A diary of my experience at Burning Man 2002
My first BM (Burning Man). I spent 7 full days at BRC (Black Rock City), and had a relaxing, exhilarating, and inspiring time. So many experiences. The only way to remember it was to write it down (one of the many suggestions made on the BM web site), and so I did. This log is the result.
I had always been intrigued by BM, but the opportunity had never presented itself. This year, it came on a silver platter. I had just finished building my "Happy Feet" instrument - four playstation dance pads connected to a PC which then controls the interactive generation of music. I used it to perform at the Woodstockhausen 2002 concert, and through the Woodstockhausen mailing list, I found out that David and a bunch of his friends were going to BM. Participation is a primary mantra of BM, and I figured that the Happy Feet instrument would be a lot of fun for people to play with - just step on the pads and music comes out. I was going, no doubt about it. I was psyched from the first instant.
I prepared for an entire month, making regular visits to Costco, Target, Home Depot, Orchard Supply, and Safeway. On my Honda CRV, I installed new roof rails, a roof rack, and a bicycle rack on the back. I certainly did my part to help the economy. I took Friday off to pack the car, and I was all set to leave on Saturday.
350 miles from San Jose to Black Rock City. We left Saturday afternoon and spent the night in Reno, so we could get there early Sunday and get a good spot. I traveled in a caravan with 2 other vehicles coming from Santa Cruz. David (a musical adventurer I knew from Woodstockhausen, and the main instigator of the camp I was a part of), Deb (his girlfriend), and Shelley (a friend of David's who worked at Apple). I had met them briefly at a planning meeting we had in early August, where among other things David showed us how to set up the shade structure that everyone was going to use - 3 long boards (8-foot 2x4's), a big tarp or two, and 100 feet of rope. Very easy to make and set up, and the structure contains lots of triangles. David loves triangles. I'm pretty fond of them, now, too.
The drive on Rt 80 up to Reno was easy, but I had a little trouble finding the motel - I knew it was "Truckee River Lodge" or something, and when I saw a city named Truckee, I assumed that it would be there. I spent an hour or so in Truckee before finding out that the Truckee River Lodge is 20 miles further on, in Reno. I knew we were staying in Reno - what was I doing in Truckee? Oh well, Truckee has a nice touristy main street that was interesting. I finally met everyone at the motel in Reno, and we spent the evening in one of the casino lounges, enjoying a kick-ass-tight lounge band filled with excellent musicians.
The motel is right next to an interesting small vegetarian restaurant called the Pneumatic Diner. We have a good breakfast, and I buy one of their long-sleeved shirts because it has a nice logo, and I fear I haven't brought enough warm clothing. We start out on the last 75 miles to Black Rock City.
The terrain starts getting rocky/barren. Road signs with a picture of a buffalo, saying "open range". A long straight road, only a couple of tiny towns, might be an indian reservation. At one point where there's an interesting geologic structure, David's car stops and he giddily bounds out of the car and runs toward a secluded ridge shouting something like "we're lost! we're lost! I'll see if I can find the way!" Of course, he really just needed to take a whiz. Next time I return to BM, I'll be giddy, too.
I pull out my little walkie-talkie so I can communicate with the other cars - at our planning meeting, we had set up 10-33 as the radio setting that we would all use. The land starts getting really flat, and a white powder covers much of it. At the last town before we get to BM, we stop for some sandwiches and snacks. It was obvious we were getting close to BM because the snack bar wasn't selling T-shirts or anything like that - they were selling pink tutu's.
I start seeing dust in the distance. I see a mirage - it looks like a tiny line of tents, floating on top of shimmering blue. It disappears. There are bright orange signs saying "special event ahead". We round a slow curve and I see the entrance and the city. I look for the man, but don't see it. The playa is huge!
I see a car driving really fast and straight in the middle of a huge expanse of open playa, leaving a wicked trail of dust. He's obviously having a lot of fun, and it looks cool. We slow down to a crawl - cars are one of the main causes of dust. The dust is intense. I assumed that this was the amount of dust that we would be experiencing in the camp, and was happy I made that plastic case for my computer/music equipment - I would need it! Fortunately, the dust we ended up experiencing was nothing like the dust at the entrance. As we approach some greeters, I open the window, and a gust of incredibly-fine dust blows into the car. Yeehaw. The first greeter is kind of lame - the highly-anticipated greeting of "welcome home" doesn't feel that special. But the next few greeting stations are better, I get some friendly entrance advice, and we come up to the real entrance. Of the 4 people in our caravan, 3 of us are virgins (first time at BM), and so we all get to participate in the "virgin bell-ringing" ceremony - you sit underneath a bell (on a toilet seat? I forget), make a wish, and ring the bell. I wish to have a good time, and give it a few enthusiastic wacks.
