***After six days at Burning Man, I was seriously drooping. I had no energy to do much more than sleep or lay around. The heat and dust were really getting to me, my hair was a rat’s nest, showers were few and far between (if at all,) and people were noticeably irritable. Kicking back in my tent, I picked up the BRC News and came upon an article about ‘crankiness on the playa’ being the norm by Thursday! Well, I’ll be! – it was Thursday! So, I was normal, after all. Whereas, I may not have necessarily been cranky and crabby like the article indicated, I sure was lethargic and lacking energy. I was in urgent need of a cold sponge bath and loading up on Gatorade to perk up! It helped, as did sundown when the heat of the day left us and cooler air took over. This is when I found myself more energetic and raring to go, kind of like a noncturnal animal…I was much more productive and active at night! All the rest during the day got my motor runnin’ and I’d kick into gear when the sun went down…
Behavior on the Playa: There are acceptable behaviors at Burning Man that aren’t as tolerable in the Default World. Along with nudity, drugs, and sexual activity amongst consenting participants, there are things, such as playa husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, etc. Anything goes, so if you come solo to BRC (whether you are single or not in the Default World,) you may end up with a playa spouse for the week, and no one cares, judges, or condemns. In fact, many people have playa names and shelve their real names for the week, giving them the freedom to really be anonymous. However, this place is not necessarily a sexual free-for-all, though there were plenty of camps you could visit to fulfill such desires. Many couples came together, and though some were out to find a third and/or fourth person to join their twosome, not all were open for that. Flyers were distributed early in the week asking us to be sensitive to who, and what we took pictures of. With the ease of picture taking and uploading them to the internet, it can be destructive to some people. So, discretion is asked for, and highly recommended to insure anonymity. But, no matter what your reason, motive or adventure for coming to this event was, I can tell you one thing: What happens at Burning Man stays at Burning Man!
***Now, for some gross stuff…hey, sh*t happens when you hit the dessert! Playa dust can transform body parts and functions in ways you didn’t know existed. There is something known as ‘Playa Foot,’ which is when the alkaline filled dusty ground dries out your feet, resulting in painful cracks, sores and rash. Luckily I escaped this nastiness, but in order to avoid this, you should wash your feet in vinegar, or lemon water. Then, what I did for insurance, was to plaster them with lotion and/or Vaseline, before covering them with socks and closed-toe shoes. Cutesy sandals and flip-flops are NOT the ideal fashion for the playa, as it is way
too much exposure to the elements. Also, as I did experience, there is also ‘Playa Headache,’ ‘Playa Nose,’ ‘Playa Hair,’ ‘Playa Skin,’ and ‘Playa Eyes!’ I know, it makes you wonder why anyone would EVER want to experience such torture again. Don’t ask me….I can’t explain it, but people repeat this adventure year after year! For my own personal definitional interpretations of these ailments, see below:
~Playa Headache – breathing so much dusty playa air that the sinuses go on on overload, causing a pain in the head.
~Playa Nose – when an excess of playa dust enters the nostrils and causes a surplus of gunky snot, which requires depositing it with thrusting force into wads of tissues.
~Playa Hair – when such a massive collection of playa dust gathers in the hair that it is such a struggle, nearly impossible, and/or too aggravating to attempt the passing of a brush/comb,/fork,/bulldozer, through the rat-mop-nest!
~Playa Skin – the shriveled, dry, pale epidermis that results from layers of dust collecting on dehydrated and wind-sucked-dry, sun-beaten skin.
~Playa Eyes – gunky, crust-filled eye sockets working overtime to eliminate the overabundance of playa dust upon the once clear and visually effective eyeballs.
Other than these particular ailments, everything was dreamy. Well, maybe not, but the positives of this adventure outweighed the negatives. People come every year to this event, and I’m seriously considering coming for my second time next year. So just like having babies, many people choose to do it again!!
