After I wrote a blog post called “Is there too much positive energy at Burning Man?” several commenters invited me to come visit their camps and soak up their darkling ambiance. One of them was Bat Country, a Hunter S. Thompson themed camp.
In fact I actually have visited Bat Country. Here’s what happened.
A few years back I was standing in the Will Call line for two hours. A line like that, you get to know people, and I met a married couple. The man’s name I can’t remember … it was something playa-generic … but the woman was named “Dirty Sugar.” You don’t forget a name like that.
They were camping in Bat Country, and invited me over for outdoor movie night on Tuesday: a double feature of the Johnny Depp version of “Fear and Loathing,” followed by “Gonzo,” a documentary about Thompson’s life and career, would be playing against the wall of an RV.
I said I’d be there.
The night was gorgeous. I showed up about two thirds of the way through “Fear and Loathing.” I asked around at the bar, but Dirty Sugar wasn’t there and I didn’t know anybody else. Suddenly I saw an empty chair sitting just the right distance away from the structure the movie was playing on.
I pounced. I sat down. Took a swig of water. Oh yeah: this was a great seat. I’d lucked out.
Ten minutes later, a guy walked out from the structure. He walked over to me. “Hey,” he said, “would you like some tequila?”
I said sure, and he filled my glass. I didn’t think anything of it. I mean, hey, people offer you tequila at Burning Man.
It was a little odd when I realized that he wasn’t offering it to anyone else … but then again I’d only just arrived. He’d probably hit them all before. Plus he was a little drunk, so, whatever.
10 minutes later, he came out again. “You want some chips to go with that tequila?” he asked.
“Um … yeah, okay.”
He gave me a plate full of chips. Didn’t offer them to anyone else. What was that? I asked myself.
“Fear and Loathing” ended, and “Gonzo” started. For the next 45 minutes he checked back in with me periodically, asking if I wanted more tequila, more chips, needed any water. I was the only one getting the royal treatment. It was nice, but … what the hell?
I was thinking of leaving and going to see if some friends were over at the temple when he walked over again. “Hey,” he said. “It’s taco Tuesday, and we’re making fish tacos back there. Do you want some?”
“Well …” I was completely at a loss. “Sure, but, you don’t have to do that …”
“No, man,” he said, “I WANT to do that. Because you … you’ve stuck with us the whole time.”
“You came on time and you sat down and you believed in us right from the start, and even when we were having problems with the computer, you stayed with us and never gave us any shit and were so supportive, and so you’re special man: we’re taking care of you!”
Oh shit, I realized: the person who was sitting in this chair, who’d been here for all of that, had gotten up and left and I’d grabbed the chair immediately afterwards … and my host had missed the whole thing and in the dark, after drinking tequila, couldn’t tell us apart. He thinks I’m that guy!
What do you do in a situation like this?
Well, you eat delicious fish tacos. And then you stay through the whole movie, desperately asking people who pass by “Hey, I’m about to leave, do you want this chair?” And you don’t leave until you find someone who does, because by sitting down you unknowingly took on a sacred responsibility to Be That Supportive Guy, and there’s no guarantee that if you walk away someone else will pick up the torch by sitting their ass down. Someone HAS to Be That Supportive Guy.
Then, about ten minutes after the movie’s over, when someone finally says “Yeah, I could use some time off my feet,” you run like hell.
I love ‘ya, Bat Country.
Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com