Hottest Year Ever

The playa was so hot this year, everyone of every gender was manspreading.

All week long, the highest I got was from the heat. The worst hangover I had was from the heat.

Thermometer watching was a thing this year. One afternoon, I had a reading of 119°F in the shade. I swore my thermometer was broken; it only goes to 120°. This was the same thermometer that read 35°F on Tuesday morning after Exodus last year.

The Black Rock Desert will test your physical limits. Sometimes it’s an endurance test, pushing your boundaries. I know I hit the wall more than once this year. But the turmoils we endure — whether it’s being stuck in traffic, having your gear break or get lost or stolen, suffering in the face of weather conditions or sleep deprivation — all of this hardship makes the brilliant moments even more beautiful when we finally make it there.

And hey, we do our best to make ourselves comfortable. The amount of food and drink gifted on the playa hits new heights each year. If you have the nose for it, there are foodie excursions all around. By midweek, I had dined on salmon three meals in a row at three different camps. I ate food from a Beverly Hills caterer and a top-ranked Manhattan restaurateur. I had Indian food, cucumber sandwiches, ceviche. And bacon. Lots of bacon. And grilled cheese. Burners do it right. Bloody marys and mimosas were commonplace. I had an amazing piña colada. I couldn’t help thinking, what if you spent all year planning Piña Colada Camp, and then it’s one of those years where we’re all bundled up in faux fur and it’s 37 degrees Fahrenheit outside before calculating the wind chill factor?

This wasn’t one of those years, though.

By this point in Burning Man history, one can’t help but notice how much money people are willing to throw at being comfortable on playa. However you want to classify this growing melange of plug-and-play, turnkey or fashion model camps — whatever you want to call them — I’m enjoying it. It’s easy to make friends with these folks, especially if you know how to interact with the various staff. There’s a careful balance some of these groups are missing however. If you’re serious about flying scores of people to the Black Rock Desert who don’t know how to install a zip tie and think a Phillips screwdriver is the name of a cocktail — people whose only contribution is buying custom bedazzled aviator goggles in SoHo — you’re going to need a lot of support staff. There seems to be a happy balance in the best of these large, unlimited budget camps when there’s one staffer per four guests. (Crazy to imagine, isn’t it?)

All week long in this one camp, it was easy to gauge the strain, seeing the workers coping with water leaks from their shower trailer where an endless parade of sparkleponies were taking three showers each per day. At least these workers were all getting paid. I hope.

In one of these huge, new-ish big-budget camps, I met one of the organizers, and we had a nice chat. When they realized I had a quarter century of history attending the event, they got apologetic about their excesses, and I immediately corrected them. From as far back as I can remember, Burning Man has been proudly populated by people who would wear a tuxedo in the desert to drink out of martini glasses. The more extravagantly absurd and impossible the better. Carry on.

One side effect of this lifestyle is clearly horrible, though, which is the situation with bicycles left on the playa. At these big camps full of jetsetters — many of whom are provided bikes to which they have no particular attachment — I suspect few people lock their bikes, and when one of those camp guests’ first bike is stolen, all bets are off, and there’s this cascade of random bikes being stolen and later dropped on playa. The abandoned bikes left behind are getting worse and worse; a few days after exodus the playa is a macabre bicycle graveyard.

But the Burning Man community is great at solving horrible problems. There’s got to be some way that these big turnkey camps can start off with clearly labeled, recycled green Community Bikes that boldly say “free to ride” on them or something, so it’s clear which ones are okay to hop on without warning. Maybe they have a yellow and green light or something, a clear identifier that this specific bike is not loved and cared for by anyone in particular.

And everyone else, if you don’t want to lose your bike to the harsh reality of the gift economy, remember to lock it up at all times. It can be a really long walk back to camp.

We’ll get this one figured out. Burning Man is at its best when it conjures creativity, inspiration, ingenuity and problem solving. No matter how many times you’ve been there — or if it’s your first time — this is going to be forced on you with unexpectedly great results.


Top photo by John Curley

About the author: Terbo Ted

Terbo Ted

Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence, and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years, he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto”. His playa self and default-world self can be remarkably similar these days.

44 Comments on “Hottest Year Ever

  • Not Rich says:

    “At least these workers were all getting paid” and then you say “Carry on”?!?! And this is coming from the org?You fail to see the difference between someone wearing a tuxedo and an influx of service class (non particpants).

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    • Panda says:

      Fuckin thank you.

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    • Terbo Ted says:

      So you’re saying working is not participating? And inclusion doesn’t apply to whom? Are you anti-worker?

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      • Burningman HAS jumped the Shark says:

        YES!!!!! Have you lost your mind Ted?

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      • I_Used_To_Volunteer says:

        The staff at Coachella work too Ted.

