Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life in Black Rock City

As much as anything else, the 45,000 people at Burning Man came together as a cohesive, albeit fleeting, community, functioning like any other city in many respects and requiring a host of "public" services to get by in the harsh lifeless conditions of the northern Nevada desert.

If you've been following my recent posts, you've noticed a lot of bikes in my Burning Man photos. Two-wheel transportation is essential. The use of cars, at least the non-mutant type, generally isn't allowed. So the only reasonable way to cover the 44 miles of dirt streets that fill the Black Rock City's 5-square-mile footprint is by having a bike.
Our primary activity during daylight hours was exploring the thousands of camps that fill the city. Rather than simply serving as temporary living spaces, many camps offered the sorts or diversions you'd find in any metropolis.

Practically every urge can be fed. Yoga sessions, art lessons, welding class, bars, lectures on physics, outdoor showers, lemonade stands, peanut butter and jelly sandwich kiosks, horseshoe pits, bowling alleys, Hustle lessons, meditation. The pic above show the Pink Gym, a garage-style workout space open daily. Remember to click on any pic to view it larger.

The list of stuff to do goes on and on and on.

A 96-page schedule book, handed to each Burner on entry, detailed all of the city's activities. Here's what happened Thursday morning:

3 a.m. - Furniture car rally @ Hominid and 3:00
4 a.m. - Cacophony of clowns @ Center Camp
6 a.m. - Greet the dawn party @ the Temple
7 a.m. - Yoga with Mariah @ Nectar Village
8 a.m. - 5k run @ Esplanade and 6:00
8 a.m. - Ecological restoration work party @ Earth Guardian Pavilion
9 a.m. - Bloody Mary aerobics @ DNA and 9:00
10 a.m. - Yoga with Niema @ Esplanade and 5:00
10:30 a.m. - Photo booth silly pics @ Portal and 4:30
11 a.m. - Bloody Marys @ Camp Beaverton (the biggest lesbian venue)
11 a.m. - Talk on evolution and the mind @ Lovelution camp
11 a.m. - Trucker Day trailer park party @ Kitty Teahouse camp
11:30 a.m. - Tapping into the alchemy of love @ Esplanade and 5:00
Noon - Critical Dicks, a parade of nude or semi-nude guys starting @ the Man
Noon - Hoola-Hoop skill show down @ Fossil and 3:00

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the city was laid out in a huge crescent with arching streets bearing alphabetical names related to this year's theme, evolution, and radial streets labeled as time on a clock. We lived near the corner of Jurassic and 6:30.
All of the camp activities are free.

It's all part of a central Burning Man tradition called gifting. The economy of the city is loosely based on bartering, thought there's no expectation to reciprocate when something is given. Only two things can be purchased for cash - ice and coffee.
A group DJs staying across the street from our camp provided music from sunrise until after midnight daily. Sometimes huge crowds danced in front of their booth. Other times they were alone.

Between dust storms, we roamed our neighborhood looking for interesting campsites like this one - a Wizard-of-Oz-themed croquet/putt-putt course that proved far more challenging than it appeared.

This is Central Camp, a Bedouin-inspired community center set up by Burning Man organizers in the heart of the city's crescent layout. The giant tent contained art pieces, the coffee shop, dozens of couches, a stage and a central space topped by a skylight . . .
. . . where people did all sorts of relaxing activities, like stretching on a Pooh ball,
. . . practicing yo-yo skills, doing yoga and Tai Chi, or just having a quiet chat with a new friend.

One of our favorite spots was Pink Mammoth, a bar camp hosted by this non-profit creative arts collective out of San Francisco.
PM served up free drinks and music from the most amazing DJs brought in from all over the country every afternoon. You can listen to the music we heard by going to and streaming the Pink Mammoth sets. My favorites are from Thursday.
"I tried sniffing Coke once, but the ice cubes got stuck in my nose."
- Unknown
Ice is essential to life in Black Rock City. Ice chests must be refreshed every day in order to keep food cold and to maintain an adequate supply of cubes for drinks.

So each morning we treked to one of three CampArtica stores and waited in line to purchase as many of 12 bags for our group.
Most people carried their ice on bikes. Tim was a good ice hauler.
Since one of the goals of Burning Man is to leave the desert flat unchanged, bathrooms are an essential service provided by the organizing group. Port-O-Potty stations were located every few blocks throughout the city. And they were cleaned and resupplied every day.
Water-tank trucks sprayed the roads each morning and served as rolling showers for some Burners. It looked tempting, but the big letters reading "NON-POTABLE" on the sides of the vehicless kept me from taking the plunge.

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