just spent 8 days at this crazy art happening in the
Nevada desert. I had hoped to jot down some "bullet
points" while in this high desert social experiment
(think camping in post apocalyptic Vegas with
Salvador Dali and Mad Max) but invariably when it was
cool enough to sleep at night, some distant low-end
house music or tribal percussions or fire dancers or
some Vegas-colored lights on wheels or the laughter
of passer-bys wearing costumes that glowed in the dark
would draw me out of my tent at 3 am and I'd wander
off into the night instead of writing or sleeping.
I drove 8 hours from LA and booked a room in downtown
Reno at the El Dorado Casino (mythical city of gold)
one night before my friends showed up towing the "artcar"
a $200 Toyota converted into a motorboat we painted
blue like Sea World.
I decided a binge on gross material excess before checking
into the rave asylum called Burning Man was just the
contrast I needed. Gorging on creature comforts (hot
shower, fresh towels, minibar, $40 hands of blackjack,
slots noise! glitter, free vodkas, room
service, satellite TV, AC on full blast) before pitching
camp in some lifeless, godforsaken lunar landscape outside
Reno. I'm a big fan of contrast. And excess for that
matter. If you think Reno, Nevada is the middle of nowhere
you are mistaken. Nowhere is actually located 2 hours
drive north of Reno. The sign says Welcome To
We caravaned along the black rock mountain range on
a two-lane highway and I got excited when we spotted
the refugee camp far off along the horizon. At the same
time feeling uneasy. what was I thinking? Where have
I come to vacation? The Sahara? This
must be what ancient Bedouin tent camps looked like,
I thought, except for the RVs and art cars. From a distance,
I had been prepared to write the whole thing off as
a silly freak show and I'm sure some weren't disappointed
by their low expectations, but they were the minority.
We formed a slow-moving line leading to the entrance
and I realized even in the middle of nowhere there's
traffic. High desert winds kicked up clouds of dust.
I cracked the window and was greeted by a Mad Max-looking
BM staffer wearing goggles and a paisley wrap. A 5 mph
speed limit was strictly enforced to minimize clouding
the camps with dust kicked up by moving cars and trucks.
If they'd put the road downwind of camp this dust issue
would have been solved, but this was a right brain operation
all the way. Engineers need not apply. We stopped at
will call to pick our tickets we bought online. The
organizers charge 200 bucks a head to camp
out. Reminded me of Slim Pickens digging for change
in his pockets to pay the toll in the middle of the
old west. It was absurd of course but I went to will-
call and got my pass. $200 pays for toilets and for
the expected 20,000 in attendance, another $300,000
in local permits, which is basically a look-the-other-way
bribe for the ritual of excess called "radical
self expression." Entering the camp, a Walt Whitman
type, sunburned, naked and wild-eyed, flagged us over
but I avoided him. He was a BM staff member. When your
buck naked there's no pockets for sunscreen.
After much debate, we circled the wagons near some
porta johns along The Playa and had pitched tents about
the time someone (me, I think) made a batch of tequila
somethings on ice. We all felt better settled in &
by dusk the atmosphere was charged with carefree delight.
At the moment the sun drops behind the black mountains
campers on The Playa began whooping and howling like
packs of wolves during a full moon. I joined in. After
dark, the camps come alive with the kaleidoscope of
lights and serious low end house music, and tribal drums,
and voices and laughter of people walking and bicycling
around. We drove the boat car around checking out theme
camps and fires and strange lights along The Playa.
"PLAYA" is Spanish for beach. Maybe when dinosaurs
roamed these parts, but now it's an ancient lake bottom
miles from any beach. Or maybe that's just one way of
looking at it. Maybe it IS a beach and the body of water
is on, uh, shore leave. he he he
The Playa has converted into an Alice in Wonderland
rabbit hole one mile in diameter, where you're never
lost because as it turns out, you're always where you're
supposed to be. Except for the shirtless dreadlocks
guy we found shivering on the playa in the middle of
the night. We gave him a coat and drove him back to
To give you a taste, my first night on the Playa, I
and this musician with a blue mohawk in our camp ventured
across the desert sometime after midnight driving our
artcar 5 mph out past the 150 ft neon Burning Boy sculpture
that was the centerpiece of the event, a 1/2 mile to
the 3-story YELLOW rubber ducky where they were serving
cocktails inside the duck bar and playing jazz. A
man in the crowd outside warmed himself by fire and
told me he rode a giant dragon out to see the duck.
He told me he wanted to leave but couldn't because "the
rabbit" was still playing cards. I looked over
past the crowd and saw a 6-foot furry white rabbit dealing
at a blackjack table. And this was before mushrooms.
Later I ate a few buttons hoping to further increase
my traction on the whole experience...this galloping
sense of wonder...inside the rabbit hole
stop staring at stars, keep moving, talking to yourself,
out loud, just saunter past Burning Man patrol on the
lookout for people wandering the desert
sensory overload unlike life in LA, here there's
relief from visual noise, especially advertising. with
no vending allowed, no corporate sponsorship, and no
tv, no one is selling at you. Instead of blocking everything
out you want to see as much as possible
surprised by my thoughts
begin to recognize i was feeling sharing the
same fleeting, unique, ritualistic, paganistic experience
with many strangers.
