Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Almost the end

Finally, after nearly four weeks, we're nearing the end of my posts on my late August trip to Burning Man.
I've tried to provide an honest and complete overview of my experience, which ranks among the best I've had in my life.
I'm closing out with some of the pics that hadn't yet made it into previous posts. Steve and Dean, our camp mates from Chicago, made each of us elaborately decorated umbrellas. As the sun set on our first day at Black Rock City, we took to the streets. From left to right are Tim, Kent, Al and Steve.

The umbrellas, with themes of flowers, dinosaurs, Voodoo, bananas and pink flamingos, were a big hit with all of us and the people who cheered us on and trailed us like paparazzi. Click on any pic to view it larger.
Here is Dean dealing with a dust storm as only he could.

Steve gests a misting on a morning trip back from the ice store.

This free-form, communal sculpture took shape in the center camp.
Me and Tim relaxing after a cup of coffee.
Without a doubt, I plan to head back to Burning Man in 2010 because I know that I only scratched the surface on my first trip. Part of what makes the experience so amazing is sharing it with friends. So if any of my posts resonate with you, drop me an email in about four or five months and consider joining our group next time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Temple

This year's version of the second most important structure at Burning Man came in the form of an elaborate lotus blossom.
Ramps and ladders provided access to two elevated floors within the giant wood flower.
People approached the Temple with an innate reverence, spending time to scribble messages of grief or longing or peace on the structure's beams. Most were dedicated to people, pets or things that were no longer in their lives.

The notes were written with the knowledge that they would be reduced to ashes with the Temple in just a few days. The ritual reminded me of the traditions of the Society of St. Anne, a walking krewe in New Orleans which parades through the Bywater, Marigny and French Quarter on Mardi Gras day. The parade ends at the edge of the Mississippi River where participants toss relics of their past year into the water.

Others just roamed the platforms, reading the personal accounts of strangers that brought many to tears.
When a woman handed me a marker and said, "It's your turn," I jotted down two dedications. Benji was the sweetest, kindest dog you could ever imagine. He infused immeasurable happiness into the lives of Jess, Rex and Bob for many years. He died this summer after a long battle with cancer.
Sunrise over the Temple, by my buddy Steffen P.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Burning Man's answer to health care reform

So by now you've probably figured out that Burning Man can be a dangerous place. If the dust and heat don't get you, there's always a late-night fall from the top of a rolling disco club or indulging in too many "special" brownies or a painful skid down a 30-foot tall, AstroTurf slide. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

What all this means is shit happens. And when it happens to you, you head to Black Rock City's medical tent.

That's where I ended up with Tim and two other camp mates, who all suffered fairly minor bumps and bruises.

Tim was in a head-on bike collision late one afternoon in a mild dust storm. His finger was pretty badly cut, but we waited until the next morning to get it checked.
Here's Tim giving some basic information to a clerk, who then printed a one-page medical record that stayed with him until he left.
Patients with minor issues, like Tim, were sent to an open area where they were seen by a nurse and sent on their way. People with more serious issues were sent to one of 10 cots in the heart of the tent.

About 10 nurses and one doctor manned the station during peak hours. Each staffer was a volunteer, working a single 12-hour shift in exchange for free entry to the event.

And the price to patients? Absolutely nothing. Imagine that. Socialized medicine that actually works.

The operation reminded me of the way health care was handed out after Katrina devastated New Orleans. (Go here to see one of my early posts on medical services immediately after the hurricane.) Black Rock City might be the only place in the country where this kind of post-catastrophe, battlefield triage care is practiced on a regular basis.

Patients requiring more than a couple hours of monitoring, antibiotics or a few stitches were shipped out in an ambulance to a hospital in Reno, located about two and a half hours away.

During my time in the tent, I saw people with flu symptoms, asthma attacks, cuts, sprains, bad drug trips, wound infections and separated shoulders.

Now back to the AstroTurf slide . . .
When I polled nurses one the biggest source of injuries, the unanimous winner was this ill-conceived monstrosity. People climbed to the top and slid down on thin sheets of plastic. I did it, and have to admit it was pretty cool.

But the plastic sheets often shifted or tore apart during descent, and nothing stopped sliders from crashing into bystanders when they reached the bottom.
These were among the most common injuries suffered at the slide. Imagine all of the nasty little microscopic things living on those green plastic blades.

