Saturday, September 6, 2008

Burning Man

I made my first trip to Burning Man in 2003. I was supposed to have gone to Chicago that year as a poetry groupie for the Poetry Slam Nationals, but it didn't work out. I already had the money set aside, and the time off work, so my sister said, "Why don't you come with us to Burning Man?" I begrudgingly agreed. I had heard about it for years. And, even though I was skeptical as hell, I got a ticket, did my research and was ready to go just a few short weeks later.

First of all, let me say that preparing for Burning Man that first year was really no-brainer. I spent 9 years in the Army, and spending time in the field was usually my favorite part. I read the Survivor Guide that comes with the ticket from cover to cover, and planned accordingly. The only thing I didn't have that first year was glow sticks.

I can still remember arriving to the gate that first year. We left late, which annoyed me to no end. I was ready at 9AM, but the others were not. So we sat around for several hours before we were able to leave. We finally arrived and got to the gate which was manned by a group of people all dressed as some version of Catholic school girls. There was something going on with a bell, and spanking, but I was tired, and still skeptical, so when I got to the person taking the tickets, I said, "just point me to my camp." And they did. I think the look in my eye told them everything.

It didn't take long that first year to become enchanted. First of all, we had an amazing campsite. We were right at Center Camp with a view of the Man. We didn't even really have to venture out, we could sit there and watch the Playa go by. We saw art cars, painted people, and on three nights had entertainment in the form of the "Glam Clam," a make shift karaoke machine on wheels that set up right in front of our camp.

I met amazing people, and connected deeply with some. I remember sharing a moment with a woman whom I had done mendi art on. We sat together and talked for what seemed like hours with an intimacy I had never known before. I was so sad to see her go, and missed her terribly when she did. The connection was deep and intense, but I only saw her one other time at the end of the week when we hugged goodbye. I'll never forget her, and never be sorry that she quickly floated into and out of my life.

So, that first burn changed me. I was a convert. I came to consider myself a Burner, which is the term attendants use for themselves. Fast forward to 2008. I have just returned from my fourth Burn. The second and third were not quite as magical as the first, but this year I feel like I rediscovered what captured me the first time.

This year, we were in Kidsville, a collection of camps in a designated area known as a village, where possession of a child is required in order to stay there. And this year I was a Playa Mom. In the mornings, we served cereal, Pop Tarts, tang and bacon. Kids and adults alike would magically appear as soon as the smell of bacon wafted across the village. The cereal and Pop Tarts were quite a hit as well. The day we broke out the Lucky Charms was our busiest.

It was great. Kids were clambering for cereal and bacon, soy milk and granola magically appeared from one of the neighbors, and everyone picked up after themselves. We visited, talked about our real lives and about the random playa moments that make Burning Man such a special experience.

By 11:00 we were done with Cereal Camp, and could clean up and go explore the playa, which we did. We saw amazing art, Barbie Death Camp, one of our favorite places, people doing silly things, people doing interesting things and random acts of kindness.

I over prepared this year and I was glad I did. Almost every time someone needed something, I was able to say, "Hold on a sec, I've got that for you." And, I was happy to share. I gave aloe vera to some one with psoriosis, sunglasses, an extra hat, zinc oxcide to someone with a rash, and hand sanitizer at the porta-jons. Half the enjoyment of Burning Man is being in a society where it's alright to give, and giving can be so healing for the soul. It can make you smile all day. And it's contageous.

For the second year in a row, my son lost his bike on the playa. The first year was my fault, because I forgot the locks. This year he lent his bike to a stoner who had let him play his drums, and of course, the stoner lost it. The guy felt bad about it though. So much so that he actually offered me his pot in return. Now that might not sound all that generous, but here's a guy, who lives in his van, and carries his drums everywhere, and the only other valuable thing he has is his stash...and he was willing to give that up to the mom of the kid whose bike he lost. He was a stoner with a heart of gold. Just the gesture was enough for me.

And because it was, we were blessed with Playa Magic. As I walked back to my camp, I came across an abandoned bike with a blown innertube. I walked the bike back to my camp, fixed the tire and gave it to my son. Yup. That's Burning Man.

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