        Burning Man is ‘supposed to’ be different than pay-per-privilege festivals like Coachella or EDC. That’s what the 10 principles used to seem to be about. Nowadays though, reading this type of crap from a mouthpiece on BMorg’s media, I’m beginning to think BM is burying the 10 principles and is just becoming a party like any other out there.

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    • also not rich says:

      You guys know the org pays people to work for them, right? For example, my friend was paid (by the org) to help build a camp for some various rich people who donated large amounts of money to the org.

      One of the things that Burning Man has become is a big fucking party in the desert. Shit costs money; some people have a lot of fucking money; they will spend that money to make their party fucking sweet as hell.

      If you don’t like how this shit is done, make something better yourself, go change the org from the inside, figure out how to better spread the message of decommodification, or at least figure out how to make a shit ton of money and become a rich asshole so you can be the one that people complain about ;)

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    • Justin says:

      I can’t agree with you more. I saw someone being escorted around by a guy who called himself “their sherpa” and was asking if they needed a sip of water, or needed to go back to camp to get the chef to cook them up a midnight snack. But sure, carry on.

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  • Terbo Ted says:

    I first went out there in 1992 as an unpaid roadie for the first soundsytem. Would it have been worse if I was paid to do that work? I returned to San Francisco penniless. Is that somehow noble?

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    • Terbo Ted says:

      “There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.”
      ― Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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    • Random Burner says:

      Plenty of people out there get paid but they aren’t getting paid to wipe some sparkle pony’s back side. The message of this post seems to condone or even encourage a whole community of sherpas to come to Burning Man and care for the wealthy elite.

      Paying United to pump our toilets crosses a line in the sand but we’ve accepted it needs to happen for health and safety because most people aren’t capable of handling their own human waste properly and safely.

      Paying trained fire fighters, medical staff, and BLM or other law enforcement sucks but is necessary for health and safety.

      Paying for Borg insurance so that when someone dies the event doesn’t go away is necessary… however unwanted.

      Paying for ice is something a significant part of our community accepts is necessary… but arguably a lot of us can go without because many people have the resources to take care of that themselves.

      Paying for coffee is almost silly when so many camps give it away for free.

      Paying for an all inclusive sherpa experience is something that the Borg, the community, the builders and nearly all of the Burners I’ve ever known consider contrary to nearly every principle the Borg promotes. Why are you telling us that it is okay?

      I think you are right that this lifestyle is what caused the bicycle problem on the playa but what you missed is that this lifestyle is the problem. The bicycles are a symptom of a disease and you are telling us to ignore the disease and treat the symptom. WE ARE TELLING YOU TO TREAT THE DISEASE AND YOU ARE TELLING US TO IGNORE IT. It is like a doctor telling their patient that they will treat their stage 2 cancer with pain killers.

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  • Whisper says:

    I am wondering if someone in the plug and plays is profiting off the whole thing and thereby going against the decommodification principle? Also curious, if someone is bringing mass amounts of spectators who is responsible for the spectators? Is it the spectator or the one who is making Burning Man possible for the spectator?

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    • burnerdude says:

      One could argue that the staff that is accepting money for their work is violating the principle of decommodification

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      • Terbo Ted says:

        so the people pumping out sewage every day on the playa get to work for free on a holiday weekend in 100+ degree heat because of some principle? explain how that works:

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      • Gareth says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Teds reply below is misunderstanding you. There is a difference between the organization paying for logistical effort for the event (for all participants) and camps bringing people in on paid tickets who are paid hospitality staff for the camp.

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      • wolfraider says:

        Nice diversion, Ted. But workers being paid to clean portos and theme camps accepting large sums of money for a “Burning Man Experience™” are separate things. One is for the health and safety for all particpants (and required via the permit) and the other is selling the experience of Burning Man while violating multiple principles in the process.

        If the Borg doesn’t take a stand against this soon, they’re going to find themselves losing more and more of the camps that come with volunteers and create our beloved city in the dust.

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  • Bass Bunny says:

    Every person on that playa receives their own unique experience; it is one we do not know and cannot claim, because it’s not ours.

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  • Robert Lizanetz aka Wavey says:

    No more TurnKey camps it should never have happened in the first place in my opinion.

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  • Greeter Dan says:

    The real problem with plug-n-play camps is the number of people who come to the playa without contributing anything to the community. It’s not enough to come and dance and then leave. My proposal is every one of these camps require that their residents volunteer at least five hours of time to some on-playa cause. Beyond dancing. The more people that understand “participants-only,” the more likely our cherished event will live on in perpetuity. The less people that understand that, and the more camps that allow their folks to come and not participate, the higher the likelihood that the culture will eventually sputter and die.

