Burning Man 8.25 - 9.1.14
Black Rock City
Words By J. Picard
Photos By Carly Marthis & J. Picard
Video By Carly Marthis
Months in the making, Burning Man, a 70,000 person celebration of art and culture, challenges attendees to sustain for an entire week in the desert utilizing "radical self reliance." For these two burners, the quest began in June with excessive preparation concluding only once upon The Playa. The dried up prehistoric lake bed allows for no sustaining life outside of the unclassifiable group of world travelers. From Denver, CO we departed on our 2,200 mile trek across the country, tuning into one public radio jazz station after another, heading a mere fifteen hours west to the small desert town of Lovelock, NV, which would become our sort of outpost as wild and unpredictable events began to unfold. Our early morning Sunday arrival triggered sleep followed by last minute shopping, a few hours of kitchen prep and meal freezing. The final packing of the vehicle lead to a humorous unpacking, repacking and cramming of items. Exhausted, we enjoyed one last night in a real bed, though we tossed and turned in anticipation of what the following day would bring.
Monday, August 25th:
We awoke Monday morning at an early hour to a call from our great friend and fellow Burner, Murray. "The gates are closed. Once you've processed that, call me back," he said in a tired voice. So many questions came to mind and after further discussion and a quick tune to Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR), yielded the reality that a storm had passed through leaving standing water on The Playa. Lighting struck the BMIR tower as well as an individual, resulting in minor injuries. As the day progressed, Burning Man released the following statement:
"RAINSTORMS CLOSE BURNING MAN UNTIL TUESDAY
Black Rock City, August 25th, 2014 - Organizers of the annual Burning Man event are asking any participants traveling to the event now to postpone their arrival until at least Tuesday morning. Black Rock City has shut down following rain storms that left standing water on the playa, leaving it un-driveable.
Nevada Highway Patrol will be directing traffic away from Highway 447 at Wadsworth. Local law enforcement have also begun turning around traffic at the event entrance on Highway 34 northeast of Gerlach. Drivers are being instructed to find a safe location to park until the expected re-opening of the event on Tuesday.
Organizers expect the rain to dissipate and the playa surface to dry out by mid day Tuesday and participants will be allowed to enter the event again."
From BMIR on The Playa we assertained that there was a possibility of the porta potties being closed due to service trucks not being able to access them. The radio host was seeking individuals to distribute toilet paper and was encouraging folks to utilize buckets or make friends with your neighbors with motor homes. Even as we sat in Lovelock tuning into the sporadic broadcasts coming out of Black Rock City, all we could do was think about getting to Burning Man.
After the initial announcement regarding the closure of the Black Rock City gates, Burning Man's social networks became a vacuum, with no information coming out of the organization. The feeling of being in limbo was heavy. The day became an extended waiting game without the satisfaction of movement ever becoming realized. Around 9:00 PM rumors began to surface that the gates had re-opened. Without official confirmation and with the evening growing later, we planned for a Tuesday AM departure from the Lovelock outpost. We made arrangements to be guided over a couple of back road passes that would ideally shave hours off of our wait to enter the magical land.
Tuesday, August 26th:
The news came early Tuesday that the gates were indeed open and that the conditions were such that the Playa had returned to some level of "normalcy." Our convoy headed down I-80 pulling off at a small exit with no services. We crossed a cattle guard and traversed over Raggedtop, down an hour long gravel road toward Gerlach. We passed cattle on the open range, wild mustangs and dried up riverbeds without ever seeing another vehicle. After a crazy ride down a road that seemed to lead to nowhere, we hit 447 and gassed up our vehicle using a red gas can provided by Carly's father, Darin. A mere fifteen clear miles down 447 and we found ourselves passing through Empire and pulling onto the cracked Playa which seemed to have little to no wait in regards to vehicles. We were directed towards the will call line, which seemed manageable. Planes dropped in at a nonstop rate to the Black Rock City Airport, dropping Burners off and returning to the sky to pick up more. Two and a half hours later, with our credentials in hand and the line now somewhere near a six to eight hour wait, we made our way through the gates which boasted a zero law enforcement presence, counter to the rumors of FEDs and K-9s, and pulled into the camps.