This feeling would gain on me and last the week
High Noon, day 2. still tripping... 107 degrees...
driving home slow across the Playa 5 mph in my artcar,
a dragon fly pulls up and keeps me company for the drive.
He seemed to recognize me as one of his own. Who are
you, I asked, Carlos Castaneda? No, just some guy from
last year's Burning Man who ate peyote and never left
the Playa......(bug's voice) "help me....."
pick up pretty girl in the artcar. where you going?,
nowhere, can i go, she hops in,
later we run out of gas and leave the boat. 23 dollar
bottle of black label for a 1 dollar gallon of gas,
seems like a good trade at the time. turns out it wasn't
out of gas.
abandon the artcar, and she suggests we visit the Genital
Portrait camp. They laminate your genital portrait to
wear around your neck like i.d.
by morning temperatures jump into the 90s, and the
cooler of melted ice sullied by dirty hands, converts
nicely into a bird bath for my dirty tired feet and
various minor injuries.
apparently everyone's got liquor and mushrooms, even
good looking blondes
unifying characteristics of the experience: attitude,
generosity of spirit, animal instincts, enthusiasm, BURN
transparency of the Event Organizers is a good thing
I saw maybe 10 sheriffs in 8 days. As many in one night
where i live off sunset strip.
BM rules: 5 mph, leave no trace, be discreet, no vending,
porta-john policy, no corporate sponsor, no cars on
the Playa except art cars. pillars of an experimental
imaginary society built on tent poles. i was admonished
by friends for Lakers t- shirt. "no corporate sponsors"
But i like this shirt! I was at this game when they
won the 2000 western conference title beating Portland
in game 7! took it off and went shirtless the for most
of the trip. felt good. sun, dust, water truck, dancing
in rave, fire.
4 am dance party i see walking home naked girl
dancing. I approach. "How happy are you?"
i tell her. "Aren't you a bit overdressed?",
she asks me. I toss my ski vest to dance then go pass
out on my sleeping bag.
Having opinions is unwelcome, I discovered, whereas
forming opinions is excellent fun and appreciated by
all. Politics are verboten. enforcing this unwritten
code, i politely sent the greenpeace huckster packing.
time for my iced soy chai tea and a nap.
they said no cameras but everyone was snapping digital
images and videotaping
the burn. event doesn't translate easily to stills.
stills turn experience to wood. can't capture sound,
wind, vibes, music, lasers, lights, voices, laughter,
flames, movement, dance, hallucinatory sensations.
camping near the porta johns is a bonus until the wind
recycle! the only fascist sentiment w/in the
camps. That and BURN IT!
7 am prom queens wearing fur coats and aprons
names what did THEY matter out here? I am The
Wizard and I live on the corner of Abyss and 240 degrees.
meet us at the Rubber Ducky after midnight for drinks
and jazz. great! we'll be there
nowhere to be... despite brochure full of daily events
radical self expression but no violence, mean
people, lawbreaking, bestiality, no bottle rockets,
cannibalism, hostile takeovers, no fightclubs, no satanic
rituals... basically PG-13 rated radical self expression
Take viagra and walk around naked. THERES an
NC-17 for you.
friday a couple moved in beside our camp like a toyota
commetrcial and pitched camp with great care and efficiency.
they had pressed khakis, matching moutain bikes, a new
SUV, and the weekend to checkout some freaks and the
big burn. at dusk i overheard the woman proclaim "ok,
i'm ready for a beer." Meanwhile i was in my tent
having visions of the sky kissing the earth outside
my tent door....like the bear cub shrooming in that
movie "THE BEAR." they left camp the following
night soon after the burn.
Meteorman. like Thor (or Nicola Tesla), Meteorman hurls
lightning tentacles from the top of his Ryder Truck.
30,000 watts. Excellent fun. But add a few amps and
that guy's toast.
sublime quiet beauty looking at the heavens from high
desert (altitude: 4000 ft)
one morning most of us were just getting up and milling
about for food and water, when an edie brickell-style
airhead wearing a wife beater, pink see-through shades
and a wrap swept into our camp chill area, curled up
on some pillows and wouldn't stop talking about her
ex-boyfriend, about reclaiming her own life, and maybe
sleeping around this week. (I learned later she was
a pretty good singer but once someone annoys you it
doesn't matter how good they sing.) I'd been sitting
quietly in my beach chair after a bowl of granola sipping
cold beer, taking in the shade, thinking about as little
as possible, conserving my energy for my next adventure
but with her every word polluting my brain, i wanted
to opena panel & remove her batteries... however
feeling charitable, I tried to imagine she was
still tripping from last night on acid, or magic mushrooms,
or ecstasy, or drunk even, and
Deciding to escape simply hopped on my beach
cruiser and went for a ride around the camp. Rode to
the big carnival tent at center camp and stretched out
on dirty rug and pillow cushion. Poetry readings. Flute
player. Jugglers. Yoga. Tennis foursome from the Rich
and Famous Theme camp. Nice touch.
