The Burning Man in your Neighbor’s Backyard

The Burning Man in your Neighbors Backyard, an M-pyre love story… 2009

You may have heard of Burning Man… the naked-hippie-drug-sex-fire-freak-cult-festival… right? Every Labor Day, the talking-heads media mentions Burning Man, with images of naked-mud people dancing around a bonfire. Freaks.

Consider this… these ‘freaks’ could be on the local PTA, because there are burners living among us everywhere. Please do not panic, you are in no immediate danger. Most burners wear their freak on the inside, but dress like artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, software engineers, scientists, attorneys, doctors, salespeople, full-time moms and kids. Your dentist could be a burner. They can be hard to spot, but muppet-fur fashion is a dead giveaway.

Campsites are located on circular streets surrounding the playa and hundreds of theme camps fill the streets closest to the inside edge. Roller Disco camp builds a giant wooden roller rink. The Red Nose District hosts an indy circus and swing dance parties. Thunder Dome has ritual combat performances. The Pancake Playhouse serves hot cakes for a song… literally, you sing for your breakfast. As a gift society, all services and events are gifts, so they cost nothing.

Although Black Rock City (BRC) is a temporary city, the week before Labor Day it’s Nevada’s third largest city with an airport, ranger station, medical center, information center, radio stations, daily newspapers, fire department and post office. The civic center is in center camp where you can buy coffee and ice, the only things for sale, which benefits schools in the neighboring town.

BRC is powered by volunteers, community effort and spontaneous self-organization… call it survival of the most cooperative. The Department of Public Works (DPW) builds the infrastructure, grid streets, and the power grid. Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV) regulates art car safety standards. Earth Guardians promote “Leave No Trace” and patrol the bordering trash fence. Firefighters supervise all events involving flame. Lamplighters light and hang hundreds of oil lamps around BRC each night. At the gate, Greeters welcome burners ‘home’ with maps, guides and hugs. Black Rock Rangers are non-confrontational community mediators focused on public safety. All this means, it’s not a “Girls Gone Wild” drug-free-for-all orgy. Some people do display artful nudity, erotic-themed events are private and local and state law enforcement write citations and make arrests for drug use.

Burning Man is no ordinary holiday. The environment is harsh; overwhelmingly dusty with Africa-hot days and chilly nights. It’s expensive; tickets are $280 and you have to BYO everything; water, food, shelter, etc. Burning Man is not a place, it’s a major commitment and eventually, a way of life. BRC is home to burners so being there one week is like letting a fish swim once a year. To fill the need, hundreds of regional events have blossomed all over the world.

The local burner-curious can dip a toe at M-pyre events, Monterey’s Regional group. M-pyre has 150 members from Monterey, Santa Cruz and the South Bay. Coordinator Jennie Kay Banta, is a flame for local burner moths. Banta organizes events ranging from weekend camp outs, beach bonfire parties and ‘Combustions’ like craft-nights or barbecues, always adhering to the Burning Man principals like; radical inclusion, leave no trace and radical self-expression.
A natural hostess, Banta co-hosted a flogging bingo camp for several burns, and last year joined the Hawaiian camp Ka Pilina, who served hot french fries from a 50-foot Ketchup bottle every night. Banta’s magnetic personality and her ability to whip up belly-laughing fun keeps local burners connected and the burner lifestyle alive all year. She explains, “Being a burner is simply providing a safe place for people to be exactly who they are. With this openness, comes a charge from the universe that allows us to see clearer and provide more… for ourselves and others. That, and I hate wearing pants.”

Personal encounters create the most cherished moments, as Banta shares hers… “I was wearing this fantastic Amazon Spacepussy outfit, picture Barbarella and Ziggy Stardust. This tiny man ran up and hugged me in pleasured hysterics, and since I towered at about 6’5” in platforms, his noggin rested snugly in my cleavage. It was incredibly dear because it seemed he’d been waiting for this moment his whole life. He adoringly looked up at me and asked ‘Are you a man?’. It broke my heart to crush his dreams but I said ‘I’m sorry, I’m not’. His face was totally crestfallen, he dropped is hands and shoulders and walked off into the desert. A little bit sweet, a little bit sour, a little bit concerning and a whole lot of Burning Man. I love my town.”

My favorite playa moment came three years ago when I was on my way to Pigmillion bacon camp with my husband and 5-year old son. A statuesque fur-cladden women came running towards us yelling ‘Baby-Burner!’. She chatted with my son, snapped a picture, thanked us and we went on our way. Two months later back in Monterey, we found a posting for a local decompression party and even though we didn’t know anyone, we went. We were warmly greeted by the hostess and quickly began sharing stories and photos. To my amazement, she had a photo of my son in his furry vest. She explained “Oh that’s the adorable playa-kid I met”. And that kid… was my son. That’s how we met Jennie Kay Banta… just another Burning Man miracle.

The first week of September, you’ll find me at my camp Hot Monkey Sox, a sock-monkey workshop in Kidsville. Find M-pyre on Yahoo Groups, Facebook, Tribe and Burningman.com under Regionals and remember, it’s never too late to have a good childhood.