The roads are laid out by the letters "A" through "K" running parallel to the inner Playa road, Esplanade, while the perpendicular roads were named after the times on a clock. With the 9:00 side of the camping grid near full, we headed past 6:00 and found a comfortable spot with ample room at 5:00 and "J"ade and began our set up for a week in the desert. We quickly erected our tent, Murray's tent, his clothes tent, our shower tent and Murray's massive Tee Pee that would act as our community space. As the sun set, we took a quick breather, decorated our bikes as best we could with glowing objects and a box of wine and headed down 5:00 towards the Playa for our first glimpse of the chaos. Arriving at Esplanade, we came to a stop taking in the incredible scene that had presented itself. Lights flashed in every direction, explosions and fire lit up distant scenes and lasers extended across the horizons, all while folks on bikes, feet, pirate ships and dragons headed every which way. It was the most euphoric scene that we had ever witnessed and it took a few minutes to take it all in.
On our right was a towering contraption that converted the notes of a piano/synth into electrical currents that flashed brightly while sounding out the notes being played. On our left was a sort of bumper car race track with folks in the middle section swinging dust covered pillows at the mini-cars pedaling by. We decided that instead of heading down Esplanade past the clubs and semi-permanent art exhibits, that we would head straight out onto the open Playa to see what sort of non-sense we could discover. One of the first installations that we encountered had a large neon sign that read "BORING" which hosted a DJ and a decent-sized dance party surrounding it. From there we rode across the open Playa towards the man, who was surrounded by tents that were referred to as the "Souk." The man was huge from the ground up and the tents created a very gypsy-esque vibe that offered a variety of stimulation, from mirrored rooms to fortune tellers and large backlit art. It did indeed feel like a "Caravansary" in the middle of the desert.
From the man we headed down the torch lit road toward The Temple. As we grew closer, the finite details became more apparent. This creation had taken a lot of time and energy to output and its fragile feel reminded us of the fact that it was temporary. We passed over an arched bridge into the courtyard of The Temple, where people sat quietly along its outer fence. Inside The Temple, the vibe was heavy, with photos of folks that we've lost along the way, poems and messages strewn about. In the center, under a large wooden chandelier, Burners prayed, meditated and held on to one another, many crying. Being that our energy and excitement was high from our first experience of the year on the Playa, we departed The Temple making our way towards a tall LED tree that flashed through different colors in a beautiful display. Looking off to our right we spotted the dimly lit porta johns. The colorful tree would be our beacon for the restrooms on the Playa for the remainder of the week.
Following our emptying of wine we rode towards Embrace, a massive wooden structure of two people embracing. As we pulled up a flashing LED ghost from Pac-Man man pulled between us and Embrace. As the art presented itself, we appreciated it with open arms and inquisitive minds. After exploring the build of the Pac-Man art car, we made our way into the hugging structure, which was packed with people climbing up and down wooden staircases and through wooden passageways. On the ground level of one of the beings was a large metal heart that hung from the ceiling. In the other, a fiberglass heart that was beating and glowing. The installation was massive and impressive and we couldn't wait to see it burn later that week!
After seeing three of the larger more prominent staples, we let improvised fate be our guide and headed off at random. We eventually came upon a large rickety looking pyramid of ladders covered in people trying to get to the top, then navigate a safe return to the Playa. We locked up our bikes so that a confused or disoriented individual didn't jump on and ride off with them and we began to climb the structure. From the get go you could feel its unintentional sway and with each grab of a railing, its loose jiggle. Around us we could hear discussion of people who had fallen off earlier in the day, whether true or not. Back on the ground a group of riders approached in white fur coats aboard what appeared to be surfboards on wheels spitting erratic colors from patterned LED lights.
What happened next was by far one of the weirdest things that we experienced during our week at Burning Man. We rode towards a gold domed structure feeling drawn in its direction. We parked our bikes outside and walked through its large open doors. Inside it became clear that it was a library, with a ton of books on tables and shelves. I reached for a book from a table on my right and opened it up... Its pages were blank. I picked up another from the same table and its pages too were blank. I turned around and reached for a book off of one of the libraries packed shelves and opened it. We glanced down to see a page full of writing and in shock, we stood silently starring at it. One specific word jumped out at us immediately... "Picard." My last name on that page was the last thing that I expected to see. It was a quote/entry from Star Trek. Our minds were blown. We scratched our heads, had a laugh and quickly moved along into the night.
