Poker Like a Rockstar … Burning Man 2014

Antonio’s annual quest for dirty love

antonio and friends at Burning Man

I’ve been a “burner” going on four years. It’s one week a year; one week that I that I can’t stop talking about for the remaining 51 weeks, each year outshining the last. This year was exceptional. I did it all: explored, loved, laughed loud, and best of all, cried. I cried hard, cried sad, cried happy and cried often. I went full throttle this year and got the full experience.

What is Burning Man? Burning Man is many things: it’s an idea, a city, a festival, a utopian community set to the backdrop of a psychedelic Daliesque desert nowhere. The Black Rock Desert, a perfect canvas for the myriad of mind-expanding artistic expressions that it houses. Burning Man is what the world would be like if we could start with a clean slate and create a society where all humans were treated as ends in themselves, free to take their creativity in every direction. Squeeze-in sublime sunrises and sunsets, gladiatorial Mad Max Thunderdome battles to lust-filled orgy domes, full-blown dance clubs with headliner DJs and jaw-dropping lasers and pyrotechnics, restaurants, monumental temples, bars, yoga classes, lectures, even civic institutions like hospitals and post offices to name a few. How is all this manifested? Ten simple principles oozed by all the attendees:

  • Radical Inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical Self-reliance
  • Radical Self-expression
  • Communal Effort
  • Civic Responsibility
  • Leaving No Trace
  • Participation
  • Immediacy

I could write a manifesto explaining them all, so I won’t spend time on them aside from the one I believe helps set the tone for the whole burn: Gifting.

Aside from RV servicing and ice/coffee at the main camp whose proceeds get donated, currency and capitalism is almost non-existent at Burning Man. It’s communal living in action; everything is provided FOR the community BY the community. Although this would have made Karl Marx proud, the impetus of this is not the rise of the working class, but the power of love. Objects were not worshiped but given freely, and strangely, the only thing that mattered was the happiness of others. Naturally, some give more than others. The first year I attended, I took more than gave. I was bitten by the love bug, and all I wanted to do was to give back to this rare, beautiful gem of human potential. Every following year, I didn’t make the same mistake: I gave much more than I took, and it felt great. I can’t imagine why someone would do otherwise. Burning Man is NOT a vacation. It’s hard work — a labor of love; people come back, year-after-year, enduring the sweltering desert heat, the freezing nights, inhaling and getting caked-on with that playa dust for what? To witness human potential, our potential. Kindness is everywhere, inspiring us to pass it forward.

Is it like this for the 70,000 that attend? Yes, with the standard deviation of only a handful of a few confused bad apples. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you want to just camp, go somewhere more hospitable; if you want to party, just go to Vegas. To many that are not in attendance, Burning Man is just a place to take drugs and get naked. But to those in attendance, it’s a place where you can be who you want to be and do what you want to do, without judgment, a beautiful opportunity for freedom. It has a habit of unleashing latent creativity, unlocking the love bottled-up in everyone. For example, our camp has grown from just four of us four years ago to 60+ this year. I believe that out of the 40 or so virgins we had this year that 37 of them said it was the best experience of their life. That is pretty strong.

You get Dirty

Burning Man is not for the anal retentive clean freak. You are going to get filthy. My advice: just let go. Some can’t handle it and can’t stay for more than a few days. I am a full eight day kinda guy. Every year, I fly into Reno with a few of my campmates on Saturday, and drive the RV 10 hours the following day, when the gates officially open. Waiting there in line every year, I wonder why I don’t just fly right in as I wait. Yes, you can fly RIGHT into the temporary Burning Man “airport.” And every year, after the burn is over, I realize why I endure the wait: the camaraderie.

You see, we all suffer together. It results in the kind of bond the Vietnam vets experienced as a result of their joint suffering. As with a soldier, you would never desert a fellow burner. It’s all for one, and one for all, all day, every day. One day the toilet got clogged in the RV resulting in a putrid stench permeating the air, day-in and day-out. To make things worse, the AC conked-out on us and, over the next few days, the carpet within the RV chemically bonded with the playa dust (the dirt in the desert that has a tendency of electroplating everything you own.) Our RV made a pig sty look antiseptic. It was miserable. At one point, in abject disgust and desperation, in front of my RV mates Jason Koon, Jeff Gross, and John Tabatabai, I got on all fours and started wiping the bathroom floor with a Clorox disinfecting wipe. John went apeshit and started cackling. Never in his in his wildest dreams would he have imagined seeing me scrubbing the floors of a shit-infested RV. The end of the burn turned our war stories into good memories.

With all that, it’s so fucking awesome. I can confidently say that this year’s Burning Man is the overall No. 1 experience I have ever had. Before that, last year’s. Take my advice — GET YOURSELF there, buy your tickets now, be open to it, let it go and be prepared to become a better person.

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October 2014