Heading out on our art car, a three headed dog with painted flames, FJ was grinning with heaps of wide-eyed excitement and more than ready to participate when we stumbled upon a game by the name of “Running of the Balls” in which participants are given red scarves before launching out to try to flatten others wearing gigantic clear beach balls. Quickly becoming a we bit too sure of herself after taking one one of the balloon boys down, she cracked those of us watching up when the next one launched her into the air and right onto her ass for her first dusty moment on the playa. Experiencing the new excitement radiating through her, it was the first time I got to see a virgin have their own first experiences of the burn. It was then that I understood why seasoned burners so loved witnessing it and I couldn’t wait for more.
The 2017 burn being over 100º all day almost (if not) every day didn’t make it easy to set up our own little camp and was extra painful considering I had just struggled through making my own makeshift setup a couple days earlier to use until she got there. Taking dizzy breaks, the heat gave us a chance to sit back and enjoy the Real Estate moguls from Alabama we built off next to us. An older man and one close to our age who we soon deemed as the Bayeux Bros. We also enjoyed watching the Broasis form on the other side of us as more hot guys arrived and started to build their own neighborhood within the camp. Realizing that we didn’t have our own name for our little spot in that neighborhood of men (some cool Israeli guys from different places in the states were also set up behind us), FJ quickly stepped in and cracked me up when claiming the name in our little corner of the camp as the Bro Hoes.
Continuing firsts later that night, FJ and I hopped on our bikes and the bros on foot to head out for deep playa. In an altered state of opening our minds, FJ and I soon separated from the fellas and went off to explore on our own. That was when FJ had the inevitable experience of becoming so overwhelmed with how big and how much the burn is that she “popped”. Looking around in an almost panic while struggling to take in the vastness and ask questions, she stood there in a state of being overwhelmed and just couldn’t seem to be able to finish her thoughts. Another moment that brought back memories of my virgin burn put a smile on my face.
When asked about Burning Man, life changing is one of the terms often used as an answer. A vague response that drives me bananas in that it doesn’t give any reason as to why. In an attempt to give a bit of detail as to why, I often include the layout of the city in that there are different themed neighborhoods such as sound camps (raver scene), more spiritual, sexual, partying, family friendly, sober, workshops, etc. Diversity and so much of what it has to offer in that gives each individual a chance to make the burn their own. What is a common across the board is that it’s almost always super physical and intense on multiple levels. Besides the inhospitable climate of survivalist camping, lack of rest, constantly being overstimulated and so active all the time that even your mode of transportation is a bike (yes you need this), there are also extremes that, while having some of the biggest “wow” moments of life, also come with some of the biggest lows. Ones that would send many burners running if it wasn’t such a challenge to get in and out. Lasting nine days for “normal” entry creates an environment where those things have to be processed and moved on from.These are the top two reasons that come to mind as reasons the burn is so life changing.
One of our campers, a sweetheart of a young fella from Hawaii, had his moment when he jumped off the back of our slowly moving art car (BIG nono) one afternoon and later drunkenly took off in his girlfriend’s car (even bigger no no) to high-tail it out of the burn. Something that lead to one of my own lowest lows when I stayed back from wandering the playa on the art car (one of my favorite things) with some of our crew to be there for her (happy I did that) as she cried on my shoulder and later dragged me out on foot. With feet that were already battered and bruised, exactly what I didn’t want and what lead to my getting stuck by myself for what felt like an eternity on a white chair about 50 times the size of a regular one thanks to the building pain. Before that happened, however, were some of the year’s highs in that we stumbled upon what was to be one of my favorite camps of the year, Dante’s InFURno, where furries were dancing on stripper poles while we lounged in the largest hand-crafted hammock style chairs I have ever encountered.
