Friday, September 18, 2009

Fear and Loathing in the Black Rock Desert

WARNING WARNING the images and written content of this blog may be offensive. There is profanity and nudity displayed. Do not let your children see this blog. It could cause emotional scaring and confusion which we can not be responsible for.

Impressions from Burning Man 2009

Wow, where can I start. Of course there was a huge build up of preparation and anticipation. It takes months of planning and provisioning. You must bring all your own shelter, food , and water. The only thing you can buy at BM is ice and coffee. It is a total gifting community. There are camps that give away food and drinks but you certainly can't count on that for your basic needs. The playa, which is the actual desert surface that you live on is such an alkaline dusty environment that you can't use an RV shower. The dust from your body gets in the RV plumbing system and gums it up and ruins it. So we had to build an outside shower with an evaporation pond. BM has a "leave no trace" policy so you are not allowed to dump anything on the playa. Due to the extreme heat during the day, a good shade structure is absolutely necessary. Forget about running the AC in an RV during the day. Your neighbors will hate you if you run the generator all day. So back in Dallas and Dillon, CO we built structures and purchased everything we needed. Since we had never been to BM we wanted to be over prepared rather than under prepared; hence, we had a ton of stuff!!! Of course anybody in their right mind will have read the BM Survival Guide and all the preparation documents. You will have also looked at a ton of pictures on the Internet to get a feel for what to expect but I do have to say - BM is a lot like certain things in life- you can't even start to understand what BM is until you have actually experienced it.

So we all showed up with mixed feelings. A mix of great anticipation and excitement and also some fear and concerns. Technically, BM is a safe place in that they have their own police, medical and fire departments just like any other city but nevertheless one of the main components of BM is "radical self reliance". Part of BM is to see if you can go to a harsh desert environment and survive on your own but in a large community of like minded people.

So we drive the RV from Colorado to Nevada and arrive at the playa at midnight Wednesday Sept.2nd. When you drive out on the playa you have to stop at a greeting station where you show your admission tickets and submit to a vehicle inspection. They check to make sure you are not sneaking people in or have illegal things like guns. BM is obviously a very liberal event but there are a ton of rules. Given 40,000 to 50,000 people attend this event, you certainly would need rules and people to care them out. So we pull up in the dark and they have a lighted greeting area with people dressed like nothing I had ever seen before! I'm looking out of the window and I see a person dressed in a skirt and then I realize that person is a man. The clue was his beard and long dreadlocks. The girls were dressed in kind of a weird sexy lingerie desert motif with dust masks and goggles. It was totally surreal! It was like leaving a normal real world and stepping into some sort of exotic science fictiony movie.

One of the greeters sticks his head in the RV window and says "are there any virgins in here" and at first I thought you have to be kidding- look at us, we are all old but of course he was referring to first time Burners. So when he discovers the entire RV is full of virgins there was great excitement among the greeters. Then we were instructed to get out of the RV and participate in a welcome ceremony which started with hugs from the men in skirts and the women in the sexy lingerie deserty outfits. Then the head greeter gave us a little briefing which started out by saying" you are at Burning Man- you will never be the same". So far, I am a believer. Then we took a large pipe and banged on a big metal cylinder and chanted " we love the playa". The first night we just parked on the playa instead of trying to find the Burning Sky camp in the dark.

The next morning we moved to the Burning Sky camp area and found a nice spot for he RV. Burning Sky is the camp where all the skydivers stay. Then we erected our shade structure which was made from two 12X16 foot tarps and PVC poles. We had plenty of tables and chairs. We laid out out a large rubber mat which was good until about the third day when it was completely covered in dust. Next we set up our 8 X 8 foot evaporation pond and outdoor shower. Fortunately, everything we constructed in Dallas worked like a champ. Next we set up all our solar charging. We set up numerous spot lights that illuminated the camp at night. Then we set up my new roll up solar panel that I used to recharge the batteries on my electric scooter. Fortunately, all the solar stuff worked very well.

After lunch we launched out to see and photograph some of the sights and sounds of BM. The first day of BM is a day of transition. The normal sights and sounds of everyday life just don't exist at BM. Clothing is optional at BM so immediately you see people walking around completely or partially naked. At first, the girls try not to be too obvious that they are looking at a man's genitalia and the guys try not to be too obvious that they are checking out a girl's breasts. That first day we saw some guy walking around completely nude with a toy chipmunk on his penis. He seemed to be very popular! By the end of BM you have finally made the transition to acceptance of nudity. It is strange how the "not normal" becomes "normal". That is all part of one of the other major components of BM which is "radical self expression". Most of the people you see at BM are dressed in some form of alternative attire. The serious Burners come with a variety of "costumes"- some for day time and some for night time. As a matter of fact, you do feel a little out of place if you are in normal street clothes.

BM this year had 44,000 people which may not include all the people that come early and set up Black Rock City. BM is laid out in a huge semi-circle with streets running from 2 o'clock to 10 o'clock with 12 intersecting streets. In the center is all the main infrastructure buildings such as medical, Department of Public Works, Post office, Media Mecca, DMV ( Dept. of Mutant Vehicles ) etc. etc. The Black Rock Rangers are the voluntary police force who do a great job of controlling that many people who are in party mode 24/7. Black Rock City is subject to all the Nevada state laws as well as federal laws. We saw the county sheriff and the DEA was there also. Some of the camps that were serving alcohol got fined for not asking for age credentials. There is a big misconception that BM is some sort of big drug and sex fest. We never saw people walking around doing drugs or having sex. Were sex and drugs there? Just like any city in America I am sure they were.

There are only three forms of transportation at BM. Walking and cycling are the two main modes of getting around. The third form is by "mutant vehicle" which are also called "art cars". They can be small or large. Some are big enough to carry 50-100 people. They may have some animal theme or art theme- practically anything but definitely nothing like you have ever seen before. They are definitely not street legal. Anyone who wants to bring an art car has to submit plans to the DMV and pass an inspection for approval. So you wander around Black Rock City and you are seeing people and vehicles like you have never seen before.

Of course art is a huge part of BM. So as you move around the city and out on the playa you are surrounded with a multitude of artistic expressions. On the outskirts of the city is a huge area where numerous artists have built art structures, some of which are just for viewing and some are artistic structures designed for participants to interact with. Many of the art structures are strongly constructed which allow Burners to climb on and enjoy. Every year there are two structures that are built by the BM organization. One is referred to as the "Man". This a huge wooden structure with the trademark Burning Man logo look. The other structure is the "Temple". It is also a huge wooden structure. People go to both of these structures and listen to music or just hang out spending time around them. Many people write on the wood with messages to lost family members and express their feelings about a variety of things.

So Sara and I spent the afternoon getting my cameras tagged, picking up media credentials and photographing some of the art and people. We returned to the RV and had an evening meal. Myself,Sara,David, and Janet decided not to venture out the first evening for the night time activities because we were pretty well whipped. Phil on the other hand, decided try some of the new extra strength 5 hour energy drink that we recently picked up at a truck stop- a small bottle with lots of power. He then launched out on his bike in the dark and did not return until 2 or 3 AM.

To view pictures from Burning Man click on the photo below. You can see individual pictures or click on the slide show to automatically view all the pictures.  

Travelling with the Stanfords

That was our start of Burning Man. Stay tuned for more to come

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