“A Mutant Vehicle is a unique, motorized creation that shows little or no resemblance to their original form, or to any standard street vehicle. Mutant Vehicles are radically, stunningly, (usually) permanently, and safely modified from their base vehicle. Sometimes the whole vehicle is made from scratch.
Mutant Vehicles may include such non-standard motorized forms such as furniture, other non-street vehicles such as a boat or train, animals, or just about anything imaginable.” —Taken from Burning Man’s website.
Burning Man takes its mutant vehicles seriously— partially because they are an integral part of the Burning Man experience and partially because safety is a critical issue. These often-large vehicles must maneuver through and around thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians both during the day and at night.
The permitting process is extensive. To start with, both government agencies and Burning Man place limits on the number of mutant vehicles. Far more people want to bring vehicles than can be accommodated. Participants must meet stringent requirements to bring their creations to Black Rock City. (Go here to learn about requirements.)
The first requirement is that the vehicle must in no way resemble the initial car, truck, golf cart, etc. (Boats seem to be an exception, but hey, they are ‘floating’ across the desert.) Beyond this, the organization states, “the mutation should aim to provide a level of ‘radical visual stimuli’ or ‘wow factor’ for the other participants of Black Rock City.”
Interactivity is also considered critical. Giving rides to Burners and providing entertainment are two ways of accomplishing this. For example, one year I saw a fire-breathing mutant vehicle that featured an opera singer standing on top. When she hit her high notes, the vehicle would send flames shooting into the air.
Safety involves many of the things you would expect including good brakes and safe accommodations for passengers. Think of 40 people (some who have spent a fair amount of time visiting Burning Man’s free bars) dancing on top of a vehicle as it drives through the desert night. Falling off is a real possibility. Railings are critical.
Vehicles that want to travel at night must have adequate lighting on all sides of the vehicle. But the requirements go further. Lighting is also expected to contribute to the “wow” factor. Many mutant vehicles are more spectacular at night than they are during the day. One of my all-time favorites is a large, travelling vase.
As you might imagine, vehicles that feature fire art and shoot flames into the air, must also meet strict requirements. The types of tanks, fuel lines, daily safety checks, and emergency shut off valves are all included. But the effort is worth the extra care when you consider the results. Imagine meeting up with El Pulpo Mechanico as it roams across the playa with all eight arms flaming.
And finally, there are sound requirements. Nothing is more irritating than a mutant vehicle with humongous speakers making its way through your neighborhood in Black Rock City while blasting out music at 2:00 AM. Burning Man notes that there has been an “increase in the number of vehicles with sound systems that would normally be designed for an arena or stadium.” No kidding. Having those systems pointing at you is like deaf city. Fortunately, the loudest systems tend to be restricted to the outer areas of the city where Burners can go deaf to their hearts-content.
And just for fun, I will close today with this googly-eyed, low-tech frog.
Monday: The airplane that crash landed on the Hudson River in New York City.
Wednesday: The Sierra Trek— Our second day included a sixteen mile hike without any water sources, a lost trekker, and a huge timber rattlesnake that insisted on blocking the trail.
Friday: More Burning Man mutant vehicles including El Pulpo Mechanico and a huge Rhino that would send his African counterparts scurrying for cover.