Sorry for making you wait. I'm posting a few paragraphs from a chapter early in the book, chapter 3. The main character is standing at the lighthouse (this is 2002 Burning Man - theme, Floating World) and reflecting on Burning Man. These reflections are meant to give non-burners a little insight into the experience. Well...the whole book is about the experience, but this is the big picture, I guess you'd say.
We are a Bedouin people.
Survivors of the dust. We make the dust. We are the dust.
I survey the city.
A thousand dusty campsites and two thousand more behind them, all impacted by the same swirling singular wind, sweeping in from the barren playa far behind me. I watch it crash against the nearest tents, unstoppable as it curls into open tent flaps, RV doors, and settles on food and drinks, shoulders and shoes. I survey Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis rising from the dead earth each year, a city perfectly erected with uncanny precision at a festival idealizing chaos.
But that’s Burning Man, for you. The unlikely draw of polar opposites. Abundance amidst the scarcest, driest landscape known to man. Chaos brings life. Burning equals renewal. And naked, joyful hope arises every year from a people who have almost given up on the outside world.
These are my desert people, those who live on the fringe. Those who don’t always have a home, a job, a place in the world. These days, the Burning Man tribe now includes the rich trust-fund partiers, the middle-class adventurers, bored tech guys who just want to get laid. Everything changed mid-90’s when the Silicon Valley dotcommers adopted Burning Man as a networking opportunity. But, shalom, they are equally as welcome. Radical acceptance. This make-shift city, its freaks and its paupers as celebrated residents, is still the closest thing I know to a home. To family.
Another hot breath of desert air hisses against me, burning my nose hair, urging me into the city.
I put my hand to my eyes, a barrier to the sand dive-bombing me until it’s safe to look around again.
Burning Man changes. Evolves. The desert remains the same. The wind discolors the brightest art cars and the flashiest theme camps, repainting them a dull sandstone, until the air clears again, temporarily, and everyone coughs up the desert’s latest offering. From here, the capital, the very throne of Burning Man, I can see just how far, how deep, the streets run. Perfect alignment, the city built in a three-quarter semi-circle. It makes you wonder how easy it could be to navigate real cities if someone were permitted to do what is done here each year: dictate the city streets and layout using a compass and geometry. The world would run efficiently. I wouldn’t get so lost in London.
I gaze with my hand protecting my eyes from the sun, studying the perfect arc in front of me. You could spend your entire week at Burning Man walking every street and still not visit every rounded corner. Impossible to appreciate every theme camp, experience every nook and cranny where burners gather to laugh and shout, fuck and sleep, scream pointlessly into the unforgiving wind. And that’s daytime.
At night, a different city awakens.
But night is a few hours away.
Though still plenty bright just before 6:00 p.m., I see lamplighters gathering, wearing their ceremonial robes. With the sun running in slow motion to the horizon, and manufactured light will not be needed for hours. But they obviously enjoy their gift of service, and I’m guessing they gather early to discuss their plans or perhaps just to lounge around others like them. One of the many volunteer groups that keep Black Rock City running smoothly.
I see LaContessa fucking around out in the dirt, lurching forward, sailing a few hundred feet, then jerking to a halt, that death trap on wheels. Who’d have thought you could build a half-sized replica of a Spanish galleon ship on a functional school bus and drive it around the desert? I had fun with those guys the other day but I doubt they took my advice about keeping the engine clean. They are the marching band guys, not car guys. Far away, I see the whale art car. A giant shark art car. And three dozen more mutant vehicles, too distant to recognize their exact creativity, but I watch them drive in looping arcs through the permitted area, like a pond full of coy fish, darting artfully, knowing they are watched and admired.
I decide right now, despite LaContessa’s careening presence, I am captain of the known world. The floating world. I stand before the lighthouse, the base of land in this floating world. This circular structure serves as the base and on it stands, well, I guess that settles that. I’m not the captain.
The enormous wooden man, the mayor of Black Rock City, rising thirty feet into the air, the faceless humanoid construction we choose to worship as commander until Saturday night when we blaze him into drifting ash and shout into the black night, “Burn! Burn! Burn!”
We’re tough on the mayor.
By day, he is the sun dial who watches our every move. But at night, with wire-coated phosphorous wrapped in transmitter wires, surgically implanted throughout his entire frame, The Man alights, a battery-powered, violet-glowing skeleton. Every night he serves as our beacon, protection against the terrors of being stranded in the desert.
Find The Man.
Follow him home.
And at the end of the week, watch him burn, burn, burn!