***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!
**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!