00 Satellite's View
Theme : Psyche
Favorite : Passage
Second : Rubber Horses
For my my other Burning Man stories...
(This was written back in 2005. A few of you read it in email. For all the rest, this post is a promised of retro freshness just in time to get you in the mood for another mating with the dust. See you on the playa.)
Expect the Unexpected
After three years at Burning Man, I've gained some confidence in what to expect on the playa. After living through wind storms, 100 degree heat and stolen art, I realize there CAN be a down-side. The trick is to mitigate the problems so you can enjoy the event. Think of it as getting the tools to not only survive, but thrive in this strange serendipitous environment.
Going Hard Core
This is the year I went hard core. You didn't think the problems of 2004 would put me off, did you? As a matter of fact I set out to address them in 2005. Well, at least the ones I could do something about. As for stolen art, as I've said, I found acceptance. Shit happens, I move on.
The weather and my leg injury were my biggest challenges last year. These were both problems I could do something about this year.
As for injury, the key is simply being careful. OK, THAT injury was from dumping my dirt bike a few days before the event. It had nothing to do with Burning Man. But it DID make me realize how important it is to be in good shape when you get to the playa. You need all your resources for the survival part. A simple accident before hand, or during, will really slow you down. This year I wanted to be in good shape so I took extra care during the weeks leading up, and also out on the playa.
By definition, Burning Man is one unfamiliar activity after another. From sawing PVC, to loading poles on top of a motor-home, to setting up a shade structure, you are involved in motions and processes which are new and dangerous. Safety starts the month BEFORE. Focus on planning. Measure twice, cut once - carefully. Take your time. Now on to the weather. Here was something else I could control, at least to some degree.
If you read 2004's story (not yet posted), you'll know the weather on the playa started with hundred degree temperatures followed by two days of 40 MPH winds. After that it was beautiful. But during those three days I mostly stayed in my car.
During the hottest times there was light wind with almost no dust. I spent the afternoon in my SUV with the motor and air conditioning running. To be honest, I was still recovering from my injured leg and didn't feel very well. Later in the week I pulled the stitches out, but at first I was trying to keep my stress down.
When the wind started, I tightened all the ropes on my shade structure and again cocooned in my car for another 48 hours. Yes I got out to go to the bathroom now and then but the wind and dust were so bad there was little else to do except sit in the car and read.
I even had to do food prep in the car because opening the ice chest would coat anything wet in a thin layer of instant mud. I got fast at grabbing stuff from my food boxes and throwing it in the car as needed.
In 2003 I had stayed with Dave in his motor-home which provided a nice break from the minor weather problems. I really missed that motor-home in 2004. I needed my own for 2005. Even with last year's problems I was still having a great time and so was fully committed to future Burns. I might as well invest in some primo playa survival gear - a motor-home.
So last spring I started watching the papers. I eventually found a 30 foot 1987 Suncrest with only 25,000 miles and everything functional. At a cost of $8200 I'd only need to use it for three Burns to break even compared to renting. I got it early in the summer and took my boys to Zion and Grand Canyon as a shake down cruise. We had a great trip. Everything went well. This should improve my whole experience. And it did.
No matter what you camp in, a tent, a car, a trailer or other type of RV, it will get hot in the direct sun. Even with a motor-home, it would help to have some kind of shade structure. RV air conditioners in the direct sun are not as effective.
Besides, with the Zen Hammock gone, I needed a new project or some way to contribute on the playa. To be honest, I'd also become intrigued with building a temporary structure on the playa.
And finally, I'd been camping with the International Burn Hostel for the last two years. They could always use more shade. Maybe I could combine these two needs and produce a totally new kind of shade structure - a really BIG one.
For me the challenge, the thing I wanted to express was how much shade I could create with as little material as possible, and as light as possible. But like I said, I wanted it to be BIG! I was thinking 50 feet high and 100 by a 100 foot base. Yes, I know. But lots of Burning Man ideas start out extreme.
I enjoyed working with PVC on the hammock project. Perhaps I could scale up. I even thought about another free-flying fabric for this shade but couldn't think of a good way to manage it among all the other near-by vehicles. No, this would have to be a fairly rigid fabric.
Once I started calculating, I backed the size down to a 50 foot base requiring a series of 80' PVC arches covered with some kind of fabric forming a large Quonset hut like structure.
I started tests with 2 inch diameter PVC, but at 80 feet long, it was like spaghetti flopping around. I backed off again to a 60' arch and upgraded the PVC to 2.5 inches. It still wasn't rigid enough. I doubled the thickness of the PVC to "Schedule 40" grade and it finally started getting rigid. I also used four foot internal "link" PVC sections to brace the connection between the three 20 foot arch pieces. I'd learned this trick from the Hammock design. It seem to take the stress well.I used internal duct tape to form a stop so the link wouldn't shift around.
There was also a very important trick to my design. If this PVC could flex sideways, the arch held almost no weight at all. It would simply fold into an "S" under stress. But if I rigged the arch with ropes at 90 degrees to hold the PVC in a plane, it became dramatically stronger.
Properly rigged, a single arch would almost hold my weight and I planned for the fabric to be MUCH lighter than me per rib section. This would do the trick - just barely. But that was the idea. I had my rib design.
02 Rib Tests
Tyvekian Radiation Shield
In walking the isles at Lowe's Building Supply, I also discovered an interesting material. I'd seen it used for shipping envelopes which WOULD NOT TEAR. That's the kind of thing needed in playa storms. It's called Tyvek and is used to wrap houses before the siding goes on. It was VERY light and VERY strong even if more expensive than tarps. Maybe it would last multiple years. I decided to eat the extra cost and give it a try.
