Burning Man 2009: A Ramble Across the Mental Playa Part 3

Read Part 2
Read Part 1

Come to think of it, I rarely did see a female conductor or driver on the old London Buses.

It always happens at least once at Burning Man:
The noise from the dance camps and art cars
Wakes me up early Friday morning
And I can’t get back to sleep
And I figured that Hey, it’s another beautiful day
And I may as well get my groove on
I get up, make coffee, grab my Life Is Good travel-cup
Put on some colorful clothes
And head out on to the Playa
Where I find an art car called the Space Wench
Cranking up a desert storm of pounding techno
Drowning out the sound systems on the Esplanade
I climb on board
It’s evident that everyone’s been up all night
And it’s too loud to have a conversation anyway
So I just soak up the atmosphere
Enjoying the music, despite the volume
And the hyper party animals, despite their tiredness
But then the DJs lose the plot
CDs start skipping, fade-ins are forgotten
At which I wonder how I can get from this point on the Playa
Over by 4:00
Out to the Pink Pussycat Camp
Over by 10:00, a mile or two away
At which, as if the driver can read my mind
The Space Wench sets off across the desert
And parks up at 9:30, a hop skip and a jump
From the Pink Pussycat people
The Playa, as always, provides

Space wenches!

I take my time wondering over the last few “city blocks”
Soaking up some of the other sound systems
But I learned last year
That Pink Pussycat has some of the best music
The best looking people, the most positive vibe
It may not be coincidence
That they don’t advertise themselves
Either as a theme camp
Or in the What Where When
You just have to know they’re there
Like an underground New York house club
Which is the scene they’ve emerged from, anyway

Random Sound Camp: They’ve got a Boombox and they know how to use it!

I’m always staggered by their stamina
Everyone looks like they only just woke up
Even though they must surely not have gone to bed
They’re all dressed to the nines
And taking pictures of each other as if surprised by the sight
Dancers roll in from all across the playa
Generally smiling and grooving and having a good time
And nobody seems stressed
And the DJ is (more or less) on top of his game
Though I do get a kick out of watching this one young dude
In deep-dropping baggy pants and no shirt
Aggressively dancing with the hotties
Desperately trying to score himself some action
Like he’s in a meat market night club
Rather than at an outdoor love fest
And all the hotties give him a few minutes out of respect and communal good will
And then give him the cold shoulder
A cold shower might be better
Given that the dude is seriously in heat
But he’s out of luck
On both counts

Four very good reasons to spend Friday breakfast at Pink Pussycat

The sun gets rises higher
Mid-morning approaches
I’ve had my fill
And it’s time to head home
Which is a long way from here
Not that I couldn’t jog it
But at the 9pm plaza it occurs to me to look for one of the
Mysterious “community bikes”
Of which there are meant to be 1000
Though I think someone added at least one zero to the number that really exist
But, as I pan the plaza
Someone rides up on one,
They’re green, marked “yellow,”
He jumps off it, heads into a theme camp
For breakfast or whatever
And the rule of the community bike being that if it’s not being ridden
It’s there for the riding
I pick it up and ride it home
Where I find Campbell happily reading his Star Wars book
And my Aussie neighbors offering to cook me up
a healthy rice and beans dish
Loaded with freshly cut vegetables
And I make them each a Bloody Mary
You see why people get used to this lifestyle?

Why ride your bike when you can ride on the back of a bar?

Campbell and I walk the mile out to the Airport
Having heard you can get free rides over the Playa from pilots
If you ask nicely enough
And especially if you have a kid with you
But it’s not happening
And the suggestion that we come back at 6am
-The pilots like flying before it gets hot and windy –
Doesn’t seem quite so enticing
We play ten-pin bowling at a camp on our way home
And Campbell takes more pictures of art cars
He’s determined to see the Walking Beast
an eight-leg mechanical giant, fueled by petrol but built from scratch
actually move, before we leave the Playa
And he notes its home location at the Apocalypse Lounge
For the journey out to the Man for the Saturday night burn

Barolo at Burning Man!

