Travels in the American Southwest

Burning Man Redux

I had such a great time last year that I decided to do it again. To head out to one of the more desolate, remote areas in the continental United States and join over 25,000 other hardy souls for a week. To live in a temporary city where commerce is banned (except for coffee and ice). To surround yourself with people who really don't care what you do the other fifty-one weeks of the year; No inane "What do you do?" questions. Welcome to Black Rock City.

First some background for some Q & A's.

And now some numbers for 2001: Population - 25,689; Citizens from 40 states and 12 countries; 21 citations and 1 arrest (for an entire week); 60 traffic tickets for speeding to or from the event; 1,320 cases of dehydration, severe sunburns, cuts and scrapes, burns and bruises; 9 emergency helicopter evacuations. At least one fatal injury.

BRC is a place where you are judged not by your bank account or physique. Your participation is the only criteria that matters. What type of artwork did you make or will you do for others to enjoy? The word "artwork" is all encompassing. Sing. Play an instrument. Spin music for one of the many radio stations. Be a reporter for one of the daily newspapers. Write poetry and post it on a porta-potty. Act. Perform. Entertain. Push the envelope. These and more are manifestations of "artwork" in Black Rock City.

Think you were the weirdest kid in school? The most artistic? The most "anything"? In Black Rock City, you wouldn't even be an "also ran". I used some electroluminescent wire, a metal frame, a half dozen radiator clamps and my bicycle to make a shooting star. I thought I was soooo inventive...Until a half-dozen electroluminescent dinosaurs went by! At least Cmdrmark's 60's Flashback featuring the hit songs from late '59 to early '70 was a hit again this year. Folks would stop by requesting their favorite oldies, one thanking me profusely for not playing bad techno music!

I took time this year to meet and get to know my neighbors. Next door were the Canadians. Learned that some of their Arcadian ancestors were held in internment camps on the Boston Common when our country was young. Don't recall hearing about that particular incident in school! Had a great time learning about their country and how Americans were seen. We hit it off so well, I was invited to dinner on Sunday featuring salmon caught on Saturday morning. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better meal at the finest restaurants in Las Vegas. Behind me camped a couple of strippers from Las Vegas. Their stories were, shall we say, illuminating. Across the way was a retiree who allowed me to climb the fifty foot scaffolding in his camp so I could shoot pictures of the city as it grew during the week. Two doors down were the twenty-somethings. Life has certainly changed since I was one! The eye-openingly frank late night conversations left me with a renewed appreciation of life.

And on Saturday night, when The Man burned and the flames from community burn platforms leapt high in the sky, I and my Canadian neighbors slowly made our way to our neighborhood platform. To the roaring fire I added the cardboard box containing the broken toys and tattered clothing I had removed from the LeBeau grave a week earlier. In silence, we watched as flames licked at the sides of the box and the smoke swirled skyward.

I said it in last year's Burning Man trip report, and repeat it again here: "...the Burning Man ticket states quite clearly in bold capital letters, "YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BY ATTENDING.", and
"...this event isn't for everyone! It's no Disneyland. You will see things which may offend you. [Note from 2001; Scratch "may" and make it "will probably"!] Some performance artists and artwork would raise eyebrows in New York, be banned in Boston and probably get the artist tarred & feathered in a number of mid-western communities! Further, you are totally responsible for yourself and the members of your party. If you're injured, it's either a long ride or an expensive medivac helicopter flight to medical facilities in Reno. Burning Man truly epitomizes the phrase "Radical self-reliance and self-expression". As for me; I had a blast!"

Very early Sunday morning following the Burn, I'd be off. Destination: California & The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

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