Without a doubt, the services provided by the medical tent staff is essential. With so many people clustered in such a remote location for so many days, there must be a way to tend to the injuries that are bound to occur. If the service wasn't available, some people wouldn't feel safe going to Burning Man.

The dark side of Burning Man

Nightfall transformed Black Rock City into a new world filled with pulsing music, glowing bodies and fire-breathing mutant vehicles that seem to float across the surface of the desert. At the center of it all was The Man, towering over his elaborate color-bathed base.

We started each night by donning dozens of glow sticks. They're a critical accessory out in the darkness, and you can't bring too many of them with you. Tim models what proved to be a popular light-stick ensemble.
The Towers of Shiva, an art installation that doubled as a stage by David King and Controlled Burn of Reno, served as a central gathering point and performance space for dozens of fire dancers twirling flaming poles, lanterns on chains, wheels and clubs.
The dancers, the fire-breathing towers circling the stage and a long row of tall-standing flame throwers performed in synchrony to amazing sets of music. Hundreds of people clustered around the scene each night as the pandemonium went on for hours.

Click on this pic and you'll get a feel for what the city looked like from the center of playa at the peak of nighttime activity. Keep in mind, you're only seeing about a quarter of the entire illuminated horizon.
Away from the playa, the streets were teaming with activity well into the early morning hours.

The space under the base of The Man offered a break from the sensory overload.
Showing off their nighttime gear are (from left) Steve, Scott, Kent, Tim and Pete.
These eyes, illuminated by battery-operated spotlights, were fastened to the fronts of a of pair bikes that roamed the playa side by side.All good things come to an end, even on the playa, as documented by this sunrise pic by my friend Steffen P.

Up next, we take a trip . . . or two . . . or three . . . to Black Rock City's amazing medic station.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is that what I think it is?

Welcome to the world of mutant vehicles.

In Burning Man-speak, these are rolling contraptions of all kinds that serve a wide range of purposes from the purely artistic (a giant rubber ducky) to the completely practical (a bus with a night club inside and dance floor on top).
Without a doubt, mutant vehicles made up one of the best aspects of Burning Man. More than 600 of them roamed the streets of Black Rock City and the expansive art-filled playa day and night. Many were little more than parties on wheels, picking up strangers as they roll along with music blaring and drinks pouring.
Mind-bending exteriors hid every motorized vehicle imaginable - golf carts, cars, trucks, tractors and city buses. The effect was a near constant questioning of the surrounding sights. Did I REALLY just see that 60-foot-long pirate ship float past? Have I suddenly been transported into some science fiction movie or into the depths of a Dr. Seus book?
Click on any pic to view it larger.
Here's a pic by Tim. His shots are sprinkled throughout my Burning Man posts.
And I have one more disclosure. Several of these pics, including this one and the one that opened this post, were taken by my friend Steffen P.

Steffen is also from San Diego, and he's a Burning Man veteran. Faithful readers of Scoopzone might recognize him from some of my posts about hikes by the San Diego Trail Tramps.

So why am I using some of his pics? Because they're great!

One of the things you realize after your first trip to Burning Man is how much passed you forgot to document with your camera. It's also a matter of volume. There's just too much for one person to see everything.

I'll make a point of identifying Steffen's pics as the post continues.
Even among mutant vehicles there were sub-classes, such as the ones that simply falls into the category of engineering wonder. Pic by Steffen P.
This is the Soul Train, one of my favorites which was a real-life version of the cartoon train that opened each episode of the Saturday morning dance show. Just like the cartoon, the one at Burning Man featured an accordion nose that squeezed in and pushed out as it rolled across the desert.

The train would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, blasting funk and disco tunes. When it came to a stop, crowds gathered around and danced for 10 or 15 minutes until one of the train's riders ended the set with a heavy dose of jive talk.
Like the other mutant vehicles, the Soul Train became a glowing beacon once the sun fell. One of my favorite moments of the trip was dancing around the train to the Village People's "YMCA" on our last night in Black Rock City.San Francisco meets Flash Gordon.
Yes, this is a double-long city bus converted into some sort of Captain Nemo undersea explorer.
A clear nod to Burning Man 2009's evolution theme.

This dragon's head and neck were fully articulated, and it shot a four-foot stream of fire from it's mouth.
Some of the vehicles were all about frivolity, like this one called Joyism.
All of the vehicles were required to register with the Department of Mutant Vehicles, an "agency" run by the organizers of the event.
Another amazing pic by Steffen P.