Older pictures

henna'ed hands
On our flight out in '98, Charlotte asked the stewardess for a cup, some toothpicks, and lime wedges. Then she hauled out a bottle of powdered henna,and we set to work. L to R: Me, Julia, Charlotte.

Me, grinning
Charlotte's favorite picture of me. Note Ben's shoulder-mounted Long Arms™ in the background.

Julia and Bunny
Julia with a cute fuzzy bunny rabbit.

Julia and, um, sculpture
Julia with another friend

Charlotte & Ladybug
Charlotte and friend

Flags in wind
Flag art in dust storm. Photo by Charlotte

group shot
A '99 group shot in our van-based shade structure. L to R: Julia, Andrew, Charlotte, and myself.

Stilts and a sunshower: the perfect combination.

dawn drum circle
Charlotte, up before the sun, found a group of folks who had been drumming all night. Their hands showed it.

The Mirror Monks
Another playa art installation. Photo by Charlotte.

The Burningmen
The Burningmen. Photo by Julia.

[/burningman/] comment

Burningman 2000: An Autointerview


Sebbo by Spiral Girl

Notes: In this interview, Sebbo displays his usual combination of crankiness, airy theorizing, and utter self-absorption. Those looking for an overview of this year's Burningman festival should turn their attention elsewhere--good places to start include the Journals and Essays page and Moorlock's list. Illustrations are a mix of photos by Sebbo, his friends, and complete strangers who were kind enough to grant permission. Images are designed to pop-up in another browser window. If this bugs you, go here.

Q: So, how was the weather?

A: Grody to the max. Multiple day-long duststorms, low temperatures, and one nasty rainstorm to give the roads that nice lumpy look.


Storm by Don Davis

Q: How does rain make the roads lumpy?

A: Jeez, didn't you read the '98 essay? When the surface of the playa gets wet, walking on it lifts up big chunky divots on the soles of your feet. This is fairly annoying, but once the playa dries out again after a few tens of thousands of people have been walking around on it lifting out foot-shaped inch-deep patches of ground, the surface hardens in place, and biking becomes like taking the scenic route through a paint mixer.

Bike crud
Bike crud by
Steve Fritz

Q: You had a bike this year?

A: Yeah, Julian lent me a hand-me-down he had in turn recieved from man-about-BRC Steve Raspa. It was a racing bike, with the high-strung temperment of the breed, and thus ill-suited to the playa environment, but it was ever so much better than no bike at all.

Q: Oh?

Another Day At The Office

Playa Cubicle
by Sebbo

A: Yeah--it's exhilarating to cruise acoss The Man's Land (the open area surrounding the Burning Man effigy), and watch the city fall away behind you. Crossing Black Rock City takes the better part of an hour on foot, and a few minute on bike. Plus, there's dozens of small art projects out on the playa that you'd probably never find wandering around on foot.

Jackie's down on bikes--she finds it harder to socialize when biking around, but I haven't really found that to be so. Or maybe I'm just antisocial enough not to mind so much.

Of course, last year I had a bike too--we bought a couple last-legs machines from a Reno pawnshop. I've always kinda figured that the shitty bike I was riding was at least partly accountable for the knee problems that had me on crutches for much of BM'99

Q: You want to talk about that some more?

Enigmata Confessional

by Jackie

A: No, not really. That's why there wasn't a '99 Snapshots. In short, I was getting on the bike one day after riding around for a while, and Pop! an eight-year-old ACL injury reappeared.

"The concern from the cute naked chicks was kind of nice, but the lack of ibuprofen wasn't."
The concern from the cute naked chicks while we were waiting for the paramedics was kinda nice, but the medical tent's lack of supplies was not (no criticism of the med staff--they did everything they could). Finding massive doses of ibuprofrin and ice was fairly easy. Crutches were trickier. Mad props, by the way, to the Temple of the Enigmata for lending a temporary pair and to Barter Bob for providing a longer-term replacement.

Q: Mad props--was that a pun?

A: No.

Q: Good.

A: Anyway, I was off the crutches again by Friday, but the experience kinda soured my week.

Q: It can't have been too bad--you came back in 2000.

A: True 'nuff.

Q: Were you with a themecamp this year?

Camp Catharsis

Camp Catharsis
by Sebbo

A: Yup--The mighty Supersnail. In '98, you may recall, I was with a little camp of all Boston-area folx.

Q: Sure.

A: Well, it worked out pretty well, but it wasn't enough of a success as a community that anyone felt on fire to replicate it when spring '99 rolled around, but in the meantime, Charlotte had struck up a correspondence with a guy from SF who took studio portraits of us for his website. He invited Charlotte, Julia, and me to come help with the--

Q: Studio portraits?


Julian by Jackie

A: Yeah--he had set up a little white tent to diffuse the sunlight and simplify the background, and had people come in to have their portraits taken. I could rant about why this was a brilliant idea, but your time is better spent browsing the site. Go look around and come back in a couple hours when you're done.

[a couple hours pass]

Q: Okay, I'm done. You were saying this guy invited you guys to help with something.


Jackie by Julian

A: Yeah, infrastructure stuff. Haul cool people off the street; have them sign a release form; then throw into the tent to have their souls stolen; help with putting up the photo tent; stuff like that. Basically, Julian does 60% of the work of the camp, his girlfriend Jackie does 30 and the rest of us scramble to do the other 10%.

Q: How'd that work out for you?

A: In '99, it worked out all right. I wasn't really into it, I'm not sure why. 2000 was much better. It was more people at Supersnail--a lot of different personalities working together really well. I worked a lot harder at it, which meant that I felt more invested in the endeavor.

Julian and Watermelon Man

Julian and Watermelon
Man by Bob Gelman

I came down with a flu at the end, and didn't pull my weight on cleanup, but it was generally a real pleasure.

"This was the year I started to realize what a small town Black Rock City really is."
It was fun dealing with the cool people who had their pictures taken, it's a kick watching Julian work, and it's a project I was excited about.

Q: So you spent all your time hanging out with the Supersnails?


Andy by Cthulhia

A: Far from it. This was the year I started to realize what a small town Black Rock City really is. I ran into an old college roommate, an old college girlfriend, spent some time at Pulse camp with Andy, ran into various Boston burners of course, and spent a lot of time wandering around with my friend Eric the Fruitbat.

Q: Has he been before?

A: Yup; his second year. His M.O. is to fly out standby with a backpack filled with beans and cooked rice. Last year his water came from two five-gallon folding bags he filled at the Reno Airport men's room.

Q: Sounds a little harrowing.

A: Would be for me. Left to his own devices, he seems to pull it off. This year he tried something more organized and therefore got screwed. He and a bunch of SF friends were gonna hook up with a themecamp that had all their gear, and so of course it never appeared, and their shelter consisted of two cars, a tent, and a couple tarps. Then one of the car owners got sick and left, and they were down to one car. Then the storms started hitting.

Q: Ow.

A: Yeah, but he's a trouper. And their next door neighbors helped out as much as they could. Those guys had an amazing shade structure, with a 20-foot high observation platform. And they gave me Bailey's and coffee. They know how to impress a Sebbo.

the amazing shade structure

Observation Platform
by Anonymous

Anyway, early in the week, he painted himself all black, which nicely complemented his welding goggles, for a shoot with Julian, and we went walking around the city for a while, him nude except for the goggles and a fisherman hat. After having been quite unobtrusive until then, he was rather gratified to have folks stopping him to take his picture every couple minutes. The following morning, while we were heading in search of a shower, the nasty weather arrived, and he had to stay body painted for several more days than he had expected.

Q: Where were you going to shower? Isn't there some health code issue with public showers?

A: Indeed there is. In '98, we were just across the street from an ambitious public shower one group assembled. It lasted for about 36 hours until the state fuzz shut it down. Apparently it didn't conform to the hygenic standards required of public showers. So, they turned it into a public mud wallow instead, which ended up being very popular.

"I guess the restrictions on public mud wallows are rather more lax than those on showers."
I guess the restrictions on public mud wallows are rather more lax than those on showers. The big shower camp this year was exempt from public shower rules by virtue of being available by invitation only.

Q: And what did you have to do to get invited?

A: You had to walk by in front and accept the invitation the guy handed you.

Q: Stringent.

A: Muchly.

Q: When did you tend to do your exploring?

A: Well, for a lot of people the main purpose of Burningman is the night--that's when the raves and the bars come to life. That particular aspect doesn't thrill me--if I want to spend a lot of time in crowded bars and dancehalls, I can do that in my hometown, and occasionally I do. Not necessarily worth a 2000 mile trip for me.

Q: You sound a little defensive.

A: I feel sort of weird about it--like if I'm not getting into Burningman night culture I'm somehow missing the Point of the event. Last year Eric helped me become more at ease with choosing what aspects of the event to focus on--it's a vast and fastmoving place--you can't see everything, or even most things, so it's important to make concious choices about what to concentrate on.

Q: So he's not much of a raver, either?

A: On the contrary--Eric's a Dancing Fool. Put him on the dancefloor, and then just cart away the bodies he knocks aside. No, his issue was the slickness of Esplanade camps. He'd been hoping to find a rougher and more improvisational event, and was initially disappointed by the shiny professionalism he saw along the main drag. Eventually he found a simple solution--explore the outer reaches more. Black Rock City is shaped like a segment of a flat ring, with the more glitzy camps along the innermost street (colloquially called the Esplandade--a '98 official name that mysteriously stuck). Wander out closer to the perimeter fence, and you find the less attention-hogging setups--often as interesting, Eric found, but generally not as lavish.

This is partially due to the preferential positioning given to the more impressive camps, partially due to the fact that people who plan less and show up later find the prime spots already taken, and partially due to some folks just not being attention hogs.

Q: So you were an Early Bird, eh? Kinda out of character...

Spiral Girl

Spiral Girl
by Cthulhia
Charlotte in '99
by Julian

A: Well, it's all relative. In previous years, I certainly kept later hours than Charlotte did. I kept planning to do some night time exploring with Eric, but that never happened. I did hit the club circuit with Spiral one night, which was a lot of fun, but in general I was turning in not too long after midnight.

