Burning Man - 2004


This years commentary was started on Feb 03, 2004. Burning Man is now a year round event for me, and this year's commentary is going to reflect that fact by starting LONG before the event.. to document everything leading up to this year's burn. I hope you enjoy this.

IMPORTANT: If you have not read my 2002 commentary, do so before you read this one, otherwise things in here may not make much sense.

A NOTE ABOUT LINK-ROT: Link-rot happens when you reference a link, and that link disappears. I have included pictures in this commentary that I did not take. I will try to credit these appropriately by listing a link to the original site AND a link to a copy of the same photo that I maintain. This will prevent link-rot from making these unavailable at some future date, and will appropriately credit the original photographer. I will also try to credit the pictures on the pictures themselves.

I cannot maintain copies of whole websites, however. So these will not be backed up and if the link rots.. it rots. Ashes to ashes, bits to bits


31-Jan: The theme, VAULT OF HEAVEN was announced. Finally I can start working on my art project for this year. I will once again be creating wearable art... assuming I can afford it. Designs that pop to mind immediately are Rocket Ships, Stars, and the Planet Saturn... all with the Burning Man symbol on them. This is going to be fun.


04-Feb: My long time friend, Bob Higgins has decided that he needs a get away, and I've think I've persuaded him to give Burning Man a try. Bob is one of the most creative people I've ever known.. founder of the HTAC at the University of Delaware (well, with my help). I have a feeling that Burning Man is going to be right up his alley, one way or the other.

04-Feb: I have not started drawing yet, but the ideas are there in my head. One thing I want to do this year for sure is the LARGE version of whatever I make in the small. This large version is going to be suspended over my tent by PVC poles and cement stakes (okay, I don't know what they are called, but you can buy these huge stakes at Home Depot up to 3 feet long.. perfect for holding up a PVC pipe - used one the first year to hold up a pipe with a wind sock on it.)

15-Feb: Started doodling some designs. Man it doesn't seem like there is much time between now and then.

04-Feb: There is talk about putting a shade structure over the Human Carcass Wash. Man, that would be a nice change!!! Contributions sought.

29-Feb: The first PlayaInfo meeting was today. Same group of familiar faces. At least we won't have to go over last year's issues about layout and such. That's all decided... we will stick with the same layout. But, apparently, Burning Man is going to be getting bigger and there is more responsibility to get better information out there.... hum... or at least remind people that the info they need is something they already have.


01-Mar: Tickets went on sale at midnight of this day. Apparently alot of people tried to get on right at midnight to buy tickets and the servers were flooded. I waited to about 14:00 and bought 2 $200 tickets. Now Bob and I are covered.

15-Mar: Started working on the original for my art project.


13-Apr: My tickets have arrived. Not bad looking either.

20-Apr: Life does it's thing and you try to hang on. Got back to working on my art project. It's going to be a rocketship with the man on it.


01-May: The original Fimo sculpt is done. Now I have to bake it and start making molds. Lessons learned from last year (1) No really sharp points to break off and (2) Thicker to make the drilling easier. I also added a star and the date on the rocket fins. Look for pictures later.

26-May: I've made 20 silicon molds and have cast my first batch of "things". Solid fire-engine red. They turned out not bad. Now to go into manufacturing mode on this and start pumping them out. Yee haaaa.. the smell of plastics and solvents.

28-May: The manufacturing process is underway. Things are going much neater this year then last because I know better how to deal with this stuff. I have nearly 100 of them made now. Course, they are tacky and need alot of curing time. I think I might try some multi-later castings. And today I bought a faster curing kind of resin for the "solid" color ones.


07-Jun: I tried using a new epoxy that dries in 15 to 60 minutes. It worked great until it went solid on me in mid pour. WOW. At the moment I have a couple of hundred of my new items made. I'll have some picture up here in the near future.

28-Jun: I think I'm done making my new hand-outs. It's time to start on my "other" art projects.. I need a rocket for over the tent.. I have a painting that I've started that will burn.. and I want to deco my bike BEFORE I go this year rather than out on the playa like last year. I think I'm going to be alot more prepared this year.


01-Jul: Finished making my rockets. Have a huge box of them made. Drilling them took almost 3 hours of straight work.

29-Jul: Steve the Water Master has agreed to come back to Burning Man if he can get various kinds of help. I've agreed to help out with signage.


10-Aug: Working on signage and handouts for the water processing section of our camp. Steve has a sign that will work, all I really need to do is come up with the "hangers" for it. Double sided. Plus material to make signs on the fly when we get there based on changing conditions.

28-Aug: Bob arrives at Oakland.

30-Aug: Leave for Burning Man. The goal was to leave by noon so that we would not be setting up tents in the dark. However, once again, due to lack of preparedness on my part... a late start. Well.. at least we arrived by Midnight !!!!

The remainder of this commentary will not be dated.. we now start the free-form section!!!

