies together — some nestled under blankets in camp, others pressed together, penguin-like, far out in the starry playa.
Either way, the big moments were small and intimate, like a newcomer relieved finally to be making friends in the bustling strange city.
The big question, the continuing challenge for Burning Man, big or small, is helping people get it. Get what? That the event is not a show, that it’s not meant for consumption. Rather that it is something to be a part of, not just watch.
The big timers who come, the Silicon Valley titans, the captains of industry and entertainment, generally fall into one of three categories: the ones who get it, the ones who are trying to get it, and the ones who, and we say this without malice, don’t care to get anything but a party and maybe the freedom of anonymity. We can hardly blame them, really, when their lives are spent living in the bubble of general adoration. (more…)
Larry Harvey was talking about Burning Man’s hundred-year plan, which he noted was already 30 years along, this being the 30th burn (but of course who knew anything about any of this at Baker Beach in 1986), and that he and the other founders and Burning Man Project people are not only thinking about who would come after them, but also who might come after the people who come after them.
“It’s useful,” Harvey said, “because it makes us think more deeply about the present.”
Megs pointed out that Burning Man Regionals have extended their reach to 34 countries on six continents.
And Dave X, bless Dave X, was saying that his favorite power tool on the playa is … a lighter. Of course it is. As it should be. (He’s the person most directly responsible for making sure people don’t hurt themselves with fire in Black Rock City.)
Across town the evening prior, spiky dominatrix-looking women dressed in minimalist black halters and chaps were harnessing people at Thunderdome. Fierce huge men laughed, diva Marisa sang Ave Maria, and a thrill-thirsty crowd cheered the most aggressive combatants.
At the same time, lovely chilled hors d’oeuvres were being presented to a delicately dressed social crowd at First Camp, with the amiables pressed shoulder to shoulder on the First Camp deck.
Ohh, Burning Man, Burning Man, where art thou, Burning Man?
The night was about as exquisite as a night could be. Skies softening from purple to gray, the air all but still, and the playa was coming to life in a slow graceful arc. It was still early, only Saturday.
A group of maybe 50 people were on the CasBus, a Moroccan-themed art car, out for a look at the art and the scene and the people. There were stops at Mike Garlington’s very fabulous “Totem,” at the Temple of Promise, and even out at the Bijou movie theater in the deep and far playa. But the folks at the Bijou were still working to set things up, and they turned off the lights on the marquee as the big art car approached. They didn’t need a party just yet, they needed more time to get things done.
There were another set of lights in the distance, but it wasn’t an art installation. The lights were from a distant gold mine deep in the Black Rock Desert, and just seeing the lights reminded you that people come to the desert to work, not just play. They come to survive, to scratch out a living.
Burning Man is about a lot of things. It’s about work and play, friendships and pain, togetherness, community and expression.
It’s about the tech crowd and the Cacophony Society and plug n’ play camps and about putridly hot PortaPotties that are out of toilet paper. (I think the “PortaPotties have a greater impact on the experience than the Man does,” Harvey said.)
We’ve been to Burning Man for several days now. We’ve also been to Burning Man for 13 years. And going to Burning Man is a little like jazz; the improvisation takes a different turn every time you show up.
So after several days, and after 13 years, we keep listening to the chord progressions and beat changes, wondering if the beat and melody will go in a direction we can stay with.
Burning Man is a random pop-up shade in open playa, with two empty chairs. … Burning Man is a camp full of identical silver yurts, and another camp of identical blue tents, and another camp of gigantic pop-out RVs that look brand new.
Burning Man is a broke-ass looking camp full of dust and lawn chairs with not a soul in sight, and hand-lettered sign out front saying that psychic readings will resume at dusk. Burning Man is the camp of the billionaire Brazilian with his helicopter and luxuries beyond imagination, and certainly beyond our experience because, you know, there are still pockets of radical exclusion.