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  • Ty says:

    Many thanks for the wonderfully balanced perspective that you delivered on this mishmash of interconnected topics. I have only been going for 19 years in a row, and I may have a somewhat limited perspective, but I really enjoyed your ability to let everyone have a chance to grow at Burning Man. I find it very curious how much energy is spent on trying to school the .01% of participants who can only drop in to our city from the top. It seems to me that everyone’s first or second year is a cluster-fuck, and we all get better after that. I wish that we could just live and let live: the people from the bottom, the people from the top, the people in the middle—-we’re all just wandering souls trying to visit to Black Rock City and grow up. That should be OK, anyway you can get the job done, right?

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  • Swami T says:

    I had my first real exposure two plug-in play Neighbors this year, and well I have tremendous respect for some of the outstanding staff, I’m convinced it is a for-profit Enterprise and would not exist otherwise. It happens to be one of the more celebrated plug-in plays, and management is a sophisticated mouthpiece of Playa platitudes. But the bullshit meter can decipher rhetoric from reality in the harsh environment that most of us deal with out there. I have dealt with the radical inclusion of an Orange County personal injury attorney and his personal harem, and his personal stash of psychedelics. So I understand the value of the inclusion from a personal development standpoint. That personal development was mine alone. Burning Man ultimately is not a platitude. Plug-in plays are not going to lose the battle. But the battle Maybe an obsolete question in the face of escalating environmental concerns that make survival for 10 days in the high Nevada desert the biggest part of the question.

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    • Slaphappy says:

      10 days? Most of these ‘guests of the camps’ jet in for 3 days max. There is no true acclimating or contributing anything when you’re there to ride Molly for 24-36 hours. Close the gates wed at midnight, and watch the city flourish with an infusion of people who actually give any type of fuck.

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  • Well now,
    I’m sensing a bit of jealousy here, in terms of the “plug and play” camps. I sense that because, I too have felt it…just by hearing about “that experience”. In my mind, that sets you up for a “lack of experience”.
    I sleep in my van, along with however many we can fit in it (this year 5). I’ve never ventured into a plug and play camp, but I need to. This is what will draw those folks into the community, not making “participation mandatory”, but barging in and then sharing life experiences, inside and out , of BRC. This will encourage them to open up and participate in their own way. Maybe they need a new “guide” for a little three hour tour of the playa — which will ultimately end up in a 12 hour tour — to make them realize where they are….or where they aren’t–or where they could be!
    I won’t lie, I love “spectating” at BM, how couldn’t you. That said, I volunteer, and help wherever I can. My best moments are those spontaneous times where you’re out and about and connect with someone, usually in need of something, even as simple as a drink of water. And it’s usually beneath some crazy, bright and shiny thing….that’s on fire!
    These are the moments I remember. I’ve almost forgotten my point……oh yeah I remember….we need to drag these “plug and plays” out with us and show them what it’s about. Get them dirty! Then, they’ll be lining up to “volunteer” and be more a part of the experience.
    Or not.

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    • Justin A. says:

      You can’t “venture into their camps” because they park a 100 big trailers back to back with no walking space along the entire perimeter. Theres no way to enter.

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    • Fabes says:

      The attempt was made to just go in to a plug & play camp and share an experience. At 3:45 & I, the Ofo bike camp.

      Our campmate was stopped and told “Members only” and asked to leave. This was in their sixty foot geodesic dome that sat on the corner, not some back private area, the dome sat on the street with a realty sign that said “Open House” next to the door. Inside the ground was littered with garbage and cigarette butts.

      Is this the “experience” that is coming for the future of this event? Sequestered camps that have their own burn where people are not invited to participate unless they have the money to participate in that single camp?

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  • Mark McCormack says:

    As for the bikes, and the growing population being left behind every year. What if the organization kept them all and then brought them out next year and put them in a designated area for people to grab a bike for the week, and return when done. Seems like that after a few years of people leaving bikes on the playa, at some point nobody would need to bring a bike as there would be plenty to choose from. … Just a thought, although zita a logistics nightmare.

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  • Liz says:

    There’s camps that manage to do all those amazing things without hiring day laborers to set up their fucking camps and staff to serve their customers.

    There’s wealth and generosity and luxury outside of fucking plug n play entitled bullshit.

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    • large gifting by camps that don’t hire labor is being impacted by this culture. Late arrives to both camp registration and/or the Playa, are coming with an attitude of entitlement. It is getting harder to be the voice of 10 principles in such camps (mine) as newbs and coasters expect service. It is crushing. Inoculation/ inculcation and expectations are not be set. To have “mandatory work hours” exasperates the issue as it imposes “work”- I have to find/get/reinstruct “workers”. Workers are not owners and some are not even participants while others just don’t show at all- over and over and over. In the end, if you want to Burn brightly, and if you have been doing this for awhile, then, please continue to carry our load- there is no better load for transformation that I can find. The costs are high, the misguided are many and the confused are mixed in. Carry on. Iceman.

