Have a cookie

One well-known aspect of Burning Man is the event’s disdain for vending (outside of the Center Camp coffee complex). This anti-commercial philosophy is one of Black Rock City’s defining characteristics. I understand where it comes from and why it’s still intact; it’s unique in the festival world, and I wouldn’t campaign for any change.

That said, I gotta admit that I totally enjoyed the vending scene in the “town” that sprang up on the grassy camping area at the Gorge Ampitheater in Washington during the Phish concerts earlier this month. There were close to 20,000 people out there camping, which resulted in the creation of one main boulevard of commerce, called, appropriately enough, Shakedown Street (subtly showing the real connection that exists between the communities surrounding Phish and The Dead).

At first, I had this kind of “Burner snobbiness” toward Shakedown, a kind of, “Vending? You must be joking” stance that, fortunately, I quickly brushed aside. Because, as it turned out, Shakedown Street was the kind of bizarre bazaar that not only had stuff I wanted, but also had stuff being sold by people I wanted to help out and support. You know, the kind of folks who are trying to sell enough veggie wraps, ice cold beers, and crazy T-shirts just to stay on tour. Nice, colorful people who are very likely not driving Hummers to the next gig.

There were, as you would expect, a lot of wraps and quesadillas sold out there, along with digital art, funky crafts, loads of pipes, a bunch of T-shirts (mostly quoting lyrics from beloved Phish and Dead tunes), tons of beer, photos, books, and plenty of freaky, uncategorizable miscellany. All on display in a thriving, jiving, hustling, bustling contemporary hippie scene that was anything but stale, bland and corporate. In other words, Shakedown Street was a total hoot.

Included in the category of freaky miscellany would have to be the funky folks out there selling “herbal” pastries and “fungal” chocolates. They weren’t blatant about it, but they weren’t that paranoid about it, either. The cops didn’t seem too weird about it, which was refreshing. (Can you imagine such activity taking place in the quasi-police state that currently exists on the playa?) Some might call this “dark underbelly” licentious, scandalous and felonious. I prefer to call it civilized. In fact, it was kind of humorous. I wanted a sugary goodie after my lunch wrap on Saturday afternoon, and I had to trudge up and down The Street to find a cookie that wasn’t positively dripping with THC. It wasn’t all that easy. The rule of thumb, I discovered, is simple. If the cost of the goodie was $5, it was a “concert cookie.” If it was a buck, it was safe for dessert. I think the guy I saw sleeping behind some Sani-huts that afternoon must’ve got his cookies mixed up.