The trick would be attaching it to the PVC. I decided if I tapped it to the PVC and then rolled the pipe a couple of turns, the force would be nicely distributed and probably hold against the nasty winds on the playa. I would do the same with some smaller PVC pipes along the sides.
This approach would require that I stage the whole structure flat on the ground then raise each arch in turn and set it in place. Since we would only have to lift one arch at a time, I didn't think this would be a problem. Well, at least as long as it wasn't too windy.
To improve the odds of success, it's best to do as much prep as possible before getting out to the playa. A full scale test would have been best but I didn't have anywhere to stage the entire structure. My drive-way was WAY too small and I couldn't drive posts into a parking lot. As it was, I barely had room to test the ribs at my house. The final test would have to wait for the playa - big mistake. If there's any way at all, TEST your projects as much as possible before you go out.
Short of a full scale test, there was other prep I could get done early. I swept a parking lot and laid out six 10 foot by 50 sections of Tyvek then taped them together with Tyvek tape. This gave me a piece of fabric 60 feet long by 50 feet wide covering 3000 square feet. It was bigger than I had imagined. But again, that was the idea.
Next I got 14 each of five foot steel fence post and attached a short length of steel chain to each flange at the bottom. Once these posts were driven into the playa, these chains would provide an "anchor" for attaching ropes. I also bought re-bar to anchor the end ropes.
By the time I got done, I'd spent over $1400 but I was hoping to use it for more than one year. Dave reimburse some of my cost and helped me with the project.
The finished structure would have a footprint of 38 by 60 feet and be nineteen feet high at the top of the arch. I'd planned room for three motor-homes plus lots of tents. At least that was the theory.
03 Tyvek Prep (notice Dave at the far end)
Thursday August 25,2005
Burning Man prep is a stressful experience. There's a lot of cross-checking and last minute additions to the supply boxes.
It was time to load up. The process went well. The PVC went on the roof of the motor-home, the Tyvek I put inside. Then we loaded up all the rest of the gear, food and supplies. I'd been stacking stuff out for weeks. When you can go through the house but you can't find anything else to load, you're done. Everything was in. It was time to go.
After a final gas-up in Fernly, we headed north into the desert. I could almost relax. I either had it packed or I didn't. It was too late to worry about it now.
Late at night the desert gets peaceful - no more headlights anywhere - just blackness. Then maybe a single car that took minutes to zoom past. More cars were going out than coming back. That was to be expected.
We were passed several times. Then the taillights would dim and disappear and it was dark again. I didn't realize how tired I was until I got on the road. Falling asleep on this highway causes a lot of accidents, but mostly for those leaving. An fell asleep right away. I was relaxed but but still very awake. It takes a while to burn off the tension.
04 Virgin Playa
Friday August 26,2005
We got there after midnight hoping to get right in. We even brought two boxes of fresh doughnuts to put the gate crew in a good mood. But the guy who was supposed to direct us to our camp-site had passed out from partying too much. We would have to wait till morning. We just moved the stuff off the bed and quickly fell asleep.
At dawn I awoke to find just a little wind. This was not a good sign. If there's calm on the playa it's usually at dawn and dusk. I'd come out early to get the structure up before the wind and everyone else arrived.
We finally found our guide and got to our spot in what was about to become a city. There were a surprising number of people here already, but far more to come.
05 Bad Santa
By the time we got unloaded, it was already windy. We would have to wait. We could always work on our tan as Bad Santa was doing. He got his name because of his paddle. This was a Santa who didn't care if you were bad or not. He paddled everyone. IF he got the chance.
Here was the deal. Bad Santa would walk around with his paddle and a smile. He would usually ask if you deserved a swat or not. If you said yes - wrong answer. And if you said you'd been good, he'd ask if you wanted a swat to stay that way.
Remember when you were a kid and you got a swat from your parents? The disapproval was the worst part. Not with Santa. The swat was what hurt. A LOT! And he enjoyed it far too much. Now when I see a jolly man in a white beard, I avoid discussing my behavior.
Because of the wind delay, we got the bikes out and went for a ride. Lots of things were under construction. Later in the week we would figure out their purpose.
07 Temple Construction
08 Tape and Spackle
09 Ready for Head
10 Ass Detail
12 Pre-Burn Center Camp
13 Shield Prep
It was late morning before I got a chance to lay out the structure. I used the potties as a wind break. My plan was to rig it laying on it's back on the ground, then fold it and flip it over. This took more time than I'd planned and wasn't done until late afternoon. By then it was even windier. We would have to wait until dawn to put it up. Or so we hoped.
The problem was really one of scale. Even the PVC frame laying on it's back was huge - 60' x 60' feet. It would take LOTS of volunteers to move it around and get it in the air. The frame would have been bad enough, but we first attached 3000 square feet of "sail". This was our biggest mistake. ANY wind at all made ground handling impossible.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...
After the Friday fiasco, we tried at dawn on Saturday, but there was even too much wind for prep. Finally in late afternoon the wind began to die down. We got about 20 people together and gave it a try.
There was another problem. It was too big and floppy to flip over. I had hoped to squeeze it into a long diamond shape to make it easier to turn over, but it was too ridged to flip, and too floppy to stand on it's own, yet also too heavy and awkward to strong arm in any way. Finally we cut the side rigging so it would fold up. This allowed us to get it into position.
