Playing In Traffic

We build Black Rock City from scratch, the myth goes. But strictly speaking, we build it largely out of cars.

Even before we get there, the playa isn’t quite empty. Trailblazers have lit the way for us, mapping out a ring of roads and staking them out with signs.

When the time comes, we saddle up our gas-powered vehicles and point them toward the desert. As the sun sets, our first wave hits Route 447, headed for Gerlach and points beyond.

We float out there in the dark, an incredible snake of red lights unfurled ahead of us, a starry, white trail behind. The flow slows down as we get closer, and then we turn off the pavement and onto the dust.

The line at the gate sometimes takes all night, maybe even all morning.

The gate watchers approach us, we roll down our windows, pass them our tickets, and we’re in. There’s a big moment after that: the traffic splits off left and right. Depending on which side of the clock our camp occupies, we make our choice and start driving around the ring.

We’re so tired, 5 MPH is about all we can muster.

But we made it. We pull up to camp, pick a parking spot that won’t be in anybody’s way, shut off the engine, and we’re there. We’re home. This is the feeling we rode all the way to Black Rock City from whatever default place we left.

The drive is vastly different when we leave.

Exodus is hard. Part of us wants to leave more than anything. Part of us wants to stay forever. Either way, we’ve got a long time to argue with ourselves.

It’s easy to be loving and let people pass you when you’re all going to the same, loving place. But during Exodus, we’re going back to the traffic of the Bay Area or L.A. Maybe even… *shudder* … the airport.

We can’t help but revert back to default minds before we even leave the playa. We get competitive. We switch lanes. We curse and moan and lose our temper. For the first time in days, we might even wonder what time it is.

It takes time to leave Burning Man. It takes a long time. And it takes lots of gas and water and energy. We have to be prepared for that.

We’re a resourceful bunch. Burners have made great suggestions to the Organization about how to improve Exodus. The Org is listening. It has announced a long and awesome list of improvements to this year’s departure.

But it’s on us, too. Exodus is the perfect time to practice all these principles we learned (or re-learned) in the preceding week.

Photo by Christine

Exodus moves in hour-long pulses, giving everyone in the blood stream regular chances to get out and move about. This is an opportunity. Look at the "one-hour neighborhoods" burner Christine documented last year. People were cooking for one another, meeting, greeting, walking and talking.

We just went to Burning Man! Why stop the party just because we have to… you know, leave?

About the author: Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell

, a.k.a. Argus, was publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website from 2016 to 2019. He joined the Comm Team as a volunteer in 2010 and as year-round staff in 2014. He co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012. His first Burn was in 2008.

11 Comments on “Playing In Traffic

  • Greeter says:

    Aww, come on. You’re writing for the burnin man blog and you don’t know that Gate takes the tickets and then you drive to Greeters for an info packet and a hug? Gate doesn’t equal Greeters!

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    I’ve literally never been so sorry about anything in my life.

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  • Gate says:

    It’s OK Jon, both departments are used to it. We’ll all have a baby and call it Exodus.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    I think it is wonderful that there is such love for this work amongst your teams. But I submit that it’s worth considering whether there might be a way for Gate and Greeters to communicate this better to the rest of us, if the confusion is so troublesome. I’ve been a Burner for five years but didn’t realize these were separate teams, not just separate shifts or jobs.

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  • Paris says:

    Gate Crew = DPW rejects. Attendees are in the way of their good time. Your stuff is their stuff. Watch them like a hawk. If your eyes are watering from the stench of putrid body odor, you’re dealing with a member of the Gate Crew.

    Greeters = Hippies and entry-level volunteers. They still think volunteering their time and effort brings them closer to the spirituality of the ‘movement’. Generally, they do wash from time to time, but are really annoying. You don’t have to sit in your car and listen to them drone on. Just hit the gas.

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  • Gayte says:

    Gayte Crew= the snappy dressers in black who search cars, take tickets, and keep out unwanted dangerous or otherwise harmful items.

    A few MILES later…

    Greeters Crew: shiny happy people with maps, hugs, directions and welcomes.

    Thank goodness. Neither crew could do it all.

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  • Paris says:


    this is burning man, not fantasyland. lol!

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  • David says:

    Gate = Bouncer
    Greeter = Party Host

    You must get past the bouncer to get into the party. Once inside the host will find you and point out where the bar is.

    We’re all not going to the same “loving place,” some turn right out of the playa to head to the pacific north west. Others stay with the school of fish until Wadsworth and make a left onto 427, to head east on I-80. And so what if some people are heading to the airport? Do you not want to meet people from places that’s not California? Or is it somehow better if we all came from the same “loving place?”

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  • hennah says:


    errrr….. What? Let’s re-read the paragraph you seem to have misunderstood….

    “It’s easy to be loving and let people pass you when you’re all going to the same, loving place. But during Exodus, we’re going back to the traffic of the Bay Area or L.A. Maybe even… *shudder* … the airport.”

    …. Yeah, I think what OP is was saying is that it’s easy to be chill and loving when we’re all going to the same destination….*the playa*. When we leave, we’re going *somewhere else*. I think the ‘shudder…the airport’ part was him expressing sympathy for those that have to brave that terrible place. I know *I* shudder at the thought of airports. If you don’t, I’d like to have your secret. Or your xanax. ;)

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