Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Burning Men (and Women)

I better get this up before I forget all about Burning Man...I've been distracted by preparations for Nepal and Thailand!

We rolled slowly onto the playa after a slow trip down to the Black Rock desert (the old motorhome doesn't like to go more than 50mph, especially not when loaded with lots of food, water, and gear), and the dust kicked up almost immediately. We drove very slowly, but still managed to run over a pylon somewhere - Ciel was horrified when the gate attendant stopped us to pull it out from under the motorhome! Not too surprising, really, as there were times when we couldn't see to the end of the hood, let alone anything past it. I guess we got pretty spoiled on out trip in May, as the wind wasn't a factor then.

After sorting out the confusion about whether or not we could enter early (not, as it turned out), we waited in the staging area and met a bunch of very nice people. Marie and her parents from Creston, B.C. were in line just ahead of us; Tony from New York was parked beside us. Eventually, just as it got dark, we got to roll into the city to look for a camping spot. We picked a spot right next to the perimeter road, then the constant traffic persuaded us to move a bit farther in, so we settled on the 7:00 radial, between J&K (A was closest to the center, L was the perimeter road).

Then next morning, we found ourselves almost alone at the edge of the city, so Ciel waved down passing trucks and motorhomes to get some neighbours. Bob and Mike, two old friends from Vermont who now live in Rhode Island and Colorado, pulled in with their big motorhome and set up. I saw a party setting up across the road and offered to help, which is how I met Chris, Jenn, and Keith from Boise, Idaho. Later, Ciel and I met Cindy and Terry from Nevada, and we went for a ride to the perimeter fence and the Temple with them. Then Steve showed up in his old Vega and set his tent up downwind from our motorhome (it still got blasted a bit by the dust storms, but there was a bit of shelter). We heard that the best thing about Burning man is the people you meet, and that was certainly the case with these people (and many others we met as well).

Cruising around the city, I got a chance to see some of the cool art cars, theme camps, and art installations. I stopped when a girl with a megaphone called out "come get a heart on!", and got a couple of hearts airbrushed onto my shoulders. Ciel and I stopped at another place to get sno-cones. After sunset, we rode out to the walk-in camping area to see the art installation constructed entirely from snap-together wooden pieces and climbed up to the top of the 3-story structure. It was a little creaky, but didn't collapse into a jumble heap under our weight! That might happen if I tried to build something like it...

I went to see the Man at the center of everything, a 40-foot tall wooden man standing on top of a structure about 4 stories tall. Not as intricate as the Temple, but still an impressively large structure built just to be burned at the end. Kind of like Buddhist butter sculptures and sand paintings, they are meant to be ephemeral expressions.

There was a model of Wall Street built out on the playa not too far from the Man, with the Bank of Unamerica, Chaos Manhattan, Goldman Sucks, and Merrill Lynched represented. We cruised over to look through it before it burned, but on Friday night when it was due to burn, the high winds cancelled the plan, so it was re-scheduled for Saturday after the Man burned. Friday afternoon, I painted Ciel up for the Critical Tits parade. I think she used too much lotion, because the liquid latex bodypaint started peeling off almost immediately - she looked like a wilting flower bouquet.

The Man burned on schedule Saturday night, and we were glad we decided not to be downwind from the burn - several people got burned by wind-carried embers, according to some EMS people Ciel talked to. The fire tornadoes spiraling off the burn were quite impressive. Ciel found the constant Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa from the ring of big art cars annoying, but I wasn't expecting it to be quiet! We tried to stay up until 1:00 in the morning to see Wall street burn, but got tired and decided to head back to campfor a rest before heading out again. Once back in camp, we thought maybe if we climbed up on the back of the motorhome, we'd be able to see the burn from camp...but no luck.

The next morning, we rode back out to the playa to see the ashes (and people sleeping around the still-burning embers) of Wall Street and the Man. One guy was pulling little mementos from the ashes of the Man and giving them away - we got a pair of guy wire cable clamps.

The Temple burn on Sunday was much more subdued, but there were still people being obnoxious, playing Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird or yelling "Fuck you and your fucking church music!" at the choir performing before the burn.

Monday we woke up an I was preparing to take it easy for the day, maybe pick up some trash near our camp, but after Cindy and Terry left, Ciel decided she'd like to leave too, so we packed up and got ready to roll. Ciel told me there wasn't any wait to get off the playa, but shortly after we got into the long line of vehicles driving out of the city, I turned on the radio and listed to Gate information radio: 3-4 hour wait expected. Great. Some day I'll remember to always question Ciel's decisions! We got to the big line just before the pavement, and the wait wasn't too bad, just under an hour as it turned out, and we were back on the road.

We spent the next three nights at Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, but I cannot figure out why the call it a refuge when people can hunt antelope there. If someone offered me a refuge with the caveat that occasionally some people would come by to try to shoot me, I'm pretty sure I'd bugger off in a hurry! Doesn't sound like much of a refuge to me.

We cleaned dust out of the motorhome for an entire day, but a couple more days would have helped. Worse than that was the let-down that people at Burning Man must have been happy and friendly only because they were drunk or on drugs - in the line-up heading off the playa, no one would even look at us, let alone reply when we said hello. At the merge points, people cut in front of us, not willing to wait their turn. So much for the principle of Community - back in the default world, it seems you're allowed to be a dick to everyone around you. Pretty sad, really. I know a lot of people must have been hung over and hurting, but it made me decide that I never need to go back to Burning Man. Well, that and all the generators that people run to have air conditioning in the desert. I'd like to see all of Black Rock City be like the Alternative Energy Zone theme camp, where generators aren't allowed, but I know I'm dreaming.

I got some great ideas for bicycle-powered art cars though.


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