Q: Speaking of Charlotte, you haven't mentioned her.

A: She didn't come this year, damn it. She had a new teaching job that had her busy all week.

Q: She must have been very disappointed.

A: Yeah, it's funny. In late '99, she was saying she probably wouldn't do Burningman this year, and she'd spend the time and money on a trip to Germany instead. By spring she was saying she was really torn, and once she got the job that made Burningman impossible, she was miserable about it.

It was a big disappointment not having her there, but early on I got caught up in a kind of euphoria that had me not thinking about it much. For the first few days I was going around saying

"I was going around saying, 'this is the year everything goes right.' And then the storms hit."
"Haven't you heard? Two-thousand is the Burningman where everything goes right!" or "where almost everything goes right" whenever anyone expressed worry about anything. People were warning me I would jinx them.

Q: And then the storms hit.

A: Exactly. Solla Sollew, where no-one has troubles, or at least very few.

See No Evil

Duststorm Fashion
by Sebbo

We were able to batten down the hatches pretty well--our main problem at Supersnail (apart from the annoyance factor) was simply that people weren't wandering in as much it thirty-mile-an-hour winds. Other setups didn't do as well. For example, The Lustmonkeys of Xara had built an amazing Lost Jungle Temple of Xara with a real turf floor inside. The day after I visited it blew down. The next time I saw it, it was a mass of splintered plywood and twisted rebar. I talked to one of the Lustmonkeys there, and he told me they were planning on cleaning up a bit and reopening as The Ruined Jungle Temple of Xara. That's class.

In contrast, the Official Keystone Art project did a great job of attracting advance publicity, but never actually got off the ground on site, and appeared to be entirely abandoned after the middle of the week. The lesson here is that Burningman projects should be scalable. Have a Plan B if Plan A implodes. Otherwise you look like a complete lunkhead.

Q: Any good Supersnail stories?

A: Well, mostly ones that aren't that interesting without the pictures that are still months away. Let's see... Late in the week, Jackie brought in a guy from the Beggar's Bar.

Beggar's Bar

Beggar's Bar
by Big Brother
by Big Brother
Llyra by Julian

Q: The Beggar's Bar?

A: Yeah. They had a little puppet theater down on Esplanade, and these little grotesque homemade puppets would make passers-by beg for drinks.

Q: And would they actually serve them?

A: Well, sort of. Jason (the guy Jackie brought in) said they spend almost nothing on booze, because most of the beggars are so lame, so they get weak drinks.

Q: What's the difference between a lame beg and a good beg?

A: "Please, I really really really need a drink" is a lame beg. Jackie's the one who pointed out that a lot of people seem to think describing the intensity of your desire for alchohol counts as begging.

Q: Sounds pretty dull, actually.

A:Well, what makes the difference is the quality of the puppeteer's humor. And he keeps the beggars moving through pretty briskly, so it doesn't get stale. Also, the puppets themeselves are gorgeous. I had an intense fit of avarice and mourned out loud (for the third year in a row) not having brought one kickass dazzling barter item for heavy-duty occasions such as this, Llyra, god bless her sweet soul, offered to give me an enormous stack of glowsticks from her enormouser hoard as barter goods, but I wasn't able to find Jason at home before he packed up. It happens.

Q: What was--?

A: Oh, and he told me a great story. One of his two colleagues at the Barter Bar went to the Cafe for a coffee, and the guy at the bar said, "Sorry, your money's no good here."


"We won't take your money. If you want coffee, you're gonna have to beg for it."

And they did it. They made him beg, they gave him his coffee, and they wouldn't let him pay for it.

Later, he went to get ice, and, "Sorry, your money's no good here. You're gonna have to beg."

Q: Fantastic. How'd they know who he was?

A: Jason was a little vague on that point.

Q: Any more stories?

A: Early in the week, a guy dressed as the pope rode by on a penisbike--

Q: A *penisbike?*

A: Yeah. A bicycle with an enormous papier-mâché male member protruding from the front. By the end of the week I was sick of the damn things--I must have seen a dozen of them--

"I ran after him shouting, 'Excuse me sir, sir, with the enormous penis!"
but this was my first of the year, and it was a fairly impressive specimen. I thought we should get him onto Supersnail, so I went after him shouting, "Excuse me sir, sir, with the enormous penis!"

I wish I'd had the presence of mind to check how many guys looked around, but I was intent on my quarry.

Q: Only in Black Rock City, huh?

A: One hopes.

Q: What's the most amazing thing you saw this year?

A: Well, as always there's all the impressive art and the bizarre costumes, but that's what the photo sites are for....actually I think what impressed me the most were the 7:00 & Throat Port-a-jon maitre d's. After the lines at the port-a-jons got really bad near the end of the week, these two guys had set up a by the line, and were offerring people those wax paper seatcovers (which they called 'butt gaskets'), and playing a tape of helpful multilingual Disneyworld safety messages.


Does anyone have a
picture of these guys?

Q: That sounds kinda cute.