We drive slowly into the city, and find a good spot pretty quickly. The porta-potties are a few hundred yards away, and we're only 2 "streets" back from the main Esplanade - where all the good stuff is. When we stop, I pull out some brightly-colored flags and we stake the area we're going to occupy - it seems like a huge area, but by the end of the week after everyone arrives, it is well utilized. We put our cars in a line on one side of the site, to mark that boundary well.
I can see the man from our site. Hard to tell the real size, but it looks really far away - this place is HUGE. The man is at the center of the city, and we're in the middle of one side.
Most of the afternoon is spent building the shade structures - 3 in all. One serves as the kitchen area (and turns out to be the main "hang out" place), one serves as a place for a couple of lounge chairs for people that want to really lay back or sleep, and the third shade structure (mine) will be the music area. The first problem I discover is that the rebar I brought is a bit too thin. I got 3/8" rather than 1/2", so when I start pounding it into the ground with the small sledgehammer, it starts bending. Argh. I eventually discover techniques to deal with it, but not before producing a lot of strangely bent rebar that is only half-into-the-ground. I discover that my bike rack is very useful as a rebar bending tool.
I pull out the bike, and find that riding on the totally flat ground is very easy. (I hear that the previous year, the dust was so deep that it made bike riding difficult.) I brought a very small bike, because I didn't want to risk losing my good one. Bringing a small bike was a mistake - my butt was quite sore by the end of the week, and I spent a lot of time riding standing up. But it would have been a far greater mistake to not bring a bike at all. BM is huge, and a bike makes it possible to do a lot more. My first bike trip is to the porta-potties. They are nice. By the end of the week, they are less nice, but in general they are very well maintained.
Shelley and I bike to Center Camp to register our camp name, in case anyone looks for us. Center Camp is filled with busy people. I get my first look at the style of people and decorations - everything is different. I can't recall seeing two of anything that looked the same.
We ride out to see the man. The open area that is surrounded by the Esplanade (the main circle on which the biggest theme camps are placed) is huge. Huge. And only a few items of artwork so far. The man is big, but not quite as big as I thought he'd be. This is mainly because the platform on which he stands is almost as tall as he is.
One of the first "art bikes" I saw was a guy dragging a wagon behind his bike, and dragging behind the wagon was a Barbie doll. The 3-level effect and the hapless Barbie was fairly amusing at the time. By the end of the week, I would barely blink at such a thing Ė it would take far more than that to amuse me, and fortunately there was no lack of those things.
We get back to our camp, and there's not much time to work on our own sleeping tents. I get the tent set up. I had one practice setup of the tent in my living room at home, but I'm still clumsy at setting it up. I don't have time to anchor it properly before it's getting really dark, so I put my two heavy amplifier/speakers (Roland KC-100's) inside the tent, and that anchors it nicely. I thought it was getting really dark, but then Deb points out that I still have my sunglasses on. Duh. Things were much easier to see after that.
Some of the things I brought turned out to be far more valuable than I would have imagined. For example, the strap-on headlamp turned out to be about the only light I needed, and I used it almost every night.
I imagined I would get sun burnt, but I put on sunscreen early in the day, and at the end of the first day, the only thing I notice is that my eyelid is stinging from what feels like a sunburn. Throughout the week, I have no real sunburn problems, in spite of spending large amounts of time riding out in the sun.
The man lights up! He's outlined in cool blue neon. Easy to see from our camp, though looks tiny.
The first night in my tent. The sleeping bag feels sooo good. I turn on the radio. There are supposed to be 40 FM radio stations at BRC, eventually, but only a couple are playing now. The event actually doesn't even start until Monday, but when we got here Sunday at noon, there were already thousands of people already set up. I listen to the radio, they're playing good music, and I fall asleep instantly.
During the first night, the wind blows fairly hard (as it turns out, these were the strongest winds we felt all week). The heavy speakers (and my body) prevent the tent from going anywhere. I need to pee, and wait for a long time before putting my jacket on and shivering over to the porta-potties. It's just shiver-cold, though, not really that cold. Later in the night, I take a second trip to the john. Everything is dead, I'm surprised at how quiet it is. Every night from then on would get progressively louder.
