• Burning Man



    At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but then I really did see three angel wraiths approaching me across the Desert.


    The next group was even stranger – Four Goldman Sacks Bankers in pin stripped suits, with briefcases and umbrellas, their pants a bit dust stained.


    Those scenes confirmed that I was in the right place. Black Rock City, Nev. A temporary 68,000 person camp on a dry lake bed that takes place starting the last Saturday in August and runs through the following week with the culmination of the torching of the Burning Man – attendees are called Burners.


    The first event was in 1985 on a beach near San Francisco, but eventually moved to this dry lake bed about 100 miles north of Reno – believe it or not the BLM gave the Burning Man Project a permit. So what is Burning Man? It is an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Okay, what does that translate into? Well, it translates into every expression of individuality your mind could ever come up with along with parking your inhibitions at the door. There are huge art erections – such as this Cathedral – most made of wood so they can be burned at the end of the week.


    There are vehicles that do not resemble even any kind of movement – group bike rides – 1000 people mostly nude on wheels. An older gentleman ask if he could use my bike for the ride, I regretfully told him no, riding myself. Uh Huh, since I didn’t have any antibiotics swabs for the seat is the real reason I declined. And music of every kind 24/7. Basically the whole week is Woodstock on Blue Crystal Meth.


    And speaking of nudity, I know that the body is an art form and that we are made in God’s image. But what I saw was gravity induced art at its worst and made me wonder if God is no beauty. Seeing someone naked doing Jumping Jacks on a trampoline does not lend itself to slavering sex appeal. But you could get married, and also get a seven-day temporary divorce.


    My scalped ticket ($658) gave me the privilege of hunkering down in 100% plus heat for a week (okay I made it almost three days). There were very few rules but one that was inferred was that you were here to participate in whatever you thought was the wildest journey of your imagination. You could come in if you were a journalist or worse a paparazzi, but you did so at your own risk – answering a burner’s inquiries with: “I’m just here to see the freaks” might just get you a one way ticket to a shallow grave east into the desert buried with the cross upside down. Eliminating reporters just another art form of course.

    I decided that my anteater costume might be just the ticket. Why an anteater? Well, I just like the way they look – way cool. I tried to rig it so it would shoot fire, but after a couple of attempts decided I was going to set myself aflame. I gave up on the costume after about an hour in the heat and just wore the head – I was suffocating in the full rig.


    Okay, you show up for the week, expecting to see vendors selling everything from Jolt Cola to aluminum windows to life insurance. Nope, nothing, nada, zip – there are no vendors, period. You need to bring your own water – about 2 gallons a day – own food – and own sun protection along with good eyewash solutions and goggles when dust, rocks, and sand come roaring through the camp.


    Water is at a premium. I saw one guy clad only in a billboard that said, “Will trade LSD for Water.” Decided even though that Burning Man was a camp of love, I locked my hoard of water inside my camper whenever I left.

    I did run into a guru type guy – multi-colored turban on his head – bad beard – sitting cross-legged on a mat in front of his tent. He liked my Anteater head and we struck up a conversation. He was old like me and of course we began talking about ailments. I mentioned my back pain and he immediately jumped up and said he had the cure. I told him I had nothing to trade other than some Juicy Fruit Gum. He said it was a fair deal and gave me a ground up mix of what looked like dried dark leaves – and some thicker stuff – like mushrooms or maybe they were toadstools.

    He said they were ancient Chinese herbs not found in the US. He gave me enough for five days and said I would notice an immediate reduction in my pain. He insisted I take a dose right there and even gave me a cup of water.

    Could have been the water, but I think it was the herbs. I was biking along an hour later absorbing the strangeness around me when I began to suffer gripping cramps. I headed for one of the 1000 highly decorated porta potties in the city and barely made it – dropping my bike and running crablike holding my pants the last 50 yards. Several people clapped and cheered assuming I was doing some sort of Anteater mating dance. I felt like my entire insides had come out, but just made it. Reached for the toilet paper, my hand touched just the cardboard roll end – I don’t even want to tell you how I addressed the problem.