A: Small-bladdered caffeine-addicted lad that I am, I dropped by several times over the course of the afternoon. By my last visit, they had a pair of enormous incense sticks that they would wave inside each stall as it was vacated, they had a case of bottled water, several cases of beer, a gallon of orange juice, vodka and bourbon, and a couple baskets of candy and other snacks; all of which they were distributing to people waiting in the ever-growing line.

Q: Where'd this all come from?

A: Grateful customers! They'd managed to make stone soup in the desert. If anyone has more info on who these guys were, I'd love to give them credit.

Similarly, when Eric and I went to the Oracle Booth for some free advice, we assumed that the booth and the staffers were part of one project. As it turned out, the sybils we spoke to had just wandered by when the booth was unoccupied and set up shop dispensing their divine wisdom. It's when the ecology of the event comes together like that that I'm most impressed with Burningman.

On...I think it was Friday, Eric & I were loitering around Center Camp, feeling pissy. It had been cold, overcast, drizzly, and very windy all day, and our nerves were frayed. A big tall guy came striding through, shouting, "Help the lamplighters! Help the lamplighters! Your city needs you!" Well, we dashed over to see what we could do, and were directed to the lamplighter's tent. In one of those funny coincidences that seem to happen constantly out there, we found our stream converging with Rich--the old roommate I mentioned and an old gaming buddy of Eric's. The three of us arrived to find exactly three slots left, as the "extras" for the three Lamplighter crews, essentially tagging along to fill in should anything go wrong.


Rich as Bearer
by Jeffrey Mazur

So, we put on our robes, which took an fair amount of fuss as we tried to figure out the funky headdresses, and joined our respective parties. As it turned out, they had counted wrong, and I got pressed into being a Bearer, carrying ten-odd gas lanterns on a pole down the North Esplanade. As we processed down the road, I had to keep supressing the urge to march, as it would swing the lamps rather frighteningly. Folks would gather and cheer and take pictures as we passed by, many shouting out "Thanks, Lamplighters."

"The hive mind seems to be hard at work there at Individualism Central"
I kinda figured that in a locus of antinomianism like BRC, we'd get a couple "Fuck you, Lamplighters" too, but no. Pretty much uniformly good will. I think I got thanked more in that half hour than Larry Harvey got all week.

Walking back, I suddenly realized that the weather had been perfect since we started out.

Q: Funny coincidences, huh?

Skeleton Temple

Skeleton Temple
by Bob Gelman

The hive-mind seems to be hard at work at Individualism Central. I found out about four different groups that brought two-gallon tubs of Utz's cheese puffs. Apparently several groups this year independantly discovered that the scraps left after toy companies make wooden dinosaur skeletons are a cheap and utterly bizarre looking building material.

Q: I hear there are a lot of drugs at Burningman.

A: Heh. I'm in the embarassing position of going every year planning to smoke pot at some point, and I never get around to it. I was all over caffeine and alcohol, though. The colder weather meant I was a little more comfortable drinking than in past years, because the dehydration risk was lower. On burn night, I hauled out a flask of Glenlivet and carried that around with me, sharing periodic swigs with Spiral, and various people with impressive coustumes or vehicles. Single-malt scotch turns out to be a great Burningman supply. It's classy, it's a little naughty, it's legal, and of course alchohol is an antiseptic, so it was relatively safe to share. On the other hand, I came down with a nasty cold two days later, so maybe there's a flaw in my logic.

Center Camp

Center Camp
by Ersatarot
Centercamp Shutterbug
by Cthulhia

I brought my own coffee and plunger pot this year, but managed to lose it for most of the week, but moseying down to the cafe in the morning was hardly burdensome. The cafe was amazing this year--a huge venue, with multiple stages, mostly playing really good non-techno music, (including a lot of World Fusion, which I had been getting into lately anyway), and a really good-spirited staff. It took on a kind of refugee camp atmosphere during the storms, but it was always an ideal spot for people-watching. After a day of nasty storms, Julian even came over to the cafe for a few hours (him leaving Supersnail is always an occasion) to take pictures with his Coolpix. Everybody and her turtle had a Coolpix this year--it was ridiculous. Looking for a way to stand out at Burningman? Don't carry a Coolpix--that'll draw stares.

Q: What about the Notorious Yahoo Factor?

A: What do you mean?

Q: Well, you've complained long and loud in the past about all the guys who show up near the end of the week for the tits and explosions.

A: Well, it's trickier than that--after all, I can't say I entirely ignore the tits and explosions myself. And it's--

Q: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There was enough handwringing about that in your last essay. In the end it's something that does bother you. How big an issue was it this year?

A: Okay, this was the year the organization finally started taking the Yahoo Factor seriously. They took two big steps that seem to have done a lot to make my experience more pleasant.

"This was the year the organization finally started taking the Yahoo Factor seriously."
One was their claiming that the weren't going to sell tickets at the gate after midnight Thursday, and the other was the crackdown on large-scale noise everywhere but the perimeter of the city.

Q: Claiming?

A: Yeah. My sources tell me they ended up letting folks in then anyway, when turnout numbers were below expectations. That really kinda bugs me. All leading up to the event, they were shrilly repeating, 'we won't sell tickets then, even if you beg and plead,' and then they change their minds. I feel like it punishes the folks who paid attention, and rewards those who ignored it.

