***Little did I realize, a few months back when I wrote about my friend, Barb winning a trip to New York to see the Rolling Stones (http://www.rollingstones.com,) that it would be a precursor to ‘the best night of my life!’ At that time (Nov-Dec. ’12,) we diehard Stones fans were chomping at the bit, wondering when/if/where our beloved band was ever going to tour again. We figured it had to be soon, if ever, since it was their 50th anniversary together as a band…and a unique time in rock & roll history! Monumentous! Exciting!
As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t recall where I was when I heard they were actually going to do it – the Stones would be touring! I’m sure I mustn’t have been driving in my car, or I surely would’ve crashed! I know it wasn’t from someone else, because I am always the first of my friends to hear about important musical news like this. I’m thinking it must’ve been on the internet, Facebook, or somewhere where I could’ve seen it “hot off the press.” Being a lifelong concert goer, and Stones fan, I’m signed up for all sorts of music news, so I undoubtedly received some email notification that announced the tour. And, I was ECSTATIC! I immediately contacted my three kids and told them to clear their calendars on the night the Stones were coming to our town! It had been a wish of mine to take them to see the greatest rock band in the world, if they ever toured again. And now, that time had come!
Ticket sales were only about a month after the big announcement, so things happened fast. By the grace of god, all four of us were available on Sunday, May 5, 2013 to see the boys in Oakland, California! But, buying tickets was another story. I feared being seated in the boondocks and barely being able to see the stage. Being one of their oldest and most devoted fans, I felt I should have a seat in the front row with my name engraved on it. But phooey, I didn’t. So, it was going to be a mad frenzy online, along with thousands of other nutty fans, jumping into the lottery fan pool. Ugh… But, lo and behold (and by the grace of something!) my daughter informed me that, because she was a Citibank cardholder, (https://online.citibank.com/US/Welcome.c) she had access to presale tickets! Praise the Gods of Rock & Roll!! We’d get first crack at them!
The morning of the sale, “Dot” (daughter) and I were on the phone in front of our computers – me at home, her at work. She had four co-workers ready to go when the clock struck 10:00am, and the first to get in would grab four tickets. Studying the seat map of the arena, we discussed sections and prices, all the while I was researching anything and everything I could about the upcoming show. At the last minute, I miraculously came across a posting somewhere by a British fan who had seen the Stones in England. He clearly wrote, “pay the extra money and buy tickets in the Tongue Pit – it’s the only place to be!” I suddenly became possessed by the Concert Devil, and told Dot to
“go for it! Buy in the Tongue Pit!” I didn’t care about the price – I was going for the big time! This was the single most historic event for this concert lover, and it was never going to happen again! So, that’s exactly what we did. Dot got into site first and by 10:03 we had four tickets in the tongue pit to see the ROLLING STONES!! My joke is that “I spent my next 42 paychecks” on tickets…but I didn’t regret it for a second! We were seeing the Stones!!!
The first time I saw the Rolling Stones was as a teenager in 1974 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco; and then again in 1977 at a ‘Day on the Green’ in Oakland; then again, and again, etc, etc. If a little birdie whispered in my ear back then that in 2013 I would be going to see them with my three grown kids, I would’ve bet my right arm, left leg, a trillion bucks, and all my future children on the impossibility of that ever happening. Glad I never made that bet, because I would’ve lost big time!!
To prepare the kids (all in their 20s, so not really ‘kids’ at all,) I researched the playlists from the “50 & Counting” concerts that took place last December, took an educated guess that they’d be the same or similar, and burned them each a copy. It ended up to be a wise decision, because that’s exactly what happened (give or take a song or three…) and they were all very familiar with the songs that night, singing along, jumping around, and basically enthralled like their mother!
MAY 5, 2013: THE ROLLING STONES IN CONCERT AT ORACLE ARENA IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA!! Decked out in Stones wear, we were off to the arena via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit,) having to arrive between 5:00-6:00pm in order to get wristbands, VIP goodie bags*, and early entrance on to the floor. We went from one line to another to another, and after about an hour of this, were finally let loose inside the arena and down to the floor. I had informed the kids exactly where we would be standing “Follow me!” – a little to the right of center and as close to Keith Richards as humanly possible. And, that’s exactly what we did! It ends up that the only people between us and the stage were the camera man and the security dude. Excellent! Next, it was more waiting, talking to people around us, drinking beers, getting some food, killing time-all while the rest of the huge crowd of fans entered the arena. As showtime approached, the buzz in the tongue pit increased. The place was becoming electified…and we were excited. Then, the lights went dark…and, because I had heard that in previous concerts there was a drumline that started the show, I was expecting it tonight. But no! The stage lights lit up, a voice announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen…the Rolling Stones!” and there they were, larger than life, right in front of us – MICK, KEITH, RONNIE, CHARLIE & the rest of the band! They were so close (well, Mick and Keith were) that I could see their eyes, their wrinkles, their teeth!! Unreal! One of the first things that happened (that I’m sure no one else in the entire place noticed) was, after their first song (“Get Off of My Cloud”) Keith walked over to Ronnie Wood and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. They smiled at each other, like brothers and best friends, and went right into the next song. I was so excited I was jumping up and down like a little girl, a Rolling Stones cheerleader! Throughout the night, Keith and Ronnie both saw me (I’m sure
Mick did, too) and acknowledged me with smiles, a wave, and I swear Keith did a solo for me (I know, it sounds crazy, but…) because he was right in front of me, we locked eyes, then he looked down at his guitar during his little solo, and then looked back up at me and mouthed something!! Of course, I couldn’t hear it or read his lips, but he smiled at me and I gave him two thumbs up! What a thrill!! And, many times during the show, he walked to the edge of the stage, right over to us, and tossed out a guitar pick each time. My youngest kid caught the first one and handed it right over to me. Atta girl! The woman next to her offered her $1000.00 for it! “You’ll have to ask my mom,” was her response. The woman asked me, but of course I refused. “I’m sorry, but I could never part with this” I told her. The next one he flung bounced onto the floor near my eldest child (Dot,) who reached down and grabbed it, as did the guy standing next to her. They got into a little tug-o-war and my kid won. But, knowing we already had one, and seeing the disappointment on the man’s face, she said, “You really want this, don’t you?” “I really do!” he told her, so she gave it to him. Atta girl… Pick #3 was thrown during the very last song, (“Satisfaction”) bounced off some hands and fell to the floor. A few people scrambled around looking, but couldn’t find it. It stayed there until after the show, when the woman who offered us money for our first pick, her friend, me and my youngest all were looking through the litter, spilled beer, and other trash for the pick that we all knew was there. And, sure enough, the young one (my kid, again) with the good eyesight found it – her second KR pick of the night!! But, being the kind kid that she is, she handed it over to the woman who so desperately wanted it. The woman gave her a huge hug, got all choked up, and her friend said, “She’s going to love you forever for that!!”
