Friends, I attended an EPIC party this past weekend. The local Burning Man group threw a massive 3-day desert party out in Boulder City, and around 600 people showed up to tune in, turn on, and camp out in what basically amounted to a mini version of the real Burning Man.
Now, I know Burning Man is basically just a big frat kegger with tutus and hula hoops…but for many people, the whole Burning Man ethos has become a lifestyle and a real community. There are probably at least a thousand Burners (as they call Burning Man habitués) living in Vegas, and our local group is pretty hardcore. Many of them/us meet up all the time for parties, campouts, drum circles, spaghetti dinners and art events…and it really is kind of like a big, funky, fucked-up family. Some of us are annoying as fuck, some are fun, some are raging drunks, and some are dependable and helpful. But for better or for worse, we all hang out together, and have been for years.
Back before I started this blog, I didn’t have (m)any friends outside my ghetto-ass work colleagues and my boyfriend at the time, who was ultraconservative and kinda square. But when I broke up with him, I had a sort of bohemian Renaissance, and came back wackier than ever. My sister suggested I embrace my newfound nuttiness and go with her to Burning Man, so I joined the local Burning Man meetup.com group to figure it out. And I made a TON of friends! Say what you will about Burners — they’re super friendly people.
That was in 2009, and since then I’ve been to Burning Man 5 times and many local events as well. And over the years, it’s been the same crew of loonies in the local Burner community. Sometimes I get tired of it, and take a break for awhile…but I always end up coming back. Who the fuck else am I gonna hang out with? I mean, I have other circles of friends…but my Burner friends are the nuttiest.
Anyway, this past weekend was the local officially-sanctioned Burning Man Regional event — a pretty big to-do, so I decided to go. I hadn’t been to many local Burner events lately, so I figured it was time for me to stick my toe back in the waters and see what was new. Well, guess what? NOTHING was new — they were all the same loony, loopy, hoopy pill-popping druggie alkies — with a few meditative yoga types thrown in. In other words…..I fit right in!
Our local regional campout is called The Forgotten City, and this was the 5th year it was held. 600 people showed up from as far afield as LA and San Diego, and it was actually pretty amazing! Even though it was only a 3-day event, people spent a TON of time, money and energy setting up art, dance floors and theme camps…so that when it was all done, it really did look like a little mini Burning Man. Hey — as recently as 1992, the real Burning Man only had 600 attendees (now it’s 68,000)! You never know!!
Anyhoo, I drove out to Boulder City on Friday morning and set up camp. This was a good opportunity for me to test out my poor pop-up camper, which is on its last legs — after my trip to the Salton Sea in March, I really thought it was kaput. But my frenemy Alex greased up the gears for me, and it seems to be working OK for now. We’ll see if it survives the REAL Burning Man!
I camped out with a group of people I didn’t really know — my friend Scott and a few of his pals, plus another couple who are among the more responsible/capable local Burners. It turned out to be a super cool arrangement! I set up my camper and shade structure, and then pimped out my space into a little photo studio. Part of the whole Burning Man culture is sharing your art with others, and making an inclusive, interactive experience…so I decided to share my love of costumes and photography by taking psychedelic portraits of my fellow campers. I did this at the real Burning Man last year, and it was so much fun that I figured I’d do it again. I even ordered a bunch of Polaroid film, so that I could give out hard copies.
And honestly, after just 5 minutes I felt right at home — before even setting up my camper, I was half-naked, drinking a mimosa and chatting with a tranny friend in the warm spring sunshine. THAT’s living, my friends
Unfortunately, I had already committed to a gig in town that afternoon, so I couldn’t get too wasted — around 3pm I had to sack up and drive back to Vegas to be on the 702Rox internet radio show with Foxy Roxy. I’ve been making sporadic appearances on her show lately, and this week she wanted to use me as a guinea pig for this company called IV Rescue that does vitamin drips to cure hangovers. That’s right — Vegas is so fucked up that they figured out a way for you to party all night at the club, then get shot full of B-12 in the morning so you can make it out to the pool and party all day!!! It’s a wonder anyone in this town has a liver anymore!!
Anyway, I told them the timing was all wrong, and that I was only now headed to a three-day rave where I would likely get fucked the fuck up, thus requiring an IV on Monday when I got back. But they assured me it was OK to do it this way – -a preemptive strike, as it were, plumping me up with fluids and vitamins to ward off the upcoming assault. So despite my misgivings, they jabbed a needle in my arm and filled ‘er up.
As soon as the radio show was over, I hauled ass straight back to Boulder City, only stopping off to pick up two other local Burners who needed rides. One poor guy had to ride in the back of my truck, but it was all good — it was Burning Man, maaaaaan!!! We got back to the party around sunset, and it was ON!