Burning Man

2004 - Vault of Heaven

My friend Bob

I invited one of my best friends to come to Burning Man this year because he needed it. This amazingly creative guy had had the creative juices smashed out of him by life and mid-life, and I wanted to get him plugged back into a side of himself that had lain dormant for too long.


Okay, once again I left late and arrived after dark. Shoot me. Best laid plans and all that. I was just too lazy in the days before to get everything ready. Next year for SURE I won't arrive after dark.

Unlike in years past, when we found Poly Paradise I could find no one I recognized. I was looking for Camp Daddy Scotto to get an idea where we should set up camp. When I couldn't find him I pulled the truck behind the main Poly Paradise tent structure and set up a little space for us to be. (Turns out we were encroaching on the space of another group in our village, but it all worked out and we didn't have to move.)

Having found a spot naturally the first thing you do is .... go visit the man !!!

Bob and I walked down toward center camp (which was only a block away), then out to about 3:00 and Esplanade. Then we turned toward the Man. About halfway there Bob commented that it was further than it looked. I was being annoying explaining over and over again how the city was laid out.. I think I was just so glad to be there that I wanted to share it over and over.. sigh.

This year the man was standing on top of a geodesic dome. Around the outside of the dome were a series of small stages available for any sort of performance art anyone wished to put on. Under the dome was a kind of... well.. almost science museum kind of thing. There were these two vertical set of LED lights that were fluttering different colors, and if you swung your head back and forth rapidly, would create a moving picture of some sort (basically a TV display without the horizontal sweeping of the electron gun... moving my head like that gave me a headache). There was another kind of time delayed feedback machine where you spoke into it and at some future time it would repeat what you said combined with echoes of other things others said resulting in a strange kind of poetry constantly being broadcast.

I was not as impressed with the entire set up this year. It didn't seem as majestic at the incan pyramid from the year before or as true to theme as the light house the year before that. I also wondered how well and open structure like a geodesic dome would burn. Turns out I needn't have worried on that score.

We left the man and walked back to camp. Ran into Scotto and he said we were fine camping where we were. It was a good location (I thought) because it had a nice wind break of an RV on one side and our truck (rental) on the other. It was late and we were tired, so decide only to put up Bob's tent and both sleep in that the first night.

Now when I picked Bob up at the Oakland airport he was carrying this large tent called "First Up". I asked him if he had ever set it up before and he said, "no". I rolled my eyes because I had visions of futzing around in the dark trying to put up a tent that neither of us had ever seen before. It came with these instructions that said, basically, put the center where you want it, stand it up, unfold the bottom, and push on the center and the tent will pop up on it's own.

"Yeah, Right!", I thought as we got it out and started fiddling with it.

And son of a bitch, the thing went up as advertised. Push down on the center and this 3 man tent just pops up on it's own. (Thank you, Gods above). I ate some crow and we tossed some stuff in.. Bob inflated the mattress he was going to use, and that was the end of the first day.

The next morning was unpacking and getting my tent up.

Sleeping on a cot

My first year I slept on the ground on a pad. Possible, but not recommended. The second year I slept on an air mattress. Comfy, but hard to live with in the tent – getting up was tough. This year I bought a cot (an REI Roll-up) with me to Burning Man. I turned out great. The cot fit perfectly in my tent, and I fit perfectly on the cot. It was comfortable, and it gave me something to sit on when I was trying to get dressed. I was a little worried that it would be cold, but this was not a problem at all. It also gave me storage space under the cot for various things. This is going to be my solution from now on.

Another innovation this year… for those of you who really want details.. was a bottle to take a piss in when I didn’t feel like walking to the porto’s down the street. I used it several times, always with the intention of pouring it out when I got home. But, to be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to clean it up when I got home, so.. into the trash it went. A good idea, but a little gross by the time we got home.


While crossing the "C" one evening, Bob and I came across a group who called themselves "Ambience". They had a van with and EL sign on the sign like and ambulance, but instead it said AMBIENCE. There were a bunch of mattresses and blankets on the playa, and a grill set up on one side of the van. As we walked up a friendly person greeted us and asked if we’d like a grilled cheese sandwich.

Who could resist that invitation. We had a sandwich, hung around for a few minutes and went on our way. Nice people.

The next night was a dancing night. And about 3:00 am I finally decided I was danced out. I was cutting across the "C" from 2:00 to 7:00 and it was FREEZING. (People always ask if it’s hot in the desert. They never seem to ask if it is cold. This night it was really cold.) I was tired, my feet hurt, I was cold, and all I wanted to do was get to my tent.

But again, and in a different place, I came across the Ambience. Again I was greeted warmly, and offered Chai Tea. I accepted, gratefully, and it was so warm and so good, that it really hit the spot. Someone put a half a grilled cheese sandwich in my hand, and it was warm too. The mattresses were so inviting that I had to lay down for a bit. Next thing I knew, someone was covering me over with a blanket. Heaven.

I took a nap there until about 5:00 am when I woke up and decided to make it the rest of the way back to my tent.