We made our way back to camp for a little breather and some cold beers before heading back out to Esplanade past Circus Combustious, the tower near Center Camp, Center Camp, the Jazz Cafe and a couple of dance clubs before shooting back out to the Playa. We rode through the darkness until we came upon a dance club that featured small glowing LED circles on the ground that changed colors. From there we returned to The Man and The Souk to see what sort of latenight nonsense we could get into. There were so many folks passing through sectioned off portions of the tents experiencing a wide array of stimuli. From there we rode out toward 9:00 down the torch lit road, stopping at a structure of swings followed by a structure of hammocks for a brief break. On our return to camp we passed The Black Rock Skate Park which was buzzing with skateboarders hitting half pipes, rails and ramps. Just past the skate park we stopped to watch a few minutes of roller skating at the Black Rock Roller Disco. Anyone could throw on a pair from the installation's pile of skates and have a go. For us though, our night had reached its end and what a day it was. Back at camp we crawled into our tents hearing generators, beats and explosions in the distance. Though we were done for the night, Black Rock City had the feel of just getting started.
Wednesday, August 27th:
We awoke to the sun cooking us out of our tent like a hot oven. We in no way felt 100%, but the statement "I feel like a hundred bucks" was tossed around a couple of times as we got our coffee and breakfast going on our small propane cooker. To Murray's disappointment, he discovered that his blender was 550 volts and his solar generator only 400. He took his fruit loaded blender to the camp site next to us and returned with a half full container as he had made smoothies for everyone who was present at the source of electricity. We dove into multiple rounds of delicious fruit smoothies, breakfast burritos and an eventual shower in our new shower tent. All of the aforementioned treats were just enough to return us to a functional state. At the row of porta john's, there was an older gentleman in a tuxedo and bowtie acting as a bathroom attendant. He offered shwills of mouthwash in little cups, tooth brushes and toothpaste, gum, cigarettes and more. Though we were taken aback by the gesture, many indulged in the offerings acting as if it were commonplace.
We had only ridden one block and were being bombarded with gifts and stimulation. At the end of the block a group was gathering and it was clear that something entertaining was taking place. There was a gentleman with a bullhorn officiating a jousting match on a balance beam. The contenders were announced by their Playa names and the battle, though short in duration, involved a lot of action using swords covered in pillows as weaponry. Murray spoke with some of the camp's participants and confirmed that this would indeed be the location of the slave auctions that would be happening later that afternoon and in the following days. From there we rode down one of the numbered roads towards the Playa, past bars serving whiskey and hosting wild competitions. We hit The Playa, posed for a quick group photo before Murray headed off and Carly and I made our way towards "Love," a large metal structure with the word "Love" spelled out in different sizes. People were climbing all over it and making wild jumps from one letter to another. Our focus shifted to The Man, which we had yet to see in daylight and as the day was beautiful and clear, there seemed no better time.
We finally arrived at The Temple where once again, the vibe was very heavy and sorrowful. We stood back and watched as people cried and wrote messages to their loved ones on the Temple wall. A man and his partner situated a large mural of what appeared to be his mother in one corner of the courtyard, while a naked young lady hung up a picture of what appeared to be her boyfriend. She wept and caressed the photo as I found tears running down my cheeks and creating dusty mud on my face. Again, I felt the need to move on quickly, as I was not in a sorrowful place mentally. From the Temple, we returned to embrace for a glance at the huge undertaking in the light of day. Carly and I posed for a photo on a box that read "Embrace Photo Spot." Behind us in the distance, we could see large dust devils spin towards The Man and Temple.
Back at camp we iced down our coolers, re-hydrated and laid down on the carpeting that Murray had brought along for just such an occasion. A short time later Carly and I awoke to the sun disappearing behind the surrounding mountains. We made a pasta dinner, cracked some glowsticks and hung them from ours bikes and backpacks, and headed out towards 2:00 in the direction of a rumored disc golf tournament. Upon our arrival, we were disappointed. What was referred to as a forest of mushrooms, was in fact a sparse, empty, dimly lit course. We again parted ways with Murray, with the intention of meeting at Center Camp at a specific time. On our way down Esplanade, we stopped at Circus Combustious, who's evening performance was just beginning. The show featured a range of fire spinners, acrobats, belly dancers and off colored comedy. Throughout the show there was a lot of mistakes, dropped fire and slip-ups, though it was entertaining none the less. A little ways down Esplanade we passed Thunder Dome, which appeared to be preparing for the evening's battles.
