I am burning man or at least I thought I was burning, by the end of day three of living on the Nevada desert. I was hot and thought… No, I hoped I would just spontaneously combust. By day four I changed and began to enjoy the experience but let me back up first and explain how a 64 year old man come to be at a festival of modern art and music with 2.7% of the people being my age and over 58% being under 35 and reminiscent of the flower people of the sixties.
My 21-year old son, Liam, had just returned from working with Shambhala music festival at Salmo, BC and told me he wanted to take me to Burning Man. No one I knew over fifty knew what it was and everyone under 40, who knew what he was talking about just laughed including the boarder guard. He asked for our passports but when I announced our intentions, he asked if I knew what Burning Man was and when I told him everyone laughed at me and wouldn’t say, he grinned and said, “I will do the same,” as he handed me the passports back without opening them and with a wave of his hand and a smile said, “Have a good time.”
I would soon discover Burning Man is an instant city, Black Rock City, which springs up in the desert for the 60,000 participants to live in for the week. No money is to change hands so there are no confectionaries yet there are countless bars and coffee shops giving away drinks. There are hundreds if not thousands of musicians playing electronic music, large art cars spewing fire while cruising the desert giving free rides on what looked like large ships, dragons, enormous cats and moving buildings all complete with free drinks and loud music.
As we pulled into the Playa, a large sea of flour like dust in which nothing survives, not even rocks, I saw people setting up their camps and quickly pointed to a young lady and said to my son, “L-L-Look she is topless!”
“Dad, it is just a body, we all have one.”
A minute later I said, “But look over here, this young lady has nothing on at all!”
“You better get used to it Dad you will see a lot of people like that,” and with that comments it relegated that string of conversation into my mind only.
In the first two days I learned how to stand very close to young women and carry on conversations with total eye contact as I was a afraid to let them wander anywhere else. By day three I was coming out of my shell and to the conclusion they just didn’t care what I looked at.
Liam gave me a spray bottle to mist people walking around in the heat as most liked to have a fine spay of cool water shot over their hot bodies. I ventured out for a walk. The first young lady coming my way wore only two painted flowers on her chest so as we approached I said, “Have you been mist today?”
Throwing her arms back and her chest out she said no and told me to go ahead. To my surprise the paint was not water-soluble and did not run. She thanked me and we both continued on our way. Still proud of my break through moment a few minutes later I saw Liam walking down the road to our motorhome and as he passed the camp the young lady was from I heard her scream; “Liam!” She ran out onto the road and gave him a hug. He brought her to camp for a proper introduction and I was to find out later he knew what seemed like thousands of young ladies from his days at Shambhala.
The portable generator I bought would not run the air conditioner so I was lying on top of the covers in my briefs and half asleep a few nights later when I heard Liam opening the motorhome door and talking to someone. Who is with you I asked and he said another girl I know. I said, “Just a minute, let me get under a sheet.”
“Never mind Dad, you have more on than she does.”
It was too hot anyway so I just called to her, “Come on in and meet his Dad.”
In bounced a beautiful young maiden to shake my hand which I followed with the usual line of questions, Are you enjoying it here, where are you from, how do you know my son?
To may surprised she replied,” Kelowna, I have been to your home and met your wife but I am not sure if I have met you before.”
“Well if we have met it is nice to see more of you.” My inside voice was saying but I didn’t want her or you to think I am just a dirty old man who only thinks about naked young ladies, still for me it was still a cultural shock to see the nakedness whether everyone has a body or not.
Liam played his music at a number of venues and had a blast; I rode my bike around and marvelled at the art and work that goes into putting on this festival.
The city was laid out as a semi circle and marked with roads from 2 o’clock to 9 o’clock around an open circle a good mile across. When the wind picked up, which it does on a regular basis, people wear dust masks and goggles as it can get so bad that visibility is reduced to only a few feet, making riding a bike in an open area with 60,000 other people going in as many directions, a challenge.
Many people stayed in tents. For those who felt going a week is too long between baths, there was a camp that offered the Human Carcass Wash, another way of saying sponge bath. This was called an experiential experience in which everyone should participate so you had to earn your bath by helping to bathe a dozen others first. I wasn’t ready for that yet, not because I was still shy of naked young ladies but I was concerned I might draw one of the young men in cowboy boots and pink wings.
I did manage to meet a few “older” people, forty to fifty years old, and befriend them and enjoyed my first Burn sharing their shade and food.
At the end of the week all the little churches and structures and a huge space ship like structure with a forty foot high man on it were set fire along with one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I have ever seen. The motto is, “leave no trace.” so everyone cleans up, loads all their garbage and things they brought in and takes them out with them.
On the Sunday night the last large temple, filled with good-byes written on the walls by people to lost loved ones is burned, ending the week. We were told a thunderstorm was predicted for the following day and if it rained the gates would be locked and everyone would have to wait until it dried before leaving as the playa dust becomes gumbo. I had to get out but Liam wanted to watch the temple burn so we agreed I would leave early, at 7:30 and he would wait until after the burning which was to take place at 9 then he would ride his bike the nine miles to the nearest town where I would wait for him at the gas station. He got caught up talking to someone for an hour after the fire then rode to the town and waited two more hours for us to get there.
The line up leaving was ten lanes wide and about eight miles long but they would only allow one thousand cars an hour to enter the highway. With about thirty thousand vehicles on site the waits were long and our seven-hour exit was short compared to many.
So you see using my nativity I was tricked into going, would I go again at 65? I probably would, if I could go with my son. We had an incredible bonding experience and he taught me a few things, not the least of which was not to objectify the female body and realize that everyone has a body and all bodies are beautiful despite what Playboy says.
The only airbrushing needed for these flower people is for the occasional flower painted here and there.