Storms Can’t Stop the Party at Black Rock City

One of the running gags among Burning Man attendees is that “everything was better last year,” a sentiment that probably a reflects more on the memory of one’s first year on the Playa — with its psychic overload of sites, sounds and whimsy – than on the reality of the latest Burn.

The fact is that every Burning Man is distinct, not only because of the Festival’s variety of activities, but also because of the unique way every person sees the event.

However, this year felt truly different, and you can probably blame the weather. A freak desert thunderstorm that brought lightning strikes within the grounds of Black Rock City, plus hale and a torrent of rain, put a temporary kibosh on Burning Man, and suppressed attendance for the first few days, even though every ticket was sold.

The gypsum-based desert surface turns into a sticky, muddy mess when it rains, and this storm was no exception. It was hard even to walk in the immediate aftermath of the storm because feet or shoes caked up with the wet surface, which turned into a kind of cement that made it difficulty to take a step without feeling like you were getting sucked into the beige tinged desert.

Lamplighter neighbor Water Dragon picks her way through the mess created by the Monday storm

Lamplighter neighbor Water Dragon picks her way through the mess created by the Monday storm

For vehicles, the situation was even worse. Mud-encrusted car or truck tires would halt any vehicle almost as quickly as it got moving. This meant that service vehicles (such as the porta-potty cleaning trucks) were out of commission. In fact, the Festival was declared closed on Monday, August 25, which should have been its first complete day (gates opened at 10 a.m. on Sunday, but the activity list for that day was skimpy).

With entry barred to all traffic, vehicles quickly backed up along Nevada Highways 447 and 34 – the two-lane roads that take Burners from I-80 to the event. The backup began at Wadsworth, the first town driver’s reach after exiting the interstate. The Nevada Highway Patrol, at the request of the Burning Man Organization, began turning cars at or near the gate area back to Gerlach to wait out the weather. Cars south of Gerlach all the way back to Wadsworth were turned around as well, and told they’d need to wait it out in Reno/Sparks or another nearby town and try again in 24 hours, when the playa was likely to have dried out.

As a result, the next few days for those who had successfully negotiated their way into the festival prior to the storm were unusually uncrowded. There were with no bicycle traffic jams at main intersections, shorter lines at some of the more popular attractions, and plenty of room on disco dance floors. There were also many more open spaces where camps had been scheduled for set-up, and a larger number of incomplete art installations.

And while Burning Man’s population had righted itself by Wednesday, with total attendance reaching 65,000 on the Friday morning of Labor Day weekend, there were noticeably fewer art cars roaming the Playa for the length of the Burn; in fact official figures from the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles), showed the number down from 650 in 2013 to 605 this year.

Did any of the weather and resultant traffic issues make it a less successful Burn? Probably so for those who had spent 20 hours in their vehicles between the drive to the general vicinity and the long wait for the gates to re-open. But if you were looking for a typical Burning Man event with monumental desert sculptures, art everywhere, a loose-tongued population un-tethered from day-to-day working lives, and – here and there – some naked bodies, then you found it in spades at the 2014 Burn. And if you happened to have arrived prior to the weather-related closing, then you enjoyed a rare day of Burning Man leisure talking to old friends while waiting for the Playa to solidify.

A highlight of this year’s Burn was the rococo-style temple – viewed by Burners as a sacred space, but not necessarily a place of religion. The temple, designed this year by Bay Area architect David Best –who originated the idea of the temple at Burning Man in 1996 and has designed more of them then anyone else — was awe-inspiring with its towering height and sculpted details. People may well be raucous during most Burning Man events, but they are quiet and respectful in the temple, where many individuals go to honor lost friends and family members.

Temple Burn underway

Temple Burn underway

Another eye-catching art installation – for both its grandeur and meaning – was “Embrace,” a 100-foot high wooden sculpture of two heads intimately close to each other. “Embrace” was nearly as visible across the Playa as the Man itself – this year a monumental 140 foot tall effigy that stood on the Playa surface and was surrounded by a bazaar know as The Souk that typified way-points along the Silk Road that opened the far east to commerce from the beginning in the 2nd century CE into the 1800s.