The Ambience team was out there every night, all night long, giving grilled cheese sandwiches and tea or coffee to the night wanderers like myself. They were all extremely friendly, and a joy to encounter. I’m glad they were there and I hope they are there next year. (I could not find them as a theme camp so I can't send them a thank you e-mail. If anyone knows who these people were, please write to me. Thanks.)

Perhaps I can return the favor in some small way.

Water Reclaimation - Signs and Handouts

We nearly had a crisis this year at camp. Steve Waterman Iddings was having health problems and was not sure if he was coming to Burning Man this year. Without his water processing camp life gets harder, and the HCW becomes problematic. Steve needed to meet some health goals before he would agree to come out, and he wanted some help in certain areas – like hand outs and signage, along with setup and work help. I agreed to make signs. He wanted to be clear about WHERE water was supposed to be put into the system (i.e. everything through the filter – the first stage filter that is). So I made several signs that simply said "NOT HERE" and one that said "THE FILTER". Along with these I made a bigger sign for the water reclamation area in general.

These were simple plywood and stick signs, painted, and bolted to be hinged. They also had holes drilled at the bottom so that plastic quick ties could be added and they could be staked down to prevent the wind from having it’s way with them.

In addition to signs, handouts were printed to let people know how to use the system, and what the usage rules were.

Steve was pleased with the result. The whole system ran much smoother this year and he had to monitor it much less than in years past.

Of course, he stayed too long, post event, processing the last of the water and cleaning up, and so hurt his back again in the process. Steve.. when will you learn?

Rock-em Sock-em Robots

Do you remember the Rockem Sockem Robots as a kid? You would control these two robots in a boxing ring and the object of the game was to knock the other robots block off. When a punch was landed just the right way the other robots head would pop up on a spring. All control by two buttons for the punches and handles to put the robots where you wanted them in the ring.

Now make it full sized. No remote controls now.. Now you step into the back of the robot and insert your arms in the sleeves of his arms. You use his arm to punch at the opposing robot, who also has someone inside punching at you. Both robots are on wheeled carts that someone behind you pushes into the center to bring you and your opponent together. Eventually someone will land a good punch and the full size head pops up just like the kids game.

The official description is as follows: Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots by David Ljung Madison You're walking along the Playa thinking about your childhood and how simple it was to be amused. Suddenly, as a mirage, two robots loom before you. It's Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots, from your youth, but this time they're big enough to knock *your* block off. You climb into the boxing ring and climb into the Blue Bomber, and suddenly you've become an 8 foot tall robot fighting machine. Your trusty companion grabs hold of the steering controls outside the ring, while your two combatants gear up in the Red Rocker. The hot arena lights pound down on you while the crowd cheers you on. You hear the bell ring, and the fight is on!

Someone has way to much time on their hands.

The Medical Tent - and barf duty

Black Rock City has a medical tent, but I’ve never had cause to visit it until this year. One of my campmates, a fellow diabetic, became disoriented and sick after working excessively at the Human Carcass Wash. (See the section on Human Carcass Wash) He did not stay hydrated while working the event, and apparently got a hold of some medicated food.

When I heard that Trouble was taken to the medical tent I figured he might need his diabetes kit (insulin, tester and needles), so I found it and went to visit him at the medical tent. This tent was warm, and looked like something out of the M*A*S*H TV series. I found Autowitch and Trouble on one side of the tent. Trouble was completely out, but Autowitch told me what happened and that Trouble had gotten sick in several places back at camp.

Well, it’s supposed to be a community, and though cleaning up puke is on my list of least favorite things to do, I figured they should at least be able to come back to a clean tent when they left M*A*S*H. So I went back to their tent, found the offending puddle and cleaned up. There was supposed to be another contaminated zone in/near the community kitchen, but Scotto beat me to that one.

I went back to visit later in the night after a bout of dancing, and Trouble was doing much better.

The next day he was right as rain, and we had a long discussion about staying hydrated at the HCW.

Playa Info

This year I only had 2 shifts at Playa Info working Directory. The directory changed from last year. This year it was ONLY on-line – no card catalog. So basically my job consisted of helping people find a terminal, helping them do look ups, and helping people enter their own information. Nothing to it.

One thing I was told when I came on shift was that people with laptops could not use our power supplies to run their laptops. (There is a WiFi network that works near Center Camp for those who are simply addicted to having e-mail and internet access.) So I see this guy sitting there with his laptop plugged into our power, and I tell him he has to disconnect. He gets all indignant and says, "That guy said I could!!" Apparently we had a supervisor shift while I was on, and the rules changed. Okay, whatever. That cleared it up, but then the guy with the laptop has to add his parting shot, "There’s a hurricane in Florida and people’s lives are at stake." – as if to say he was doing important work there. I ignored him, but when I left shift over an hour later, he was still there, surfing the web.

