The Burner Diaries is probably going to be my favorite series of posts I ever create. I get to talk to beautiful souls and find out new ideas, bewilderments, and aspects of Burning Man that I never would have known from reading about it online. Since Burning Man is located in Reno’s backyard, the presence is immense and the culture spreads throughout the city like wildfire. We have many events, shops, and buildings centered around Burning Man. Stepping outside during the week leading up to Burning Man, you will see mutant vehicles, art cars, and free spirits parading around the city. It is a magical time in Reno. Thank you to the people that let me talk to them!
Burning Man: 6 years
How did it change from 2008 to now?
“Well first off, it tripled in numbers. We had 25,000 people in 2008, we have 73,000 now give or take. Not including the people that sneak in.”
Is it easy to sneak in?
“No, people die trying. They get snuck in through coolers and suffocate. Sometimes they go in boxed trucks and get heat stroke and die. Sometimes they try to cross the desert at night in which case they die. There’s a lot of ways to die out there.”
What is your favorite part of Burning Man?
“The people. If you go to any other festivals, you go there to watch somebody on a stage be a star. At Burning Man, you radically self-express; therefore, you yourself get to be the star. Sometimes for actual stars, which is kinda fun. I partied with P Diddy a couple times and danced with Justin Beiber last year. Much cuter in person, it’s kind of freaky. He is almost too hot to function.”
How do the performances work?
“It’s not Burning Man that has them perform. It is more so a random theme camp that will hire people to perform, or the artist will donate their time and perform. There’s not one central stage. There’s about 1,500 stages at any given time. It doesn’t matter what direction you point yourself out there. It’s fun sometimes to close your eyes, spin around a few times until you’re dizzy, stop, and then head toward that light in front of you and no matter where you end up, it will be interesting.”
What tips would you give to a virgin burner?
“Good advice… say YES, bring compression shorts or spandex, don’t go naked, and never go barefoot even though you will see a bunch of idiot hippies going barefoot. They’re all like “the playa doesn’t effect me.” That’s not true. I’ve had cracks in my feet that have lasted seven months from being barefoot for only ten minutes. Good comfortable boots. Cushe brand is one of my favorites. They are like $45 for off season ones, totally good, totally comfortable, and they are awesome for all festivals. Danceable and walkable. Definitely bring a bike. Although, if you are trying to go out and be social, walk. You will meet more people that way. When you are on a bike, you are just zipping by people and don’t really get a chance to know anybody or talk.It’s the size of San Francisco, so it is quite a walk.”
“Memorize the survival guide, that doesn’t mean read it, that means memorize it. It ain’t no joke and it ain’t hardly fucking around at all. You are in a place that is trying to kill you. When it comes to the gifty gifty thing. Yeah, candy and toys are cute but things that help people survive or be more comfortable out there are a little better. For instance, if you are a massage therapist, bring your bed, and offer rangers, who get very little in exchange for their service, massages. If you are a pedicurist, offer to do foot-fluffing for rangers who are on their feet all the time. Anything that helps people feel more comfortable.”
What is the best gift you have gotten?
“The best gift I’ve ever had was this one guy that came up to me a few years ago looking for his soulmate.* His soulmate was one of my campmates, so he comes to our camp in the heat of the day. It’s like 103 degrees out and he’s wearing this big, thick fur coat, yet he wasn’t sweating. In fact, he was shivering and had a hat on. I asked, “how are you not sweating your face off?” He opens up his coat, and it’s a refrigerator. It has a bunch of popsicles lined inside the coat, all different flavors and brands. He designed the coat himself, and it had a refrigeration compressor in the back that was solar chargeable. It was great even though he can’t really hand them out at night. It wouldn’t be as impressive, and he would freeze to death.”
What was a moment, in all 6 years, that will stick with you forever?
