Another Successful Sharp Jump!

People say, “jump the shark” like it is a bad thing.
Sure, it signified a time in the story arch of Happy Days when things flew off the rails. But it paved the way for Mork, for God’s sake!
And we are talking about FONZIE jumping over a shark. Is there anything more awesome (and Burning Man) than that!?

Hell yes, Burning Man “Jumped The Shark” this year. Just like it does every year.

In this 3 minute video I explain what Pink Heart does on Playa and how it is just one tiny way that we all have live-changing Shark Jump experiences of our own.
(Warning: If you get triggered by tears, I get misty a minute in.)

Watch the full episode talking about how glorious the dust storms were, more about Pink Heart’s gifts, the surreal presence of Halcyon on Playa, and more.
Or listen on iTunes.

Song, “The 10 Principles Of Burning Man” – Graham Bolger Mix (with audio samples of me).

And that’s that

The crew moves in to light the torches at the Temple of Promise
The crew moves in to light the torches at the Temple of Promise

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!”

The Temple aflame
The Temple aflame

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 wind and the dust hit us hard
The wind and the dust hit us hard

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…)

Dueling Fire in the Big City

01_firetruckLast night we stopped for a sip of water and some very important decisions on what direction to move and what art to check out. As we sat near Thunderdome we encountered a couple fire art cars that rolled out of the shadows and stopped as if in a stand off. As happens in these kinds of situations, suddenly one fired off a huge burst of flame. The other answered with a volley of several fifteen to twenty foot fireballs and the game was afoot.

Back and forth they answered each other with huge bursts fiff fiff fiffing in hot rolling explosions that spontaneously illuminated the desert surface and caused unsuspecting participants to jump. Their big cannons spouted spurting flames that shot forth with great immediacy from car to car, fireballs all manner of size creating different tonalities like some symphony full of fire and fury.

This continued for a short while until they were spent and waiting for their tanks to warm back up and pressurize before they could start again. From what I can tell the cars with the biggest propane tanks usually win these impromptu challenges. After a few minutes rest, the bigger vehicle sent a burst rolling, only to be answered again by the other and the dance began anew.

I’m pleased to see that some things never change at Burning Man.

It seems like just days ago when the gates opened. That was a long time ago in playa time. We’ve been dusted just about every day and a cold front has moved in for the long weekend. It’s nippy out here with dust blowing yesterday like dry snowflakes. This is perfect weather to wear your fabulous costumes to warm you. We saw some Santas walking earlier Ho Ho Ho-ing and the Furries around 7:30 portal are enjoying the chill as everywhere thousands of people dance, frolic, ride bikes, hang at bars or explore art. Theme camps like Kostume Kult host fashion shows. There are hundreds of dance camps, kissing booths, boutiques and carnival games that seem to be on every block. The Costco Soulmate Trading company is doing a brisk business, Center Camp is packed and the city is alive and in full force.

This year I’ve heard it said that Burning Man was so much better Next Year. Rumor has it there is an ambulance Art Car roaming around the playa that looks official, and they find people, then open the back and you’re pulled into a chamber of horrors with ten clowns, balloons, free candy and lots of cow heads and rotting meat. They’re looking for people who don’t seem dusty enough and I’m told their camp is “Immoral, Unusual and Entirely Inappropriate Camp” but this is unfounded hearsay.

Rumors travel fast around here. Regarding the weather, there was a rumor of rain that seems to have evaporated.  When people ask about the weather, we tell them it’s going to be dusty with a chance of puppies.

Most of the art and theme camps are amazing. However one of the most wonderful aspects of Burning Man I appreciate is the ultimate jankification that can manifest out here.  Some theme camps were probably a great idea on paper. Most are fabulous, but Burning Man is the place where Jankitechture can be observed in its most natural of state and that can be as amusing and enlightening as the superstar art and camps. We were riding around on the Tipsy Gypsy, moving  slowly through the night visiting some of our favorites, Marco Cochrane’s “R-Evolution”, Mike Garlington’s “Totem of Confession”, “Serpent Mother” by the Flaming Lotus Girls and “Dreamland” by Flux Foundation and Kate Raudenbush. We love “Blunderwood Portable” by Cat and Cockroach, “Illumacanth” by Rebecca Anders and of course, the Temple.

Riding bikes around we passed a group of women and overheard “I don’t remember Coachella being so dusty last year”. We also heard that Larry, Opa and Truffles the Clown were going be incognito and see if they could get a drink at one of the Plug and Play camps. Haven’t heard how that worked out.