One of the things I like about going to Burning Man is being completely disconnected from the world. There are no phones, no TV, no radio, no e-mail, no internet, and I like it that way. I’ll never forget my first ever experience with being completely disconnect from the world. It was on the AutoTrain from Florida to Washington DC. When I got on the train the world was a certain way. When I got off the train 24 hours later I hear that the Soviet Union has collapsed. Wow. Burning Man is like that for me. The world is out there, but I can completely leave it behind.

In fact, at one point, Steve (Waterman) was playing with his computer trying to pick up the WiFi signal, and actually got into CNN. As soon as the screen started to refresh I turned away, not wanting to see any of the headlines. I didn’t want that world encroaching on my world.

I felt weird about that guy at PlayaInfo. Why would you come out to Black Rock City and still want to surf the web. Lives might be at stake in Florida, but you are not going to be able to do anything about it with your little laptop in Nevada. If you feel that strongly about it, leave; or at least be honest about being an internet addict and wanting to surf.

Dancing next to woofers as tall as me

The activity I most enjoy at Burning Man is dancing. I try to do some every night with some nights totally devoted to it. I never get to dance in the real world, but once in a blue moon, and usually at gay bars with friends. (Not that it makes a difference, gay or straight, I’m just there to dance.) So this year I danced.

The other thing I like to do at Burning Man is drink. I hardly ever drink in the real world, but being a bit inebriated while dancing is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Which is why I carry a flask with me at night when I’m on the prowl for a good dance. But this year I switched from Jack Daniels (which for me is barely drinkable) to an Orange liqueur of some sort that was very drinkable, but not very inebriating. So I got to dance, but did most of it pretty darn sober.

Still, the sound is the thing. And there was some immense sound out there this year. One place had a stand of speakers I couldn’t believe. The woofers were stacked up to my shoulders and the rest went up from there. I spent an hour directly in front of these speakers, taking minute breaks now and then to grab water and give my ears a rest. They were deafening. And when a really big bass riff hit it was like your insides were being liquefied.

The Man

The Temple

The Trash Fence

This year I did it. I managed to make it all the way out, as far as you can go and still be in Black Rock City.. all the way to the trash fence. In the past, the trash fence was this mythical orange line out in the distance. Something to be aspired to, but never reached. Course, in the past I did more walking, and walking to the trash fence is not an option.

But this year I made it. I first headed for the temple. Then out to this large tree in the distance. The tree turned out to be just that a large tree – nude of leaves – held down with rocks, festooned with hangings, and with a sound system making some nice mystical noises.

And just off in the distance, there it was, the trash fence. I saw a couple taking pictures of each other, nudes, and as they finished I rode up to them and asked for a favor. I wanted a picture of myself at the fence, and another butt shot for my collection. They laughed, but had no problem with it. So click, strip, and click, and it was done.

Now, I still was not as far as you can go because I was not at the apex of the fence. So I jumped on the bike and headed out to the apex of the fence, the northern most point in Black Rock City.

On arriving there I found art. Someone had made various sized fish and put them on the fence posts, calling them phence phish. Other people had left various memorials to the fact that they had made it to this point. One particularly amusing sign read, "The practical joke workshop has been moved to the Man." (hehehe) I sat here for a while relaxing and deciding which direction to head home in. It was a nice solitary time on a cool, beautiful day.

The Art

This year there was not as much art on the Playa as in years past. Apparently a lot of the artists have decided they don’t like the way BORG controls artistic expression and funding. A petition made the rounds post event that made this clear. Lots of people noticed the lack of art this year. Hopefully this will pick up in the future. Some things do deserve mention..

The Hummer - portal to another dimension?

Coming back from the my trip to the trash fence I saw this large green obelisk like structure with a large hole through the center. The hole was large enough for a person to stand inside without touching the top, and thick enough for 4 people to lay side by side within it. As you approached you hear this deep bass murmer coming from the tower. On one side of the tower is a ladder that lets you get up into the hole and lay there feeling the bass rumbling under your back. The bass tone is constantly changing, and never seems to repeat.

I got to this and lay in it. Had it to myself for quite a while, and it was nice to lay in this open circle of polished wood and feel/listen to the think rumble all around you.

A group of people came up and someone noticed the small door at the base of the tower. On opening it they found a large set of speakers, and a single bass string taut over them. The string was connected to the amplifiers which drove the speakers with drove the string. There was no recording (as I first thought), the thing was a feedback system and would keep going as long as it had power. Very cool.

Then the artist showed up. He "explained" that the sound was a harmonic universal key that would open up a portal into another dimension if the object was placed at exactly 11:00 on the dial from the man and exactly N yards from the man. He kept asking us if we thought it was placed right, because if it wasn’t at exactly 11:00 and the right distance then the portal would fail to open, and we would lose our chance to enter the other dimension.

At first if was an amusing story… then I began to think this guy was a few letters short of a keyboard. By the time I left I was pretty sure he was a nut case. But his work of art was great... relaxing and haunting all at once. I must have laid there an hour all told...

