When I moved back to San Francisco in 2001 I had a couple of very clear ideas. One was to get a motorbike. The other was to go to Burning Man, a desert event that I'd heard about for a number of years but had not given much consideration.
That year I went with a colleague from work. We pitched our small carport tent and set up a few Blenko glass pieces that I'd bought from a thrift shop on the way out. It was 2001, and colored glass was all the rage. I felt like I was gussying up the place. As soon as we set up our pup tents, a gust blew through and lifted the carport into the air, leaving it broken and useless about 50 yards away. The wind brought a fine dust, which blew for hours. We were "playa-fied" for the first time.
That year was relatively simple for memories. No big art cars or installations. No multi-million dollar open-air dance clubs. Just me and my friend, checking in on mud wrestling competitions, a small assemblage of dolls cheekily named Barbie Death Camp (still running).
And then the night of the burn- which is always Saturday- came. Me and friend dropped some acid and walked towards the playa, which in Burning Man terms means the location of the actual Man as well as the Temple, a structure dedicated to loss and release.
it was around 9 by that time, and the playa was lit up with the lights of the various art cars and installations, the sound of propane being pushed through tubes to create blasts of fire (whooooooosh), and the sounds of many thousands of revelers getting excited about the spectacle of the large burn that was about to take place.
But I didn't make it out to the playa. The acid had kicked in and I felt an intense fear course through me, as though it were the Battle of Versailles. I was thrilled and fearful and somehow, determined. Determined not to go on the playa, but to head back to our things and pack the car. Which is what I did. And as I did it I thought of revolution, people changing things, people doing things such as making art, pushing themselves, creating a community that felt more present than the one that I was existing in. And so it was that we drove home, silent, not sure what to say to one another.
From that point on I have been a Burner, knowing that for that one week I can be in discussion with people like me who may feel less inclined to crack open about their feelings and dreams than they are when they are at the event.
That's my Burning Man. I'm a Burner.
(above photo of me and Burcu at Distrikt, a popular camp for dancing at Burning Man. I officiated her wedding to Orkan in 2007. They met at the event in 2006.)
One last thing. Pyramid Lake is 60 miles south of the event. It is a beautiful body of water that is part of the Paiute Tribe land. Access to the lake requires a permit from the tribe, which can be found here.