Next, my plan was to put one arch at a time on top of the motor-home then get it placed on the fence posts. The problem at this point was too many hands and not enough communications. It was like herding cats. Various groups were going in different directions. Once it was in the air, you couldn't see (or talk to) those holding the other side. I was running back and forth yelling out instructions but the size was working against me. Half the people were under Tyvek at any given time.
All of a sudden, the Tyvek caught on one of the fence posts and tore a six foot hole in one side. I would worry about that later. I kept trying to yell the first arch into position from the top of the motor-home. My effort was futile.
At the same time, a small group got some red duct-tape and began repairing the rip. Somebody yelled back and we had to hold for them to finish. It was quicker to just let them fix it. I sat and waited. By the time the repairs were done, the wind was coming back up and we had to get the rib off the motor-home to keep it from being blown away. Oh well. Another day gone.
14 Tyvek Monster
On Sunday morning we cut the Tyvek off the frame and put the ribs up on their own. This worked well. It gave me hope. Then the wind picked up. We waited until evening.
15 A New Plan
The wind started to die off, but quickly came up again. It was another abort. At least for the night. We also had problems with all the ropes not in the proper locations. We laid the Tyvek back on the ground and took another break. To be honest, we hadn't even gotten close. This was a very frustrating process. Some things are easier to imagine than to actually do.
We weren't the only ones having problems. In the next camp over, a 35 foot metal "man" had blown over while they were trying to put it up. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the process and they got it up later.
Monday morning as also windy. I won't bore you with all the details. We'd made multiple attempts and multiple failures over the next several days. There were various versions of re-rigging between windstorms and white-outs.
Tuesday morning the Tyvek was still laying on the ground. It had been four days. Most of our volunteers now went the other way when they thought a "try" was eminent. To be honest that helped some. The ones who stayed had a better idea of how it was supposed to work. We no longer had too many hands.
Finally we decided to cut the Tyvek in half to make it more manageable. This did the trick. The calm held for almost an hour. We pulled the Tyvek into place with ropes from the top of the motor-home.
16 Partial Success
FINALLY!... half of it was up and functional. We spent the rest of the day rigging ropes and making it stable. The Tyvek made a strange metallic sound in the wind but other than that, it was fine. At last we had a shield against the solar radiation. We left the other bare ribs up just in case we got a chance to rig the rest. But we never did.
17 Good Enough
Unfortunately, by this time most of the campers had arrived and already set up tents in other areas. I guess that was fine. We only had half the room I'd planned anyway. We moved the motor-homes into position and set up camp. I decided to leave the structure the way it was. It was working - well, half-assed at least. I had expressed my idea. It had taken a LOT more work than I intended. I could think about the problems later. It was well past time to focus on the rest of Burning Man.
18 Teeter Totter
Monday August 29,2005
Not all of my time during those four days was spent working on the structure. Usually winds made it impossible to work. I used this time to sleep and recover from the effort. I also had time to wander around and watch the rest of the city go up. Lots of other things were happening. I got to witness a few.
After the ribs were up, other camps filled in around the sides. One of these campers was SoyBoy from last year. He had picked a particularly bad place to put his tent - right in the middle of the walk-way. I overheard one of the camp construction guys say say, P-C-R-K. I ask him to clarify - so he did, "Parasitic Clueless Rich Kids".
My conclusion from the year before had been given a name. Even though I had to agree with the label, SoyBoy DID have his good points. Does demanding count? Stuff DID happen around him. Some of it MUST have been good. But I never did get to taste any his art so I can't actually vouch for his artistic expression.
19 Threatening Ride
Later that day we had a pretty good wind storm and a couple of tents blew away. I moved the motor-home to protect the tents. It was the least I could do for our camp considering the failure of my structure.
When the wind died down we did a playa ride. One of the things we discovered was this 108 foot ladder standing straight up in the air with guy wires holding it in place. It looked and felt edgy. You could climb up as far as you were comfortable. Over 400 made it to the top. A couple were on it now. I planned to come back later when they got down. But when I returned someone had bumped it with an art car and bent the base. It was now just a symbol, no more to be climbed.
Another impressive piece called Passages, was what looked to be a forty foot high mother and shorter child walking across the playa. It was made of metal gears, slices of pipe, I-beams and chain welded into place. The pieces were small enough to give a rounded appearance - VERY nice work. Later in the week, the "footprints" behind these Goddesses were lit on fire for a beautiful effect.
At sunset, a couple who met in our camp decided to get "married". These instant weddings are common and only last for the week. It was a nice presentation - very serious. You would have thought they had known each other for years.
21 Just Married
Another cute detail I remember this evening was at a pot-luck. There was this big bowl of salad with a small sign in front saying, "This salad is NOT organic". Only at Burning Man would there be an ASSUMPTION of organic. Well, maybe not, but it still struck me as funny - sort of like a warning about toxic salad. It tasted fine to me, organic or not.
Tuesday August 30,2005
After spending most of the day rigging the structure, I was tired but also glad to have it functional. It was time to take it easy.
We sat around camp relaxing and talking to the others. At an International Burner's Hostel, almost everyone is from far away. It's very interesting to compare notes. Australia, New Zealand, Israel, England, Germany and so many other places I can't remember.
Later, An and I walked out to the Esplanade and into Club Verboten where we'd been the year before. They were having Beatles night and it was just what I needed. The perfect chill spot on a beautiful evening.
While we were there the Mini-Man came by and shook hands. Mini-Man is a man puppet which is a twelve foot high replica of the "Man" strapped to the back of the puppet master who has leg, knee arm and head controls. The master is in black and Mini-Man was lit up like the real man. It was an amazing piece of art and one created in Reno by a guy I'd met named Damian (Jellyfish). (As it turned out, I would get to know Damian better in a few months. Same for the owners of Club Verboten.)
