War at Burning Man, Part V: flame throwers, footrubs, and photographs!

No one at Monticello or BMIR slept much that night – and neither did I.  I woke up with the same question I’d asked falling asleep:  how could a small band of mercenaries kidnap the Lady Vice from the middle of Monticello?

As the WarBringer, I could travel to each side with impunity – but showing up leading hostile forces wouldn’t be cricket.  I could be a distraction, I had in the past, but what would be the plan of attack?  Should I just hand the mercenaries to BMIR and let them figure it out?

I spent the morning working at Media Mecca, trying to fit the puzzle together:  how to find her out of Monticello, unprotected.  How?

“Hey Caveat!” said Polaris.

“It’s WarBringer,” I corrected.

“Of course it is.  WarBringer.”  I could actually hear his eyes roll.  “There’s someone here to see you.”


“She says her name’s Lady Vice.”

Well, that was easy.

Author’s Note: The following is an account of the events of The War of the Rites, an epic conflict at Burning Man 2011 between the camps of BMIR and Monticello. Read the whole series here.  Unlike previous playa stories I’ve told here, no part of the story has been fictionalized. All details are accurate to the best of my recollection.

Lady Vice had just pulled an all-nighter, wandering around the playa with fellow powdered wigs Cardinal Vices and the Dirty Duchess.  After the sun rose they ended up in the Center Camp Café, and tried to relax listening to the singers.  Cardinal Sins and Dirty Duchess relaxed too much and fell asleep, so Lady Vice decided to explore Center Camp.  She saw a sign saying “Media Mecca” and thought “I know somebody there!” and walked inside.

The playa really does provide.  Kidnapping can’t possibly be this easy in the default world.

The trick now would was to take the conversation out of Media Mecca, and keep it going long enough that I could surreptitiously signal BMIR that their next target was practically in their back yard.

That meant bringing her back to Center Camp Café and hanging out:  eventually, someone at BMIR would make a coffee run.

“Hey, good to see you!” I said.  “I’m parched.  Can I buy you a coffee?”


An hour later J. Kanizzle led a group of BMIR staffers through the Café.  Cutting into the coffee line they grabbed Lady Vice, tied her up in rope, bound her hands with duct tape, laughed maniacally, and led her away.

The entire coffee area was staring.  “The best part about that,” Kanizzle said later, “was that you could see people thinking ‘Hey, they’re tying that woman up.  Oh, now they’re taping her hands together.  Is that a problem?  Should I jump in here?  Do I need to help?’  But nobody did.  Maybe it’s because half of us were wearing radios.  I don’t know.  But it was probably the best thing I did all week.”

“Never fear, Lady Vice!” I called out.  “I’ll bear word to Monticello of your capture!”

“Don’t tell my camp!” she screamed back as Mao and Christa pulled her away.  “They must never learn of this dishonor!”

Nice touch.

I went straight to Monticello, hitching a ride on Polaris’ vehicle as he ran camp errands.

“Ho!  Monticello!” I called out.  “The WarBringer and his charioteer bring tidings!”

“Charioteer?” asked Polaris.

“Just … roll with it.  Ho!  Monticello!  Wake up!”

Eventually, very slowly, Guv’nor got out of his tent.

“Oh God,” he said.  “More?  We were up all night you know.”

“I bring dread tidings, oh Governor …”

“Of course you do.”

“Terrible tidings!  Hear me now, Monticello:  your mortal enemies at BMIR have kidnapped the Lady Vice!”

“What!”  The Governor grit his teeth.  “Aw shit.”  He thought about it.  “How did they pull that off?”

“I … have no idea.  They’re crafty.  Very crafty.  And they demand ransom and payment for her return!”

He shook his head.  “Really?  Now?”

“Well … she is already kidnapped, yes …”

“This is just …” he looked around Monticello, where everyone was collapsed in the shade.  “This is just a terrible time.”

I leaned forward.  “Dude, you’re embarrassing me in front of Polaris.  I’ve been telling him all week how awesome this war is.”

He sighed.  “All right.  Yes.  War.  Okay.  What are their demands, WarBringer?  And, um, hi … Charioteer?”

Polaris gave him a stern and foreboding stare.

