The folks out at Burning Man now are having the time of their lives
The weather will never be truly predictable, but our reactions always are and that goes triple for any weather out in The Black Rock Desert. In a word: hysteria.
The photo above is not from this morning. We took it from our tent on the morning of Monday, August 25, 2014. That was the year the Mighty Burning Man Organization (aka the Borg) decreed that the Gate could open at 10AM on Sunday, the day before the actual event started.
Foolishly, I tried to convince my partner — a full-bore Burner since 2005 — that it would be smarter to wait until Monday. Let all the crazy ones crowd in on Sunday and we’d be able to waltz on in Monday with none of the usual crazy long waits at Gate.
The man was not having it.
Roughly nine hours after leaving Reno at 5am Sunday, we rolled into camp and were able to get the tent up and everything stowed inside in time for the traditional first bike ride out to the man.
That was one impressive Man, that year. 105 feet tall and no pedestal for the first time.
The rain woke us before daylight. Because rain on a tent roof always sounds much more dramatic than on the trees outside our apartment in Harlem, we rolled over and went back to sleep. Until the thunder and lightening started. Oh, and the hail. Did we mention hail. Yeah, that, too. We peered out in disbelief at the downpour. Fortunately, we had the cooler, the box of provisions from Trader Joe’s and our trusty pee jugs in the tent. We went back to sleep.
That was the only time in eight visits out to That Thing in the Desert that I remember ever getting enough sleep.
We napped, ate, peed, napped some more. Watched the storm in wonder. Napped again. Just about the time the floor under the tent was getting squishy and the rain was finally soaking through the fabric of the tent, it stopped.
The puddles and standing water had dried in a matter of hours and soon the city was in full swing.
Not so much out on the Gate road where many unlucky later arrivals found themselves stranded in their vehicles for up to twenty hours. Fun fact: if you try to drive on that surface when it’s raining you will sink to your axles and good luck digging out of that. But you’d better hurry because if it dries? Yeah. Real trouble. So no one out there was going anywhere and if it hadn’t been for the determination of my favorite burner, well, we’d have been out there as well.
While it had to have been pretty tough being trapped in most of the hundreds of vehicles (drivers of those obscene land yachts, you’re not part of this conversation. Beat it), those were the people with the best stories all week.
So, don’t spend too much time feeling bad for those poor folks out there for Build Week who can’t build anything until the rain stops and the playa dries out. Many of them may not be very comfortable right now, but trust me on this, the people who are out there early for Build Week savor this kind of weather. The badder the dust storm, the bigger the bragging rights. And damned few get to brag more or more loudly than those who have made it through real rain storms out there. Hilary of 2023 has entered Burning Man lore.
It’s hard to fathom why certain — cough, cough — people choose to fly into the event in chartered planes, stay in RVs that someone else has driven out for them, and sashay around in expensive outfits before leaving the clean-up for their employees as they fly back out. Do they snicker at the tens of thousands of us sitting for hours in the lines of Exodus? Poor things.
They’ll never really experience the true magic of Burning Man.
It’s counterintuitive, but making it through the heat, the cold, the dust, the banged up thumb from helping get the dome up before dark, the late night forays out to the porta-potties, the crying jags, the sleep deprivation, the fights with loser campmates who eat the last of the peanut butter, and even huddling under a leaking shade structure while a tropical storm pays a rare visit to northern Nevada are all part of what lures tens of thousands of otherwise sensible people out to the Black Rock Desert right now.
Nothing in the comfortable world we in the Global North inhabit offers opportunities to bond in extreme situations. We are so cushioned in our air-conditioned, centrally heated, perfectly calibrated lives to ever find out what we're really made of when the troubles come. And the troubles are coming.
Weirdly enough, it seems that we need that. Who knew?
Even the billionaires flying out to poop in the porcelain toilets their staff set up and maintain for them need what Burning Man offers. They’re just too closed off in their myopic little world to realize how deprived they are.
Still, they circle like big moths, attracted to something they may not even be able to describe.
Those people out there in damp sleeping bags with mud sliding between their toes are the ones who are gaining the full benefit of what Burning Man offers. I’ve read that the Borg is estimating they can reopen the Gate tomorrow (Wednesday, August 23rd) around noon. I know there are hundreds of people sitting out on State Route 34 ready with their tools, determination, and sense of the absurd ready to get out onto the playa and get to work.
They are going to have some stories.