All in all, it was a wonderful night! Seeing the Stones up close and personal, getting looks, smiles, picks from them, etc. was more than I could’ve ever wanted! Being there with my kids, who loved the show as much as I did, was priceless!! When it was over, they all came up to me and thanked me for the “best night ever”, “the best concert” they had ever seen! We were walking on clouds! The Stones put on a fantastic show, beyond all expectations, and we were flying high!
During each of their shows on this “50 & Counting” tour, the guys invited a special guest to join them onstage for a
song. Besides Mick Taylor, who was the special guest on the whole tour, some of the others were Taj Mahal, Aaron Neville, Gwen Stefani, John Mayer, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Bonnie Raitt, Gary Clark, Jr., etc. Our night featured Tom Waits singing “Little Red Rooster.” Of course, every night also featured Lisa Fischer* on vocals for “Gimme Shelter,” and man, did she belt it out!! Oh, we also had the San Jose State choir join the boys for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The whole show was amazing, surreal, unreal, and historic!! In the following days I was both riding high with exhiliaration, and so sad that it was over. To think that, after a lifetime of The Stones, this might be it…fini…the end of an era. But, even if it was, it stands out as one of the best nights of my life…and, I could’ve repeated it over and over a hundred more times! The Rolling Stones, on stage after fifty years together!! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!!
**In our goodie bags (canvas bags with the Stones logo) were a nice wool blanket with the Rolling Stones “50 Years & Counting” logo in black, red and white; a very nice hard back book called “50 & Counting…The Rolling Stones Live,” and a lanyard with a laminated “50 & Counting” logo.
***Lisa Fischer is featured in the movie “20 Feet From Stardom” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWyUJcA8Zfo) and has been touring with the Rolling Stones since 1989.
My friend Barb has been a loyal fan of San Francisco radio station, KFOG since it’s inception back in the ‘80s. A rabid music lover, she listens to music as much as possibly possible, which means she’s got the radio on at work most of the day. Being the fun-loving adventurer that she is, when KFOG (http://www.kfog.com) has anything to offer its listeners – free dinners, concerts, tickets to just about anything – Barb gets the itch in her dialing finger and throws fate to the wind by “going for it!” As she would say, “Why not? Right?” This “why not attitude” of Barb’s has won her a lot of things in the past, from concert tickets (Eric Clapton, Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit, Concert for Kids, Outside Lands Festival) to numerous CDs and other fun stuff. Well, this past November, while Barb was at the office (yes, her music addiction is well-known amongst her bosses and co-workers,) KFOG made an historic announcement! They were having a contest to send a listener to New York to see the kickoff of the Rolling Stones’ “Fifty and Counting” concert at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn! The contest would last only three short days, and five people per day would qualify for the grand prize if they were the tenth caller when a Stones song was played. The contest would take place on December 3, 4 and 5, and the winner would be notified on the 6th, then flown out of San Francisco International Airport on Dec. 7 for the Dec. 8 concert! Talk about a whirlwind! For someone who has been a Rolling Stones fan since she was old enough to know who they were, Barb was thrilled by the thought of it all! And, you can bet she was going to have her radio tuned in to KFOG for this contest of a lifetime!
On Monday, December 3, the contest began. Barb’s anxiety was barely controllable, but she had no choice but to keep her cool on the job and hope to be listening at the right time. But, the day came and went and, try as she might, Barb was not one of the qualifiers. Not to be discouraged, though, she knew that she had two more days to try and get her call in. “Why not? Right?” That’s right, Barb! So, when Day 2 of the contest began, she was listening intently. Sure enough, at some point during that day, she heard a Stones song enter the airwaves, and was ready to dial! And dial she did! She got through and when she heard that she was caller #10, she was ecstatic! Winning the Stones promo CD, titled ‘GRRRRR….!’ was the cherry on the top of qualifying for the trip, which she excitedly told KFOG during the call, “I already have my bags packed!” Her enthusiasm seemed to spread through the radio station as the DJs played on her excitement, playfully bantering with her during the call. Off the airwaves, she gave them the necessary information needed to “throw her into the hat” with the other qualifying contestants. Next, Barb had to sit tight and wait two very long days until the grand prize winner was announced! These days, hours, and minutes consisted of lots of exciting conversations with friends, co-workers, and everyone else she knew, about qualifying for this trip of a lifetime. She never mentioned then, but admits now (after the fact) that she felt it in her bones that she was going to win the trip. She just sensed it, and if you believe in the Law of Attraction, then you know she simply willed it. Because, sure enough, two days later she got a phone call from KFOG informing her that she had won the trip to New York to see the Rolling Stones!! Because of the timing on this event, the station actually called her, and started the paperwork rolling, before they announced it on the radio. Once the legalities were under way, they got her on the line and spoke to her on air. Of course, she explained to the listeners how it had come about, that she had been called earlier by the Station Manager, and that they were getting this thing moving right along. Barely able to control her enthusiasm, and thanking KFOG profusely, you could hear the DJs getting excited along with Barb. They knew that they had pulled the name of a worthy winner of this contest, her gratitude and appreciation overflowing!
Within the next 24 hours, KFOG had to get their flight to NY arranged, set up hotel accommodations, and organize a way to have
their concert tickets waiting for them. Meanwhile, Barb and her husband Steve (she won tickets for two,) were getting their things together, including informing her workplace that she wouldn’t be coming to work the next day, as well as missing Friday night’s company Christmas party where they would be acknowledging her 15th anniversary with them. (When the time came, not only did they announce it, but they added on the fact that she wasn’t there that evening to accept her kudos due to having won the contest to New York to see the Stones.) Happy Anniversary, Barb!