“BMIR has three demands!” I said, recycling the demands that I’d given when he’d been kidnapped because, hey, he’d never heard them.  “First, that Monticello offer in tribute 10 powdered wigs to be hung at trophies in BMIR’s studio.  Second, a bottle of fine alcohol from your own supply.  Third!  That these tributes be offered by three fair maidens of Monticello, who in exchange will be given the Lady Vice!  These are the demands of 94.5, The Voice of the Man!”

The Governor snorted.  “Yeah, like we’re going to trade good booze.”

“Man, she’s your girlfriend.”

“Yeah but … the good stuff?  Not this late in the week.  We have to ration.” He shook his head.  “Dammit!  They have much to answer for!”

“That’s the spirit!  To arms!”

He glanced over at Polaris, then leaned forward.  “Look, everybody’s still hung over and exhausted.  I don’t think I can work up the kind of force we had before.  And without that, I don’t know how we pull this off.”

I considered.  “Would mercenaries help?”

His face perked up.  “Yeah!  That’d be great!  Do you have mercenaries?”

“I think I could find some.”

“Why do you have mercenaries?”

“Oh … you know … just … you know … WarBringer … mercenaries …  good to have.  You know.  In case.”

“You get me mercenaries, and we can do this!”

“All right – I’ll notify the mercenaries.  This might take a while, but I’ll try to have everybody here by 4.”

“Okay.  What’ll we do in the meantime?”

I thought about it.  “I’ll head back to BMIR, and bear word that you don’t believe she’s actually been kidnapped.  Say that you need proof.  We’ll take some photos to bring back:  that’ll delay everything.”

The Governor agreed.  Polaris finished his errands and then drove me back to Center Camp.  From there I made my way back over to the members of my mercenary force … at least, the ones I could find.

“So wait,” said Munney.  “We’re going to rescue the person we were supposed to kidnap?”


“You kidnapped her without us?”

“It … it was a crime of opportunity.  Too good to pass up.  How is this a problem?  You’re mercenaries!  What do you care?”

“All right.  But, we want to be in on the next one.  The girls are getting their faces painted especially for a kidnapping.”

“I understand.  We’ll assemble at 3:30.”

Beast had different concerns.  “Should I wear the commissar outfit, or the gladiator costume?”

I went with gladiator.  To this day I’m not sure that’s the right decision.

The mercenary force preparing, I grabbed a photographer named Ben Slayter who was hanging around Mecca and headed back to BMIR.

“What’s the word, WarBringer?” Mao asked.

“My friend, the Lords and Ladies of Monticello cast doubt upon the wind!  They say no man at BMIR has the courage or strength to kidnap the Lady Vice!  They demand proof that she is held!  I have brought this photographer to secure it.”

Mao grinned.  “We can do that.”

“Is she tied to a pillar?”

“Ah … we decided to go a different direction this time.”  He opened up the studio doors.

Lady Vice was inside, tied to a chair, while the DJs talked.



The captivity of Lady Vice


Kanizzle was on the air.  “And SO,” he said, “it looks like it’s ANOTHER hour, and Monticello STILL hasn’t rescued you!  How is this possible!  What could be taking them so long?  Is there anything you want to tell them?”

She opened her mouth.  “Someone tell Monticello that …”

Kanizzle pressed a button and the studio filled with white noise.  “La La La!” shouted the DJs.

“Sorry, what did you say?” Kanizzle asked when the noise had gone away.

She opened her mouth.  “I need …”

White noise.  Someone banged a cow bell.  They took a station break.

“We getting a ransom paid here or what?” Kanizzle asked me.  “Hey, what are our demands, anyway?”

“10 powdered wigs as trophies, bottle of fine alcohol, delivered by maidens.  But first they want proof you’ve got her.”

“How does THAT make sense?  She’s on the radio!  We’re obviously torturing her!”

I looked over at Lady Vice.  “Are you being tortured?”

She frowned.  “Yeah, sort of.  In accordance with the Geneva Convention, they’ve given me fruit, and rum drinks, and foot rubs.  So, it’s all legal.”

“Really?  I think they’ve gone soft.”

“I know, right?”

“We’re back on the air in 30,” Kanizzle said.