    As I road slowly back towards the camper, the overpowering urge hit me again. From then on I moved from toilet to toilet with occasional projectile vomiting. But Mr. Guru was right, I felt no pain from arthritis, but my bowels and butt were aflame – I had no feeling anywhere else. Thank goodness I had brought some Preparation H.

    A gal caught my eye, not because she was dressed without a stitch, but because she was playing Rap Songs on her Accordion and barking along. I did ask if she knew Beer Barrel Polka and got a great smile as she broke into a resounding rendition. A clothed assistant came out of their tent and we did a few turns in the dirt. No one applauded. Stuff like that is typical at Burning Man.



    If you are a prude, best not come. The use of recreational drugs seemed to be the norm, although I didn’t see any of the hard stuff – there is law enforcement from county and of course the Danger Rangers from the Burning Man Organization. I did see many, many people attempt alcohol poisoning – there is no limit set by anyone on the amount of libations you can consume. There is no commercial enterprise, so the drug dealers are out of luck. It did feel like many people were self diagnosing and prescribing organic cures – some with the sweet smell of cannabis. Free Sex, Summer of Love? Hmmm, remember that the dust storms come on a regular basis and the libido seemed to blow away with the sand.



    The city is laid out in a half moon with the Playa in the center. Here is where most of the displays, evolutionary vehicles and the Man himself reside. He stands above a Flying Saucer, which is tied in with this year’s theme, which is Cargo Cult – A belief by the natives of New Guinea and other islands that the Americans will return to drop supplies out of the sky, which they did in the Second World War. Previous themes have been

    2012 — Fertility 2.0
    2011 — Rites of Passage
    2010 — Metropolis
    2009 – Evolution
    2008 – American Dream
    2007 – The Green Man
    2006 – Hope and Fear

    There are various Theme camps, which involve a group of like-minded people, some with hundreds in their camp. They offer every delight you could ever want including a large roller rink, dancing under a mirrored ballroom, and drinking and eating any and all – from organic hummus to Top Raman to home made Gin – Greeting each and everyone who wanders by. Alcohol was served by almost every one – free – wine being the primary drink.

    Here are just a few of the named camps from the 240 that were organized. 7 Deadly Sins, Spank Bank (Don’t Even Ask), Barbie’s Death Camp, Boo Boo City, Lonesome Gator Gumbo, Megatron Grove, Mr. Pepper’s Closet, Serenity Now, and Bureau of Mismanagement. Here is a girl from Angel Camp.


    I’m not sure what the Cargo Cult has to do with everything going on, but it was impressive. The number of interactive displays was beyond my ability to visit – the best of them was the Church Trap based on a Mouse Trap. And of course there were the 300 plus mutant vehicles





    Nighttime in the city is more active than daytime. The temperature plunges and the lights come up. The Burning Man is lit by florescent tubes and all kinds of other brightly lit vehicles and displays are visible. There is music but not deafening, but it goes on until daybreak. Truly it outdoes Las Vegas as the city the never sleeps.


    The Burning Man organization offers grants for some of the displays in the Playa. This year the total was over $1,000,000. This isn’t a commercial enterprise with profit as the main motive. This was the Temple of Whollyness


    I saw a lot during my three days there. But there was a lot that I didn’t see. Didn’t see any arguing, fighting, politicking, yelling about civil rights being trampled on, no one trying to take over someone else’s turf, no threatened lawsuits. There might have been a little coveting, but it was amazing that 70,000 people in two square miles could get along for a week without major strife. I believe that they were all united in trying to do something expressive while making sure they didn’t step on their neighbors. I did not meet one person who was not eager to help. Amazing. Maybe just taking money out of the culture helped a lot.

    Will I go back next year? That’s a definite maybe. I’ll have to see if my intestinal system has recovered by then and if I can get my Anteater head dry-cleaned.

    Joseph Ollivier
    September, 2013


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