Monday, September 10, 2012


Once the sun starts to set Burning Man becomes a different (and more awesome in my opinion) animal.

The sunsets are beautiful.  Epic even?  And a big relief to not have the sun beating down.  One day, Friday, the dust storm day, I was up on top of the 77 foot tall structure at Mall Mart camp.  You had to get spanked by a paddle to climb it (no exceptions!) and it looked (sort of) like a giant penis.  Yep, a 77 foot tall penis...only at Burning Man. 

What does this look like to you?

The thing was rickety, shaky and in the wind felt fantastically unsafe...(though a guy from that camp said it was inspected 3 times by officials, so I guess it was "safe").  The view of the city at sunset was awesome.  I stayed up there for an hour plus to watch the sun vanish, the city lights come out.  It was really amazing to see the scale of Burning Man from the top of the tower.  Met a number of interesting folks too.

View from the top!

Another fabulous sunset was on the last day.  I was riding a Yellow Bike (these are community bikes that are painted green and have a sticker on them that say "yellow bike".  If you find one, pick it up and ride away).  I was riding out onto the Playa as the sun was gone and there was some dust in the air and it felt like I was underwater.  I rode past the temple and deep into the playa.  Saw all sorts of random art structures (easy chairs with umbrellas, mazes etc), and was even offered Margarita by a random dude riding past.  I never did make it all the way to the end of Burning Man.  Someplace out in the distance was a movie theater and the trash fence that surrounds the city limits.  Maybe next time I'll make it all the way out.  On my way back to the temple the chain broke...oops!  I wrapped it around and brought the bike back.

Blessed night.
Filled with lights.
Music bouncing from everywhere.
People wearing glowsticks/flashlights/blinkys.  (You want to light yourself up because the playa and city are dark at night (especially if there was no moon).  And you might get run over by an art car or bycyclist.

I'm not doing a good job of capturing what this is.  It's 360 degrees of moving lights, art cars, music, and more.  Things that in the day looked plain, at night look magical.  Camps will be lit up.  One geodesic dome in the middle of no where would dance to pitch.  So if you sang or hummed, the lights would change colors.  One art car is a 30 foot tall mechanical octopus that shoots fire out of it's tenticals.  Lot's of fire.

There's a lot of fire at night too.  Walking metal robots the shoot fire.  Art cars that shoot fire.  On the last night I saw the pirate ship shooting fire for the first time.  (Apparently it did it all week, I just missed it).  There was "Super Street Fire", where you strap on gloves with motion sensors, and stand on platforms with flame throwers in between and around.  You then "fought" by punching and swiping your hands in the techniques from the video game Street Fighter.  (Harukin!  Sonic BOOM!) and the fire shooters would respond accordingly.  It was all pretty chaotic, but looked awesome when 26 fire jets blasted flame into the air.  I really wanted to do it, but the line was a little long, so I figured I'd come back with Brian later... I never did. 

There's also the THUNDERDOME.
This is a long running staple of burning man.  I'd heard about it before, it sounded like fun.  It was a giant dome where 2 men (or women) enter and strap into these bungee harnesses, grab a staff with padding on the ends, and proceed to battle it out.  The music blasts (one fight was to an industrial version of "Tubthumping", you know "I get knocked down, but I get up again, and you never gonna keep me down"!).  The crowd climbs up on the dome and cheers.  It's pretty wild.  Once I saw how much impact the guys were dealing out, I thought "with my neck, this is probably not the best choice out here in the desert", so I didn't do it.  Maybe I should have anyway.

"Two Men enter, one man leaves!  THUNDERDOME!"

I like to think I participated a lot, but as I'm writing this I realize how much in observation mode I was for a lot of this.  I guess you can't do everything. 

There was karaoke at one point, but I got there too late.  Would have been fun to blow it.  But, as I was riding down a street at night a camp was doing "Dinner and a show".  The camp was sitting in chairs, watching the street, and they had guys on mics grabbing passers by to be "the show".  So I freestyled some Ice Ice Baby to a clapping crowd.  One guy did a love poem and proposed to his playa love.  Another girl was a contortionist.  Just right there in the middle of the dirt street.

Dancing, dancing dancing. 
You could dance 24/7 at Burning Man if you wanted.  I did a fair amount of it on various nights.  The two biggest camps, Opulent Temple and Root Society are at the ends of the city.  They are some of the biggest dance places I've ever seen.  50 foot LED walls that danced.  Towers and cages you could dance in.  Or just on the ground.  One night, late, as I was coming back from the deep playa, it started to rain.  So I dropped my bike and ran into the crowd to dance a bit.  Awesome.  I wish someone had played "Sandstorm" by Darude.  That would have made my night! 

Dancing under this thing was nuts!

Much of the music is EDM.  Electronic.  Rave type stuff.  Some of the worlds biggest DJ's come through burning man.  I didn't recognize any of the names, but I don't generally follow that scene.  Still, it was fun to be with so many people who were REALLY into it.  (And maybe a bit high).  But it's not all that kind.  I heard blues.  I heard country.  Hip Hop.  Brian says 5 years ago it was ALL Dubstep.  But now that Dubstep is popular and mainstream, there is less of it.  Some might argue that Dubstep started at burning man.  They would likely be right.  I heard Journey, Boston, and drifting over the city one night "Total Eclipse of the Heart".

My favorite dance night was at Crossroads Camp.  I stumbled upon a live band, had to have been 15 pieces, playing Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Cee Lo, Prince and more.  The place was energized and awesome.  Such a blast.  The band was amazing.  A nice surprise.  I enjoy EDM, but it's awesome to hear the classics!

All of this bouncing around from place to place to place highlights something that is definitely a factor at Burning Man.  (Brian says it is more so your first few times there) which is the classic "Fear of missing out syndrome".  Only here it's highlighted twenty fold.  I know a lot of people who have this in normal life (I do, though it's less pronounced now than when I was in High School).  But man, at Burning man, you really COULD be missing out on the coolest thing EVER just around the next corner or across the playa.  The trick is to just trust where you are and enjoy that moment.  "But wait, is that a firebreathing dragon?" "Oh man, can I dance on the robot art car?"  "Or should I dance on the hillbilly art car?" "Is that a neon shark drifting across the desert?" "Can I do the thunderdome?" etc etc etc.

The list is endless, and I know I would rarely stay in one place very long.  The tower or waiting for the burns or the temple probably kept me the longest.  But so often I'd be enjoying myself watching the grinders shoot sparks out, then think "I should move on, what's over here!".  Because of course, every day I see a half dozen people blasting sparks in wild patters 25 feet in the air.  It's just so common, there MUST be something more exciting just over here. :)

Let the sparks fly!

I imagine if I went back I might stay for the whole class rather than leave after 20 minutes.  I might dance to more than 2 songs before I moved on.  I might watch the entire performance... or I might not.  It's Burning Man.  As long as you trust your instincts, I think you'll be rewarded with fascinating and interesting things.  If you're worried about missing out, you won't engage with what's there.  But if you go with the flow and if the flow says "let's move on", then I think that's okay.  It really is a lesson in living in the moment (Which I'm pretty sure is one of the Burning Man principals if I remember correctly.  If it's not, it should be. :). 

Live in the moment.
Enjoy where you're at.
And I almost always enjoyed where I was at during the night.  (Except when it got really cold on Saturday night.  That wasn't as fun.  But that's what warm geodesic domes with flashing lights are for!).

Mystical Magical Mystery Land. 
Nightime at Burning Man.

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