Thursday, August 28, 2008

Burning Man 1

The Burning Man vibe started to make itself known during the wait on the long line of vehicles at the ticket gate to Black Rock City. Signs were posted along the way at regular intervals, meant to be read sequentially like the old Burma Shave billboards on the highways of yesterday, presenting pithy sayings relating to the "American Dream" theme of this year's gathering. I started to spot bright-colored hippie-style decorations on cars and equipment, blond dreadlocks on people, and I once again felt the need to express the side of myself that distinguishes who I am from all that. So I put the new Gaggle of Cocks CD "American Trash" on the player and cranked up the volume. It was great to hear Pat bellowing "I forgot how to breathe" as the dust clouds kicked up by the cars and wind filled the air and gave me my first taste of playa suffocation. I was staking my claim to the airspace I knew would soon be filled by music I couldn't stand, enjoying letting "We are the pigz of agony... and I'm a fuckin pig, and you're all fuckin pigz" blast as I approached the sweet-faced ticket taker.

I knew my way around this year, unlike last year when I automotively groped around in the dark looking for the camp, so I headed straight for 7:30 & A, where my friend Ben's camp was located. He'd invited me to camp with his "Whiskey and Whores" theme camp, and although I hate whiskey and have no use for whores, it seemed like a better idea than just finding some random spot and pitching my little tent on my own. As I crawled through the streets at the required 5 mph, it was like being in the midst of a bizarre parade; just about every person and bicycle was decorated with some kind of strangeness, there were "mutant vehicles" crawling along with me, and I got a wonderful feeling of being back in that alternate reality.

The area around Whiskey and Whores was pretty tight, and I wound up pitching my tent in a little space between their stove and the next camp's shower tents. Ben told me to park the Caddy somewhere way off where they had all parked their cars, but I whined that I'd expected to have access to lots of stuff in the trunk; and the general reaction to the car was positive, so it was agreed that it could actually enhance the atmosphere of the camp by parking it right alongside the W&W tent, which I did, and which it did.

There's nothing like the traffic flow of humans and machines on the promenades of Burning Man. Something like a cross between a Halloween party and Mermaid Parade, with something of a science fair influence from all the modified cars, bikes, golf carts and other wheeled things. A tsunami of cleverness and personal expression.
The camp directly across the way, "Mal-Mart", had a several-story tower that people could climb and dance upon, and their massive sound system was blasting techno. I really tried to make peace with this sound - watched people dancing on the high platforms of their tower, tried to move to the beat, even thought I might get to like it, keeping a positive attitude and open mind. Still, I could see I'd be out walking a lot. By the time I got all unpacked, relaxed, and ready to take a walk with Ben, a huge RV had pulled into the space next to my tent, boxing it in entirely. I had come out to camp on this vast playa, and it wound up feeling a bit like I was squatting on a NYC tenement fire escape. Whatever, I figured I'd be roaming a good deal of the time.

Ben and I walked out to The Man, in the center of the circle of Black Rock CIty. I was in my standard shorts and crocs, a spectator; Ben wore a variation of pirate garb, 3-cornered hat, and dragged a plastic whiskey bottle on a string behind him. He wore a 'wheel of fortune' device on his chest, inscribed with various tasks. People would spin the wheel, and if they performed the random task, he'd give them a shot of whiskey from the bottle. Nearly everyone has a "playa schtick", and this was his. Makes for many random interactions, alright.

I recognized some mutant vehicles from last year, but many more new ones, and new theme camps, most blasting some kind of music, which produced a constant backdrop of combined sound; as you walk around, the sound of the nearest camp drowns out the others (mostly), and the soundtrack becomes an ever-changing morph between techno, afro-drum, techno, funk, techno, 80s dance, techno, and so on. We visited the Main Camp, a circular tent at 6:00 on the inner Esplanade, where people gather and you can buy coffee and other drinks. There's stage where something is always going on, with an array of deep couches before it holding tired bodies. There's often music, but this evening some mellow dude was giving some kind of self-help/self-realization lecture that sounded like some intolerable NPR show, and I couldn't get far enough away from it. OK, I knew Main Camp was never going to be a "main attraction" for me, but it was still fascinating to be surrounded by the costumed burners milling about.

We wandered out of there and across to the camps on the other side. Just when I thought there's be no escape from the techno, we went into the Fallout Shelter camp, where they were blasting TOOL! A welcome refuge, I thanked them profusely for being there, and stayed and danced with myself a while.
Off again, up the street we found a 20-foot tall ketchup bottle, which contained people at a counter giving away free fries (with ketchup, of course). At another camp, there was live music in a big tent, pretty funky stuff with a great brass section; it made me want to dance, but the tightly packed crowd was filled with people doing that hippie-style dancing, totally at odds with what I'd associate with what was playing, and I was repelled from the place. Out into the night again, taking in the sights and sounds, trying to cauterize my musical taste so as not to be driven insane by all the techno. There was much more to the environment than just techno, of course, but that's what sticks in my mind (throat). So much to look at and take in - one camp around the 9:30 area was shining an incredibly intense green laser beam which seemed to reach the stars, or at other times was lowered so as to go right over our heads and other camps; the fire camps and installations were shooting their choreographed flames skyward, with the corresponding "whoooff" sounds impacting your attention if you were looking the other way. And all across the playa, the lights on the many vehicles, and spinning on all the bicycle wheels, made a continuous dazzling display.

After taking in hours of this splendor, I got back to my tent around 3AM - Mal-Mart had closed for the night, so I was able to sleep after a long adventurous day.

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