Burning Man’s theme for 2014 was Caravansary, a kind of travel stopover that marked the treacherous trip along the Silk Road. As usual, there were a number of art exhibits (such as a giant genie’s bottle) that reflected the theme. But uniformity is not one of Burning Man’s strong suits, and there were many art installations and exhibitions that veered away from the theme.

One example is the Black Rock Observatory, situated beyond the Temple in the area known to Burners as Deep Playa. The observatory provided a unique opportunity to view the crystal clear desert sky through professional telescopes. On Thursday at sunrise, a musical composition written especially for the observatory was played live in Deep Playa by an ensemble that included keyboard, violins, cello and voice. It was an awesome example of the melding of art and nature.

Among the other new features was an actual Ferris Wheel located along the Esplanade – Burning Man’s main street.

People who have a “drugs, sex, rock n roll” image of Burning Man might have been surprised by late Friday night’s annual Marching Band Competition in Center Camp. Three bands competed for audience and judges’ approval this year, with the nattily attired Love Bomb a Go-Go taking top honors. The bands all played gigs around the Playa, so they weren’t just there for one night’s show. Most eclectic of all was the Burning Man Orphan Band — a collection of musicians, majorettes and dancers who had come to the Playa independently. Meanwhile, the Burning Band, the festival’s original marching band, celebrated its 19th year of entertaining Burners.

Bluegrass jam

Burning Man’s traditional million-bunny march wound up its boisterous show at the man base. Bunnies were followed quickly by the BRC Bureau of Animal Control, which vainly tried to keep its charges under constraint by offering a carrot (literally) instead of a stick. One white-suited, highly official looking Burner with Bunny ears carried a brief case labeled, “Bunny Civil Liberties Unit,” and was apparently there to defend any captured hare.

On Burn Night, eight robed Lamplighters (my wife and I included this year) carried the fire cauldron out to the man. Torchbearers on stilts, a line of drummers, and org officials carrying multiple radios were all led to the Man by Crimson Rose, one of Burning Man’s top executives and its artistic inspiration. The man itself was set ablaze around 9:30 and took an unusually long 90-plus minutes to fall.

The 140' tall Man engulfed in fireworks just as the burn started.

The 140′ tall Man engulfed in fireworks just as the burn started.

While some of the art installations remained incomplete until well after the event’s start, and a few never recovered from the drubbing they took in the Monday storm, there were still eye and earfuls to keep one’s attention. And the feeling of openness that resulted from the briefly suppressed attendance made it seem to some of us long-time Burners like an older, some would say better, Burning Man experience.

You’re Almost Home

 

What’s it going to be like going to Burning Man for your first time? Even as an older, more experienced person you’re likely to feel overwhelmed with the size and scope of his event. It is hard to figure out how to plan your day and see everything that’s happening.

I can tell you from personal experience that you’re not going to be able to see it all. In fact, you’re likely to look at many pictures from this year’s Burning Man and see things that you never came across. That still happens to us after nearly a decade of attending the Burning Man Festival.

We choose to skip events that hold little or no interest for us. For example, because we’re not big fans of techno music, we rarely go to the discos unless we know of a special performance that will take place and that appeals to us.

Hopping a ride on an art car is an experience not to be missed.

Hopping a ride on an art car is an experience not to be missed.

We also try to avoid wasting a lot of time in long lines. The structure housing the man is often very busy, so we only go to see it at odd times when crowds are very light (like the middle of the night). We also enjoy early mornings on the Playa when there aren’t many people around and we can peruse the art at our leisure.

But remember that the art can look totally different from day to night because you can only see the fire and lighted features after dark.

You can use your How, When, Where guide that you receive as you enter the gate to plot out your week, but we’ve always found it difficult to stick to our plans, since we see so many surprising and interesting places to visit while we’re on our way to someplace else. Just relax and enjoy whatever you see. There’s more than enough going on for the week – or even three weeks. But do use the guide to find events that you don’t want to miss.

Reviewing the guide can take a lot of time and effort because so many activities are repeated in the daily listings. I don’t advise creating too rigid of a plan lest you miss much of the fun and whimsy constantly buzzing around you. And while you may think that only certain kinds of activities will interest you, don’t by-pass the carnival-like fun of flaming ski-ball and roller disco on your way to see an important piece of art or listen to a Ted talk.