From Center Camp we rode back to home base for a refill of cold beers and other random items. We returned to The Playa and hit a saloon in one of the plazas where Murray was denied service for not having his ID. From the plaza we headed out to The Man briefly, then off to "Insanity," a large LED display of the word itself, reminding us that we were in the midst of pure chaos. From "Insanity" we rode towards 10:00 to explore some of the larger stages. On the other side of a large ferris wheel, we came upon three massive stages, the first of which, Opulent Temple, was dropping some enjoyable four on the floor beats. We spent a decent amount of time at that stage dancing and watching the party grow to a decent size. Out on The Playa, lasers shot off in the distance as flashing lights moved in every direction.
After a short time, we headed all the way back to camp, for what felt like miles. At camp we sat, mellowed out and drank a couple more cold ones before calling it quits and crawling back into our tents. With our neighbor's generator providing white noise, sleep was inevitable. Safely nestled in our tent on the comfort of a fully inflated air mattress, we could hear the chaos of the world melting around us...
Thursday, August 28th:
We awoke yet again to the sweltering heat, feeling like "a hundred bucks." From Murray's tent we could hear the sound of fans running off of his generator. We prepared coffee and breakfast as Burners from the camps around us came to life. That morning we would be meeting up with Carly's Father Darin, who is a Pershing County Commissioner, and her brother Dylan, who would be coming out to The Playa for a short time for a meeting that Darin had. We grabbed a shower and drank a couple of drinks that included electrolytes before heading over to the bone tree near Center Camp where we would meet them. It was really cool for Carly to get to spend time with her family in a place that she holds in such a special regard. For Dylan, that day would mark his first experience at Burning Man, which he seemed blown away by. We hopped into the back of the white pick-up truck that Darin was sporting and headed out onto The Playa at a very cautious rate of speed, or lack there of.
Darin asked the group where we wanted to go and I piped up quickly requesting to head out to the deep Playa to check out the perimeter fence. Darin agreed and we were on our way, which was perfect in regards to saving us an extensive bike trip. As we headed out out to the bright orange fence that lined the event, we could view the whole scope of the chaos that was overtaking the Playa. We headed along the fence passing several outpost art exhibits as I dug through my backpack for bandanas, goggles and painters masks for the group. With our masks secured we headed back inward towards The Observatory. As we parked and hoped out, a lunar rover with four astronauts pulled up blasting what at first sounded like official audio from an actual moon landing... until we heard things like "Permission to land on the fucking moon, over." It was quite entertaining and impeccable timing.
I mentioned to Darin that we were going to head over to secure a few bags of ice before returning to camp and that we would be right back. He then informed us that we were already taken care of, as he had four bags in a cooler for us. Carly hopped into the back of the truck and Dylan rode her bike along side of me on our way back to camp. As this was Dylan's first experience with the camps, he looked around in amazement. At one point we passed a couple of completely naked girls with spray bottles, for which I demanded our convoy halt. Refreshed, we returned to camp passing El Pulpo Mechanico, who was not active. At home base we sat and rehydrated before Darin and Dylan departed. We said our goodbyes and they took some of our trash, to lighten our load. A short time later, we found ourselves on the carpet again, dozing off as the sun began to sink in the sky.
From the slow burn we worked our way out to 10:00, to the three large stages that we had visited prior. On this evening people were getting down as large fireflies appeared on poles, changing color in unison, while their carriers danced wildly. The next stage over had a massive screen with some intense imagery, but the music didn't keep us in place. We hit the last stage of the trio, who's DJ booth was suspended from a crane and who's LD was spitting fire from the stage's surrounding large poles. It was quite a display, but we once again found ourselves uninterested in the beats. We worked our way back down the clock towards 9:00, where we discovered an awesome plaza! On one of the stages, Crossroads, was a funk band with a full horn section that sucked us right in. What started off as solid funk quickly devolved as the camp began rotating through three bands during the performance. What followed was a pretty terrible cover a previous horrible song in Marilyn Manson's "Dope Show," that featured a sort of grunge style cabaret show. With the third band entering the fold, it was clear that it was time to head in a different direction, though the live music aspect of the camp was refreshing, the music was not very good.
We rode on into the night down one of the lettered streets coming to an immediate halt as a massive art car, both in height and length, came to a stop on one of the intersecting roads. We glanced up to see four giant teapots atop large structures on wheels being towed by a giant art car. At the base of the craft stood guards all holding staffs in a serious manner, ensuring that no one rode under the massive procession. Bikers gathered to spectate as folks peered out of the windows of the dimly lit teapots, in what was truly a euphoric environment. When the road cleared we parted ways with Murray, who headed further into the camps for additional nonsense, as we rode on into the night. We popped out onto The Playa where we found another huge pirate ship, though this one had a full drum set and band aboard.
