A few days after returning home from the playa for the first time, my friend Jen wrote a recap that was pure poetry. “For the last 20 years I have wanted to go to Burning Man, but never seemed to make it there,” she said. “I knew there would be elements that I would love (art! dancing! community!) but after many warnings about how hard it was, I remained open to *not* having a good experience. I went in with an open mind, even to Burning Man not being for me. But guess what? If you couldn’t tell, I loved it.” She went on to describe her time in BRC in profound and honest terms; it was almost as satisfying to read it as it was living it with her.
Inspired, we asked others in the community to share their first-time reflections with us. Forty people from around the world did just that: some writing full-on tales of adventure (to be published, perhaps, at another time), while others were more succinct in their impressions. Ninety-five percent of the entries were extremely positive; negative feedback focused things like camp commodification and other perceived violations of the 10 Principles. Common themes emerged in the responses, as you’ll see below, but within that each story is wholly its own. (more…)
Last week, early morning so as to miss a non-existent Exodus, the Mighty Mr. B arrived at my camp and, after loading my generator and whatever else fit into his car, he and I made our way off playa. That was a few days after Burning Man had officially ended and it seems like just yesterday or years ago now.
That morning I saw the Black Rock City sun-rise one last time, pink and heavy over the aftermath of our event with black smoke rising from random sites out on the open playa. We drove slowly, trying to find and follow streets that were so defined only days ago. We passed the dismantled colorful detritus of last week’s Black Rock City; deconstructed domes, impossible buses stacked high with bikes, and poles and tarps that sat alone in places, hopefully waiting for someone to come pick them up. Camp strike was in full force just a week after Black Rock City was invaded by all manner of ecstatic pilgrims who built structures to hang their themes upon, and now spent and winding down, gradually one vehicle of tired pioneers repatriated at a time, carrying off all that made our city amazing.
We passed the straggler groups of people packing up the last of their encampments, loading trucks and trailers, cars and semi-trailers. Small last gasp ghost camps of dust colored citizens waved goodbye as we passed them, some reclining beneath minimalist shreds of shade. They sat in fold out chairs sipping morning coffee, milking the last sweet dollop of camaraderie cultivated since they’d first arrived.
We waved back. Bye bye last Happy Campers. See you next year. We were quite happy to be out of there.
This year was wonderful and as they keep saying, challenging.
Small cultural idiosyncrasies of this young, new century have invaded Burning Man. They are little trappings that let you know our culture is not within an un-breakable bubble. There were selfie sticks and drones. I never once saw someone walking along the Esplanade talking or texting on their phone, thankfully. Hopefully the cell towers were overwhelmed. There was a lot of vaping this year.
The night of the Burn I was on the periphery with art cars parked and once the fireworks began I made my way past Ranger Sarah Problem into the outer circle and found that I was standing behind a concert sized wall of phones and cameras held up all filming the Man. Once the fireworks ended, only about five of the one hundred folks who were filming kept holding their phones and cameras aloft. I’m not sure if the massive fire balls that rolled up to engulf the Man flashed their video and they quit or if they just wanted to see a good fire and perhaps contemplate what was happening rather than just recording it for later entertainment. I like to believe it was the latter.
As Mr. B and I navigated out of the city on 6:30 towards Laughing Sal, we saw a few young couples clumsily pulling luggage being them, sending up white alkaline powder as they dragged their bags to the Burner Bus Depot to depart. I felt like we were moving through some post apocalyptic video game dream-scape of a frosty dusted roofless airport terminal. A girl was followed by her mate, both of them laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the puffing surface tossing up white spew between their once black rubber luggage treads as they forged on. We saw MOOPed and abandoned properties with only a semi-trailer or a big fresh water, black or grey tank awaiting pick up. It seems that you can rent those now and have them delivered then picked up after the event.
Black Rock City at 70 thousand is a real city and the days of knowing everyone are long gone. We are no longer a small town and there’s no turning back. A Man must burn and everyone knows he will and they want to be there to see it. The cowboys of Burning Man Past still ride before and after the event, masters of that lake bed building it or restoring it, but the event belongs to a much larger swath of humanity now.
He is having trouble putting one foot in front of the other. The wind whips at the back of his head, and he can’t even see what it’s pushing him towards.
He has left a camp where they said he was always welcome, to walk into the desert. Into a dust storm. There have been heavy dust storms for days, but this is a prolonged white out punctuated by moments of sudden clarity. He cannot see the Man. He cannot see the other side of the city he is trying to reach.
At sundown, a procession will leave the other side of the city to go to the temple and bury a friend. He thought he had enough time to get there. He’s walked through dust storms before. He has cut through the open desert on foot many times.
He cannot see the temple. But for a moment there is a break in to the dust, and he can see a strange and intricate wooden structure. It is full of people. Someone on the second floor says something, and they begin to cheer. Then the wind picks up again, and they’re gone. Even the sound of them lost.
