Burning Man: Intro & Chapter One



Intro
 
Where in the world do I even begin with this one... Well, for the person who's never heard of Burning Man it's one of two things depending on who's doing the observing:
"it's a place so filled with human kindness, acceptance and genuine intralpersonal curiosity that it may single handedly rejeuvenate your faith in the world and remind you that you're not alone in the world, no matter how cold it may seem at times"
 
or
 
"it's an excuse for a bunch of hippies, freaks and weirdos to get naked and do drugs for a week while rolling around in the desert" 
 
Both statements are true. The only thing that's different is that I doubt that anyone who's ever gone to Burning Man would ever say something negative about it. It's just too powerful and genuine an experience to not leave a positive impression on someone, I feel. Even with me categorically listing the events and experiences, you really can't understand it unless you go there. I'll be using metaphors a bit in this one I imagine and I'll start with this one:
 
Someone telling me that they understand the experience of Burning Man without having gone, especially in a negative way, would be like me saying that I know what it's like to have menstration pains. I've heard womens' descriptions and I've experienced stomach pain or discomfort before in my life so therefore I can imagine what's like to feel that discomfort. How many of my beloved female readers would fly into a rage at the prospect of a man saying that he understands the pain you experience during menstration? He cannot. That's silly. Let's not even go there.
 
So for the sake of argument, read this with an open mind. Some of this might sound strange to some, or possibly most, of you but do remember that this place is its own creature and it's based on the beauty of being human. 



 
Chapter One

The Playa, Lights, Graceland and the Broken-Hearted Aussie 
 
After waking up in the hotel in Reno, NV my copilot and dear dear friend (let's call her Raven) and I took what was undoubtedly to be the last shower for a few days. We drove the rental car to the grocery store. We stocked up on water. A lot of water. As well as food stuffs like bacon, jerky, energy drinks and whatever else we thought might make paleo eaters like us last about 5 days in the desert. Oh and booze. Lots of booze. We packed up the car with coolers filled with our wears then started our trek north. First through a highway, then took the scenic highway through Nixon, NV. Turn left there, pass  through tiny towns, past beauiful Pyramid Lake and finally through Gerlack, NV which is a speck on the regional map and the last stop for all civilization at that point. After about an hour and a half of driving you're there: Black Rock Desert. Burning Man.
 
There's one road in and it's a good idea to plan around peak times as not to be swallowed by the immense clusterfuck of a 50,000 person exodus in either direction. Fortunately, we got there at an off-time and were only waiting for about 3 hours to be checked in at the gate with our tickets. We were surrounded by RV's, cars, SUV's, vans, all covered with bicycles, camping gear, colorful coverings, funny mounted statues and a dust that our car was now covered in. Black Rock Desert is so arid that there's virtually no life that lives out there. The dust there is so fine a powder that it gets into everything. I mean, everything. The people were characters. Normal people but letting their eccentricities out. Everyone around us started taking turns getting out of their vehicles to stretch, hit the bathroom and start making friends. That's the point, you know. I thought I understood but I had no idea. Yet.
 
So we finally get checked in line and the greeters at the gate that we entered were a band of high-energy, fun-loving peole who insisted that we get out of the car and hug them. When in Rome! I got out and hugged a very large woman with pig tails, another younger girl who was pretty and eager to hear about where we were from and a scrawny British guy with a scraggly beard and cheery disposition. They also asked if we had anything to drink. Raven offered them beers and they lit up. On my way in, I was warned that it's tradition to have anyone who's there for their first time get out and make "snow angels" in the dust among other fun, silly hazing things like that. Another friend who had gone warned me that this is fun but that you'd like it better to ease into the experience so I told a little white lie and said I was a Burning Man veteran. Shhh ;)
The entire camp is in the shape of a massive rainbow if you look at it from the sky and it's organized by "times" and letters. A sort of latitude and longitude system. Home sweet home was an RV waiting for us there at 8:30 G. Fortunately, Raven is an ACTUAL Burning Man veteran and somehow befriended the Native American tribe's wife and chief so they were able to have a functioning, furnished place waiting there. Burning Man is an organization but it's on a genuine Indian Reservation. In this world, it was an ancient RV but at Burning Man it was solid gold. 
 
We're there!
 
We settle in and start to walk around a bit. Right across from us is a bar/club called Pink Mammoth. There are lots of self-made clubs, bars and whatever else that motivated and organized people set up all over Burning Man. Some planned and executed every year while others are totally impromptu. Totally spontaneous at times. Everything is free there, too. The only things you pay for are ice (because most people run off of coolers for food) and coffee at Center Camp. People just give each other whatever. It's a self-run camp in that it's preached that you should clean up after yourself and the phrase used the most is "leave no trace". Great system and since everyone there pulls their own weight and brings their own materials there is no "bum" or anything like that. If somebody wants or needs something in this microcosm of Burning Man, give it to him or her because he or she would do the same for you. It's just not a big deal there. It's just what you do. More to come on that.
 