It's a bright glorious sun-shiney day. I need to finish setting up the tent. I begin to get better at handling the thin rebar, and discover some of the many uses of zipties. Rebar, rope, zipties - these are the fundamental tools. I ziptie two tarps together and get them over my shade structure. It's not the greatest structure in the world, but it'll do. Later, I discover that moving the poles a bit helps to tighten things up - much better.
At 12:14, just after noon, it's 98 degrees and 96 in the shade. Now it's 102. The thermometer is going nuts - now it's 106.9 ! It settles down to 103. We hang out in the kitchen. Lunch is peanut butter and jelly, fig bars, and an apple. Tastes great. I start working on my first journal entries. I discover that the pens I brought don't seem to work very well - is it the dryness or heat? Dunno. I end up using pencil from then on.
We're in a quiet neighborhood, which is nice. I hear the other side is noisier. We meet some neighbors who are from Australia. They came over just for this, I think. My campmates are easy-going, we just hang out after lunch. The kitchen is intricately constructed (David's handiwork, mainly), and incredibly well-stocked.
I start to get out the dance pads and set things up in the music area. After a few brief glitches, things are working well. My shade structure is looking good, but the clamps I'm using are bright orange - tacky - next time I need to paint them.
It gets a bit breezy. I get out one of the kites I brought and put it together. First attempt, it doesn't fly well at all. I discover I've attached the string to the wrong side of the kite.
In the late afternoon, we watch for a flare (brief flash of reflected light) from a satellite. We set up the shower structure, which is a two-story-high pyramid structure made out of PVC, with the water bag attached to a pulley at the top.
We get ready to walk around at night. I dress up in a zillion different shades of orange, and a belt made of EL Wire (Electroluminescent Wire) - wire that lights up and looks like tiny neon. This illuminated wire is used in extreme quantity all over BM. On people. On bikes. On art installations. On shelters. On everything.
I safety-pinned my EL Wire to the front of my pants. With the glow sticks I had on my wrists, and the way I was holding my hands, I unintentionally made myself look like a big "smiley face". After several people pointed this out, it became intentional. I'm looking pretty silly, I'm sure.
Glow sticks are also used in extreme quantities. David brought a big supply of glow sticks in various colors, and each night he would hand out that night's ration of glow sticks, and we would each try to find a different way to use them.
We start walking around along the Esplanade and central area. Lots more stuff is set up, now, although things will still be "in progress" for the rest of the week, even on the very last day.
We ride on the top of big "fish car" for a little bit - there is a guitar and amplifier sitting there, anyone can pick it up and play it. We ride out to a "lily pond" installation - elegant site with lots of pale blue lights interacting with each other, and small light sculptures. In the midst of this installation, a small circle of people are sitting, having an intense discussion about politics or something. I'm unsure whether the discussion is serious or mock.
We visit a big metal flower structure. There are lots of big metal art things, in general. A circular open tent contains a rotating tall column of light and black bars of differing widths. (At least, I think that's what it was.) We stare at it for several minutes - the patterns evolve as you stare longer and longer.
There are quite a few "art cars" out tonight. (As the week progresses, there will be more and more and more.) One of them is outlined in green EL Wire, meant to look just like the Battlezone tank from an early vector-graphics arcade game.
Many places on the Esplanade use black light and fluorescent paint in large quantities. Deb likes black light. One camp has a large elevated rope surface - people climb up a tower and jump into it. Several people in our group try it out. I have too much clothing/wire on to try it.
We go out into the middle of the playa - the open area in the center. Looking at the Esplanade, which extends from 60 degrees around to 300 degrees (or, if you will, from 2 o'clock to 10 o'clock), it looks like you're standing in the middle of an ocean looking at a giant carnival on an oceanfront boardwalk. Every light is different. We see a giant pyramid and head toward it, but get sidetracked and never get to it. We see a wall of strobe lights, very very sparkly seen from across the playa. It turns out to be a wall of disposable camera bodies, using the flashes as strobes.
Most of the artwork and installations here are done with surplus or cheap materials. The "Temple of Joy", for example, is supposedly built entirely from the wood scraps that are left over from those dinosaur models you see in museums.
We see lots of fire things, including fire dancers twirling flaming batons at the base of the man.
At the Magic Glasses location on the Esplanade, you put on these star filter (or something) glasses, and then walk through a tunnel that is filled with zillions of christmas tree lights. The effect is cool, and a good example of the installations that can be done with simple things applied in creative ways. It's a popular place, and we visit it several times during the week.
