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I remember when this felt special
by an Anonymous Journalist

I took a break from Burning Man this year since my wife was eight months pregnant. Playa dust and childbirth probably don't mix. Just a hunch.

I actually grew to love Burning Man in the three years I attended. Here's how I saw it from a purely selfish and experiential point of view:

Year One left me pretty bedazzled, as I had never seen anything like it, and was invigorated by the rampant creativity and anarchy. Besides, I was working, and I had never covered such a fun story.

Year Two, my Times photographer pal Alan and I spent a good deal of time handmaking mirrored armor and wiring a tandem for lights, and felt like proper Black Rock City citizens participants and not spectators. (Why does that now ring like a Scientology trope?)

Year Three, we sort of treated it like a beachfront stay, where the people-watching is simply a bit more interesting than in Venice Beach. Go, set up a few interesting structures, wear a few odd garments, take part in whatever entertaining games, shows and activities were offered, ingest a few amusing substances, make photos for ourselves, etc. Did a little cursory work with photos and video, and called it a good party. By now, Black Rock City was starting to feel like an actual place where we liked to hang out for a few days every summer and thus, maybe it was no longer special nor energizing.

At that point, we had begun to burn out on it, and decided a hiatus would be no big deal.

From a purely sociocritical standpoint, it's not a Bad Thing. Burning Man is, in fact, probably a Good Thing in that it gives license to people who perhaps feel otherwise restricted in life, inspiration to those who need an artistic kick in the ass, and solidarity to a terrific cultural melange of folks who probably feel somewhat isolated as individuals back in the "Real World."

On the other hand, the Burning Man organization has done a shitty job of keeping costs down. The ticket prices are now a fucking outrage, and the rules against people doing irresponsible shit to themselves are depressing and, frankly, anti-Darwinian the whole thing is starting to feel a bit like a chaperoned picnic. I'm glad we're staying home in 2000, and I can't say my wife and I will want to bring our son out there in another few years if it's going to cost us $200 a head.

Bottom line: What a great, preposterous, holy mess of an idea. Thank god someone thought of it. Too bad this thing has gotten too big for its britches.

One last thing, though. I miss cruising across the faceless surface of the desert to that "hidden," wide open, middle-of-nowhere playa site the first year I attended. The semi-permanent site now in the crook of Gerlach's armpit is almost meaningless, geographically speaking. There is little sacred grandeur to it, and no frisson of danger in that you can always hop on a bike and ride into town for ice, water or whatever other comestible you were stupid enough to forget. It's no more adventurous than camping in your backyard with a Halloween mask on.



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