While usually being someone who lives in the moment, immediacy is at the same time the hardest of the ten principles for me. Specifically in regard to taking pictures and notes for memories. Besides the odd way my brain processes those things (hence this blog), it’s such a big experience for most of us that the first day or two can feel like a different lifetime just a few days later, just like travel.
Monday was the first official full day of the burn and I was excited albeit already run down. Once again, just like the norm of the rest of my travel. Venessa, my awesome pal from the previous burn who had also met up with me in Costa Rica for their “burn” found me later in the day, first hanging at Spanky’s and then ditching her man to wander and adventure all night. Staying out until just before dawn with her rallying my tired-ass so we could get our quality time together (yay!), Jewels found me in the hot and dry early afternoon the next day, unzipping my little ill-equipped but colorful tent to say hello. Still half-drunk, the effort made me feel bad about being so frustrated with her on the ride in. I wanted to be better than that.
With a quick and hazy hello and goodbye, I ascended into what was to be my crash day of the week after one or two hair-of-the-dog PBRs. My body was to break down four times over the burn, actually, as I was also getting a cold that must have come with me given that there’s hardly any germs out there.
In a hazy daze, I barbacked a lot for a few days, often with Crash bartending, and hung around camp. Sitting under the large circus-like tent structure during the intro speech of Admiral Painjoy when the time came, the owner and faithful lead of our amazing camp, I struggled to hold onto what he was saying. Especially over the dazed and grateful emotions of being there as a part of Spanky’s, one of the first camps I had so loved on my first burn back in 2015. I also failed to notice (more like be conscious for) the morning ritual of the blasting song, Sheena Easton’s Morning Train (English followed by French editions) and the accompanying dance party to tribute the morning before heading back to bed. Or for some, to head to bed for the first time.
It was something that had been adopted from another camp, which made me love it even more as that was the way the burn was built. It was one of those great things that I didn’t notice at first but creeped in a little more every day until the light bulb clicked and it became a celebration of starting the day that will forever be important to me both as a wakeup and a song. Kind of like howling at the sunset. Just one of those epic playa traditions.
Planning on, well, anything at the burn is almost a joke. So much unexpected amazingness happens at just about every turn that it tends to be more realistic to set a destination just to have a general direction while knowing full well that there’s a very good chance of ending up in something else even more epic along the way. My only exception for previous years had been bartending during the Irish music session at my first camp, Twisted Swan. Ironically, one I was to miss for 2018 as lower-key energy handicapped me from making any direct commitments. I did still manage to actually visit twice along with making it for visits to my two previous camps. One of the three times doing that at Leopard Martini Lounge being when I made it out on Edge’s art car to see a parody of Daft Punk at the trash fence, the second to be when Vanessa was bartending for their big party of the week and the third being to just sit around on fold out chairs for a low-key hang. I had even managed to find my old friend, Brandi, four times. She blew me off most of the time, which of course upset me, but did provide a good reminder (after taking a minute to pout) that the burn is not a place for expectations. Bla, bla, bla Buddhist bullshit.
With playa boogers that tended to turn it into the biggest nose-picking week of the year and a lot of sweaty under-boob thanks to being slouched and at least half-naked over a bike on those hot desert days, I was elated when finding a huge and quite awesome camp adorned with turquoise and grey draped overhangs along a framework of misters just down the street from Spanky’s. Gifting alcohol slushies and live classical music that I hoped in vain would one day include a lovely little lady from my camp who had been playing around the playa with a full orchestra, I was in heaven. Grateful for relief from the heat and also scolding myself for not having found it earlier, I made note to self (I’m sure not for the first time) to scout the neighborhood early on in future burns to see which camps were around for close access to relief, fun and debauchery.
While not a fan of the burn’s EDM music, by far the strongest influence of those offered, many other types that I did like could be found in the nooks and crannies. Case in point, the aforementioned classical and unexpected moments such as riding up upon a man adorned in a pegasus hat and yogi pants while singing opera at a skill level that made me think he must be professional. One of those surprise sidetracked moments on my way to get glow-in-the-dark henna Wednesday afternoon. An outing that also included a sunset wedding on top of a motorhome and new friends who came back to Spanky’s a few hours later.
