Barbarians at the Back Gate: Bombing the Bowl at Burning Man


 by Whatsblem the Pro

One of the oft-heard questions from people who are thinking about attending Burning Man for the first time is “where do you go to the bathroom out there?”

It’s a good question. Doing your business on the open playa is seriously frowned upon, as even the crystallized puddles of urine left behind by thoughtless pee-pirates have to be removed by Restoration crews once Burning Man is over each year; this makes peeing on the playa a not very nice thing to do to a bunch of hardworking volunteers painstakingly restoring a National Conservation Area. Even digging a hole and burying your new favorite deuce deep in the dust is unacceptable; leave no trace includes buried traces.

So: the simple answer is that the Org spends the better part of a million dollars on regularly-serviced porta potties, and you use those. Some of them are even wheelchair-accessible. This ignores many salient facts about the toilets at Burning Man, though, like the fact that using one may change your life forever, for better or worse. The real question isn’t “where do you go to the bathroom?”; the real question is “how do you go to the bathroom?”


How, indeed. If you’re anatomically typical and not too far bent on exotic substances, the usual holes in your body are involved in more or less the usual ways. . . but you may find that the porta you picked is not quite what it seems even if your head is on completely straight. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise; it is perfectly possible, for instance, that you will open the door to find a valet in a tutu proffering fine toiletries, ready to leap to his synthesizer and play classical music for you while you do your doody crowded together there with him in a big stinky plastic box.

Other portas might offer more privacy, but fewer practical options for the evacuation of your bowels, and possibly a much more jarring experience. It is not unknown, for instance, for a burner answering nature’s must-heed call to find that behind the door of their chosen porta is some surreal tableau that doesn’t include a functioning toilet. . . or they may find nothing at all, just a doorway onto the open playa. You might open the door to find some guy sitting there in a diaper and a bonnet, waiting to be discovered, his hands and face covered in chocolate pudding. If you are in the vicinity of 9:00 and H, members of Camp Horsecock (voted Worst Camp) may startle you with an impromptu drumming demonstration, using the porta you’re in for the drum, and big veiny rubber dildoes for drumsticks, and continue until you emerge. If you’re really unlucky or you’ve pissed someone off really badly, you might just find yourself locked in until you can convince some unseen stranger outside to go and find a pair of bolt cutters.

Sometimes the modifications and enhancements made to your porta will be subtler and seemingly pleasant and unobtrusive, yet will quickly reveal their true nature to you: they were designed to drive you insane. A number of honey buckets in recent years have been fitted with digital music boxes of the type found in greeting cards; the music is nice but over the course of a week on the fringes of human experience, you might suffer a serious psychological trauma wondering where the hell Beethoven’s Für Elise is coming from.

Various coping strategies are available to you. You could bring your own toilet, for instance. If it’s not a full-blown porta that comes with suck-truck service, though, you’ll need to figure out what to do with all the accumulated waste when you leave Black Rock City. You can’t leave it there, and you can’t dump it anywhere nearby without really pissing off everyone and anyone who knows about it. You’ll need to haul it at least as far as Reno to get rid of it legit.

Peeing in a gallon jug in your tent is an option that will keep you from having to make too-frequent visits to the portas; you can periodically take your full jug to them to empty it out. The only downside of this is having to walk around with a jug full of pee.

If the porta you pick has more mundane issues, like an unhygienic lapse in cleanliness, then you may be able to levitate. Levitating is the practice of hanging on to the indentation on the inside of the door, so your hindquarters can hover over the ring of doom without touching it while you prolapse your nethers.

Finally, we also need to talk about how not to use the toilets at Burning Man. You’ll hear it harped on again and again: if it didn’t come out of your body, it doesn’t go in the potty. The only exception is toilet paper, and even that should be the single-ply stuff. Why? Because other materials – including baby wipes, even the kind that say they’re flushable – will clog up the truck that sucks out the portas. . . and if that happens too often, the company that the Org rents the toilets from will refuse to empty them for us. If the toilets aren’t getting emptied, the health department could shut down the event. . . so now do you see why everyone is so anal about it?

Don’t forget to wash your hands, kids!

5 comments on “Barbarians at the Back Gate: Bombing the Bowl at Burning Man

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