From the very beginning, I had friends who went to Burning Man. They always said “Sarah, you and Max have got to go! These are Your People!” But what with kids in school and vacations that had to be scheduled a year in advance, it wasn’t until 2000 that we managed it. It turned out to be every bit as much Home for us as our friends had thought it would be. That first year we biked around in awe at the abundant smorgasbord of creativity served up by people unafraid to explore and be themselves — we knew we’d be back every year to share in the adventure!
The next year, our youngest, 13 at the time, wanted to go too. An old soul, I wasn’t worried about what he might see or experience — he was always wise beyond his years — but I wasn’t up for being “Mom” at Burning Man. So I got a ticket for his tutor and she was his chaperone for the week. Running into the boy in camp I might say, “If your mother were here, she’d remind you to put on more sunscreen and make sure your water bottle is full before you head out.” He’s been a Burner ever since. The year after that, the boy’s best friend wanted to go, but his parents didn’t want him to go without them, so we all camped together along with their friends Boyscout and his wife. The year after that, our older son, my sister and her husband, and Boyscout’s parents from Kentucky joined us, too.
So I guess I wasn’t that surprised when in 2004, during our pit-stop in Reno on our way to the Playa, I got a call from my parents saying, “Can you buy us tickets at the gate and we’ll meet you there?!” (more…)
A shaman named Rafiki gave me my playa name. He dropped it into my lap, a casual jewel, and then ducked away. It was a tiny and huge moment all at once. It happened, and then it was over. I swung in its wake, letting the shape of the name settle around me like a cloak.
Going into the experience of Burning Man, I had been curious about playa names, wanting to hear their origin stories. I was delighted when folks I met introduced themselves as “Laser Wolf” “Huggles” and “Gummi Bear”. How did one get a playa name? I asked. Could you name yourself or did it come from some sort of elder? Could your friends make it up or did it have to descend in some kind of epic moment of glory? (more…)
Writing on the walls of the Temple send final messages to those that are remembered.
One afternoon I took a picture of us to the temple. It was the picture from that party we had, back in Mount Martha. The picture is blurry. We are blurry. I think I’m holding a drink, but it’s hard to tell. You are standing, your arms pinned back, looking like you have something to say. I’m not really sure.
I stuck it to the temple and wrote on it that line from J. Alfred Prufrock that you love. I changed the words a bit. I hope you don’t mind. The words I chose were a bit more fitting.
I wore my trousers rolled.
People had written to Robin Williams. ‘Genie, you are free’ one said. That one resonated. Of course, I didn’t really know the guy, but I guess it just reminded me of you.
The playa dust kicked up, so I wrapped my headscarf around my face and put on my goggles, which steamed up from each breath. I wandered around the temple, peering close to the pieces of people’s lives, to the intimacy that they had shared, to what had been lost, until the dust and emotion made it too difficult, so I left.
I walked over the wooden planks, and hunted for my bike in the reverent haze. Through the search I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I had done here had wronged you, that I had committed some error of judgement, exposed something that you wanted hidden. If I did, then I apologise, but this loss is mine to grieve, not yours.
In the end, I think, I really just wanted you there, wanted you here, with me, with both of us, for our first burn. And as I rode back to camp, the gears on my bike choked up, and I couldn’t cycle anymore.
The sexless giants stood erect over the world; they gazed into each other’s eyes, saying goodbye to the world that was, and embracing what was bound to come; their shadows formed dark tentacles that were nailed to the desert floor, mocking the light from the blazing fire.
The antique land was full of wanderers who had created a new Canterbury; the ashes from the lovers would be their new covenant, the relics of eternal love, their hope to carve shapes out of the chaos.
Two, among thousands, sat watching the colossal structure. (more…)
On Wednesday around noon, I decided it was time to walk out to the Temple and just stay there for a while. I wanted to walk instead of riding my bike so that I could use the slow, deliberate journey as a way to settle into a calm, quiet mindset. On my way, I started to let the thoughts that I wanted to acknowledge at the Temple that day drift through my head. I enjoyed the sun on my body and the gentle, dusty wind in my skirt and in my hair.