Burning Man has tried to deal with the … challenge, let’s call it … of plug n’ play camps, of the bucket-list mentality, of the people who want to do Burning Man in their own style. The organization has a word for the process – acculturation. But when you think about it, it has always been this way. There have always been people who wanted to do Burning Man more creatively, more elegantly, more stylishly, more comfortably. They’ve wanted to make the desert bend to their wishes, they’ve wanted to quash the natural forces that are trying to kill us here. Can we have venison stew and chilled Champagne and frozen eclairs in the desert? Hell yeah we can. Just watch. Some of the people here, just some of them, have the wherewithal to throw money at the challenge of thriving; others create their solutions in DIY, maker fashion.
Two strangers plopped on our couch a little before midnight a few nights ago. There was no one else around. They appeared tired and disoriented. “Can we stay here for awhile,” one asked. “Um, yeah, ok, sure.”
We wandered off a little bit, to make it seem that we were still around and that the camp was not abandoned and that it wouldn’t be a good idea to start checking trailer doors for more comfortable places to lie down.
But it made us think, too, about our responsibilities to radical inclusion, and maybe gifting, and I guess civic responsibility, and about what welcome and accommodation would be appropriate for our late-night visitors.
Danasaurus said later that at her previous camp, the test for visitors, if that’s the right word, is whether their presence contributed to the camp: were they engaged, interested, participating, curious? If they were as true guests, trying to engage, then great, welcome, enjoy your stay. Have a meal. If not, if they were there SIMPLY there to be fed and watered, well, the reception was not so generous.
Burning Man is a huge sound camp on the Esplanade blasting techno dance music, and no one there to hear … Burning Man is hammering and welding and wiring well into the night, with the week half over and the artwork still not finished. … Burning Man is burn barrels and birthday parties and karaoke in the far suburbs, and stopping at the flaming Serpent Mother simply for warmth. … Burning Man is being inspired by the sight of Radical Mobility camp, and deciding to quit whining about the long walks to everywhere …
Burning Man is cell service and wifi disappearing, maybe for good, and being thankful for the forced electronic silence … Burning Man is wandering aimlessly and finding a path … Burning Man is watching the dust pile up on your body as you sit out a dust storm, and silently wishing that the play dust would fill in the wrinkles on your face instead of outlining them in bas relief.
Burning Man is talking about someone you’d like to see, and having them walk into camp seconds later. Three times in a day … Burning Man is cookies for lunch, cheese and crackers for dinner, and then whole wheat kale waffles with perfectly grilled steak at the HEAT camp, just like that. And Burning Man is also some fool doling out Skittles-infused Everclear as a happy-hour drink. Idiot.
“We see the culture as self-organizing,” Harvey was saying. “This was never supposed to be a utopian community. I’ll believe in the possibility of a perfect society when I meet the perfect person,” he said.
Burning Man is judging people by how dusty they are … Burning Man is camp drama: Who is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, and who is sleeping with someone with whom they are not supposed to be sleeping.
Burning Man is sleeping till noon and getting up before dawn … Burning Man is going to bed early and staying up way past dawn. Each day at Burning Man feels like six days; there are early mornings, for the sunrises; midmornings, for coffee or food or a nap; midday, for concocting plans, midafternoon, for plans to fall apart and the wandering to commence; evenings, for more planning and costume changes and maybe something else to eat; and late nights, for … well, lots of things. Each part of the day is full, fuller than any day not spent at Burning Man, even though it doesn’t sound like it from this description. Possibilities are endless. Existential paralysis can and often does set in.
There are no vendors at Burning Man, no corporate sponsorship, and no state or governmental support, Larry Harvey was saying, in reference to a question about sources of revenue. Despite the “rumors of hidden artesian flows of money” to the organization, there is “only” $30 million or so in ticket sales. Well, there’s that that money plus the donations that can now be made to the nonprofit entity. But money has never been absent from the playa. The liberating, but temporal, decommodification that happens here does not make the event possible. “Most people won’t knit their tent from wool made from their shepherded sheep,” as Harvey put it.
“What people forget is that we’re the government here. We never say that … BLM would like to say it’s the government … well, it IS the government, but not the government that fashions the context of society out here. … We have further reforms yet to be fulfilled that bridges the gap between those who are privileged and those who have less.”