Thursday was usually my crash day but I had already got that out of the way so my day was opened up to doing something on my burner bucket list a bit to the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of staying up all night to see the mythical sunrise, I woke up an hour before in order to have the experience sober and with (still a very small amount of) sleep. Biking out to the dimly-lit temple in the dark chill of that desert night, I walked around looking at the hand-written letters and other tributes hung in the structure that were often made out to recently deceased loved ones (the doggo ones got me the most), observed the people in there and checked in with what was happening to me at that moment in the most spiritual place of my universe. Outside was more musicians playing impromptu, this time in the style of soft singer-songwriter, and watched someone dressed as a Chinese Death Warrior walking around while stopping to stare at the rising sun.
Biking farther into deep playa in a semi-agro-semi-curious search of the sound camp that had been shaking the entire city during all hours, I stopped first when stumbling upon a sunrise wedding and then continued on, finding it with what looked like spaceships outside and a kind of meditative chanting session beginning inside. From there I headed back to camp for the attempt of a nap, stopping along the way to check out the man and other art.
Later was the Swan’s music session where I experienced one of the most impactful moments for the year when watching a woman who appeared to be from Ireland or Scotland and was emotionally being reminded of some kind of big memory. It was fun to be able to be in the middle of the music instead of staring at the backs of others while bartending but it wasn’t so fun to bust out about half way through with an allergic reaction to all the dust that was being kicked up directly into my face thanks to the rugs of previous years being MIA during the obligatory jig-dancing and stomping with the music. Que a Benadryl daze and the third of the four times my body went down.
On what I’m not sure was that night or one of the two surrounding, I grouchily hoofed it to Go the Fuck to Sleep, Aaron and Brigit’s camp, after letting someone talk me into a different camp visit that made me miss an art-car ride that I had tried to chase down five minutes too late. Thanks to a flat tire on my bike, personal transportation had been grounded for the evening, leaving me on foot. Once making it and after hanging for a bit, our old pal Moose joined us in the special state we had opted to participate in for a designated night of playa wander. What itty-bitty-teenie-weenie little bit of it we could cover before our feet and backs started to hurt at least. We even managed to find some square dancing that Moose and I participated in (while Aaron grumbled) and live Bluegrass. Hurray for some of my kind of music/NOT EDM!
A couple nights later was the grand finale. Hopping on an art car that was a magic carpet to make our way out for the burning of the man, that huge and epic celebration full of lights and fire, it for some reason took on my spiritual highlight for the week. Even above the temple burn. When that happened the next night, after being pleasantly surprised by running into a woman also camping with us whom I had had a special relationship with years before when meeting at the event in 2013 that had first introduced me to the burn, I managed to hop onto a different art car that was a bar. As I still wasn’t fully recovered from heat exhaustion I got earlier in the day, not being fully there in head or spirit could explain why the man burning had more of an emotional impact for the year.
As was customary, I had made it to the Orgy Dome (don’t be a prude) after the man burned the night before with a great fella from my camp and a lovely couple from the UK who I had met at glow-in-the-dark body painting and hung with a couple times since. The problem was that we hadn’t made it there until the wee hours and had stayed until almost dawn before starting to break down camp just a couple hours after finally making it to bed. So yeah. Cue heat exhaustion. The grand finale of my body rebelling against such harsh conditions right after India.
Raking the dust to check for moop out there in the blazing sun where our large camp had been set up, I had eventually gotten dizzy and out of it enough to find a camp that was offering different flavor teas and set up to chill, as the one with misters I loved so much had already been broken down. Not feeling much recovery until the sun went down and even after the temple burn, I was still at half-mast for the last night’s epic party at what was left of Spanky’s. A great time complete with jump ropes of fire, I did manage to stay out long enough to want to be there as an end to my annual time on the playa for years to come.
With the odd feeling of a bubble of magic that had burst as our utopian city said goodbye the next day, for once I wasn’t bummed when reuniting with Mia and the crew to take off. I hadn’t known it would make such a difference when she had set it up before leaving San Diego but we were headed to one last burner escapade and it was already making all the difference. The adventure wasn’t over. We were off to Reno…
Brigit’s Cougar Camp where young fellas (though everyone tends to jump in) shake it for a cookie. ?