The adventures of Burning Man are a post dedicated onto itself, but too many strange things happened during the “getting ready” stages that simply can’t be ignored.
As I was leaving a store, I stepped down off of a curb, and heard a “crack”.
The best way I could describe the sensation is that I saw “pink”. Not the singer. The color. Everything in the world turned pink.
Next thing I know, I was sweating, getting really dizzy, and was having trouble concentrating. Two ladies saw me, and helped me to my car.
I had twisted my ankle.
I thought I would go to one of those “doc in a boxes” since I don’t have insurance, so I drove a few feet (yes, stupid I know) and get near the on-ramp for the 95. I was stopped as the area is residential, and waited for the light to change. I guess the guy in front of me grew impatient, as he suddenly threw his car in reverse, and backed full speed into the front of my car. It crunched my bumper, and broke out one of my headlights.
So two completely unrelated incidents happened right after each other.
I was in a staggering amount of pain and trying to stay conscious, but I managed to get home. Thanks to a lot of help, a makeshift splint, and this recommended recipe that actually worked, I was able to support myself with a cane.
And I kind of had to get mobile as fast as possible again. It was Classic Gaming Expo time.
Using a cane, I hobbled around the Classic Gaming Expo. Not much there as I would have liked, unfortunately. I got to play the Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade game from Wreck-It Ralph, bought two classic games for my Lynx, ran into my friend Geoffrey and his girlfriend Rachel, and saw a conference with Howard Phillips, who ran the Nintendo Fun Club/Nintendo Power thing WAY back in the day. I just felt the event needed something more. It just makes the rich history of gaming just seem a little… barren.
The rest of the month was spent healing, calling the car repair company yet again, and getting ready for my trip. Days turned into weeks, and finally, on one not so ordinary day, my latest trip began.
Burning Man, as I’ve learned, is not something that can be easily explained. I had a number of people tell me this months before going, so I felt that I had learned little as to what to expect out there outside of preparation and survival. There was also the slogan of “My vacation is your worst nightmare.” But the funny thing is, all of those people were right. Outside of a few stories, you really can’t understand it until you’ve been there yourself.
The very name “Burning Man” conjures up some image of a new age, hippie lovefest, where people are trying to figure out the existence of double rainbows and getting whacked out of their gourds. Early on, I gave up on trying to explain to shopkeepers as to what I was doing, instead referring to it as a “camping trip” to save us all some time. It was a lot of preparation. A LOT of preparation, especially for a first timer. But I did survive my experience quite well.
Burning Man is a week long event in the middle of a place called Black Rock City. By the time it’s all said and done, it becomes the third largest city in Nevada, outside of Las Vegas and Reno. The rest of the state, from what I learned, is a West Texasesque drive with only the tiniest of towns, and is otherwise undeveloped with little provinces that don’t look out of place from the late 1800′s/early 1900′s. In short, it’s a long drive.
Black Rock City (or “The Playa”) is its own natural desolation. No plants, I saw maybe three bugs during the course of 11 days, and looks not unlike the surface of the moon. The dust out there has the consistency of confectionery sugar or talcum power. It’s incredibly fine, and gets everywhere. And stays everywhere. If you try to clean it off, you’re fooling yourself. Showers and wipes only hold it back so long, so you have to learn how to accept the dust. You have no choice, really.
I hadn’t even gotten into the sandstorms. Imagine this dust flying towards you in huge waves, with periodic white outs that render you unable to see more than two feet ahead of you at times. The temperature was on average 90 degrees in the day, and 30-40 at the coldest points of night. “Dubstep” becomes part of the natural environment.
It’s a man-made, fully functional city that’s built out in the middle of nowhere, with a community built on gifting to others and what you bring out there to represent yourself.
The best way to describe the overall sensation is this: Take the following things: Tron, Dr. Seuss, Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Willy Wonka, Disneyland, Christmas, Halloween, Mad Max, New Year’s Eve, and Mardi Gras, let a mad scientist throw it into a blender, and you might start understanding the overall vibe.
My experiences were often surreal: I rang the bell and rolled in the dirt upon arrival. I rode on stegosaurus shaped cars listening to Towa Tei. I discovered a full size pirate ship half buried in the desert. I rode a train out to the middle of the desert and danced the night away. I sat in a little cafe in a replica of New Orleans’ French Quarter and ate gumbo. I got a facial and massage at a spa (twice in fact, as you appreciate the clean). I heard the readings of the “Great Prophet Hello Kitty”. I went to an “Inconvenience Store” where payment of my purchases required me to scale this rickety three story scaffolding to tie a stuffed gorilla to the top of it, making me question my sanity. I wandered the desert for an entire day to see if I had what it took to survive the environment. I was gifted elaborate costumes to which I wore almost daily. A lot of girls complimented my backside, which is funny because I never thought of having one. I fought dust storms and danced in clubs. I ran into my friend Sarah Jane, as she literally roller skated into me. I took pictures and wrote in my journal. I paid homage to my Dad in an elaborate Temple, while saying good-bye to negative elements from my present and making plans for my future. I watched a sunrise with friends that changed the entire experience for me.