If you’re interested in the burns, remember that there are more than just the Man and Temple burns. The burns of the CORE projects all around the man occur on Thursday, and there are other project burns throughout the week. Check the guide and select the ones you want to see. While you won’t want to miss the Man burn and the Temple burn, you probably won’t have time to see all the burns. Chill out and catch whatever you can. There’s always next year for seeing other burns.

Have a great time. Try to see as much as you can, but don’t expect or attempt to see it all. You’ll end up exhausted, dehydrated and spending your day in the medical tent. Relax and have fun.

Don’t Play the Scalpers Game

 

We’re in final preparations for our trip to the Playa, and recently sold two tickets that one of our sons and his girlfriend won’t be able to use. We sold the tickets and the parking pass for face value, which is the right way for a Burner to off-load extra tickets. We’re Burners, not scalpers.

Hint to Burners -- make sure your license plate is visible on the back of your vehicle.  We had to move ours away from the bikes so we wouldn't get a ticket.

Hint to Burners — make sure your license plate is visible on the back of your vehicle. We had to move ours to the left of the bikes so we wouldn’t get an unwelcome citation.

Shortly after we sold our tickets, we saw Craigslist postings for Burning Man tickets at nearly 5x their face value. We were appalled, and we let the poster know that he or she was breaking a cardinal rule among Burners never to scalp your tickets. Of course, the individual wrote back and said, “tough shit” to us.

I would urge anyone still seeking Burning Man tickets to look for a true Burner from whom to purchase them – a Burner who is selling the tickets at face value (face value includes the mailing and handling costs that Burning Man’s ticket vendor adds on to the final price). Every purchase at above face value creates a marketplace for scalpers, and devalues the principles of the Burner community. As we move closer and closer to the event itself, more tickets usually become available as people either change their minds or run into situations that prevent them from attending.

Because so many tickets usually do come available at this time of year, it’s worth trying to bargain down the price of a scalped ticket. The scalper would rather get his or her face value expense back then nothing at all, and if we as Burners refuse to pay more than face value, then scalped tickets will go unsold or the scalpers will be forced to lower their prices. Remember, you’re in the power position. There are always lots of available tickets that show up on Craigslist (eBay is usually a worse option because almost everyone on eBay is scalping the tickets), so you have your choice of sellers and can bargain with any of them.

 

Of course, you always need to ensure that the tickets are the genuine article, and not forgeries. The ticket number is one clue. You can check numbers on the Burning Man ticket site to determine if these are real Burning Man ticket numbers. You can also insist on seeing the invoice that accompanies all delivered tickets, or tickets that are sitting at Will Call. All Burning Man tickets come with a Survival Guide, so make sure you get your copy of the Survival Guide as well. You need that information and it provides further assurances that the tickets are genuine. If you are purchasing tickets that are at will call, you’ll need to find a way to transfer that ownership to yourself through the official Burning Man ticket sales organization, or find out what is required to release someone else’s tickets to you at the gate.

Unless you’re so wealthy that it doesn’t matter to you, never feel forced to buy a ticket at scalper prices (and even if you have plenty of money, you should still pay face value just because it’s the right thing to do.)

Burning Man tickets should never be sold at a profit, but they often are; and forgeries are also a common way for people to make illicit income off of Burning Man. Don’t be caught in any of these tricks.

See you on the Playa. Please come visit Perky and Lashes in Lamplighter Village. We love to meet readers of this blog.

Temple Build an Inspiring Volunteer Opportunity

We spent a day last week in the Temple, and we’ll spend another day there this week. How could we have done this since the Temple isn’t built yet, and Burning Man hasn’t even started?

Our time was spent at the Temple build site in Petaluma, doing our best to help pull together the thousands of piece parts that will be shipped to the Playa for assembly into a new David Best Temple. We’ve always felt inspired when entering the Temple, and we had a similar feeling walking into the work site.

Despite the legendary heat of interior Northern California’s summer, a bevy of volunteers were buzzing around the worksite shaping the detailed elements that would go into the temple, packaging them for shipment, and loading them onto the 18-wheeler that will be heading out to the Playa just a few weeks prior to the Burn.

Most of us were just doing grunt work – carrying finished pieces to packing areas and then covering them with shrink-wrap. But there were plenty of experienced engineers and skilled artisans on-site as well, and a leadership team that is needed to ensure that this complex project comes to fruition.