Pink Mammoth is basically a large square looking tent that is painted pink  and has a lot of gay men partying there too. Over-the-top, flaming gay men. They are hilarious. Men wearing huge heals, looking like members of the Village People with whips, ass-less chaps, you name it. This was freaky but nobody was doing anything strange, everyone was just dancing and talking. I, personally, couldn't give a shit less if someone is gay and it doesn't make me uncomfortable in the least being around a gay person or a lot of gay people. I'm adapting to the concept of widespread nudity in general at this point, as that's what's for dinner in a lot of ways. The entire festival is sexually ambiguous anyway in that nobody cares about sexual orientation at all. It's all about the character of the person and whether or not you are close-minded and uninterested in other people. One thing that is apparent is that there is an absurd ratio of extremely attractive people there. Literally, models both male and female walking around wearing little or nothing sometimes. The female aspect of this equation is also making itself apparent, which is good news for me. I'm still taking things in at this point. I'm in Rome, but I'm no Roman. Yet.
 
At this point it's starting to turn into evening and you can see the Playa surrounded by a deep blue sky, a bright moon (as it was a full moon that Friday), and the last glimmer of light reflecting from and off the the Calico Mountains that surrounded the desert.
 
Remember the whole camp of Burning Man is shaped like a rainbow? In the open center of the radius of that rainbow is a mile-wide open space called The Playa. It's also just a nickname for the desert and even Burning Man itself at times. In the center of the Playa is The Man. It's a 40-ish foot man built on top of what looks like a 5-story tall birthday cake all made of wood. A MASSIVE structure that you can walk in and the man glows at night and doubles as the North Star when you're out and about. Disorientation can happen easily, especially when your senses are compromised. More to come on that in later chapters, too ;)
 
Raven and I are walking around the Playa. She's mostly chuckling at my reactions, which are genuine and awestruck. "Holy shit, this is Burning Man!" "Oh my fuck, I'm at Burning Man!" These are some of the only phrases I remember in my heart bursting with excitement and wonder. 
 
There are huge "art cars" which are giant elaborate, illuminated vehicles. Gutted school buses made to look like pirate ships, disco balls, deep sea fish, you name it. Some as small as Miatas, others as big as a house. Literally. All on wheels, all unbelieveably filled with care, humor and detail. And people. And enormous sound systems pumping out dance music. That's another thing. Burning Man has basically because a massive Electronice Music festival as well. World class DJ's and many stars from the Bay Area or LA come out to play. That constant rhythm is everywhere at all times and is the soundtrack of the whole thing. 
Or at least for all but once.

I walk past a tent and I hear "You Can Call Me Al" by Paul Simon playing straight through. The DJ is playing the ENTIRE album "Graceland". I freak out. "Homeless", "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes", "Crazy Love", etc. Or rather, I thought I freaked out before. By this point it was dark enough to see a blanket of stars across the tents and camps. It's at this point that he plays "Under African Skies" which is just one of the most beautiful songs I'm aware of in existence. I melt on the inside. What a spiritual thing to hear that at that moment when I'm feeling so full of life and being quickly humbled by my surroundings. To be given this treat in a most organic fashion. It was like a scene in a movie. It was one of many spiritual moments to come during my time at Burning Man. 
 
We duck into all sorts of little bars and start talking to people. We're fairly drunk at this point. Then, a gorgeous blonde Australian woman stops us at a quieter intersection in the camp area and asks us where we are, coordinates-wise. We take turns looking at each other in silence and then all start laughing. We're laughing because it's very easy to get disoriented. Especially when your senses are compromised.
 
She decides to walk with us at our invitation and then she starts spilling the beans about a huge fight she got into with her significant other just before she bumped into us. 3 hours and lots of drinks and fascinating surroundings later I know everything about this woman and her relationship. This was the very introduction to the Aussie and, indeed, to Burning Man. Strangers utterly unafraid to approach each other. Unafraid to share personal things, not knowing if you would have the answer, but certain that you would care. Genuinely. Either you would meet her half way and delve into relationships and who she really is or make a joke of the situation and try to pull her out of her funk. Either way, it's progress and levity you can count on from another person. A priceless gesture that speaks volumes is a passing conversation in this place. I'm starting to understand.
 
We party a bit longer with the Aussie and I end up walking her back to her RV which isn't too far from us. This would not be the last time I see her.
 
On my near 5am walk back to the RV, it was quiet but for the beat far in the distance and the occasional walker by. I saw a shooting star and I started taking inventory of the whole of where I was. I'm still working it out but I feel a great wave of freedom and appreciation. I take my time getting back but when I do I'm exhausted. Raven is already out cold. 
 
Day one, down.

 

1 comment

  • Bama

    Bama

    Well played sir! well played! I'm feelin it! where's part 2???

    Well played sir! well played! I'm feelin it! where's part 2???

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