What It Feels Like to Be Older at Burning Man

There are a variety of reasons that older people I know offer up for not going to Burning Man – some of them perfectly legitimate.  Asthma victims or people with compromised lungs have good reason to be hesitant about spending a week in the dust-laden world of Black Rock City.

But there are lots of bad reasons too – let’s just call them excuses – for choosing not to go.  Among them is the fear that they’ll feel too old in a crowd of young people.  Another is that they don’t share a common set of ideals, or even language, with young Burners.  A third is that they can’t keep up with all the activities.  And a fourth is that there’s just nothing appealing to older people at Burning Man.

Let’s take these one at a time:

Young? Old? Who cares?

Young? Old? Who cares?

  1. I feel too old to be with all those crazy young people.  I guess you’ve forgotten that it was us baby boomers (and I’m even older than that) who started the whole counter-culture movement, and may also have forgotten some of the spit and fire that we used to feel for life lived on a different plain.  When I’m at Burning Man, I often feel more at ease with the my Burner friends, young and old, then do some of the one-hit-wonder young kids who come once, gawk and never return.  Most Burners either don’t care about your age, or respect it. The fact is, there are plenty of us alums of the 60s who can’t wait to see something new around the corner.  Your body may be older, but if your mind remains nimble you’ll have a ball re-living that sense of freedom that made your earlier years so memorable.
  2. I don’t share the ideals embodied in the 10 principles The range of people who for one week share the ideals of Burning Man will genuinely amaze you.  Corporate executives, senior engineers, McDonalds servers, college professors, the unemployed and unemployable, active and retired military – these and more all come to Burning Man.  You might never even know what the guy standing beside you does with his life, because at Burning Man it just doesn’t matter.  One of the greatest benefits of Burning Man is meeting and knowing people whose belief systems are different from yours, whose lifestyle is 180 degrees from yours, whose look and dress is anathema to your everyday experiences.  You’ll come home with a new appreciation for the meaning of the word “diversity.”
  3. I can’t keep up.  The truth is, nobody can keep up with the frenetic pace of Burning Man, so we all pick and choose what we can do and what we want to do.  There’s no coupon book to get punched proving you went to all the “attractions.”  Some people’s first year is spent mesmerized by everything going on, or just people watching from a comfortable spot in Center Camp.  While Burning Man itself is frenetic, for the individual there literally is no such thing as a “pace.”  Need a nap?  Take one.  I do every afternoon so I have the energy to head out at night when everything is ablaze.  But here’s something I’ve discovered about many of the young people at Burning Man:  they take naps, too.
  4. There’s nothing appealing to older people.  Those of you who have read this blog in the past know how I feel about enveloping yourself in the erotic atmosphere of Burning Man.  Naked bodies, lots of sexual talk, provocative dress by both men and women.  It’s amazing what this aspect of Burning Man will do for your life.  Eroticism is a life force, and it pervades Black Rock City.  You’ll go home feeling younger from that alone.  But there’s so much more – creativity, art, whimsy.  You’ll see what humanity can do when it turns off the money switch and turns the world on its head for one glorious week in the Nevada desert.  Take an art tour, ride in an art car, make love with your spouse (or someone you’ve just met).  Nothing appealing?  I can’t wait to get back.

See you on the Playa.

There’s Serious Health Care at Burning Man

For those of us “of a certain age,” medical issues tend to predominate our thinking.  In the retirement community where Lashes and I live for about half the year, nothing is discussed more frequently than health.  So I’m happy to tell all my older readers (and everyone else, for that matter) that Burning Man does a great job taking care of people when they become ill or suffer an accident on the Playa.  I have known that the healthcare provided by the volunteers was one of Burning Man’s gifts to attendees, but I wasn’t aware until this year of the additional services administered primarily by EMS providers from Humboldt General Hospital EMS Rescue out of Winnemucca, NV.  Those services are also gifted to the community.  I originally learned about this facility (located near Center Camp) from one of the volunteer physicians who work at the Burning Man medical tents located at the 3:00 and 9:00 keyholes just off the Esplanade.