More wine tastings at Kidsville!
Puma shows up with the Barolo as requested
A sensational bottle of Pio Cesare 2005
As well as a plump Chateau Blason D’issan Margaux 2005
He invites us to hang out with him in his RV on Saturday
Watching college basketball on his satellite dish
While drinking Bordeaux
But, that’s not how I spend my time out here
Still, I’m curious as to Puma’s deal
As well as his luxurious taste in wine.
While the Barolo is by far the best thing I’ve drunk out here
A bottle of Bodegas Paso Robles Dona Blanca
A highly unusual (for California) blend of Grenache Blanc and Malvasia
Is quite wonderful, incredibly floral, full of tropical flavors
And keeps its 15.5% alcohol well in check
It’s the finest, most vibrant, unusual white wine I’ve drunk in months
And it’s been brought to Burning Man by a friend of the female wine-maker
Who herself lives in Paso Robles
And I tell her I’ll write it up for sure
I love discovering new wines like this

(This picture actually taken Thursday night, one sliver short of a Full Moon!)

Friday night: a full moon night!
It rises in the east, at exactly 6:30
Which is precisely when the sun sets in the west
Having risen at exactly 6:30
It’s not often the stars and moons align like that
And pictures don’t do it justice
Though pretty much everyone stops to watch it come up
As the sun goes down
Normally it’s black as night out on the Playa after dark
And if you don’t wear dozens of blinkies or glowsticks
You’re liable to be knocked over
By a roving art car or a raving cyclist
This year feels different
With the moon up all week, there’s been a glow over the Playa all night long
And Campbell and I have gotten by with our mini-headlamps
We’re glad not to contribute further to the overuse of disposable crap
Though it should be noted that the cool $20 flashlamp I bought
Made by Coleman, the most popular tent brand at Burning Man
Lasts just two nights
Before the dust destroys it

Random Art Car!

Friday night: the first big Burn Night!
Though it seems to me that there isn’t as much fire as in previous years
In general, just not so many propane flames
Shooting off from art cars
I figure it’s the economy
It must be expensive, burning through fuel for the sheer extroverted hell of it
Though any Burner will tell you,
It’s also very cool
Tonight, the Raygun Rocket Ship is meant to take off
So we drive out to the Playa on Rob’s art car
And we wait and we wait and we wait and we wait
Because there’s been heavy dust all afternoon and evening,
Our first big storm since we arrived on Sunday
This being our third year here
It doesn’t bother us personally
But it’s prevented the crews from setting their explosives
And now it’s holding them back from setting them off
We wait for so long
That Rob’s kids get upset in the storm
And they all head home in the art car
And Campbell and I make our way to the front rope
Still several hundred yards from the rocket
Much like we did two years ago, for Crude Awakening
At the last moment, a group comes out from the inner circle
And sits right in front of us
And at first we’re a little pissed off, having waited this long
For a perfect view
But it turns out they’re skydivers, and they’re equally frustrated
They were meant to parachute in for the Rocket Ship display
But the dust storm put paid to that
They tell us that we can probably get a ride up in a plane after all
If we visit the Burning Sky (diver’s) camp, which I already know
Is only just behind Kidsville
The skydivers are allowed to take up “observers”
If the planes aren’t full, and I promise to be there the next morning
By 10am, as invited

Random Art Car!

