The days were great, but the nights were MAGICAL! Very hard to explain in words; it must be seen to be believed. My senses were constantly bombarded with color and lights emanating from the city, theme camps and the people all dressed up in magnificent costumes all bedecked with blinking lights (many created just for Burning Man). Black Rock City is Disneyland, Las Vegas and Times Square all packaged together. If you want to get away from the sounds and lights of the city, you need only venture on foot or bike into the desert past the Man. The sounds become muted and the only lights you see are the billions of blinking stars high overhead. That is worth the price of admission!
OK, so let me see. I’ve been fed, pampered, chauffeured around the desert, offered alcohol, plus I’ve been entertained with wonderful music and seen great (and not so great) works of art rise from the desert floor and then destroyed again. Is that why Burning Man is so special? As wonderful as all of that is, (and believe me it is), what makes Burning Man so special to me is the freedom everyone has to fully express themselves. Upon entering the front gate you are greeted with a “welcome home” from the people who work there. And, for all of the many return visitors, that’s exactly what it is, home! The freedom to be yourself, without worrying what other people think or say, became intoxicating. Everywhere I looked, I saw people dressed, or undressed, in any costume or piece of clothing that the “outside world” would probably find objectionable. Nothing at Burning Man is objectionable to the people that attend.
After two days I no longer felt that sharp twinge in my neck (probably caused by my constantly swinging my head around to see all of those undraped bodies). What was not “normal” for me before I entered the gates became perfectly normal and acceptable. Within two days my belief structure was permanently changed and it felt great! It was wonderful to see people give of themselves because they truly wanted to. There seemed to be a mutual understanding that the community of Burning Man will form a temporary society dedicated to creativity and fun. There are no bystanders at Burning Man because everyone puts in an effort to entertain, build something, or give something away just because it feels good. It was wonderful seeing people doing what they feel comfortable with, knowing that in this oasis of community people will only applaud their uniqueness, not deride it.
I didn’t see many handshakes. I saw hugs, many wonderful hugs. The handshake stems from an old practice of making sure the person your meeting doesn’t have a weapon in his hand the hug is given because you care. I like the hug better!
So now you know everything there is to know about BM, right? I think not. You still need to experience it for yourself.
Before signing off, I would like to share three personal experiences that made Burning Man so special to me, (I won’t bore you with the other 50 odd stories). My son, Marc, better known on the playa as the Sonic Connector or Urb to his friends, has wanted me to go with him to BM for more than three years. In January, I called Marc and told him that 2005 was the year I would attend, (many of you can guess what the impetus was). Marc and I went up on Saturday night and Lynnsey was to follow four days later. Sunday and Monday were brutal with sand storms and wind gusts exceeding 40 mph. It was impossible to put up a shade structure let alone pitch a tent. But we finally put up a tent, however, the netting we put up for shade was torn to shreds by the sever wind gusts. The second night the wind died down and Marc suggested a bike ride into the desert.
I need to give you a little background before I continue. When Marc was a young boy I took him to the NYC Planetarium see a laser show choreographed to the music of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. If you are a Pink Floyd fan you would have loved it; hell Marc and I went three times. OK, let’s fast forward to the desert. Marc and I are riding our bikes with headlamps on to see were we are going. He has his iPod with him strapped to the handlebars of his bike and a baby carrier behind to house the speakers. All you could here were the wheels rolling over the desert floor. After 20 minutes, Marc suggested we turn off our headlamps. We were immediately bathed by the light of a trillion blinking stars and off to my right I could see the outline of the moon appearing over the horizon. My senses were immediately awakened with the playing of Dark Side of The Moon. Tears immediately began to flow. We continued to ride for a few minutes then stopped and got off our bikes. Marc and I didn’t need to connect, since I have always cherished the relationship we have. However, being there with him was incredibly special. We spent a lot of time talking about love, relationships, children, and a whole lot of other stuff, just the two of us in the middle of the desert.
One day I decided to take a stroll around the city. After two hours or so, a magic carpet floated past me so I decided to jump on. It was hot and dusty and it felt great just sitting and taking in the scenery. A few moments later a woman ran from one of the camps along the road and asked if we wanted a hot dog, with that a man from another camp yelled out “hell, you can’t have a hot dog without cold beer” and he immediately poured beer from his pitcher to anyone that wanted it. As we kept riding through the city I began to chuckle. Here I was riding on a magic carpet through a desert city with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other. Wasn’t life a beautiful thing?
Marc, Lynnsey and I left the playa after the burning of the Temple on Sunday. The Temple has four or five wooden structures and is located in the desert past the Man. During the week the Temple is used by many people as a resting place from the heat of day or cool of night. Many people write all sorts of things on its walls and place personal notes between its cracks. I visited the Temple on a very hot day, two days before the burn. I placed a note hidden away from all others to see. The night of the burn, I was standing with Marc and Lynnsey when a cool breeze went through the crowd. Just then a lone voice rose up and sang Ave Maria. There are no words to describe the feeling. After she finished, the temple exploded in cascades of fire. As I watched my old life burn away I held Lynnsey and Marc until the fire died down. We turned and left. Being there with them, at that time, is something I will always treasure.
Next year, when I hear the greeting, Welcome Home, I will understand!
Meet me on the Playa!
Love to you all
Leon (Big Urb)