The Synthesizer

Just a bit south of the The Hummer, was the synthesizer. The concept was simple. 4 sets of speakers, each controlled by its own control panel. Each control panel having a bunch of labeled switches, dials, and selectors. You walked up to a control panel and began to fiddle with the controls, and the set of speakers behind you would respond to what you were doing. In the middle was a master selector that had about 50 different selections of basic samples.

With 4 people controlling one set of speakers each you would think that the only result would be noise. But amazingly enough, you could make some pretty cool sounding stuff. Some of it worth dancing to.. some of it just worth listening too. And a kind of automatic cooperation would start between the people at the controls.. each trying to enhance the sounds being put out. And every now and then the group would all decide to hit the master center dial and play with the whole new world of sound that created.

The official description is as follows: Improbable Orchestra by Xiphoid Process Collective The Improbable Orchestra (IO) is an interactive audio sculpture. Visually enticing and mysterious sets of knobs and buttons are laid out to lure a passer-by into experimenting with the sculpture.

I bet this thing would be a blast at parties!!!

The Pillows

There was this large white thing off in the distance northeast of the man. I wanted to find out what it was, and so one night I finally made it over there. It consisted of these giant plastic white pillows, internally lit at night, and 3 small tunnels that lead into it, but curved so you could not see the end from the outside. You nearly had to crawl through the tunnels, but once inside there was a space where you were surrounded by the stack of pillows open to the sky. You could fit 50 people in this space comfortably.

Once I got there I was kind of tired so decided to relax by standing off on one side and just letting my mind wander and people watch. Surprisingly, people kept coming up to me and asking me about the sculpture, or whether I was like a security guard keeping an eye on things. I got to talk to several people this way. I guess someone just standing quiet to the side must be "someone" otherwise, why would they stand there. (And the only reason I was standing was because I didn’t want to lay on the ground. I can relax standing up too.)

The Florescent Tube Sculpture - What was that supposed to do?

It was called the Alien Semaphore. It consisted of a row of flourescent lights on towers, motorized so the lights could spin in various angles. The towers were spread out in a line about 50 yards long. At the head of the line was a control panel... but there was nothing obvious about how this panel worked. I guess you would have had to stand there for some time to work it all out. As you fiddled with the panel, the lights would change positions and create patterns. It was kind of an interesting concept.

Runway Lights?

Just off the Esplanade this artist set up what looked like sculptures. One of these was a van degraff generator that would shoot purple sparks out in all directions. Others were propane powered fire sculptures that, by some mechanism I don’t fully understand, would burn and pop like a rocket taking off. It’s like the flame throwing part was designed to light, then go out, then light, then go out, repeatedly, with a loud popping noise of explosive ignition every time it lit. The speed of this was controlled by the amount of propane being sent through the system. It would go from "POP POP POP" to "BRRRAAAAAAPPPPPP". There were multiples of these.

The whole thing led up to a pretty amazing show one evening.. In addition to the generator and the noisy fire fountains there were 2 LARGE robots that would battle each other (though not to destroy) and tear apart full size wooden pallets left for them to run over and destroy in various ways. These robots would menace the crowd now and then. Talk about dangerous art. This seemed like something in the old tradition of Burning Man where the art was amazing AND dangerous. It’s hard to get pictures of this sort of thing, but here are some, and here is a video.

Freezing Nights

Okay... this year is was COLD

Dust Dust Dust

Too Much Food

Space Virgins Party - Out of booze too fast - Nice .. er.. view

Once again, SPACE VIRGINS threw a great party. They did run out of booze pretty early in the evening, and so the bar had to close down, but the crowd was good and the music was fun. (No, I don’t know the name of the DJ who was spinning.)

One of the space virgins was a friendly woman in her 40’s, a fitness instructor, who had the most perfect breasts and wore a costume that let them show. Needless to say, when she was dancing up front the gawker quotient went up making it harder to have fun dancing. The few times the power failed, she seemed to know just what to do to get it going again. Odd the skill sets people have out there. It was a good party.

Static eletricity... Booming Propane.. Fiery Robots.. Giant robot wars.

Just off the Esplanade this artist set up what looked like sculptures. One of these was a van degraff generator that would shoot purple sparks out in all directions. Others were propane powered fire sculptures that, by some mechanism I don’t fully understand, would burn and pop like a rocket taking off. It’s like the flame throwing part was designed to light, then go out, then light, then go out, repeatedly, with a loud popping noise of explosive ignition every time it lit. The speed of this was controlled by the amount of propane being sent through the system. It would go from "POP POP POP" to "BRRRAAAAAAPPPPPP". There were multiples of these. They were loud enough to be heard all the way across the playa

The whole thing led up to a pretty amazing show one evening.. In addition to the generator and the noisy fire fountains there were 2 LARGE robots that would battle each other (though not to destroy) and tear apart full size wooden pallets left for them to run over and destroy in various ways. These robots would menace the crowd now and then. Talk about dangerous art. This seemed like something in the old tradition of Burning Man where the art was amazing AND dangerous. It’s hard to get pictures of this sort of thing, but here are some, and here is a video.

Wire Donkey Camp

Wire Donkey Camp was run by an organization in California that teaches skills to the physically/mentally that they can use to get jobs in the real world. One of the things they do is bicycle repair and rehabilitation. So, here is this organization that has all these bicycles, and here is the place in the desert where lots of people want bikes (like my friend Bob for instance). Sounds like a match.

You make a donation to Wire Donkey Camp, and they will transport a bicycle to the desert for you to pick up at Burning Man. At the end of the week you can either (a) keep the bike or (b) donate it back to Wire Donkey Camp and get an IRS tax deduction for you donation. Very very cool idea.

And very cool in the implementation. These people transported 300 some odd bikes to the desert; hung around to help people get their bike; made sure they were equipped with lights, locks and baskets (optional) and even handed out cool fruit while people waited. This was a swell bunch of people and I'll be looking for them again next year if I know anyone who needs a bike.

My desert cruiser has done it's second year now, and seems none the worse for the wear.. well.. okay.. it's worse for the wear, but so what. Next year I'm thinking of giving it a paint job before I go...

Many fewer vehicles this year - and not well themed

Though the eyeball bikes were great. Basically, these consisted of two bikes with giant illuminated eye-balls mounted on the front. As they rode along side by side it looked like some giant creature coming out of the dark. And when they turned in unison it was spooky. Course, if they turned toward each other it was funny. A great concept.

Bright Moon

The Carcass Wash - working for a living

I’ve explained before what the Human Carcass Wash consists of. And I’ve said that I frequently "work" it. What people hear most of the time is that there are lots of naked people all washing each other, and they automatically figure that working the HCW is simply a matter of watching all this happen by itself.

I’d like to dispel this idea. Everyone who "works" the wash works their ass off.

To run a good HCW you need the following:

  1. Reinforcing the original introduction (remind people to state and ask for boundaries)
  2. Promoting people from station to station with a gentle touch to the shoulder and either taking or giving a spray bottle from/to them.
  3. Exchanging empty bottles for full ones.
  4. Monitoring for any kind of inappropriate behavior.
  5. Dealing with "special cases" (Like painted people, or Ron)

This year’s HCW was very successful. I had explained to Bob how it worked in the past, and that I worked it; but as always, seeing is believing. Bob was a little strange the first day; I have no clue what was going on in his head, but he must have stood there for 1.5 hours, just watching the whole process, as if deciding whether he wanted to have his good name associated with such a crazy process.

Then I hear from the street, "CARCASS WASH !! GET YOUR CARCASS WASHED HERE", and Bob is now BARKING for the HCW. Apparently he found a niche he liked and filled it…. the Burning Man thing to do !!! He’s always been the showman, and this was perfect. He is also big enough to be just that smidgeon of intimidating you need to be when telling (not asking) people to not take pictures.

And, like most of the people who WORK the wash, we jump in at the END-GAME and get clean like the hundreds of people who have gone before.

Physical changes: This year the HCW took place in it’s own shade structure. This is a big improvement over years past where it was all open to the sun. This had several advantages: 1) Much less chance of getting sunburned working the wash. 2) Since the structure was closed on one side, it gave us a back wall that allowed us to control public access better (i.e. instead of having people come from 360 degrees, we only had them coming in from the street and one side, which made process control a bit easier.

END-GAME: I’ve mentioned the "end game" several times so I guess I better explain how this works. It takes 12 people to actually "run" the carcass wash – 4 at each station. But when the event is over the lines run out and there are not enough people to man each of the 3 mandatory stations (station 4, squeegee, being optional). What happens then is that we begin to collapse the stations into one another so that the rinse gets combined with the scrub and people do both jobs for a bit. Eventually, everything gets collapsed to one station and everyone does everything all in one spot.

Stroke Greg is great at running the end game. This is the point where most of the people who "work" the wash join in to give the last few outside participants the same experience as everyone else. It’s also our chance to cool off after 3 hours of work. And to pat ourselves on the back for another event well run.

There was one problem this year. His name was RON (at least, that’s what he told me). Ron came into the carcass wash drunk as a skunk. He wasn’t obnoxious, but he was a bit unruly and was brought to my attention pretty quickly. Ron became my special case for a while. I pulled him aside, gave him a friendly, personal introduction on how things worked, and asked him if he wanted to participate. He was all grins (and instability) but seemed to want to join in… and who am I to condemn public drunkenness at Burning Man. So I gave him a rinse sprayer and put him in line. A minute or two later, Ron was having more fun spraying his fellow participants than the rinse. So another hand on his shoulder, "Ron, come on. You gotta do the job here. Rinse."