Then my son, Ranger Carousel, forwarded this article to me a few days ago that detailed the work done at Burning Man by the EMS facility.

One of the fascinating aspects of the article is the discussion of the tiny number of drug related issues treated at the facility – only about 2.5 percent of patients.  However, the article points out that one of the reasons for few drug-related problems reaching the trauma center is that Burning Man handles a lot of drug problems internally at a facility called “The Sanctuary.”

But the low number of drug cases is not reflective of the overall activity of the EMS unit.  According to the Jason Busch who both wrote article and works in the facility:

“On the last Saturday of the event, the day they burn the man, we become one of the busiest, if not the busiest, emergency department in the United States. We will exceed the volume of patients we see daily at UMC in Las Vegas (a big, busy public hospital) by over 40% (more than 600 patients on the last Saturday).”

One of the squadron of ambulances parked in front of the EMS Trauma Center near Center Camp

One of the eight  ambulances serving Black Rock City parked in front of the EMS Trauma Center near Center Camp

The Burning Man medical operation is unique in part because of the desert environment, but also because of the distance (150 miles) to the closest permanent medical facility (in Reno).  As a result, the ems trauma center relies more heavily on paramedics than a normal in-city facility might.  But that doesn’t mean our medical care is in any way less top-notchl than what is available at any trauma center.

Again, from the article itself:

“…eight ALS ambulances are staffed and deployed with at least one ALS level provider. One EMS operations chief oversees ambulance observation and one incident commander is available 24/7. An airway team/critical intervention team is also available to assist with advanced procedures.”

As the population of Black Rock City increases (eventually to 100,000), so have the demands on medical staffs.  But Burning Man is committed to meeting the needs of its citizens.

As Bryan Bledsoe, one of the head honchos of the ems trauma center tells it, the staff couldn’t be happier with their role at Burning Man:  “They provide high-quality, oftentimes challenging, quality healthcare in an austere environment without worries about insurance or social status—all for free. They aren’t overly concerned with charting, electronic healthcare records, medical liability and so on. They just take care of people in a manner that they hoped for when they applied to medical school.”

Bledsoe has a string of credentials behind his name — DO, FACEP, FAAEM, professor and director of EMS Fellowship, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Nevada School of Medicine and medical director of MedicWest Ambulance.

So for anyone worried about suffering health problems while at Burning Man, be assured that we’re well taken care of.





Young and Beautiful: Not the Complete Picture of Burning Man

I’ve been watching a lot of Vimeo and YouTube videos of this year’s Burning Man (and past years as well), and keep getting comments from my friends about how many beautiful young people are featured.  I always answer that these films are not accurate portrayals of the mix of people.  Not everyone there is young, and certainly not everybody is beautiful.  One of the strengths of Burning Man is its dynamic diversity, and the strong sense of the right to be whoever you are without society’s usual judgments.

I understand the need to use advertising-style techniques in developing popular videos about Burning Man, but I’m unhappy with the under-representation of our older group of Burners.  We’re here, we’re old, and sometimes we don’t look so hot in scanty clothing.  But at Burning Man, we have the right to wear those skimpy outfits, or nothing at all.  We’re not judged while we’re at the Burn, so why should we be judged by the video makers?  I’d love to see a coalition of photographers and videographers who make a point of featuring the diverse age groups that represent the Burning Man experience.

I am personally guilty of loving the videos of pretty people.  One of my favorites this year is “Burn” on Vimeo, produced by first time Burner Kien Lam. Part of its attraction is the soundtrack — Ellie Goulding’s song “Burn,” a near perfect anthem for Burning Man (although I doubt if that’s the reason it was written).  But, again, the people are mostly young and beautiful.  Of course, there is a moment of special significance to me when Lam shows our Lamplighter group on its ceremonial lighting of the city – led by Lamplighter Dog Brain (Adam Lambert).  But in that case, you can’t see the real people under the robes.

Fully dressed, average age Black Rock Ranger is part of the norm at Burning Man

Fully dressed, average age Black Rock Ranger is part of the norm at Burning Man.  Image in Public Domain.

