To the extent that people know me on playa, they know me as “Caveat,” of course. But since 2011, the year I started my first war at Burning Man, I have also had a second playa name: “Warbringer.”
In all, I have engineered four different major conflicts on playa: between BMIR and Monticello in 2011; between Media Mecca and the Census in 2012; a second conflict between Media Mecca and the Census in 2016; and this year, between Eggs Bar and Hair Of The Dog.
This is the first in a series of posts about War at Burning Man. We begin with a report from the field.
All it Takes is a Proclamation
This year marked Burning Man community fixture Egg Chair Steve’s 25thanniversary on playa.
To celebrate, I convinced his camp, Eggs Bar, that they should annex their camp’s traditional rival, Hair Of The Dog (HOTD).
On Monday, August 26, an expedition from Eggs Bar walked from their home in Center Camp to Hair Of The Dog, on Rod’s Road, armed with copies of a proclamation, tape, and staple guns.
They chanted “Egg Chair! Egg Chair!” as they walked in the bar, and I read a copy of the proclamation as the crew stapled and taped it all over the bar.
It read as follows:
CITIZENS OF BLACK ROCK CITY:
It is hereby PROCLAIMED
that in honor of the 25th Anniversary of
EGGS BAR (Center Camp and 2:45),
EGGS BAR has annexed
Hair of the Dog camp (Rod’s Road),
thus elevating its status as a theme camp and increasing the honor and nobility of all its participants.
This is in accordance with ancient Burning Man custom
as set down by Danger Ranger,
in the Year of Our Larry 1996.
While Hair of the Dog is now a part of EGGS BAR,
the formal annexation shall take place on Wednesday, August 28, at 7 pm,
and shall only be stopped if, as set down in Harley’s Law,
their bartending and drinking champions can best the finest bartenders and drinkers
who kneel before the Great Egg Chair.
Welcome to our new campmates at (the former) Hair of the Dog!
All Hail the Egg Chair!
HAPPY 25TH ANNIVERSARY TO EGGS BAR!
Once the proclamations were read and attached, the crowd began chanting “Eggs Bar!” again, but now, HOTD’s own crew had gotten past the shock and chanted “Hair Of The Dog!” back. A few of them couldn’t stop laughing, and one of their camp leads asked if he could give me a hug and thanked me.
The war was on.
The Dog Strikes at Midnight
HOTD struck back that night, walking up to Eggs Bar in the evening and making their own proclamation announcing that they were annexing Eggs.
The next day, Eggs Bar lashed out with one of what I have to regard as one of the best pranks I’ve ever heard on playa: through deep intelligence work, they managed to get the names of everyone camping at HOTD — not just the bartenders, everyone. They used that knowledge to draw up a shift schedule for HOTD, and snuck in and posted it around their camp.
Genius — just genius. Because even after HOTD realized it was a fake (and some of the tasks — like crushing empty cans with their teeth and drinking the gray water — might have given it away), it was still deeply unnerving. HOTD campers wondered: “How did they get our names? What else do they know?”
But HOTD was on point and changed the face of the war that night by sneaking in to Eggs Bar while it was closed (it’s always closed — that’s kind of a joke) and stealing the Egg Chair itself, then taking it back to their camp and staking it to the ground.
The fact that an Egg Bar camper served as a double agent in this attack only made the defeat more bitter, and the victory sweeter.
But the very next morning (Wednesday now) a member of the Eggs Bar staff walked into HOTD and brazenly made off with their dog mascot. She took him (I think him? I never checked) back to Eggs Bar, and put a new collar on him, complete with Eggs Bar medallion.
The two sides now stood on a brink of disaster: they both had each other’s sacred totems. Matters only got more touchy as Burning Man participants began to wander into HOTD and ask: “How is HOTD pronounced? Hottidah? Or ‘Eggs?’” (Some of them may have been coached.)
