I decided to do my first Burn last year solo and theme camp-less. Just me, my sedan, a tent and the necessities. It's not that I'm anti-social (PS. A city of 70,000 of some of the most huggy, open-minded people is not a place to be if you're anti-social). In reality, I wanted to be 100% self-reliant and go into my first Burn with a clean slate and an open mind.
Set up camp and see what the next 8 days had to offer.
I've done music festivals, road trips and parties solo before, so it wasn't outside of my comfort zone. In other words: I wasn't setting myself up to fail. I was setting myself up to be an absolute sponge.
I stayed over night in Reno Sunday night to get my bearings, get a good night's sleep, get a shower (couldn't fit one of those in the old Focus) and start my drive to the Playa fresh and early.
I got up at 6am. Ate breakfast. Did last minute packing. Probably said something motivational in the mirror...or got one last glimpse of my clean mug, and hit the road. It was raining. Well, a trickle. Nothing major.
As I made my way through Fernley, I noticed 2 things...The elements of Burning Man started popping up: Oh, an RV full of obvious Burners! Oh, a roadside booth selling “necessities!” Oh, a long-ass line at the gas station! Oh, bikes for rent!!
The other thing I noticed: The trickle had turned into a downpour.
Nevertheless, I trudged on. Well....as much trudging as one can do in a long, long line of cars. Yep, I hit traffic. Actually, that's a misnomer. Traffic tends to move at some point. I was 30 minutes on my GPS from the front gates and I was at a dead stop. Sandwiched between 2 RV's. And the rain turned torrential. (I'm from LA....so that may be hyperbole...but we don't understand things like “rain” and “over-hype.”)
No worries. I thought I'd just hang out there for a bit and check my Burning Man Twitter feed and Facebook. Glad I did that. Apparently, just like it said in all of the literature that I diligently read pre-Burn, if it rains too much, they close the gates and won't let people drive on the Playa. Apparently, and I'm no geographical scientist (because I think that's the proper term for it), when it rains in an old lake bed, water tends to pool and muddy up. Apparently! The organizers of this festival care enough to not let someone stubborn like me act on a thought like: “I bet my Focus can make it....”
So I cracked a water bottle, unwrapped a Subway sub and waited. It was 10am. And the news was dire: BURNING MAN CLOSED FOR THE DAY!!!! Said my Twitter feed. (Hunh. Imagine that. Knee-jerk reactions on social media.)
I told myself I'd just wait it out and if the RV in front of me or the RV in back of me did anything, I'd find out what and follow. (Little did I know I was surrounded by Newbies!)
The lovely (and yes, I do mean that and it's not sarcastic) Sheriff's Department started cruising up and down the highway, blaring instructions on the loudspeaker. Mostly to the effect of “Turn around and head back to Reno.”
The RV's didn't move. Neither did I.
A few brave (?) Burners pulled out their bikes and rode past yelling that they were going to cruise to the front to see what was going on.
The rain subsided around 11am. Surely we could get in now!! We're moving!!!! Oh...wait...that's because the big Art Car in front of us flipped a U-turn back to Reno. But still...We're moving!!!!
Eventually the Sheriff's Department realized that the bulk of the cars were content to stay where we were. And why wouldn't we be? Why head back to the creature comforts of the Golden Nugget? Every single one of us had clothes and food and water and shelter....we were prepared to spend the next week in the middle of the desert. By default, we could spend a week anywhere on this highway leading to the Playa. So the Sherriffs made their route again, this time with a different tune: “You can stay here, but you have to pull off to the side of the road.”
(Sigh....if every conflict between civilians and authority were this peaceful and compromising...sigh....)
We all pulled off and slowly started getting out of our cars. It was like a happier version of R.E.M.'s “Everybody Hurts” video. We all got out....and kind of just....stood there. There were a few veterans around me, but mostly newbies. I mean, none of us really knew what to do.
Here came that same Sheriff: “Welcome to Camp Yellow Line.”
And that was it. We were....home...-ish.
I looked over at the Aussies who had clambered out of the RV in front of me. “I think we're staying here.”
Once again, none of us really knew what to make of the situation, but we were suddenly camp mates experiencing our first Burn together at Camp Yellow Line.
The more veteran of our immediate area knew exactly what to do. 2 girls in an RV a few behind mine got out wearing bikinis and horse masks. The 2 fellas who pulled off on the opposite side of the highway took their porch swing out of their trailer and set up a stove. I heard music from a few cars up and peeked around to see a station wagon had a full DJ set-up going. Bikes and walkers started to become more frequent.
