Friday, September 10, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - Part 3

Part three: 'Welcome Home".

As far as the car's concerned, this thump is most certainly a mechanical problem. I can't tell how loud it is outside the car, but it's definitely a loud sound inside the car. I'm looking at the people standing outside the car to see if they're reacting to it with any level of surprise. Nobody jumps when I shift.

That's good...

It is a change in the way it sounded - for sure. Fortunately, I don't see any dripping fluid, and it's still working fine, so I figure "what the hell" -- I'm just going in. As long as it'll start at the end of the week, and I can get it out of here, we'll sort it out then…

When you get there, you're in a huge line - and even given that people are waiting - they ask you "are you a virgin?" meaning a first time 'burner'.

I say "In every respect." (By the way, I heard you do revert back after a while.)

"We'd like you to get out of the car and ring the bell". They have an old empty lead compressed gas canister with a sawed off bottom hanging from above the gate which they escort me to, and I'm instructed to hit it with a beater they hand you - "as hard as you can". You then lie down in the very, very dusty soil, and you make a 'dust' angel. When you stand up, you're filthy, and everyone hugs you, and they all say "welcome home".

As a matter of fact, whenever some one asks you if it's your 'first burn' they often follow your answer with "welcome home." It really feels great.

I'm only at the entrance point, I already like the fact that the aesthetic content of the moment -- the 'art' of it - supersedes the fact that other people are waiting in line -- and that the welcome is definitely genuine. When I wake up the next morning after pitching the tent and sleeping a long sleep, I notice that I'm still hearing that sound of the ringing bell dinging in the distance, and that constant ringing would continue for days to come.

When I ride in, I'm looking at and navigating in a grid that has been cordoned off into a semicircular grid of streets....

The city is roughly about half the size of the downtown San Francisco (I've seen this overlay map that shows that), so it's huge. It's about 14,000 feet in circumference, which is about 2.65 miles from one side to the other, so that bike would have come in quite handy. Over the week, I will walk that distance many times over.

I finally eye a spot which is pretty damn close to the center of things, and I negotiate with a guy named 'Novus' for a little spot in his and his friends' area. I'm not crazy about Novus upon first meeting, but the spot is really great, and they finally say that I can park my car right there once we figure out some logistics, and I've got good shielding from the wind. The wind is supposed to be intense at times. I'll actually tie the tent to the car for added safety.

The funny thing is that I never saw Novus again...

I don't know about Novus' name, but as it turns out, many of your veteran burners have 'playa names', so as I'm introduced to people in the coming days, they are named things like 'Smalls', 'Pear Bear', 'Quiet', 'Jugger', and 'reklaw'. I just use my regular name.

Also people set up their camps and give their camps names. I'm directly across from "The Super Friends", and catty-corner to me is "More Fun, Less Suck"....

More Fun, Less Suck have a good setup, they have a shade structure right on the street....

.....and they sit there with a megaphone yelling at people who come by, inviting them in for a drink or asking the men 'to show us your tits' (very good success rate there). As luck would have it, many of the women are already topless.

As for dress, everything is about costumes. Burning Man has the feel of a halloween party that goes on for a week. 'No-No' from the 'More Fun Less Suck' camp pops up from her chair from time to time and says, pointing her finger in the air, "Time for a costume change!" and subsequently reappears in 5 minutes in something new. Other folks are less exuberant or spontaneous about it - but still into it in a big way, and some people assume a personna which they continue in for the entire week. Many times the women are very sexily clad, bustiers, heels, or nothing at all...

God bless Burning Man! You're told to be very respectful about pictures - which I appreciate - so I don't have any of those kinds of photos that I would share - even the ones where I asked if it's OK I take. Some men walk around naked as well, but of course that's not anything that catches my eye.

Amongst all this, I'm definitely the clueless one. I have a hat from Sears - bought at the last minute - which I hate, and a pair of kid's swimming goggles that are lime green. I use a construction particle mask from a hardware store for windstorms....

Everything else is my regular clothes. In other words, I got nothin'. I put zero thought into it, and for the first time - even though I'm not big on Halloween - I kind of wish I had. People are mostly fine with my underwhelmingness, but I certainly see how I'm the 'plain jane' of the playa.

Plus I have no shade structure, I'm on the bad side of the street (with respect to the sun exposure), so there's no hanging at my place. Plus, I have a teenie tent which is getting filthier by the hour....