Q: But it worked?

A: Yeah. It certainly seemed to. I didn't hear the phrase "show us your tits" once this year, the garbage didn't seem to be as bad at the end of the week, and the nighttime noise was really under control in my part of town. On the other hand, this year I didn't spend any time during the weekend hanging out on the Esplanade with a topless woman, which is the only way to seriously judge the yahoo factor.

Q: How was the final burn?

Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud
by Julian Axolotl

A: Well, as Scott McCloud said to me once, "it's like herding cats." About a dozen Greater Supersnailiens tried to walk over together.

Q: You just put it that way to drop McCloud's name.

A: Guilty, your honor. So, it took us, what, an *hour* to just get out of camp. Once we started hitting the crowds it just got worse. We started hemmoraging people, and I started to envy the people who were getting lost, without it ever hitting the level of frustration for me to strike out on my own.

I had overdressed for the weather, and by the time Team Supersnail found a good Burn-watching spot in the crowd, I was sweating something fierce. The arms had just gone up a minute before, so I figured we had a half-hour or so before the burn began. So, I took off my backpack, took off my shoes, took off two (out of three--it had been a cold, cold day)layers of pants...

Then the Man went off. The sky lit up, the crowd surged forward, and I desparately tried to gather up my gear, stuff it into my backpack, and get my shoes back on, while keeping an eye on the Main Event. It was a little crazy.

The subsequent nocturnal wanderings were cool and surreal. We blundered across a field of baked-playa brains in the dark, we hitched a ride with a couchtruck of rowdy drunks, we danced in front of an RV blasting techno with an absurdly perfect-bodied nude woman undulating on top. Eventually we were down to just Julia and me. We entered the Temple of Elvis, and knelt in silent prayer for a minute or so, rose, undulated our hips for a moment, and walked off to the cafe for a drink.

On Sunday, I stuffed a folding chair, my water bottle, and a bag of "Snack-Sized" Snickers bars into my backpack (I guess the larger ones are considered meal sized?) and set out for the Large Intestine, which was their cute name for the exit gates this year.

"I had been impressed with the folks who gave out snacks, titflashes or just friendly waves at the exit gates"

In previous years, I had been impressed, during the notoriously long wait in line to get out, with the folks who had come out to make our languish a little more pleasant, giving out final snacks, titflashes, or just friendly waves. After a half-mile or so of biking, I arrived at the gatehouse, and found several rangers standing around talking, and the traffic progressing so smoothly that any attempt to give something out would have produced its own delay. I gave the rangers candy, and asked if it would be all right for me to walk out to where the path met the paved road, and try my luck there instead. One of the rangers said I'd have to have my ticket stub with me to get back in. I didn't, of course, and asked whether the fact that here I was, and I'd be leaving my bicycle inside wasn't sufficient. The answer, in short, was no.

Supersnail Invitation

by Supersnail

After a few minutes of sipping water and watching traffic (and kicking myself for forgetting my sunglasses back at camp), I wandered off to where another ranger was relaxing next to his pickup and settled in to see if the traffic would thicken. This ranger was consideribly more lassiez-faire, and we had an enjoyable discussion of the event in general and ranging philosophy. After the better part of an hour, I packed up, passed my new friend a Supersnail invitation, and headed back in. At the confluence of the two main city veins, I finally found a spot where traffic was just barely slow enough to allow me to dispense my candy, if I was willing to jog alongside open car windows (someone was already there giving out fliers for the SF Decompression). The response was positive, and I returned to camp with a lighter backpack, a light heart, two excellent home-baked macaroon cookies, someone's mix CD, some tootsie pops, and a sticker. Favorite things to shout: "Have some evil corporate candy!" "Last Potlach fifty-one weeks!" and "Warning: You are now entering the real world. We apologize for the inconvenience."

On Monday the crowds actually started leaving, and for most people 2000 was at least as long a wait in line to get out as previous years had been. But by then I was out of candy, and my sore throat had kicked in.

Q: Wait...why weren't you leaving?

A: A few months before, a few careless remarks at a party had gotten Julia shanghaied into the post of Food Donation Czar, and she was working her ass off at center camp, attempting to process the huge quantities of leftover food people were trying to get rid of.

"For obscure psychological reasons, everybody brings watermelons to Burningman, but nobody eats them."
When we finally left Wednesday morning, she personally filled the van with literally dozens of watermelons to donate to a Reno food bank.

Q: Watermelons?


Too Many Melons
by Cthulhia

A: Watermelons. For obscure psychological reasons, everybody brings watermelons to Burningman, and nobody eats them . They end up all trying to give them away at the end of the week.

Q: How did the food bank respond to dozens of watermelons?

A: As it happens, the guy Julia had been coordinating with in advance wasn't there that day, and the rest of the staff seemed a little leery. One person was concerned they might have been dosed, and warned that each one should be inspected carefully before serving. I considered arguing to him that Burners tend to like their drugs too much to go around giving them away to random strangers like that, but thought better of it.