The next three days are really kind of a blur. I remember drinking a lot of booze, smoking a ton of weed and eating a mushroom or two…all the while running around half-naked in a clown wig and two strategically-placed light-up balloons. F U N !!! During the afternoons, a steady stream of victims found their way into my little photo studio, and subjected themselves to my cosplay madness: you see, when you have your portrait taken by me, you have to let go and let Wonderhussy; that means *I* get to choose what you wear! I did a pretty good job on everyone though, I have to say.
In addition, the colorful tapestries I had hung up everywhere as a backdrop and as shade also happened to be printed with 3D ink…so my studio also did double duty as a 3D chill lounge. I had a bunch of 3D glasses, and a mound of pillows on my mom’s old Oriental carpet on the ground, so you could just lay around and zone out. Many took advantage of this. It was awesome!
One interesting thing I did while photographing people was, I would ask them to tell me about themselves. Man did I get some interesting stories! One couple met on an airplane (I never sit next to anyone interesting on planes), another couple met at a youth hostel in Ecuador. Another pair of friends met on a base in Antarctica!!! I’m telling you, these Burners really get around! It was really interesting to hear people talk…I’m a good listener, especially when I’m half naked and drinking a Bloody Mary
Anyway, I did my portraits all afternoon, and then partied all night. Saturday night was the real shindig — a friend and I ate some mushrooms (actually, I’m pretty sure 99% of the people there had eaten something) and went cruising around to see what was up. There was a big space-themed White Party that night, so I put on my good old Alien Disco ensemble and went to town. Some friends and I rode this piranha-shaped mutant vehicle around all night, stopping off at camps here and there to dance, drum, drink, whatever. I had a blast!!!
Everywhere you looked, it was wackos — trannies, tutus, naked people, sparkle ponies (what they call cute stripper-type chicks all dolled up in furry platform boots). It kinda seemed depressing, at first — like, can you believe all these 30- and 40-somethings dressed up in idiotic costumes, acting like 3-year-olds? Is that all there is? Shouldn’t we be out somewhere building a well or making a difference? Writing a book or something?
Then, the mushrooms kicked in! Book?! What book?!?!?!?
I don’t particularly love electronic dance music, but I’m here to tell you…when you’re wearing an alien afro and 6-inch thick platform boots and have a bellyful of drugs, it’s the best!! I danced my ass off! I had a smile on my face so big, it almost cracked my face in half. The euphoria I experienced was actually somewhat akin to a transcendent experience, so I guess I understand the whole Whirling Dervish thing, where dance is a form of meditation. If you’re drugged up, anyway. I don’t think I’d feel the same way sober!
But looking around, I actually did feel my attitudes changing toward those around me. I lead such a fucked-up, out-there life that I tend to look down on “weekend warriors,” who put on a tutu and get drunk at festivals but then go back to being a square on Monday. But at this party, I looked around and realized that as trite as it seems to me…Burning Man really IS a transformative experience for many people! Some people are really just too shy/square/inhibited to let their freak flag fly until they’re at a party surrounded by 599 other freaks doing the same thing. Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age…but it’s actually really touching to watch it go down!
One case in point was this cute bro-type guy who was new to the scene. He came by my photo studio in the afternoon and I made him up in a fez and stuff, like that creepy monkey in that Stephen King movie, and he was really good-natured about it — like he was really willing to immerse himself fully in the experience. Then we ran into him that night at the Party Naked Tiki Bar.
The Party Naked Tiki Bar is this awesome enclave of middle-aged nudists who set up this huge enclosed plywood tiki bar every year, with colorfully painted privacy walls and a strict no-photography policy. I always rolled my eyes at the no-photo thing in the past — really, who cares?! — but with my newfound mellowness, I actually get it. The aforementioned bro-type guy was there, and he allowed himself to really break down his personal barriers and get totally naked, which you could tell was a huge deal for him! If you do get naked at the Tiki Bar, they give you a flower lei necklace with a commemorative plaque on it, and this guy seemed really proud to have earned his lei. He had a super endearing kind of bashful pride about him, standing there naked, getting hugs from random people.
Like I said, I live this kind of shit 24/7/365…so the novelty of shit like this seems a little lame to me at times. Buncha naked people in a tiki bar? Big deal!! But, I need to check myself. Not everyone is used to running around naked on a warm desert night, mingling with trannies and tutus and gay guys and naked grannies. It really IS a transformative experience for many — and I dig it!!!
Even better, that particular night I was hanging out with this super-awesome local longtime Burner chick from New York, who has sort of become one of the elder statespeople/leaders of the Burning Man movement here. This is a woman who really has her shit together, and I’ve always looked up to her and her husband. They’re fun, but also capable, productive, super-smart people…not just bean-eaters running around hula hooping in zebra suits, ya know?
