Our bedroom is nothing like any of the seven different rooms we’ve stayed in at the Sands Regency in Reno since 2011 but I woke up certain that that’s where I was this morning. It was confusing.
It’s been a very confusing year.
Although the Burning Man Organization officially canceled the 2020 event in April, somehow that hadn’t gotten real to me until now. In past years, a crew was out on the enormous flatness of the Black Rock Desert at the end of July to drive the gold spike which indicated where The Man would stand. By now, preparations would be in high gear out there and all around the world as 70,000 giddy ticket-holders hauled out the dusty gear and got serious about that art installation or painting or whatever gift was to be made and brought this year.
The theme this year had already been selected before the cancelation: the Multiverse. From the Burning Man website:
The 2020 Black Rock City event theme explores the quantum kaleidoscope of possibility, the infinite realities of the multiverse, and our own superpositioning as actors and observers in the cosmic Cacophony of resonant strings. It’s an invitation to ponder the real, the surreal and the pataphysical, and a chance to encounter our alternate selves who may have followed, or are following, or will follow different decision-paths to divergent Black Rock City realities. Welcome to the Multiverse!
Naturally, there will be a Virtual Burning Man online and I suppose there are a lot of people who will log in for that. Meh. I checked it out and all those computer graphics and virtual environments were phony-looking and boring.
And what about that smell?
The Black Rock Desert isn’t really a desert. It’s a dried-out lakebed. In the Pleistocene era, it was a real lake. Now it’s an enormous alkaline flat and the minute your vehicle leaves the road and that white, powdery dust rises there’s an unmistakable smell. If I were to go unpack some of the gear stowed in our suitcases there would be some of that dust lingering. And the smell. Oh, man, that smell!
See, now that it’s the middle of August everything sends me into weird Burning Man vibes. The dreams are back, the ones where I know I’m at the Burn but it doesn’t make any sense because there are cabins and trees and streets. But I know this is Burning Man, I just need to get to where the “real” Burning Man things are happening. Ask me if I ever manage to do that.
And now I’m waking up thinking I’m in Reno.
We store our tent, bikes, and all the other major gear in Sacramento — which is actually closer to the Black Rock Desert than San Francisco, go figure — and pick up our U-Haul there. Then we drive to Reno and that’s when the charge begins to build.
For about a month now my partner and I have both been goosed by these intense little vibes associated with Burning Man. I’ll experience phantom smells or just have a sense of something Big and Wonderful approaching. Or, conversely, the old panic arises when I realize that in less than two weeks we leave for Sacramento! Oh shit!!
I will always cop to having a complicated relationship with Burning Man. There is so much hype around the event, a chorus of voices proclaiming massive life realignments in four-part harmony. That has not been my experience.
Moreover, Burning Man isn’t what you’d call a relaxing summer vacation. The litany of frustrations and pains and things that just suck is long and boring. Who cares about nasty porta-potties or freezing nights in a tent or sitting in completely stopped traffic miles from the event? The people who are determined to go are going to roll with this crap and everyone else is going to count themselves to be intelligent, well-adjusted people for not going.
My annual cycle regarding this madness.
During the usual 4 to 8 hours of Exodus, I hate everything about Burning Man. I’m probably sunburned, I’ve got dust in places where dust really should never be, I’m certainly dehydrated and seven days of serious carb-gorging has my system in an uproar. I think I’ll feel better if we ever get back onto the actual road and out of this dusty, rutted wilderness. I do, a little, but then the drive back to Reno seems to take days. I don’t start to come out of my dull misery until I get into the shower at the Sands Regency in Reno.
Of course, then there’s everything that has to be done before we can get on an eastbound jet. Gear has to be cleaned and repacked. Bedding and towels have to be laundered and repacked. The truck has to be emptied and cleaned. All that gear needs to be wedged back into the shared storage space (the world’s biggest game of Tetris anyone?). The truck has to be returned as we hold our breath, hoping they don’t notice those new dents from flying gravel on the passenger-side door. Then up at o’dark thirty just 2 days off-playa to submit to the security screening that precedes getting on the damned jet for home. At this point, my partner wisely refrains from asking if I’m up for going next year.
The process at this end of going back through everything in two giant suitcases and two carry-ons, cleaning it all, sorting it all, packing it all away again — as well as doing eight to ten loads of laundry — masks the inevitable let-down of returning to a wholly non-transformed world.
From September until, say, January I’m not particularly interested in thinking about Burning Man.
Then in the winter, strangely enough, I begin to thaw. I’ll find myself going back through the hundreds of photos. My partner always gets the thankless job of sorting, organizing, labeling, and saving all those images. It can take weeks. Then he goes the extra mile and weaves the various videos into one highlight reel with music and captions.
In years past ticket sales can start as early as February and, because we camp with a long-established theme camp with a great reputation for cleaning up after itself and being super inclusive and fun, we’re included in the Direct to Camp sales. Meaning we’re with the cool kids and don’t have to worry about whether we’ll get tickets or not. We’re in.
And, generally speaking, by the time my partner hits the “buy” selection for our two tickets and the vehicle pass required to get our U-Haul onto the playa, I’m beginning to come around.
Ambivalent, yes. Sad? That, too.
By this time each year, I’m starting to ping-pong between dread and excitement. My partner will have gotten his annual photomontage printed and shipped out to Sacramento, ready to go up in Center Camp the day we arrive. I’ll have completed whatever little story I’ve written and we will have collated, folded, and stapled about 500 copies of it to be gifted at the event. Outfits will have been tried on and either stacked for packing or discarded, usually because they’re finally too shredded to be worn again.
And this year, none of that is happening.
We may know that in the front of our heads, but our lizard brains are just starting to kick into gear. This means that at any moment of the day or night one of us will have an inexplicable moment of time/location travel. We’ll smell things that aren’t there. We’ll feel things that aren’t happening. We’ll reach for something that doesn’t exist. These are just going to get more intense and frequent in the coming weeks.
What the hell are we going to do with ourselves during the week of the non-existent Burn? It’s not as if we can build something to blow up out at the intersection of Lenox and West 112th Street (although some of the neighbors would be on board for that).
I suppose we’ll make our own double-malt chocolate milkshakes and pretend we’re at Mel’s in Reno. We’ll Zoom with friends we only see out west during this event. We’ll watch our old videos and slide shows of the now-thousands of photos we’ve taken over the years. Other substances might be called for.
And we’ll save up our money in hopes of being out there with our friends in 2021. Given that my cycle has been so thoroughly disrupted, I can only imagine what levels of out-of-my head anticipation/dread/excitement I’ll be experiencing next year at this time.
For now, I guess I’ll just have to settle for hot showers, a comfortable bed, and a flush toilet. I can do that.
© Remington Write 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Something my partner, AleXander, wrote last year around this time: