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