Q: Good. Plans for next year?

A: A bunch. Bring light gloves--Biking at night without them I thought my knuckles would freeze off. Bring a few surgical masks for the sandstorms, and untinted goggles for the night and evening storms (glacier glasses work fine during the day). Get a more playa-appropriate bike (cheap, new or newish single-speed cruiser)Keep clothes in garbage bags when you're not wearing them so the dust doesn't crep into every crevasse. I'd like to help out at the Beggar's Bar, and perhaps with the Spacial Delivery crew. I think I want to spread myself thin. Working on multiple projects appeals to me.

I also think I'll order a little more sunshine next year. Without nice weather, you don't get as many naked chicks and explosions.

Send comments, flames, home-made macaroons, and meal-sized candy bars to sebbo@sebbo.org. Other stuff I've written can be found here.

[/burningman/] comment

Some impressions of Burningman '98

Is Burningman a Temporary Autonomous Zone?
Small Playa
Weiners, Lawnchairs, and Platform Shoes
The Loaves and the Watermelons
Best and Worst of the Playa
Sex & Drugs on the Playa
Suspension of Disbelief


Charlotte, Cthulia, and I flew out from Logan before sunrise on Wednesday the second. We rented a van in Reno, and spent the day stocking up on supplies.

We arrived in Gerlach shortly after dusk, and spent the next couple miles speculating about whether the vast, multicolored city on the horizon could truly be our destination.

It was. We left the paved road for a broad dirt path marked with "SLOW THE FUCK DOWN" signs, headed for the still-distant array of strobes and neon, in a caravan of diverse vehicles that included bugs, busses, RVs, and something big with a four-foot paper-mache eye protruding from its rear. The greeters who gave us our directions at the gate were startlingly friendly, each concluding with a "Welcome to Black Rock City!" The van inched along the night-shrouded dusty avenues, our headlights illuminating gaily-painded and bizzarrely-clad pedestrians every few feet, as we strained to read the small road signs at each intersection. When we neared our destination, S. 7th & Esplanade, Charlotte & I hopped out of the van to try to find our camp, while Cthulia stayed at the wheel. (a map of the city can be found here).

I reached down, and touched the hard, reticulated surfece of the playa. "We're here," I whispered, and set off at an exuberant sprint to find our camp. We wandered along what we thought was the proper portion of the Esplanade, passed constantly by lowrider bicycles, stilt bicycles, motorized couches, and clusters of glowstick-laden pedestrians. The night was full of movement, but a hush seemed to hang over the region

I turned to the nearest camp to try asking for directions (sensitive new-age guy that I am). I approached the first person I saw, who was turned slightly away from me fiddling with a tiki torch. "Excuse me," I began. He exhaled, and a gout of flame arced a good yard from his mouth. Then he turned to face me.

"I... Um... I'm looking for my camp, it's called Camp Catharsis. It's all people from boston. You know a group nearby with that name?"

"Haven't heard of that," he answered politely. "Good luck finding them, though." And resumed his practice.

Some interval later, Charlotte found a small wooden sign reading "Camp Catharsis" and we began our move in.


In a strict sense, no. The 14,000 person event is licensed, regulated and patrolled by the authorities. It is covered in Wired and on the nightly news. Tickets for the festival are bought and sold. Khaki-vested cameramen scramble among the writhing nude denizens of the mud pits, angling for the best shot.

In a deeper sense, yes, if you want it to be. Sure, any event can be a TAZ if you make it one, but the walls are far, far thinner in Black Rock City. Thousands of people need the catalyst of that wild and chaotic desert environment to transform themselves to be more in tune with their own desires.

On the BBS, some people will say that they're frustrated with the increased numbers of recent years (the event has grown by about 50% every year since it moved out to the desert), and that they are tempted to form a smaller, more elite gathering, more in tune with the "real" spirit of Burningman. I want to ask them, "What makes you so sure that this hasn't already happened?"


On Thursday afternoon, I was wandering around the south of the City. The heat was fairly oppressive, but nothing worse than I'd experienced in DC summers growing up. Charlotte was sleeping off some queasiness caused by the heat, and Cthulia was in the north visiting her friends at the Fleshlab. Like Oedipa Maas pursued by the sign of the Trystero, I seemed guided to observe a series of random meetings of friends. 'That's one Burningman experience I can be sure I won't have,' I thought, feeling a little alienated. I resolved to go meet up with one net aquaintance I happened to know the address for.

I found him easily at the Artist's Republic of Fremont. He had just been napping, and I was feeling sulky and we failed to really get a conversation going. Then someone tapped my shoulder. It was Andy, a friend from Boston.


In Cambridge in May, Larry Harvey (the event's founder, in town for an academic conference) had told the Boston Burners that each year he prayed for at least one episode of bad weather to bring the city together, and remind it of the extrodinary environment in which the festival is held.