Harvey quashed the rumor/story that Burning Man was close to signing a deal to acquire the nearby and beautiful Fly Ranch and create an Algonquin Round Table in the desert, or a Nevada Versailles, or something in between. “We want to continue to build up the center, to expand what we do in America,” and that includes keeping note of the numerous offers to host Burning Man in another location.
Burning Man is fireworks from all around the Esplanade … A bevy of beauty queens roaming wild … Wondering where everyone is, and whether they are having a better time than you. Burning Man is trying to have more face time with that someone you want to have it with … Burning Man is walking a drunky back to his camp … and the continuing struggle to unapologetically accept a gift.
And Burning Man is not even half over. The wind has come up, and the dust is blowing, and the art cars are blaring, and the people are walking and biking and sipping fine wine, as the case may be, and the night is drawing hear, and we’ll listen for the melody, and hope that it’s full of promise and possibility and the dreams that might be made real.
We were pounded early this morning by a moderately fierce whiteout/brownout windstorm, and all of a sudden it felt like Burning Man.
It seems like forever since we’ve had a good, hours-long sand blasting, and we thought we were in for one today. But the dust became intermittent, and by 9 am or so the sun started working its way through the gloom. Then the skies got all blue and fabulous, and fantastic-looking clouds made everyone look skyward and go “ooooohhhh!”
We became mesmerized by the sight and wandered out of camp, and the next thing we knew we were at the Man Base, where Mr. Blue and Melissa and Opa and the rest of the lighting crews were putting in their final touches. The sideshows set up around the maze were in various stages of completion.
The Man Base crew was packing up shop, Silver Coon and Toolshop were putting all the tools back in the trailer container. It’ll be hauled off the playa to get everything ready for the big opening.
But this morning it looked like we were going to lose an entire day. The dust was so thick you couldn’t see the Center Café from Ring Road, and the wanderers who had ventured out were bent over in the wind, trying to see through fogged-up goggles.
Even veteran Burners like Flackmaster were disoriented. We ran into him as we made our way back to camp, and he seemed awfully glad to have found his way home.
The last DPW morning meeting was scheduled for the Depot today, but Playground made the call to postpone it at least for a day. It didn’t make any sense to have people trying to make their way around the city. That would be asking for trouble.
We were listening on the radio when Just George, out near the perimeter, was trying to meet up with Cowboy Carl. “I’m just going to be sitting here with my lights on,” he said tentatively, knowing that he’d be an easy target. “I’ll do my best to hit you,” Carl said.
But after a couple of hours, things lightened up. The weather forecasts have high wind advisories in effect until this evening, so we’re pretty much expecting occasional whiteouts most of the day. It reminded us of the old George Carlin weather report line: “Light followed by increasing darkness.” So it’ll be periods of dust followed by increasing amazingness.
The amazingness this morning included those clouds, which were, we were told, towering alto lenticulars. Matt Step works at the Man, and he’s also a pilot. “Seeing one this big is really rare,” he said. The wind whipping over the Sierra contributes to the formation, and glider pilots especially love to see them. “World records (for gliding) are set in Reno,” Matt said. “You get a massive column of lift, and sink. It can be scary as hell.”
Things actually took a turn for the weird last night, when a giant hazy rainbow appeared around the moon. It was a little like when you look at the sun after you’ve been swimming in a chlorinated pool and your eyes are all fuzzy. The first thing we did was to ask the person next to us, “Hey, do you see that??” Yes, they saw it too.
It’s a nice time to be on the playa. The big art cars aren’t allowed on the playa yet, so almost everyone was on foot or on a bicycle. It evoked a simpler time. We admit to being darktards – we wandered out without any lights on, but the moon was almost full and it was easy to see and be seen.
We heard reports of long waits at the Gates to get in the city, as the last of the early arrivers were pulling in. We’re guessing that if anything, it’ll be harder to get an early arrival pass next year.
Some of the early arrivers didn’t seem too clear on all the concepts, either. We talked to Shane Saw Sisco, who had been out on the Gate lines overnight. The Gate people have to check your car to make sure you’re not smuggling anyone in. Twice last night, Sisco said, he was asked to take off his shoes before getting into the RVs he needed to check.