Last night our group of monkeys decided that the last thing you really want to hear when wandering the playa with friends is “Wait here, I’ll be right back”.

Right now it is time to eat in camp and realize the futility of sweeping alkaline dust off your tarp in your shade structure each day. It is time to pick up MOOP and stop by other camps and make new friends.

We’re at that point in the week where large art is disappearing each night as burns blaze across the playa and you find yourself moving from fire to fire to enjoy the conflagration and then the warm afterglow. The Suspension Bridge burned Thursday leaving a wonderful bonfire for newly frigid participants to enjoy. Last night Mazu went up to much jubilation and today the steel infrastructure for the Lotus still stands. Well done.  Tonight they burn that big Man in the middle and we will find ourselves, 60 thousand plus, making our way out across the dusty cold expanse past flaming eye candy colored manifestations that Burning Man artists have brought here to gift us all. It will be giddy and full of anticipation. It will be wonderful as always and we will move like aliens to the hive or jellyfish softly glowing and undulating in a tide that ebbs and flows each year out here, to bathe in the electric excitement, rows of luminescent children in the desert sculpture garden that exists in this temporary city once a year.

We will cross pollinate and make new friends. We will trade ideas and share visions  to make it even better next year. Burning Man was so much better Next Year, indeed.

Calibrating Windsocks

00_airport_signI’ve been coming to Burning Man for a while now, and I’d always heard rumors of participants making their way out to the airport, hanging out a while, and eventually hooking up with a pilot who took them flying over Black Rock City. I’d also heard it helped to know someone aviation inclined, so this year my friend Jane Eric, who knows some of the pilots out here,  arranged a “maybe” flight for she and I and we made our way out past Laffing Sal near the Fire Depot to see what the airport is all about.

Upon our arrival there was coffee and bacon and chocolate chip pancakes with some rather sleepy types milling about. Pilots are an eclectic bunch.  A British woman asked, “Is there a schedule?” and was answered with,”Sorta. There’s Sunrise, Cocktail hour, Dark Thirty and Sunset.”

Meg aka Disaster, Logistics Manager of Black Rock City Airport.

Meg, aka Disaster, is the pilot who is the Logistics Manager for Black Rock City Airport. She said, “Yep, we built this.” Her friend Hank built a two seater plane, perfect for taking photographers over the city that he was quite proud of.  He told me, “You can open the doors while in flight to get the perfect shot.” They discussed meeting pre-playa to co-ordinate the construction and remarked that pilots are a far-flung crowd and it’s hard to get them all to meet to plan, so you’re using  Skype to connect people in the UK, Dubai, Japan, North America and other places.  They  represent all the time zones. They’re pretty mobile people.

Meg told us it took seven days to build the airport and introduced me to Dog Pilot who used to fly for the UN. He told me that the FAA and Nevada Department of Transportation came to inspect and he said “they thought it would be a freak show but we explained that the airport was built by two professionals and after they inspected it they said it was absolutely amazing. They were super pleased.”

00_airport_dog_janeDog Pilot is Deputy Air Controller of the Airport and a Geologist with “11 million dollars worth of pilot training” who speaks fluent Italian. He was a Navy Test Pilot and he told me he rescued people from the Somalian Embassy during the coup there by flying them out in his small UN plane, starting mid-field, going into a downwind and being chased by a tank. He’s flown all over the world on humanitarian missions.

Pilots remind me of surgeons. They’re a bit nuts but smart and a lot of fun. If you can befriend one, you’re probably going to have experiences most people don’t have.

00_airport_sign_ingressBlack Rock City Airport has an elegant and simple setup.  Water trucks wet the runway and there are large rollers to make it solid. There is a parking lot filled with small planes and  a tower or two. They’ve constructed  a terminal area tent complete with art and chairs. When you first come through the gate you see a large art piece called “Pork Chop Nebula”.  Since the Airport is a Gate, there is an ingress and exodus structure and while I was there a group of two women and a man flew in. The women were dressed in slender black dresses and were very clean. Someone wearing a tie unloaded their bags. As they checked in, the airport staff discovered the two women were Burning Man virgins and had them roll around in the dust and hit an empty acetylene tank named “The Gong” that hangs from a steel tripod..

I found watching those folks lose their virginity rolling around in the dust pretty entertaining to watch and kind of sweet. Welcome to Black Rock City everyone.

Purple Haze's 1959 Cessna. A beauty.
Purple Haze’s 1959 Cessna. A beauty.

