Wednesday, July 19, 2017
The Burning Man Diaries: Orientation
It's Sunday afternoon and I am standing in the last place in the world I would want to be; deep in North Hollywood. It's a balmy 98 degrees as I walk into an empty dive bar with a light New Orleans theme.
"What are you drinking?" A bored bartender asks me. I point to a Delerium, if I am going to go to the valley three times in a single weekend, at least I'm going to have a decent beer.
"Are you here for orientation?" Asks a small bespectacled man emerging from the back.
I nod. I had assumed that I had gotten the address wrong when I saw an empty bar. I was hoping to finish my pint and then return to my beloved west side where lamb shank and a new season of Game of Thrones awaited me.
He led me back to a small event space with about 10 chairs. A few more people sauntered in, a large map of the Burning Man playa sat on a Easel in front of us.
"I'm Al," he started, "and I'm a porn lawyer. Twenty years ago, I was hired by a video production company that wanted to halt the release of an adult film. Part of my job was to research the tape and find a legal reason to prevent its release. But during said research, I couldn't help but notice the big party going on in the background. I asked my client where this video was shot. 'Burning Man.' They replied. And well, I lost the case, but I've been a Burner ever since."
As the room began to fill up, we went around introducing ourselves and how we first heard about Burning Man.
I imagine everyone knows about Burning Man in some way or another. What their opinion of it may be is another matter entirely. I have talked to annoying people at parties that talk about how it's such a 'life changing experience' but I have also talked to plenty of cool, extremely successful people that say the same thing. I suppose my reason for wanting to go is that I like to camp and I like to party. Whether I will become a lifelong burner or not is really beside the point, it's a bit of a bucket list thing. I wanted to run with the bulls this summer but my mom got sick. I wanted to go to Yacht Week this year but then my tv show got cancelled. Burning Man might be the one thing this year that keeps my entire 2017 from being a wash.
Of course when it came to be my turn to talk I think I said something lame like "I had friends tell me it's fun."
The next two hours I learned more about the Burning Man culture than I think I had ever cared to know. From costumes to art to gifting. It all seemed like a foreign language. Phrases like 'Radical self reliance' 'Radical self expression.' "Matter out of place.' What did this shit even mean? I was here to ensure my survival, not that I would have the best time ever, not that I would open my mind to a new dimension and be permanently changed, to simply not die. Let's start with the camps.
The general idea is that you bring enough stuff for you to survive the week by yourself, but it sounds like you don't really have to. There are food camps, where you can go to eat...a grilled cheese, steak and lobster, shrimp gumbo. These camps are run by people that have been coming to Burning Man for years and their gift to you is the gift of food. Perhaps you offer to wash dishes for a bit after your meal, perhaps not. My buddy and I are probably going to make Live Strong Bracelets with Burning Man 2017 on them, they're not edible, but everyone likes free bracelets right?
Then there are bar camps. Wear a mug around your neck and present it to a bartender to be rewarded with a frosty brew. Again this is free. This is their gift to you. It's unreal. Why would anyone ever leave the food camps or the bar camps?
Well there are the sound camps, these are the super rich people that import major stages to Black Rock City and get people like Major Lazer and Skrillex to play until 4 o clock in the morning.
Or perhaps you would be more interested in the 'High sexuality' camp, a place that literally has an orgy dome and a swingers club. One of the moderators of orientation made it very apparent that whether or not you are accustomed to using lube, it is mandatory at Burning Man.
"It's not that she doesn't like you, it's just that the body needs extra water to make that kinda thing happen."
They also teach courses at the sex camp. I may stop by the Cunnilingus for beginners Wednesday at 10am, though I hope it's more theory than practice because on day 3 with no showers that sounds like something for only the bravest student.
Recycling camps will take your empty beers, the ranger camp will get you help if you're too fucked up and the fully functional hospital camp can get you a B12 shot or an IV drip gratis if you went too hard the night before. (It has long been my fantasy to get an IV drip)
I felt my trip start to take more of a structure. Wake up, crack a beer, write down the events of the previous day. (I'll have to transcribe later to this blog as I don't plan on having internet access) then saunter around to the camps handing out gifts and making friends all day, which is all a huge pregame for whatever DJ is playing that night.
There was practical advice like if you're camping, try to position yourself in between a couple RVs for shade. But bring 24 inch rebar poles for tent stakes, tape up any netting unless you want your entire tent to be covered in dust. Easy ups WILL fly away and oh by the way, the temperature will fluctuate between 105 degrees and 40. Wear socks, always have a headlamp, bring handwarmers, rub lotion on your skin, DON'T FORGET SUNSCREEN.
The truth is, I expect to be somewhat uncomfortable the entire week from a physical standpoint. I'm going to be covered in dust and peeling flash tats, hot, sweaty and thirsty. I won't sleep well, I'll be putting a lot of stuff into my body and I might at least partially lose my mind.
But surely of the 80,000 people that make this pilgrimage every year, I won't be the worst. As I looked around the room at all the newbies (a surprisingly attractive crew) some of my pre-existing notions of the festival were shattered. This was a group of people that had jobs, a group of people that were respected members of their community, but furthermore some of these people were the type that would not survive Day 1 of The Hunger Games. And that's essentially what Burning Man is, it's The Hunger Games, except no one is really trying to kill you (except maybe the people on acid driving around art cars.) Hell, the moderator himself said that the first Burning Man he ever went to he hopped in a car with nothing but the shirt on his back, turned out fine for him.
Then there was also a portion of the class that essentially told us 'don't be a dick.' Don't pee on the playa, find a port o potty. Don't drink too much during the day (LOL) Don't steal a bike that isn't yours. For the love of God, never wander off without an emergency bag, because if a white out hits you will be screwed, possibly fucked.
I still don't really know what I've gotten myself into. But the last time someone died it was from trying to jump onto a moving vehicle, which is not necessarily something I am wont to do. So I'm liking my chances?
I'm going out there with a buddy for five days. We will have a car, 2 bikes, a tent, a shade structure, water, food, beer, a camera, some clothes, and positive attitudes. Anything else is just gravy. I think it's going to be ok. We won't be the most prepared, but hopefully we won't be the least either.
The last orientation I went to was my college orientation. I ended up losing my virginity to a girl from my orientation the first night of college. Maybe lightning will strike again 12 years later. Fingers crossed.