Burning Man – a reflection

So that’s what I did, now here are some of my thoughts.

FAQ

You’re a Burner?

No, not really. I gave it a try, but never really escaped feeling like a tourist. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing to be there, but it is what it is. I tried to contribute and not be an asshole. I did have a good time and I found many aspects of the experience worthwhile. Would I ever go again? Probably not.

What surprised you the most?

There was more hostility than I expected.

It wasn’t a ton, but you sort of imagine a lot of peace and love happening, which there is, but there is also a lot of resentment and selfishness like there is anywhere. Some of the hostility may have been a joke, some kind of performance, or just an ironic stance. But I did hear “Fuck your Burn” plenty.

I saw at least 2 fights, one over the people standing in front of the crowd at the burn of the Man, and the other when some neighbors were using a hand held slingshot to launch a rubber chicken. It hit a cyclist in the back, but she didn’t seem to care and left. Next thing I see is some man carrying the chicken and refusing to return it to the neighbors. It wasn’t clear to me if he just didn’t think they should be launching anything in the street or if he was mad they hit a person specifically. Either way, he totally stole the chicken and when they attempted to use hugs to resolve things, he was like, ” Don’t fucking touch me.” Moments after he was out of view of our shade tent, some people came from that direction with the chicken, so I guess they stole it back? Who knows. It was kind of a buzz kill. It didn’t matter if he was right or wrong, he was still being an asshole. He could have just asked them to stop throwing things in the street.

There is also a bit of resentment from people who have been going for many years, who feel a certain amount of ownership of the event, toward the younger Coachella-esque crowd, many of which just come in on the weekend to party. I think the term Sparkle Pony is used for people like that. They aren’t prepared to take care of themselves in the desert. They don’t bring any art or anything else to give.

There is also a resentment of folks who spend a ton of money there, even if it’s for creating art, which I was surprised to hear. Most of the animosity is toward “Turnkey Camps” though, which are camps that are set up for super rich people to just fly in and have all their meals taken care of there and never have to leave their camp. I guess it’s just so they can say they went? Maybe the do venture out to party, but that’s about it. So a lot of people don’t like them.

But here’s the thing, when you let an event grow to include 70,000 attendees, you’re going to have contingents that don’t fit your vision of what the event should be. So it may be unfortunate that these different factions can’t agree on what Burning Man is, but it’s really big and it seems like there is enough room for all of it. It’s a pop-up city, with city problems. You don’t have to agree with your neighbors’ lifestyle, but you can’t tell them not to live it.

Speaking of it being a city, how was the infrastructure?

Quite impressive. They had Ice available at Center camp so people could keep their food safely cold. The roads were occasionally wet by water trucks to reduce the dust in the air. There was even very good cell service. I had full bars and 4G out there, though I left my phone in airplane mode most of the time anyway.

They cleaned out the port-o-potties at least twice a day. The only thing was that the hand sanitizer all ran out by the end of Wednesday across the city. There were cases of illness as a consequence. They needed like 3 times the amount they provided. By the end of the week, someone had taped a huge sanitizer dispenser to the nearby pole with the empty dispensers, which was nice. I carried my own, plus I could wash my hands when I was near the RV, so we were ok. It was more a general concern for the community.

WTF is Radical Self Reliance? Sounds selfish.

Right? It’s one of the main tenets of Burning Man. Like “Radical Self-Expression,” which makes sense.

I think the intention is to make sure everyone provides enough for themselves to actually survive out there, and not assume your neighbor will give you water, food, and shelter. If everyone thought that way they’d all die out there.

But then people just use it to be selfish pricks, like the Standers on burn night. It felt kind of Ayn Rand-y. I’ve never read her stuff, but it kind of seems like that’s a part of Objectivism.

Everyone looking out for themselves isn’t really a tenet I expected to hear about so often.

What do you feel you took away from the experience?

It certainly affirmed my lifestyle choices. It made me feel very glad that I live the life I do. This isn’t to say people who love Burning Man don’t like their regular life. It’s more that it simply reminded me how much I love my regular life. They call it the “default world.” That’s cool. I’ll take it.

I like talking about movies and TV and dumb horseshit. I like going on social media and interacting with people online. I also like talking about loftier things in life, but it’s nice to not have to only talk about that stuff. It feels weird talking about the dumb stuff when you are out there.