Only One Way Out
Wednesday night was the eve of the formal annexation ceremony, and once again a contingent of Eggs Bar staff marched to HOTD — but this time, instead of proclamations, they were armed with three makeshift Eggs Bar flags (literally makeshift: the camp hadn’t known they were going to war until they got to playa, so they scrounged for materials and then got an artist at another camp to design and make them flags, which were both amazing and barely finished in time), which they planted in front of their new territory.
But HOTD was ready, and a tussle began that threatened to escalate into an all-out, mutually assured destruction, brawl. But at the last moment, the elders of both camps conferred and hatched a plan. They’d avoid terrible destruction, and engineer the return of each other’s property, in the classic, time tested, way: a royal wedding.
Eggs Bar camper Bunny was named the official Eggs Bar Warrior Princess, and was allowed to choose a groom from among four eligible bachelors provided by HOTD.
At the last minute the wedding was rescheduled from that night to Thursday morning, because several key players (myself included) had to leave to go to Larry Harvey’s memorial burn, but out of nowhere a group of women (CORRECTION: Since publication, I have since been informed by a source on the scene that a significant number of them were not women, but that they looked fabulous) all wearing bridesmaids dresses showed up for the wedding. To this day, I honestly still have no idea who these people were or where they came from, only that they apparently referred to themselves as “Reno housewives.” And when the bridesmaids found out that the wedding was supposed to be the next morning, they were not having it: they informed Warrior Princess Bunny in no uncertain terms that they were NOT getting dressed up like this for nothing, or for a second time tomorrow morning, so she should pick her groom and get married Right Fucking Now.
So she did, and for some reason somebody in camp had a pack of kazoos, and so a senior campmate walked her down the makeshift aisle to the tune of the Imperial March, from Star Wars, played on kazoos. Another campmate, who is in fact an ordained minister, conducted the ceremony while standing on the bar, which ended with a “kiss with consent.” After the ceremony members of the Burning Band were randomly spotted outside, and were compelled to come in and play the reception.
It was, by all accounts, a hell of a party. Peace was restored, and the Egg Chair and The Dog returned.
If only it had lasted.
The Poison Pen
Queen Bunny turned out to be a capricious ruler. The next day she demanded that HOTD install carpet, along with misters that used facial recognition software to only cool her friends. This incited anger among her new subjects. But worse, she sent her new playa husband a valentine from the Awkward and Tawdry Lounge’s valentine delivery service.
According to reports, it began: “Dear Husband: our marriage is a farce.” It continued by saying that “Soon I will own half of your homelessness and all of your camp,” and concluded by saying “This, like all love, will get messy.”
The war was back on.
Hair Of The Dog had been taking a lot of hits, but they ended strongly by taking over Eggs Bar and running it while most of the camp was out doing the Billion Bunny March on Thursday, and then invading the bar again on Friday and opening a “VIP Lounge” in its front.
At which point it was Man Burn day, and nobody has time to fight then.
Some Of My Most Amazing Burning Man Experiences Were Wars
We’ll have to wait to see what the fall-out is from this year’s war, but I can unequivocally confirm that all of the other wars I’ve been part of were peak Burning Man experiences for their participants. I still have participants from all three wars thanking me for the instigations. People involved in the conflicts still tell stories about their exploits to one another; Camp newbies are sometimes asked, “Why do we do have a box of knives in our camp?”, and are answered with a story about how this was a term of a peace treaty. These wars were experiences that mattered to people in the best way — and are treasured memories.
But starting and continuing a war isn’t easy. People think wars just fight themselves, that if you just leave people alone they will bicker and fight naturally, but it’s completely untrue. Getting people to go to war is hard work. It requires constant effort. It takes a village to attack a village.
To help those who also wish to bring the gift of conflict to their camps and friends, the rest of this series will offer everything I have learned about starting, fighting, and finishing a successful war at Burning Man. You, too, may already be a Warbringer.
Top photo: “Desert Guard” by Lu Ming (Photo by Jane Hu)