Thursday, September 4, 2008

Burningman: Life on the Playa (Sure Ain't Easy)

If there's one thing above all others you've gotta be ready for at Burningman, it's the dust. Dust gets everywhere. It gets into your tent, your clothes, your hair, your mucous membranes, and even into your brain (where it causes instant insanity). This year, there were two major wind storms that lasted for hours on end. I arrived at Black Rock City on Monday night, right in the middle of the first one. Seeing as how I was a total burningman newbie, I completely underestimated the tenacity of the dust; upon arrival, I promptly pitched my tent, and shuttled all my gear inside it. I've since learned that playa dust is a lot like the mail: through rain or sleet or dark of night, the playa dust will get through -- your tent. Here's what a tent (mine in particular) looks like after a few hours in a dust storm. Please keep in mind, my tent was fully battened-down the whole time. [Notice the following dust-covered belongings: my toiletry kit (with toothbrush), my pots and pans, my coffee cup, my baby wipes (aka my "burningman shower"), my peanut butter, my cowboy hat, my jacket, my shoes, my sleeping bag, my box of cereal, AND MORE!!!]
I was informed that dust storms usually last half an hour. The dust storm on Saturday lasted for nearly 10 hours. Due to the cavernous disparity between my expectations and the reality of my situation, the slender reed of my sanity was whittled away completely only four hours in. For those of you who aren't math majors, that left roughly six hours of pure madness in a total white-out dust storm. Not good. Ya'll remember that scene in Forest Gump when Lieutenant Dan is up in the crow's nest of the shrimp boat, shaking his fist, yelling to god "you call this a storm?" Yeah. That was me, only I was wearing a speedo, goggles, and cowboy boots, and I was in the crow's nest of an art car instead of a shrimp boat. Here's me, standing valiantly at my camp, trying to "wait out" one of the wind storms. Moments later I charged the photographer and ate her alive. For the most part, life continues pretty much as normal during dust storms, only everyone's wearing goggles. Goggles on the playa: your most valuable possession. I'm here to say right now, if I had to choose between my goggles and my speedo, I'd chose goggles before you finished asking the question. Fortunately, no -- make that very very fortunately -- I was never forced to make that choice. Now there's more than just one kind of dust storm out on the playa; some are systemic and affect everyone at once, while others are very localized, and menace only one camp at a time. Here's a good example of some unfortunate bastards who got an extra dose of dust -- yippie!
For all the trouble the dust creates, it can make for some pretty sunsets. At night the lamplighters place lamps along all the streets. This is a great help when trying to orient oneself at night. "Citizens of Black Rock City, make way for your lamp lighters," the head-honcho lamplighter yells as they approach. The lamp lighting ceremony is greeted with shouts and cheers by most. During the day, the heat can be oppressive. Every morning around 9:00 AM I was awakened to the sensation of my brain overheating, thanks to the powerful greenhouse qualities of my tent. With an air of desperation, (my brain had but moments before it suffered a total meltdown), I would unzip the door, flop outside, and prepare for my day. I again demonstrated my inexperience by failing to bring an adaquit shade structure. Since there was no shelter from the sun's rays at my camp, my only option was to slather myself in sunscreen, pack a few essentials in my musset bag (granola bars, water bottle, goggles, camera and map), and hit the road in search of shade elsewhere. I found that the best way to combat the heat was to wear my speedo all day long (bare skin just breathes so well...). Also, seeing as how dust saturated every article of clothing I owned starting on day one, and seeing as how dusty clothing tends to chafe, I found it simply more comfortable (and less irritating) to adopt a "less is more" approach to apparel. Honestly, it's burningman, I was one of the most well-dressed people out there.
After spending 9 days in the desert wearing nothing but a speedo, I would be willing to wager that I have the best fearsome-speedo-tan to wattage-at-threshold ratio in North America. Prove me wrong. Make my day.


Christopher Walken said...

Sam rides bikes with a speedo (+dust). My grundle aches just thinking about it.

Mandel said...

i didn't realize the yelling at the storm was in the crow's nest of an art car, that shit is even more epic now.

Perhaps a Parrot said...

You know Chris, it wasn't as bad as you'd think -- the conditions were pretty hostile to all forms of life, crotch-based bacterial colonies included.

hippie freq wrench said...

that is fine ferocious confrontation of the dust. you are always welcome to shelter at my rv.