I didn’t quite fit in there. I’m probably less of an extrovert than I thought. I certainly learned I don’t have Fear Of Missing Out, I have Fear Of Having To Pretend I’m Having A Great Time. I spent a lot of time hiding in the RV so I wouldn’t have to pretend I was enjoying myself. It was very overwhelming for several days and I sort of felt like I was disappointing people if I wasn’t all gaga for it. This is surely just in my head, but it doesn’t change how I was feeling.

At one point we met a woman who was basically in my same situation. First time, last time. She enjoyed her experience, but it wasn’t for her. I was so relieved to hear someone else say they weren’t just in love with it. I had a good time, but didn’t love it there. And that’s ok. I had an adventure.

I tried a new thing. I wasn’t super into that thing.

What was your favorite part?

Fighting in Thunderdome. Obviously.

After that, probably the lights and fire at night were really great. Also great sunsets. Lots of cool art to see.

What was your least favorite part?

The hostility I saw and heard about.

Then I went to Burning Man.

My (Playa) Name is Scary Carrie.

Ok, so I no longer have a personal blog and I did do things sort of related to the project (take rad photos), so here’s my Burning Man Post (Part One).

Chronology

Monday

Woke up early with a migraine. Great. Got to Reno around 10:40 and met my sister’s friend Jay there. We hung out for a while waiting on our ride. Our ride was my sister Julia and her roommate Alex. Julia brought a ton of camera gear, so we ended up piling a bunch of stuff on our laps to fit it all. Oh, I also had 5 gallons of gasoline at my feet.  It was only like 2 hours though.

full ride nobody light up, please

When we arrived, the greeters had us roll around in the dust as a hazing ritual.

hello dust

Even with napping and stuff I never quite felt better all day so I didn’t do much. I stopped at my friends’ camp to say hello. I took a nap. Eventually things cooled off and I went outside at night.

Night is the best time there I think. It is usually less windy, so it’s less dusty. Everything gets lit up like a carnival and is often on fire.

Pollen Nation fire dancers flame throwing art cars

Stained Glass Whale Medusa's head

After about an hour biking around I was done for the night and turned in early.

Tuesday

Tuesday I woke up feeling overwhelmed and depressed. I had a little cry, though I didn’t really know why. It was like the time I had to take a break from dance rehearsal for Leading Ladies and started bawling uncontrollably in the hallway. Though this was much less, I think it was a similar stress reaction. I felt a bit better and eventually willed myself to leave the RV. I wanted to make sure I found my friend Shing‘s art installation “The Last Apothecary.” It was almost as far away as it possible could be. Black Rock City (Burning Man’s city name when it exists) is laid out like a clock with the Man in the center. Then each latitudinal line is  a letter. We were at 7:30 and H (it goes out as far as maybe K I think?). The art was at the furthest outer edge at 12:00. So like, maybe a mile away? Anyway, point is, I’m bad at hydrating and had mild heat exhaustion on the way home.

But before that happened, I did find it and it was rad.

Found it! The Last Apothecary Inside The Last Apothecary The back office

Then I got a little lost in some dust storms, took the long way back to camp and had to stop in some random deserted camp so I wouldn’t throw up on the way home. I drank the rest of my water, which I was smart enough to carry, but not smart enough to drink on the way. I got home and then laid down for another long time. Don’t remember going out that night because I still felt like garbage. I think I sat outide a little since the RV gets kind of warm and a fellow came and talked to me for a while. He gave me a Peruvian Worry Doll, which I haven’t had one in years so that made me happy. His name was Ambassador. I didn’t end up seeing him again, but I was glad he stopped by, even if I wasn’t feeling social.

Wednesday

Wednesday, I stayed in bed as long as I could, but eventually got up because we needed to get water into the RV tank from the huge 40 gallon bladders in the back compartment. (Hearing someone say, “We’re out of water.” in the middle of a desert will wake you right up.)

You know what doesn’t work very well when your water source is below the end point you’re trying to fill? Siphoning. The port for water was almost freaking eye level, but the storage for the extra water was knee height. Did we have a water pump? No, we did not. After some trial and error, Jay volunteered to carry loads of water about 4 gallons at a time, up the RV ladder in a bucket, which allowed gravity to actually make the siphon work and eventually we were able to empty the bladder and fill the tank. Alex came and took over for Jay as well because good lord that’s hard work. I have no strength to lift it, so I was on the other end aiming the hose and kinking it before it got air in.