We’re caught between the now and the almost now in Black Rock City.
The work’s not finished, but it’s getting close.
The streets are as busy as they’ve ever been. The big theme camps have rolled in, and so have the artists. It’s a weird in-between time when it’s still ok to drive your car, but the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists has shot way up.
There was a giant kickball game outside the Center Café last night, and judging by the shouts, it was World Cup intense. We first thought it was incongruous that all the dusty funky types would be so into the competition, but this isn’t really a hippie encampment. It’s more broad than that, more diverse, in temperament, outlook, and, while we’re at it, age.
We know the Black Rock Census keeps excellent track of the demographics of the participants, but it seems to us that an even wider mix of people here in the build-up.
Today was the first day almost since we can remember that it wasn’t bright and sunny. Early last week there were a few days when the sun and moon were shrouded in a red haze from distant wildfires, but of late the skies have been crystalline, the clouds dramatic, the sunsets mind-numbing.
We saw pictures of our friends back in the Bay Area, and KarltheFog was much in evidence, although it seems like a heat wave is baking the area lately.
Here, the temperatures the past few days have only been in the mid to high 80s, and the nights have been chilly. The big weather news is that high winds are supposed to be coming our way. By the time you read this, the predictions could have changed, so the best thing to do is check the Burning Man website for the latest info. But better to get the big winds behind us now, rather than when there are tens of thousands of cars kicking up dust on Gate Road. All the people here already will get an early test of just how well they’ve tied down their stuff.
The last spire was pounded into the playa yesterday, and all the crews plus a bunch of looky-loos came by to celebrate.
There was all sorts of general jank strewn about the site. Random trenching was done for no apparent reason, and holes that were dug were immediately filled in with kicked dirt. There were cars hoisted in the air, a compost pile and random pieces of fence. There were radio antennas and road signs, including one for Spoono’s Road.
In general, it was a celebration of the end of the build. The last spire usually takes place the last Thursday before the event, but in the past couple of years, rain and other interruptions have pushed the work schedule back and its been held on Friday. But this has been a relatively smooth year, work-wise and weather-wise.
The Spires crew did the honors of getting the whole thing started, because spires is what they do. Marleyne was shooting anvils, and the sledge-throwing contest rounded out the festivities. (River was the winner.)
You can check the whole thing out at 4:20 and Esplanade, right near the Thunderdome. It’s a quite amazing collection of … stuff … put together by the most amazing people anywhere. See for yourself:
The sign team has been working since the middle of July on creating and signs that help you find your friends, find your way back to camp, and help others find you when you might need help.
But something really crappy has been taking place over the past several days. It’s not a new problem, but it might be surprising in that it’s going on when the only people out here are supposed to be working, either setting up the city or building art.
The street signs are being stolen. Already. Even before the gates have opened. Most of the signs on 4 o’clock were gone the day after they went up.
“It’s at the heart of the event,” said Jenerator. “Nobody steals art at Burning Man, and the street signs are our art.”
There are 300 intersections in Black City, and each of them has a double-sided sign with the names of the streets – Arcade, Ballyhoo, Carny, Donniker, Ersatz, Freak Show, Geek, Hanky Pank, Illusion, Jolly, Kook and Laughing Sal. They are all hand-painted by the sign shop crew, then installed all over the city.
It’s not a new problem. Folks have been taking the “souvenirs” for as long as they’ve been put out, but the deal is you’re supposed to wait until Saturday of the event to take them down. The Burning Man organization even has a special program to deal with the problem – Adopt a Street Sign, aka ASS. You can read all about it right here http://blog.burningman.com/2014/08/participate/adopt-a-street-sign-ass-project/ but essentially, if someone takes off with a sign from your corner, put a new one to help the people who’ve lost their way, and to help the people who may be trying to help you if there’s an emergency.
“You wait until the Man burns, or you’re a dick,” as Bam Bam put it, ever so succinctly. “We want you to take them”, added Stabby Abby, “but just wait.”