Burning Man by Day is Very Different than Burning Man by Night

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So there is a distinct difference between Burning Man at day or night. The day’s are hot (though nice in the morning).  The sun is blazing (except the one day it was cloudy and sprinkled…yep!), and everything is dusty (okay, that’s the same both day or night.  But during the day you have dust storms more often).If you’re afraid to get dirty and be uncomfortable, this isn’t the place for you.  I’m a pretty flexible, enduring guy, and there were numerous times I sat in the shade, sipping a water, sweaty and miserable, thinking “What the hell am I doing here?”.  A lot of people would just lay under their shade structures (possibly on a couch or camp chair) and sleep during the day.  Sometimes all day (there was a gal in our camp that crashed out all day long and partied all night…every night).  On the Sunday, I’d had enough of the heat and sat in my car with the AC on for 2 hours, napping.  It was heavenly.

Dust storm, white out

Brian, (my friend, roommate, and the man who’s been to Burning man 10 times now), says you have to listen to your body at Burning Man.  You may want to go out and see the sights, but your body may say “no way, sit your ass down, drink and chill out.”.  To not listen to your body is a bad choice when the consequences are heat exhaustion, dehydration or worse.

Now, this isn’t to say that the daytimes sucked.  They didn’t.  The mornings were nice (sleeping in a tent, the sun and heat and neighbors force me awake by 10am at the latest every day).  Chilling, eating, chatting.

Then hopping on a bike or walking to some sort of event.  There’s a book of activities based on time and camp, where you can go do anything you want:
Learn to cook?  Check.
Yoga skills?  Check.
Kissing Puja?  Check.
Topless bike ride for breast cancer?  (5000 checks!)
BDSM workshops?  Check.
Photography classes?  Check.
Slave auction?  You guessed it…check.

Yep…you’re seeing this correctly.

So on Thursday I thought “I’m going to the slave auction. ”  Some campmates had done it, and they had had fun.  They’d sold themselves as slaves, which basically means you can choose whatever you want to sell:  2 hours of camp cleanup, or a 30 minute massage, or learn dirty Russian phrases for 10 minutes, a full Indian meal.  Basically anything you want to offer, and then the “masters” bid on you, by trading similar items:  A bottle of booze, a shower in an RV, a naked lap dance.  Anything goes.  It’s up to you.  And the slave gets to decide which offer is best.

It was at Uli Babba and the Horny Thieves camp.  They had a whole tent set up.  If you wanted to be a slave, they put these plastic shackles on you with a chain.  I figured I’d slave myself up and offer DJ services, old school hip hop style for someone.  I wanted to DJ while at Burning Man and figured this would be a good way to make friends.

At the Slave Auction

We all pile into the camp.  There’s a full on mermaid sitting on the center platform.  The slaves on one side.  The masters on the other.  It was all tongue-and-cheek and silliness.  They’d call up slaves and explain the services you’d give, and people would bid.  Private showers, hair washing and meals seemed to go a long way.  One set of slaves offered to compliment you for an hour.  Another offered to cook you Indian meals.  When I finally got up there, people enjoyed my “old school hip hop dances”, but when I said I had the music and mixers, but no speakers, my bidding price went WAYYYYYY down.  (Guess everyone’s a DJ at Burning Man).  The only person to bid on me offered me a topless hair washing from 4 women…um, I have no hair.  Not the best deal, but the only one I got.  So rather than be killed, I took it.

I wish the rest of that story was exciting, but when I went to DJ the party (for the woman’s wife), they just wanted to go get drugs and asked if I could come back the next day.  I’d missed a big set of burns on the Playa to show up on time for them, but figured it would be fun to DJ the next day.  So I show up at 5pm on Friday in a big dust storm…and the wife hadn’t come home last night and was still partying someplace.  So the DJing never happened.  Nor did the hairwashing.

Which brings up a good point about Burning Man:  plans are flexible.  Rarely locked down.  In fact, it’s almost impossible to make arrangements to meet people.  We might say “Let’s meet at 7oclock and B, at the Mardi Gras camp at noon.”  (All the streets in Burning Man are labeled from 2 oclock to 10 oclock around the center playa area.  And then go from Esplanade, A, B, C etc back to L).  Well, one or both of us might find something more interesting or more fun, or just plain forget to meet up.  Or we might just be running late, and you’ll be there and think “I guess they aren’t coming” and head off”.  There’s no cellphones, so we can’t be lazy and call and say we’re late.  It really is a “go with your instinct” kind of place and you’re more likely to have fun.

That being said, there were a couple of times I wish I’d actually tried to make plans to meet up and didn’t because I was in such a “go with the flow” mode.  What can you do?

One day I was out by the Temple in the late afternoon and there was a big trailer set up that was actually a wet-plate camera (the kind used in the Civil War).  The folks had built it and were taking pictures.  I got one of me in front of the temple.  It’s so cool.

But they couldn’t finish it up at that time, so I’d have to go pick it up at their camp at some point.
Oh boy.
On Saturday, Brian and I actually hung out during the day.  We hopped on bikes and rode around.  Taking pictures.  Saying hi to people.  We got to the camp and picked up the photo.  It is AWESOME.  It’s printed on metal.  Really special.  A great playa gift.  Thank you.

This is no Instagram

I’d forgotten to bring water (yep, good call!), but they were cool and we filled up with them, took camp photos for them, and head out.
A quick stop at the porta potti, then down the street to a camp called “Mis information Camp” or something like that.

“Something great will happen because we go in here” Brian said.
So we take off our packs and…oh shit, my camera is gone.
Shit shit shit.
I leave my stuff with Brian and run back to the photo camp.  Not there.
Oh no, it has all my Burning Man pics, plus a trip I took immediately before this to Cabo for a friends Bachelor party.
I goto the toilets.  Look inside.  No camera.
Ugh!
I run back to where Brian was.  “Can’t find it.”
But, at least my driver’s licence was in the case (which is bad if I don’t get it back, but is good if Burning Man is as cool as people say, since they can find me.  (This just gave me the idea that the first photo on any card should be a photo of a drivers licence, or at least email/phone number, so when people scan forward they see it and have the contact info).
At this point I’m pretty bummed.  I’d just bought the camera too.
Anyway, we go back to the toilets, Brian yells really loud “Did anyone find a camera?  Did anyone find a camera?”.

A guy walks up.  “You looking for a camera?”
“Yep.  Did you find one?”
“No.”
“It has a drivers licence in it.”
“Okay, yeah, we have it.”

SWEEET!
I got it back…with crotch, butt and boob photos from the whole camp.
Clearly they didn’t expect us to actually see their faces in person!  They were going to turn it in and then I’d have some laughs at the photos.  Oooops!

Thanks for the camera!

The Playa Provides.

That’s one of the big sayings at Burning Man.  That it’ll provide what you need.  (Or is it what you’re looking for?).  I think it’s more likely the first.  You may be looking for one thing, but need another.  Who knows?  But this was awesome.  Thankful for those folks for being so cool and not just taking it.
That is after all the vibe of burning man.  Supposedly things can get stolen, but it doesn’t happen very often.

Why does the Playa provide?
You could say it’s because there are 50-60,000 like minded people in a small area, all circling about in a gifting mode, and thus it’s likely you’ll meet or find someone with what you’re looking for.  Or you could say it’s something more magical, that there’s something about the energy of Burning Man.  Of that specific place.  That things all happen for reasons if you are living in the moment.

Craig Ouellette
Craig Ouellette is a world traveling, independent filmmaker, and karaoke fiend. He has been to dozens of countries, made dozens of films, and sung more karaoke songs than he can count. He hopes the tales of adventure will entertain.
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