Burning Man 101

Some dismiss the Burning Man festival as a bunch of hippies getting high in the desert. Advocate associate editor Neal Broverman found there's much more to it -- and breaks down the essentials for the uninitiated.

BY Neal Broverman

September 27 2007 11:00 PM ET

A new day

Without a tent,
the sun was quite bright. But I’m an early riser, so
it was a welcome pick-me-up. I ran a wet towel over my
body, downed a cup of coffee, munched some oranges
from a teahouse on the corner, and went on my way.

On the playa,
there are classes on everything from ballroom dancing to
erotic tickling. I tried my hand at meditation. It was a
great way to start the day.

Thumping techno
lured me like a pied piper. At 11 a.m. I found myself on
a pedestal above a DJ booth, dancing my ass off. At any
given time at Burning Man, you can find a
hoppin’ dance floor.

The party was in
this raucous area called the Deep End. There was a
western motif, with a general store and a saloon set up (God
knows who schlepped these buildings to the desert).
The bar was like something out of Cancun -- fruity
drinks flew fast and furious while the party people
flirted.

Also housed at
the Deep End is Stiffy Lube and Penetration Village, sex
tents for the gays and straights, respectively. I
couldn’t find Penetration Village, so I
ventured into one of the two tents of Stiffy Lube --
purely for journalistic reasons. Gays were pawing at each
other in the darkened tent. Echoing the action inside,
the wind started to blow. One of the tents lifted and
flew away, leaving some Burners with their pants down.

BURNING MAN 03 X395 (NEAL BROVERMAN) | ADVOCATE.COM

Burn baby burn

Soon after at
Center Camp, I met a fellow Angeleno named Peaches; well,
that was her “playa name.” We decided to
witness the actual Burn together. This is the climax
of the event, where the Man -- and all he stands for
-- is set ablaze. An hour later dinner was being served to
all at Peaches’ camp. We got a bite and headed
to her tent to pretty up -- she wanted to dress me in
glitter and boas. Folks get really decked out for the
Burn.

The minutes
ticked by as Peaches primped and I grew anxious about
missing the finale. After she announced she
couldn’t find her glasses, I departed with a
hug into the darkness.

As I biked over
the Esplanade and across the main playa -- a camp-free
spread of desert dotted with art installations -- elaborate
art cars and lit-up bicycles broke the darkness. The
commute was beautiful, with spots of light and color
serenely moving forward like a pack of jellyfish. As
we approached the Man, which was bright green and at least
25 feet high, we encountered the mini city set up
around him: castles and houses with people dancing on
the roofs, ferris wheels and rides emanating music. All
of Black Rock City was there, coming together for this one
moment. The feeling of community was palpable.

I queued up to
watch and met a nice man in his 70s. We talked about his
hometown of Portland as fire dancers juggled in front of the
Man. Suddenly, fireworks erupted over the
figure’s head and the Man’s head
exploded and…he was burning! The crowd went wild.

Postmortem

After catching my
breath, I rode around the Esplanade and found a dance
dome. Enormous beds lined the structure’s first room,
and a cavernous dance floor filled the second. I
grooved until I was panting again.

Biking home on an
empty stretch of road, I saw an enormous mushroom cloud
rise in the distance. Burn organizers had blown up two oil
derricks, and while the explosion was impressive, it
didn’t seem to fit with the event’s
environmental theme.

Exhausted, I
crawled into the SUV and fell asleep to the quiet thump of
trance, which was still pumping when I woke up at 9 a.m.

Before heading
out of Black Rock City I said goodbye to all my neighbors
and the lovely gal who set up the teahouse. Everyone I met
at BRC was a friend and we had all happily shared
provisions and stories for the past two days. At
Burning Man, when someone offers you a gift you take it
without question, because trust is paramount. Nefarious
reasons and greediness are hard to come by. No
one’s rich, no one’s poor. Judgment is
banned. Strangers are allies, not enemies. What a nice
respite from our world.

Tags: Travel

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