It's another bright glorious sun-shiny day. It's still very quiet, but some techno sound is heard briefly in the morning. I'm the first one up, and I walk around taking some pictures. At 8am, it's 67 degrees, very still. Amazing how peaceful it is in the morning. I notice more details all the time - there are lots of details to notice, but there are also new things appearing every day. Small planes fly over occasionally, there's an airport nearby.
Hanging rebar makes a beautiful sound as a breakfast/dinner bell. Breakfast is bagels and lox. Deb lines the street with pinwheels, and brings out the "kitchen goddess" statue for the kitchen. Hillary puts up three large prayer flags that her father made.
I take a shower. Ahhh. Refilling the water bag is easy, but raising the bag back up is hard. It's easier just to take a shower on your knees.
Using two of the dance pads, I create a makeshift "sandwich board" sign on the edge of the street, to "advertise" the time (6-9pm) when they'll be active.
We go to Center Camp to see a guy make geometric models with small pieces of wood. Several of the people who gather around him are stereotypical nerds, in dress and mannerisms. One guy sees the little rubber bands being used and says they are exactly like the rubber bands he used to use on his braces.
Leaving Center Camp, I find it hard to find my bike. There are so many bikes, all so similar looking because they're all coated in dust. I run into Cathy Salton and Mike Perry, the only other people I really know who were coming to BM. Good thing I ran into them - not sure we would have found each other otherwise. We exchange camp locations.
Back at camp, a neighbor gives us some popsicles (really hits the spot). I give him one of my CDs. Walking to the porta-potties, a guy gives me a muffin he just baked in his solar-powered oven (using reflected sunlight).
It's much cooler today, we relax in the kitchen in the afternoon. I hack a bit on my software in preparation for the first night of dance pad activity. I use the car shade thing I brought, and create a little hood over the laptop so I can see the screen.
I go and visit Cathy and Mike, they're at least on the same side of BRC, not all that far away, but they're at the outer edge, and quite a ways away from the johns. I appreciate our location more. Cathy gives me a cool face-paint job using some stencils, and Mike gives me a crude haircut. Cathy also gives me a hair braid.
I fire up the dance pads. They are an instant hit - I turn them on and immediately a group stops by and starts enjoying them, One guy has a hard time hitting the center of the buttons. I can't help but notice that one of the group is a girl whose breasts are nicely painted. Several people stop by who are interested in the technology and can understand my explanations. I give away a few CDs. One guy asks if I know what "circuit bending" is, and I tell him that we happen to have a friend coming in a few days, and we're going to be doing some of that. Hopefully he can stop by and join us. (We end up doing our circuit bending on Friday and Saturday, and he doesn't stop by.)
The first night, I set up all 6 pads. I brought 8, but 2 were being used for the "sign". Unfortunately, I only had 4 of the heavy/clear plastic covers designed to protect the pads. When people started dancing on the pads, with their dust-covered shoes and boots, everything got very dirty very quickly. Some guys had big honking boots, and I cringed as they smashed their feet down on the pads (perhaps naturally thinking they would get louder sounds). I didn't want to really start asking everyone to take their shoes off (thought a few did). On subsequent nights, I set up only 4 pads, so they could all have plastic covers, and 4 pads was a bit less chaotic as well.
After the dance pad visitors died down, I jammed a bit with Phil (guitar and pedals) and David (keyboard). We did some esoteric stuff that is usually more interesting to do than it is to listen to. David does interesting patterns, and evolves them, and I enjoyed going along with this style. Phil started with some fragile glitch-style guitar work (dunno if that's a valid description, but that's how I describe it), and toward the end was doing some really excellent improvisation (more typical guitar things, reminded me a little of Mike Stern) over what David and I were doing.
We go out again at night and experience more things on the Esplanade. The Hypnotron is a large (5-6 ft diameter) spinning disc of leds that creates lots of cool patterns. We come back several nights later, and the Hypnotron had been enhanced with a smaller second disc that was audio-controlled. You stand in front of it, and the sounds that you make control the patterns on the rotating disc. This version was much more entertaining, and it worked much better if you made tones (for example, singing) rather than just shouting or clapping. The audio control was very well done - you could control the patterns quite nicely, or at least there was a very clear correlation between the tones you made and the patterns that were produced, and yet the patterns were quite different for different sounds.
There are some huge green lasers come from the base of the Man, hitting white "targets" on the four sides of the city. These lasers become good directional indicators, at times.
