Archive for September, 2008

living the american dream: a little bit about burning man

I’d prepared for the damn thing all summer, a week-long post-anarchist, post-hippie, post-punk festival of crazy art installations made by people on drugs for people on drugs, stuck in the middle of the desert to keep the godless revelers away from Christian eyes. I’d made my bike look like a pack of playing cards had exploded on it, sewed up a wardrobe of fur and EL wire, and packed for every kind of catastrophe imaginable. I was more ready than most virgins could ever hope to be.

And it was every bit as fun as I thought it’d be. Far be it from me to divulge all the details here, but a few key points must be made if you think this festival would be worth going to:

1. Don’t panic. On the playa, anything goes. There will be drugs, sex, and a shit ton of pyrotechnics. Whatever you get offered, don’t freak out. Listen to yourself. Only take what you actually want, and only give what you actually want to give. But as a general rule, people just say yes. I mean, why not? You’re already there, and chances are it won’t actually kill you.

2. You are not going to be able to do everything you want to do. I had about ten things I wanted to do every single day, and every single day I probably only got around to doing one or two of them. That’s cool, because the people you meet are the most fun part of the place, not just the activities you do. (Although that waterboarding camp was really popular…)

3. Be with people you enjoy being with. Exploring the playa with friends is most of the fun. And being with people you trust and are 100% comfortable with is key, especially if you’re particularly vulnerable-looking, or on some kind of substance.

4. Listen to your body. Remember that the desert isn’t the friendliest place for humans, and that your body might be trying to tell you something really important if you’re angry, scared, sleepy, nauseated, or starting to see crazy shit. You might be dehydrated, or on something you didn’t notice was in the brownies.

5. Sometimes there are idiots. Some people just get drunk and belligerent, spending all of Burning Man walking around with blinding headlamps destroying other people’s stuff because they think it’s funny. Some skeevy old guys walk around naked staring at people. If you’re a girl going topless, someone might try to fondle you. Prepare for the worst, but these fuckers are usually avoidable. And you can always get help.

6. Yes, everything is real. The best part of being on the playa is that, no matter what state of mind you’re in, you’ll be seeing things like giant pink bunnies, naked people in clear hamster balls, or hellish landscapes being engulfed in flames, and you don’t have to worry about thinking you’re going crazy.

All that said, if you feel really uncomfortable walking around the more offbeat neighborhoods of San Francisco, if you think things like BDSM and drug use are disgusting and wrong, or if you hate electronic music, Burning Man is probably not for you.

Yeah? Yeah. I think I’m going there again next year… After I pay off all of my camp debts from this year. People don’t talk about it on the playa, but there’s a price to pay for being part of something awesome. Maybe next time I’ll go without a camp and just walk around…



This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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