Another wonderful art form I made a note about that night was one of the simplest yet most effective I've EVER seen on the playa - before or since. It was another "man" puppet with the master also in a black suit. But this "man" was simply made of long thin plastic light sticks. The master broke them and clipped them on to his arms and legs in such a way that when he walked in the dark these light sticks would bend in the most comical ways. This Micro-Man produced a very strange animated effect. It was like a living cartoon - quite vivid. When I realized how simple it was to make, I was even more impressed. Very Zen. Wish I'd gotten a picture, but like many things at Burning Man it would take a movie to capture the feel - maybe. Sometimes you just have to be there.
After some cookies at another camp and a walk out to the man, we headed back. I was more than ready for rest. My structure was done. Tomorrow would be all about art.
22 The Man
Wednesday August 31,2005
Wednesday morning felt very liberating. I didn't have to struggle with the structure. OK, later in the morning I DID tune the rigging a bit to make it stronger against the wind but the hard part was done. I went for a bike ride at sunrise as has become my custom.
Later in the morning Fred (Hagy), our camp leader showed up and took his place under the Tyvekian Radiation Shield. We now had three motor-homes in a "C" shape with a common area in the middle. I finally felt settled.
Next I spent time getting some of my costumes out and prepping them. Up until then I mostly wore my work clothes just to be ready work in case the wind died down. Now I could switch into party mode.
That afternoon An and I went to the Human Carcass Wash. She was a bit skitterish about getting touched, but decided to try anyway. As a guy, I'm up for almost anything, but this did violate some primal social boundaries.
Here's how it works : You take off your clothes and get in line. When your turn comes you step into a plastic tray and people on both sides spray you from water bottles. As you step into the next tray, you explain your limits of touching as two more people begin rubbing you down with this soapy water. As you step into the next tray, you get sprayed with fresh water as a rinse and more rubbing. Then you join the crew and wash a few others.
This whole process is definitely an interesting experience. It's hard to relax and let a stranger wash you. But it was easier once you were doing the rubbing. Things like this make you question where our customs come from. Are they absolute? Such boundaries often feel like it at the time. But if you start challenging them, thing get easier. It makes you wonder how these ideas get started. Here's an example...
Lick Your Plate
Drink Your Dishwater
Leave No Trace
The lines above grew out of a discussion that spans several months and conversations with different people. It started back at my house one afternoon when my boys were over watching a movie. Pepsi, pizza and wings were part of the process.
When my youngest son finished the last wing, he tossed the bones in the trash and began licking the plate. My first reaction was to feel a bit embarrassed for him. I told him to put down the plate and I'd make him some more. He explained he didn't want any more, but licking the plate was the best part. I let him continue in the spirit of Radical Self Expression.
Then I wondered about my visceral reaction - like the one from getting washed. Was it simply an emotional reflex to a (in this case) visual stimulus? Did the way we finished dinner really matter? This was definitely Burning Man material. It required more investigation. I started thinking of other similar situations.
I grew up mostly with my grandparents. My grandfather was a rather rough and direct kind of guy. He had worked the coal mines of Kentucky and much of his life ran a saw mill cutting ties for the mines. He was a man of few words, sometimes none at all.
If you asked him a question he would take his time responding. I soon understood this was to give me a chance to figure out the answer for myself. He'd watch me to see when I figured it out. If I didn't, he'd usually answer. But sometimes he wouldn't. Then I'd have to probe. With fewer words, his deeds took on more significance. Just his nature.
I remember he often asked my grandmother for a glass of "sweet" milk and cornbread in the evening. It was just regular milk as far as I could tell. As opposed to sour? Or maybe "sweet" reflected fat content. He never explained.
He would break up the cornbread, dropping it in the milk and then proceed to eat it with a spoon. This was something any grandfather might do, especially a coal miner - it was no big deal.
But after he was done, he'd run a small amount of water in the glass and swish it around. Then he'd drink the mess. As a kid, this grossed me out. So I asked him why? He just looked at me. He always rinsed and drank the decreasing mess twice. When he was done the glass was apparently clean. I just figured it was his way of doing the dishes. But let's move on.
At the next Burning Man pot-luck I finished dinner by licking my plate as my son had taught me. I was looking for a reaction. Dave and An were there as well as others.
At first I got laughs, then An asked if I wanted more to eat. That was it - the same thing I said to my son. Licking our plate culturally indicates we're still hungry. Or does this go deeper?
My guess is, it may even cross cultures and go into our common history. But was it still a valid response in this age of plenty? What were the pros and cons of this behavior?
An said I was just trying to get attention, which IS typical. But I explained about my son and also my grandfather. Dave said my grandfather had been through the depression and was just being efficient. He said his mother back in Prague did the same thing with other foods - nothing was wasted by this generation - according to Dave.
An said most people did just the opposite now. They left food on the plate just to show they DID have enough to eat. She thought it was a horrible waste of food. She was right. THAT IS the common practice. At least in our current culture. Is THIS the new custom of in our age of waste?
I countered with another story from back in the seventies. My then wife and I were having dinner with this Hippie friend who lived way up in the mountains. When he was done eating he put his plate on the floor and let his dog lick it clean. He said it made it easy to do dishes. My wife almost puked, but I laughed. It was an early lessons in challenging the status quo. No I didn't start letting my dog lick my plate, but I DID consider it. And that's half the battle.