So, that was done. Other than that it was mostly quiet reading time during the day.

At night I started feeling better (finally) and went out with Alicia and Jay. We wandered around the stations that surrounded the Man. I made a fun little metal dinosaur thingy. You just pound letters or designs into it. I put “This is not a dinosaur” because I’m either clever or not clever at all. I thought it was funny either way.

The Man. Metal Pounding workshop place

We tried to go to a Ted talk but it was running over 2 hours late, so then we went to a bondage demo/performance. Going with your sister to watch a lady tie up another lady who is topless, isn’t as awkward as you would think. It felt more like watching a dance than pornography. Sorry, no pictures of that. Seemed gauche.

We planned on heading to Thunderdome that night, but then my head was spinning and the headache was back, so I stayed in.

Thursday

Thursday our camp, the Crafty Motherfuckers, held a “crafternoon” and made sand art necklaces using powdered tempura paint mixed with playa dust. Alicia stood in the street and got people to come inside.

Crafternoon Alicia brings in the masses

I made a couple then the tent was pretty full, so I left for a while. They said it stayed pretty full for a couple hours, so it was deemed a success. Everyone felt really nostalgic about birthday parties as kids, so it was nice for everyone. As a side note, there was a guy there wearing nothing but a bunch of neckties covering just the front of him. I think that might be sort of what they were calling “shirt-cocking.” But like, with ties.

I kind of tried looking for Shing’s camp, but never found it. I stopped by my other friends’ camp for a bit and there was a Metal-ish parade. I guess the Dept. of Public Works, the people who build the city’s infrastructure, are sort of like their own camp or something, and they are known for being huge assholes. It’s still unclear if this is a bit/ironic disdain for Burning Man attendees. They had this parade, so I started taking pictures. So then the yelled at me about consent, which is a big deal there, and I agree should be. But then, was it a bit? If you have a parade, that seems like something in the public interest at that point, right? Anyway, the whole thing made me confused and feel like an asshole. So, thanks, DPW.

Here are a few pics from people who acknowledged my thumbs up, which was basically the only way I could attempt to get consent.

Thumbs up for consent! "Yes, because you asked" consent

No one was able to give me a straight answer on if they were serious about not wanting pictures taken, so I just won’t use them. Whatever. They passed again when I got back to our camp and Alicia gave them a ton of ciders, so I think I can probably used some that don’t show faces. The ones from behind look better anyway. They will be on the instagram account eventually.

That evening I finally didn’t feel sick or head achey. Also, by then my hair looked awesome.

Sweet hair

I wandered around looking at art and stuff when it got dark. Alicia and Jay were going to meet me at a karaoke thing before we went to Thunderdome. Turned out it was cancelled so they never found the camp I was at. After a half hour I left and found a cool fire camp nearby.

ILL VILLE

As I was leaving to go to Thunderdome, I ran into Alicia and Jay! Hooray! Jay was tired so he went home. Alicia and I went to Thunderdome finally!

Death Guild

Welcome to Thunderdome

 

So we were there for maybe 5 minutes? Maybe less? A man comes up behind us and says something along the lines of, “Excuse me ladies, I was wondering if you would do us the courtesy of fighting in the dome tonight.” To which I immediately reply, “YES I WOULD LOVE TO. OH MAN THANK YOU” or something like that. Alicia was not expecting this turn of events but was totally game. I was sort of bummed no one was there to see it and take photos, though we tried reaching them on the radios. And it seemed inappropriate to ask one of the Death Guild to take snaps.

Oh, but guess what! It just so happened that our friends from camp were there to witness and take photos! This is the only one I have so far, but it’s the best one. (Brian will be posting the rest after he sorts them.)

WE FOUGHT IN THE THUNDERDOME

Our first grapple, I spun backward, but Alicia grabbed me from behind so she could beat the shit out of me from above while I tried to hit her behind me. It was a crowd pleaser.

They take you back and swing you into each other a few times and Alicia was much better at grabbing my ropes and getting the upper hand. I was good at accidentally turning around backward. She won the fight in the end., but we both came away with mild headaches and some sweet bruises!

Post-fight It looked even worse the next day

So anyway that was the best thing ever, especially since I thought I’d have to get Alex to find one of his Death Guild friends to maybe get us on the list, etc. But man, they just scouted us. It was great!