Making it all the way to Reno, NV three hours away, her boyfriend managed to get the space he needed process and get himself back to the playa. While our camp wasn’t thrilled with the whole situation, we understood and were impressed by the strength of his mental (and physical) journey and the need to eat crow once back. FJ had her moment as well when missing a bartending shift with me at the Twisted Swan that was meant to act as a thank you for the hookup of her ticket. An unfortunate situation started by the Bayeux Bros moving her bike at a large day party camp they had been at earlier. An act that caused her to lose her transportation when it was time for her to head back to meet me given that they were nowhere to be found. A shitty situation that left her in a tear-filled panic for the next few hours while trying to figure it out which, in turn, created one of her lows of the week. Still feeling terrible the next day, she did manage to find her way over to The Swan in the blazing heat to apologize with a bottle of whiskey.
Every single burner has an insurmountable number of experiences and special moments worth a mention. At the same time, it’s impossible to see even a fraction of everything it has to offer. A swinger couple who were to be my road-dawgs for much of the week, S&M, S originally from the UK and M from Germany, amazed me with their ability to keep going. At one point M broke her foot on a large slide (Burning Man being a large playground for adults = injuries) but continued to stay out all day and night exploring, playing and dancing on crutches. Shortly after her injury, we had an unexpected moment of spirituality and calm amidst our rowdy fun when the lamplighters, a group of burners in flamed white robes carrying rows of kerosene lamps hanging from long thin pieces of timber upon their shoulders, walked by in a procession to light the pathway to the man. Getting back to the excitement once they had passed with the beautiful peacefulness of their tradition, I was doing my happy dance when unexpectedly spotting one of my favorite camps from the past, Hardley’s, out there on the playa away from the neighborhoods. Wishing the crew was keen to stay longer, I found a compromise when Stephen and I made a quick stop in the 24 hour whisky saloon bar for a shot before pedaling on. There were so many fun moments. An outdoor roller rink, bartending at our camp’s annual martini party (as well as the Swan’s), dancing on a pirate ship art car…too many to even remember.
Like every year, I was surprised by struggles I didn’t expect or, at the very least, thought I would have learned to fair with better being that it was my third burn. Beyond realizing that I was ill-prepared to set up my own spot in camp upon arrival, trying to figure out how to give back while only managing little tasks such as cleaning the bar and doing things needed by someone tall made for an awkward experience. Also, while thankful to be able to sleep in until 9 AM a few days, I was still often grouchy and physically exhausted. Something that unfortunately fell on people such as FJ and a sweetheart of a Jewish man who never seemed to stop talking.
Giving this man the playa name Mr. Yappy, FJ and I were both on the same page of fed-up exhaustion when ditching him after he had gone to do some clay pottery at the neighboring camp to where we were laying down. Already exhausted (like every moment of every day), we had been extra bummed, and in need of some quiet, to try to find our zen after getting to a hair wash camp only to find out that it was full for the day. Once sneaking out and getting back to camp, FJ headed over to flirt with Bama and I the opposite direction to lounge on a leopard couch in the front of the camp where I could catch up on writing and go through our guidebook to look for camps/events that interested me.
The burner community being what it is, random people stopped by to say hi. One of whom was an inspirational man in a wheelchair who told me about being one of the fire spinners surrounding the man the night of the burn. Also how he was working on setting up a Mobility Camp to empower those with physical disabilities. So. Fucking. Awesome.
Eventually giving up once Martini Man started dripping ice on me, I packed it up and headed out for a day-bar pub crawl with Stephen and Mirjam on my way to the year’s live music session at the Twisted Swan. It felt great when everyone there was so excited to see me and it was always a riot to see people from Ireland and Scotland in shenanigan mode. One charismatic red-headed Irish dude cracked me up when using the ploy of going for his beer to stick his head under my dress. Consensual, of course. The community keeps a close eye on that.