When I arrived, I slowly made my way around the building and between the others who were there too. I walked until a spot to sit and write called out to me. I had a few things that I wanted to say, but I knew what had to be first – my last relationship, and the disappointment and the hanging on that I still hadn’t yet been able to shake. I hoped that I had come to the Temple to write something self-empowering; something that, once I had written it, would let me leave with a light heart, a heart that had finally let it all go. Or that I would write an announcement of some sort about moving on, starting right now – a declaration of my independence from the past. I sat down in the dust, breathed in, and thought for a moment. I put my sharpie to the wood and the whole thing appeared haltingly, in between long pauses where I just sat and cried, letting flow all of the tears that I have not cried for a long while. This is what came out: (more…)
I step onto the playa, my bare feet digging into the Black Rock Desert, close my eyes, open my ears and take a deep deep breath. The dust enters my nose and a potpourri of images, feelings, expectations, desires and memories hijack my mind. My brain does a rollercoaster ride like never before and a million impressions are breaking in. I am here, where I planned to be for nearly seven years now. For someone coming from Europe and working in a job where holidays are hard to plan, it’s not easy to organize a trip to Black Rock City. But I succeeded at last and I am desperately curious if all the images I have from reading, watching, assimilating, preparing and organizing will come true. The dust enters my lungs, proceeds through the maze of bronchial tubes and finally settles on the surface of my alveoli. Black Rock Desert is now a part of me where it wasn’t before. Or am I part of the Black Rock Desert now? Whichever it is…I am home! (more…)
PedalBump is a fantastic theme camp that’s been hosting interactive madness on the Esplanade in Black Rock City since 2013. They welcome Burning Man participants to enjoy (as in, smash the shit out of each other in) custom built pedal-powered bumper cars on a circular track beneath a big top circus tent. Hell. Yes.
And that’s all well and good, of course, but they’ve taken it a step further — they help teach other Burners what it takes to run an interactive theme camp at Burning Man. The result? Everybody wins.
Here’s their recap from this last year, check it out if you’re prone to the oh so foolish idea of running an interactive theme camp on playa (we kid, it’s awesome):
We wanted to let you know that our endeavor to teach some folks about running an interactive installation was a smashing success! We will have slots open again this year for some intrepid groups to learn how to run an interactive installation, including joining in our build process, so stay tuned for our 2015 press release! Meanwhile, here is a quick 2014 RECAP of the Guest Hosting crew endeavors.
At the start of the 2104 Burn, the first time that we handed over the PedalBumps under the big top circus tent to a guest hosting crew, our founding group walked away and looked at it from afar with a broader perspective. It was like handing over our baby. We spent every single day and night running it last year and rarely had the chance to step back and watch the show.
It was hard in a way to entrust it to others. Giving up control over something you’ve created with a tight knit group is never easy. The installation encompasses our heart’s work and each bumper car was fabricated to have an individual personality. The host crews needed to step up to wrangle and entertain several hundred people on the Esplanade, while caring for a truckload of equipment during each shift of the public races. But we knew that having these host crews totally take over was definitely the best way for them to learn the ins and outs of an interactive installation of this scale. As a group they had to figure out how to divvy up jobs, support each other, communicate in a chaotic environment, keep the party going, troubleshoot on the fly and close up shop when done.
The crews we interviewed and selected for this awesome opportunity showed up in full force, ready to go and gave us peace of mind to let the mayhem roll. It was well worth it to share this knowledge in a completely experiential fashion. They all created new styles and wacky traditions we may have never thought of for PedalBump. We gave each hosting crew a bunch of pre-instructions via email and all our tips and tricks in person on playa to running this crazy installation. At the start of each shift, we got them started going over all the details but once we stepped away they were fully in charge. By all reports they had a blast. The number one comment they all made was how exhausted they were creating a massive spectacle for four hours straight and that they would do it again in a heartbeat! Here’s a quick rundown of what went on when the 2014 host crews took over.
