Burning Man 2008, the non-car bit

The American Dream, sans Internal Combustion 

Clearly, you must be bored.  Obviously, you've already chosen your adventure and read all about the Mutant Vehicles of Burning Man.  You've clicked on all the pictures, enlarged them, scoured them for minute details, possibly even printed a few out and hung them on the wall of your cubicle/ den/ bathroom, thus scaring your boss/ children/ significant other and making them question your chemical balance.  

And so now you are here.  

The American Gothic Dream.   

This is the other side of Burning Man, the rest, if you will.  While I'm a certifiable car nut, I will recognize that there were other aspects to BM '08 besides the Mutated Vehicles.  For example, this year, they named all the streets of the City after cars:

 I picked these two pictures as I own both a Dart and a Corvair.  The other main rings of the city were named Allante, Bonneville, Edsel, Fairlane, Hummer, Jeep, and K-Car.  I wanted to steal these signs to take with me, but alas, I was beaten to the punch.  Which was really freaking annoying when we went to leave on Monday morning and it was dark and there were no street signs remaining. 

Hmmm...I went to talk about non-automotive-related elements of Burning Man '08, and here I am talking about car names.  There must be _something_ else to talk about here?

This is Bat Country.  This is where I lived for a week.  By the end of the week, we had developed a reputation for ourselves as being the third most bad ass camp on the Playa.  (We won't touch Death Guild and we won't mess with DPW, though I understand Death Guild won't be back on '09 so we may get bumped up to 2nd most bad ass camp).  Rather than the outward badassity of the other camps, though, we preferred a more subtle brand.  You know, innocent and unassuming on the outside, until you come in and then, as one girl put it, "Someone's gonna die, and its all going to be our fault."

This bar was the cornerstone of our camp.  The bar itself is about 18 feet across, round, and mounted on a rotating platform.  The original concept was to have this golf cart mounted on the side as shown, with the rear wheel rubbing against the platform so that it would cause it to spin.  Unfortunately, there were several problems. 

First, and most critically, the golf cart didn't work.  The chief builder and dude-in-charge, Tony, had procured the 1950's era Westinghouse cart from a ranch somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, installed $600 worth of new Trojan 6V batteries, and driven it onto his trailer to bring it here.  But when it got here, it refused to motivate under its own power.  After a few days of messing around with it, we managed to half ass jury rig it together well enough to a) make a backwards joyride/ reverse 180 donuts/ general hoonage and deviancy around the camp, b) instill fear in those who felt that a pair of jumper cables and a ratchet were not, in fact, ideal ways to make electrical connections, and c) crash into a car and a tent.  

Some welding was involved, too.

Another problem with this setup was that, once we actually got the cart to run, it didn't like to stay in one place.  We hammered rebar into the ground, we used a thick rope to tie it to a truck bumper, and we deflated one of its tires.  Yet, even with that, and with the open differential, it still tried to break free of its mooring and go careening off, usually in the vague direction of something alive or expensive.  

Finally, due probably to the design of the bar, visitors tended to sit on the edge of the bar.  Then, when we'd kick on the cart, they'd come spinning around, become trapped under the wheels, or dive off, and always provide us with lots of nasty and surprised looks.  The bar was dangerous, but it was not _obviously_ dangerous.  It was like a kitten that spit fire from its butt when you pet it.  So, clearly, we needed to make the bar more obviously dangerous, while still retaining the cool spinning feature.  

A PBR-inspired moment!  Have the golf cart drive round the bar, and tie a rope to its bumper with the other end fastened to the bar, so that, by driving the cart round in circles, the bar is rotated.  This provided many advantages.  First, the cart could be easily detached for making runs to go buy ice and procure sushi from the Tuna Guys.  Second, the steering wheel (I found) could be bungee-corded in place for operator-less operation.  Third, people could ride the cart for further enjoyment.  And, finally, the golf cart careening around in circles gave no pretention of safety whatsoever.  Visitors were thusly forewarned.  