In the crazy whirlwind that followed, Barb and Steve managed to think of, and remember their good friend Rob, an avid Rolling Stones fan who had passed away three years earlier. For his 40th birthday, Rob had arranged for twenty of his closest friends to accompany him to the Rolling Stones concert at Pac Bell Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Perfectly timed, the concert coincided with his birthday, so he planned for us all to go together, after pre-partying at his house, then driving over in a rented bus. It was an event to remember, and Barb and Steve did! So, what they did, since they couldn’t share this evening with Rob, was to take the memorial card that was handed out at his funeral, and bring it with them. This way Rob could be with them in spirit, and they could be comforted knowing that he was enjoying the show with them, wherever he was.
Dec. 7th, 2012: The day had arrived, with not much sleep the night before! Barb and Steve’s flight to New York was bright and early – 6:00 am – via Delta Airlines. After arriving in New York, they went directly to the hotel – The Empire – to get settled in. But, not for long, because they wanted to take in as much of this city as they could in the short time they were there! So, they scrambled off to an obvious destination spot – Times Square! They wandered around, taking in the sights. Then, over to Rockefeller Center to see the holiday lights, skating rink, and other bustling festivities. They were in awe in this magical city adorned for the season! When they got their fill, it was back for some much needed rest before the main event the following night!
The next day involved a little more sightseeing, but not too strenuous since they wanted to save their energy for the main event. However, this was Dec. 8th, the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and of course, two diehard music fans would never, could never, visit NYC without a trip to Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Apartments. Amazingly, because this timing, Barb and Steve were able to join about a hundred or so other Lennon fans in Central Park for the “Pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields” to celebrate his life. There were hoards of people there, gathered peacefully, some with guitars, one an actual John Lennon lookalike, singing his songs together. It was heartfelt and moving to experience the honoring of this man so many years after his death. People placed flowers, notes, candles, and other memorabilia on the “Imagine” marker in his memory. His impact on this world will obviously not be forgotten for a long time. Over at the Dakota Apartments, where Lennon lived at the time of his murder, people gathered as well, at the actual spot the shooting took place that fateful night of Dec. 8, 1980. Rest in Peace, John Lennon. And thanks for your legacy of beautiful music!
Right afterwards, Barb and Steve hopped on the subway to the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, the newly built home of the New York Nets basketball team. (http://www.barclayscenter.com) They were surprised, yet thrilled, that the train dropped them off directly in front of the arena! With their special passes (and Rob’s picture) around their necks, they entered the bustling Barclay Center. They could feel the energy electrifying the people inside. There was security everywhere, as well as the major presence of police, EMTs, whoever and whatever, to keep things civilized and running smoothly. After all, this was a special event – the first concert tour in many years, by the longest running rock & roll band in history – – the world famous Rolling Stones!! Yeah, they’re getting old, but who cares? They are the Stones – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood- back together again!
Since they had arrived early, Barb and Steve moseyed around, checking out the Stones’ souveniers and memorabilia. After buying a few small trinkets, they decided to indulge in a Nathan’s Hot Dog, (lhttp://www.nathansfamous.com/index.php/history) for nostalgia’s sake, and walk around to size up this new center. After awhile, it was time to find their seats, which were decent, but
not ‘up close and personal.’ But, they didn’t care, they were happy to be there to soak up this once in a lifetime experience! Once they sat and got situated, the show began, albeit about 45 minutes late. The arena darkened, and at first there was nothing but the sound of drumming. Then, a drumline appeared, marching onto the floor behind both sides of the stage. In two lines, they drummed along the outside aisles of the floor seats, then up the middle and through the center aisle. They were joined by cheerleader-style dancing girls, which started the buzz and excitement throughout the place. The noise, movement, and vibration energized the crowd and got their adrenaline flowing. This interlude continued for approximately 15 minutes before the Rolling Stones hit the stage. And what a stage it was! It was built in the shape of their famous logo, the big lips and tongue! Out blasted the Stones, exploding into “Get Off of My Cloud” while old black & white videos of their musical journey streamed behind them. Throughout the show, between songs, were snippets of friends and colleagues of the band sending them good cheer, wishes and congratulations for making history – achieving status as the first rock band to be together for fifty years! They played some favorite hits, some lesser known obscure songs, and some new stuff. They entertained like they were still young, with Mick running all over the stage, and Keith shredding on his guitar, with his signature raunchiness. There were a few guest singers that joined in, like Mary J. Blige who performed a “Gimme Shelter” duet with Mick; and Gary Clark, Jr., who joined them for “Goin’ Down” and got down with Keith for some guitar battling.
The approximately two and a half hour show included a good variety of songs from every Stones era – the early ‘60s stuff from their raw beginnings, to their heavy blues period, through those songs with a disco edge, to the heavier rocking era, etc. The volume of music this band has put out over the years is so vast that, when seeing them in concert for two short hours, it seems that they only cover the tip of an iceberg. But, this night they did an excellent job of bringing together a sampling of many decades of their material. They did not disappoint. Of course, they came back for the encore with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” while being backed up by the local Choir of Trinity Wall Street (http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/music/choir/meet.) Next was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and last, but not least, they ended the show with their signature song, that song that made them famous when it took American radio by storm so many years ago….”Satisfaction!” The crowd went wild!! The buzz and excitement of seeing the Stones perform their hugest hit live, just capped of this adrenaline-filled historic night! When it was all over, they all came together at the front of the stage for bows, waves, smiles, and thanks. And then they turned and walked off into the darkness…What a night! What a blast! What an unexplainable feeling to experience this once in a lifetime show! Thank you, Rolling Stones! Thank you, KFOG! Thank you, Barb for sharing your story!