This night, I almost didn't want to go out (being a bit tired from the dance pad and jamming activity). However, I was very glad I did. At the end of the night, I still hadn't visited the second half of the city, either the Esplanade or the interior.
It's yet another bright glorious sun-shiny day. It's hard to decide whether I like the mornings or nights, better. One of the first things I do each morning is apply the full-body sunscreen application. My legs are so hairy - after putting on the sunscreen, I feel compelled to "comb" my leg hair to make it neater.
Today I'm going to ride out to the center and far reaches of the playa. Above the man, there is a huge open area that is much bigger than the open area in the center. I think it's call the Abyss, or something. Because it's hot, too hot for a t-shirt, I tie an orange shawl around my neck. This is very convenient. I can wrap it around me when I need cover, and use it like a cape when I want more air.
I visit Cathy and Mike, then Center Camp, and then go on a long (2.5 hours or so) ride to the far reaches of the playa. On the way out, I stop for a while at the Hair of the Dog (HOTD) lounge, where I read the paper and listen to some decent jazz noodling. I take some panoramic pictures from the orange fence that marks the very edge of BRC. Various cool things out in this area - a guitar on a stand with a solar-powered amp and solar-powered motorized rotating picks that play the strings of the guitar - by putting your hand over the solar cells, you could control the picking. One artist is putting his installation together - a very nice sculpted lady figure, and when done she'll have an entire rotating solar system on her head. I see the Temple of Joy for the first time - incredibly complex and huge wooden structure. It will be burned on Sunday night, while the man burns on Saturday night.
I see some storm clouds on the horizon. Uh oh.
I get back to our camp at 2pm, and Wayne has arrived - he has a large audio installation that is going to be put on the playa. I hang low for a few hours. It's 100 degrees in the shade, and 88 degrees outside? Somethingís wrong with the thermometer.
I get the dance pads ready for tonight's activity, by washing all the dust off of them. Tonight I set up only 4 pads, much better.
Tonight, I run the pads from 7-9, and get a more consistent stream of visitors. Almost all are enthusiastic about it. There is an older couple (70 years old or so?) camping behind us, and the man is quite fascinated with it. While some people are dancing, I pull out a tiny Yamaha keyboard and play some riffs.
David took a 40-second video of people dancing on the pads, using a tiny handheld camera/mp3 player. He shows it to me - it's fantastic, he did a great job of panning around and showing the context of everything. Since it's on a compact flash card, I easily copy the file to my laptop, but my laptop doesn't have Quicktime, so I can't play it. This video will be incredibly useful.
There's a problem with my dance pad software that makes it difficult to control it when there are lots of people dancing on it at once. It's not a problem when I'm dancing alone, but with all these people dancing on it at once, the problem becomes more and more evident. I know what's wrong, and I need to fix it before tomorrow night.
Cathy and Mike stop by right at 9pm. I had turned the dance pads off, but I fire it up so Cathy can try them a bit. She has fun on it, and I'm impressed at how light she is on her feet. She's a real dancer - probably the first to actually set foot on the pads.
We go out at night again. This time I'm intent on getting to the other side, so we walk the entire Esplanade. We see things like fire dancers; a penis car; a big collection of ceramic whistles (hand-made on site) being blown by a steam-powered contraption; a huge lite-brite panel; the pink pussycat (a building completely covered in pink fuzzy fabric); a huge dome with RV-mounted projectors covering the entire outside with pretty decent graphics, and inside the dome is the usual techno music club; and barbershop roulette (you spin a wheel that decides what kind of haircut you get - mohawk, mullet, crew cut, bald, ...).
Once we get to the end of the other side, we walk back to the center (where the man is). It's noticably colder on the other side, and when we get to the man, it's noticeably warmer. This place is so big, there are micro-climates!
We go up on the man's platform. There is a big circle of lights surrounding the platform (several hundred feet out, at least) that is doing constantly-changing patterns. Later, Wayne is allowed to go inside the man's platform, because his cousin gives him one of the "special doubloons". Wayne tells us that there is a room inside the platform which has an identical circle of lights (though smaller in scale, of course), doing exactly the same thing as the outside circle of lights.
At the end of our long trek, we come to a lone fire performer with a big crowd around him. He is very dynamic and entertaining, and we watch him for a good 10 minutes.
I'm taking a fair number of night-time pictures, but most of them are just big blurs. I need a tripod, but don't have one.
Tonight, the music/drumming is loud enough that I put in earplugs in order to go to sleep. When I wake up in the morning, the drumming is still going strong. This was the loudest night. It sounds like a carnival.
