Originally posted 9/21/2008
Welcome to my Journal, wherein I will chronicle the experience of my first journey to Burning Man in 2008. From the first decision to go, until my return home, I hope to use this journal to convey the heart and soul of that journey to those who share in it here. I hope you will have the patience to bear with me as I pass on this narrative to all my friends, relatives and future “burners” seeking, as I did, to determine if they too should take the road less traveled.
For those who do not yet know what this journal is about, a few definitions are provided.
What is a “Burner”? A burner is someone who has participated in the Burning Man arts festival. A virgin “burner” is a first-time participant.
Participant? Yes, generally speaking, there are no spectators, the entire experience is one of participation. No two experiences are alike. The entire experience can be surreal and entertaining and as enjoyable as you let it be.
What is Burning Man? Burning Man is an annual arts festival, held in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada (called “the playa [ply-yah]”) each year during the week leading up to Labor Day. Run by the Black Rock Arts Foundation, each year Black Rock City, a city of almost 50,000 people, springs up in the desert for one week, and then disappears again until the next year. During the week, participants celebrate radical self-reliance and self-expression through art, music, performance and more. The festival uses 10 principles that have successfully guided the event for more than 20 years. You can find the ten principles and further answers here at www.burningman.com/whatisburningman .
Why is it called Burning Man? Because at the end of the week, on Saturday Night, most all of the participants gather around the “Man”, an effigy at the center of the city, to watch and celebrate the climax of the week as fireworks and incendiary devices burn the Man to the ground. Think of it as a sort of closing ceremonies. On Sunday night, the temple, a spiritual building where people can leave messages or gifts for loved ones or pets who have departed, or just to the universe in general, is also burned to the ground along with some other art installations built deliberately to be ephemeral. By the day after Labor Day, most of the cities citizens have cleaned up and moved on.
In the desert? Black Rock City is built entirely in the desert, on a flat prehistoric lake bed more than 12 miles from the nearest small town and almost 80 miles from the nearest cell phone tower. The city is surrounded by a 9-mile pentagon-shaped fence, patrolled by law enforcement and volunteer Rangers to keep out non-ticket holders. The city itself is 2.5 square miles in size, laid out in an open semi-circle that reads like a clock from the 2 o’clock position to the 10 o’clock position with streets radiating outward every half-hour and circular cross streets labeled with names starting with the letter A through K. The inner-most street is called the Esplanade. Each year, the event has a theme, this year, the theme was “The American Dream” and the lettered streets of the city were names after types of cars, Edsel, Jeep, K-car, etc.
Streets extending into the open center of the city circle from the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions are called the promenades and all meet in the exact center of the circle, at the Man.
At the 6 o’clock position of the city, cut into the esplanade is a circular area known as center-camp – which is one of only four places in the city where you can use money, and then only for tea, coffee, lemonade, or water. Ice is sold in three locations around the inner circle and in circular areas at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions in the city, called keyholes, which they resemble. The proceeds benefit local schools and communities. Other than that and getting your RV’s tanks drained, there is NO commerce of any kind within the city. There are no hawkers, no souvenir shops. The economy is called a gift economy, since people give to others. “Gifting” at Burning Man isn’t about just giving ‘things’ or barter. A gift can be anything you have to give, a hug, your time, a helping hand, an extra pack of baby wipes. The playa is legendary for providing people with what they need, when they need it.
At the center of the circular opening inside the city ( about a mile across ) stands The Man, a wood and neon effigy atop a 40 foot tower of wood and steel. About a half-mile beyond the man in the opposite direction from the center camp cafe is a structure called the “temple”.
Spread out, seemingly at random, across the playa, both inside the circle and outward past the Man into the desert, are installations of art, sculpture and installations made to invoke thought, humor, or political consideration.
These pictures are from previous years. This year, the inner circle was 1000 feet further across. That, in a nutshell is what the city looks like. Those little dots down there represent tents, domes, vans, campers, several shade structures put up by the city, and at least 1000 porta-potties. Authors Note: In 2009, the city will, again, be back to it’s smaller size – the people have spoken and their feet hurt!
Transportation on the playa is on foot, bicycle, or various specially decorated vehicles called Art cars or Mutant vehicles – once at the site, you cannot drive your car or RV, until you leave the event. (Unless it is an approved Mutant vehicle). This makes for great exercise!
Burning Man accentuates and promotes radical self reliance and self expression. Just being there, you become a part of the celebration of freedom of expression. You must, however bring in everything you need to survive a week in the desert, and take with you, everything that is refuse when you leave. There are no trash cans or dumpsters there, you must cart your own refuse out. Leave no trace is one of the principles of camping there. The playa is managed by the government’s Bureau of Land Management and you can still see traces in the desert of the pioneers who passed through it on their way west.
Now you know the basics, we can move on to Chapter 1
The following is a list of the chapters created so far and the status of any chapters in process….
Chapter 1 – Deals with the details of how I made the decision, crossed some hurdles and prepared to hit the road. For those who just want to start with the trip and skip the preliminaries, start with…
Chapter 2 – 48 Hours on the Road - Where the journey actually begins.
Chapter 3 – Waiting for Godot….or CruiseAmerica – Deals with the joys of RV rental
Chapter 4 – Route 95, second leg of my journey, the trip between a rock (Area 51) and a hard place (Death Valley)
Chapter 5 – Where I kill some time in Reno, just to watch it die.
Chapter 5.5 – Where I add some ‘catch-up’ while editing Chapter 6
Chapter 6 – Surreally There at Last – Burning Man Day 1 – Part 1
Chapter 7 – We are all Dust in the Wind – Burning Man Day 1 – Part 2
Chapter 8 – Lamplighter’s 101 – Burning Man Day 1 – Part 3
Chapter 9 – A New Day Dawns – Burning Man Day 2 – Part 1
Chapter 9.5 – A Note from the Author
Chapter 9.6 – Changes are Coming – New Server – New Look
Chapter 10 – Lamplighting the Temple – Walking the City – Burning Man Day 2 – Part 2
Chapter 10.5 – The Chapter that Almost Wasn’t
Chapter 11 – A Ride and a Brunch – Burning Man Day 3 – Part 1
Chapter 11.5 Notification of Useful Information for Other Virgin Burners Coming Up
Chapter 11.6 – Chapter 11.6 – The Checklist and Collected Advice from the Burning Man Forums and Survival Guides
Chapter 11.9 – Bad News, Good News