Ron gave it a half hearted try, but his inability to concentrate, and his sense of fun were getting the better of him and starting to interfere with the HCW operation. So I put my arm around him and lead him out of the line. He was babbling on, and I was nodding and agreeing, but basically, just steering him clear of participating in the event. I got him to a chair and he agreed that it might be a good idea if he sat down and stopped stumbling around. I also disarmed him his spray bottle.

At some point, Ron apparently, who had friends in line, realized they were leaving, jumped up, got dressed, and ran off with his friends. Problem solved. Unfortunately for him, he left his back pack behind. We kept it for 24 hours, figuring he’d come back for it, but he never did, and so I took it to PlayaInfo Lost and Found and told them to whom it belonged. Hope they re-united.

I felt good about how I handled drunk old Ron. He wasn’t bad, just temporarily incapacitated, and a little too uninhibited. Several people thanked me for taking care of him post event. It’s my job.

The Night of the Burn

Bob and I walked (slowly – he was in a lot of pain by now) out to the burn. We grabbed seats on the ground close to the front of the crowd. I had learned in years past to stay up-wind of the man to avoid the smoke, so on this night we basically due south of the man. It seemed to take forever before anything got started. People were throwing light sticks around out of boredom. But eventually the fire dancers started to do their thing. These people must be really full of themselves because they went on forever and ever and ever. I mean, I love the fire dancers, and if they had set up some stages like they have done in the past and had their stand out acts up there it would have been great, but there was nothing standout about this show.. except the length.

Finally, the fireworks went off on the man. Later, talking to Bob, I found out that the fireworks were a surprise to him. I guess he just thought they burned the man. I had been worried that the open geodesic dome design would not give much to burn, but this turned out not to be a problem. Yes, it was not as impressive as the HUGE Incan pyramid that burned the year before, but it was just a fine and dandy burn. This year, the man’s arms managed to BOTH stay up during the fireworks. In both past burns I had attended, one arm fell down and he stood there defiant with a fist in the air. This year, he seemed happy to be burning, both arms held high until his trousers burst into flame.

The geodesic dome structure was burning, and starting to collapse, revealing the two huge beams on which the man stood. For a little while is seemed that the building was going to go up in flames around him, and leave the man standing there balanced on his unburned support beams. But then he began to tilt. And then to fall. It was a great fall. The normal rush into the flame didn’t happen until one of the rangers yelled "Come on… get in there!!!" and off everyone went. Except for Bob and I. The poor guy was in utter pain, and barely made it back to camp(which might explain the pained grin).

Post Burn

After getting Bob back to camp I went on a mission to visit my favorite playa bar and get absolutely ripped to shreds. Earlier in the day I had stopped by Wonder Lounge and dropped off a couple bottles of booze, explaining that I was donating in advance because I was coming back to drink later. Sure enough, when I got there the place was pretty lively. And I brought my own cup !!!

The guy tending the bar mixed me a vodka tonic that was 90 parts vodka and 10 parts tonic… and in my huge tumbler as well. I took a sip.. or tried to (I’m not much of a drinker so straight alcohol is not my favorite experience), and decided I couldn’t drink it. So the new bartender and I came up with a plan. We poor half of it into another cup and set that aside as "mine for later".. then we toniced up the other half until it was drinkable. Add some Emer-gen-C and you have a great drink. And drink I did.

Wonder Lounge is the best bar on the playa 3 years running. This gang from Texas just seem to attract a nice crowd of people, and yet the experience is different every year. I yakked with the bar tender. I yakked with people that came and went. We interviewed every blond woman who came in because some guy had come in earlier saying he’s lost his blond girlfriend and would we keep an eye out for her. I heard jokes. I told jokes. And I got drunker and drunker.

Now, one of the conversations I had with the bartender was about a playa name. Most Most everyone at Burning Man takes a playa name they go by while at Black Rock City.

One couple came in and the 3 of us yakked for an hour. She convinced me she was with the police department in Pleasanton, CA – a town where a good friend of mine lives – and insisted on giving me a sobriety test. (I was on my the second cup by now.) She was amazed at how well I could do, walking a straight line, touching my nose, and saying the alphabet backwards. The effort of concentration nearly wiped me out.

Then she told me it was a lie and she wasn’t a cop. And the whole thing was fun. I gave them my e-mail, but never heard from them post event. Now I wonder if she was a cop, lol.

At one point I had to take a piss. The bartender told me the direction of the nearest porto’s and I stumbled out into the night to find em. Getting there, I realized I had no light on me (everything was back at the bar) and I needed help finding an open porto. Now, the great thing about Burning Man (or one of them) is that you can be fully inebriated and people won’t instantly treat you with disgust. So I walked up to someone.

"Excuse me. I’m really really drunk and was wondering if you could help me find one of these that’s available"

"Sure", and he/she (I can’t recall) used their flashlight to find me one that was free. They even asked if I needed help getting in, but I wasn’t that bad just yet. And, since they are all designed the same once I was in it was a no-brainer to use.

I stumbled back to Wonder Lounge, and the party continued to it’s logical conclusion. When I actually fell off my bar stool and drew concerned looks from the people around I knew that the evening was over and it was time to go home. I gathered up my stuff and bid my farewell’s.