***How do I sum up one of the weirdest experiences I’ve had that makes no sense at all? I guess I’ll just have to wing it~~~>
Burning Man is a place of creative imagination and fantasy amidst a world gone crazy – the way life should truly be lived, with no judging, ego, greed, prejudices, materialism, negativity, cruelty, limits, or boundaries. It’s a place of magical freedom to be your true and real self, where societal shackles disappear, worldly possessions have no value; names, titles, and hierarchy are non-existent. Burning Man is back to basics, where value lies in beauty – the beauty of art, of kindness, generosity, sharing,
similarities, differences, and life. The fact that a magical, spiritual place can evolve from a harsh and dismal desert is a wonder in itself. And because each and every year, the population of Burning Man grows proves that it is not just a fad, a passing phase, or a trend. It is a movement, a shift in spirit, the heart of getting back to the depths of the natural human value of LOVE. It is about being one with Mother Earth, in tune with nature, and at the mercy of a tough environment. It is a ‘city’ of campers, who work hard and play hard, talented entertainers, artists, mystics, and spiritual seekers who share their gifts, talents, and selves with others. It is where you can dress like Halloween every day, or not dress at all. To truly understand Burning Man, you must experience it. It’s not for wimps or crybabies, but it isn’t for the hardnosed and thick skinned, either. It’s for those who long to live harmoniously with their neighbors, and experience a caring family-like community. It’s a place where people work together for the greater cause, give of themselves, and get joy from helping others just because… So, if you think you have it in you, and desire to commune with strangers, I highly recommend the adventure of Burning Man. It can be a glorious journey to a new way of life, whether temporary or permanent. Though Black Rock City may be temporary, the essence of its spirit will live on in your soul.
And, now for a few other random thoughts and snippets, here you go: ~There is no such thing as a wardrobe malfunction at Burning Man! ~ Burning man is the REAL world, and the rest of the time we live in the DEFAULT world! ~When entering Black Rock City, you are greeted with cheers of “WELCOME HOME,” because that is where you are – HOME! ~And, when you leave BRC and go back in to the DEFAULT world, it is considered a ‘re-entry,’ in which many people feel a letdown and have a difficult adjustment for days and weeks afterwards.
BONUS: One of our HOTD campers, creative young thang that he is, went on his own little private journey to find the “Best Crotches at Burning Man!” Little did any of us know just how amusing his little video would end up being. For Allan Dixon’s humorous take on Burning Man, look here to see the eclectic variety of crotches he discovered!! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMMRPCXB3Jc)
For more information on Burning Man, see their official website at: http://www.burningman.com/
***I found it rather curious as to why a place that is so adamant about ‘packing it in, packing it out,’ ‘leaving no trace,’ and
picking up every speck of ‘MOOP’ (Matter Out of Place,) can be so careless about air quality. If they are so strict and rigid about keeping the desert meticulous, then why is it okay to pollute the heck out of its air? Almost every night in Black Rock City there was a burn. And, not just a cute little sing-along-the-campfire type burn, but a massive stand-back-100 yards-beyond-the-guards kind of burn! One night, it seemed that the whole playa went up in smoke. There were around forty works of art that met their fiery doom, all at the exact same time! These large structures barely survived four days in this city before destruction! It was crazy! Bikers were pedaling as fast as they could from one burn to the next to see which one burned the wildest, and which would crash land most violently.
On a different night, Mr. Burning Man himself was sacrificed, but we all knew that was going to happen. The sad thing is, his burn isn’t even all that significant anymore with all these other bigger, and crazier burns. After he burned, the following night was “Burn Wall Street’s” inferno, which was much more intense than Mr. Man’s! “Burn Wall Street” was a mini version of New York’s Wall Street – four large ‘buildings’ to represent our nation’s greed. Each building signified the
culprits – ‘Chaos Manhattan,’ ‘Bank of UnAmerica,’ ‘Merrill Lynched,’ and the Capitol. The whole lot was titled “Burn Wall Street” and that’s exactly what they did. It was reduced to smoke and ashes. And, on the last night, the most significant burn was that of the Temple. The temple is a ‘holy’ place, where people come to pray, reflect, remember, and cry. With its burn goes a lot of pain, sadness, and suffering. As the smoke rises, the past disippates, and renewal takes its place. Whereas, I love the idea and purpose of this, I still belive the Man should be the main focus of this event, and the one whose burning means the most. Why the Temple outshines him, and why so many other things are burned, is beyond me. It seems that the Burning Man event is run by pyromaniacs who use any and every excuse to light things afire. The thrill of the fires burned out so quickly for me that I began saying to everyone, “If you’ve seen one flame, you’ve seen ‘em all!” Personally, I believe the new focus should be to, “Keep the air clean, let the artwork stand, and keep the big man as the big burn!”
***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!
***Black Rock City has it’s own newspaper, which this year informed us was going to be titled ‘Dustpocolypse” and “The Dust Bowl of 2012.” I guess weather experts think they can determine these things in advance, but in my experience, weather people are wrong more times than they are right, so to them I say, “Pfffffft!!” What this year’s ‘Black Rock City’s Independent Newsweekly’ also informed its readers is that 60% or the nearly 60,000 attendees this year were ‘newbies,’ or ‘virgins.’ This could
be a good thing, or a not so good thing, in that the majority of the community would be clueless and inexperienced. The downside to this would be that they would take advantage of the freebies that are handed out, and clean everyone out of what they offer. The upside would be that they would ‘get it,’ or learn that this is a different kind of community from which they/we come, and that they take the experience with them into the real world and spread the positive word. A great example of a group of newbies who ‘got it,’ was a camp that offered a loungey type bar. I didn’t actually get the opportunity to visit it, but a fellow HOTD camper did, and talked very highly of his experience there. This group of mid-20 to 30 yr. olds, some who were newbies and some who were only here for their second year, understood the concept so well that they came back this year as a bar/lounge. They realized immediately that ‘it is better to give than to receive,’ and so they left BM last year with this imprint. Returning this year with some first time Burners, they set up their camp, paying it forward, to share and enjoy with others. This is what Burning Man is about – to reach out to others, not to take what you can get.
**The Night time is the right time – and a much better time for a bike ride than during the heat of the day. Every night when I needed a break from bartending, I was off on an exploration. Some nights it was down to the Esplanade and deep playa, and other times it was in the other direction, to what I called the ‘Boondocks.’ Both were very different. The majority of the energy and activity is found on the deep playa, which becomes like a mini Las Vegas with all the colorful lights, noise, and masses of people. The art cars come in hoards, filled with people; there are traffic jams caused by bike
riders; and there are bunches of people walking around. Music comes at you from every direction, blaring loudly, which you would think would be annoying and obnoxious. But, in reality, because there is so much of it blasting out different vibes, it becomes almost like white noise, blending together in a comforting monotone. Being out there, in the middle of the desert, yet amidst tens of thousands of people, art cars en masse (and all lit up,) and hundreds of bright and colorful art structures, it is hard to imagine that this place is barren and desolate for the other fifty-one weeks of the year! There is absolutely no life here – no birds, bugs, plants, water – except when 50,000+ humans decide to transform this place into this ‘city’ for the week. It’s a mind-boggling concept!!