Things started getting weird as we headed to Center Camp for a different sort of stimuli. We passed through the large epicenter, looking at photos and paintings, both abstract in nature and very real. Many of the art included scenes from previous burns and intimate images of people who had participated. At one point Carly and I approached a box with space on each side to peak our heads in. Inside of the box was an array of mirrors that created the illusion on an exponentially expanding realm, glowing with a variety of colors from some LED rope at the top of the space. Pulling our heads out of the box was like returning to a strange reality. It took me a second to reorient to my surroundings. From there we rode back towards our side of Black Rock City to regroup at camp and schwill a few Colorado brews.
Tired and spent, we rode past so many incredible pieces of art and random scenes towards camp. There was no stopping the party that surrounded us, though in order to sustain through the halfway point of our week and remain healthy, we headed back to to our tent. That night as our heads hit the pillows, the generator that had provided our white noise, abruptly came to a halt. We could hear everything that was happening around us, until we dozed off.
Friday, August 29th:
Jenny presented the group with some awesome Burning Man themed cupcakes as possibly the craziest thing that any of us saw during the week began to unfold. Murray passed by with an odd contraption under his arm. We watched in amazement as he set what appeared to be a foot bath down on the ground. He filled it with water, added vinegar and flipped a switch triggering it to bubble. Without even a simple expression directed towards the ridiculousness of the scenario, Murray put his feet into the spa style foot bath and began his treatment. Our minds were blown. Jesse continued his set up, erecting a hammock out front of the camp. Jenny and Jesse put the finishing touches on their bikes and a short time later, we were once again ready to ride out. The excitement within' the group was high as we were riding with first-timers.
When we hit The Playa we found a very active dust storm that included a plethora of dust devils and white out conditions. We secured our bandanas and masks over our mouths and noses, situated our goggles and rode into the madness. First and foremost, we stopped at The Man where we realized that we were just in time for Critical Tits, or The Parade of Tits! We sat back and encouraged what appeared to be hundreds of topless women, scrambling to find the direction in which they were supposed to ride, due to the insane dust. They circled back and regrouped a couple of times, which was fine with us. Shortly to follow, we headed to The Temple, then towards Embrace. We had heard rumors of Embrace being burned at the morning's sunrise, but we had to see it to believe it. To the disappointment of the group, we arrived at a pile of smoldering debris. We were never able to climb higher into the structure and Jenny and Jesse weren't able to lay eyes on the beauty that was Embrace. From that point we rode towards the castle per Jenny's request, through sections of deep Playa dust that had collected in drifts. At one point we were hit with a whiteout and lost track of the castle, riding off towards a nearby installation that was the head of a plane converted into a DJ booth. When the dust cleared, we were able to locate the castle. We headed in and up to the second level for a better view. After a short time, I headed to the camp's bar, where they asked to see my ID before pouring a warm PBR that was pure foam into a dirty cup that was not mine. I made note of the cup not being mine and was handed the remainder of the warm can. I thanked the barkeep and attempted to drink a single swig of the beverage. Outside of the castle we retrieved our bikes and noticed a two story beer bong hanging off of the castle wall.
As it grew closer to the time that we were supposed to meet Murray at Thunder Dome, we saw fireworks going off in the distance, signifying the Trojan Horse's inevitable burn! We made haste, only slowing down to ride through a warped wooden tunnel lit with different color LEDs. The circle surrounding the Horse was massive as a procession of art cars drove around it firing fireworks and roman candles that bounced off of its sides. Eventually it exploded with fireworks as well as a deep propane blast and it was engulfed in flames. Before the structure fell, we hit the bathrooms and headed towards Thunder Dome, which was crawling with wildly dressed Burners, including Murray of course. The event's host and official announced that we would first enjoy some fire spinning and live opera. The woman's voice was incredible, setting the mood for the epic battles that would follow. With the music's conclusion, the huge crowd began to chant, "Two men enter, one man leaves! Two men enter, one man leaves..." The hair on my arms stood straight up as the evening's first participants were strapped into the harnesses. The contenders were pulled to the edge of the dome and upon a cue from the official, the warriors flew at one another bouncing as they collided, swinging large pillow swords. Through three rounds of intensity they battled until a winner was declared. I found myself yelling throughout the entire match.
