By Chris Porter
September 2, 2000
I started writing this at Burning Man 2000 as I sat in my spacious, luxurius tent overlooking the vast expanse that is the Black Rock Desert. The smooth grooves of the Propellerheads create an ambiance for the mood that will follow my last Saturday night here on this planet. Due to a crisis of automotive proportions, my trip was cut a bit short. First recommendation: rent a car if you can. However, I have no real regret for this. I have seen things here – life-changing things.Its inhabitants come in many forms, from technical to artistic, from staunchly conservative to utterly flamboyant, and young and old alike: all working together to create the continuous, self-contained “super city” of mind-blowing sights and sounds which is Burning Man 2000.
From its fiery dragons to its fair maidens; from breathtaking beauty to gaudy eyesore – its all encompassed in this festival of togetherness and self-expression. Its a freedom to let down the barriers normally adorned due to the restraints of reality – a little slice of everything in a setting of vast nothingness known as “the playa”.
This story is about one magical night here on my first trip to planet playa…
PART 1: CAMP VERN & THE BURN
Saturday, 7:00PM: Camp Vern
We are the Vern. After me and my fellow traveller Vern setup our camp, we set out to meet our humble neighbors, Vern & vern. Vern was a real estate broker in LaLa land, and vern worked in constuction in the same vicinity. We were immediately initiated into the High Royal Order of the Vern once it was realized that our spirits were compatible. We were forced to adorn funny hats and change our names on the spot – we used secret hand signal techniques – some were understandibly mistaken for signs of “peace”, but we all knew they secretly stood for “V”. The perfect cover. Our clan became family for the little time we visited, and we stood by these bonds with large sacrifices of beer and various alcohol to our God Vern. Apparently, Vern is allergic to alcohol himself, so we had to consume the holy beverages ourselves – a trivial sacrifice in the effort to worship Our one true Vern, don’t you think?
9:00PM: The Burn
I left my camp to wander about when something extraordinary happened. Suddenly, there were thousands upon thousands of the “Man’s” followers decending to the center playa circle for a phenomena I can only describe as the ritualistic festival of fire-and-art known as the burn. I prodded my humble travelling friend Vern with by boot and asked him to join me as I donned my gorgeous glowstick hat and rushed into the mayhem – sacrificial beverage in hand. As the five-story icon burned to the scorched earth, it was a sensory overload of lights, music, parades, painted wood nymphs, robots, mysterious green lights in the skys, pyramids, lollipops, 20-foot vaginas, and of course, raging fires that would make even Smokey wet his overalls. It was beautiful.I never felt so alive until just at this very moment – maybe it was the beef jerky, but I felt a euphoria that no controlled substance could match.
PART 2: WALKABOUT
11:30PM: Walking About
As the burn was winding down, me and my good friend decided to take in the sights and wander about. We decided to walk directly across from where we were camped (since our sense of direction was severly dulled by this time), starting at center playa, moving outwards. Our journey brought us to several unique things, but one that sticks out in my selective mind was a phenomena known as The ThunderDome.
Yep, if you’re a veteran burner, or a “Mad Max” fan, you know what im talking about. This aluminum-structured dome was drawing quite the crowd of onlookers as challengers donned in bungeed medeval attire death-battled one another using padded pugil sticks. “Two men enter, one man leaves”, was being chanted all around around us, as if they were praising a meniacal overlord that revels in it’s subjects beating the tar out of each other with padded sticks. The challengers were one female slave girl versus a leather clad mountain of a man donning steel studs.
“Think shes got a chance?”, I sort of muttered, not fully aware that I was speaking aloud. My fellow wanderer, overhearing my blathering, replied with a quick “not a chance in hell.”
We climbed as far towards the top of the dome as we could to get to get a bird’s eye view of this extraordinary event. I wanted pure violence, and I wanted it now. As the two competitors were strapped in, I was nearly drooling, anxious for carnage. Finally, the ringmaster called for the event to start, and our heroes came out swinging. Slave girl got it first, being bopped square in the mug by mountain man. “Ooooh, I felt that up here,” I turned and said to my companion, with dilated eyes lit up by the background of mayhem; the eyes of a madman. I could tell that slave girl was a bit dazed by the way she was weaving drunkedly within her harness. The two tangled together in a web of hostility and needed to be separated by the ringmaster’s apprentices, all the while mountain man was giving slave girl a few cheap shots to the head.
Once separated and brought back to each other’s respectible “corners”, the mayhem ensued. Hundreds cheered on as mountain man struck first, taking out slave’s legs and sending her sprawling to the ground. She quickly recovered just in time to smack mountain’s backside before they tangled again, though mountain had time to get off a few more body shots before they completely intertwined. “Shes history, man,…” my accomplice bellowed.
Battle erupted yet again. This time, I could see something start to blossum in the eyes of slave girl, something from deep inside. I could even see the faint traces of a smile in the creases of her blood-red shaded lips as she steadied herself for the killing blow. Mountain man, using his height advantage, came down upon her like a hawk poising to attack it’s prey, but slave was ready – this time delivering a shattering hit to man’s midsection, throwing him off balance. That was the deciding factor. Mountain man completely lost it, and came crashing down face first on to the dusty floor. Blood running from his considerable nose, he dazily conceded defeat. The onlookers celebrated by chanting slave’s name and hoisting their beers and other various objects of indulgence to her name. It was truly a sight, and a night to remember for eternity.
PART 3: SURVIVING THE BURN
Surviving the burn takes some cunning and careful preparation. Since the setting takes place in an area with no electricity or running water, its very difficult to ‘overdo’ your preparation – meaning that some planning is in order to assure you have enough supplies to last until the end of your visit to this magical place.
This phenomena offers much to document – you can never bring too much film. Contribution is key, so you might want to bring extra supplies for bartering with your fellow human, since crude concepts such as cash money are not recognized. This site is rather large, so unless you don’t tire easily from long walks, some sort of transportation (bike, unicycle, go-cart, fire-breathing dragonfly, etc..) is recommended. The weather is highly unpredictable as well. Duststorms, strong winds, and rain sometimes come without warning on this planet, so making sure you have a well secured camp is a good idea.
The survival guide has lots of great tips, including recommendations such as using rebar stakes to support your tent or canopy against sudden winds.
More importantly, GIVE FREELY – love fellow humans profusely, and take the time to share and learn as much as you can – especially to fellow beings who might have underestimated the preparation process. Give a stranger a hug. HAVE FUN – Live your existence on this playa of wonder to its fullest – this place only appears one time a year, and that time will be here before you know it! (August 27 – September 3) Take as many loyal subjects as possible, for comeraderie makes the experience that much richer. Interested? You should be. Tickets and detailed information are available at the Burning Man website, burningman.com.
Burning Man 2000 Photos
These are my personal photos from the Burning Man 2000 event in Black Rock, Nv.