Wish you were here

A postcard from Burning Man

Burners mingle on the playa.

Burners mingle on the playa.


For more information, visit www.burningman.com.

Dear Reno,

I reached Black Rock City at lunchtime on Aug. 27, the Monday before Labor Day. The weather was lovely. The mile-wide dust plumes stirred up by a line of arriving vehicles were relatively stationary, blinding our driver only for a few seconds at a time now and then when the wind kicked up. And there wasn’t much anxiety in the air over the conflicts that had thus far marked 2012.

In February, a ticket lottery had initially left so many long-time Burners without tickets that the San Francisco Bay Guardian was compelled to ask, “Is it the end of Burning Man as we know it?”

In August, one event-related lawsuit was settled when a federal jury ruled that the burning of La Contessa, a school-bus sized replica of a Spanish Galleon that had last sailed the playa in 2005, did not constitute arson but rather a rancher legally clearing his property of debris. Another lawsuit opened Aug. 23, when Burning Man sued Pershing County over a proposed ordinance that would raise permitting fees, ban nudity, and cease to allow children.

By the time this news reaches you, reader, if all goes according to plan, crews will have put the finishing touches onto hundreds of huge art installations in this empty desert. Otic Oasis 2.0, an elegant, multi-tiered lookout tower made of curvy, laminated plywood shapes by Culver City, Calif., artist Gregg Fleishman and crew, is held secure by notches, with no screws or nails, and supports dozens of climbers. The Temple of Juno points and swoops into the sky like a sacred building from a guidebook to Thailand or Laos; San Francisco’s David Best and his building team say it’s “the most detailed temple we’ve ever built.” It is, of course, scheduled to have gone up in a glorious blaze by the time this issue hits the stands. Otto Ewan of Oakland, a.k.a. Otto Von Danger, and his team built a row of exaggeratedly large facades of Wall Street Buildings for a project called Burn Wall Street. You having noticed a pattern by now, reader, I will leave its fate for you to surmise.

As of Aug. 30, tickets were listed on Reno and San Francisco Craigslist at the lower end of the retail price range. There was still nudity, and there were still children. The ones I saw were dusty and ecstatic, with orange Gatorade mustaches staining their upper lips. And in place of the incinerated, roving Spanish Galleon was a shipwrecked one, crashed at an angle into a 300-foot-long pier, shooting fire from its mast after dark.

I must intervene here, reader, to disclose that my friends built Pier 2, and I helped with a few administrative tasks, which qualifies this mention as a conflict of interest. But alas, as bearer of the eyes and ears sent by RN&R to witness the artistic marvels of the desert, I would be remiss to omit this wonder from my tales. Centrally located, tall as a beacon, it appeared to be stealing the show, even according to impartial onlookers. Local artist Matt Schultz of Reno estimated that about 1,000 of them at once crowded its decks Monday night.

So, does 2012 truly signify “the end of Burning Man as we know it?” Well, change has been constant ever since the first 20 Burners assembled on Baker Beach in San Francisco in 1986. Many have complained that the event has “sold out” or “gone commercial.” These mean different things to different people, so I can’t give you a conclusive take. I can report that there are still no Pepsi sponsorships, but I did notice for the first time art cars designed around themes that already exist in mass culture, a Flintstones car and a Sponge-Bob-mobile.

But for now, there is much fun to be had in this temporary place.

Wish you were here,