After that we wandered a bit then found a bar. Oh, guess who was at this bar, but my friends Paul, Jen, and David! What a serendipitous night!

I am not much of a partier, so Alicia and I eventually wandered off into the playa to look at some art and then I turned in.

Friday

I spent a little more time outside since it was a bit less dusty. Chatted with the campmates in the shade tent. Then it got dusty again, and I went back inside. I took a long nap.

I made it out to see the lighthouses and ended up seeing a little wedding at sunset out there.

lighthouses lighthouse at sunset

I was pretty sore from Thunderdome, so I took it easy that night. I did end up finding a camp with Karaoke. It turned out to be some third camp instead of one of the 2 I’d been looking for. But they had a bar and it was really chill and just what I needed. I met some Canadians, Breakfast Beaver and Meltdown. Meltdown gave me my name after asking a few questions about my interests. I gotta say, “Scary Carrie” is about the best name I could hope for. I’d just been secretly calling myself, “The Tourist” in my head all week (more on that later.) I was supposed to meet up with Alicia to see a band, but decided to just hang out at karaoke. Eventually I left with the Canadians and a (I think) British fellow. He was much older than me, but had way more energy than I did. I rode with them to find a bar until we got near my street then parted ways.

Saturday

We needed water again, so I went over to my friends’ camp to borrow a little hand pump. It was maybe only a liter per pump, but much safer than having someone haul 4 gallons of water up a ladder with one hand repeatedly. So I got out a chair and put on a podcast and pumped water for quite a while. It wasn’t as hard as I expected, just time consuming. Alex did some and Jay finished it off so I could get take a break. We emptied a smaller bladder that was maybe only 30 gallons. So, still a lot of hand pumping. Alicia mentiaons some folks wanted to shower and I was like “THAT’S A WASTE OF WATER, I AIN’T PUMPIN’ NO MORE WATER FOR SHOWERS.” Ok, I wasn’t all yelly. But like, showering people could do the next round if we ran out again. It was moot since no one ended up using the shower anyway.

Tiny, but effective pump

By then I’d decided to leave a day early with Paul, Jen, and David so I would for sure catch my flight on Monday. Saturday was really my last day there. I did my best to help Alicia clean up the RV and Made sure all my stuff was put away. I sorted all the recycling and re-bagged the trash for easy disposal. Alicia had to unload by herself on Monday, so the less work the better.

Saturday was when they start the really big burns, beginning with the Man. It was a very blustery evening, but they kept on schedule that night.

Dust storm

We got a late-ish start, so Julia didn’t get a high vantage point for photos like she wanted, but we were still in the front and pretty near the front where people were sitting. I felt a little bad we had a tripod set up, but then something happened that made me feel like less of a jerk.

So everyone sits in the front once the fire dancers show up. Oh wait, just kidding. Burning man has total assholes too! A cluster of maybe 5 people refused to sit. Everyone sitting behind them (A LOT of people) started politely, then eventually angrily requested they sit. all but one woman sat. And man, oh man, she was NOT GOING TO SIT DOWN EVER. She’d been there since 7:00, you guys. So, like, it’s cool that she stands up in front of literally hundreds of people. Radical Self-Reliance! (More on that later) Then her friends joined her again and one man was very agro. I kind of thought there may be a physical altercation, but it never came to that.

Smart guy explaining they all should have gotten there earlier if they wanted to see Shit-heel solidarity

So eventually, they ended up sitting before the dancers finished… But not Indignant Lady #1 – Queen of the Playa!

Queen of the Playa! Most Important Lady!

At that point she couldn’t back down, even though I bet she was just as rattled and upset as those she pissed off.  But hey, clearly her power trip was of the utmost important that night.

Two funny side notes. She did eventually sit part way through the burn. Yeah. Who wants to stand around for like an hour like that? There was mild applause, but stifled since she probably liked the attention still.

The other funny thing is that another woman stood up later in front of our section, but clearly yelling wasn’t an effective strategy. Instead nothing happened other than people using her back to make shadow puppets. Also I moved over a few feet because there was room.

Shadow Masters

In the end that lady sat too. The whole thing was stupid, and, for me, mildly amusing because I wasn’t directly a part of it. It was sort of fascinating.

Then there were a shit ton of fireworks and then the Man lights on fire and burns up!

'Splodey! Fire!

Also, I was dressed in a Charmander onesie, because fire, obvs.

Charmander Approves Charmander, char.