If you’ve attended Burning Man, you already know that there are people of every age, shape and size populating Black Rock City.  If you haven’t gone and you’re a little older, you may have the impression from the current crop of videos that you won’t fit in.  That’s just not true.  Burning Man is – of all things – real people.  Yes, there are shapely naked women (and men) at Burning Man, but the opposite is true – bodies that are real, imperfect and sometimes outside of the realm of what our world has decided is “pretty.”

Whatever you think about going to Burning Man, don’t make your decision because you don’t think you’re young enough, svelte enough or pretty enough.  One of the things I love about the Burn is seeing the exposed fat tummies of the older crowd.  One of my good friends in Lamplighters has such a build, but he proudly shows it off to the delight of everyone there.

And let me not hesitate to repeat that states of undress are NOT required at Burning Man.  You wear (or don’t wear) whatever you like.   Lashes and I are not comfortable being undressed in public – although Lashes often looks sexier at Burning Man than any other time of the year (something that I greatly appreciate).

Filmmakers need to come forward and capture the true diversity of Burning Man’s population.  We’re not all LA starlets and ripped body builders.  And those of us who are a little older know full well that those bodies will be changing as time and gravity take their toll.

Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

We’re well past the Burn, and past the San Francisco and Sac decompressions (we made SF, missed Sac this year), but we’re still feeling a buzz about Burning Man 2013.  For reasons that are both obvious and mysterious, this was our best Burn ever.

The obvious reasons are the benign weather with only a few, short-lived dust storms; a kind and forgiving playa that had been left flatter and harder than normal because of unusual amounts of rain earlier in the year; and the quality and quantity of art.  Oh, and the Man spun around 360 degrees at night.  What a wonderful year to be at Burning Man.  If it was your first, I can only hope that you could focus on all that was happening around you so you could see, hear and feel this amazing event.

Cupcake, burner and the Man -- the perfect combination.

Cupcake, burner and the Man — the perfect combination. Photo by Jesse Justice.

The mystery of such a great Burn comes out of that unique combination of people, attitudes and essence.  It all seemed to come together this year in a memorable manner.

If there was a downer side, it was the constant rumors about bad weather.  This kind of negative prognostication has occurred before, but this year it had a substantive effect on a critical part of the Burn: exodus.  The Burning Man organization apparently had an inside source giving them detailed and (supposedly) accurate weather information.  The warnings of a drenching rainstorm that could shut down all traffic began in the late afternoon of the final day.  Its effect was immediate.  People started leaving in droves.

The warning affected the temple burn, which was attended by a smaller than usual crowd.  Those who stayed were treated to one of the more memorable conflagrations of my eight Burns – probably because the Temple of Wholyness was built with so many giant-sized holes in it that it created multiple paths for air to enter and increase combustion.  It was truly magnificent.

But exodus itself was a nightmare – reports of 8, 9 or 10 hour waits to get out of Black Rock City abound.  And, irony of ironies, it never rained beyond a few sprinkles. Perhaps it was a case of weather Karma.  Making predictions of what will happen at Burning Man are a fool’s errand, and so – apparently – is predicting the weather for Black Rock City.  Maybe somewhere in Nevada there was a huge rainstorm, but it skipped over BRC, which makes sense, because Black Rock City doesn’t really exist once the Temple has burned and the Festival is officially over.  So how could it be rained on?

Lashes and I are still feeling tingly about our time at the Burn, and especially with Lamplighters this year.  We kicked butt getting those lamps up and down daily.  And it seemed equally successful for most of the villages, camps and attractions.  Everything worked (at least most of the time), and there was an overwhelming sense of love in the air.

Decompressions are a different story.  They’re fine, and fun, and remindful of Burning Man.  But the one’s we’ve been to simply are not Burning Man, and the people who only attend the decompression events and think they’ve experienced Burning Man are missing out on the greatest event of its kind on planet Earth.  So if you’ve gone to the parties, make a commitment now to come to Nevada next year for the real Burn.  It’s beyond your wildest dreams.