Let’s do that again some time …

It’s like a memory now, isn’t it?

The dust is out of your hair and your clothes. You’ve been sleeping in your own bed again, and maybe you’ve been out to eat. And you’ve gone to the refrigerator in the middle of the night, and you’ve had whatever you damn well pleased, because you could.

And isn’t it sad?

I saw the full moon coming up the other night, and all I could think of was the LAST time it was full, and it was rising over the desert hills, and someone was saying on the radio, “Hey, you hippies, have you seen the moon?”

Everything was still ahead of us then — the light and the dust and the music and the art and the wonder.

I waited a week before getting the playa out of my car. It turns out that after all that time and all that wind and all that heat, I discovered on the long ride home that I really really loved the smell of the dust, and I wanted to hang onto it as long as possible. And when I washed the car, the last physical remnants of the experience would be washed away, too. And I wasn’t ready for that. Not at all.

I had thought, after more than three weeks out there, watching those amazing people build the city and install the art, that I’d be really ready to leave. But of course I wasn’t. When it came time to go, it turned out that I wanted to stay forever, or at least until I could help take the city down. Complete the cycle.

But I couldn’t stay, the default world was calling, and when I hit the road, it was a jolt.

I couldn’t believe what a rush people were in to get off the playa; granted, they wanted to beat the crush, but even late Saturday night, the exodus had begun. People were going fast, passing each other, not caring about kicking up the dust anymore. That brought me back to when I was a kid, in the back seat of the car as my parents left the church parking lot, and watching cars cut each other off, all the rudeness and impatience. And I thought, all that talk of love and peace inside the church, and look at you now. And I’ve always believed that those parking lot scenes were the beginning of my disaffection with organized religion.

But that’s another story, and that wasn’t the feeling that stayed with me as I hit the road to Gerlach, and then past Empire, and then into the darkest hours on Indian land. Because there was too much to remember, and too much to look forward to.

There was all that selfless work: the fence, the Man, the Temple, the Cafe and everything else; the trucks, the hauls, the digging and pounding, the sweating and grunting. And all of it done in that incredibly harsh desert.

And there were all those times that you got the feeling that people cared about you, and you found yourself caring about them, too, in the most fundamental ways. You getting any sleep? You drinking enough? Don’t worry, man, it’s cool, she’s gonna come back.

And there were all those people who wanted to know more about you, what you were about, and you felt like it was ok to talk from the heart, and for a change you didn’t worry about what they’d say or think later. You didn’t feel the cynicism creeping in the way it normally does, because it was a different scene. Yeah, you still made fun of funky hippies (How many hippies does it take to change a lightbulb? None. Hippies don’t change anything”), but most of the time you went for it, you decided to be genuine, and it came right back at you.

Alright, alright, maybe I still have a little dust in my eyes. But it felt that way more than it didn’t.

I’ll say this, though: It wasn’t the crazies and party hearty-ers on the playa after the Burn who made me want to stay. The bizarreness and randomness and kind of desperate revelry weren’t much of a lure. People were too weird, too out there, too nutsy. (And it seemed like the words “leave no trace” didn’t hold much weight that night; there was lots of crap being tossed around pretty casually.)

But we don’t want to be a scold. There was something raw going on, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. You don’t burn a 100-foot Man and dance around the embers and get caught up in the swirling mass of bodies and come away feeling centered and grounded. You feel amped and ramped, and you want to keep that primal feeling burning for awhile. I get it. I got it.

But even that crazy scene, that culmination, is getting stowed away with all the other crazy scenes, both good and bad. The list of incredible moments is way too long, and way too personal, to hold anybody’s interest but my own for long. Besides, you have your own memories, your own incredible moments, and they’re going to make you smile, or make you think, for months to come.

And by then you’ll begin to forget about the hardest stuff; the packing, the money, the dust, the heat, the cuts on your fingers, the cramps in your legs, the pounding in your head, the dizziness, the lonely moments in between. And then, when you begin to forget about the hard stuff, when the weather has turned wet and cold, and the warm sun is only a memory, you’ll start to get the longing again.

And you’ll remember something funny, like, when you showed somebody the fancy laminated card somebody gave you, the one with the structure of a molecule on it. You didn’t know what the molecule was, but SHE did. She looked at the card, and then at you, amazed. And then she pulled open her shirt and showed you the tattoo on her chest, and it was the same molecule. What are the chances of THAT happening at the coffee shop tomorrow morning?

And how many times did something strangely special like that happen to you?

And how is it possible that those kinds of things happen so often in that place?

It’s a mystery that bears further investigation.

Godspeed, and thanks for all your kind words, and see you around.


About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

22 Comments on “Let’s do that again some time …

  • Kat says:

    Bittersweet. Many consider the playa home. I know I almost did my first year. Feel the desert calling me often.

    I held onto the dust for about a week before I had to wash it off. Sad to see it go through that carwash machine, the dust coming off.


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  • Sharon West says:

    i wasn’t there this year, but through your writing and photos, felt as if i was.
    thank you for that.


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  • Nico says:

    See you around, indeed!