Sisters!

Then it’s like a big party. All the art cars are out and light up and blast music. It’s like a big carnival.

Carnival

We wandered around looking at more art and stuff. Then we went to see the Lighthouses go up in flames, which was also rad.

Bye Lighthouses!

Then we went back to where the Man was to see the ashes. Some Fool had climbed up on top of the rubble among the hot coals. Whatever, dude.

Fire Fool Hot Man Coals

sisters

After a little more wandering, we went home so we could try to get up for the sunrise. I did actually get up, but there was a really bad dust storm for like an hour, so I stayed in and went back to bed. Julia went out and said it eventually cleared up for the sunrise. Oh well!

Sunday

Sunday I helped clean the RV some more then went over to my friends’ camp to help them strike it. They rented a storage container, so all they had to do was take things apart and toss them in! But like, also pack up anything going back to LA, plus their waste water, plus trash.  But at least they could leave the container for pickup there.

Worth it.

We finished early so Alicia wasn’t back by the time I got my stuff, but I got to say bye to Julia at least.

So then we go to exit and it takes 5 hours. They have to merge 8 lanes into one before it reaches the highway. There is about one big pulse per hour then you wait. At one point, both Paul and I dozed off and missed the start of a pulse. Jen and David in the Uhaul had to get out and bang on the window because we didn’t hear the horns. Oops! But It didn’t look like it cost us a full pulse or anything. I think we were in the same section we would have been, just a bit further back. (We passed another car that was asleep too, so it was pretty common.)

Mmmm, Exodus traffic Almost out!

5 hours just to exit sounds long, but some people had a 13 hour wait because some minor went missing. Rumor is that it was some 17 year old maybe went off with her 31 year old boyfriend? Anyway, everyone was fine, but it was a huge hassle. But it’s stuff like that that made me want to leave on Sunday just in case!

We dropped off trash and found a place to empty the waste water. We got to the hotel in Reno around 10:30pm and were greeted by this guy:

Welcome to RENO!

Turned out to be part of a mini golf course next door.

Paul and I went to get food since we had to take turns showering anyway. It took forever because they somehow weren’t prepared for a large amount of late night patrons from Burning Man, even though it happens every year. But they did the best they could, even with a huge group that sent back not one, but 2 plates! Ugh. Unless it’s for food allergy reasons, they were assholes.

We went back to the hotel and Paul crashed. So then I took The Most Satisfying Shower Ever™. I can say that with utmost confidence.

CLEAN!

I took stock of all my bruises. Here’s my left arm, plus the front and side/back of my right arm. then my left leg.

bruises Leg bruises

Not pictured: bruises along my bikini line either from the bike, the Thunderdome harness, or both.

I said farewell to my so-old-I-can’t-recall-how-old sandals. They were peeling up all over anyway and I wasn’t about to bother cleaning them. They were brown when I arrived.

Farewell!

Monday II

Monday I woke up with a stupid crick in my neck. I sleep on a bench in the RV for a week and no problem! One night on a fluffy bed, I have a pain in the neck. Booo!

Paul, Jen, and David got an early start so they could return the Uhaul. I had hours to kill before my 6:20 flight. So I went and got The Most Needed Pedicure Ever™.

Oooh la la! Treat Yo' Self!

At the nail salon 4 young burners came in. They kind of felt like the Coachella-type that go to party a lot. Basically caricatures of what people often think of when they think of young burning man attendees. It’s not really a bad thing, it was just funny. It felt like they were created in a decent single-camera comedy’s writers’ room. Like real people, but ones that were amusingly cliché at the same time. I think the ladies working were amused as well.

Got to the airport early. They were prepared for me.

For your protection

I got a drink and took a nap by the gate. Then Jay showed up! We were on the same flight out. It was nice to get to say bye to him and have a buddy there.

The flight was delayed a bunch so my connection in Vegas went from about an hour to more like 20 minutes. I sprinted best I could (not very well) and got in line just in time for my later boarding group. Unfortunately I am very out of shape and my blood oxygen level is below normal, so I was hyperventilating, which then made my throat inflamed, which lead to a coughing fit for like 30 minutes. They gave me water when I got on the plane, which helped. Eventually it calmed down. Not actually the first time that’s happened to me, but I don’t know how to avoid it. Oh, maybe get in better shape? Become less anemic?

Anyway, after another small delay, I got home and so did my bags even!