It's clear today, no sign of the clouds I saw yesterday. I take an early shower, it's cold, but refreshing.
New arrivals are starting to crowd/camp in the spaces between existing camps. At the johns, I notice a lot more people in "normal" clothing. The climate of the city is changing.
I think about signing up to perform on the stage at Center Camp, with the dance pads, but I decide that I don't have enough "material" to do a 30-minute set.
I want to send a few postcards to family/friends, because I hear that BRC got it's own postmark, this year. I got some blank cards, and had the members of our camp put their "mark" on it. Eventually I take them to the BRC Post Office, where a happy clerk adds some additional stamp-graphics (of soup cans, and other things). The clerk then assures me that they will be sent to the "other world", which I hope means that they will actually be mailed.
We all go out to help Wayne set up his installation. "Suspension of Intellect" is a 20-foot tall mobile with hanging speakers playing electronic sounds coming from a box of 8 cassette players). He's got a spot reserved on the playa, and we get to pile into a truck and drive out there. It takes several hours, but it gets installed without a hitch. I want to get back to our camp and participate in a big kite-flying event at 4pm.
Shelley and I go out to the playa with a few kites. There are only a few kites flying, and at the peak, there are maybe 100. They were trying to break the World Record of simultaneous flying kites, but the record was in absolutely no danger. Still, it was a fun diversion. At one point I looked up and saw what I thought were some kites way way way up above. A minute or two later, I look up and discover that they were actually skydivers, who eventually landed the playa. I heard later that the parachute of one of them failed, and the secondary parachute failed a few dozen feet above the ground. The skydiver was okay, though.
I set up the pads again (and this turns out to be the last night I set them up). Cathy and Mike stop by early, before I have them going. I hack a bit on the software and fix the problem that prevented the use of the control functions when multiple people used it.
We have an excellent dinner of tofu/chicken/stir-fry.
We go out biking to see playa art. On the far edge of the playa, there are people doing fireworks and other things. Someone lights a big ball of flame and swings it around in a circle like a giant chained shotput (what do you call that sport?).
They're supposed to be playing "Pink Wizard" (the "Wizard of Oz" movie synchronized with Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon") tonight at the Starlight drive-in. We go there, but it turns out to be a mistake - it's going to be played on Friday night. Argh. The Starlite drive-in is very nice, though - it's on the very corner of the entire city, with a super-bright/clear screen.
While we were waiting for "Pink Wizard" to start (or so we thought), Shelley and I needed to kill some time. In the pitch-black darkness beyond the drive-in, we saw three tiny lights. (We also saw lightning bolts in the distance - uh oh.) We rode out to the lights, and discovered an installation which was a crude wood structure and a human-like figure made out of some solid bone-like frame covered in some flexible substance. There were colored markers strewn about and instructions that you should add whatever you wanted, drawing on the figure or the surrounding structure walls. There was also a note about a "play" and "record" button being present. We managed to find the "play" button on the figure - pressing a certain point near the heart, a small led underneath the "skin" would light up and a sound was made (nothing intelligible). We spent a while trying to find the "record" button, but we couldn't find it.
The clouds this morning are really scary - looks like rain for sure. I start cleaning up my dance pads, getting everything under the tarps. Word from center camp is that people are expecting a windstorm in the afternoon.
There are now lines at the johns, in the morning. We have pancakes for breakfast, yum. Someone's running a loud generator in the morning. Or maybe it's the porta-potty cleaners.
I hear a honking horn. This is by now a familiar sound - it means that there is a water truck approaching. They water down all the roads, almost continuously, to keep the dust down. The honking horn lets people know that the water trucks are coming, and many people take advantage of the opportunity for a free shower. What this means is that that every single water truck you see is closely followed by a crowd of naked people running behind it, trying (and largely succeeding) to get a good dousing from the water being sprayed from behind the truck. I strongly suspect that the spray is intentionally set higher than normal in order to enhance its shower-giving capability. This is one of the more delightful sights and conventions at BM.
I go to Center Camp for some mocha. There are huge tables of lamps, these are the lamps that are hung each night from all the poles throughout the city. In the middle of the cafe at center camp, there is a big crowd (120 or so) of people who are chanting rhythmically, with 4 people in the center doing gymnastic/erotic dances.
I visit Cathy and Mike again, and get new face paint. I discover that there is a network that can be used to send email. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my 802.11b wireless card.