23 Dave, Licking His Plate
During this discussion with Dave, I recalled being on the playa the year before and seeing such waste. The International Burner's Hostel had a special sink with a tank under it to catch scraps before the plates were washed. By the end of the week they would fill this fifty gallon tank with rotting food. OK, there were a few bones, but MOST of it was simply extra bites left over because of this VERY custom. Anyway, this mess had to be hauled back to Reno and discarded - more wasted resource and trouble.
As it turns out, astronauts have a similar problem. They don't just toss the garbage overboard. The mandate is clean your plate and drink all the coffee in your drink bag because all the trash created in orbit HAS get sent back to earth.
This idea got my attention. Licking my plate and drinking my dishwater might make people think about how much they put on their plate in the first place. And how much work it is to clean up.
So I made a sign and put it over the table in my motor-home for Burning Man :
66 Lick Your Plate
That and my examples have started several conversations. It's my contribution to Leave No Trace. This is just an example of where some of the strange behaviors you may encounter on the playa come from. Sometimes you just have to be there. Other times you can learn by example.
Back in the real world (off playa) I still lick my plate now and then. No, I don't do it in public restaurants. Well, unless I REALLY want to embarrass those I'm with. You'd be surprised at the reactions. Or maybe you wouldn't.
Also, when I find someone has left the last slice of pizza, chicken wing or burger on the plate, I often eat it just to make a point. There IS no longer need to discard food just to prove we have plenty. As a culture, we should be past such petty social cues.
I like to think my grandfather would appreciate my sign.
Thursday, September 1, 2005
I got to bed early Wednesday night and got up at sunrise on Thursday. It was the first day I didn't have to worry about the structure at all. It was still standing, and still making metallic sound like tin foil in the wind. As the week went on, the Tyvek soften up and the noise decreased. The important thing was, it worked. Well, half of it did.
24 Rubber Horses (make sure and click this one to enlarge)
On the dawn ride I discovered the Rubber Horses made of re-bar and old tires, which immediately became my second favorite art for the year.
11 Colosus Construction
I also got my first good look at the completed Colosus. It was the new piece by the guy who did Temple of Gravity, my favorite from the year before. This one was a tower with three arms each holding a huge stone with a rope below. If you pulled on the rope, you could turn the whole thing. It was a merry-go-round! But VERY hard to get going.
25 Banana Car
26 Mystery Wrap
One of the guys staying at our camp was called Michigan. He had converted a school bus to a party RV with a full-size jacuzzi in the back with his own tanks of water to keep it supplied. He had driven this bus all the way from Michigan (naturally), and was working hard to add enough lights to qualify as an art car at night. Unfortunately, he didn't make it and had to leave it parked at camp. Just another example of failed art. You do what you can. But he still had some pretty good parties. He said he took this bus out to other events near his home about 20 times a year. Interesting hobby.
Later that afternoon I went to a presentation on mystical drugs. I find this an interesting topic as it ties in with human perception and illusion. Unfortunately, the entire presentation was illusion. It was all mystical, with no useful drug or perception information.
But I DID discover something interesting afterwards. One other person there had worked on a study about about cross control in the human nervous system. He pointed out that those who use scissors often move their jaws in synchronization with the cutting. This is similar to other studies I had read about, but a more vivid example. This was one more clue about how the human mind multiplexes control - fascinating. It's not always the presentation that gets your attention. Sometimes it's those who attend and participate. Serendipity runs wild at Burning Man.
When I returned to camp, An was there with her cousin who she hadn't seen in years. An heard she was on the playa so went looking. I was amazed she found her. Her cousin stayed for dinner and we discussed what we had discovered. Later we walked her back to her camp and then went on to the playa.
Soon we encountered this huge articulated bus with a top deck. We climbed on to watched the playa go by below. It was a nice view.
On the way back down the steps we noticed these TV screens playing porn in the brightly lit bus. Several people were watching, but no one said a word. I think this art was about shock value and being out of context. So I guess it worked.
Speaking of porn...
Lost Penguin's Great Canadian Beaver Eating Contest
An had a dance class and headed off alone. I went looking for the Lost Penguin. One of my friends had told me about their Great Canadian Beaver Eating Contest. Yep. It's just what it sounds like. This I had to see.
Even though I was a single guy and they only allowed couples inside, my friend told me he would get me a place to stand before it started.
I went over early and found him. The whole camp was busy getting prepared. We sat out front near the side where the line of couples were forming up. My friend left to get things ready. I sat there with a drink and listened to the chat from the line.
This was fun - my kind of voyeurism. Sure, I enjoy watching a couple having sex as much as the next guy, but what I find REALLY interesting is watching human behavior - what people do and say when they don't realize anyone is watching... or listening. Candid behavior is the most valid.
The first thing I remembering hearing was from this lady in line, "What kind of contest is this?". Her partner wouldn't respond. Maybe he was planning on surprising her.
Another couple were challenging each other as to what was going to happen, and how far they would go with the process. She won with, "Well if you chicken out, I'll just find someone to take over". Quite a challenge - he stayed in line.
Soon, one of the other Lost Penguins came through with a flashlight. He was asking each couple if they knew what was happening and if they were sure they wanted to go in. He specifically said, "Are you ready to get naked and really perform?", followed by, "We don't have room for slackers". The line was way too long. He needed to cut it down.
Next he challenged a couple of gay ladies and said, "Sorry, hetro only". They pleaded and promised to deliver, but he insisted they weren't qualified. They walk off to find another event. So much for Radical Inclusion. Burning Man too, has it's limits.
