So where were we? – Edward and I.
We’d turned off the two-lane blacktop and were heading down one of the six lanes constructed on the playa towards the entrance of Burning Man (BM). The sight of our first Mutant Vehicle had had us laughing and we were on the way to the ticket pick up still smiling from our first encounter.
I mentioned in Part One that we were arriving a few days after the start so all the arrival procedure went very smoothly including the visit of the guy into the back of our RV checking for stowaways and other stuff although his check was, at best, cursory which was nice. The next thing that happened was, however, an introduction to BM and some of what it stands for in a very uncompromising way.
As we drove through the first gate after having the RV checked there were another few hundred meters to drive to the greeters – the people who officially welcome people to BM. As we approached something immediately became quite obvious. All the greeters were naked. We had arrived during the naked greeting period.
There were several greeting points and I quickly scanned the options… how many naked people were at each point? Were they all completely naked? And were they all men? Almost as quickly as these thoughts entered my mind they were gone and the fact that we were suddenly heading for a group of 3 bollock-naked men (at least one of whom was clean shaven in the aforementioned area) didn’t seem to matter. Indeed, it already seemed that it was exactly because of this kind of situation that we were here at all. A couple of minutes later we were getting bear hugs from the naked dudes, doing ‘dust angels’ in the playa and then banging a large hanging bell and screaming to the world that we were no longer BM virgins. It felt good.
We drove in and quickly realized that the designated camping area was already quite full. (This provides a nice view of the camping area and the rest of the BM site). We drove around a bit and ended up parking up on the most outside road. At the time this felt a bit like we were away from it all but with hindsight it wasn’t such a bad move for a first BM.
It was the middle of the afternoon and an hour or two later we were on our Wal-Mart bikes taking in some of the sights, the feelings and generally reveling in the all-encompassing vibe that is BM. In Part One of this story I talked about my increasing cynicism towards alternative lifestyles and associated theories and I have a tendency (sometimes) to turn off when I hear about people talking about ‘energies’ in some contexts. But over the next few days I was to realize that there are times when talking about the energy of a place and its people makes perfect sense and this was one of them.
There is something wonderfully liberating about being able to talk with anybody passing by and being able to smile at someone without evoking some suspicious reaction. There were many times when I ended up chatting with someone who was passing our camp simply because we both felt that here at BM that was ok.
Other significant memories include being on the vast open expanse of the Playa cycling between some beautiful art installations with our rides being punctuated by delightfully ridiculous art cars and mutant vehicles cruising by. Some of these vehicles were small with a delicate persona – a pink rabbit based on the chassis of a golf cart perhaps whilst others were huge, shouting their way across the playa with 20 or so people dancing on top to thumping tunes with flames shooting out of the mouth of the vehicle. They never got boring, never failed to make me laugh and I miss them all.
Evenings were when BM really came alive and our evenings quickly developed a kind of ritual. This started with drinking with our neighbors outside our RV followed by the adorning of both ourselves and the bikes with glow sticks and other flashing things. Bowler hats, fur jackets with el-wire, and even a full-face mask (worn for a whole evening) were some of our costume elements. For our first BM we looked pretty good mostly due to Edward’s (my brother) reading up on how to dress and his infectious enthusiasm for both his iPhone Amazon application for supplies and more real trips to various shops in London for clothes.
BM is full of huge dance clubs places replete with massive flamethrowers, trapezes, multi-layered dance platforms and hundreds of people all feeling just that extra bit liberated. Of course there were some naked people and we even saw one couple getting down to it right there in front of everyone. But, for me, it was the liberation of being able to step outside some of society’s norms – out of my own comfort zone – that will survive as a real legacy for me.
Sure, in many ways it’s a huge party with some pretty amazing art pieces, lots of crazy vehicles, people blowing up hundreds of gallons of fuel (a bit of swearing – sorry) and a man who gets burned on the Saturday night.
But much bigger than all of this was my own personal experience – a gentle reminder of our own potential as human beings and the realization that our comfort boundaries need not always be where they usually are.
It was also a time when I got very close to my Bro – thanks Bro for everything.
Who wants to come next year?