Tempe designer David Best talks with Temple Guardians head Carousel at Temple build site in Petaluma, CA

Tempe designer David Best talks with Temple Guardians head Carousel at Temple build site in Petaluma, CA

One of the great things about working on the Temple was seeing some of the detail work close-up. Delicate wooden spirals, miniature spires and multi-faceted wooden stars were everywhere. I wondered as I looked at them whether I would have even noticed these details if I had entered the finished Temple without seeing it in pieces. I’m certain I would have missed some of them, but now I’m equally certain that I’ll see every one.

Working on the Temple, meeting its designer, architects, engineers and artists made me feel like part of what’s called the “Temple Crew.” It didn’t hurt to be thanked personally by David Best for our participation. Now, I can’t wait to get back to Petaluma to see and do more. And working on the Temple raised my level of anticipation and excitement for Burning Man 2014.

Thanks to everyone who is creating this year’s Temple, and thanks for letting us unskilled volunteers feel like part of the process.

And if you want to know more about Temple Guardians and the role they play in “holding the sacred space” for all of us Burners, check out the new film, Dear Guardian at http://www.ianmack.com/dear-guardians/.

The Decalcification Factor

At this stage of our lives (a very late stage for those of you who haven’t met us yet), we’ve grown concerned about many issues that can be categorized under the heading “health.” And one of those issues that concerns us the most is the resilience of our brains. We fear becoming calcified old people in our thinking far more than we fear the aches and pains that come along with an aging body. It’s the decalcification factor that’s one of the main reasons we continue to go to Burning Man at the end of each summer, and that we plan to keep it up for as long as we can.

Letting go at Burning Man: a real change of pace for me

Letting go at Burning Man: a real change of pace for me

Each year as we depart Burning Man, we feel anything but old. In fact, we feel far younger than we recall feeling 20 years ago. To us, Burning Man is better than all of those “brain games” combined to keep minds flexible, youthful and active. When you’ve spent a week looking at incredible art; when you’ve hung out with people less than half your age who nonetheless made you feel like you belonged; and when you’ve laughed your way through dust storms and high desert temperatures — the rest of life seems so much more inviting.

What I’ve learned at Burning Man is that I can love and enjoy people who are so different from me that I might never have come in contact with them in the default world; that I’m capable of throwing judgmental thinking out the window; and that I can still be thrilled by something unexpected. Burning Man is the exact opposite of “settling down,” something we did a long time ago but badly need to escape at least once a year.

In other words, I’ve learned that I’m still alive and there’s no reason to worry about the alternative. As a couple, we’ve learned to enjoy the richness of our married life again. Part of it is the sex – which infuses the atmosphere of Burning Man. But it’s more than re-learning to appreciate the physical love we share, it’s also gaining a greater appreciation for our creative souls and the pleasure that artistry, whimsy and just plain fun brings to our lives.

We might never have realized that we were slowly, steadily giving up these aspects of our existence if we had not gone to Burning Man, rekindled our youthfulness and decalcified our minds. I’m personally not an individual who finds it easy to let go, so the experience of a week of nothing but letting go has been revelatory for me, and I believe it can be the same for anyone who is willing to take a risk and give it a try.

 

Reach Out and Hug Somebody

Greetings among strangers involving hugs may seem like insincere contrivances in daily life, but at Burning Man the hug is the greeting of choice.  And it’s not the least bit phony, because love is in the air at Burning Man and the hug is the most evident symbol of it.

It may take some getting use to at first; after all, touching and even minimizing personal space are not “normal” for most people.  But at Burning Man, hugs are the coin-of-the-realm.  There are even camps devoted to giving hugs, and plenty of guys and gals walking around with “hug me” signs.

If you’re put off by the phony nature of social hugs in the default world, you might tend to think of Burning Man hugs in the same way – just a rote greeting with no particular meaning attached.  But in Black Rock City, the hug is a sincere form of greeting that is meant to express the true closeness that Burners feel toward each other.

In my first year at Burning Man (at age 60), I was almost overwhelmed by he outpouring of love and affection from my fellow Burners.  We went home floating on a cloud of delightful feelings that stayed with us for months.  That’s the way it’s been every year, and we have become avid huggers at every Burning Man.  I’d urge you to do the same, or, at the very least, accept the hugs for the sincere expression of love and welcoming in which they’re offered.