And there were three experiences that held the most profound of impacts:
An all-night staying out with George, Shannon, and Gabe. So many things happened that evening, that’s it’s hard to explain. There was the usual all-night revelry, but there was a moment that we had to huddle together to fight off the worst sandstorm of the entire event in order to make it back to camp. We later found ourselves under a giant light sculpture with 3D glasses. A bond happened to us that night through conversations and spending time together that genuinely affected me, and the duration of the remaining event. And then we watched the sun rise together, as our little group, surrounded by the remaining awake members of our camp. Of everything that happened, that was my favorite experience.
The Man burning was incredible. All of the art cars drove out to the center of the Playa and essentially transformed the area into a mini city. It was a huge celebration as the Man raised his arms to the sky before the ceremony began. The fireworks were spectacular. The best I’ve ever seen, like Disneyland exploded. And the burning itself was huge, a massive wave of flame that exploded into the night. During the event, a new friend, an older gentleman, gave me a large and sincere hug, and it emotionally caught me off guard, as no one has hugged me like that since my Father passed.
Overall, The Temple was beautiful and emotional. Going inside, it was a collection of photos, letters, items. Not only to those who had passed and were gone, but to missed chances and lost opportunities in life. Someone begged to find love again. And there were messages of hope, and dreams, and the want to embrace life again. Before I knew it, reading all of these messages of loss and redemption filled my eyes with tears. I found myself putting more of my past to rest, to removing negative elements from my present, and recommitting to the future. The night it burned, I walked a mile out into the desert, being flanked by other travelers and art cars during this pilgrimage as “Born Slippy” played from the Trainspotting soundtrack. The burn itself was swift and largely silent, and with it went my own messages of commitment, restoration and redemption. It was a beautiful experience.
As for the people that I met during my travels, within my little family that formed out there: I’ve never experienced such genuine kindness anywhere. People seemed genuinely interested in how you were doing. People greeted you warmly. People would just hand you things if they thought it would be helpful. After a dust storm where I was left coughing, someone handed me cough drops and water to make sure that I was alright. People served up huge feasts in camps. People shared coffee or other drinks as you walked by. A friend even washed the filth out of my hair one day, and it felt like honey and angel spit (which you know just has to be good). Of the 60,000 people that were said to be out there, 99.9% of them were beyond generous and kind. It really took me back and gave me pause as to how I handled relationships in my own life, and how I’d rather remain being like that.
Ultimately, it became an exercise in better understanding artistic expression, self sufficiency, truth, loyalty, self-confidence, compassion, generosity, inspiration, creativity, community, and self restoration. Oh sure, there was definitely some needless drama, but there were also 1,000 other things going on at any given time so that was negligible. What I learned is that Burning Man is very much based on choice: You choose what you want the experience to be. If you want to sit in your tent reading Tolstoy and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, you could. If you want to fill your body with every substance known to man and dance all night long, you could. If you want to explore the various art sculptures and mutant cars while taking part in what these camps have to offer, that’s another option. As long as you are nice to people, and respect what’s around you, people will leave you to do your own thing.
But I also learned how to best enjoy the experience:
* Bring a bike. If you don’t think you need one, you are fooling yourself. My blisters say “Hi”.
* After a week plus for 24 hours a day, I still don’t like dubstep. It’s not to say that I didn’t give it a chance, what with it playing non-stop and all.
* Even though it was explained later, “Freebird” was just an inappropriate choice for the solemnity of the Temple Burn.
* Removing clothes is not exactly a form of self-expression. Between the heat and the dirt, you get to the point to where you exclaim “I hate you, clothes!”, and that’s pretty much how all that starts.
* Coffee and ice are the ONLY things that you can buy out there with money. Everything else is based off the gifting concept.
* Don’t mess around with the dust. It’s high alkaline, and the stuff in it will mess you up if you don’t take it seriously. I saw quite a few people in the med tent while getting a blister treated.
* It’s not what you do or don’t do, it’s how you handle yourself as a result.
* Bacon actually is a remarkable form of commerce out there.
* Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, unless you make it so.
* A face mask and goggles are vital out there, because you never know when a duststorm will hit.
* You don’t so much clean dirt out there, as you simply just organize it into better and more manageable piles.
* Just be NICE to other people. What you put into something is exactly what you get back from it. It’s amazing how far one can get with that simple concept.
I stayed in Burning Man for the final week of the month….