I have video of this thing in action, which I will link to via You Tube when I finally get it up.  Check Back.

Apart from alcohol-enhanced engineering, there' s lots to see and do in Black Rock City.  For instance, they have their own post office, where you can send letters to the rest of the world and have them postmarked with the covetted Black Rock City stamp.

One of the theme camps provided a humorous interpretation of one of America's foremost discount retailers:

On the open Playa, I came across this monolithic memento to nuclear testing.  As a fan of nuclear energy, I share some feelings of regret about the nuclear programs of this country.  If people consciouses weren't so bludgeoned with images of mushroom clouds and charred bodies, they might be less frightened of nuclear-powered electricity generation and its capacity to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  I know that probably isn't what this artist's purpose is in creating this, but hey, interpretation is up to the audience, right?

One of the East-of-the-Mississippi folks runs a camp known as King of America.  He, of course, is King:

Note: Its Good to be King.

Here is his realm:

(As always, click on the picture for a more readable view)

We enjoyed a most Royal meal one night, courtesy the King, and were also well entertained at his East Coast Party.

Folks are really friendly at BRC, always offering anything and anything.  After all, it is a gift economy!  

Though occasionally, some mooching, dirty, self-righteous, annoying, nasty-ass hippies take advantage of that fact.  Case in point: On Tuesday some of Bat Country's more benevolent souls did a "Mimosas and Samosas" party, where the champagne flowed freely and the food (Samosas) were scrumptious.  Alas, some clueless and/or ill informed folks showed up on...Wednesday.  At first, we were nice, and informed them of their error.  However, some became rather petulant, demanding we provide them with food and drink.  At some point, someone (whose identity remains a mystery to me) shouted "There's no Mimosas or Simosas, now go home you leeching hippies!"  Mouths agape, the moochers gradually dispersed.

Dust.  Its a fact of Life on the Playa.  When we arrived on Monday afternoon, the entire city was in the grips of a nasty, white-out condition dust storm.  Everything got coated in the fine powder.  It was impossible to venture outside without first donning eye and mouth protection.  We were held up at the gate for over 3 hours while awaiting the storm to die down, during which time many of us, deciding to make the best of it, braved to venture outside of our vehicles, grab a few beers, and chat with complete strangers.  Its amazing how hardship can bring out the best in people.  

After Monday's wind-blown adventure, the remainder of the week was relatively calm.  Every now and then you'd see dust tornadoes like the one above whip up, but they were relatively isolated, and really pretty fun to ride a bike through.  However, on Saturday Mother Nature awoke again and beset the Playa with about 8 hours of wind driven, stingy, throat and eye clogging brown stuff.  Winds were in excess of 60 mph.  Visibility, at times, was a measure of a few feet.  In short, it was a crazy ass party on the Playa:

Despte the wind, despite the dust, despite barely being able to stand erect and having to wear protective gear the likes of which I'm sure they're accustomed to over in Iraq, despite the bar being blown away and the landscape resembling a post-nuclear-attack Armageddon, we were in no way hampered in our activities.

At points, this was all you could see.  With a brimmed hat to shroud my head, wearing a dust mask and goggles, I just looked down and kept walking. 

Back in camp, the trailer was quite the wreck.  

As it turned out, our camp had Esplanade placement, which means we were right in the thick of things, so rather than join in the crazed masses dancing, drumming, and shouting around the Man, we simply set up some lawn chairs and watched from afar, quaffing fine (cheap) champagne and "oohing" and "ahhing" at the fire and fireworks.  We had done our part.  It was time to be spectators. 

Sunday was kindof a blur.  I had to reunite with my traveling companions and reverse our course to head back east on I-80.  I don't have any pictures of the Man burn, or the Temple Burn because, honestly, my camera battery died and I was too lazy to recharge it.  Pictures, as I've said before, don't really capture the essence of what's going on here.  You really have to experience it to see, know, feel, taste, and smell what its all about.