Burning Man: 15 years
What is it like being a Ranger?
“Rangers are the nonviolent mediators between participators of the event and law enforcement. We joke around and say ‘Rangers are there because your mom’s not… but we’re not your mom,’ ‘Making excuses for your behavior since 1992,’ and ‘We stay sober, so you don’t have to.’ I make it a point to always ranger in my pink tutu because if I have to interact with law enforcement… I dare them to take me seriously.”
“As a Ranger, we see the best and worst of how human beings treat each other. There’s been times I’ve seen heinously bad parenting and parents didn’t lose their children when they probably should have. You don’t really know how to feel about those situations. Domestic violence happens and those things are hard to deal with. However, you also see amazing acts of kindness. One time I went to the playa early for pre-build, and my husband was coming afterwards. He ended up totaling our motorhome on the way out to the playa. My campmate pulled me from my shift and was like you need to come back to HQ right now. You know tangentially you have a family filled with burners, but these people went above and beyond and helped us because we had nothing. Other participants were figuring out how to make their glitter stay on their wand while I was on Highway 447 picking my shit off the ground and putting it into bins. Within an hour of us getting back to playa, we had two shade structures, the nicest tent we have ever seen, air mattresses, new furniture, and more food than we could have ever eaten. People just gifted and gifted. It was so heart warming and such an amazing act of community. Everything we did that particular year was a gift because we weren’t dead so let’s party.”
How do you become a Ranger?
“It’s a process to become a Ranger, and you have to go through training first. We had a training here in early June. Your first year as a Ranger, you have to go through the ‘Mentoring Process.’ It’s where you go out with two experienced Rangers, and they put you in ranger-type situations and see how you do. Then they bring you back to Ranger Headquarters and have a pow-wow in which your two mentors talk about you and whether or not they think you would make a good Ranger. They tell you if you made it or they will let you down with loving intentions by saying ‘you have many wonderful gifts and we think it would be great if you shared those gifts in a different department.’ The only day shift I ever did in my entire life was my mentorship. You’re out in the hot sun dealing with bitchy people and their problems. Some people make it two hours into a mentor shift and go “uh, no, this is not for me.” It’s better to know that than to count on them later as a resource. Currently, there are over 1,200 active Rangers. 10 or 12 years ago, I knew every Ranger, but that is just impossible now. When there were only a few hundred, it was easy to know everybody.”
How long have you been a ranger?
“I went in 2001 for my first burn, so this will be 15th year participating and 13 as a Ranger. Actually, statistically speaking, most burners get involved in volunteering and giving back to the community on their third year. Their first year, they tend to be really overwhelmed and have no frame of reference for the burn, so they go out there like “HOLY FUCK BALLS, SHIT, WOAH, AWESOME!” The second year is either more awesome or completely disappointing, so the third year is the year that you become comfortable and say “Okay. I got this. Okay!”
“Volunteerism comes in so many different forms because there’s people who don’t volunteer with a Burning Man department but they have been working at district for ten years. That in itself, holy shit. District is a daytime dance camp which is really awesome if you can stand the evil day star. There’s beautiful, naked, sweaty, awesome people dancing and getting their groove on, but for those of us loathing the day star, it’s just ew. I’m a vampire burner. If I had my ideal Ranger shift, it would be 8pm-4am… so I made that shift.”
What’s the Sanctuary?
“The Sanctuary is where people who are not sharing our same reality and are having a very hard time dealing with the reality in which they have found themselves go to sleep things off until they are feeling better about the reality in which they find themselves.”
“Basically there’s an entire arm of psychology for people who take hallucinogens called Harm Reduction. In the 60’s with the old hippies and that kind of stuff, people would take acid and jump off bridges. It’s actually kind of funny because now there’s an entire subculture around Harm Reduction which is actually really good because the drugs we do now are way more powerful. When LSD came into being, nobody knew how to deal with it, so some of these people did really serious damage to their psyche. You can read about Brian Wilson and others who made a mark in their brain. Now, Harm Reduction is about bringing people back from those places so they don’t have permanently damage their brains when taking hallucinogens.”
What advice would you give to a virgin burner?
“Go with no expectations. Expectations are how you become disappointed. Know anything you set out to find at Burning Man, you will find it. The first time I took hallucinogens, somebody said to me “if you take this, think happy thoughts.” Don’t take it if you are feeling insecure or ugly because it will lead to a bad trip. I think Burning Man is kind of the same way; if the last thing you read was this article about rape on the playa, you could possibly experience that on the playa”
Anything else you would like to share?
“I truly believe that everybody that lives in Northern Nevada should attend Burning Man at least once. If you consider it, there’s 50,000 people per year for 20 years, that’s still maybe a couple million people that will ever experience this temporary community that is happening in the Nevada desert. Also, it will probably be something stupid that makes Burning Man go away forever. If one day there’s no longer a Burning Man, how would somebody that was in Burning Man’s backdoor ever forgive themselves for not taking the opportunity to experience it?”
“People ask me all the time to describe Burning Man, and they always ask me what my favorite year was and they are all my favorite years because that’s like saying which one of your kids do you love more? The way I describe Burning Man is that it is the entire rise and fall of human civilization packed into seven days. When it starts, it’s very tribal and animalistic and everyone is super close and it’s tight knit. Then it builds and builds and as it is building you get more people and more infrastructure and more rules, and then you have this big cataclysmic orgasm that takes place on Saturday night. Then it returns to it’s origins.”
“There’s so much silly stuff that happens like you ask how the fuck does that come out of someone’s head? Even the way people interact is amazing. One year there was this art piece with these giant boulders that swung back and forth. We would joke and call it the ‘Hippie Smasher’ because you knew people would be rolling ankles and hurting themselves. Other people built a giant slide out of plywood and astroturf, and I couldn’t tell you the pounds of ass meat that probably got on that. They would slide down this astroturf in 100° weather and I had to call medical countless times because people had no more skin on their ass! It’s insane!”
Be extra nice to your Rangers. They are there to help your experience that much better, and they do that out of the kindest of their heart! Hug your Rangers, dance with a Ranger, give them nice gifts because remember… they are experiencing Burning Man too!