Later that evening and even more exhausted than normal when getting back to camp (mid crash burn), I had originally planned to go to bed early but the night had other plans. Figuring that, since I was going to bed early, I might as well pound some beers for a nice little buzz and tiny bit of fun when a group of us headed out on the playa in the art car for sunset. Downside of doing that is that, upon arrival back in camp, I was sprinting to the port-a-potties without lights on me. That’s when it happened. I GOT SHIT ALL OVER ME! Everyone’s worst blue cube nightmare: a port-a-potty covered in shit. How does that even happen?!? Tearing off my clothes as I ran screaming into camp for Jewels to get more water and meet me in the makeshift shower, she was clueless as to why I was freaking out as she kept exclaiming that I needed to be careful not to get the mint soap in my eyes as I scrubbed myself down Ace Ventura style. At the moment I finally started to calm down, S came prancing in while half-singing “ooh!” as he mistakenly thought something kinky was going on. Taking off his silver barely-there hot pants as he climbed onto the platform, I stood there frozen with an inability to grasp the absurdity of it all as he rubbed up on me slapping my ass for an absolutely opposite twist from the nasty experience that had just happened. A combo that was so weird that it could have only been at the burn.
Moving on an hour later, I asked S if he was sure about taking shots when we ended up in the dark and empty bar. Fun that lead to getting caught by a sweet and petite older woman, Mighty, when we started getting a little naughty in another way. A short while later, after eating wieners with the camp on their annual night for it, a group of us settled down in the shanty neighborhood of camp around the conversion van of two of my absolute favorite new playa pals, April and Jay, for a smoke and chat. Well, everyone except S who kept dropping his already barely there drawers and crawling around all the crew, mostly dudes, with his dick swinging in their faces while exclaiming against my attempts to calm him down that it was OK because it wasn’t that big. His wife, always calm and in good humor, just sat there barely noticing except to mention that he often got like that a lot when he was wasted and was well-known for it. It was all in good fun and eventually lead to the crew having a lube competition on his entire body. That, ladies and gentlemen, is another example of how one can earn a playa name. For him it was Lube Doll.
Always being the biggest party I have been to in the world, we took the art car out the night the man burned. Following that, FJ and I wandered off on our bikes with Lube Doll and M to once again dance the night away. Keep in mind that she’s been rocking all this on the broken foot from days before. FJ and I leaving the other two and missing sunrise by an hour, she just couldn’t take any more. A bummer in that I wanted her to experience what I believe it to be one of the most magical moments on the playa but, alas, impossible to fight once the playa has done you in.
Continuing the curse of my road-dawgs not wanting to stay for the temple burn the next day, the most spiritual moment of the burn and especially important to me in regard to coping with the four people I had recently lost (along with my fur-baby Layla I lost before my first year/what my first burn had become about), I ended up breaking down camp in 110° heat while FJ mostly sat around with the Bayeux Bros and flipped out on me (she genuinely apologized a couple weeks later) about how she didn’t want drama as I tried to keep myself from passing out and struggled to hold back a pouting and pissy attitude while I worked. A situation, BTW, that didn’t end up with us leaving before the temple burned but later did with us struggling to stay awake behind the wheel. Yeah. It was breakdown day in more ways than one. I am proud to say that it took us that long, however. Couples break up and get back together sometimes more the than once at the burn. We lasted all the way until the end. Pretty impressive.
The term “expect the unexpected” is on steroids at Burning Man. I was devastated about missing the temple burn until all of the sudden it ended up becoming what lead to one of my favorite moments. Hanging in camp and, as we saw the smoke starting to rise against the sunset, I walked over to our sweetheart of a Hawaiian Israeli camper (different guy) who was standing there watching and wrapped my arms around him while we looked on in silence. Soon FJ joined us in our embrace as I started to describe what I had seen in the temple over the past years and my understanding of it. People who had been through what I had (and so much worse) with loss but also those enduring a terminal illness, who had survived diseases like cancer, rape, refugees, previously living on the street, those who were coping with some kind of other horrible types of abuse and much more. Survivors but also love. Also all kinds of pure love.
His way of processing was to stand there in tear-filled silence as my words connected to him in his way while FJ’s way was to share her own experiences and struggles. Standing there, the three of our arms wrapped around each other, we found a moment of healing and peace. That moment was the grand finale. For me, it was what makes the burn such a big part of my everything.
Now…time to get ready for next year…