This guy got several couples to "chicken out" by the time he got to the end of the line. Then he started at the door again. Apparently they WERE limited for space. The second time through fewer dropped out.
Next they used the delay tactic in hopes that some would get distracted and leave. I heard, "I wish they'd hurry up. My buzz is wearing off". Apparently this lady didn't want to lose her place in line, or her frame of mind. But she stayed.
After a long wait, my friend came and took me in the back. We entered the area from inside the tent. I found myself in an enclosed room about 20 by 20 with another 10 by 10 foot "L" alcove. The outside entrance was at the far corner. I got to stand along the wall about half way down. A few other couples and singles were standing along the same wall. My friend left.
There was music playing and about four couples were already making out on the floor. Getting naked at Burning Man is a relative term, but still, no one was taking off any clothes yet.
Then the line started moving in and finding empty spaces on the carpeted floor. Soon it was very crowded and you could only walk through by carefully placing your feet as you moved. The guy who had been culling the line was now doing that dance to get to the center of the room.
This "MC" had a mic and read off the rules for the contest. There would be NO fellatio, coitus or other forms of sex allowed. Anyone caught doing anything other than cunnilingus would be disqualified. He ended his speech with a loud declaration of, "GO!", and rang a bell.
At first everyone just looked around at each other and whispered. But the four couples in the middle got started as if it were a race. Soon others were following suit. Some started slow, some started fast, but in only a few minutes about half the couples in the tent had removed most of their clothing, or at least enough to begin eating.
During these first minutes there was lots of laughing and smart remarks. To be honest, the situation wasn't very erotic. Then some couples started getting serious. These were the hard core performers (pun intended). They didn't seem shy at all.
For others it was more like gymnastics. These "performers" were all about position. They changed it every few seconds so it came off as a bit of a comic dance. In some cases, the ladies being held in the air or were hanging from the poles of the tent. It seemed a bit silly to me.
With other couples, the woman did most of the "performing". But some weren't acting at all. Or maybe they were, just doing a great job. It's hard to tell.
I've noticed that public sex often uses comedy to deflect other emotion. It seems that if they are laughing, they don't have to deal with that line between erotic and obscene. That's how it was in this tent.
I looked around at the others watching. Most were laughing or pointing and talking, but some were just quietly watching. Some of those along the wall began to join the performers but remain standing and kneeling. Others only watched using their laughter as a defense. Was it comedy or drama? The envelope was definitely being pushed.
There was one couple near my feet. My guess is they were doing some kind of drug - grass, "E" or something else mellow. They seemed fairly oblivious. But every now and then the lady would open her eyes and look around to check on who was watching. It was as if she couldn't decide if she wanted to be seen or not.
Then she'd closed her eyes again. Apparently she went past caring and into a full body spasm. In only seconds she pushed his head away and rolled onto her side. Comedy or drama, the contest was over for this couple. She stayed in the fetal position with him hugging her back watching the others.
One couple who had started out as watchers were getting naked and involved. They managed to find a spot on the floor. I don't think she was faking it either. She was very attractive with long blond hair and seemed to ignore the rest of the room. As a matter of fact they BOTH seemed to be in their own world. He got VERY sexually aggressive, VERY quickly. More pot? Or had they just been caught up by the erotic vibe?
All of a sudden he rolled her on to her hands and knees and began an intense session of coitus. It was as if this were part of their normal routine. She seemed to know just what to do. They were both well practiced but definitely NOT performing for anyone but themselves.
The MC noticed and tried to step over. When he couldn't get through the crowd, he started blowing a whistle and between breaths yelling, "DISQUALIFIED, DISQUALIFIED, DISQUALIFIED". I don't think the couple even noticed. They didn't even slow down. Soon the MC gave up and went on to comment on some other couple.
The contest came down to two wildly performing couples who were next to each other in the center. Was it the quality or just endurance? Most of the others were watchers now. It seemed like these couples had planned for the event and were trying to outdo each other with their dance and tongue work. The girls were over the top with their wild appreciation. This was definitely comedy - not very erotic. But maybe that's what the MC wanted. He picked the wildest couple and proclaimed them the winners, giving them an actual prize of some sort. I couldn't see what it was.
My friend came by and I thanked him for the access and made my way out of the tent. As I left, I noticed about a third of the couples stayed and the room seemed to be digressing into a general orgy with those that remained. I guess this was the more serious of the crowd.
Part of Burning Man is finding and challenging limits. And it doesn't disappoint. I wondered about all the less formal but maybe even stranger events going on all over the playa in other tents. Buttons being pushed. Limits being tested. Lines being crossed. Adults consenting. Be careful what tent you walk into. Be ready for ANYthing.
30 Temple of Dreams
31 Temple of Dreams
Friday, September 2, 2005
During the ride on Friday morning I noticed a guy packing his car. This was the very opposite of what many were now doing as they arrived for the weekend. I stopped and asked him why, thinking he was a burn-out. I was wrong. He just needed to get back to work in Reno. I asked him if it was worth coming out for such a short time (he'd been there three days). Without reservation, he said, "Oh, yeah". He explained that even though he missed the big burns, the people, vibe and much of the art were all present. He had no regrets. Burning Man often produces such conviction.
32 never Completed
As I got out to the playa, I noticed "The Machine" that had been under construction all week. It was still not done and never would be. It was a VERY large and elaborate collection of wooden gears, pullys and belts that moved around on a hub by human power. I'd heard it was "collaborative" art with different groups from around the country producing various parts which were then brought together for the first time on the playa. Some of the parts moved but over-all it didn't work well. Still, it was impressive in scale and objective. And I knew all about projects that don't quite get completed. It's part of the adventure.