Well, the shy naked bro guy told us he was going to the real Burning Man for the first time this year, and asked for advice…and this woman gave him the best advice I’ve ever heard: she told him not to expect too much. If you go in expecting a life-changing experience…you’ll only be disappointed. Just go have fun!
DAMN! Where was this woman when I first went to Burning Man?!?
The most vivid memory I have from my first Burning Man was the total disappointment I experienced, before even setting foot through the gate. I had read online, and heard from many friends, about how amazing the art and music were, and how the community would touch your heart and change your way of thinking, and you would find your soulmate and your purpose in life, blah blah blah. Well, those hopes were all dashed in the first 5 minutes I spent waiting in the Will Call line…which was basically just a big drunken free-for-all of frat boys in Dick-in-the-Box costumes. This is what I drove 10 hours to experience?! A giant kegger?!?!?!
I had fun my first Burning Man, but spent a good portion of the week thinking about how I’d never go again. How all this b.s. about art and connectedness was just an excuse for frat bros to ogle naked chicks while getting hopped up on ecstasy and dancing to shitty club music all day and all night. My attitude lightened up considerably after I ate LSD and ecstasy myself…so much so that I ended up coming back four more times (despite the fact that the acid/ecstasy gave me permanent insomnia that persists to this day). But I always found it kinda sad that it took drugs to make me enjoy Burning Man.
If only I’d known ahead of time not to put too much stock in it….it might have changed shit!
Anyway, as it is, over the years I’ve come to appreciate Burning Man for what it is — a big kooky party full of the funnest, craziest people you’ll ever meet. I don’t think I’ve ever once had a meaningful conversation with anyone there, and I’ve certainly never met a soulmate…but I have made some cool friends, and had some really fun times. So as they say…I guess it is what it is! And what it is, is pretty fucking fun. Especially if you’re on drugs!
Meaningful or not, one thing I really dig about the Burning Man scene is the astonishing diversity of the participants. It’s not just hippies or ravers — it’s an amazing cross-section of all types of people. At this particular weekend campout we had cholos from L.A., local hicks who snuck in from Boulder City, club kids from Vegas, hippies, ravers, middle-aged stagehands, drummers, artists, airport bartenders and limo drivers! Fuck, I spent all night hanging out with a buff mook in an Indian headdress who was rolling his balls off…and I never had such a good time!!!
The astonishing cross-section of humanity there was really driven home to me as I was riding along on the piranha-shaped mutant vehicle one night, idly chatting with the guy next to me…a sort of methy, biker-ish burned-out middle-aged white dude in a t shirt and khaki cargo shorts. His voice sounded familiar…and wouldn’t you know it, it turned out to be none other than a certain mad scientist assistant to a certain fetish goddess whose site I shoot for often!!! It was really hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I was sitting on a piranha-shaped car, in an alien afro wig, next to this guy…who I associated with a totally different sphere of my life. Far out!!!
But that’s what’s so great about Burning Man — you never know who you’ll run into. P. Diddy, Johnny Depp, Goldie Hawn — all have been known to roll around Burning Man on the downlow. It’s the great equalizer!
Another really cool thing about the scene is that you don’t have to worry — one of the guys I gave a ride to left his laptop in my truck all weekend, with the door unlocked. I couldn’t find him when I left, so I brought his laptop home with me…and he never even broke a sweat. He knew I’d hang onto it for him…which is, when you think about it, a really amazing show of trust. Likewise, I was able to run around in balloons and a clown wig, and not worry about anyone trying to molest me — at Burning Man (and Burning Man events), people are just cool.
Anyhoo, I partied my balls off til sunrise on Sunday morning, and then went to bed a bit earlier on Monday morning because I was so exhausted, and hadn’t been sleeping well out there. I had finally sunk into a blessed, deep dark slumber….when I was rudely awoken at 5:30am by the BLASTING, POUNDING strains of Metallica coming from a local jokester’s camp. I couldn’t really be mad, though…it was listed in the guidebook as “Monday Morning Metallica,” guaranteed to get your chi flowing just in time to pack up camp. As irritating as it was to be woken up just as I was finally getting some sleep….I had to laugh. It was so subversive…so Burning Man!!!
So, I ended up getting up way earlier than I intended, and packed up my camp, drove home, and put everything away. It was a lot of work to do for just three days…but it was totally worth it. I had a blast, met some super cool new people, and had fun getting to know people I already knew, better. Plus, I hardly checked my cell phone at all, and had very little time to worry about bogus shit in life like “direction,” “career” or “future.”
Escapism, you might call it. I call it therapy!!!
Oh, and P.S…..the IV drip was inconclusive. I mean, I felt like shit when I got home….but I suppose without it, I might have been dead!!!