September 7th, 2000


Playa Chronicles - Day Two

We woke up fairly early after a cruddy night's sleep... went shopping for a few last items we forgot to pick up, and checked out of the Atlantis, back on the road east.

It is an interestingly boring ride from Reno to Gerlach. You go further and further into this desert wasteland, and notice a lot of nothing that is amazingly different than what you have seen before... This place could be straight out of a Mad Max movie, or perhaps Mordor on a sunny day. Somehow, despite the strong winds that whip through the region, the mountains surrounding the valley are incredibly sharp and dark looking, like gigantic flint tools that primitive man designed to strip the hide off of some ancient, sacred beast. Somehow, erosion doesn't seem to touch this place... There were no trees to be seen... only the occasional odd ovoid rock formations sticking out of the playa, like some ancient sponge formation at the bottom of a deep sea. This whole area used to be a gigantic lake that stretched for hundreds of miles; it is now as dry as death's head.

The ride is quick, yet arduous... the road goes on forever in a straight line, with few distinguishing features, but it is starkly beautiful. Fortunately, you can legally drive at 70 MPH along most of the distance... which was a treat, coming from California. This pace slows to a crawl through the little towns along the route. After passing large strips of playa, we finally reach the area around Gerlach. We pass a sign that says "Welcome to Nowhere". Appropriate enough. A few weathered locals line the gas station like spectators to a parade. We see trucks for Burning Man's vaunted Black Rock Rangers, motorcyclists in extravagant leather. We are close. After filling off, we head up the road towards a vast collection of tents, vehicles, and impromptu buildings on the playa. This is Black Rock City... The path leads off the road, across a rough patch of rutted dust, and finally onto smooth playa. The playa is a fairly smooth surface... yet cracked here and there... you can hardly call the surface of the playa soil, since there is little that can be called organic about the slightly fissured alkaline clay surface. Normally, the playa is like baked brick most every day of the year, but Burning Man, with its mass of cars and humanity, creates a constant teaming ocean of dust. If you drive too fast and kick up large clouds of dust, you will most certainly attract ill will and bad karma, as dust storms can be a major irritant.

After a lengthy wait at will-call, we get our tickets and head into camp. It is noon, but fortunately, the temperature is only around 83 degrees. We soon discover, however, that the sun is more direct and that the environment itself seems to suck the moisture out of your body.

The design of Black Rock City is unique. Here's a map. I was located at around 7:00 and Heart, staying at the Poly Paradise camp. Despite the fact that I am polyamorous, this was the wrong choice of camp for me... too many 40-50something, naked, freelove hippies lusting after Kirsten and I. Oooky! I should have stayed closer to Thunderdome at 9:00 and Head. Lotsa fun there, and a cooler, younger crowd... including Rebecca, an old friend of mine from the days I managed a little store called Underground Records in downtown San Jose. Best job I ever had... Too bad it didn't come with 10,000 shares of stock in a market-leading high-tech firm. ;)

First day was kind of a pain... We saw Sarah, who is actually a kinda cool 40-something woman we met at a Poly event. She was helpful, and we started setting up camp next to her tent area. Shortly after, I was greeted by a nude, 40-something male. (By the end of the week, this kinda nudity wouldn't phase me much... you find yourself looking kinda past nude people after awhile... eyes focusing through them somehow until they become another obsticle to navigate around... sorta like that homeless guy you pass every day...) Well, this nude guy wasn't going to let me off so easily, and decided to greet me with a hug. Whee... this was going to be quite a trip. There must've been an unwritten law at Burning Man... guys can be naked, but only if they aren't cute.

We spent about 30 minutes unpacking and setting up before we realized just how potentially stupid being in the middle of a desert without drinking constantly really is. In a very short amount of time, we were dehydrated and crabby... We got the clue, got our water, and worked through it. I had to kinda prod Kirsten to get as much done as soon as possible, since I knew the weather could get unpredictable and the nights could get very dark, very quickly.