The fireworks surrounding the Rocket Ship launch are cool,
I don’t deny that
But the explosion itself is nothing
Some red lights under the launcher
Giving the optical illusion of movement
And that’s the end of that
I don’t know what I really expected
But I feel oddly deflated
Like we waited all these hours for nothing
Burning Man can be like that
The big events can disappoint
And pleasures can be found in the smallest of treats
Like going over to the Bad Idea Theater
And sampling from the Midnight Popcorn Palace
And watching another dumb movie
So dumb I can’t even remember its name
I think it’s time for bed
Though I forgot to mention
That when we came to the Bad Idea Theater the other night
Hunter S. Thompson walked in to watch a movie about himself
Only he’d got the wrong cinema
He knew this, deep down
But the guy who was playing his part
Didn’t want to admit as much
He had the Gonzo journalist down pat
There’s nothing will blow your mind at Burning Man
Quite like someone who has determined to spend the night
Inside someone else’s mind

Which reminds me that we also witnessed
The funniest short movies
Somewhere out on the Esplanade
One late night
The “Holy Hand Grenade” sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Set to animé cartoons
And a totally bizarre interspersion of
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator
With Jesus
The Terminator pre-emptively kills the potential traitor
Whom Jesus brings back to life
Only for the Terminator to kill him again
Prompting the most memorable line of Burning Man:
“Stop Killing Judas!”
Perhaps you had to be there
Oh, you know what?
I just found it on YouTube
You don’t have to have been there after all
You can watch it from the safety of your own home
Now just imagine you’re watching it on a big screen in the desert
Late at night
With your son
Or your dad
It’s fun

Not entirely random YouTube video.

Saturday: our last day!
(We leave a day early this year)
The week has passed too quickly
I feel like it’s just begun
I feel like I haven’t been hyper enough
I haven’t stayed up all night enough
I haven’t cried enough
So when I wake up early – again –
I grab my running clothes and go off
To more fully investigate the art on the playa
Which I’ve been taking for granted all week
Even as I’ve been appreciating it all week
I also visit the temple
In peace and quiet
Which this year has a ramp that takes it up higher
Than the Man himself
As always, the temple is packed with pictures, notes,
Eulogies and memories
An inherently emotional depository
And as always, it’s quiet here, even when it’s noisy
Everywhere else on the Playa
I’ll miss missing out on the Temple Burn
I find it the most beautiful finale to the Week
The antidote to the Burning of the Man
And I recommend
Any first-time burner
Try and stay around for it
To get the full experience

This year’s Temple, beautiful as always

When I return to camp,
Campbell and I walk out to Burning Sky
Hoping to take flight
Only to find out, you have to be 18
To go up in a Skydiver’s plane
They forgot to tell us that last night
I’d really hoped to see the playa from aloft
But Campbell’s not so bothered
Besides, the dust is picking up
And we hear rumors from across camp
Of a nine-hour white-out
Which is more or less what we endured last year
On the Saturday, again,
to the point people wondered if the Man would even burn
We don’t have a radio, so we go by hearsay
It doesn’t bother us too much
The Man always burns
And dust storms are there
For making friends
With people in RVs
Hi Mark and Anakin!

The writing’s on the Temple Wall

In between white-outs, I walk round Black Rock City,
checking out the designs for the last time
As people are already breaking (them) down
I’m invited in for pancakes by French Camp
66 people camping in a space about 30’ x 30’
And yet somehow, they make the best pancakes
I think I’ve ever tasted
Made with organic whole wheat flour, and organic soy milk
And organic bananas and organic chocolate
From a small stove on a mat in the middle of the floor
It is, quite honestly, not only the best meal I’ve had in a week
But the best I’ve had in quite a while longer
I know that organic is a quick fix word these days
But I’m firmly of a mind
That healthy ingredients make for better tasting food

Random art on the desert. Unless you built it, in which case it’s anything BUT random…