When, and if, you get tired of pedaling, which you will, Center Camp is a great place to hang out and be entertained. This is the largest temporary, freestanding tensile structure in the world. With almost an acre of shade, a full-service coffee shop, two stages, art exhibits, and acrobats, this is a place bustling with activity. If you want a latte, or chai, here’s the place to get a decent one, but don’t forget to bring some cash, since it’s one of the only places that charges for something. Inside Center Camp is truly a circus – there’s no better way to describe it – bursting with art and entertainment. A musical stage features participants playing world and instrumental music, and another stage features poetry readings, comedy
acts, and theatrical performances. There was constant activity inside this ‘center of the city,’ which made it a nice place to hang out, mingle, be entertained. I found shelter here one night after getting caught in a white out while out riding on the playa, and found it to be one giant-sized, comfortable living room. Of course, it was packed as always, and there was entertainment everywhere. I had the pleasure of seeing a boy (probably around 12-13 yrs. old) performing on a pair of vertical cloth panels that hung about thirty feet off the ground. He climbed them, wrapped himself up in them, hung from them, wound himself up and then dropped from them, receiving gasps from the crowd who thought he was falling to the ground. It was an act that resembled one from a Cirque de Soleil performance, and one that mesmerized the crowd. This kid had talent!
**Monday, Aug. 27, 2012-the first official day of Burning Man. The gates are now open to everyone and from what I’ve heard, it is a long, slow process to get in today. But, this place is so enormous, and our camp is so close to the center of things, that we’re pretty oblivious to what’s happening back at the entrance. The only noticeable signs that occurred throughout the day were an obvious population explosion (living quarters became much tighter,) and more people were gathered around the porta-potties. But, since people are free to arrive at any time, and any day now, this is just the beginning!
After morning coffee at camp, and chatting it up with a few fellow HOTD camp mates, it was right back to work, finishing the setup and organizing the bar for the public. Once we were open for business, we had customers immediately. (Well, we actually had them before that, but who’s looking?) I decided to jump right into it, and started making drinks, taking to it like a fish to water! Being the social blabbermouth that I am, it was the perfect job for me. On the playa, one should come equipped with a cup, or drinking vessel of some sort. There’s a lot of liquid that should, and must, be consumed, so people come with cup in hand. We pour their drinks right into their personal holders, and the party begins! As I mentioned before, people in BRC are the best – happy, friendly, easy to please – and are ready for fun, dressed in anything and everything from elaborate and detailed costumes, to complete and total nakedness. (And, everything in between!) No matter what concoction I came up with for them to drink (most were normal drinks, but some were strange,) everyone was satisfied. No one complained, refused a drink, or had an attitude. In fact, I can’t count how many times someone came to me and ordered, “Whatever you want to make me.” And they were thankful every time! I kept thinking to myself (actually, I said it out loud, too) that “this is the way it should always be!” Oh, if only people could always be this selfless – life would be blissful..!
After three straight hours of bartending, and hunger setting in, I knew I had to force myself to take a break. After a quick bite to eat, it was time to explore some more. Loading up on water (a gallon a day is recommended,) lathering on sunscreen, and donning mask and goggles, I was off on my trusty (now properly blinged) bicycle. Today I trekked directly to ‘The Man’ himself, who was built on top of a large pedestal where people could go inside and climb around, or take stairs to a higher point and check out the view. After cooling off inside for a bit, I headed for the Temple, a spiritual place built of intricate woodwork, that reached towards the sky. With an equally beautiful wall built around it, this place was where memorials are placed for those who have passed on, people pray, meditate, reflect, and have quiet time, and in my case, write names on the walls of those who need to rid themselves of things like addiction, demons, negative issues, unhealthy behavior, and whatever is troubling them. This temple will burn at the end of the week, so with it, I wish and hope for the things I wrote to go up in smoke and disappear into the heavens. For me, it was a place of renewal, rebirth, and giving problems, sadness, concerns, and worries, up to the universe to take care of.
An unbleivable sight for me, and my favorite coolest thing on the playa, was the sinking ship! At first, I couldn’t belive my eyes and thought I was seeing things. (a mirage, perhaps?) So, I pedaled over to get a closer look, and lo and behold, it was even more spectacular than I thought! Named La Llorona, or “weeping woman,” this Spanish Galleon was pretty much to scale and tied up to a pier that you walked on to get into the ship. But first, along the pier was ‘Pappy’s Bait Shop’ with some ‘fishermen’ inside ‘selling bait’ for authenticity. Figuring that, once I reached the entrance to the ship I would be disappointed with a hollow skeleton, I’d be out of there in a minute. Boy, was I wrong!! The place was swarming with people, all captivated by the detail inside – tables with hanging benches, barrels, tools, ropes and hinges, nets, and even an old science area, complete with journals, books and shelves of scientific studies. There were even jars of pig fetuses in formaldehyde, an old microscope, early astronomy and science tools, all set up to resemble a primitive science lab! This ship was three stories in size, from the upper deck and outlook area, to the living quarters underneath, and the below deck storage area, which was partially under water (sand, in this case.) It was cray-cray! Then, walking out on the deck, it was sloped downhill, dropping off into the sand, stern sunken below the surface. What a trip this was for a first-time Burner! I had no idea people would go to this extreme for a week long art exhibition in the desert. Wow…
Burning Man is an art show, as well as a forward thinking community of radical self-expression, radical self-reliance, and free expression. It is a place to leave ego, greed, competition, self-centeredness, and worldly corruption behind. It is where one can let go of inhibitions, judgments, opinions, stereotypes, racism, sexism, and all other negative aspects of dysfunctional society. This is a place to live and let live; live and love; live, laugh, love; and accept everyone as they are. It’s no wonder that, every year, more and more people attend this event. It is my hope that this spirit spreads across the country and influences the masses to live like this, or becomes it’s own country, where those who chose to live in love, peace, and positivity are able to do so. I know, I sound like a whacked out hippie, but hey, 60,000 people (between the ages of 0 and 80+) in the desert would surely agree with me!!
