Caviar is forked into my mouth. Champagne is poured down my back. Someone passes me a joint lit from the flame of an antique candelabra. I’m wearing a cheetah print bodysuit and more accessories than I usually put on in a month. A live violinist plays along with a DJ spinning deep jungle house. Persian rugs. Velvet tapestries. This is hedonistic, Bedouin bourgeoisie. And like all parties in this city, there’s no cover charge, no VIP list, and everything is free.
Sexy people surround me. A guy whispers in a Scottish accent, “You are what you are seeking,” kisses me, and dances away. A bombshell in a lace gown leans over the table. A sculpted man in a wolf mask lifts her dress and licks caviar off her ass. It’s erotic and gross and weird and amazing. It’s Burning Man.
Fast-forward a few hours. I’ve flirted my way to a sleeping situation upgrade. My minivan has been traded for a real bed in a carport. My host is kind and nurturing, exactly what I need for day three on the playa. The only qualm – he’s camped far from the port-a-potties. Good festival real estate is near the toilets, but not so close you can smell the smells. My host offers me a bucket to pee in. I go with it. I came here to push boundaries, right? He says he’ll throw out the bucket in the morning. I insist it gets taken care of right then. I can’t sleep next to my pee. A girl has limits, you know?
I wake up at dawn. Something’s not right. I remove my earplugs, scramble across the carport, find my bucket. I puke. Perhaps caviar in the desert wasn’t the best idea. My thoughts – “This is so real right now. This is so humbling. I’m so glad we emptied the bucket.” I wonder if somewhere across Black Rock City, the babe in the lace gown and her wolf man are caviar puking too?
Burning Man is an experience best told in anecdotes. I led with the sexy story because that’s what you came for, right? You want to read about the debauchery, the absurdity, the descriptions of tech billionaires and celebrities “ruining” the Burn and everything it stands for.
Well fuck that.
Burning Man can’t be ruined, nor can it stay “the way it was.” That’s the whole point. It’s a meditation on impermanence. Every year it’s literally burned to the ground. It’s also a social experiment, a microcosm of real life. In the default world there are the wealthy who sequester themselves in material comforts. There are the citizens who build the community, rebar by rebar. The spiritual breakthroughs come when you’re at your lowest, peddling through a dust storm, exhausted beyond all reason, trying to find your friends, depressed because everyone seems to be having fun and all you want is a shower and a nap.
Each year at the Burn, there are endless stories told of people looking out for one another by sharing water, lights, a hug. Stories of the volunteers who deal with the city’s roads, toilets, safety. The same stuff we overlook in daily life, in favor of sensationalism. As the internet floods with post Burning Man articles, I’m saddened by the experience being described flippantly as a bunch of people looking to “connect.” Who the fuck snarks on connection? Since when is that a bad thing?
In a perfect world, I’d be able to write about the small miracles that make Burning Man one of the most magical places on earth. But perhaps the easiest way to describe the indescribable is to simply recount my experience… and tell the story of “El Guaco.”