“On Wednesday of my virgin burn in 2008, I was given 5 hits of acid and was holding on to it for a couple of days, but nobody wanted to share with me because nobody wanted to hang out. The people I was camping with were very cool, but they were a new couple so I never saw them. It was just the three of us at camp, so I went out alone like I always did. Around 5pm, I walked out to the airport and watched the planes take off. I thought to myself, fuck I should do something tonight, so I went into a port-a-potty and dropped my 5 hits. When I came out, there was this guy in a full flight suit with the whole front harness for tandem jumping strapped on, kicking up dust, swearing up a storm, and pounding at the fence. I go up to him and am like “man, whats the matter?” Keep in mind, this has been less than 30 seconds since I dropped. He tells me about this girl that was supposed to go up with him and how she totally pussied out and they were going to go on the next flight up and it’s only tandem jumps. Bare in mind, they don’t do tandem jumps anymore so I got lucky. I immediatly said “pshh, I’ll do it!” We ran to the gate and he’s briefing me that we would be down on the ground in the next 25 minutes so I’m thinking I have 45 minutes to an hour before this acid starts kicking in. It is going to be awesome and a great way to start my night. The sun was getting ready to set, the colors were very nice and very orange, and the LED lights were just starting to peak through the shadows. I’m strapped to the front of this guy and we got triple checked, we’re good to go. All he tells me to do is lift up my legs and if my chute fails, he’ll pull one too. We get in the plane and taxi up to the runway. There’s two planes in front of us. The first one goes, no problem. The second one heads up to the runway and a dust storm hits. Now, 2008 was a bad year for dust storms. We wait it out, 25 minutes go by, and I’m like oh my god. It clears up and the next plane goes. At this point, I’m at about 28/29 minutes from the time I dropped. Not freaking out yet because I still got 15 minutes and this happens pretty fast. I’ve never done anything like this before, but I am using my own advice and saying yes to everything. Absolutely yes. So, we get to the end of the runway and BAM another dust storm hits. This one lasted about 15 minutes and now there is a disco going on in my brain. I’m holding on to both handles of each side of the door with white knuckles. We get up to height, and my brain is just having a fucking party. FUCK. The door opens and the guy goes “okay, on the count of three! 1..” and I yanked us out. I hear him behind me say “okay?” and I scream “I’M ON ACID!” and all he says is “oh shit…” He didn’t say a word the rest of the fall until he tells me to pull my chute. Everything went well, the landing was nice, and the view was stunning. The whole thing was sort of waving, the art cars were swirling, and the lights peaking through the shadows were gorgeous. I will never ever skydive again because it will never be that beautiful. We get down, he unstraps me with balled up fists, and just giving me the stank eye. He’s like “I don’t know whether to hug you or punch you in the face.” C’MONNNNNN so we hugged, he gave me an airport patch, and we went our separate ways. I’ve never seen him since. By the way, you should not jump out of a plane on acid, god forbid I had a heart attack.”
What has been the most intense moment?
“On that Monday in 2008, there was an 18 hour dust storm. I kind of thought that’s just the way it is there like it was normal. I mean they said it would be dusty. The most intense moment happened during this storm. Our carport lifted, rolled off, and broke one of the neighbor’s car windshields. It ripped out 6 inch stakes. That was the most harrowing because if that thing hit me wrong, I would be dead. Actually, that was the year I almost died more times than ever. During your first year, you are bound to almost die a couple times. But don’t worry, the average is less than 1 person that die each year. It becomes the third largest city in Nevada for one week. Look at any other cities death tolls for one week, and it will never be that low.”
How do you pick who you go with, does the type of person matter?
“One in twenty virgins that goes doesn’t bother reading anything and absolutely hates it. You want to bring your open-minded friends. Whenever there’s a group of three friends, there’s always the smart one, the ho, and the bitch. Think of Charlie’s Angels. Don’t bring the bitch, you know who that is. She is going to complain about everything, she is going to be a princess, and you’re going to hate it.”
“Also, Burning Man is seven different festivals. There’s the pre-burn, the event, and the post-burn, then there’s day and night, and then there’s early event (Mon-Wed) and late event (Wed-Sun). The pre-burn has totally different vibes than event, which has two vibes – day and night. If you split your body into the four elements: your mind, your body, your spirit, and your heart. The daytime is for your mind and your spirit, and the nighttime is for your body and your heart. I’m a body and heart kinda guy. I go out at night and dance and make a fool out of myself on mind altering substances.”
“Don’t try to make any plans. Don’t read the what, when, and where guide. Don’t even bother. You are going to show up to the burn and the temple. Do not skip temple. Also, post-playa depression is a thing, so you want to take some time to decompress. You are going to want to use that inspiration that you got the past week and start writing what you want to do for the next year. That’s how you avoid post-playa depression. Have dinner with burners because no one else can relate. Keep your burners close because they are the only ones that know what you are talking about. Have a good time. It’s unavoidable, unless you are the bitch. You can be the smart one or the ho and still have a great time, or you can be the smart ho. That’s me. I’m also kind of bitchy sometimes… I’m all the Charlie’s Angels. Of course, what happens on the playa stays on the playa and try to be single when you go. For the love of god, be single when you go. There’s nothing worse than being in a relationship on the playa. “You don’t lose your girlfriend on the playa, you just lose your turn.” It’s true. The two years I brought my partner to the playa was a nightmare. I was babysitting the whole time and he would break up with me to go sleep with someone else on the playa.”
**Soulmate: An affiliate of Costco, they aren’t selling anything but for the price of one (which is free) you get two soulmates. You get a sheet of somebody else who you have to go out and find, then somebody else the next day gets your sheet and they have to find you. Good way to make new friends, sometimes more than friends.