I depart tomorrow on the long drive over the mountains into the desert of Burning Man for my fifteenth visit and perhaps my last. For the first time in four years, I travel alone and on my own schedule. I leave San Francisco tomorrow morning after rush-hour traffic wanes, will stop for lunch in Reno, and hope to land on the Playa a few hours before the sun sets so I can pound rebar and set up home before the owls come and I lose natural light.
I decadently take off today, the day before my departure, so I can stuff the two-tone Toyota with bins, mats, water, batteries, faux fur, beer, and a megaphone. I wash the car windows, add another quart of oil, sweep the driveway, and hope for a safe but slow journey tomorrow up the Sierra Mountains into Nevada.
I camp this year for the third time in a row with the 80-odd crew of BAAAHs, located at the intersections of 7:00 and E streets. For three days before the event gates open to the public, I’m helping install light tubes in the exterior panels of a sheep the size of school bus so it can drive well lit at night. Our small kitchen pod has shrunk this year to just myself, John Major, and a new one: Javi, to whom I promised not to roar too much.
Many of my former compatriots take this year off from Burning Man instead to travel, move house, or change jobs. Many of us need a break from the dust, lights, madness, and expense of the event. Although I won’t be surrounded by close friends, I am free this year to wander, reflect, cavort, even sleep when I want.
I’m apprehensive about my upcoming week on the Playa for I fear darkness and loneliness, especially in the midst of an event billed as happy and social. Mid-August, I’m single, employed, and yet in search of purpose and the new. I’m hoping at Burning Man to confront and accept my loneliness and listen to what the Playa encourages me to try next.
I’m bringing with me more art than I have ever brought before: three Roses to light the courtyard of Comfort & Joy and six Triangles to illuminate BAAAHs’s shared spaces. I scramble to find two computers and parts to power these installations, yet maintenance of this art may give me purpose (as well as frustration) during the week. I designed washable and replaceable covers, but let’s hope the electronics and structures do not get munched in transit by the metallic sheep.
This week shall be a victory lap of sorts. I can amortize one last time all the gear I have bought or made over the years: a quonset hut with carpet, tent, cot, even an old car. I want to reconnect with old friends from Boston and New York and get to know some new friends from San Francisco. I’ve already set up some meetings for nighttime wanders of wisdom.
I’d like to avoid much of the craziness and hangovers of past visits. It is okay to go to bed early! I need not see everything.
This week is also an opportunity to say goodbye to the desert. I have learned so much from you, Burning Man, but as I age and temper, my energies turn towards other events, projects, and people more intimate and closer to home. As one ruefully joked, “When did Burning Man turn into Coachella?” Let the young explore, grow, and contribute to this amazing cacophony as I did twenty years ago.