His wishes were granted this year with two signifigant duststorms, the second substantially longer, more violent, and more rainy than the first. A view from the Esplanade during these events would show two thirds of the city battening down their camps, attempting to hold together their violently shaking shade structures with their hands, while the remaining third strolled the avenues, oblivious to the howling winds and swirling dust


The second rainstorm was on Saturday. Afterward, as the sky cleared, evening found Charlotte, Cthulia, and myself gathering up our lawnchairs, plastic wineglasses, spaceblankets, and Cheez-its in preparation for the famous annual Opera at midnight. The stage for this year's extravaganza, The Temple of Rudra, loomed a couple of hundred feet in towards the Man, four distinctly phallic spires flanking an imposing platform.

The event, according to what we had read and heard, is always packed, so we resolved to arrive early, get primo seats, and nosh & schmooze until the Thing Itself. Getting there turned out to be considerably more arduous than we had expected. The storm had soaked the first inch or so of playa dust to thick, clinging silt, and penetrated no further. Each step one took through this muck seemed to attach another tottery, uneven, and heavy layer to the undersides of one's shoes. We made our painful way, though, to the moonlit Temple, and arrived not long after 10 pm. It was virtually deserted, but one man standing on the platform told us that the storm had held off the envent, which would occur at 2, if at all.

After a moment's consultation, we decided to move on, and return in a couple hours for the Opera. Charlotte and Julia remembered that this was also to be the night of the Flaming Weenie, when a group intended to set fire to an enourmous effigy of a penis, and serve refreshments.
Both were, of course, eager to witness this, and we set off, with lawn chairs, with wineglasses, with Cheez-its, for the north city.

After numerous minor adventures, for which the world is not yet ready, we found the Flaming Weenie camp, and learned that the storm had also put the kibosh on the kielbasa. On duty, however, remained one lone and valiant soldier of the Good Fight, roasting hotdogs on a barbeque grill, and indefatigably trying to scare up some interest among rather sodden and dispirited passers-by. I think his name was Dave, and he was amazing, generous, and almost certainly on serious drugs.

Our party accepted his dogs, and settled down in the light and relative dryness of his theme camp to rest and talk. We hung out there for a good hour and a half, mostly dissecting Julia's sex life. During that period, I don't think two full minutes passed without Dave's hearty cry from his station: "Getcher weiners! Weiners here! Grab our buns, grab our weiners, and slap some condiments on 'em! C'mon! Right here! Weiners for everybody!

The opera did in fact begin at 3, by which time Charlotte and Julia were snoring gently in their chairs. I woke them for the beginning, but they fell back to sleep almost immediately. Nor can I blame them. The performance was static, overlong, and almost completely opaque. Considerably more interesting was the audience. Memorable sights included the dozens of laser pointers making a swarm of jittering red points on the spires of the Temple; the amazingly belligerent woman who a Ranger handled with impressive calm; and the guy dressed as a bee, who dashed in and out of the official action a couple of times.

As we stumbled back to Catharsis, the Temple had been on fire for a good hour, and two of the spires had collapsed. We were about to do likewise.


Late Sunday morning, we realized that we didn't have much use for the entire watermelon we'd brought and never cut into, so we cut it up and headed out to the Esplanade; Charlotte, Cthulia, Andy and me giving out wedges of fruit to passers-by. In the desert's heat, the fruit was a popular item, and before we had walked a block, we were running low on melon. Someone ran out from another camp and brought us one to distribute. We ended giving out three watermelons en route to the Smutshack


One guy we gave melon to thanked us effusively. "You guys doing this is great. Y'know, this morning, I was at the Cafe [Temps Perdu, the only place at Burningman allowed to have cash transactions], and this woman there was complaining and complaining about her hot chocolate, how it wasn't hot enough, and didn't have enough chocolate, and shit, and it really got me down about, like, the whole spirit of the thing being lost. But you guys, just coming and doing this, it was just what I needed to see." We were a little stunned, and very amused. The woman he had overhead that morning was Charlotte.


Black Rock Desert is a fairly infelicitous place for an orgy. Most drugs dehydrate you pretty quickly (and hallucinogens are pretty redundant at Burningman). Privacy is not abundant for amatory matters (though a few people don't let that stop them, and make full use of the couches at the Smutshack. The number of videocamera voyeurs, however, means if you try this, you'd better be ready for Internet immortality). The heat is draining, and personal hygene is kind of at an ebb, with the dust and lack of running water. Personally, I stuck to alcohol and monogamy, which suited me just fine, thanx.


I thought our theme camp was pretty lame. compared to some of the amazing stuff out there (with about 400 camps, you've got to expect some sort of a range, though). We had a bulletin board covered with joss paper for people to write things they wanted out of their lives on, which we intended to burn at dusk on Sunday (the man goes up after dark). It was actually very popular, and we got a fascinating array of entries. On Sunday evening at 7, we piled the board, our cardboard boxes, and a few other burnables out on the playa a safe distance from the themecamps, and the 15-or-so of us assembled for the burning. Dave was a little worried about whether the pile would burn readily enough, so he scored some gasoline somewhere to add to the mix. I had my head somewhere under the plywood, adjusting the obligatory crumpled newsprint, when Dave lit a match, and I was engulfed in a fireball down to my waist.

