Saturday, September 26, 2015


So I was fortunate to return to the mystical magical land of Burning Man this year. It was my third adventure to the Playa, and it was absolutely fabulously wonderful. And cold. Really cold. Friday - Monday nights it was 34-37 degrees. Yep. Welcome to Burning Man! Always unpredictable and always an adventure.

As some of you might remember from my previous Burning Man Blog entries, I said that Burning Man is a tough place to visit. It's hot. It's dusty. It's windy. It will dry out your skin and if you're foolish enough to walk around barefoot, the Playa dust can literally burn your skin until it bleeds. It's very acidic. You have to use vinegar to wipe down your hands and feet or it can dry out and crack and bleed. Sound fun, right?

Not only was it really cold over the weekend nights, it was also really windy for my first 3 days. I arrived Wednesday afternoon in a blowing dust storm. It only took Brian and I 1 hour to get through the gate. Which, in Burning Man terms, is like lightning. After having our vehicle checked for stowaways, we drove to the greeter station. And today was Naked Greeter Day! So the greeters were giving people hugs and welcomes in the buff. Except for the goggles and dust masks because it was a near white out. Welcome to Burning Man!

People often ask "Where do you stay at Burning Man?". Some folks think there are hotels and what not. It's tents for me. RV's for some. And if you're rich and want to say you went to burning man but don't really care about what burning man is really about, you might stay in a Turnkey camp. One such camp was located next to where my buddy Joel was camping. It was a series of reverse pressurized domes with some sort of static field at the entrances so that no dust would get in. There was a 5 star chef cooking meals in the mess area. One of the guests was a Saudi prince with his harem (no bullshit). The cost for 9 days of burning man:  $100,000.  I would see some of the folks walking around, and they would be wearing styled "burner clothes" that some stylist clearly put together for them. They never had dust on them. Were always clean. They'd take their pics at different "events" and then disappear.

Part of me finds this to be against the spirit of the event. But then again, Burning Man welcomes all kinds.

Getting dusty and dirty is part of the Burning Man experience. It's part of the joy of being there. (Or is it the suffering?). Either way, standing in a dust storm watching your shade structure ripped to shreds by the constantly blowing wind is part of it. It's radical self reliance. It' survival. Part of the journey that makes Burning Man special is the very fact that it IS HARD. Packing for it is logistically compliacated. Get there and away is a traffic jam of epic proportions (unless you come at off times like I happened to do). Its dry, its hot, its cold. And it's awesome. Challenges are good. They help us to find out what we're made out of. It makes our comfort zones grow and grow. I'm okay with things now that I never thought I would be (and I'm not just talking about dust and grime).

You get filthy, and then you find a steam room. I wasn't on the playa for more than 5 hours before I wandered past a Russian steam room. I signed up, jumped in with 9 strangers and a "sauneer" who told us about Russian steam rooms and as the aroma scented steam filled the low chamber we whipped each other with birch branches... because that's what the Russian's do!  The rocks were heated outside using a flame-thrower and then put in a small door in the Yurt like structure. Then the "sauneer" would dump the water on it and fill the room with steam. It clears your sinuses. Cleans your skin and your pores. And I tell you, it's the best damn thing on the Playa. I discovered it 2 years ago and this year hit one up almost every day. I ended up in the Finnish one just down the street from the Russian one most of the times, because they were open more often. I highly recommend it.

Being to Burning Man 3 times is interesting. The first trip is a whole bunch of "Oh my god! What the f#@$ is that awesome thing! What's that? Look at the pretty lights! Let's go here!".  It's very ADD and fabulously overwhealming and wonderful.  (Here's the link for my first year  My second year is a bit of a let down. How can it not be? It's still amazing, and still wonderful and there were plenty of new discoveries to behold, but after the, dare I say life-changing first year, there is no way year 2 could measure up. And it's not supposed to. It's a different journey. And a different adventure.

I'm actually very glad I missed last years burn. That allowed me time to shift and decide if this was something I wanted to go to or if it was just something that I "did". A routine or habit like any other (albeit much more complicated and out there).  That made me decide that I really wanted to go this year. And also made me realize that if I don't end up there on any given year that it's fine. As Burners say "The Playa Provides..." and it does so even when you're not there. And what it may be providing you is a break from the Burn so that it DOESN'T become habit or routine. There are some old school burners that I spent time with this trip, and they were pretty lackluster about the man Burning, about the temple burning. they didn't want to deal with the crowds or the yahoo's. They weren't excited about the fireworks or the style of the temple this year. I was going to spend Man Burn night with them and then thought...

 "No way. I am not going to be apathetic about something that is as AWESOME as the Man burn."  It's so much fun! All the art cars in a circle, all the sounds, the music, the amazing fire spinning groups, the fire works, the burn, the collapse, racing into the center. It's all so fun!  It's all so awesome!  The day I get apathetic about something cool is the day that I should move onto something else.

Look, everyone has complaints about Burning Man. It's true. After you've been once, there is always a comparision to what it's "supposed to be" or the "glory days". And I even felt this this year in reguard to the fact that 60% of the people going were Virgins. They'd never been before. And Burning Man is specifically an event ABOUT THE PEOPLE. The people ARE the event. It's not a festival. It's about what you as a person bring. And how to experience that with other people. And if 60% of the people have never been there before, then what is the event? What will they bring that fits into the ethos of what Burning Man is? It's a tough question. And the sign that this was so to me was when, after the Man fell, and everyone rushed in to the "Rivers of humanity" (that I talk about in my first year blog) that the river circled the man less than one time before IT STOPPED.  3 years ago everyone ran around and around the fire, dancing, cheering. Doing something together that just happened because it did. And it always had. But this year the river stopped. People started pushing. Some wanted to move, but most wanted to pull out their phones and take pictures. And I thought "It's because they've never been before. They don't know that this is how it's supposed to be."

Since the burn I've thought about how they should limit the number of first timers, or they should guarantee old school burners tickets (not that I'm one, I've only been 3 times). But then I thought more and thought, No. They shouldn't do that. Burning Man is constantly changing. It is an event that is fundimentally about how everything in life is temporary. EVEN BURNING MAN. Burning Man is totally different now from the early 90's when there were no "city streets", there were drive-by shooting ranges where you could drive by and shoot at targets with real guns. Because you could bring guns, and fireworks and pretty much do anything you want. But like any society that grows, rules come into play. And after 3 people got ran over in their tent in 1996, and one man ran his motorcycle into a sculpture at 100mph. Things changed. I'm not going to do a whole history of Burning Man here, but as I said, it changes. Burning Man was what it was for me the first time I was there. And the next year it changed. And this year was a little different. The fact that everyone on this list knows about burning man is a change from 15 years ago when my roommate first started going. Back then this was a fringe event. Now it's "mainstream fringe". Almost everyone I talk to says they'd like to go. Most of them won't. (Please see the above about it being a pain in the ass as to why.)

One of my main goals of this Burning Man was to CONNECT with people. I have a lot of friends and meet a ton of people in my daily life in LA. But the number of people I really, truly CONNECT with is few. I treasure it when it does. When I make a true new friend (and not someone who just wants to be friends on Facebook and never actually do anything together). And the nice thing about Burning Man is that people DO CONNECT. It happens fast and it is deep. And no, this isn't hippie mumbo-jumbo. It's real. People are more open to connecting, to sharing their feelings, experiences, their hopes, dreams, fears, selves. And it's awesome. It's what I wanted, it's what I needed, and it's what I got...

But those stories will be for the next email. This one is already pretty long...