Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.
The Vault of Hivin’ (photo by Phoebee McAfee)
The camp fell together by happy accident. At a dinner in 2003, I seated my brother the construction guy next to my BFF the drag a capella singer, hoping their shared love of Burning Man would get them through a meal. Over that meal they conjured The Vault of Hivin’, a bewinged VW beetle towing chalkboards for a spelling bee, and a sound system that blasted the Bee-gees, the B-52’s, and Sting. They decided to collaborate on this vision and camp together, reasoning that the construction gearheads needed artistic vision, and the drag queens needed a ratchet up with implementation. After a decade of sticking together, we are truly a ragtag, multigenerational family of folks who love our annual reinvention fest. Having campmates with wildly diverse skills is a gift – somebody has to remember how to put up the shade structure, and somebody else has to make it blingy but not moopy.
Miajuana! (photo by Ralph Davila)
Our best theme was probably Miajuana! which combined Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling with a Titty Tequila bar festooned with a whole laundry line of the largest and smallest bras we could scavenge (until the big bras all got appropriated as costumes.) Our construction wizards built a regulation-size wrestling ring on two trailers, surrounded by a two-story viewing platform and a repurposed tiki bar. The drag queens pumped lavender mist water on the shockingly large crowds who came, while the gearheads offered goopy-cheese nachos, and tang-and-tequila margaritas; we had colorful ringside commentary and interactive NSFW “burro rides” during intermission. We poured through gallons of booze and bales of chips, but the canned ‘cheez’ and pickled jalapenos never seemed to run out. Wrestlers of both genders showed up with their own multicolored masks. When it rained, it deteriorated into clothing-optional mud wrestling which ended when we all stopped to watch the double rainbow. It took us eight months to develop amnesia over that one. Read more »
The line between light and dark. The anatomy of a New York City blackout.
At the end of October, a San Francisco-based group from the Burning Man Project traveled to New York City. We had planned four days of meetings with the thriving Burner community, and were eager to engage with new friends. What we hadn’t planned on was engaging with Hurricane Sandy. Which is how our intrepid crew from San Francisco found ourselves discovering unexpected playa lessons on a very urban landscape.
The Burning Man Project nonprofit seeks to extend the Burning Man ethos beyond the desert, and New Yorkers have some good ideas about how to do that. We had made plans to meet with regional contacts, to see Board Member Leo Villareal’s newest art installation, to host a participant discussion about the Project, and to attend a local theme-camp-inspired Halloween party.
Thrust into the eye of the storm, we found ourselves without power or water, unable to leave the City and largely unable to communicate back to California. Fortunately, we also found ourselves witnessing Burners helping each other through, conducting meetings by candlelight, respecting the resilience of New Yorkers, and affirming the importance of shawarma.
Continue reading for an account of our big learning Big Apple adventure … Read more »
[Jennifer Raiser is an avid long-time Burner, Burning Man Project board member, theme camp leader, and Black Rock Ranger. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Nob Hill Gazette and most often for her publication, SFWire.]
“How was Burning Man?” they inquire as I ascend the shallow red-carpeted stairs leading up to the Opera House. It is five days after Exodus, and I am reluctantly back in San Francisco, Center Camp of the default domain. I am here to mark the festive highlight of another tribe, the ninetieth annual Opening Night at the Opera. To some, this happy occasion commands the same kind of importance that we associate with Burn night. Tonight’s task is to write about the grand gesture of opera and the people who are its patrons. I am charged with distilling and interpreting the evening into an article to be read by those who attend, and those who do not. The dual role as enthusiast and observer is familiar. On playa, I am a passionate participant, a Ranger, a theme camp leader, a volunteer and an author; here, I am a friendly alien who comes from that arid planet near Gerlach and happens to pen a social column.
Acquaintances here are polite and prodding about the desert. They indulgently inquire about Burning Man in the same way you might bring up a shared alma mater, or a mutual love of licorice, knowing it is a certain conversation starter. Some truly want to know, some want me to know that they know, or think they know, about my annual retreat to my happiest (and saddest, and most demanding) place on earth. I try to disarm their suspicion with the comparisons between tonight and the burning of the Man. In both places, I remind them, like-minded spirits gather to share a communal dinner, enthusiastic dancing, and well-stocked bars openly coursing with goodwill. We are corseted and costumed in ensembles carefully curated for the occasion. We mark this artistic triumph with the biggest party of the year. Read more »