Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Jason Burns the Man

Sort of. For the first time in 11 years, I actually didn't run around the Man, I watched him Burn from the Esplanade. More on that later.

I've returned from another great week on the Playa, drinking, cursing, and generally being an obnoxious vicious drunk-as-a-rock-star savage. The abortion clinic was again a success in it's second year. I have bigger plans for next year, but that would require me actually doing work, and that's not my forte.

The weather was great, except for the dust storm Monday as we arrived (which sucked, we didn't get camp set up until Tuesday). There was another, allegedly bigger dust storm on Saturday, but by that time I didn't give a shit, lit the barbecue in the blinding dust and cooked the most delicious bacon-wrapped filet mignon I've ever had (with thanks to my new friend Gabriel).

Which reminds me, I've now burned so long that I no longer care about the art, I care about my playa friends. The Man was blah--the lines were too long to go up in the tower. The temple was the best it's been in 4-5 years (loved the second story and the double-helix staircase), the 10-story tower was cool, and THE END was cool. But what I really came for were my long-time Playa friends. The Foxy Kokonaut team; Mayor Mike, Dave, and Magic Lady Glenna (and new addition, Magic Mom Loretta); Tommy, Kimmy, and Matt (when's the fucking saloon open!?); Maria (and your friend Ann); Brandy; Tanya; and my most savage and therefore best playa friend (lost for two years), Turkeeneck. Plus my new playa friends: Viva, Gabriel, and Milo; Derek and Victoria. I finally came to the realization that my neighborhood during the day was cooler than the Esplanade at night, because we are all total fucking badasses.

Which is not to say I was a total homebody. Sure, I spent a lot of time drinking in front of the TV and shouting at passing traffic. But I did make my yearly trek on foot to the end of the universe (the trash fence, where I found a giant "THE END" made of wood). I wandered to other neighborhoods and sampled other bars. I even met up with the Thrillpeddlers, whom I completely missed this year (although I still missed their show in center camp). In fact, the only night when I didn't go out at least a little bit on the playa was the night of the Burn.

I had already decided earlier in the week, after seeing the Man, that I would not attend the Burn. The Man was placed on a tall, thin tower, which I could tell would result in a tight, compact fire when it burned. And I wasn't about to run around that, not after last year.

You see, I'm old enough to remember when the standard line shouted around the fire was "rotate, don't spectate!" meaning run around the fire, don't just stand (or worse, sit) there and watch it. The other important point was only pass on the inside. So if you wanted to get close to the fire, you had to run around it faster than everyone else, and when you got too tired or too hot, you could just slow down and you'd automatically be pushed away from the fire. It sounds (and feels) like a lot of insane, dangerous energy, but it was really a safe-ish, exciting dynamic (the key being if you're too slow, you get pushed to safety).

Well, several years ago this dynamic started to fade away and be replaced by more and more people just standing (or sitting) and watching the fire. This makes it extra hard for the people who continued running. You see, if you get as close as possible and sit, the people running have to either trample you or run way closer to the fire than is comfortable (or safe). Worse yet, people would momentarily lunge forward to take a picture, getting directly in the runners way. Photographers at the Burn are the worst form of human garbage. For years I continued to run around the fire screaming two things: "Keep moving!" and "No pictures!" (actually, I also screamed "Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" because I ran barefoot). I suspect people thought this was some sort of asshole performance art, but I promise it wasn't. "Keep moving!" was actually for your safety as much as mine--if the fire shifts and falls towards you and you're not already moving, you'll either get burnt or get trampled by people who are moving.

I was getting discouraged after several years of the Burn dynamic getting worse and worse, until about 4 years ago one of the firemen heard me yelling "keep moving" and shouted, "listen to him, keep moving!" I knew (I still know) I was in the right. The one person who was there specifically to keep me from dying agreed with my approach, so I didn't care how many stinking hippie spectators thought I was an asshole because they obviously didn't care if I died. And over the years, when I've tried to push my way away from the fire, I've had enough spectators push me back (i.e., towards the fire) to know that--by their actions, if not their words--they don't care if I die.

Well, that encouragement kept me going for a few more years, withstanding more dirty looks and questions like "What's your problem?" Then came last year, the Green Man. Last year the Man stood on a simple (but very tall) tripod, resulting in the tightest fire radius I've ever seen. As I ran towards and around the fire, I quickly realized two things. First, this was an incredibly tight radius, very hot, and the crowd was giving me no room to run (everyone was trying to crowd in close to see the fire, and there wasn't room for everyone). Second, I was the only person even trying to run (at least, the only one I could see). I realized quickly I could easily get burnt, so I tried the standard move out from the crowd, only to be pushed back. You god damn hippie spectators, get this straight--if someone pushes you away from the fire, don't push back! If you push back, you are pushing him into the fire, and that is likely to injure or kill him (me). Anyway, after being pushed back once, I lowered my head and bulldozed through the crowd, told the crowd to all fuck themselves, and marched back to my camp, where I had a great night with my neighborhood friends exactly where I wanted to be.

So that brings us to this year. I could tell immediately this Man would have a tight burn radius, too, and I avoided that shit. Anyone who did go to the Burn, feel free to let me know. Did anyone run around the fire (or even try)? Was there enough room for you to stand/sit as close as you wanted, or were you blocked by people who got there first? I don't really care, I just want to know if my predictions were right. As far as other predictions go, if this dynamic does not change, I predict there will be a death at the Burn within the next 5 years.

With all that said, I just checked out next year's theme and it looks like it if they go through with it and burn the whole structure, it will be a nice wide radius and there should be room for all (runners and sitters alike). So see ya next year!


Dadmaniac said...

Wow, sounds like you had your usual "interesting" time. Poor Burning Man. It has become too popularized and is now being filled up with jerks and idiots.

puppymeat said...

Yeah, I hear the population was just under 50K this year (which might be a problem for next year because rumor has it the BLM contract limits it to no more than 50K)

The actual Burn had been going downhill for a while, and I just didn't have the energy to fight for it this year. I did exactly what I wanted to do this year, and it just makes me more hungry to do the Burn next year. And as I said, based on the artist's rendering it should be a big wide bonfire with lots of running room next year, so that'll be good.

I did talk to a Ranger this year who confirmed that "rotate, don't spectate" is still supposed to be the rule, but it's just too hard to enforce.