I chatted with the Aussies some more. They were very nice and just as dumb-founded. I sat in my chair to admire the sunset and steal a secret smile – this was kinda cool.....
10 minutes later the Aussies had chairs in a circle and invited me over to their RV for salmon pasta. I brought the beer (Editor's note as provided by the writer: I'll save him/her the effort and say “Beer and cars don't mix!” They will bust you for drinking on the way to Burning Man so save the can-crackin' til you're in camp. On the Playa.)
Behind me, some Burners were taking pictures of a lovely, 6-inch tall wooden sign that said “DREAM” on it, with the full Nevada desert as its backdrop.
“That's a great sign!” one of the Aussies shouted.
“You want it?” Shouted the photographer back to him.
“Oh, no, that's OK. It's just really cool.”
She picked it up, walked it over, and simply said: “Here. It's yours.”
“Oh...I don't have anything....You want some pasta?”
“I don't need anything. It's my gift to you. Welcome to Burning Man.” And just like that, she hugged him, walked away and my Aussie friend had his first gift.
We wiled away the hours on the side of the highway talking about trains, having 3-legged races and admiring outfits that had already been unpacked. A furry half-unicorn strutted up and down the highway belting out plans for a highway-long potluck he was trying to organize. Someone named “Toro” walked by my car and invited me to join him on a hike up the highway so I could meet some other Burners and get my first feel of what this community was. He gave me the low-down of his Camp at Burning Man, tried to find a solid Playa name for me, then dropped me at a car with a few French people to hang and chit-chat.
The cars started moving again around 7:30pm. That's when we got the call. It spread like wildfire. The gates were open! Furniture was quickly packed, bikes were thrown on vehicles and everyone jumped back in their ride ignoring the mud that they were tracking. We were already dirty and moving as one unit.
It was almost sad to see the break-up of Camp Yellow Line.
The line moved fairly fast onto Jungo Rd. There was a bit of a log-jam to pass the gates and the Will Call window was supposedly legendarily slow. (I didn't know it...I had nothing to compare it to, after all.)
Didn't matter...I wasn't really in a rush. It was midnight. I was there for 8 more days. And I had already dipped my toe into what it meant to be at Burning Man.
The 10 Principles had already reared their beautiful head:
Radical Inclusion: I was welcomed to new friends' “camps” with open arms and given a partner for the 3-legged races and even offered a seat on a dangling porch swing on the side of the highway in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Gifting: That beautiful “DREAM” sign was the best gift I never got.
Decommodification: Trust me when I say that the nearest Big Box Store or fast food joint was way out of sight and mind... though I did see the words “Santa Fe Railroad” on the side of a few train cars in the deep distance. And they were leaving us far behind.
Radical Self-Reliance: I was in my car, eating a sandwich, with plenty of water to get me through. Content to enjoy the rain pitter-patting my roof. I could have relaxed there all day...
Radical Self-Expression: Did I mention that one of the first things the veterans did around me was take out their costumes....?
Communal Effort: We all pitched in to make getting stranded in the desert the best place to be at that time, in that space, with those people. I didn't want to be anywhere else!
Civic Responsibility: I think the fact that we (mostly) obeyed Sheriff's orders and didn't rock the boat was kind of civic-ly responsible of us....Oh, and the shirtless guy with the pink furry pants trying to organize a mid-freeway potluck? He was trying to make sure everybody got fed!
Leave no Trace: The last thing everyone did before the cars started easing their way back into the vehicular snake towards Black Rock? Every. Single. Person...combed that roadside for MOOP.
Participation: Wanna go for a walk? Sure! Want a chair? OK! Wanna do a wheelbarrow race? Are you kidding? Yes!
Immediacy: We created Camp Yellow Line because it was there. And we were there. And I'll be damned if anybody around us was going to stop us from our unplanned goal
Bonus – Gratitude:
Truth is: It was the best way to start out. It's such a new, invigorating, stimulating and exhausting experience to go to your first Burn, having a nice little appetizer before the Main Course was a gift from the Man himself.
Even though we didn't make it to the Playa that day, well, not until late, the Playa still provided. Well before any of us got there. And well before us Newbies realized what we were in for.
Is it wrong to hope to get stranded on that freeway again...?
Put a smile on your face,