I turned to Ben the photographer.  “You got what you need?”

“Oh, I’m great.”

“Okay then, we’ll bring these back to Monticello and …”

Outside the studio Ken began shouting.  “Dodo!  It’s the Dodo!  To arms!  It’s the Dodo!”

Kanizzle cut into the broadcast.  “This is BMIR 94.5 the voice of the man!  We are under attack!  Monticello is attacking our studio!”

The Dodo Approaches!

What happened?  They were so early!

Later the Governor would explain it to me:  there was no will do to anything … until they came up with a plan that sounded like fun.  Then, suddenly, he got recruits, and no one wanted to wait.

The Dodo pulled up right in front of the studio, practically blocking the entrance.  BMIR staff rushed to the front of the camp, waiting for the Wigs to exit the bus.  But instead, the Wigs gave a signal …

… and from the roof of the Dodo, Alanis Morisette’s “You Out to Know … ” came blasting out at maximum decibels.  It was a wall of noise.  It drowned out conversation … it drowned out anything anyone could could say on the air.  The DJs were furious!

Unable to attack the Wigs inside the bus, they started spreading their forces to attack the Dodo itself.  They slapped BMIR stickers all over it, and pounded on the walls and windows.

Kanizzle had already sent a bicycle messenger to find the great art ship The Lady Monaco, which he felt sure would come to the station’s aid.   “We wanted a ship-to-ship battle,” he explained later.  “We wanted to pull alongside the Dodo and board it.”  But Monticello had moved to fast.

Instead, he looked next door to the DMV and saw the Scoutch, an art car driven by old friends of his, Christian and Christina.  He ran over.

“Hey, Christian!” he shouted.  “Are you getting licensed right this minute?”


“Then come on!  We need you!”

Christian started the car, lit the flame thrower, and drove over.  He drove up close to the Dodo, blocking it from moving forward.

J. Kanizzle on top of the Scoutch, blocking the Dodo. Bobzilla approaches

BMIR staffers used it as a ladder.  One heroic soldier actually scaled the Dodo to reach the top and surreptitiously unplugged the Dodo’s rooftop speakers:  no more Alanis.  Meanwhile Bobzilla got out front and began cutting the Dodo’s masthead down with a knife.

Bobzilla cuts the Dodo’s masthead down

The key moment happened when the crew guarding Lady Vice in the studio thought BMIR had everything well in hand and, recalling that Monticello didn’t believe she was really kidnapped, decided to prove it.  They led her out by the rope she was bound in and began parading her in front of the Dodo, catcalling the Wigs inside.

Nyah nyah!


As soon as she was close to the bus, the Wigs leaped out and grabbed her.  BMIR’s forces were scattered all around the bus:  by the time they realized what was happening the Wigs got her back inside.  She was safe in the Dodo … but the Dodo wasn’t safe.

The Dodo started its engines.  The Scouch burned its flamethrowers.  They inched towards each other.  The Dodo backed up, the Scouch moved forward, then the Dodo inched forward again, at an angle.  The Scouch moved to intercept.  Bobzilla kept cutting at the Dodo until it became impossible with both cars moving at once:  the Dodo’s masthead dangled on one remaining line, swaying with every maneuver.

Then, suddenly, the Dodo broke free.  In the end, their vehicle was bigger and they just wanted it more:  the Scouch was helping out, the Dodo was fighting for its life.

The Dodo drove out into the open playa.  The Scouch followed, chasing them down like a 5 mile-per-hour hell hound.

Left in the dust next to BMIR was a single ranger, who had apparently been waving his arms and shouting things like “Turn that music down!  It’s too loud!”  and “You can’t do that!  Let them out!” the whole time.

BMIR staff assembled at the front of the station to watch the two cars chase each other around the desert.  Circling around … until, in the end … the Scoutch ran out of gas and the Dodo left its pursuer in the desert and returned to camp.

Free in the desert!

Both sides celebrated.  Both sides declared it a victory.  Both sides declared that the war would continue.

But that was the last true battle of the War of the Rites.  Plans were made, schemes were hatched, but between the Man burning and the need to break camp, they never turned into major actions.

Next:  Epilogue – where are they now?

Warbringer is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

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