I don’t drink, smoke, or run around with sexually free crowds. So why would I ever consider going to Burning Man? My friends and colleagues gave me endless crap before my departure, and I have to admit, I felt like I made a huge mistake. Burning Man was on my Bucket List, and I had no idea what to expect. At the encouragement of a client, I decided to commit to the experience and let it unfold.
I called my friend Steve, who also had Burning Man on his bucket list, and asked if he wanted to go with me. Through a series of bizarre coincidences, his wife texted my wife and they worked out the logistics. Steve was in and agreed to tow his 26′ travel trailer 14 hours to the event.
Whiteout Sand Storm
We arrived on Wednesday night late to a complete whiteout sandstorm. We’d prepared well and had goggles and high-quality masks to filter the dust; however, there was no getting around the train wreck of our mistake. I looked at Steve and said, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” We had five more days of this, and there was no way I would last.
We drove for an hour looking for a place to drop the trailer and make camp. No luck. Black Rock City was full. We parked at the bus stop and decided to get a few hours of sleep and attack the problem in the morning. We fell into bed to howling wind and the sandblasting of Steve’ new travel trailer. God forgive me for talking Steve into this trip!
We Don’t Want You Here
The next morning we cruised the city to a much more hospitable desert wind. After 45 minutes, we found a small slot that would fit Steve’s rig. However, there was a single bike in the middle of the site. Steve jumped out and moved the bike (a big Burning Man mistake) and backed the trailer into the spot. Within a few minutes, a woman with a silk robe (and nothing else) crawled out of an SUV and approached us with an epic hangover.
“We’re saving this spot for our friends,” said blurted. “You can’t park here.”
“We’ve been looking for a place to camp for a long time,” Steve responded kindly, “and this is the only spot in the whole playa that we can find that is open.” We pleaded with her, told her we’d make room when the friends arrived, and we’d be the quietest neighbors she’d ever meet.
We pulled out all the smiles and goodwill we could find.
Hangover woman was having none of it. She pushed back and told us that she didn’t want to hear our generator running, that her friends will be along later, and that we were not wanted here. Steve and I worked the situation hard and did not relent. We’d already dropped the trailer, and she was going to have a hard time to get us back into the truck, hitch the 26′ footer and hall it out.
She left and crawled into the SUV. Two minutes later, a dazed and confused dude from London rolled out wearing a leather trench coat and pierced nipples. He was significantly more cooperative, agreed to let us stay if we were quiet. Great! We have a place.
Nipple man retreated into the SUV, only to return shortly after that with a less than pleased, ‘you better get out there and send them packing’ look on his face. “She thinks you disrespected her by moving the bike.”
“Yes I did,” Steve said, “and we hope that you will let us make it right.”
That seemed to help, and pierced nipple man shook our hands and said, “Please keep it quite.”
Drama and bad mojo energy are not what Steve and I came to Burning Man to find. We can get that back in the city. We found a nice camp of old men across from us, two of which were nude (welcome to Burning Man). They gave us coffee and welcomed us, ran down the parking problems and suggested we elbow our way into more of the camp.
I decided to take a walk and headed into the center of Black Rock City. I found the portable toilets (20 in a row) – they were everything you’d expect from a 70,000 person desert art festival. After 5 minutes of walking, I stumbled upon an open space, perfect for our rig. The Village headquarters where next to the spot and within a few minutes, we had secured the place! Woohoo! Salvation!
I ran back to camp, told Steve, and we hitch the trailer, reloaded the gear and relocated to our new home in less than 5 minutes. By 10 am on Thursday we’d found our brothers and sisters for the remainder of Burning Man.
What A Difference
Once we settled into our new home, we indeed discovered the power of Burning Man. In our village, they provided 24 hours ice water, Gatorade, snacks, food, sunblock and an assortment of supplies that I never knew I needed but was glad they were there.
With each return to fill up my water bottle, my gratitude to those who invited us into their camp grew. Everyone knew we were Burner Virgins and treated us with such care. Their demonstration of love and compassion was unmatched, and in stark contrast to the hangover, camp we escaped.
From the platform of gratitude, Steve and I began our Burn. With each unique and profoundly personal encounter we made, our appreciation of cultural diversity and acceptance slowly and thoroughly changed us.
Burning Man was nothing of the rumors. I never saw drug use or lewd sexual behavior. I am sure it was somewhere, but I never saw it. 70% of the people were couples, many from far corners of the world. Yes, there was nudity, however, after 30 minutes I didn’t see it nor cared. I learned a huge lesson about clothes and the identity we project within our society.
Each day opened new and more meaningful experiences that are only best described through my podcast on Burning Man.
I will return. There was so much more I wanted to do but did not have the time.
Is it for everyone? No. It’s only for those who are looking to be free.