Later I chased a water tanker on my bike but was too
late to get drenched for my morning shower, so I rode
beyond the perimeter as fast as i could
peddle until the camps were far away behind me. i skidded
to a stop and the Silence was alarming. The winds had
died. It was eerie. Horse latitude eerie. I never felt
so close to the earth, to early man, the formation of
life, and the certainty of death. I stepped off my bike
and removed my sombrero and walked barefoot around this
ancient lake bed turned, with time and scorching heat,
into alkaline powder. Surprising how good it is to hear
the earth crunching under my feet...feet i hardly recognized
all covered in powdery white film.
alkaline base desert floor....really? then let's plug
the refrigerator into the dirt
propane heads blowing flames out of gas tanks, must
love the musk..... Propane by ralph lauren?
I veer off toward fire and drums and topless dancers
lost is the ultimate destination
synchronicity out here- connnections, think it, and
5 am hallucinations are glowing passer-bys walking
past our camp or is my tent moving through space?
a girlfriend said take lots of condoms but i didn't
get laid. need to adjust my standards next time, like
the fed chairman lowering the rate.
Latin friend broke up with girlfriend one night and
hated the world and called this whole event full of
fake americans. advised him to reserve judgment while
I go take a fake american piss. he got back together
with her the next morning. I declare myself camp counselor
1 am girls jumping from moving boats on the Playa.
Falls under heading of "bad idea." Even the
shamans of early man took a beating from the learning
3 am man and woman naked freestyle wrestling at intersection
of 105 degrees and midship. crazy shit.
4 am raid on our camp by friends... fuck you get up!...flashlights
inside my tent... like germany in the 30s but cartoon
characters instead of Nazis
buddy crashed artcar into someone's camp, passed out
in someone's tent
later, hey, that's our car!
BURNING MAN: $500,000 in proceeds and no trash disposal
girls talking like forest nymphs
no idea what people do back home, never really came
up in 8 days
peter pan syndrome, timothy leary aftershocks
super cool youth a little bit uncomfortable to hang
around, like maybe it's uncool to ask what they do back
home, talk about work, politics, news, movies, books
but i sense a degree of cultural literacy they don't
teach you in the university college of knowledge. they
wake and bake, prefer soy chai tea to coffee, mismatching
thrift clothes to solids, mohawks, purple hair, blue
hair, yoga, music, spirituality... turns out, a welcome
change from my everyday.
did you use the condoms?
what's the hurry?
you drink too much, this is the best opportunity
THE VISION: of an exceptionally beautiful brunette
crossing The Playa barefoot and topless at 10 am, 100
degrees out, holding a pillow against her
naked breasts. I circle back in the artcar and offer
chilled champagne, no words just a smile both ways,
I take a snapshot, and we part ways. This is the kind
of place where if you want a ride you nod and jump on
and since she didn't ask I didn't offer, out of respect
for her solitude. I'll never forget her as long as I
live, I think to myself, and crank up Led Zeppelin's
Dazed & Confused....then head off to pick up my
friends across the Playa...if only i can remember where
i left them..... 240 degrees and Abyss....?....
Big art, size and scale matters on the Playa, especially
#1 - BURN IT (garbage, dirty clothes, bad relationships,
breathed a pound of playa dust up my nose
painting with fire
fire entertains, warms, lights, dances, cooks, burns
20,000 heathens watch the Temple burn rain of
fire, lovely until her hair's on fire!
no ethnic diversity. brothers and sisters are too smart
to drive 12 hours to camp in 100 degree heat. which
explains the absence of serious rap hip hop R&B
acceptance. seeing. prejudice is a turnoff. judgment
is a fart in the tent. here the only offense is not
galloping sense of paganism
tequila, flutes, drums, firedancers
hike home, tired feet from dancing all night, barechested,
sun beating down
burning man, sheriffs, "must maintain"
sunglasses, without them a nuclear blast? me, narrating
my adventure out loud, blend in, respect silence
steel toed chippewa boots grow heavy at 5 am, stumble
toward our camp, but spot a rave still going so i go
inside, dark, moist, grass, waterfall, lie down on 6
woman kisses me on forehead
horrific visit to porta john. oh, the humanity...
8 am- wake up pouring sweat, inside tent i could roast
wet down my chest with bottle of arrowhead.
water, must have water
going out, get dressed, jeans, boots, ski vest, no costume
naked margarita happy hour
percussion, fire dancers, veer off
shirt off, black lights
Meteorman's back, in a bee suit, making lightning on
top of step van, to heavy metal!
green percussion band, topless fire dancers!!
exit trip over laces
next day, swollen thumb, shoulder, elbow. i tripped
over my beach chair last night. oh right. i forgot.
I came for 4 days and stayed 8.
Report Filed by
Five-O Correspondent "The Bear"
|Mere hours later
"The Bear" was back at his desk performing executive
functions in Los Angeles.
|© 2002 Hollywood Five-O,
Inc. All Rights Reserved.