This place is everything they say about it. As good and as bad as it can be. The community starts with the artists and the builders and the managers who have all been here for months. What they have prepared is a physical blueprint of the shape of the city in the dust of the flat dry lakebed. Everything is then completed by the increasing numbers of citizens who pour in over the months proceeding the official eight days of the actual festival and perform every required task as a volunteer labor force.
Over used hyperbole drifts on the wind like the white clay dust that is ever present. Amazing, unbelievable, awe inspiring, the overused and usually misused awesome, spectacular, brutal, desiccated, devastating, on and on. All of them apply to this temporary human occupation of a decidedly permanent inhuman landscape. I needed a couple of days to recuperate from the 22 hour drive which we accomplished in caravan with rotating shifts of drivers in each of the three vehicles we brought along. I don’t sleep well, if at all, in a moving vehicle and so I spent most of that time at the wheel. It was more than a little bit insane.
Luckily we had a couple of well prepared veterans of previous “burns” who directed the set up of our camp with the aplomb of Tibetan gurkhas who had taken care of many a first timer, known on the playa as “virgins”. Protection from the wind and incessant blowing dust being the paramount concern we quickly developed a courtyard camp with a center common area that proved to be relatively protected. There was, however, no escaping the white powder that soon covered every inch of anything exposed. Human skin seemed to take the brunt of the onslaught since the lakebed has an extremely high alkaline composition that leaves you feeling like you just sandpapered the most delicate parts of your anatomy.
Playa in Spanish means beach so assuming this used to be an inland sea I guess the name is appropriate and as you explore the playa you begin to notice the contribution to this teeming metropolis by the dedicated, or more accurately, obsessive artists, designers, builders etc. They have erected structures and sculptures and streets and common areas that any city would be proud to claim. All built within a clocklike layout that makes it practically impossible to get lost. Which given the altered states of consciousness that most of the denizens of Black Rock City spend their time in, the ability to read a clock means you can probably find your way home within a minimum of assistance regardless of which time zone or dimension you happen to find yourself.
Personally I spent as much of my time peering through the looking glass from the other side as I possibly could. This gave the whole experience both a profound vision quest kind of feeling and a profoundly hilarious Mad Hatter tea party groove. I was looking for both and I found them both with no difficulty whatsoever. I spent the first couple of days close to camp so that I could become acclimated to the extreme lack of humidity, the heat, the dust and the wind. All available in abundance. This also gave me a chance to get to know my traveling companions a little better. In some cases maybe a little too much as I spent my first afternoon tripping and nursing several who didn’t quite get their doses right and missed most of that day trying to recover. I didn’t mind in the least since I needed to get my sea legs myself and over the years have learned how to keep my buzz while helping somebody whose buzz is not so pleasant. Music, humor and water all have great healing powers and should always be applied liberally at times like these.
Telling someone to “have a great burn” has much more meaning on the playa then any of the usual cliches we dismiss people with during our normal workaday sleepwalking existences. During those times we really don’t care “how someone is” or whether or not they “have a nice day”. Just something to say to get them to continue on and leave us alone. It usually works too. Out here though it has a myriad of meanings but mostly it means “I see you, I feel you, I care for you, and I will help you if you need it”. It’s like a mantra and it works. The majority of burners are truly there to experience the burn of everyone else here. Truly a rewarding experience if you have never been part of a family of 40 to 50 thousand people.
The art of Burning Man
permeates the city. It is everywhere and you would have to be a member of the walking dead or just have a dead member not to be affected by it. From the simplest campsites that resemble bedouin merchants in some psychedelic Arabian Night to the magnificent structures of wood and metal that rise up out of the desert as if by magic. Five and six story structures that anywhere else would require half of the bureaucrats of a good sized city to approve and even then they might never get built. Clubs that go all day and night with the best sound systems on the planet playing at decibels that would cause earthquakes anywhere else. Fantasy vehicles of every possible description from Mad Max Thunder Dome to Tinker bell’s worst nightmare drive around the city taking burners from one trip to another.
All of this is nothing without the participants who take the contributions of the builders and the artists
and make it all their own with their transformations into fantasy beings and rename and recreate themselves for one week. New personalities, new physical appearances, new manifestations of evolved human beings that come together for a celebration of our universe as it could be. No money, no ego, no prejudices, no self, just family. A family created not from the dust of the playa but from the stardust that connects us all whenever we just pay attention. I had a great burn, I hope you all did as well.