Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Burning Man

So, as I mentioned in my last post (over four freakin' months ago), we went to Burning Man over Labor Day weekend (and the week prior, too. 8 days in all). It was our fourth year going to "the event" as Burners sometimes call it. This year differed from the others, though, as we were part of an entirely new camp and went with a new group of people. Half of us were veterans of the previous years' Yum Camp, the other half were Burning Man virgins (10 people total in camp). Our camp this year was called The Society. Our overall theme was Steampunk, with the centerpiece being our artcar, The Perambulator. We chronicled the events, discussions, and overall effort of creating our camp's Burning Man experience here. Many photos of our experiences can be found there, so feel free to poke around, look at the photos, take it all in.

There were some phenomenal art pieces there, two of the larger and more impressive being Big Rig Jig, and Crude Awakenings. Crude Awakenings' visual display was just stunning, and when they burned it, well, let's just say it's not often in life one gets to witness a mushroom cloud in person. The heat nearly singed my eyebrows from 250 yards away.

But, as usual, it's the smaller things making up everyday life on the playa that make the event something I return to over and over again: People standing in the middle of the street in 100 degree weather giving away slices of cold fruit to passers by. The Hardware Camp guys helping us rebuild The Perambulator's 5th wheel in the middle of a ferocious dust storm. And just the overwhelming awe that comes over me when I think that, for three quarters of the year, there is nothing there but wind and a bunch of dust. When I stop to look around on Friday night and see all of the individual contributions put together to make the whole of the Burning Man community, it truly amazes me.

Every year, it seems there is one small experience that sticks out for me. Our first year we were coming back from a night out on the playa to our woefully inexperienced and disorganized camp. We're tired, hungry, and really not looking forward to scrounging through the piles and boxes of food in the truck looking for something to eat. I really did not want to eat another Clif Bar. We're nearly back to our camp when Christen grabs my arm, points across the street and says, "Does that say 'Fish and Chips' "? I look to where she is pointing and lo and behold, there is a banner over a rather nondescript camp saying "Jonah's Fish and Chips". Could it be? We wander over and find a couple cutting sweet potatoes with a potato cutter (like they use in In N Out) and dropping them into a generator-powered deep fryer. Are you kidding me? They smile at us, wrap some fries in a sheet of newspaper, sprinkle some seasoning salt on, squirt in some ketchup, and hand the whole glorious thing over. Those fries, still, to this day, are the best I've ever had, and will probably remain the best I ever eat. Salty, soft on the outside but still slightly crunchy in the middle...just, and I mean EXACTLY JUST what the doctor ordered. I learned then and there what is meant by "The Playa Provides".

And the girl who handed me the fries was topless.

This year's stick-out experience is not as exciting, but still resonated with me none-the-less. About a year or so ago my friend, let's call him "Jason", turned me on to the band System of a Down. They are very very good and I enjoy their music greatly. They have a song called "B.Y.O.B." One of the lines is:

Everybody's going to the party have a real good time
Dancing in the desert blowing up the sunshine

I thought that resonated pretty well with Burning Man, and as we were installing the sound system in The Perambulator I imagined playing that song. But, its metaliness is strong and maybe would not be enjoyed by my campmates. Well, Christen and I are out riding our bikes around the playa one day and we end up riding by one of the Burning Man radio stations (yes, people set up radio stations for the event). What song do they happen to be blasting out of their speakers at us as we ride by? You got it, "B.Y.O.B." I made Christen ride around in circles in front of the radio station until the song was over. I mean, really, what are the chances? The VERY song I wanted to hear at Burning Man more than any other and it just so happens to be playing as we ride by? Just fantastic.

It's those types of experiences (and they happen the entire time) that keep me from saying "I will never go back." It is a crapload of work, both in preparation and while there, but there is no vacation I have ever been on that makes me feel further away from my everyday life than Burning Man.

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