**Day Two of early arrival (aka. one day till the start of Burning Man!!) revolved almost entirely around setting up our camp, ‘Hair of the Dog’. Since we have a good sized bar and sitting area, as well as a pretty big stage and viewing area, we had lots to do. And, we did it – raising the roofs, setting up chairs and tables, putting up the stage, and finally, stocking the bar. But, this was no ordinary bar, this is a Burning Man bar, meaning that all customers are served for FREE. Although, we do have a motto: “You bring the booze and music; we provide the music and booze.” In other words, we get it stocked and rolling, but we can only stay open as long as people continue to help us out by donating alcohol and mixers. And, they do!! People on the Playa are amazingly kind and generous-it’s just too bad it can’t be like this in daily life! So, after many hours of work, and we were all set up and ready to go for tomorrow, I was on my bike again to explore. This time I was impressed with the elaborate campsites, from huge Native American teepees to a Taj Mahal style tent, a mini version of New Orleans’ French Quarter, mini-golf, Twister camps, dodge ball, roller derby, domes, parachutes, RVs, and various random vehicles that had been transformed into campers (school buses, ambulances, tour buses, a hearse, etc.) Something that I noticed immediately was that so many of the campers, RVs, and trailers were vintage 1970s. It felt like I flashbacked into my childhood after seeing so many of them, as well as other ‘old skool’ camping vehicles. I guess, because people either took over their parents’ campers or they bought them cheap off eBay, they were represented en masse here in Black Rock City. Ya gotta do what you can do with what ya got..!
Music emanates from everywhere in BRC – the art cars, campsites, playa clubs, even some bikes – so it feels like one big outdoor nightclub. In reality, it’s a big circus, complete with costumes, characters, and the strangest sights you’ll ever find in one place. And, it’s a city that never sleeps with noise, activity, and energy in constant motion. It’s pretty crazy to think that, for one week out of the year, BRC is the fourth largest city in Nevada, and for the rest of the year it is completely barren and deserted!
Wind and playa dust kick up without a moment’s notice, so you need to be prepared with a dust mask and goggles at all times. White Outs happen pretty regularly and are pretty miserable. You can’t see more than a few feet (sometimes inches) in front of you, so for survival and sanity sake, just hunker down and wait for it to pass. This is a good time to kick it in your tent, hang out at a new and/or fun camp, or come to ‘Hair of the Dog’ and throw down a few drinks while chillaxing at our bar!!
According to the Urban Dictionary, the definition of playa dust is as follows: Playa Dust – n. (plah-yah dust) Dried, packed, and ground up alkali lake bed dust, specifically from Black Rock Desert, NV. It’s an unpopular souvenir from Burning Man that gets into absolutely everything. So miniscule are its particles that you’ll be getting them out of whatever you bring for years to come. No means known yet to man is effective for completely removing this substance from items that have been to the event; all attempts to do so will merely end in utter frustration.” You don’t really realize it while you’re there, but this dust has a bit of an odor to it, and a chalky taste, which is in and around everything. It really stands out when you return home and start kicking up the dust while unpacking. Suddenly, I was slightly revolted by the smell that consumed my life for a week at Black Rock City…as well as fascinated by the stuff. In fact, while doing a little research on it, I came across an article that listed what playa dust is made up of. See this if you’re curious: http://silverjacket.typepad.com/blog/2008/12/whats-in-playa-dust-and-pixie-dust.html But, even more fascinating to me was that there is a Facebook page dedicated to this dusty stuff! Yep, it’s true…check it out for yourself: https://www.facebook.com/playadust. There are even Youtube videos on the darned junk! Sheesh….I guess there’s more to it than just dust in the wind!
Keep your goggles and dust masks on….there’s more to come!!
**Because we would be part of a working camp (Hair of the Dog Bar & Rock Stage) we were assigned a particular address. Black Rock City (BRC) is very organized, and is laid out in the shape of a circle. (more like three quarters of a circle) with alphabetized street names intersected by the times on a clock. In fact, picture a clock with The Man in the center and roads spanning out from him at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00. Then, when you get to Center Camp and the living area, there are more times added (2:15, 5:30, 7:45, etc. However, there are no camps between 10:00 and 2:00, as this is the Deep Playa where massive numbers of art structures are on display for all to see.) Then, bending around the semi-circle are the street names (Alyssum, Begonia, all the way to Lilac, this year.) Each year, with more attendees, a road or two are added to the outside circle. Currently, they are almost halfway through the alphabet, so there is plenty of room to expand with population.
Our camp, Hair of the Dog (HOTD,) was situated at 5:30 and Alyssum this year, so once we found it, it was time to set up our small camp within the larger one. HOTD has been a staple at BM for twenty years now, so they have experience, a good reputation, and pretty large number of members. When we arrived, we were greeted by about 10-12 who had arrived the day before, and by the time we were in full force a few days later, we had about 40-50. We had a few hours to unpack the Groove Tube and truck, help out a little with the setup of the HOTD nightclub, then my friendly driver (JR) went off for a shift at the Dept. of Mutant Vehicles. (DMV*) I crashed in the camper since I was existing on one hour of sleep from the night before.
*The Dept. of Mutant Vehicles is the place where those who bring art cars, must register them and have them approved as playa vehicles for the week. An art car is a unique, motorized creation that shows little or no resemblance to its original form, or to any standard street vehicle. Mutant Vehicles are radically, stunningly, (usually) permanently, and safely modified from their base vehicle. They come in all shapes, sizes, and creations – fish, boats, animals, you name it – but must adhere to certain regulations to keep everyone safe on the playa. Since Burning Man is a foot-and-bike friendly event, maintaining safety is essential. Because of this, not all vehicles that apply can be licensed., and is crucial that they travel at no more than 5 mph, which is the speed limit throughout Black Rock City.