He isn’t sure that he’s walking towards the meeting place. He’s not certain that this is even the right direction. For a strange moment, he’s not clear that there even is another side of the city waiting for him across all this dust. The trip is taking longer than he remembered. He turns around. The wind stings his eyes. The place he came from has vanished. The people who said he was always welcome are gone.
Announcing the first-ever Tales from the Playa: Live in Black Rock City! Come sit in a soothing installation way out on the edge of BRC to hear and share the dreamiest Burning Man stories.
What: Telling Burning Man stories in a far-out vibrating portal Where:11:55 Reformation Portal, 11:55 & way out there When: Burning Man 2015: Monday at 9am and 9pm, Friday at 9am and 9pm
Playa stories aren’t just the what of what happens out there. They’re also the why. The unbelievable events and encounters that happen in BRC become the stories we bring home with us, and they’re the fuel that brings us back. Come share some!
Perhaps you’ve heard stories of the portal? That’s where we’re holding these storytelling sessions. Harlan Emil Gruber’s portals have been the sites of some of my earliest, my wildest, and my most meaningful playa experiences. So, indeed, have Kathy D’Onofrio’s hauntingly beautiful sculptural installations (here’s a great blog post Curt Mekemson wrote about one). So this year, we’re in for a treat, because these two artists are working together. We’ll tell our tales from the playa inside the portal’s humming amplifier, and we’ll have an otherworldly audience of alien beings paying rapt attention.
You’ve got four chances. Monday and Friday, 9 am and 9 pm. From the Man, aim just a tick to the left of the Temple and walk or bike straight out… way, way out, and you’ll find the encircling walls of the portal. Come on inside, and bring your Burning Man stories.
My second visit to the playa was in 2014, but it was my first time to see the Temple burn. My friends told me that it’s a more solemn event, a quiet event, a time for reflection and a time to let things go. I didn’t have a particularly emotional time, it was similar to attending a funeral for someone I didn’t know. I felt an air of sadness, but I was not sad. I was in observation mode.
When the Temple dome collapsed, it slowly spun, then fell into itself. The crowd gasped, and for a moment I could feel some emotions stirring. But that was about it for me. I was there to quietly watch. The crowd was mostly very quiet. After the collapse, it seemed that many of the people who were holding their emotions back let them go. I heard many people sobbing around me. As if I was at a stranger’s funeral, I simply stood there and watched with my friends. I knew that some of them had left memorials or other tokens and were watching them burn to ashes. I remembered doing this in church camp many years ago. It’s quite a powerful thing. Back then I might have fought the urge to cry or feel sad. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to mourn loss. I told myself it was okay to feel something, but there was nothing to feel.
Someone was crying behind me, sobbing quite loudly. I turned to look and saw a lady in her mid 20s dressed in a furry jacket with cute bear ears on top. Her face was pinched up as she cried, tears streaming down her face. Her body shook when she sobbed. I can handle someone being sad, but not being sad and alone in the middle of a crowd of thousands. So I slowly walked to her and offered her my hand.
She took my hand, then pulled me for a hug. Hugs seem to be the currency at Burning Man. I wondered to myself, “How does a middle-aged man hug a young woman at a large event?” Very carefully, I thought to myself. So I put one arm over her shoulders and held her while she buried her wet face in my furry jacket. I’m glad I was wearing that jacket, the fur was probably very comforting. I like to bury my face in my German Shepherd Ranger’s coat, it’s so warm and soft. She held on tightly as she continued to sob.
After a few minutes her breathing slowed down, I could feel her release her grip on me so I let her go. Resisting the temptation to say something like “it’s okay”, I just looked directly at her. She looked back. We didn’t bow or anything, I simply let her go and returned to my friends. They were silently watching the embers from the Temple. I looked back a few minutes later to see that she was gone.
First of all, walk/bike onto the open playa in the dark and rising wind to retrieve your art car.
Next, stop halfway out and just stand there (with the wind still rising) taking pictures of the Man like an idiot tourist because he looks cool in the dust storm…
… pausing only to close your mouth because there seems to be a lot of dust in it …
Continue past the Man — trudging on foot now because the air’s too thick to see through — and wonder at how Burners’ lights seem to suddenly pop up out of the dust just in time to avoid running into you. Notice that everyone else seems to be headed into camp in the opposite direction.
This is barely a story; it’s way too short and without a plot. But I swear to all the Playa Gods, this is exactly how it happened.
We were tearing down the French Quarter, moving tons of stuff, large beams by the hundreds and heavy cast iron railings. I felt like I had just exhausted my very last bit of energy and would collapse right away if I didn’t immediately get some replenishment.
Crossing paths with a campmate, I shouted “I need bacon NOW!” And just as I say the last word, “NOW”, another campmate, Jen, shows up, turning around the corner about 15 feet away. She comes straight towards us with a large aluminum tray in her arms full of freshly made bacon, shouting “Bacon anyone? Bacon? Bacon?”