Getting to Black Rock City is always a challenge. First, we have the drive to Burning Man’s remote location in the northern Nevada desert. Upon arrival, we are greeted by a desert traffic jam.
Next, Burning Man makes sure we have paid. A friendly volunteer enters our small RV. Is someone hiding out in the bathroom? Nope. What about under the bed?
At $300 a ticket, give or take fifty dollars, the motivation to cheat is tempting.
But so is the desire to catch cheaters. I can’t help doing the math. Forty five thousand people times $300 equals 13.5 million dollars! That’s a lot of motivation.
While the tickets sound expensive, they aren’t, considering what you get. For me, the price of admission buys a seven-day ringside seat to one of the greatest shows on earth. Others see it as an opportunity to strut their stuff, to live out their fantasies.
Go ahead, put on that outrageous costume. People will beg to take your photo. Get out there and prove that hula-hoops are sexy, or that you can twirl fire, or sing, or beat drums, or wear pasties, or whatever.
You may even have an audience. Does it really matter?
Once past the ticket station, we are welcomed to Burning Man. Virgin Burners receive a hug and ring the bell… even in the wee hours. Not being virgins, we get the welcome package: a cheerful greeting, a map of Black Rock City and the Program.
The map is a critical. It shows where the porta potties are. Oh, and it also shows where the major Tribes live, where people can camp, and where Center Camp is located. It’s also the key to finding your friends… or not getting hopelessly lost.
Earlier I blogged about the guy who returned to his camp and found his car, tent and gear had been stolen. He hitched a ride to San Francisco. A week later Burning Man called him. They had found his car, tent and gear… right where he had left them. He’d simply forgotten the location.
Burning Man is that big and that confusing, especially when people steal the street signs for souvenirs, or a dust storm produces zero visibility, or you imbibe a bit too much and it’s 2 o’clock in the morning. Or all three things happen at once.
Having completed our official duties, we zip in to Black Rock City, find a campsite, stake out our territory (literally) and set up camp. It’s time to turn on the walkie-talkies. Other members of the Horse-Bone Tribe will soon be joining us.
Playtime has arrived. If the hour is right, somewhere between 12:01 AM and 11:59 PM, a cold beer is in order. So is figuring out what we want to do. There is a week to plan, or at least the next hour. The options seem limitless.
As I write this blog, I am leafing through 2009’s Program. It is 95 pages long and lists 950 different events participants are invited to attend. They are all free and there is something for everyone.
The breadth of activities is difficult to capture but here are a few examples.
- Critical Stilts: Stilt walk around the Playa, hitting stilt bars.
- The Big Bang: The Black Rock City Roller Girls. It’s survival of the fittest on skates.
- Geology of the Black Rock Desert: Learn about the landforms surrounding the Playa.
- Lunacy: Honor the full moon by allowing your inner lunatic to emerge.
- Cat Show and Tell: Share what makes your kitty the most special cat in the Universe.
- Spudcraft: What will you create: a potato hat or a potato creature? Spuds supplied. (These guys also have a spud cannon.)
- Rubber Chicken Social: Celebrate the bouncy barnyard fowl. Drink to it.
- Ask a Physicist: Questions about the nature of reality and modern physics.
Advanced Whip Cracking caught my attention on the Program. I bought a bullwhip once as a joke when I worked in Alaska. I’d break it out on the long dark days of winter to inspire my staff. It amused them. It amused the bank employees across the street even more. Since it was dark, we could see into each other’s offices. The employees would line up at the windows to watch me. Apparently, no one cracked the whip in their office. But back to Burning Man.
The Program lists a dozen ways to practice yoga and a few hundred ways to party. Or you can attend AA. You can write music, or cite poetry, or attend a film festival. Need a costume. You can pick one up for free. There are dozens of venues to view or practice fire art. Like to dance? There are opportunities ranging from the Tango to the Hokey Pokey. Lessons are provided. Parades go on 24/7. Dress up like a bunny or put on your little red dress and parade away.
There are also the adult only activities. They are carefully marked on the Program to protect the innocent. You can learn the art of sensual massage, get naked, or have your body painted. And that’s only a start. I’m much too young to attend such events.
My preference is to check out the visual art, watch and listen to performing artists, play at photography, and hang out with members of the Horse-Bone Tribe. I am also completely happy wandering around and admiring the multitude of costumes and mutant vehicles.
Volunteering is big. Become a Ranger and help maintain order. Volunteer to pick up trash, or moop as it is called on the Playa. Help light the hundreds of lanterns each evening. Work as a coffee barista at Center Camp.
Fascinating at any time of the day, Burning Man becomes a surrealistic fantasy world at night. Fire breathing dragons and fire spouting art light up the sky. Dozens of creatively lit mutant vehicles cross back and forth across the Playa, as do thousands of light decorated bicycles. The glow stick industry must make a fortune. Even people become walking light shows. Dozens of venues along the Esplanade invite exploration. Watch a circus, see Godspell, climb on a giant teeter-totter, visit a maze or gyrate to music. Join a crowd watching a troupe of fire dancers work its magic on the Playa.
Burning Man is not for everyone. It’s too big, it’s too dusty, it’s too hot, it’s too noisy, it’s too sexy, it’s too alternative. But if anything I have written has appeal, give this extravaganza in the Black Rock Desert serious consideration. Whatever you come away with, you will never forget the experience.
If you enjoyed this post, you might want to check out my five reasons for going to Burning Man in 2014.