Volunteering at Burning Man is a big way for many people to ‘pay it forward’ or ‘gift’ their time. Gifting is a huge part of the BM community. In fact, it’s one of the main focuses of this event, as no money is exchanged (except to buy ice at ‘Arctica’ or coffee drinks at ‘Center Camp.’) Gifting one’s time is supposed to be done for nothing in return, but if you work a certain number of hours, the BMorg (Burning Man Organization) kindly feeds you meals at their Commissary, and may discount your ticket for the following year. (And hot dang, tickets aren’t cheap! This year they cost $400!) There are plenty of ways to volunteer – BRC Rangers, Recyclers, Ice Distributers, Medics, Guards, etc. – which is a great way to get involved and be a contributing member of the BRC society.
When I woke up from my snooze, it was dusk, but I could hear a lot of bustling activity out there. My curiosity got me on my bike and out for a cruise. I really had no idea what to expect, and I was amazed at all there was to see! The main drag is called the ‘Esplanade’ and I made a bee-line for it. (It’s also where the DMV was, and I was curious to see that.) On my cruise, I passed the Playa radio station, BMIR 94.5, whose music amplified down the Esplanade; Swag Mart, an oasis of creativity where you can create accessories to embellish your Playa wear; Pimp Yer Bike, a place to bring your bike for ‘bling;’ and a whole host of places to do, or have, just about anything your heart desires. Yes, there were even places called, ‘Slut Garden,’ ‘Naked Bar,’ and ‘Kamp Suckie Fuckaye,’ to just nick the tip of the iceberg. Believe me, the list goes on and on!
My eyes in wide wonderment, I cycled around the Playa a bit, but didn’t do too far, as it was getting dark and my bike hadn’t been ‘pimped’ yet with lights and reflectors so that I could be seen by others. This is a must for bikes if you want to avoid a collision, as it is very trafficky out there. Also, the population of bikes on the Playa is enormous, so blinging yours helps it stand out amongst others when you need to park it for awhile. On my journey, I came across an area called the ‘Fire Conclave Convergence,’ where the pyromaniac art car owners apparently congregate. This evening there seemed to be a duel going on between two of them, which caught my attention, as well as many others. These ‘cars’ are equipped with what I can only describe as fire spitting cannons that are mounted atop the vehicles. When triggered, flames spew out with such force that it lights up the surrounding area with a blast of heat and noise. I often heard unsuspecting girls scream from being startled by a sudden blast. Tonight, two of such vehicles were competing across from each other for the best and biggest flames. It was quite a show, as many times the flames are accompanied by sounds, a beat, or a pattern. I watched for awhile in amusement until I noticed a parade of absolutely fabulous art cars lined up at a structure nearby. Lo and behold, I found the DMV!
And, what a sight to see!! Cars of every imaginable design were lined up for inspection, and I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything like this before! There were cars turned into picnic tables, playgrounds, octopus, Viking ships, gorillas, sofas, snails, trains, dragons, etc! What a show! Just seeing what people’s creative minds came up with for a car is mindblowing! It makes you realize that you aren’t just dealing with some wannabe hippies here; these people are smart, creative and talented designers, engineers, and builders. Oh, one art car was made up entirely of oversized Legos, so you can tell what kind of kids these people once were. It was a riot seeing what people came up with.
Taking a break and chatting it up inside the DMV (which was really an open wooden structure standing on the Playa floor) I got my first real sense of just how dusty this place gets. There were a variety of old couches to lounge on when times got slow, and little did I realize that each one of them probably contained a few pounds of dust, until I sat down and a big puff of the grey stuff appeared all around me. At home, no one would touch filthy couches like these, but on the Playa it’s normal life. This was just the start of a week covered in Playa dust so thick that your clothes, shoes, skin and hair all turn ash colored. This dust infiltrates everything – tents, eating utensils, sleeping bags, chairs, food, luggage – and becomes your worst nightmare, and your comforting friend. You eat it, breathe it, drink it, sleep in it, get caked in it. It’s a bizarre relationship, to say the least!
**This program has been interrupted to bring you ‘The Adventures of Burning Man’ (2012.) ‘Walking in Memphis’ will be continued when the dust of Black Rock City, Nevada settles once again.
Burning Man (http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/about_burningman/bm_timeline.html) is a twenty-six year old gathering of people that has been described by some as an experimental community offering displays of art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. It began with a few friends on Baker Beach in San Francisco, and now takes place in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, attracting nearly 60,000 people (and counting!) You can read about Burning Man all over the internet, but here you will be reading about it from my eyes – the eyes of a first-time newbie birgin! (Oh, you can also Youtube BM videos, for a pretty good visual of this event.)
Getting ready for Burning Man isn’t easy. This is a camping trip into the desert, where nothing lives except dust, wind, and well,
dust and wind! Campers have to bring in everything they will need for the week – water, food, clothing, shelter – as well as desert survival kits of dust masks, goggles, vinegar (for ‘playa foot’,) baby wipes, lighting, etc. Bikes provide transportation, unless you have brought along an artcar (explanation later,) because once you have parked your vehicle and pitched your camp, you’re pretty much in for the duration. Luckily, I had the good fortune of finding a ride (and a camp) with experienced Burners who were equipped with everything. I just needed to scrounge up a few personal items and jump into the passenger seat. Burners do not travel light! You will find every sort of packing on such an odd assortment of vehicles, making the drive to and from Black Rock a parade in itself. I was in a truck that towed a1967 camper trailer that had been colorfully painted to reflect the hippie era it came from. Appropriately named ‘The Groove Tube,’ it attracted loads of attention on the road, especially by fellow burners. While driving to the event, pitstops for gas, food, and other necessities, bring you to locations where you run into other Burners, who are very friendly and happy to be going ‘home,’ as they call Black Rock City during the event. The rest of the year, Burners refer to ‘The Default World’ as the every day, real world we all live in. Upon arrival, we are all greeted with shouts of “Welcome home!” and hugs given freely by all. At first I thought these people were a little overzealous and weird, but later in the week I came to wish that the real world could be more like them. Traveling from Reno, which is the last big city before things become gradually more desolate, through little towns like Nixon, past the last body of water to be seen for the week (Pyramid Lake,) through the tiny and abandoned town of Empire, to Gerlach, and then..there it is: Black Rock City (such as it’s called for the week,) the fourth largest city in Nevada during the week of Burning Man! On the day we arrived, there was a bit of a wind storm (not uncommon out here) so the dust was kicking up and the visibility was pretty poor. The drive in is a long one, as they like to get the camper traffic off the two lane highway as quickly as possible. Bouncing around on the uneven playa surface, as well as the very low speed limit, keeps traffic moving slowly and safely towards the entrance. Upon arrival, we first had to show our early arrival tickets (being with a working camp, we were allowed early entrance on Saturday, in order to set up for the rest of the campers who will arrive on the official opening day, Monday.) Next, it was over to Security, where a tiny pixie fit through what small spaces were left in the camper to check for no-nos. Once okayed here, the next stop was ticket collection, and in my case, Birgin initiation! I was kindly ordered out of the car and on to the dusty playa floor, where I was instructed to lay on my back and make a ‘snow angel,’ flip over to my belly and do the breast stroke, then given a metal rod to bang a gong and shout, “I’m not a birgin anymore!” Now sufficiently dirty and dusty, I was given a big hug by my ‘debirginizer’ and allowed to enter. And, so begins my experince at Burning Man!!