Saturday afternoon we finally decide to take a ride
On the Nowhere Omnibus
-The London Routemaster-
Which has ominously promised to travel on time
An odd notion for anyone
Who ever waited for one
In London, hoping to get to school on time
For once.
But at precisely 4pm, in the midst of a white-out,
The familiar red shadow emerges from the dust
To pick us up outside Central Camp
And my first port of complaints
Disappears with it
We go sit upstairs
In the midst of a white-out
Which makes the very notion of traveling the playa
On an open-top tourist bus
A conflict of interests
But the Queen and Prince Charles and Lady Di and the Queen Mother
Are all up here
And I enjoy heckling them
As a member of the British proletariat
Fed up with waiting for buses
Sick of paying my taxes
For the likes of them to live in palaces
And don’t they know they’re not meant to stand up
on the upper deck of a bus?
Or do they think that just because they’re royalty
The rules don’t apply to them?
I complain about everything
Like the old biddies did back in my day
And Campbell can’t help laughing
He’s at an age where, typically, everything I do is wrong
But at the end of this ride
He confesses to telling me I was hilarious
And that next year I should volunteer for the bus crew
All week long
Though I’m not sure the Queen would agree
After I’ve spent almost an hour questioning her heritage
Among other insults

Tony and the Queen on the Route to Nowhere

Someone points out a drunk on the bus
And asks me whether, back in London, we often had to put up with them
And I confess that we did and it brings something of a shudder
As I look at a burned-out burner, huddled over with a bottle of VSOP
Looking like he’s forgotten which planet he’s on
His hair matted, his clothes a mess
And I figure that for all he’s free to be who he wants to be out here
It’s a shame he felt the need to get so mashed up and messed up
And it’s only when we go downstairs for a while
(Where the fake London Transport posters have me laughing and taking photos)
That I notice the drunk is also now downstairs
And I’m surprised he made it without collapsing
But then he opens his eyes, turns and looks at me, and says
“Jimmy! I know you Jimmy!”
It’s a fake Scottish drunk on a real London bus in the desert!
He totally had me fooled, but he does, it’s true,
add such an (unwelcome) taste of the last bus home
a number 3 on a Friday night back to Crystal Palace
the Scottish drunk looking for a fight
and everyone doing their best to ignore him
Including the conductor
Who would no doubt conclude
It’s not worth asking for his fare
I want to get the conductor’s hat on this London bus in the desert
And go upstairs
And demand fairs
“Come on, pay up! You think we’re gifting this ride? Think again! Tourists, the lot of you!”
But someone else is wearing it
And almost a whole hour has passed by
And we’re almost at the 4 o’clock bus stop
And someone decides to step off before we get there,
The bus is not going faster than 5 miles an hour
A lot slower than when we used to jump on and off it as teenagers
But this woman… well, she immediately falls over
By the time we get off at the actual bus stop and walk back to here
First aid has arrived and it’s almost certain she’s broken her ankle
There are plenty injuries occur at Burning Man
But this one looked particularly soft
I guess she’ll be missing the Burn

Meeting the Royals in a White-Out

Walking back to Kidsville from the Playa
I see that Vegan Camp is hosting a Pot Luck Dinner
They’re set up on the road between Kidsville and Central Camp
And they show films of animal slaughter every night
Which when Campbell stops to watch one day
One of their campers comes to warn me of the violent imagery
And Campbell tells him it’s okay, he’s seen it before
And he’s been vegetarian all his life
Which I think surprises even this vegan
Vegan Camp gets its share of abuse from other campers
For the notion that they proselytize
People can get very defensive about their meat at the Man
Where Bacon is more or less the national dish
And Veg Camp will be lucky
To make inroads on anyone
By the time I get to the Pot Luck Dinner
I’m out of Luck
All four Pots are empty
And all that’s left is chips and dips
And a few raw veg
The same snack food clearly many of us have been living on
All week
I get talking to a formerly alcoholic
Member of the U.S. infantry
Who fought in the Gulf War
As a machine gunner
And when one of the Veg Camps hosts asks
If he ever used it
He looks at her with dark eyes and says
“Oh yeah.”
Now he’s tee total
And vegan
I ask if there’s many vegans
In the Army
And he says that there’s not but that
You’d be surprised how many of the MREs
Automatically fit the bill
Me, I’m ravenous
So I eat more than I should
Of a myriad of things
That don’t necessarily compliment each other
And it soon serves to remind me
That a diet of clif bars, granola, trail mix and clif bars
Is actually a pretty safe way to get through the week
If you don’t want to see more of the portapotties
Than you have to
Besides, there’ll be plenty time to eat back in the real world
Or at least in Reno

Frankly, Mr. Shankly, I don’t think the Masses Were Listening to this Message. You could smell the meat sizzling all over Black Rock.