    I also felt the same way about how people suddenly changed their attitude as soon as they were out the door.
    The traffic, a supposedly PR-savvy guy in town giving the stink eye to two guys in mohawks, even though a week earlier he was hanging out in a fur speedo… I wish people were consistent on what their reality is, no matter what the place is.

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  • 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, and it got you coffee.

    Wonderful summary and denouement, Mr. Curley. ‘Twas a pleasure running into you at the fancy party, and thanks for the photo.

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  • barbarino says:

    Nice work and nicely said. I miss the randomness and the serendipity and the synchronicity. But I did come back with the intent to make more room for all that in the default world. Still shaking out the dust and glitter…

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  • bug.out says:

    great post. i haven’t been back to bm for five years now, but your post still nails the same feelings in me. not sure if i will ever make it back, but trust me, the feeling doesn’t wash away as easy as the dust does… this is soul dust.

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  • Mr. Moo says:

    Great report, Curley. This year was the fastest and easiest Exodus I’ve ever seen. Extraordinary! Only a few who forgot to take the Burn with them, as opposed to many in previous years, at least from where i sat.

    I played a gig this weekend, and in the 5 minutes it took me to set up my guitar and amp and pedalboard, I was completely covered in playa dust.

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  • Ben A says:

    Thanks again for all the blogging. You really helped me when I couldn’t make it home. Seriously, great posts.

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  • Katrina says:

    It would be nice to come back once a month and see a new posting throughout the year. Your writings are nice.

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  • Rabbitt says:

    I dont wash my playa gear until after both LA and Sf decompression. Then it back to the default word.

    Thank you for the great write up!

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  • King says:

    Nice Curley.

    I came from the UK for my third Burn in 4 years. I had to squeeze the entire round trip into 8 days (default world to blame) because the lure of the Playa was just way too much to stay away. That’s 36 hours to get to Black Rock City and 36 hours to get home.

    Within minutes of arriving I knew why I’d come back.

    It felt different this year. But then again it felt different last time aswell. It has changed in the few short years that I’ve been going but then again so have I. It’s still one of the greatest shows on Earth.

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  • Morgan says:

    This actually brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s just the dust in the air from the things still wondering when I will attempt to clean them. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I’m looking forward to more in the future.

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  • sparky says:

    I hear a lot of complaints about what Burning Man is or isn’t, and what it has become.
    And this was a particularly rough year for many people, myself included.

    But that being said:
    There is nothing like this event happening anywhere else on earth in our lifetime.
    Even at it’s most flawed,
    it’s still one of the most nurturing experiences I have all year.
    The warmth, friendliness, comeraderie… mind blowing art. sense of community. there’s nothing else like it.

    I will return home as long as my “family” is there to welcome me with open arms.


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  • Amy says:

    I was one of those premature evacuators on Saturday night, but my intense desire to get to a hotel room in Reno and finally rinse the grit/sand/dust off my body didn’t hold true for my gear. This week I finally rinsed and washed away the physical dust… but the soul dust (as bug.out nicely put it) remains inside.

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  • sparky says:

    I agree with Katrina.
    You are a poet and write beautifully.
    What a noble gift you share with us.

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  • couglite says:

    I just packed away the last of my gear. You said it all perfectly. A complete reflection. Thanks for your mirror.

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  • pilar says:

    aww, curley! you almost made me cry!

    what a beautiful, silly, frustrating, unforgettable,
    awe-provoking, difficult-as-hell-to-integrate thing
    it is we do out there, eh?

    “soul dust” indeed.

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  • Kaili Otter says:

    This was the first year I missed since I started going 7 years ago. Thanks for your beautiful post; it was a slice of home.

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  • Aurora says:

    Thank you for the post! It is truly sad to leave, but there are several ways to keep the memories alive and to reflect on what we have done there. Mangusta LAFCO has created a short film to capture the soul dust in sight, but alas sound and smell do not transfer to video yet.

    see the clip at http://www.mangustalafco.com

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  • Knotch says:

    Great post!
    But you’ve already washed the playa off? Our truck won’t get washed outside or in. And we we are still drinking the playa covered bottles of water that we WAY overstocked on for BRC this year. I love the smell of the playa as I drink it. And boxes are still packed with shoes, socks and shirts totally covered in dust from that last big one….. I just can’t bear the thought of washing any of it away………….. I just may go put the tent up this weekend and wallow around in it and sleep there to revive myself again…

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  • shunshyne says:

    I’m grateful to have found this blog. I have felt myself getting bogged down in the default world recently. I’ve even been having panic attacks. That is an entirely new phenomenon directly linked to what was formerly known as my 401k and my “job security”. Being educated only exasperates the problem. Our prospects are grim regardless of who is in the white house. Viewing this blog and remembering the burn have relieved some of my anxiety. I can always move into my beater motor home and live in a a park if they foreclose on my traditional domicile. Hell, in some ways it would just simplify everything. Pretty soon the beater mobile home will be high living for most of us. Once again I am grateful. I’m going to dig out some of my gear and snort it right now. Thanks

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  • Mischa says:

    Three years later, this is still the best burning blog I’ve ever read.

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