Yeah yeah, I know: it’s an art event, we love art, we love artists, fire is awesome, blinking lights are cool, and giant churches tilted at 45 degree angles are just what we were missing in our lives.
But the fact that there’s art at Burning Man sometimes overshadows the fact that art is *one of the things* you find there. And so far I haven’t heard nearly enough people talk about the whimsy.
You know: The pranks, the tricks, the inspired moments of lunacy that make you fall in love with people all over again. The stuff the Org doesn’t fund … because who in their right mind would pay for a guy to stand outside a party pretending to be security and searching people’s backpacks for stolen bicycles … but that we do for its own sake. Because we want to live in a world where this happens.
2013 was actually a very good year for whimsy at Burning Man. I saw a lot of creative, topsy-turvy, and otherwise insane human interactions that make me feel good about life. Whoever these 68,000 people who came out to the desert were, some of them were high-caliber tricksters.
So I’m going to take this time to list some of my favorite whimsical events that happened at the 2013 Burning Man, and I hope you’ll use the comments space to mention all the hilarious moments I know I missed.
Top honors, for my money, has to go – just has to – to Whatsblem the Pro, who in a moment of divine inspiration decided to pretend to act like law enforcement official (without ever identifying himself as one) and see if he could get permission from Burners to search their cars … while he was wearing a full-on Santa costume.
It was stunning how many Burners just assumed that a guy who acted like a cop had the authority to detain them … even when he had no ID, was dressed like Santa, and his deputy was a guy sitting in a tent. More than just hilarious, it was a learning experience for a lot of people involved.
But while some pranks can thrive on inspiration, others require a lot of planning. My idea to cover the Facebook “thumbs up” with printed out Facebook ads came just too late.
Others were brilliantly prepared.
Only “Santa Cop” could possibly have knocked the Black Rock City Subway System out of the top spot. This was a beautifully well thought out prank: official looking metal signs were put up in camps around the Esplanade announcing that burners with tokens could find the entrance hole and ride the underground subway system across the desert – the absolutely fastest way to get from here to there.
And THEN they distributed fancy wooden tokens. For the whole week camps with subway signs posted had to tell Burners looking for the entrance hole that … um … it was over there. Go look over there. Yeah, just past the light.
Less epically done, but nonetheless spot on, were the signs posted mid-week on portapotties around the playa saying that in-toilet security cameras had been installed for your protection, as per the Homeland Security Act.
Then of course there was a BMIR tradition that I was proud to take part of: on the night of the Burn they put out lighted construction cones, send station personnel out with shovels and hard hats, and close part of the Esplanade down in order to fix a broken water main. A couple of other people order other Burners to keep clear of the area.
“PLEASE GO AROUND THE CONSTRUCTION ZONE!” we shouted through a megaphone. “WE HAVE A BROKEN DOWN WATER MAIN … THE INFRASTRUCTURE IS JUST TERRIBLE HERE, REALLY ANTIQUATED, AND WE’RE PROBABLY GOING TO HAVE TO RAISE YOUR TICKET PRICES NEXT YEAR. BUT YOU’RE NOT IN ANY DANGER RIGHT NOW, AND NEITHER IS YOUR FAMILY, AS LONG AS YOU GO AROUND THE AREA! PLEASE GO AROUND THE AREA! OUT THAT WAY! I KNOW YOU DON’T LIKE IT, I DON’T LIKE IT, BUT THE WATER MAIN IS BROKEN AND I’M MARRIED AND THERE’S NOTHING EITHER OF US CAN DO ABOUT IT! WE’VE GOT CRAPPY INFRASTRUCTURE AND I’M A MIDDLE CHILD! THANK YOU FOR DETOURING! BLACK ROCK CITY APPRECIATES YOUR COOPERATION, AND IN A GESTURE OF THANKS WE’RE GOING TO PUT A MINT ON YOUR PILLOW TONIGHT! DON’T WORRY, WE KNOW WHERE YOU CAMP!”
But the best part was when all our activity finally brought a Ranger over. I was holding the megaphone at the time, so he walked up to me.
“HI THERE!” I said to him.
“Yeah, listen,” he said. “About that broken water main …”
“I heard on the radio that the water’s gotten into the subway system, so, you’ll probably have to expand your perimeter.”
“SHIT! ALL RIGHT: DECIBLE! MOVE THE CONES! WE’VE GOT A SITUATION HERE!”
That Ranger is my hero.
And that’s my short-list of great pranks at Burning Man 2013.
I’m sorry if I missed your act of whimsy … I would have loved to have been there. Please tell us what you saw and what you did below.
is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man stands around other people’s camps asking if they’ve been told about “The Secret.” His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com