WARNING. LONG READ, NO PICTURES.
For those who wonder what all this “Burning Man” fuss is about, I’ll venture a brief description of the phenomenon.
The Burning Man Art Festival started over 20 years ago as a small beach party in San Francisco. The bonfire was a nailed-together wood stick-figure, which/who became known as the burning “man”.
After a few years, the event outgrew Baker Beach and moved to a much roomier site in North-West Nevada -- the Black Rock Desert.
47.000 people participated in 2007. The limit is 50.000, so this year may sell out.
Burning Man lasts a week -- not counting the many weeks of preparations and the year round administrative work.
There are no spectators. You buy a ticket to PARTICIPATE. That said, there are no specific requirements for your participation -- you WILL be participating, whether you planned to or not. (This is a good thing.)
NOW. Here is the big one -- the one you cannot stand waiting for any longer: Burning Man is a giant amusement park, art show and costume party where the visitors themselves create and operate all the attractions and exhibits. In short, there is an empty desert, then there is a week-long dense concentration of amusements, art and partying, and then there is an empty desert again. And you and I -- and 46.998 of our closest friends -- do it all ourselves.
...Except... the organizers provide porta-potties, a hospital and first aid stations, a (very good) fire department, safety patrols, and they sell ice. And many other services from ticket sales to reserving space for larger camps and art projects.
(The question has been raised; Is Burning Man anything like Rainbow Gathering? I have not been to a Rainbow Gathering, but from what I have read, Burning Man could be called Rainbow-Gathering-Done-Right.)
IMPORTANT: Burning Man is not for everybody. Participants are mostly recruited by word of mouth -- handpicked by those who have been there before. I noticed in the program that there was a Quaker Church meeting out there. And if you go to any kind of “A” meetings, there are definitely every kind of such in Black Rock City. And classes in oral sex. Contests, even.
Yep, it’s NOT the County Fair.
Some participants go naked. Burning Man is held on federal public land, and the Bureau of Land Management apparently (check with your lawyer) has a policy of enforcing dress codes only when they receive a complaint. Clearly, so far, no-one in Black Rock City has complained. But most participants wear costumes. You can wear street clothes, but you will seem -- and feel -- a bit out of place.
SO... What about all this heat and dust and lack of water? The heat and dust are there. You bring your own water. No biggie. Except that you MUST READ THE SURVIVAL GUIDE, AND FOLLOW IT. It’s on the web site, but when you buy a ticket, you get a big thick printed Survival Guide with it.
Burning Man is a Leave No Trace event. That means that when you leave, you take EVERYTHING with you. That includes your dirty wash water, the button that fell off your shirt, and every last scrap of orange peel -- even if your close-friend-number 36.788 dropped it. When you leave your camp site, there WILL be no trace that you were ever there. NONE. It’s pretty cool, really. Like a magic act. Poof! It’s that poof that convinces the BLM to issue next year’s permit.
Economy. With the exception of ice sales, Black Rock City operates on a Gift Economy. Not even bartering. Gifting. It’s another neat thing!
Photography. No commercial photography, and no video at all, without a permit.
Anecdote: I had the fine experience of riding one of my Kinetic Kontraptions when a man asked very politely for permission to photograph me and my machine. I said “of course!” I stopped and posed comically and he took the picture. We then continued where we were each headed -- me fully dressed, he stark naked. (And HE asked ME permission -- get it?!)
How often do I, straight laced upright citizen and member of the Lions Club, talk with people who wear their hair in dreadlocks? Answer: Normally pretty much never -- and at Burning Man, all the time. It’s pretty cool.
What sort of people go to Burning Man? Well, something like 70 percent of them have a college degree. I know of a couple of businesses that bring or send employees as a team building exercise. Well... aren’t there any dirt poor hippies? Yep, those also.
Vehicles. A major element of Burning Man is the Mutant Vehicles. These must be registered in advance, and are the only motorized vehicles allowed to move in Black Rock City for the duration of the event. Quite a few of them are old school buses -- yes, party buses.
Transportation. Bicycles. Expendable bicycles with fat tires. With decorations.
Fire. There is lots of fire. Strictly regulated for safety.
Lights. MANDATORY! Your camp and your person and your bicycle must all be well lit at night. Yes, you will be out all night.
Music. Wall to wall “techno” dance rhythms. Loud. 24/7. But also every other type of music you can name -- they just struggle a bit to be heard. There is a campaign on to have opera this year. Way back in the quieter camps I saw -- and listened to -- a lady playing a full size upright piano.
Fireworks. I thought I had seen fireworks before. I hadn’t seen squat. But no personal fireworks -- you are living in a tent city!
I could go on and on forever.
But I’m outta breath now, so here comes the GRAND FINALE:
After my first trip to Burning Man in 2006, I concluded that Burning Man was THE FIRST REAL VACATION I HAD EVER HAD. Leave your cell phone at home -- it doesn’t work out there. You’ll be isolated from the “default world” for a week. Only you can decide if you ought to do that.