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  • Geo aka Momma Monster says:

    Most of the city is still populated with folks in secondhand campers (or for us diehards – tents). They are generally accessible. I didn’t realize that the PnP folks are as inviting. They always look like gated communities closed off from the city, keeping out the peons. Bikes? I’m all for more green/yellow community bikes. Personally, I walk. I see more that way, including the moop lollipops and feathers from the sound camps (so much for Gate asking questions), but also, people stop and talk and share more. Hey, maybe attorneydude or MsSparkle will experience a satori. That can’t be bad.

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  • Charles E Phillips says:

    Have you forgotten 2001? I measured 142.5! The rain tree came in handy. Not a record as no official weather stations in the BRD. The weather bureau knew about it as they can measure temps from satellites.

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    • roissy says:

      There are weather stations on Playa, I have been bringing one out for years. And one of the gate stations has one up as soon as they start manning the gates… BTW: the highest temp I recorded this year was 108, mostly it was high 90’s during the event.

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  • Zed the Mailman says:

    So, if being paid to serve isn’t so bad, why don’t we remove the restriction about on-playa transactions? Surely removing restrictions on free trade would be beneficial to both these luxury campers and their providers. It would also allow more flexibility to be even more absurd.

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  • Robyn Barnes says:

    P-n-P camps are killing the event, and you support them. So disappointing!!!!

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  • Yiewth of BM says:

    Sure Ted, let the plug and plays continue to infuse BM culture with their fiat currency…. But at least get the spicy pie vendor for Coachella out on playa for us pleebs……

    i’m sure your “techno ghetto” era’d self would have not been quite as receptive to these plug and chugs….. you just have the connections and age to benefit more from it now.

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  • Chowski says:

    Bundle this Plug-n-Play-apologist blogpost with the “I’m too inept to put up my own tent” post form yesterday, and it becomes abundantly clear that the voices the BMORG chooses to amplify are 100% in with the wholesale commodification of Burning Man. Toss in a dash of “Expanding Commercial Airline service” and “Tech billionaires bought Fly Ranch for us”, and really, who can’t see where this is all headed.

    Why not just re-write the Principes. If those who run the show aren’t even pretending to believe in them, why should any of us?

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    • Random Burner says:

      Can you direct me to the specific post about the tent? I would really like to read that…

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    • Random Burner says:

      Oh! I found it! It was titled “What If, after 10 Years of Really Trying, I Still Suck at a Principle?” and it was a few days ago…

      Anyway, you won’t find someone who deeply hates P&P camps or who thinks that this isn’t just a huge cover for the Borg trying to justify people getting paid to do the dirty work. They want to justify why people won’t volunteer for shit. They need to justify why they need to hire people instead of just get volunteers for it. They have no other choice but to explain away why nut-job artists aren’t showing up to share their nut-job art but instead multi-million dollar art projects that go on international tour are filling up the playa (okay, some nut-jobs may still be there)….

      Anyway, all that and I think the point of the OTHER post is that as long as you strive for improvement and try to learn new skills and always TRY to actually learn independence you are doing it right. We are interdependent creatures. We live in a society and some people just suck at some things…. But that isn’t an excuse to pay somebody else to do it. Either you do it yourself or you contribute so much in other ways and you try so hard to do it yourself that the people around you, your friends, want to help you succeed…. That’s what I got out of the tent post…

      This bullshit about paying P&P camps is just awful. Fill your city with P&P camps. Enjoy all the money in your hell filled with self-important weekenders, Mr. Harvey.

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  • crusty old burner says:

    “Radical inclusion” is on life support for two reasons.
    1. Exclusive camps.
    2. When ticket demand exceeded supply in 2011.

    “Radical self reliance” is a joke too with the P&Ps, nice sounding idea anyway.

    If there was nothing and no one out there, all I would need to add to my BMF list would be a 5 gallon bucket to pack out my sewage. I try my best to practice radical self reliance.

    The idea of 1%ers showing up and essentially being pampered by servants is not in the spirit of Burning Man. Disney/Ritz Carlton in the Dust is more like it.

    Maybe the name needs to be changed to Burning Cash Cow.

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  • Mati says:

    I just changed my perspective on Burning Man. Like all great things the burn will die. It is a slow death by capitalism, it is articles like this by influential participants like this writer that ignore class, power, etc. Clearly, your ability to be critical is slim. Water off a ducks back…..oh well…carry on.

    Although, my approach is the yeah, build something else, make it happen. We all used to do this long before the burn centralized a bunch of people with similar values. Fuck the burn, its a party, go for the party, go to watch its slow death. Go to watch mainstream culture suck on its blood and spit it out. Or stay home in your own communities and share your gifts with them and call it living. The burn is a very privileged event, and it always has been to varying degrees. I can no longer attend because I am in school and in debt and to be quite frank my small locally engaged community is pretty fucking vibrant. Make it happen.

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