BURNING MAN 1999: We Surrender to Comfort


In 1993, when we went to Burning Man for the first of five times, there were only about 900 attendees, this year there were 23,000. But Black Rock City's year round population remains zero,.and the annual gathering remains a celebration of human creativity and freedom. A little more structure, a few more rules, a bit more water, a lot more stuff going on.... the spirit of Burning Man is more polymorphous these days, and a tad less perverse. As in years past, the vastness of the space sucked the life out of pre-existing plans and rewrote the scripts we'd brought along. Now, as ever, Burning Man stands out as one fine question to the answer, "because we can".

This year we had a party of six: me, my wife Mary Dryovage, our longtime friends Nigel and Patricia Jacobs, from Austin Texas, and our new friends Content Knowles and Dave Demaris, also of Austin. Far from challenging our soft urbanized bodies, the weather was utterly mild, to the point of being downright forgiving. The temperature never got above the mid-nineties, and the wind never rose above a breeze during the three and a half days we were there. Our posse traveled, ate, and occasionally even slept in a 27 foot RV which provided a real refrigerator, a real stove, and a water-wasting illusory bathroom. I had feared that the RVmight be an alienating piece of technology, but it proved useful and the only reaction we ever got was mild envy.

Note: to see a larger version of any of the pictures, just click on it

This wasn't the only time we'd gone to Burning Man in a group, but it was the first time we joined one of the "theme camps".. In fact, the only time Mary and I had gone as a lone couple was in 1997, but this trip involved more planning and collaboration than any of the others. Nigel and Content prototyped the shade structure back home to make sure it was feasible, and I bought PVC pipe, rebar and a cammo net here in San Francisco. The first thing we did on Friday morning after the tedious drive over the mountains in our heavily laden RV, was assemble the shade dome. 

We shared our corner of Hamlet with Karen and John, below, who shared their RV with Tom and Sonia (not pictured). I never figured out what "Hamlet" was supposed be about. "Hard Alcohol Mostly Leaves Extensive Traces"?

Bicycles were essential as the camp now stretches for miles, and is now ringed with a "snow" fence to discourage gate crashers.


"Streets" were introduced in 1997, and were laid out in a Cartesian grid and named after goddesses. This year Burning Man instead had a polar coordinate system in honor of the coming millenium. Radial avenues were named after the hours, and concentric boulevards ordered by planets. Hamlet camp was at 3:00 and Mercury:

The portapotties were at each intersection along Jupiter. Your author is mildly disappointed that no one yet seems to have adopted "going to Jupiter" as a new euphemism for a bathroom break, and suggests that the next coordinate system not be borrowed from engineering but rather follow human anatomy, for example "My camp is just above the Hiatal Hernia" or, "come see us, we'll be somewhere near the larynx, by the main stage". This would bring to modern life the medieval Kabbalists' Adam Qadmon, the cosomological projection of the universe into human form. : 

The bathroom lines were sometimes a little long, though never all that bad. People would come by and give out Handi Wipes or water. At one point a woman came by and offered "I'm a health professional. I'll trade Viagra for a place at the front of the line". No takers. Disappointed but gracious, she congratulated us: "I guess you're a virile bunch out here."

After a couple hours touring around the playa on our bikes, we stopped at "Lemuria" camp, where Fred and company were making music with a couple of Roland beat boxes: 

The best thing we did on Saturday was join the fun at the Sunblock camp, where impromptu massage teams would anoint your whole body once you'd paid your dues by applying sunblock to a few other people: 

 We took our tactile enthusiasm back to our friends in the RV but took no further pictures at that point.. Later we got back on our bikes and explored a few more camps. Here it appears that Mary and Bob are wearing too many clothes to enjoy this tactile installation, photographed the next day: 

Somehow the above pictures typify a contrast with the 1997 event, which wasn't that much smaller than this years', but had a lot more raunchy sex in the air. This time around, we stumbled on three weddings: one industrial and improvised out on the playa, a second very Wiccan one, with beautifully costumed elemental guardians for the four directions, and finally a big white tent with a lot of very white followers of Isis; this last was a great installation but as Mary said, it felt too much like Santa Monica.



Continued ....

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Photos by Bob Carasik and Mary Dryovage, text by Bob Carasik. Last updated,September 16, 1999