***Begun on 4/20/12 – I’m not superstitious, and I don’t follow the crowd, so all this hocus-pocus over the years about celebrities dying in threes has always been a curious notion, but a bit of malarkey, if you ask me. However, there have been a few strong coincidences that I find intriguing. The one that’s prompting this writing is the most current – Dick Clark (4/18,) Levon Helm (4/19) and now possibly, Robin Gibb. These are three heavies in the world of music, two of who died a day apart, so of course, the superstitious voodoo children are going to have a field day with it if Robin also passes. Sure, similar celelbrity death patterns have happened in the past – most notably Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, who all died in a plane crash in 1959, after leaving an Iowa concert. Another biggie was the loss of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison back in 1971. The craziest thing about that one was that they were all 27 years old! But, that is a story for another day…
In reality, people die every day, and over the span of decades, there are an enormous number of celebrities that get thrown into the pot, so to speak. So, when one dies, we dig deep for two more so we can satisfy (and ‘prove’) our theory. But, the truth of the matter is, there may be four or five that die in a short span, but we quit counting at three. If we can only find two, we scrounge around for a known name and clump them into the celebrity category in desperation. Basically, we do whatever it takes to make the ‘three theory’ work.
Why are we so focused on the number three? Seems we always have been. There are ‘three peas in a pod,’ ‘three strikes, you’re out,’ ‘Three Wise Men,’ the ‘Holy Trinitiy,’ ‘Three Muskateers,’ ‘The Three Bears,’ three primary colors, three phases of the moon, and on and on. There are even three phases in life – birth, life and death – so it seems an obvious idea to place ‘the rule of three’ on our fascination with the deaths of famous people. Why don’t we play the same game with births? Celebrities are popping out babies like there’s not tomorrow. I guess it’s not as significant as when people die.
Now, back to the reason I began this writing – the deaths of Dick, and Levon, and a gravely ill Robin – three well-known and significant contributors to music over the last many decades. Granted, due to illness and/or age, they have been very quiet lately, but there is always a sadness when someone who has been a major, and positive musical inspiration, passes from this world forever. I think it has to do with thanks and gratitude for the gift they gave us while here on earth. It is for me, at least. Music is memories for me. Songs make me think of certain times in my life, the experiences I went through at various stages, ages, etc. Dick Clark is my childhood (American Bandstand; Times Square New Year’s Eve countdown; New Year’s Rockin Eve,) and the man who was known as ‘America’s perpetual teenager.’ He was a huge representative of music, and though not a musician nor singer, he changed the world of rock and roll…and for this I am forever thankful to Mr. Dick Clark.
Levon Helm, though not as obvious a recognizable celebrity to me, has left us music lovers a huge inheritance. As the singer and drummer of the popular ‘60s –‘70s band, The Band, his gift to the music world are his songs, ‘Up On Cripple Creek,’ ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ ‘The Weight,’ and Don’t Do It,’ for starters. The Band’s sound was that of meshing and entangling the earthy infectous sound of gospel, blues, folk, and country with the raucous, raunch of rock and roll to come up with a unique style of their own, somewhere in the middle. Thanks to Mr. Helm for his memorable contribution to the world of music.
As for Robin Gibb, I can’t imagine that there is a single soul on the planet that survived the Disco era, who doesn’t remember the Bee Gees! They were famous before, but the soundtrack to the 1977 hit movie, ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ catapulted them into super stardom. ‘Stayin Alive,’ Night Fever,’ ‘More Than a Woman,’ etc, was played at every nightclub, disco, and on every radio station around the world back in the Polyester ‘70s.’ My generation came of age with the sound of the Bee Gees.
These three Music Men have been quiet for some years now, due to their health conditions. However, they will leave a lasting imprint in the hearts of those who loved and appreciated their musical contribution to the world. The wonderful thing is, while they may be gone, their music, and memory, lives on!!
***Added 4/24/12 – So, now that I’ve written all about the mystery of three, it didn’t happen after all. Although Robin is still in a coma, he is alive. Which brings up the next question: How much time needs to elapse between the deaths in order to clump them into a trio? In other words, if and when Robin leaves, will his death be considered part of the three. According to me, no. It’s been too long, and if the media tries to include him into the trio, then it’s simply for hype and brainwash…to fuel the frenzy for a good story. Bah! They won’t fool me into believing this myth, though it is always interesting to follow the possiblitlty of truth behind the mystique.
***Fast forward to today – Sadly, but expectedy, Robin Gibb did pass on on May 20th. However, once again proving this theory wrong, not only wasn’t he the third of the Dick Clark/Levon Helm trio (of which there was no trio,) before Mr. Gibb left us, there was the surprisingly unexpected death of Donna Summer on 5/17/12. This now brings us to that familiar looming question: Who will be the third? And, will there be a third? Since Robin Gibb hung on for another month, he wasn’t in a trio with Dick and Levon. But, now that he and Donna left this world so soon after one another, if a third celebrity calls it quits, then maybe we have something….lots of fuss in the media, no doubt! Otherwise, the ‘Death-in-Threes Hypesters’ will, once again, lay low and not make mention of the flaw in their theory.