Campbell and I head out to the Apocalypse Lounge
Determined to watch the Walking Beast make its way out to the Man
For the big Saturday night Burn
It’s already set off
But it hasn’t gone far
Because it travels at a speed of about half a mile an hour
And besides, it’s leaked some oil, a potential calamity
Allowing that nothing is meant to touch the desert floor
So they’re busy fixing the leak, and cleaning up underneath
And sure enough, Campbell only has to ask
And we’re invited on board the beast
As its passengers, for its main procession
For Campbell it’s the equivalent of last year
When he got to operate the Hand of Man
He’s honed in on the most elaborate moving contraption
On the Playa
And experienced it first-hand
Enthusiasm pays off out here
It’s hardly the most comfortable of rides
We call it the slowest roller-coaster on earth
Every thud throwing us back and forth
But it draws a crowd that is equally in awe
The Beast requires a team of a dozen to surround it,
keep people away from its potentially lethal parts,
and rake the desert in its wake
Its footprints being so immense that they leave a very visible trace.
You wonder what kind of mind
Can build something like this
I imagine it’s the kind
That hires itself out to Hollywood
For much of the year
Where presumably it can earn the big bucks from building special effects
Which pay for the ability to spend a year or more
Creating a vehicle like this
That impresses even the other impresarios
Let alone the masses
at Burning Man

The coolest vehicle at Burning Man? Other than its aesthetic opposite, the Front Porch, we certainly thought so.

The wind picks up again and the Walking Beast stops stomping
We can no longer see the Man
Or any of the smaller art pieces in our way
Which we don’t want to pulverize underfoot
A scout is sent out to secure the direction
And then the Man is lifted onto a pivot, at which
A dozen or more people push at it to change its direction
We get down
And take video
So you can see for yourself
What we’re talking about
It’s cool, isn’t it?

The result of spending Saturday afternoon
On an open top double decker bus
And an open top Walking Beast
In the midst of heavy dust storms
Is that we have developed a crust
We are now officially Grey (Gray?)
And there is no chance of cleaning up
Before we get to Reno
But it’s too late to worry about that now
I do the last of what packing I can
And we head out to the Burn
On Rob’s little art car again
It’s a whole different experience
Witnessing it from a vehicle
As opposed to ground level
All the art cars roll in as always
The music pumping and the lights blazing
Forming an outer ring of fire
The smaller art vehicles like ours in the middle
And the – shall we call them – pedestrians on the inside
Held back by the rope
Seeing the crowd from a few feet up (standing on Rob’s car)
There doesn’t seem to be so many people out here
As I might have expected, or thought were here
When we first came here two years ago
Even though the numbers are much the same
But then I imagine the circumference
To be a couple of miles at least
And some watch from back in camp
And some from further back on the playa
And some from the art cars and buses of course
The bigger of which hold dozens upon dozens of people
And then some have left already
(The population peaks on Friday lunchtimes
This year at about 45,000, 10% down on last year
Which was to be expected
It being the stupid economy
Besides, everyone agrees, it doesn’t need to get bigger than this)

The view looking back from the Beast. Desert-Raking crew in effect.

Some don’t watch it at all
Figuring that the focus on the Saturday night burn
Misses the point of Burning Man
They have a point
Which was one reason Paul Addis set fire to the Man
On a Monday two years ago
For which he was sent to jail
For arson
As your probably know
If you read my first post on 2009
Anyway, this year’s Burn is a stunning success
The fireworks are epic, and there’s a huge fireball
That explodes under the Man,
Who then takes hours to burn his way through
He’s a resilient bugger
He still hasn’t fallen by the time we finally leave
Agreeing to shuttle a giant cooler
Across the entire desert for a group that are heading over
To a sound camp on the edge of the Playa
To party all through the night

The man Burns And burns… And Burns.