Fortunately, we got everything done by about 4:30... which, incidentally, was about when the first of the dust storms hit. We collapsed into our tent and rode out the storms, resting a bit and listening to the radio and CD's... There must have been about 6 different pirate radio stations set up by Burning Man participants, with some pretty cool music at times. There were also two repetative radio broadcasts with information regarding the weather, events, etc. that looped continuously. These always seemed to have old, inaccurate weather forecasts. I poked around in the next day or two, looking for some kind of Internet connection to the outside world... but there wasn't any such obvious creature, which was probably just as well. It took me a few days to get over my lack of connectivity, but I think I actually started to appreciate it after that point...

In amongst all this, Kirsten braided my hair. This was something I definitely wanted, since I didn't want it hopelessly tangled by the winds.
Me... mightier than the fiercest duststorm.

Not much haps that particular night... we went to the Arena, which had a so-so band playing at the time. We then walked out to the Burning Man, and I climbed the stairs to the top... nice view! We tried to find Death Guild, but didn't have any luck, so when we got back to the tent, we grabbed the map and headed off to 9:30 and head. Death Guild was, unfortunately, not protected from the weather... shortly after we arrived, it started sprinkling and the DJ system lost power, so we headed back and packed in for the night.

The age and sexuality thing would be the biggest problem with the camp... it was like being around your parents and their friends... the only difference is that they were all having sex with each other. I mean, you know that your parents do it, but you don't actually want to be reminded of it.

Thursday (last week) at Burning Man

Well, more recollections... while I can still recollect and before things congeal into a big ball of goo that is my brain.

Kirsten, as is her habit, woke up at the first sign of light. Silly person... I slept in, myself. I knew that from everything I had heard about B.M., almost everything happens at night, so I was determined to be a nocturnal creature whenever possible. Besides... I needed the sleep... the air mattress was a bit leaky, but the tent was all lazy and drowsy, or as Kirsten liked to say, hot and stifling... I told her to think about it like a cat would think about a windowsill, but she just couldn't deal with it.

I didn't get going really until around one. Kirsten wanted to take care of a few things like cleaning out and organizing the tent, getting a bit more rest, etc... so I took off with the digital camera towards Thunderdome, part of the project that Death Guild set up.

The playa is a beautiful place... very few places have made me feel so connected to nature in an almost mystical way. I took a series of pictures of the playa that I turned into a 360 degree picture... for your edification. (It's a very wide picture, so you'll just have to click the link to see it...)

Um... more later.

Thursday (last week) at Burning Man... Continued.

Ah, where were we?!? Probably somewhere around Thunderdome!

The concept is sorta self-evident... so here are the pix!

Thunderdome - Death is Listening! And will take the first one who screams...

Thunderdome was pretty damn popular... by the end of the day, they had to prevent people from climbing on the dome, since it was beginning to buckle. Next year, they should go for thicker conduit, stamped properly for extra strength...

Eat playa, infidel!

It helps to stay on your feet...

The ref signals a hit on a leaping attack!

Gotta love the ref's outfit... Appropriately aggro.

So, yeah... T-Dome was pretty cool... but I was getting pretty tired of taking pictures. The whole point of Burning Man is participating, which I was not doing as yet. I was still adjusting to the whole thing... mind candy everywhere, really.