***Eating can be a little bit of a challenge out on the playa, not because there aren’t any restaurants (well, that is one reason why,) but because of the heat, dust, and loss of appetite. I’m not sure everyone experiences a loss of appetite, but I did. It could be
because of the heat, or maybe the fact that you tend to eat the same few things, because of simplicity and/or lack of inventory. The
heat causes thirst, and it’s a strong suggestion that each person drink at least a gallon of water/liquid a day. This also tends to keep the belly filled with the false sense that it isn’t hungry. Also, because it isn’t easy to prepare a meal in the dusty heat, keeping meals simple trumped variety, for me at least. So, it was sandwiches, cereal, and cheese rolled up in deli meats that sustained me, for the most part. Luckily, I was with the HOTD, which asked for someone to be in charge of a different night’s meal for the camp. This way, we got to eat a nicely prepared dinner every night with the responsibility of cooking for everyone one night in return. A capital idea that seemed to work for all! In exchange for a chicken fajita dinner with beans, rice, and the works, I was fed for the five or six remaining nights. So, we were all treated with dinners, involving pasta, chili, chicken, beef, salads, veggies, and more. It kept many of us from the doldrums of same the ‘ol, same ‘ol, as well as brought us all together once a day for a meal and conversation.
Besides the need to drink gallons of water, it is essential to consume salt in order to retain the water, and a good idea to ingest electrolytes, too, in order to keep the body’s sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and potassium levels in check. The body is an interesting thing, because I noticed a craving for salty foods almost immediately. Not only that, but there were a number of camps that passed out pickles, bologna sandwiches, bacon, etc. At first I thought, ‘Mmmm, yummy bad food!’ Then, I realized they satisfied cravings!! I passed on the sandwiches (had plenty of my own,) got much in the bacon department with many of our campmates serving it up with eggs some mornings, but went on a search for “The Pickle Joint” so I could fulfill my desire for these dill-ish-ous delights! Ah, what a wonderful place this pickle joint was. Conveniently located (thank gawd!) near Center Camp, it was an easy cruise from Hair of the Dog camp. The PJ is has been serving up fresh, cold, crisp, brisk pickles and spicy pickletinis – the essential and legendary playa treat since 2002. I stayed long enough to cool down from my sweaty bike ride, and enjoy a deliciously dill pickle, a semi-sweet pickle, and a cute little Pickle-tini! It definitely quenched my salt craving for time being!
***A man walked into the bar”….okay, we’ve all heard that joke before….but, in my case, “An enormous fly charged into the bar….”
one afternoon while I was tending. He was on stilts, wearing a complete fly get-up, and took everyone by surprise!! With aggressive authority, he headed right towards little ol’ me!! This insect was about ten feet tall, and threatening as hell! Everyone at the bar was stunned, and I almost peed my mini-skirt (or whatever I was wearing that day!) So, what’s a bartender to do, but try to figure out how to take a fly’s order? Seeing that he was much taller than me, and didn’t really have a mouth, I was stumped. Clever fly, swung his trunk-like appendage towards me, indicating his form of communication. Taking a hold of it and directing it to my ear, Mr. Fly was able to order a “whiskey on the rocks.” Coming right up, sir! Once made, I placed it on the bar near him wondering how he was planning on drinking it. But alas, he had it all figured out. There was a straw-like hose dangling from his ‘trunk’ and once that made its way into his drink (with a little help from fellow customer,) he sucked his drink dry in one quick gulp! Wow, we were all impressed with the show! He then swung his trunk at me again, and putting it to my ear, he said, “Pull a blue tab.” Being the center of everyone’s attention, and totally intimidated by this freaky creature, I was really uncomfortable with this whole thing. But, believe me, I complied to his instructions! Seeing some small objects
hanging by blue tape from his trunk, I pulled on one. Off came a small Mother-of-Pearl pendant with the Burning Man insignia engraved on it. It was a gift from Mr. Frightening Fly to me! He was kind, after all! I loved it and gave him a big “thank you” with an even bigger smile! He then backed up on his stilted legs, and gallantly marched out of the bar, leaving all of us in shock and awe! What a uniquely cool experience! The only bummer was that no one had a camera to take a picture of this guy-fly! And, once he was gone, he was never seen again…
*Addendum: Being part of a Rock Bar camp takes a lot of energy. Our bar was open at all hours of the day and night, blaring music constantly, and though there are few rules in Black Rock City, whatever happened happened. The one exception is that the state of Nevada is very strict on underage drinking, and BRC must abide by their rules. So, this was something that Hair of the Dog Lounge did not take lightly, and made sure to check for IDs. Apparently, the state police plant undercover cops inside BRC to make sure no one slacks in this area. Luckily, we obeyed their rules and weren’t busted for any illegal activity. However, last year we weren’t so lucky and apparently one of our bartenders was fined $1000.00 for serving an underaged customer. Buzz kill!!