I get back to our camp, and Wayne pulls out a tub of sound-making kid's toys, which we proceed to tear apart in an activity called "circuit bending". I've never done this before, except back in college when I did something similar. I found that pressing my fingers against the contacts on the circuit board of a synthesizer produced interesting effects. Unfortunately, I wrecked my synthesizer doing this. Nowadays, this activity is done with cheap children's toys. I find a small toy, take it apart, and start making random connections, with hints from Wayne about what to do. I find some good connections, and have fun.
Someone says a dust storm is coming. Sure enough, we look over and there's a big cloud of dust coming. It looks close, but takes a long time to arrive. We all get out our goggles and dust masks, and cover up the circuit-bending table and anything else that might blow away. The dust storm arrives. It wasn't very intense at our location, but David and Deb take off running and dancing in the wind, orange scarves in hand. They end up in the middle of the playa during the peak of the storm, where they report that the visibility was about 10 feet. The Center Camp got hit hard, supposedly, which isn't too surprising given it's location at the end of the dusty center of the playa. After the dust storm, we get a small shower. Nothing much, but you never know what it will turn into.
The rain produces a good sunset. We have a dinner of Tasty Bites indian dinners, yum.
We go out to view more playa artwork - every day there is more and more stuff. This time, the best one is a Laser Harp - a cube with laser "strings" along each side - when you interrupt the beam, sounds are triggered. Very nicely done.
Tonight, I go to see "Pink Wizard" for real, but I'm the only one. It's a fun gimmick. The movie seems to have a lot of detail that I don't recall - the TV version is probably cropped a lot.
Coming back from Pink Wizard, I see someone with laser pointers attached to each finger, generating really interesting patterns on the ground. I see some gorgeous EL Wire pieces - a person with 5-foot butterfly wings flapping (animated), two jumping kangaroos (one mother, one baby) with sound effects, and a fire-breathing dragon on someone's back.
Art cars are numerous, apparently more so than in previous years. Early in the week, I was at the center camp DMV registration table, and a guy comes in and says "I want to register my carrot". I look in the direction he came from, and see a big 10-foot fuzzy carrot car.
The techno music in the morning today is louder. We have an omelet/burrito breakfast.
We continue our circuit-bending session that was interrupted by the dust storm. I finish working on the toy I had started. The end result is a toy with 4 big screws at the top - you put your fingers on the screws and play with toy's buttons, and you get all sorts of weird sounds. Deb and another woman join Wayne and I at the circuit-bending table. I'm a bit surprised that Deb is so into it, but she's having a ball, and she finishes a good piece. We both add 1/4" jacks to the toys, attached to their speakers, so we can send the audio through my mixer, reverb, and amplified speakers. Deb and I do a spontaneous concert with our two finished toys.
The man burns tonight.
We get ready to watch the burn. We start walking out to the man, and encounter this wonderful tiny art installation at the edge of the playa. It was a hole in the ground, maybe 12" across, containing an intricate sculpture *below* ground level. It looked a bit like indian cliff dwellings, but tiny and more intricate. Really well done, blended right into the playa. Totally incredible.
We get to the circle around the man, and get seated in the third row of people, right in front of the man. Good view, great seats. Seats as in "sit on the ground". The first 12 rows or so, everyone is asked to sit down, so people behind can see. Most people comply readily.
The crowd (at least in our section) has several chants/sayings - these may or may not be regular BM things, I don't know. One of them was "water boy is dead, long live water boy".
The ceremony starts. The various fire-related art cars (fire-breathing dragons, big fire cannons, etc) parade around the circle, shooting off the big bursts of flame which have become so familiar over the last week. Next, a bunch of fire dancers (more than 100, I think) come out and start performing. Some intricately-carved furnace-like vehicles are wheeled around the circle. They are so hot that the metal glows red. The tops of these furnaces are open, and orange flames come out. Someone throws a bundle of something into the furnace, and suddenly the color of the flames turns into a shimmery metallic blue, with a rainbow of other colors streaking throughout. The dancers are impressive. Several dancers have long fire batons, intertwine their bodies, twirl the batons together, exchanging the batons in a complex series of hand movements. One woman is twirling a fire baton, and her hair catches on fire briefly. Later, I think the same woman's hair caught on fire again. Another woman has long extensions on all of her fingers (maybe 20 inches long?), each one ending in a small ball of fire. There is a platform, 8 feet by 8 feet or so, on which the better dancers get up and perform. A guy gets up there and has a large ball the size of a soccer ball, which he lights and starts swinging around on a chain/rope. (Was this the thing I saw a few nights ago, at the edge of the playa, being practiced?) He swings it in a wider and wider circle. It's almost reaching the audience, it seems like. (The platform is only 40 feet away from us, I think). There is another dancer on the ground, who is dancing around and dodging the fiery ball each time it comes around. Suddenly, that dancer gets hit right in the face, apparently, by the fiery ball, and he hits the ground, in obvious pain, his hands covering one side of his face. Most people in our section of the crowd see this and get quiet, concerned about what appears to be a serious injury. For 30-60 seconds, people gather around the injured performer, but within a minute, he is recovered enough to show his face to a relieved crowd and things return to normal (though perhaps a few degrees cooler).
