Upon arrival

Burning Man is 21,000 different experiences of what it is like to meet in the middle of the dessert with no fixed agenda. A. A. Milne was a burning man, “Rabbit is that you? Yes Piglet it is, but let’s pretend it isn’t and see what happens”.

There is basically only one rule. Be cool. Unauthorized explosions are very uncool although authorized ones are fine. Litter is wildly uncool, but playing the same Hendricks song for four hours next to my head is cool. Sometimes cool has to have a fixed definition such as the 90 decibel limit on sound at the edge of your encampment. At 100 db you go insane and your eyes burst.

Eric Brandenberg and I were walking across the endless plain of hardpan when I spied a woman in the distance spinning like a dervish with a red scarf of impossible length twirling in the breeze. As I approached she said laughing, “It’s so RED”! and she put it in my hands. As I snapped it in the wind any last particle of cynicism I might have retained drained away into the sky.

A man walked by in a business suit with his brief case, a woman at his side in a wedding dress. Three people in iridescent purple, red and green paint struck still life poses next to a line of unlikely trees. A woman road by on a unicycle wearing a stainless steel bikini.

A huge ship continued sinking, without progress, in the distance; its prow jutting skyward and the men on the bridge looking pensive. A 30-foot tall lighthouse mounted seamlessly on a truck cruised slowly by the unlucky ship. A man crawled in rags across the alkali crust to a juice bar set up in the middle of nowhere. He had no money but it was ok, because there was no charge.

I passed an evangelist screaming for those to step forward who would, “reject the dryness”! He called out for the renunciation of all things desiccatory. “Who will come forth and embrace the moisture?” he demanded. I stood forward and declared to the crowd that I would reject dryness and I put my arms around a huge, clear plastic large-than-life, man shaped balloon filled with water, a man bobbing within. He was breathing from an aqua-lung, hanging from a trestle, scuba diving in the desert. Others were ice skating on a rink that had been installed.

I fed my camel an apple and we ambled away.

In the afternoon some 400 topless women pumped 800 pedals from the Earth to Jupiter and back again. The streets of Black Rock City are laid out like the orbits of the planets and the addresses are the time on the clock face. Stores opened up and gave away ice cream, popcorn or cocktails. The Republic of Fremont issued passports to the people patiently waiting in line. A woman carefully entered personal data into a computer as the applicants answered questions. No one seemed to mind that the screen was blank and the terminal unplugged.

At Burning Man there were no Democrats, Maoists, lawyers, cyber jocks, ax grinders, social climbers, bandits or retailers. Political correctness takes a holiday. There were lots of religions, but all had been invented specifically for Burning Man and were generally techno-pagan in nature and all evaporate at the end of the week.

On the last day the Man burned. Many of the giant icons built for the event slowly made their way through the crowd. A monstrous fire breathing dragon parted the crowd followed by a tree, three stories high, being pushed by the roots by its enthusiastic followers. Its twisted branches were made entirely of cow bones. Armies of torchbearers stood in attention. Stilted harlequins of impossible height stepped over the crowd. Rows of Japanese lanterns waved in the breeze. Immense unseen loud speakers moaned with the sound of the earth splitting open.

After hours of anticipation The Man exploded in a fireball of high pressure kerosene and gunpowder. 100 foot tall jets of burning gas came from every direction and four wooden orbs mounted around The Man burned with diabolical ferociously. A fine black ash blanketed the crowd.

My brain was seared clean and all thoughts of past and present disappeared.

The Man burned and burned and still it burns. I am, after all, The Burning Man.


On departure