An is one of those organized people who likes to "do everything", which of course is impossible on the playa. Still, she tries. Friday evening we left to find the tent where a Zen Tantra lecture was to be held. When we got there, not only was there no tent, there was not even a camp.
As we stood around trying to figure it out, another couple arrived, then another, and also some singles. Soon we had twenty-some people standing around waiting for this event. This must have been the Zen part. In any case, we started an impromptu discussion on Tantra at this totally empty cross road on the playa. Sometimes all you need is an idea to bring people together - Zen meet-up.
Here's another interesting story that's fairly common. It was about ten in the morning and I was riding my bike back to camp. Just then a guy ran into me from behind and both of our bikes crashed to the ground. I picked myself up but he simply laid in the dust - not moving at all.
Before I could check him out three ladies from a near-by camp beat me to it. It was no wonder we had a bike wreck. This guy was SO wasted on alcohol, you could smell it several feet away. He couldn't stand for more than a few seconds. These ladies took him into their camp and got him some water as they tried to clean the dirt off of him. At least he was a happy drunk. He had a huge smile on his face. Maybe this was his art. It was certainly interactive.
Speaking of drugs, when people do psychedelics, they seem to like to discuss the effects. Several times during the week, people would stop by camp and tell me all about what was happening in their head. It was a form of sharing, another way to express yourself. I'm a very curious person, so I always stopped to listen and ask questions.
The drugs ran the gambit from mescaline, E, acid and schrooms as well as something called 2CE, GBH and other letters I can't remember. Grass was almost as common as alcohol, but alcohol was far more disabling as in the example above. Interestingly, I never encountered the classic addictive drugs such as speed, crack, coke or heroin. At least no one talked about it. Different demographics I guess. Those with actual addiction probably didn't have the resources or conviction to make it out here.
Sluts and Studs
Another interesting observation was pointed out to me as the week progressed. There was this voluptuous lady in her twenties who's tent was right next to our motor-home. You tend to notice what's going on with your neighbors and this lady was quite systematic. All week she was bringing guys back to her tent, but never the same guy twice in a row.
Now a typical reaction might be - Slut!, with all of it's negative connotations. And certainly the case could be made. But hold that thought.
By the end of the week she finally brought the guy to her tent who had gotten married when we first got there. I guess their "marriage" didn't last the full week. Maybe not even the first night. I really have no idea, but he appeared to have a fun week. Many might think of him as a stud. Or at least cute, and just having a good time.
The point is, this lady was doing exactly what this guys was doing - being promiscuous. It's what we used to call free love. But our first reaction is, the lady is somehow more negative than the guy. At least that's a typical first reaction, and certainly how it would be interpreted back in the default world. On the playa there's an attempt at equality. Or is it these people are simply not very judgmental?
I just thought I'd make an observation about the inequity of our social assumptions. And how those at Burning Man work to change them by their own example.
Or maybe she was just having a good time, and felt more comfortable on the playa.
33 Critical Tits
34 Critical Tits
35 Critical Tits
36 Critical Tits
This year I did manage to get out to the Critical Tits parade on time. Well, mostly. I got close enough that I could see them heading out from the Man that formed a huge snake making it's way across the playa. I picked a point then rode hard to intercept it's head. I found a good spot in the shade of a truck where a guy was setting up his art. He offered a Popsicle and I accepted.
We watched the long body of semi-naked women ride by. They were going surprisingly fast but it still took a few minutes for all of them to pass. Toward the end there were more guys riding along side. By the end it was all guys. They seemed to be herding the parade.
With the speed of it's execution, this "parade" seemed more like "Fox and the Hound" than women standing up for their rights to show their tits. Strange how these things evolve. When I'd seen this parade a couple of years ago, it was a much more relaxed affair. I was wondering if it had gotten out of hand and became this dynamic chase.
Another social experiment that was fun to watch was Dicky. He was this nerdy guy living in a plexi-glass room out on the playa. The point was to have the experience come to him instead of the other way around.
This room had a bed and air conditioner but little else. I'm not sure how he handled the bathroom thing since the room had no door. It appeared Dicky was locked in for the week. There was a small sliding drawer that allowed you to pass him notes, food and toys. When we were there someone had pushed through a remote control for a toy car which he was busy driving around the playa from inside his room. I guess this gave him a sense of freedom. Strange way to spend a week. But he probably got a lot of attention when he broke out on Saturday.
The wind came up Friday evening and it was soon white-out conditions. We stopped by Dreamscape and Lost Penguin but quickly moved on looking for better shelter. We found it in a tent that was showing slides of a guys bicycle ride through India. His photos were his art. And he did a nice narration as well.
Mostly because of the storm we went to bed early and were asleep by midnight. I think the stress of the first part of the week had caught up with me. I was getting the symptoms of a cold. Early to bed was a good idea. I wanted to be in good shape for Saturday night.
Saturday, September 3, 2005
Dave joined us for our bike ride Saturday morning. The partially completed "Machine" from the day before was already taken down. No flames for it this year. Here are some of the other things we saw...
38 Spinning Jugs in the Wind
39 Waiting for a Train
40 Temple Enbraced
41 Mega Drum
43 Against the Wind
44 Westward Ho
45 Articulated Flower
46 An Liked This Cat
47 Threw the Heart
48 Karen Doing Head Art
Before lunch I stopped by to see Karen, a friend from Reno who I'd talked into coming to Burning Man a couple of years before. She's now a regular. Consistent with the theme, she was doing head art for one of her camp-mates.
