How I Spent My Summer Vacation (or, A Norwegian Lutheran In the Court of Woo)

Sixty foot dust devils twisted north like enraged belly dancers and from the back of the Ryder I could see every other nascent camp on the playa. Brent had hit upon the brilliant idea of turning our heavy vinyl concession tent on its side to act as a wind break and Chris was busy lining the bottom edge of the tent with carpet and water containers. This worked well enough to give us about 150 square feet of wind resistant “living room”, which we promptly laid with carpet-topped foam, couches, and pillows. Our duties at Burning Man 2001 were two-fold. First was to install sound and lighting for The Coliseum, a bastard stepchild that was the repository of about a dozen good ideas unable to peacefully occupy the same space; second was to wire a performance dome for The Woo Woo Field, new friends whose space we had agreed to stake with our arrival.

Returning from the Coliseum site-to-be on our second day, Chris and I walked into a huddled conference on the corner of The Woo Woo Field — a grizzled DPW old-timer (insert a Nevada rancher stereotype here) and his city-slicker-hottie sidekick were insisting that they had reserved this space. Brent wisely referred them back to the Placement Coordinator for the area (Frog, who originally sited us) but was being blown off with what became a conversational subtext for the rest of our time in Black Rock City.

“Son, I don’t care what you THINK — I BUILT this city. Y’see that trash fence — my people walked every foot of that fence. I built this city and I helped lay out that map. I know the man who drew it. I don’t know this ‘Frog’ but I built this city and this is OUR camp.”

Brent was kind enough to help them pull their rebar back out when they packed up.

A week of isolated living didn’t prepare us for the rapid mushroom-growth of BRC. We knew our nearest neighbors, The Nuclear Family — a block away, but after five days of wake’n’wave there was suddenly a wall of tents blocking us and alleys had sprung up to negotiate. The Woo arrived in a trickle and a flood and even as The Coliseum fell apart in scheduling hassles, time-differentials and sheer selfish silliness the amazing house band of The Woo began rehearsals, the fire dancers arrived and the three of us discovered a family we hadn’t known.

By Thursday, the crowd was in place and Black Rock had hit a gorgeous melange of light, sound and spectacle — a sort of not-so-alcohol-fueled Bourbon Street that never ended. After a disastrously frustrating day preparing The Coliseum for an event that never showed (“Don’t worry, man, it’s just playa time…relax and go with it…it’ll all happen eventually.”), I was wishing I had never committed to it. Behind me in the darkness, I knew, the Woo’ers were concentrating on the dome to unveil an amazing troupe of fire dancers, incredible musicians and a mountain of good food and drink. While proud of the crew assisting me (major thanks to Randy Inaz, in particular, who was a font of good sense and handy gear), the sad fact that the rest of the Coliseum folks spent their mornings in bed, refusing to prep for the evening until the scorching afternoon heat galled me — we were killing ourselves through the afternoon for things that could easily be done at saner times. This made me grumpy. By the time I finally headed for my camp that evening I was ready to simply pack and leave. Thursday evening was my lowest point.

Trying to find our camp was a challenge. Since leaving early that morning it seemed that the world had changed and nothing looked familiar. Finally stumbling through a line of cars and RV’s, I came upon a gently lit bedouin encampment, a sort of Berber village of candles and dim reflections. Standing entranced, wondering how this had come about so close to where I thought my camp to be, I finally realized that what I had found was…my camp. Walking the circle around toward our living room, the most magically-glowing area of the bunch, my jaw dropped further and further. Finally clicking in on an orientation, I turned to my right and could see the performance dome surrounded by a wall of revelers. I had chosen a hypnotic lull in the music to walk in and now the band was building a riff back up, a new girl on her knees in front of them moaning into the microphone and guiding them toward a climax. As I walked toward the sound it struck me that I had arrived home, really home, and that this was where I belonged. Someone at the edge of the crowd turned toward me and extended a hand saying “we’ve been waiting for you — we saved some dinner because we knew you’d be hungry.” A girl I had found wandering the playa in a sandstorm and brought back to camp gave me a kiss and pressed a glass of sake into my hand. Someone else handed me a cigarette and Dax sat and laughed through my dinner with me.

I was home. I was happy. It was all going to be OK.

The night of the burn, the band came to serenade The Man and we wired the Coliseum to accept feeds from the bus that acted as a stage. After the burn, Cap’n Kelly took us on a tour of Black Rock City and its art. I curled into the comfort of a plush couch with the warmth of new friends and contemplated the spectacle, amazed. No matter where we were, I was home and nothing could disturb that certainty.

Thanks, everybody — “I wuv woo”, as Heatherbomb might say.

by Clint Darling

About the author: Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by participants. Submit your story here.