Dog Pilot told me about the time he met Larry. It was late in the day and Larry arrived on an old 1940s Cessna. He stepped off the plane, lit up a cigarette and said, “Hi I’m Larry. Where’s my ride? I need to find Joe the Builder. I need to go see the Man. ” Dog Pilot called on the radio, but his radio died so they shot the shit for a while. He’d been pulling the roller with his Range Rover to flatten the runway and he unhooked it, then gave Larry a ride to the Man. When they arrived there, Dog Pilot said there were “like 300 people all saying ‘Hi Laaa-rrr-eee'”. He drove Larry to three other places after the Man visit and told me, “Everyone wants to talk to Larry. It looks like it could be exhausting. So I told him sometimes I take my lawn chair out to the other side of the runway and tell everyone I’m going to calibrate the windsocks. Just to get away.”

A few days later evidently Larry showed up to calibrate the windsocks and they sat out there, looking towards Frog Pond, smoking cigarettes with Black Rock City and all its insanity behind them and Larry told him, “This is how Burning Man used to be.”

00_city1Our pilot, Purple Haze arrived and we were up in a matter of minutes in his 1959, 230 HP Cessna 182 for a God’s Eye view of the City. He’s been coming out here since 1995 and flies Will Roger over the city for his weekly Saturday Sunrise shot as well as Sidney Erthal and Scott London. With the window open you can kind of hang out the cabin a little and see the full beauty of Black Rock City, complete with the large camps, huge art and people moving about. The trash fence clearly defines our five points.

00_airport_city2Purple Haze is a force of nature and he took us up around the city three times and way out past Trego. I asked him if it was good flying out here and he told me “You really can’t find a better place to have to land if something went wrong. All open and flat.” He waved to our friends in walk-in with his wing. He swooped up the train tracks and over cows. He had a blast.  We had a blast. He’s Batman.

Once you’ve flown over the city, you tend to notice those little planes buzzing overhead when you’re walking or riding around and imagine the fun people are having up there checking out our fabulous city.

00_airport_city3I asked Purple Haze if people coming to the airport to catch a ride   was a secret and he said hell no. For the most part pilots love it when people come out for rides. The airport isn’t Disneyland. It is a functioning real airport and there’s a certain respect you need to maintain regarding drinking or being stupid. Medi-vacs, if any, always take precedence. It may take a while to get on a plane and you may not get one at all.  Mornings are typically the best time to try and they don’t fly when we’re having dust storms. Find a flight wrangler, be nice, gift and be respectful. If you can get up there you’ll have the time of your life seeing something you can’t see anywhere but here in Black Rock City.

Cows near Frog Pong
Cows near Frog Pong


View of Black Rock City and gate
View of Black Rock City and gate
The train tracks
The train tracks

Seen today

"Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea" by The Department of Public Arts, Dream  CommunityLast night I watched the Mazu Temple burn, a glorious shower of fireworks followed by a beautiful flower of fire that left a steel column holding a lotus blossom behind.

This morning, I saw the DPW finally – after a week of delays – use their trebuchet to launch a flaming piano into the air.

Then, on my way back to camp, I saw a grown man with a young girl who was holding a basket full of candy.

“Ice cold M&M’s!” the man called out.  “Get your chilled M&M’s!  All you have to do is take candy from a strange child!  Go ahead!  Take candy from a strange child!  It’s all right!  You can do it!”

Who says kids have no place at Burning Man?

I thought you would want to know.

Barking up a (Dust) Storm

“Ladies and gentlemen, put down your glow sticks and prepare to be dazzled by the light of adventure and discovery!”  The carnival Barker calls out from behind the counter set into a wall at the Midway.  “For tonight and tonight only you have the chance to experience not just the greatest game in the Midway but perhaps the most extraordinary art experience ever to come to Burning Man in all its long history!  I refer, of course,” he points to the sign above his booth “to:  Knock Out!”

His tone darkens.  “But beware, for while it is an experience of joy and whimsy never to be exceeded in a generation, it also has the terrifying potential to break even the hardiest man’s spirit!  Why, I’ve seen grown men cry, marines bleed from their ears, and boxers fall to their knees from the incredible pressure that comes not from failing, but from winning:  KNOCK OUT!  But step right up one and all if you dare …”

A small line forms.  As the game goes on … it’s mostly patter … the crowd grows bigger.

There are many ways Burners can participate in the Midway.  The Regionals were invited to create displays and experiences;  there was an open call for ideas;  there are two stages with performances going on all week (I took advantage of that one).  You can harass innocent, well-meaning, Burners as they try to make it through the maze (okay, that one too).  And then … then … there is “The Wooden Nickel Carnival.”

That’s my favorite.