***Gifting is a big thing at Burning Man…and no, this is not the same as bartering. According to the BM website, “the value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value. In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.” As a bartender, I got plenty of necklaces, bracelets, and pins, some more meaningful than others, and some more practical than others (ie. Chapstick, electolyte tablets, lighters, toothbrush, etc.) but, the gift that stood out above the rest, and the one I remember most fondly, was from a guy from Atlanta. After an hour or so of conversation and serving him drinks, he wanted to thank me for my service. But, he had nothing to give me except a few magic tricks. How creative is that, I thought? Expecting some amateurish tricks, I was pleasantly surprised with what he had to offer. The first one involved two matches that he lit (representing a burning man,) then tucked them into his closed fist, and when he opened his hand up, they were gone – not a trace of anything. It was an amusing little trick, but it
was the next one that blew my mind. (Yes, I am easily entertained and fooled, but I didn’t care.) He had me think of the time on a clock, any time at all. He had his watch out and was focusing on it. Then, he asked me if the number in my mind had any significance, like the time I was born or something. It did not, as I just chose a random time. He then had me focus on the time of my birth, instead. Then, he turned his watch around and – son of a gun – it had the exact time on it that I was born – 10:06..!! Wow!! I may be gullible, but that trick completely impressed me!! Thanks for the fun memories, Keith!!
Which reminds me…I’m not sure if I emphasized enough in previous posts that the BM community is NOT filled with wannabe hippies and directionless losers. This place was loaded with business professionals, engineers, doctors, lawyers, computer geeks, and the list goes on and on. For the ticket price of $400 this year, it tends to weed out the riff-raff (though after a few days on the playa, we all look like filthy dirtbags!) I was astonished at the people I met, and even learned a few good “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” lessons! I’m one that, over the years, has really been working on this issue…and I’ve come a long way. But, a trip to Burning Man will catch you off guard and trip you up, no matter how non-judgmental you thing you are! Here are two good examples that happened to me: 1) A guy in his 40s came into HOTD, already pretty liquored up, exuding happiness, and having a good time. With hair past his shoulders, dressed in a purple velour blazer, sporting a tall hat that looked like a cross between a Mad Hatter and a stovepipe, and covered in playa dust, this man looked like he just crawled out from under a 19th century British rock! He was carefree and a tad wild, so to a judgmental eye, seemed like a crazy, carefree, party boy! Ha!! Come to find out after a bit of conversation, he was a doctor from Malibu! Whoa, Nelly…that knocked my socks off! I sure wasn’t expecting to hear that! After my fellow bartender and I both picked our jaws up off the floor, I looked at her and said, “If you put 100 guys in a room and asked me to pick out the doctor from Malibu, he’d be the last guy I chose!” She totally agreed. So, Lesson Number One: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover! (Especially at Burning Man!)