When I got back to camp, I discovered that our car battery had died from powering our electric cooler... but on the plus side, we did have ice. K. and I decided to solve that problem later. Kirsten decided that she would try to get a bit involved with what our camp was doing, but frankly, I wasn't particularly interested. The Poly camp did two main things... Poly High Tea and The Human Car(cass) Wash. It is against my policy to scrub off a buncha naked people (unless I pick 'em out first!)... and there was very little to do to assist the Tea, sooo... I was an outcast. Unclean... Kirsten decided to sweep out the Poly dome for the tea with a little brush... which was essentially a futile effort. She was dirty and exhausted after cleaning, but threw on little more than a nightgown and attended the tea with me. About 5 minutes into the tea, a massively powerful duststorm hit. The parachute over the dome nearly flew off and dust flew into the area, essentially making Kirsten's work moot. Several of us grabbed corners of the parachute and started holding it down, which was not an easy task! The winds on the playa can get seriously intense; winds regularly reach speeds of 50-70 MPH. Combine that with the loosened dust of 25,000+ people/many, many vehicles and you can have a real problem. This, I assumed, must be why the tickets prominently mention that the buyer assumes all responsibility for serious injury/death...

When the storm finally let up, we retreated to our tent. Kirsten was freezing, our shade structure was toast, and a fine layer of dust covered just about everything we might not want covered with a fine layer of dust.

Kirsten was pretty exhausted and decided to go to bed early, while I went off to explore. I walked up 7:00 and stumbled into one of the coolest finds of Burning Man... Rosin Coven's Pagan Lounge! So far, my trip to Burning Man was very much an observational experience... I wandered into R.C.'s small dome feeling out of sorts... an observer... but the combination of the friendly people, festively kitch atmpsphere and black martinis provided the essential social lubrication to get me out of my funk and into what was going on around me. The music being played was actually children's records from the 60's, I assume... but somehow it worked. People got into it, started doing things like slithering like a snake, walking like a robot, etc... and transitioned into more danceable, yet equally kitsch music... a good time was had by all, and I left a much happier person, walking off into a beautiful, cool night with surprisingly mild breezes. I later saw Rosin Coven play live, which was even better... but I digress. I plan on seeing their show next Wednesday in Berkeley...

I wandered up to Head street, which is essentially the main drag... around 9:00, I discovered the Arena, which had some great sounds emanating from it. A band from San Francisco called Blue were playing, and they were fantastic...! They were a beautifully ambient instrumental band with sounds reminiscent of Slowdive, Mogwai, and Dif Juz... which might not sound like much if you are unfamiliar with those three bands, but I was floored. It was only their second show ever, and these people sounded like they had been playing together forever, pulling off an incredible ambient wall of sound, accompanied by incredible, exotic fire dancers. Blue's show was perhaps the highlight of my trip to Burning Man... it was a magical night, the crowd was extremely into what the band was doing, and the music perfectly accompanied the fire dancing. If anyone hears anything about this band, please let me know... I'm researching it, but I am still drawing a blank. I talked briefly with the band, who indicated that they were playing a second gig at B.M. the next night at the Black Light District, all the way across the playa at 3:00... long trip on foot, but definitely something I intended to see.

After Blue's show, I went back to the tent, woke Kirsten, told her a bit about my exploits, and lured her out into the night... We went back to the Pagan Lounge for a little bit, then started walking out towards Bianca's at 2:00... we passed by a nice little bar with a south-of-the-border theme, picked up some free late night popcorn from a cool theme camp, wandered into a spaceship-shaped tent where some dancing was going on (a bit too ravy for me, but nice design nonetheless...) passed by the blue glowiness of Black Light City, and finally arrived at Bianca's, which was an impressive setup, really. Lots of work went into it, obviously, but it was a bit of a ravy meat market. At this point, we were a bit tired of hoofing it across the playa, so I flagged down a vehicle and arranged a ride. It was an art car with a very large steel bondage cage on the back. We were told "Sure, you can get a ride, but you have to be handcuffed or manacled!"... Ok... good enough. We hopped in the back of the cage. I kinda wrapped a chain or two around my wrists, but Kirsten actually snapped a set of cuffs on her wrist. Um... bad move. Obviously, Kirsten had never dealt with somone who "lost the keys"... No key appeared to be present, but fortunately Kirsten put the cuffs on loosely and was able to wriggle out of them before we arrived back at 7:00, at which point we called it a night well spent, and slept long and soundly...