Suddenly, the man raises his arms. Yes, that man. Those huge arms outlined in blue neon have been down at a 70 degree angle all week, and suddenly they start rising until they are pointed 70 degrees up in the air. Yow. Fireworks start going off. Showers of sparks, lots of them. The base under the man starts burning. More fireworks, culminating in a huge shower of multicolored sparks shooting up several hundred feet in the air, filling the sky above the man with a solid sheet of sparks. The base of the man starts burning more, and the legs of the man start to burn, then the whole man is burns. There are wires attached to the top of the man, with men at the bottom (in fire suits) waiting to make sure that the man falls properly when it falls. The man is almost consumed by flames. Suddenly, there are towering columns of smoke - like the dust devils we've been seeing all week, except this time they are solid smoke, 100 feet high, and appearing one after another, coming straight out of the fire, evenly spaced, marching like soldiers, slowly out of view. The man is fully engulfed, and collapses. We were told before the burn started that everyone would have to wait for the base of the platform to collapse before we could move closer. Amazingly, everyone stays back after the man first collapses, and waits for the platform to collapse. Then, everyone starts rushing toward the fire. Everyone immediately starts circling the fire in a slow wave of people. I'm in the midst of it, and quickly lose sight of the people I was with. At times, the crowd gets really tight, but the mass of people moves surprisingly smoothly, around the man. I slowly migrate toward the outside, and try to find the people I was with. I quickly give up, though. It took a while to get my bearings - without the man as a guide, it wasn't clear which direction was which. Things on the Esplanade are big enough, though, that it didn't take long to figure out which side was which. I slowly wandered back to our camp - it would be a long night for many people, but the burn was delightfully intense, and I was happy to leave it as the climax of the night. When I got home, I took the glow sticks off my body and turned them into a representation of the man, on the ground outside my tent.
I had thoughts of possibly packing up early and leaving in the morning in order to get back to San Jose quickly, but surprisingly I'm not that eager to leave - among other things, I want to share the experience of packing up with the other members of the camp. The morning is spent slowly packing. Pulling rebar out of the ground. Folding tarps. Getting my tent and rain fly back into the bag - big achievement.
After getting all packed, I take one last bike ride around. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to bother, but like so many times during the week, once I got out there, I was so glad I did. I went past Cathy and Mike's camp - looks like they left already. I head toward the playa. In the ground by one camp, I see these big swirly patterns. Interesting texture, a thin dark line accompanying broader indentations. I stop to take a picture, and ask the guy standing in the camp how they were done. "I just dragged my cooler around." As I leave, I hear his friend encouraging him to do some more.
I ride out into the playa and saw half-a-dozen art installations I hadn't seen before. I looked for the site of the man. Was that it? That small circle of completely flat black embers? Amazingly small, virtually nothing left. A woman walks up to the embers, and does a little dance, sheepishly, but walks away looking happy she did it. I get off my bike and walk on the embers. It isn't even that hot.
A woman leans down and notices a stone-like cylinder in the embers. Itís squat, almost cubic. She and her friend wonder what it is. I am only slightly curious, and I wander away looking at the embers. 2 minutes later, I wander back, and they have found more of those squat cylinders, perhaps 8 or so, and arranged them in a circle. A third person joins them, starts gathering up other odd remnants from the ashes, and begins adding them to what is obviously going to be a growing work of art.
I finish my ride back to camp, attach my bike to the car, and slowly, very slowly, drive out. Near the exit, there are BM volunteers saying "Have a good time?" and "See you next year!" The last two volunteers just smile silently, and I smile back.
The road leaving the area has a clear view of the entire playa and city. I drive slowly so I can keep looking back at it. I think about swirls made by a cooler in the dust, and squat cylinders arranged in a circle, and Iím crying.