Around the third or fourth bout a massive viking looking mother fucker was brought in for a battle. He grimaced, growled and looked downright scary as the fight began. The two contenders collided in a fierce engagement. At one point the massive beast of a man started using the butt end of his weapon to inflict damage. His weapon bounced off of his opponent's head and out of his hands, as he resorted to fists, to the surprise of the crowd. That was the moment that the illusion of Thunder Dome became real and pure unfiltered aggression poured out onto The Playa. The match was called due to the smaller man bleeding down his face and surprisingly, yet rightfully so, the match was awarded to the beast. In an attempt to mellow out and regroup, we returned to camp for a couple hours of cold beers and on the spot humor, including some fire drumming from Jesse.
Jesse and Jenny called it a night, while myself, Murray and Carly continued to party on The Playa. We returned to Kalliope for a couple more hours of drinking and dancing as the previous evening turned into a new day's dawn. We sluggishly made our way back to the tee pee and then to our tent, for what would be our longest night of rest. The following day, The Man would burn...
Saturday, August 30th:
Carly finally came to from the tent, with Jesse not far behind from the trailer. From Murray's tent the sound of fans and Murray sawing logs poured out. We ate a large breakfast, re-hydrated with vigor and prepared for a short ride on The Playa before securing the day's ice. For some reason we all brought our red plastic cups with carabiners that Carly and Murray had made for the group. We rode down 4:30 until we hit the Jazz Cafe at Center Camp, where a live jazz band was performing. We locked up our bikes and headed into the somewhat crowded dome. At the entrance there was a sign that listed the week's events at the camp. To my absolute delight the schedule for the day read "Mingus & Mimosas" from 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM and "Jazz Jam Session" after the burn! Inside we made our way to the bar with our cups in hand. A very friendly young man welcomed us and set us up with our mimosas, at which point our focus shifted to the music. We found a comfortable corner of the circle next to a Jerry Garcia doll and watched as a ragtag group of musicians absolutely crushed the music of Charles Mingus! I returned to the bar and inquired about another round of drink, while communicating that I understood that a "no" was possible in order to ensure that the supply remains for folks who had yet to drink. The gentleman replied that he appreciated my concern for the group, while filling my glass near to the top!
The sun set as dust ripped across Black Rock City in the distance. Jesse prepared brats for the group and we ate until we were stuffed knowing that a full stomach was needed to provided energy for the night that was to follow. Again, we tried on different absurd costumes until we felt comfortable with our choices. Murray made an executive decision and pulled out the coolest item of our camp. He had raided a thrift store and purchased a seventeen dollar coat, which he had The Man and surrounding encampment custom air brushed on to. It was nothing short of epic and with his selection of headwear, he looked like a "Burning Pimp." Off we rode towards The Man who kept disappearing and reappearing behind large plumes of dust. We parked our bikes on Esplanade, deciding to head in on foot towards the gigantic circle of art cars and Burners who were gathering for the week's climax. We were hit with a whiteout of dust and when it cleared Murray and his friend were nowhere to be seen. We walked straight towards the enormous gathering, passing through a maze of art cars, crafts, bikes and tens of thousands of people celebrating life. We found a comfortable location from which to view the ceremony, while taking turns wandering off looking for Murray and scanning the crowd.
A short time after our arrival, The Man's arms lifted into the air while scores and scores of fire spinners lit their torches, chains, and other various flammable objects for a half hour of fire spinning on a scale that I could have never imagined. We stood there dumbfounded, rarely speaking, as there was really nothing that could be said. Fire dancers bounced and flipped on springy devices, while others were rolled back and forth in wild contraptions. There was fucking fire everywhere, as rangers and fire professionals stood by waiting to assist if needed. After thirty minutes on the dot, the fires were extinguished and The Man exploded with fireworks shooting in every direction! What followed was one of the largest firework displays that I had ever witnessed. The structure eventually caught fire and burned... and burned... and burned. A half hour passed and The Man was still standing. An hour passed and there he stood, almost mockingly. People began to lose interest and wander off in different directions. At one point it was suggested that we hit the bathrooms and off we went toward the colorful LED tree.
