Burning Man has been depicted as “not a spectator sport” because you’re not really part of things unless you bring something of yourself to the Playa. One of the truly amazing aspects of the event is the array of creative, and often whimsical, contributions. If you’re looking for something to offer as your gift to Burning Man, then think about bringing a creative idea rather than something tangible to give away.
Some of the best and most entertaining ideas I’ve seen cost little or nothing, but entertain large swaths of fellow Burners. I recall one inspired idea we saw while biking down a busy Black Rock City side street. A guy sitting at a desk on the side of the road waved us down, looked us over and said, “I can see by your face that you need a second opinion.” We were flummoxed. “What do you mean?” was all we could think of saying.
He pointed to another person sitting at a desk across the street. “Go see that guy and he’ll give you a second opinion.” So, we did. And he gave us a second opinion. We don’t even remember what it was about, but we loved the idea.
Another great “on the street” gift came from a Burner all decked out in a tux, standing in the center of the road saying things like “nice smile” and “great costume” to people as they biked past him. It turned out he was from Compliment Camp, and their gift to the Playa was eliciting smiles by saying nice things about people.
One year, friends of ours brought lots of salad fixings and made unsolicited deliveries from tent to tent. The transported their gifts in an old-fashion newspaper boy delivery bag, and they called themselves “Salad Camp.”
Another couple brought satellite equipment in their RV and gave free connections to the Internet. A couple of guys in a camper put a Wheel of Fortune out on the Playa. When people spun the wheel, the guys jumped out of their nearby RV and hollered “you’re a winner!” Then they awarded the Bruner’s good luck with a martini.
One of my favorites that was a Playa standby during my first few years was the God Phone – a phone booth on the side of the road that connected directly to God (or someone pretending to be God). You could ask God anything, and he or she would provide an answer that was – of course – perfect. Then there was the Elders camp, populated by Burners 80 and older, who disseminated “wisdom” to anyone who sought it.
That’s how it works. You bring an idea with you, spend minimal dollars on it, and offer it to fellow Burners on Playa. Of course, there are also the more elaborate schemes such as an art car built on a truck or bus chassis (my favorite was the gigantic yellow duck), or a mini Bourbon Street serving beignets and New Orleans-style libations, or your own circus with acrobats and clowns, or even a roller rink with disco music. You can go low tech, low cost; or high tech and expensive. What’s most important is the creativity of your idea and its ability to make people happy.
Even if you’re camping on your own, you can become a “Compliment Camp” or “Second Opinion Camp,” or an “Elders” camp. Adding your ideas to the mix not only helps make the Playa more enticing but also makes your Burning Man experience more memorable and complete.