Steampunk Saloon: It was a lovely, music oriented evening at the races with these beautiful DJ’s and magic-makers. Their witty, polite announcers got the crowds to play lightly with a bump and run style that had riders giggling and showing off. The cameras were out in force. It was a primping and posing night on the track reminiscent of the Preakness. They emphasized delight and the vibe carried into a dance party under the tent after the races ended. The next day we found all the PadalBumps in near perfect condition. The track and surrounding environs were spotless. People came again the next day to show off and pose with the bumper cars.
Gate Crew: This crew came in HARD! They amped up with some growling music and immediately began verbally heckling riders and spectators. They brought their own orange cones to set up lanes within the track (ala the lines at gate) and spun riders around for complete directional mayhem. They created duststorms by slamming giant pillows on the ground and then incessantly hurling these massive dusty bombs at the riders—who loved it! Their pit crew searched and harassed riders and constantly ran them off the road and caught rides on the bumpers. Impeded by cones, pit crew and dust bombs, riders could not even get enough speed to make it around the track more than a few times before collapsing and rolling off the cars to practically crawl off the track in sheer hysterics.
Kids Day: The kids showed up hours before their scheduled slot waiting impatiently to run the races before most of our camp was even awake. You know kids…. Our original crew helped them set up, got them used to the microphones to announce and showed them how to manage the line. The small-fry got both kids and adults racing for hours and our mechanics helped a few learn how to turn some wrenches to fix a few loose screws and flat tires left over from Gate crew the night before. At first glance, you’d think that adults are going to overpower kids on these things but it is exactly the opposite. The kids have boundless, endless energy and clear lungs for the crazy cardio that pedaling requires and can out maneuver almost any adult within one lap.
Mystikal Misfits: This talented performance group took the demolition derby aspect of PedalBump to new heights. The next day after these Misfits ran it, all our cars were so smashed and bashed we needed to re-weld over half of them and two of the older models were damaged beyond repair. They invented a new tradition called stilt cocking at the races where a naked stilter walks over the racers before they take off from the starting line.
The Eds: A small but energized group from our own camp took over Friday afternoon. They were new to the whole performance aspect of running the races, but they did have a real life fireman on crew so we trusted everyone was in good hands. By Friday day, word was out that PedalBump is a blast so they had a steady stream of happy people to entertain. The shady tent became a fun oasis for their races. They put on a great show, cracking tons of jokes in matching PedalBump Pit Crew T-shirts and their sheer enthusiasm kept everyone smiling like crazy.
Camp Absofuckinlutionists: They were Canadian and they make awesome homebrewed beer. At first, they were so timid and polite that the spectators were out of control, cutting in line, jumping on cars and climbing the tent! We gave them some coaching and some whiskey and emphasized that they were in charge and had the right to kick out any assholes. Soon enough they were heckling everyone within earshot and ordering people around like pros.
A special shout out goes out to several individual volunteers, especially Viking, who showed up to help at random times and jumped in to announce, wrangle and fix the cars! They brought a zing of new energy and had a blast! A few of the crews did not make it to their scheduled slots due to the rainstorm and entry delays at the beginning of the week. But those that missed out will be on the roster this year if they want to try again.
We’re sure our 2014 guest crews and volunteers will take their first-hand knowledge to creating more interactive art at their own camps this year!
Watching from afar confirmed our commitment to bringing in new crews to host the races and gave us new energy to improving PedalBump for its 3rd year! We’ll be having some build days and pre-playa races in L.A. this summer for anyone who wants to get involved in advance and we’ll be taking applications once again for hosting crews and volunteers to jump in at the Burn in 2015. Again, stay tuned for details.