Out on the street I was having a ball. I’m a very happy drunk. Everything gets to be very funny, including the fact that I couldn’t walk a straight line to save my soul. I tried for 10 minutes to make some progress, but only managed to get half a block because I kept stumbling around in circles, stopping, and laughing. So, when I saw 3 people going the direction I wanted to go I approached them and, "Excuse me. I’m really drunk and having a hard time staying in a straight line to get home. Do you mind if I walk with you just to help keep me on track." "No problem." "Thanks." "Do you know where you want to go?" "Oh yeah, I know where I want to go, I just can’t keep it straight. I just need someone to concentrate on." "Cool" And that’s how I made it as far as Center Camp.

At Center Camp my walking buddies went their own way, and by now I was keeping better lines so I headed toward my camp. By the time I was within half a block the effort to concentrate was getting hard, but as luck would have it I ran into Trouble and Kingsley.

"Guys!!!" Big drunk hugs. "Could you guys give me a hand getting back to the tent?" (The streets in Black Rock City are clear, but the camp areas are full of guy wires and tent stakes that are tough enough to get around sober.) "Sure" "Oh Thank you !!!!"

I don’t exactly know how the confusion happened, but when I said tent they took it to mean the main camp tent. This is not lit at night, and is just a big area with the communal kitchen, cooler and water, and a lot of chairs for daytime activities. I was in no shape to object when they took me there and plopped me in a chair. Like I said, I’m and easy going drunk and the chair was plenty comfortable.

I don’t know how long I sat there, but eventually I decided to get up and go to my own tent. I got up out of the chair and fell face forward onto the ground.

And stayed there.

There were no resources within me to get up. So I’m laying there thinking, ‘I need some help here.' So I started calling for it. Or croaking for it, more accurately.



"Someone…. Hemp…. Hellllp"

I was muttering for help, there wasn’t much volume to it, and inside my brain I was thinking, ‘Well, I can sleep here.. this isn’t so bad.’ But I still preferred getting into my tent.

Luckily Trouble and Kingsley came back to check on me and found me face down on the ground. They got me up and to my tent where I somehow managed to strip most of my clothes off and fall into bed.

And, believe this or not, that was the most fun night I had at Burning Man this year !!!! It embodied everything I love about Burning Man. The gift economy. The sense of community. The fact that people let others have the kind of fun they want without condemnation. And the fact that people take care of each other when asked.

And the post note on this was that, apparently, I wasn’t alone in the main tent when I got up and fell on my face. Bob was there in the dark as well, in too much pain to lay down, so he was trying to rest in a chair. He couldn’t move, let alone help me up, so when he heard me calling for help, he didn’t try. Hey, what are friends for!!!!

Leaving - and finding a chiro

Bob and I left on Sunday. He was just hurting too much to stay one more day. Which was fine by me as I was getting tired of being constantly dirty. I woke up the next day, still tipsy from the alcohol. A condition that passed quickly as I started to work on getting our pickup truck packed up. Bob couldn’t help, so packing was up to me. It’s nice at Burning Man that you basically park right next to where you camp. No hiking all your equipment out to some remote parking lot somewhere. For me it was basically, pack and heave, with some organizing thrown in there to make it all fit.

Now, since I was leaving a day early, and since I had made umpteen million of my "trinkets" I had a bunch left over. So I decided to head down to Center Camp to give out the last of them. I’d go up to a group of people, put down the box, and give the following spiel:

"Hi. Could you help save my life? I made so many of these that my wife said she would kill me if I came home with any of them. So, if you would take a few, you’d be doing me a big favor."

This went over pretty well. There was the usual, "what are they, how did you make them, how do you wear them, can I take extra" sort of conversation as well.

When I walked up to one couple in line, while they were selecting what they wanted, I mentioned that I was leaving a day early because my friend’s back was in so much pain. The man said, "I’m a chiropractor." At which point I begged him to come down and take a look at Bob to see if there was anything he could do. He agreed happily, so I told him where main camp building was, and he said he’d stop by.

I gave out the rest of my pendants, and went back to camp. Told Bob to be on the look out for this couple coming, and started to graze. It was LAST DAY FOOD BINGE day where all the food that hasn’t been consumed gets pulled out, cooked and everyone chows down on strange combinations of food.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes later I hear someone call, "Stagger!" and it’s them. I bring them in and introduce them to Bob, and offer them anything to eat. I set up a plates of food for em while the guy got to working on Bob. By the time he was done, Bob said it helped a lot !!! Yeah..

This year there was not as much art on the Playa as in years past. Apparently a lot of the artists have decided they don’t like the way BORG controls artistic expression and funding. A petition made the rounds post event that made this clear. Lots of people noticed the lack of art this year. Hopefully this will pick up in the future. Some things do deserve mention..

Dang.. never wrote this part... hum.. gotta work on that.. lol