After an hour and a half to two hours, the son of a bitch finally fell, flat on its face, to the delight of the large remaining crowd. We headed out down 3:00, located Murray's bike and headed towards the large stage at 2:00 and Esplanade. As we walked a young man approached me and offered me a pack of peanut M & Ms, to which I excepted and passed along to the group. With not much going on at the stage, we peaked into a couple of domes, including Disorient. From there we headed back up Esplanade in a dream like state, eventually arriving at Center Camp. Inside we browsed through art and sat in one of the many booths. Jesse and I were drawn to a live performance that was happening. Two gentleman were beatboxing and making ridiculous statements about Burning Man and the counter culture. We were laughing out loud and really enjoying the performance, when all of a sudden another gentleman with an acoustic guitar was brought on stage and took over with his self-indulgent brand of gobbly gook.
We decided to head over to the Jazz Cafe to check out a little bit of the Jam. We told Murray that we were heading that way and somehow over the course of ten to twenty feet, we had lost him yet again. Carly headed back to look for him in front of the stage and was unable to locate him. "Let's head over to the Jazz Cafe. It wouldn't surprise me to find him there already enjoying the music," I declared. We laughed at the absurdity of that point and wandered out of the encampment. Inside the Jazz Cafe, who do we find, but Murray in his Burning Man pimp coat, getting him some Jazz. We all laughed and stepped in to enjoy the music. From Center Camp we rode out passing a couple of dancing glowing mannequins suspended in the sky from large balloons. Back we headed towards the 10:00 clubs stopping at a phone booth to "Talk To God." There was some confusion about whether or not anyone answered, though it appeared as if Jenny was talking to someone.
We arrived at the stages to a large group of people and we jumped right in. Jesse was throwing out all sorts of wild moves, while Murray tossed his glowing Frisbee into the air and unexpectedly danced to electronic music. "At least with our music you don't have to get fucked up. With this, you have no choice," said Murray, laughing! We were having an absolute riot when Murray called for a group hug! From the stages we stepped back about fifty feet onto the open Playa and got loose with a long range game of Frisbee. Murray was deep in his element as Jesse and I tried to keep up. After a shorter time than Murray would have liked, we took a time-out and rode out toward the porta johns near The Temple, which was glowing from its torch lit courtyard and massive chandelier. From the bathrooms we rode straight out into the darkness in search of The Observatory. With the combination of dust and darkness, it appeared as if we were headed towards nothing. When all of a sudden a structure appeared, though it was not what we were looking for. We stopped and I glanced off to the right. Using a small ring light I illuminated what appeared to be two domes. It was The Observatory! We rode up, parked our bikes and wandered into the dome that was open, where we found two people trying to figure out a telescope that had a cap on it. If there was indeed star gazing going on that evening, we missed it.
As the morning came we hugged Murray grabbed our bikes and headed back across the Playa towards our camp. A small group of hardcore Burners surrounded the remaining burning pieces of The Man as all of the surrounding installations appeared differently in the pinkish light of day. I smiled and laughed as we rode off of the open Playa and back into the camps. I knew that moment would mark the last time that we would be in that place following a long week. As we rode down 5:00 there was no shortage of remaining nonsense and folks wandering back and forth in a daze. For the last time, we climbed into our tent which was filled with dust. We placed our heads on our dusty pillows and hoped for even a few hours of rest before our camp's inevitable and lengthy dismantling.
Sunday, August 31st:
We made a conscious decision to miss The Temple burn, though Murray would remain, and with the car loaded to the gill and our bikes strapped safely to the rack, we said our goodbyes and rolled out of what was our home in the desert for the past six days. Oddly enough we didn't feel sad or drained, but instead energized from the experience. On our way out, people waved and yelled goodbye. We joked about getting a pizza asap and about having a mock wedding on The Playa next year so that all of our immediate family would have to join in on the adventure. We made it a lot closer to the exit without hitting traffic than we had expected. Traffic control was pulsing and pacing the outgoing traffic, triggering a measly two hour wait during our exodus. Rumors of a four to six hour wait behind us loomed on BMIR. As the sunset over the surrounding mountains in an incredible spectrum from orange to purple, we pulled back onto the paved 447 and headed towards Gerlach, Fernley and eventually Lovelock.
Burning Man is not defined by the rich or the poor, participants or tourists, but instead by the draw it has for people of all backgrounds from all over the world. What we experienced through our week in Black Rock City was love, passion, creativity, endless giving, acceptance and a connection with strangers all around us. Time and time again I was brought to tears by the most simple and most humane of gestures, by the smiles that people shared and stories that people told. It was humanity at its purest with objects and concepts that were only temporary. It was life, unfiltered and free...