Later I did an ice run then decided to take a nap. My cold was getting worse so I laid in the motor-home, slept and read most of the afternoon. Preserving your strength is critical and the hot afternoon is a good time to do it.
49 Hagy's Wedding
Later that afternoon Hagy married a French girl and a blond at the same time. It too was well attended and lead to an immediate honeymoon back under the Tyvekian Radiation Shield.
Later I happened by the Jiffy Lube Camp. I heard a lot of strange noises but didn't go in. One day I'll have to check it out. Speaking of the Jiffy Lube, there was a strange event at the porta-potties.
The last couple of years the porta-pottie guys have added this extra-large porta-pottie. It was for guys and had six urinal positions. The door is usually propped open with guys going in and out constantly. Guys aren't shy about keeping the door closed. I started using it because there was generally no waiting.
Later that night I stopped by like usual but the door was locked. Strange. On the outside someone had written in big black letters, "Jiffy Lube Annex". Then I heard noises. You and I both will have to imagine what was going on in there.
Then I wondered WHY? Wouldn't a tent be more private? But maybe public was the point. Was this an extension of the "tea house" in the default world? Were bathrooms an expected meeting place for gay males? It sure looked like it. More lines challenged. Glad it was an off-peak time for the bathrooms. I found another one.
Back at camp, Dave, An and I all left to watch the Man burn. Instead of fighting the crowds we stayed back and found an empty golf cart someone had left. No one was around so we took up residence and watched the show from there. This was a fresh perspective.
About an hour later after all the fireworks and fire, three guys in street clothes were heading straight for the cart. They were very serious. From their clothes and the way they were talking on radios, we guessed they were narcs. We left the cart before they got there. It was the first time I'd noticed plain-clothes police on the playa. But they ARE there.
From the Man we went here and there for hours. Dave got separated somewhere along the line so An and I stopped by Club Verboten as we had the year before. This time it was totally full and there was a line outside. We waited a while but never did get in. That's how it is with adventure.
Instead we walked up the street to the Bad Idea Theater and watched Harry Potter with Science Theater 3000 style dubbed comments. It was hilarious and a nice cool-down from the night's exploration. I'm not sure when we got to sleep Saturday night, but it was late. Or early.
Sunday, September 4, 2005
The peak of Burning Man is when the man burns. By Sunday morning as we did our bike ride people were packing up and some already leaving. Maybe they had a long way to drive and Monday being a holiday just wasn't enough time.
50 Nice Shade Structure
51 Yellow Submarine
52 Hands Reaching
53 Angel of the Apocalypse
56 Passage up Close
59 Actually Worked
60 Post Burn
There's something else that happens Sunday morning but it's hard to put a finger on. There is less expectation and more resignation. It's sad to see it all end, and it was definitely ending. As I now recall, I had felt this vibe each year but this morning it seemed more vivid.
Here's another down-side of Burning Man. The morning after the Burn, the playa is littered with abandon bikes. I'm not sure who cleans them up. So much for leave no trace.
61 Abandon Bikes (click to enlarge)
After our ride about we stopped in for a yoga class. There was plenty of room and yoga fit the mood - serene stress and relaxation.
By the end of the class the wind came up. As we rode back I saw a sign that said, "Sometimes a banana is just a banana". It struck me as funny. I had to stop and write down the quote. And so it ends up here.
As more people left, the city began to change. It was easier to pick out my Tyvekian Radiation Shield from farther away. Taking short-cuts between streets also got easier.
That night the Temple Burn was different than prior years. Or again, maybe it was just me. It's always the last big event making it hard to deny the week is over. Plus it's very nature produces it's own sadness.
Amazing Grace this year sounded like someone was trying to imitate Joan Baez. And who-ever they were, they did a damn good job. The haunting voice set the mood. It was a modest temple. It was a gentle end to a wonderful week. (That paragraph was written three year ago. Just last month I learned it WAS Joan Baez 07-15-08).
62 Portable Keyboard
Monday, September 5, 2005
Tear-down was now in full swing and the line to get out was already forming as we did our ride on Monday morning.
63 Michigan Packing Up
That evening we rode along the almost empty streets. There was one lonely camp near ours that had a dome structure still up but no cover. They had put out a sign that said pot-luck at 5:00 so we came back over with some stuff to eat. We had a nice dinner with just a few people.
From there we did a cruise by center camp but it was almost empty too. There were a few camps still playing loud music but they felt like echoes of the days just past. There were a few structures but most of the people were gone.
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Then next morning we got up and banged the ribs apart before loading them back on top of the motor-home. I decided it was a bit tedious the way we wove the rope between pipes. I needed a better solution for shade.
After a final Moop patrol of our site, we headed back to Reno. There was no problem with exits lines or traffic on the highway. Tuesday is the time to leave.
Looking back on my structure I noted several problems. The main one was trying to put it up all at once. Big was fine. I just needed an incremental order of construction.
And the cross ropes wore holes in the Tyvek as the wind beat the material constantly. Delamination of the Tyvek also occurred at the points where the rope lines crossed.
64 Storm Damage
I liked working with the Tyvek, but was it the right material for this application? Sometimes the ideas you like most are not the best.
As every year, I had a great time, but this year's Burn was too much of a work-out and stress-out. I needed better materials, design and methods. Or find a totally different way to contribute.
All of these issues would be addressed in next year's plan.
65 Good Bye
For my my other Burning Man stories...
... seeking simple answers to complex problems, and in the process, disrupting the status quo in technology, art and neuroscience.