On our way home we stop off at
One of the Playa’s most incredible pieces of art
A giant display of thousands of ping pong balls
Changing Technicolor
You can lie underneath
With 3D glasses
And stare on up
For as long as you like
We try it out
It’s pychedelic alright
And I find myself saying,
“Wow! Imagine what this would be like if you were tripping”
and the person lying right next to me says
“What do you mean ‘if’?”
I guess I’m getting old

It’s all a load of psychedelic ping pong balls…

Campbell is worn out
On nights like this I don’t look at my watch
It’s counter productive
Campbell does it for me
It’s 12:30
Rob drops us home
And heads back out to the Playa
On his own
I should join him, really
But we’re under strict orders from our friend and neighbor Hans
To be ready to leave by 5:30 am
Or miss our ride to Reno
And it’s such an insanely early hour
That we’ll need to be up – 4:30 at least –
That of course I don’t sleep
Just lie there listening to the noise from around Burning Man
Wondering if it wouldn’t make more sense to be out there participating
Riding round with Rob
Which would at least have had the positive effect of not
sleeping through the alarm, which I somehow manage to do
even though I hadn’t been asleep
Hans comes in and wakes me
Which I appreciate of course
We get up and get with it
Campbell, shivering in the pre-dawn cold
Gamely assisting
In the packing of final clothing
And the breaking down of the tent
Which we try rolling up a couple of times into its bag
Despite the inner sensation
That it will probably be going straight in the trash

All roads point to someone’s home.

The last two years it was I who drove us back to Reno
(and last year all the way to San Francisco)
And it feels odd to be in the back seat
As we reach the reverse greeter camp
And we hand over a couple of bags full of food
That we never got round to eating
And believe it or not, a couple of beers I never got round to drinking
And a bottle of wine I never got round to opening
There will be volunteers clearing up Black Rock for the next three weeks,
ensuring that collectively
if not individually
We Leave No Trace
And they are always grateful for donations of food and drink
Especially drink
From those of us who are heading back to something called civilization

Random act of Cuteness

As ever, my feelings upon leaving Black Rock City are as much
About the events I missed
As those I shared
Like the meditation session to “Reflection” by Tool
All 22 minutes of it
The World Record Mass Hustle Dance
Held at the same time as a Massed “Let’s Hustle!” Dance
By another camp
Good ideas can’t be copyrighted, I guess
I could have rehearsed and appeared in the Michael Jackson Thriller Dance out at the Man
Or the performance of Godspell
Or that of the Rocky Horror Show
I could have taken a workshop in Eye Contact, Flirting and Intimacy
Or Tantric Encounters
Or Origami Crane Folding
I could have gone Windsurfing
Raver Fishing (yes, Raver Fishing)
Or participated in Saturday’s Triathtlon
(With a slip’n’slide replacing the conventional ingredient of Swimming)
Or stopped in on a discussion on The Structure and Interpretation of Disco Music
Or enjoyed Reggae and IPA (two of the finer things in life)
And I know I had originally planned to attend the DEVO-lution Happy Hour
And Club Verboten’s Beatles/Garage/British Invasion party
And Club Verboten’s UK Glam Rock Dance
And Carl Cox’s DJ set
And at least one of the many by Freq Nasty or Cheb I Sabbah
And the Gonzo Movie Night
Tribute to Hunter S. Thompson

But when you look at it
And think about the fact that I had my kid
With me, with his own agenda
Of nightly Playa-crawling
Then I think I did enough for one week.
Don’t you?

Bearded Tony and crusty Campbell aboard the Walking Beast, Saturday

I search my emotions for the same feelings of a life having been changed
As I experienced two years ago
But it can’t happen again
And to come back to Burning Man expecting the same all-consuming high
Would be counter productive
My feeling is now one more of contented familiarity
I love it here, I could live it here
I can’t wait for next year
Goodbye for now

Until Next Year.

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