.....and I'm not a veteran. When the veterans talk about past years, or "what is so-and-so up to?", I'm lost. It's the opposite of my 'real' life in NYC (or what burners would call the "default world").

I am the lowest value person on the playa for sure.

Thus, I have to go hang out with other people - just show up and sit down. You can only spend so much time alone in a small tent in 100 degree weather before you simply have to impose on someone's hospitality -- and to me it feels like imposition. They say it isn't, and in the abstract, it's obvious that there is more hospitality, tolerance and welcoming here than in the 'default world', but I can still detect that some people can take me or leave me, to put it kindly.

At 'More Fun Less Suck' I have a mentor in 'NoBooty'...

...and his partner 'Chopper'....

They are Rangers - in other words they are the Black Rock 'police' - so to speak. There are offical Nevada Sheriffs on the scene, but the Rangers are the first line in keeping the peace and controlling the crowds. The rangers hold the order of the city together surprisingly well. It's an all volunteer group, and they are all 'burners' just like anyone else there, who decided to volunteer to help out. Nobooty - who is a 10 year burner - tells me what to expect, both as the week progresses, and also in the way to experience every event ('stand with the wind to your back at the burn', for example).

It seems, Nobooty tells me, some of the nudity will abate as the weekend draws near due to the presence of the 'yahoo' crowd, which is generally the locals that come in over the weekend to yell and scream. They aren't real 'burners' in the veteran's eyes, since they don't love the art and lifestyle as much as they love a big party with lots of women and dancing.

Crap. I was enjoying that nudity. Now I hate yahoos too!

The culture is jokingly touted as 'openly corrupt'. One day I'm at the ice store: long line. One of the workers there with a megaphone announces that because a woman has brought them drink mix and alcohol she gets to cut to the front of the line. Imagine that in a block long line in New York City…. Here: cheers erupt as she's escorted forward.

I go to the post office (yes, Black Rock City actually has 2 post offices). Seeing my mail, the reticent woman postal worker there (who is behind the counter topless) asks, "What have you got to give me?". I finally get her to agree to take my mail when I agree to walk out on the Esplanade for 30 minutes and tell passing people about the Post Office.

Center Camp is a very cool place (shown here in a sand storm)...

It is a circular building with an open roof that is shaded by strips of cloth and clothing which has a lot of art in it. There are two stages right opposite each other, one has comedians and the other has 24 hour-a-day music. In the middle is a circular spot where people do yoga, or dance. There are people giving massages, and other bodywork, and the coffee place is in there. Plus a lot of people are asleep in there, lying on the floor. There are couches and tables and chairs all over the place, and everything is really dusty....

You gotta love dust here. In a way it's kinda cool -- like living life inside of a movie. 'Mad Max' meets 'Woodstock' maybe.

I spend time in Center Camp in the early mornings listening to acoustic performances at sunrise. It's the only time a primitive Internet connection they have at Center Camp is fast enough to allow even the simplest activities -- and I'm taking the edge off loneliness by being in touch with friends on Facebook.

Artsy, Fartsy:
The art at Burning Man, by the way, is amazing. I have never seen anything quite like it, and New York is known to have some of the best museums and exhibitions in the world….and I don't just mean from the standpoint of uniqueness, I mean I've never witnessed a spectacle this compelling, exciting, creative, engaging....

Part of it is it's sense of whimsey, a quality which in this incarnation can only be manifested by a community. No single great artist could get it this right. I have many pictures, but it's like trying to film the Grand Canyon. Like photos of the Grand Canyon, the best picture will never come close to creating the sensation of being out on the Playa seeing all this stuff happening at once. It's huge. Everything is burning. Unexplainable. Especially at night.

And the so called 'mutant vehicles' are fantastic! The DMV (you guessed it - 'department of mutant vehicles') actually licenses all the conveyances that aren't bicycles, and you aren't allowed to drive anything on the inner playa itself, except a bicycle or one of the art cars, and they must be severely modified in some way to qualify for licensing:

In the middle of all this stands 'the man', that will be burned on Saturday night. The figure is at least 100 feet tall in total and stands on a large platform that has 3 floors of stairs so you can walk up to just below the man:

At the back of the circle that is the City, out on the other end of the open Playa, is the temple. People go to the temple and write intentions, goodbyes, eulogies, and other meaningful things on the temple walls. The temple will burn on Sunday night:

All in all, I am so glad to I came to see and be a part of this. It really does feel like "welcome home".

Yes, These are my people.

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