Lashes gets her first hug from a stranger in her virgin year.

Lashes gets her first hug from a stranger in her virgin year.

 

So if you’re a virgin Burner, open yourself up to the idea that hugging is a treasured form of communications and is meant to express genuine feelings of one human toward another.  That can be a difficult concept to accept – especially for us older types who reserve physical expressions of intimacy for family and close friends only.  But Burning Man’s entire population is a family, and while it may exist for one week only each year, it can be just as real for that week as decades old relationships are outside of the BRC gates.

On another topic, if you still don’t have tickets for Burning Man 2014, don’t be dismayed – at least, not yet.  Plenty of tickets become readily available as the date of the event approaches.  I’m not talking about “scalped” tickets, but those offered at face value.  Check Craigslist – especially in communities geographically close to BRC such as Reno, San Francisco and other Bay Area communities, and Sacramento.  Be ready to pay cash, but be wary of counterfeiters.  Ask for the official receipt from Burning Man that comes with every ticket (or set of tickets).  And keep in mind that you’ll need a $40 parking pass this year for each vehicle in addition to tickets for each member of your group.  Don’t be in a rush to buy tickets currently being offered.  Tickets have not yet been distributed; so buying one from someone else right now on the basis of future delivery is particularly risky.

 

2014: Bring Your Parents to Burning Man Year

A lot of us older Burners originally came to the festival at the urging of our children.  In my case it was when my 20-year-old son talked his nearly 60-year-old dad into going.

So I’m putting a call out to all the young Burners who happen by this site to make this “The Year of Taking Your Parents (or, as appropriate, grandparents, uncles and aunts) to Burning Man”.  They may love it or hate it, but they’ll never forget their Virgin Burner experience.

How can you seal the deal with some likely tough customers?  I’d suggest you find ways to make their decision as easy as possible. Consider the burden to older people of spending a week in an uncomfortable tent with few creature comforts.  Suggest an RV, trailer or camper instead.   You can also seek out other alternatives such as dome-style encampments.  Google “Burning Man Shelters” for some creative options that offer a comfortable life while retaining a feel for Black Rock City.

An important proviso is the cost of renting an RV for the Burn. Your folks can expect to pay a deposit roughly equal to the amount of the rental cost to cover clean-up.  But they can mitigate or eliminate that cost by thoroughly scrubbing away all evidence of their playa experience, both inside and outside the vehicle.

A few preventative steps can help.  For example, we use carpet remnants to create a false layer of flooring in our RV.  The remnants can be pulled out and thrown away or stored for next year’s Burn – leaving only minimal clean up of the deck.  For cloth furniture and draperies, use Press ‘n’ Seal to keep out the dust.  Also be sure to seal windows and other spots where dust can creep in.  Post-Burn, take the rented vehicle through an RV wash.  Pricey as these automatic washes can be (usually around $100), that expense is a pittance compared to losing the entire deposit.

Preparing for Burning Man can seem like an onerous task, but you can provide plenty of help based on your own experience, plus the advice available on the Burning Man site.  Haven your parents check out this site for a thorough review (including videos) of playa preparations.

Tell your parents about the need for bikes and the prevalence of nudity at the Burn.

Tell your parents about the need for bikes and the prevalence of nudity at the Burn.

If you’re serious about bringing your parents, you’ll want to make a commitment to their success. Travel or caravan with them and join in the fun of welcoming them as Virgin Burners. Show them the important facilities, including the closest medical tents and porta-potties.  Walk through the What, When, Where guide you receive at the gate to help your folks pick out activities that they’d enjoy.  And while you’re at it, choose a couple of activities that you’ll want to share with your folks.

Another idea is to get them signed up for an Art Tour where they’ll get to see the major art installations and even meet some of the artists – all without walking or riding their bikes.  Check with the Artery  for more information on art tours.

Finally, be your parent’s mentors.  If you’re camping away from the, check in on occasion to make sure they’re okay, comfortable, and having a great time.  Introduce them to other older or some of the truly fascinating people you find at Burning Man  Warning: Setting your folks up in a campsite and then forgetting about them is a sure way to undo much of the goodwill that should be part of your aspirations for their visit.

So let’s declare this “take your parents to Burning Man” year, and bring along the folks.  It may just deepen your relationships for all time.