Burning Man Table of Contents
A Dork's Guide to Surviving Burning Man
Courtesy of Brian
Brian posted this to an email list in response to a request from someone who had not yet been to Burning Man but who had his ticket and wanted more information. We asked for permission to post it to our Web site, as we think it is one of the best guides we've seen. -The Civilized Explorer
The guides on the Burningman site only tell you so much. They're mostly
about keeping you physically comfortable and perhaps save a few bucks
because you bought the appropriate gear. Sure, it's hot and there's no
running water, but it ain't Mars. You aren't going to die because you
didn't follow the survival guide to the letter. You'll only die from
being unusually stupid or unlucky. The drive up is probably more dangerous
than the event itself. The guides don't really tell you what it's actually
like to be there. Granted, it's a different experience for everyone and
difficult to put into words, but here's something I typed up during a
particularly boring day at work. One of these days it may end up on a
webpage if I ever get around to taking out the typos and grossly
inaccurate information. [We have not done any editing. -The Civilized
There's already a number of great guides out there covering the practical
matters of getting your ass out to the desert and not dying while there.
All important stuff, to be sure, but it's already covered. Bring lots of
water, wash your feet with vinnegar, drive carefully, blah blah blah. What
about social survival? I didn't go to the event in 1999 and 2000 because I
didn't think I would fit in. I don't really fit in anywhere, but it seemed
more extreme in an environment filled with people into the underground art
scene, performers, and flamboyant people of all types. People who I like
being around but have very little in common with. I'd never even spoken to
anyone who had gone to the event before, all I knew about it was what I saw
on their website. It's all a little intimidating.
I took the leap and went in 2001. To my surprise, nobody seemed to care
that I wasn't one of "the cool people" and that I didn't quite look the
part. They simply seemed anxious to interact with as many friendly people
as possible. That being said, there IS some hostility towards certain types
of people so you should do your best to not look like one of them.
Yahoos: Those who come to the event thinking it will be a cross between a
tailgate party and a Girls Gone Wild video. They just want to drink beer,
see some naked chicks and make fun of all the weird people. They typically
only attend the final weekend of the event.
Tourists: Those who make little effort to interact with anything going on at
the event or contribute anything. They are often seen spending most of
their time in an RV, with occasional trips to the "big" pieces of art
located between center camp and the man. They dress the same as they would
staying at a roadside campground anywhere else in the country. They look at
the weird stuff, take pictures, then go back to the safe air-conditioned
environment of their RV. They are considered to be slightly less evil than
the Yahoos, but are still not exactly appreciated.
What NOT to bring with you:
- Clothing with corporate logos of any sort. I don't care how "cool" the
product you're advertising is or how funny the tag line, it won't go over
well. Leave the Raiders jacket, Nike hat, and Gap t-shirt at home.
Don't bring an RV unless you have a medical problem that necessitates it.
If you're 6 months pregnant or 80 years old, the RV is ok. If you're 25 and
the picture of perfect health, you can stand to be a little uncomfortable
for a week. That which does not kill you, blah blah blah.
- Don't bring anything that you can't bare to lose. I've never had anything
stolen, but it does happen and things get ruined by the dust. Don't bring
the nice stereo and $2000 laptop. Print out the info you need and buy a
clunker stereo that you would have no qualms about throwing away when you
get home. Leave the expensive camera at home unless you're prepared to
carefully shield it from the dust and possibly pay to have it professionally
cleaned when you get home.
What to bring:
- Weird clothes. Hit Goodwill and garage sales, pick up the weirdest most
colorful stuff that you can. If you're a woman, bring clothes that don't
completely cover you, even if you have a body that's far from being perfect.
Nobody will care. If you're a guy, bring a skirt of some sort. Sarongs
are very comfortable, practical, and stylish out on the Playa. The rules
out there are the reverse what they are anywhere else. People will look at
you funny for wearing khakis and a polo shirt. Nobody looks twice at the
300 pound man wearing only a bra or a woman wearing a dress made out of a
shower curtain and an EL-wire hat.
- A decorated bike. Buy a couple strings of EL-wire, some paint, and old
bike, and go to town. You don't want to mess up your nice bike by bringing
it out on the Playa anyway.
- Camp decorations. Anything big, colorful, and preferably lit up will do.
Build something out of scrap wood and PVC. The name of the game at
Burningman: make it big, don't worry about making it look slick. Just make
sure it's solid enough to survive extreme winds without part of all of it
How to act once you're there:
- Talk to everyone. Introduce yourself. Complement their costume or
artwork. I don't care how much of a dork you are, if you tell someone you
love the silly hat they spent 2 hours creating you'll make their day. Even
if you do bomb completely, who cares? You probably won't ever see that
person again and if you do, there's so many distractions it won't even
register. If you can't think of anything else to say, the standard "Is this
your first Burningman?" or "What project are you working on this year?" is
usually sufficient to start a conversation on good terms.
- Don't go nuts when you see someone naked or anything else out of the
ordinary. You'll look like an idiot.
- If you see someone building something big, offer to lend a hand. If their
bike is running ragged, offer some WD-40 to clear up the chain or help patch
- Do as much wandering as possible. They hand you a guide and sometimes a
treasure hunt type of deal that tries to get you to visit the big, official
art like the Man, the Mosoleum, and whatever other big stuff is in the
center area. They sell coffee and provide some services around Center Camp
to get you to spend time there. Go ahead and visit those things because
they are indeed cool, but don't fall into the trap of ONLY visiting those
things! There's just SO MUCH out there to see! My block last year had a
movie theater, roller coaster, a performance area with fire dancers, etc but
most people I talked to after the event didn't notice them because we
weren't on the center ring.
- Don't ask people too much about their normal life outside the Playa. If
it comes up in conversation, fine, but Burningman is the chance to forget
everything else in your life and be a part of something completely different
for a week. Don't ruin it by reminding them about all the crap they'll have
to catch up on when they get back to work/school/unemployment.
What to do well before you head up:
- Find a group that's putting together something for their camp and offer to
help out. Be prepared to work your butt off helping them build and
transport whatever the hell it is they're making. Ask around on one of the
mailing lists, craigslist, etc to find one. This will get you a camp to
stay with full of experienced burners, it gives you something to be a part
of at the event, and gives you something cool to tell people when they ask
you what project you're working on! Having to tell people you don't have a
project is rather unseemly. Also, having people to camp with is a huge
plus. They'll probably have some sort of shade structure and you can hang
out with people while you spend the afternoon melting in the heat.
- Plan on heading up to the event as early as possible. Some people think
that it's safer to just go up for the final weekend when things kick into
high gear. That's fine if you're into crowded raves and brief camping
trips, but Burningman is about the shared struggle to deal with the
environment while creating something for all to enjoy. By the last weekend,
those who put all of the wonderful stuff together are tired and some get
bitter about fresh faced newbies who come in at the last monent without
bringing anything new to the mix. Others start getting uptight. Get there
early when spirits are high and things are coming together. You'll see a
city unlike anywhere else in the world being built before your eyes then
torn down completely a week later. If you find that you don't like it, you
can always leave early.
Copyright 2003 Brian. All rights reserved.
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