The Man burned last night. Three of them, in fact. And I feel like I’ve been to Burning Man, circa 1993.
Here’s what happened:
It was another brutally hot day of building and pounding and digging and trenching and setting up shade and erecting posts and laying out flags and getting camps squared away.
It is really goddamn hot. But maybe it’s just me. No one mentions it, or not much, anyway. It’s not like when there’s a little heat wave in SF, and everybody can’t stop talking about the weather. Here, not so much. It’s hot. Yeah, so? You were expecting something else in the Nevada desert in the middle of August? Grab some shade if you have to, but bring me a hammer on your way back.
Meanwhile, everything continues to expand, the desert sprouting new encampments the way cells split in a science movie. Where there were two, now there are four. Where there was nothing, now there’s a trailer. Or six.
Still, there is still an immense feeling of limitless space. There is plenty of room for everybody. And the real shape of the camping area hasn’t really emerged yet. There are street signs going up everywhere, and I find myself looking for the lamp posts that line 6:00 to help negotiate a path over to the Depot. But there’s nothing that looks like a real Esplanade yet, and there aren’t any giant sound systems pounding music into the day and night.
But the city is growing. And there are more people arriving every day. And hundreds, maybe thousands, more will come in on Monday when the art camps and other big enterprises get access to the playa. So everything is going to ramp up again.
Last night, as the sun went down and the full moon came up (“Hey you hippies, check out the moon!” the radio crackled), people started asking each other when they were “heading over,” kind of like the way you talk on Burn night when you are deciding what time to head out to the Man.
I’m a rookie. I didn’t know what they were talking about. But it turns out that there’s a pre-Burn, or little Burn, or Little Man Burn, or whatever you want to call it, in the last days of the week before the numbers in the city really start to swell.
When night finally fell, they torched two men and a woman (Lady Liberty), plus a pyramid. (But there were no glowies or blinkies or el-wire, and only a handful of LED headlamps.) It was a Burn without all the trappings of a rave.
It was different. It was as if we all had gone back in time. I’m making this up, but it felt like what I imagined it might have been like back in ’91 or ’92 when the gathering first moved to the desert. Or maybe that this was some regional Burn in an area that hadn’t really caught the fever yet. The scale of it all was decidedly human.
You ran into people you’d met over the past week and just stood and talked and laughed. It seemed like you knew half the people there, or they knew you. And they were friendly and chatty and didn’t once mention that it was hot in the daytime. Everything was smaller and more intimate.
And there were the happy coincidences and synchronicities that are so very much a part of what happens at Burning Man. You need something? It appears. You’re feeling a little tired and stressed and thirsty? Oh, here’s a beer. And a shot of Irish whiskey. Down the hatch. And here’s someone who sits down next to you in the dust and talks about the real Man burning early last year.
Jackrabbit had had dinner in town, and she struck up a conversation with a couple there and invited them back out to the playa for the evening’s festivities. I’d say they were in their late 50s or early 60s, and they’d never been near Burning Man before.
As they stood there in the darkness and the light from the fires played across their faces, I said, “Kind of romantic, huh?” They leaned into each other a little bit, and Walt said, “I want to come here for the whole week now.”
See you when you get here.