I hustled backwards with some alacrity, and checked myself over for still-flaming parts. When an initial check came up negative, I noticed something small, hard, and rounded in my mouth, and thought, Oh my God, I've had a tooth knocked out, and I'm in shock. I spit it out and found it to be a kernel of popcorn, whoch someone had put in the pile to make sound during the burn, and which had been blown into my mouth by the explosion.

I was entirely fine, but Dave was extremely apologetic. Charlotte was not amused.


It so happens that our fire was the first of many to be set that night. Within sixty seconds of that initial fireball, with our bonfire blazing gaily, a woman in some sort of leather-and-steel bikini, in an elaborate headdress, was kneeling in front of our fire making what I assume were intended to be mystical-yet-sexy gestures while three photographers clicked away madly.


As the rather dazed Catharsans gathered for a group photo, supplicants ran out from a half-dozen other camps with more food for our blaze, and within ten minutes, our little fire had doubled in size, as items from boxes to banners to a puppet theatre came crashing onto it. By midnight, three hours after the Man himself had gone out in a blaze of fireworks, our fire, though joined by dozens of siblings, still blazed away.


Very little at Burningman transpires without some element of (at least attempted) humor. One of the great central jokes of the event is the very notion of a city that lasts a week. We take canvas, haybales, phoneline spools, and an espresso machine, and call it a cafe. We take a croquet set, a set of bowling pins, and a membership card, and call it a country club. We take a passport and call it a nation. An imaginative effort is not just called for, but demanded to enjoy this jovial parody of civilization itself.


The weekend population boom is large and famous, and includes a higher proportion of ... call them "straights," call them "tourists," call them "spectators." One is reluctant to define a line because the line is so blurry. Certainly I ventured out occaisonally with street clothes and a camera. Cameras are the great temptation of the Playa. How can you resist the impulse to make some kind of record of such an extrodinary visual feast? And yet that delicate atmosphere in which so many people are willing to express themselves so wildly is at least partially a product of the sense that that city is a world apart, safe from outside-world consequences.

And anyone with any qualities of introspection will soon see the ridiculousness of any sort of Extravagance Dress-Code, in which the rules of normal society are utterly reversed and those in insufficiently shocking garb are shunned and ridiculed.

For those interested in more exploration of this issue, I once again recommend the bulletin board for some insightful discussions.


All sense of reservations or sourness that we had aquired over the day over the changing atmosphere of the event were swept away during the grand procession up to the Man, with muisc, the most elaborate costumes, an an atmosphere of mad and joyous carnival such as I have never before experienced. The burning of the Man himself is a moment of shockingly intense emotion. I found myself on the verge of both laughter and tears as we danced around the drum circle watching the man burn.


In Reno, afterwards, we talked of "Burndar," the none-too-mysterious ability to detect other Black Rock City citizens; by their filthy, mud-caked cars, if nothing else. In restaurants and strip-malls, our dustsiblings would greet us with wide grins and exchanged anecdotes and mementoes. In the airport, we mad friends with Momma Lilith, green-haired talk.bizzarre denizen, and BRC falafel goddess. On the plane, we got out our notebooks and started brainstorming theme camps for '99.

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The Cambridge Light Parade

Last Sunday I attended the Cambridge Light Parade. I didn't know much about it in advance other than the title, so I wasn't really sure what sort of event it would turn out to be.

What it was was three trucks carrying four waving spotlights each, framing a short parade of:

As something to stand and watch, this was of course dismayingly short. I'd say it took them a little over a minute to pass by any given spot. This turned out to be a hidden asset, though. As the parade proceeded from Linear Park down Mass Ave , through Porter, Harvard, and Central Squares, the chain of recruited dancers grew as if the parade was the Pied Piper.

This is very important! That middle stratum, between player and spectator.

Burningman professes the creed, "No Spectators." It's a mantra--one the tickets, on the websites, on the lips of the Rangers. And in a spectacle culture, it's an important principle to remember. It's relative, though. Of course some people are Lamplighters, and others aren't, of course some people are in the Cirque de Flambe and others aren't.

The key insight though is that, in one sense, there are no spectators anywhere. To attend a performance is always to act on it, to participate through attendance. We have conventions that at the movie theater we act one way, at a baseball game another, and at a rock concert still another. And the presence of others behaving in that way is an inextricable part of the experience of those events.

TV has stolen that awareness from us by obscuring the feedback loop. We need it, though. Our guts need it. Ever wonder why TV has laughtracks and movies don't? Because we want that sense of engaging with an entertainment as a group.

That Burningman provides such things as the Lamplighters and the Cirque is great and cool and entertaining, rah rah. What's important is that it provides such a broad middle ground between the professional-quality diversions available and the passivity of the spectator. I live in fear of the time where the performaces at Burningman get so good and so slick that people start being reluctant to throw their own weirdness into the stewpot for fear of it being deemed inadquate or lame.

At one point in the parade, one woman emerged from the crowd, and, rather than joining the mass of us behind the band, twirled and swayed and stomped at the very front. A band member removed her elaboate headdress and passed it to the dancer, who put it on, and few a few minutes was the Parade Marshal, the Queen of Fools.

May 19, 2000

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