2) A few days later, in walks a totally built, hot stud loaded with muscles…and completely naked. He walked right up to me at the bar (why me?!) and waited for his turn to order a drink. Although he was quite comfortable in his skin, those of us in his vicinity were stunned into silent discomfort. Oh, did I mention that he was adorned with penis jewelry (which I later found out was called a “Prince Albert?’) that coiled around his penis and into his…oh, never mind. I decided to confront the pink elephant in the room, and strike up a conversation with him. It was my job, after all. In no time, (leave it to me!) he was showing us, and explaining his winky bracelet, demonstrating how to wear it, etc, (ie. inserting it in and out of his….well, you know…) without a speck of inhibition whatsoever. Again, jumping to conclusions, I assumed he must be a body-builder from LA, possibly a model for a muscle magazine, or a porn star, or something flashy and showy. Ha! The joke’s on me! Come to find out, he was a software engineer from Montana! What? Really? Who’da thunk? Not me!! Lesson Number Two: Never Assume! Which brings me to my point about Burning Man not being a place for nut jobs and burnouts. Well, not exclusively, at least. And, if they are, then it’s at a much
higher level, if ya know what I mean. It’s quite the opposite in most cases, in fact. In the nine days I spent in Black Rock City, I had more intellectual conversations than I’ve had in a year in the ‘Default World.’ Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little, but I’m just trying to get my point across here – that there are a ton of intellectually stimulating brainiacs in this place!! So, don’t be fooled by the wild and crazy free spirited seemingly non-conformist characters here. Most of the year, they are white-collared, high-level professionals under fire, under stress, under the gun and just need to chill, let loose, let go, and leave that world behind for one short week out of their lives…so, cut them some slack, please…
***After a few days of cruising the playa, it was time for me to explore somewhere else. Being located near the center of Black Rock City, it is hard imagine that there is life further out. But, apparently there is, so I decided to head out to what I call “The Boondocks,” because of it’s quieter, smaller population. The further you traveled from Center Camp, the more sparse things got. But, don’t think there wasn’t plenty of life out there in the ‘burbs, because there was, but it was mellower, darker, and less ‘city-like.’ It was much quieter back there, but not completely dead. There was a lot more space between camps, and people, but there was still plenty of activity. I cruised around during the day, and also a few nights later and can come up with this interpretation:
Those that camp on the fringes tended to be what I believe were older nudists, who came to join the party, but also have their peaceful, quiet times, as well. I’d see them playing cards at their picnic tables, lounging around naked, or milling around their camps. I’m sure they probably ventured around Center Camp, the Deep Playa, and wherever else floated their boats. I also saw some younger camps out their, as well as good sized work camps, and because BRC is so big, there were some mini-Center camps (called Plazas) situated a distance from true Center, and far enough away from each other so that all camps (and campers) had a bustling area of activity to go to hang out. At night, the Boondocks came more alive, though the loud, boisterous camps were fewer and farther between than towards Center. There were camps lit to the hilt, blaring music, some overflowing with people, but not as many. In those ‘hoods, you can get away from the craziness if you want, where it’s much more of a challenge in the more populated parts.
Exploring the dusty roads, you will find every kind of campsite imaginable. Everything goes – and I mean, everything! I happened upon places called, “Slut Garden,” “Naked Bar,” “Fuck ‘n Suck,” but the one that got me to slam on my breaks and stop in awe, was when I came across the French Quarter Camp! Just like in New Orleans, there was a huge, two story building that looked like it
was plopped there straight from Bourbon Street. Upstairs, complete with wrought iron balconies where women were strutting their stuff, entertaining the crowd with their sexy dance moves. And, if that wasn’t enough to impress everyone, every night at 9pm, they handed out hot bowls of Gumbo to hungry Burners. Oh, but there’s more – FQ Camp also had a ‘Phat Tuesday’ celebration, as well as a Jazz Funeral, with a brass band processional and all, for ‘The Man’ after his death by fire the night before. Check out this video to see how fun this camp is: http://vimeo.com/30277666 And, as anyone knows who’s ever been to New Orleans…it wouldn’t be complete without the famous “Café du Monde” coffee and beignet café. Every morning the playa version of the oldest coffee shop in NOLA, “Café de la Fin du Monde” or “Coffee at the End of the World” serves up fresh coffee and warm, freshly made beignets. This place was bustling, and pretty incredible. See more here: http://www.blackrockfrenchquarter.org/ I stopped by one morning to partake in these treats on my way to a much needed hair wash at yet another camp, “Pope’s Massage & Hair Washing,” which was conveniently located right across the road.
I got lucky to be at the Pope’s camp just as he was rolling out of his RV for business this morning, and was his second customer. This man offers a nice, relaxing hair washing (and, unbeknownst to me) a lot more if you’re interested. His was part of the “Sensual Pleasures Camp,”which offered various other treatments for ladies -’Playa Foot, Playagina, leg and bikini shaves, etc.
Somewhere in this camp was the “Orgasmator,” a place to go and enjoy, well, you know… So, because his name is ‘Pope,’ and he is called “THE Pope,” I decided to go back to my camp, clean hair and all, and dress up in my Catholic school girl outfit. Burning Man is about free expression, dressing in anything, everything, or nothing, that makes you feel good. So, I packed a variety of odds and ends I came across while perusing Thrift stores in preparation for this event. This day I found the perfect reason to wear my ‘uniform,’ including knee socks and cross – I had started my morning with a visit with the Pope!