Weaponized Principles

A superlative guest post from Terbo Ted, the first DJ at Burning Man and therefore one of its Unofficial Founders.


Weaponized Principles


Larry Harvey and I were onstage together in 2000 as part of a panel discussion at SOMARTS in San Francisco’s SOMA District. The event was called Webzine. Everyone in the panel was Gen X and some sort of web developer or coder, except for Larry. I was in my early 30s and Larry had to have been in his early 50s. He was there because he was an influencer, a voice of the counterculture. I had worked with Larry from 1992-1996 on the Burning Man Festival (Larry did proudly call it a “Festival” back then) but I had quit working on BM in 1996, when someone died on the playa, multiple others were badly injured and there were numerous arrests. Larry and I remained cordial, he was always a valuable friend and mentor. Larry obviously carried on and the Burning Man legacy continues.


During the panel discussion, we fielded many questions from the audience, largely about the role of early internet corporations such as Yahoo!. This was before google, facebook and today’s internet giants, in an era when much of the internet was still being built by small design firms and ad hoc coalitions of mercenary contractors such as myself. Larry- who didn’t write code- was a brilliant intellectual, cultural engineer and visionary, and he made a statement on that panel that still rings true in my head today. Larry had the audacity to say to a large audience of young, independent creative people in an art gallery in San Francisco that corporations were not bad. In essence, Harvey explained that you didn’t want to be milling the rubber for your own tires, or soldering together circuit boards for your own computer. Words of wisdom.


It was still a few years before Harvey introduced the 10 Principles to the Burner community. “Radical Self-reliance” is one of those principles. Looking back at the context of the mid-90s, San Francisco- which spawned Burning Man- was a beacon for DIY culture. The 1995 film ‘Tank Girl’ felt like it was about my friends.


SOMA was home to young women with nose piercings who’d be chain smoking while fixing their motorcycle, talking about wanting to go to welding classes- and crudely painting things in garish colors with their spiky hair in disarray- while wearing grimy paint-stained coveralls. I miss that nuts and bolts era, years before everyone was glued to their phones. Even at the 2000-era Webzine conference, the community there was hand coding its own web sites, DIY in full effect. But there’s reasonable limits to DIY. For example, we were able to figure out how to rent a generator from a construction supply company, cart it out to the Black Rock Desert with enough fuel to run some lights or sound system or coffee maker or whatever we wanted out there for a few days. For the most part- I can’t speak for everybody, because there were crazy Tesla coils being trucked out there back then- most of us had no interest in building our own generator, or processing our own fuel. Radical self-reliance wasn’t entirely literal. Larry didn’t design or weld together his own Airstream trailer, or hand-stitch his own trademark Guayabera shirts.


It’s important to realize that the 10 Principles are not Burning Man’s actual rules. Rules are things like ‘no dogs’ or ‘no firearms’. There were almost no rules in the early days on the playa, and there are pages and pages of rules now. Without rules, Black Rock City could not exist at today’s scale. In my opinion, Larry drafted the 10 Principles to try and explain- Larry was quite an explainer- shared cultural values that had become common among a good number of- but not necessarily all- Burners, based on years of shared communal experience.


Today’s Burners can be an odd set of internet trolls- myself included- and it’s hard to make sense of all the snarky comments and jokes online about bacon or sparkle ponies and so on. “Radical Self-reliance” has become a weaponized keyboard warrior shout down directed at classes of burners who are perceived to be ‘doing it wrong’ by the “Burnier than thou” types. /eyeroll. When I first went out to the Black Rock Desert, we had no idea that we’d need goggles. People would do stuff like take a nap on the playa surface in the midday sun. There were lots of errors in the trial and error. But the beauty of shared wisdom and interaction helped create this enormous culture. So to all of you zealots who keep repeating “Radical Self-reliance” without thinking it through, do you really want to go to the playa and spend the whole week camping by yourself, without saying a word,
saving all your own fecal and urine waste and dutifully carrying it back home in your vehicle? Of course not. Actually, it would be cool performance art if you did.


But the point I’m making is that it’s okay to realize that in a city of 70,000 people there are folks who are going to highly specialize in what they can offer to the city. It’s okay to eat food prepared and paid for by someone else for example. Or to experience art that you didn’t make yourself. As Larry said, you don’t need to mill the rubber for your own tires or solder your own circuit boards. If you did, that’s great too, go for it.


“Immediacy” has to be my favorite of the ten principles, especially in how it relates to the default world. Harvey used to explain that when people would go out to the void of the Black Rock Desert, people’s true essence would shine out of them, because there were no other reference points, it was an authentic experience, you saw people for what they really were when we were “Out There.” There were no cell phone towers anywhere back then, and certainly not on the playa. Today’s world is this crazed media-fueled monster. Stuff that happens thousands of miles away to people we don’t know and will never meet suddenly becomes instant narrative with cultural battle lines being drawn out over every minor detail, true or
not true, it doesn’t matter. This world we inhabit today can be as far from actual “Immediacy” as possible, it’s not based on our actual individual experience right in front of us.


I’m going to argue that Larry missed a few principles. “Gifting” probably could be interpreted to include the Burner slogan “The Playa Provides.” But “The Playa Provides” would be a great 11th principle. The last time I was on the playa in 2017, my favorite incident was as follows: I had befriended a Cigar Camp and was sitting in the shade smoking one of their fine gifted cigars, watching people walk and ride by. It’s got to be 105 out in the sun. A young, slight woman trudges by, her skin burning hot, she’s out of breath, on the edge of tears, dragging her playa bike behind her with considerable effort. “Hey hey hey” I yell at her, “you need to get out of the sun! Did you ride your bike behind the water truck?” She nodded yes and looks like she’s about to cry in frustration. Sure enough- a burgin- she rode her playa bike behind a water truck, and as the wet playa mud dried and hardened, her bike seized up and was unrideable. We get her into the shade, tell
her she should rest a bit, get her some water or a beer or soda or something.


Communicating to the camp mates there, we are able to retrieve a screwdriver, a chisel, some water, some WD-40. We show the young woman how to remove the hardened playa from her bike. Eventually and with considerable effort on her part, it’s in fine running order, she’s cooled off and happily rides away. I can’t remember her name, Australian. Anyway, that vignette sums up ‘gifting’ and ‘the Playa Provides.’ It wasn’t some pre-meditated intention, it was a spontaneous episode that showed how great people can be when we truly need some help to get by. Immediacy.


Let’s go back to Webzine in SOMA in 2000. I was booked to DJ the end of the
event, and a reporter from a TV station in Holland was out to see me play. But my set was cancelled, as Survival Research Labs set off a jet engine in the adjacent parking lot next to SOMARTS, shaking the geiger counter, it was like a terrorist attack, event immediately over. This sort of hazing from older artists was normal back in the day. SRL I think was quite pleased to deliberately show up all these young web coder kids and shut down a ‘rave’. SRL to this day is amazing and awesome, and their vibe very much corresponds to the early SF Burner ethos- hardcore industrial anarchist pranksters- all the respect possible to this tribe.

Connecting this to the Burner timeline, I was part of the first DJ camps at Burning Man from 1992-1996, and I would say that other than the main trio of BM organizers then, namely: Larry Harvey, John Law and Michael Mikel, the other older Burners as a whole typically hated our musical contribution, treated us like pariahs and blamed us ‘ravers’ for just about everything possible that went wrong.

This is well documented. [link]

Let’s go back to the concept of immediacy. If you’ve followed the Burner culture this offseason, news stories have been published as far and wide as the New York Times and BBC talking about official new Burning Man policies against a certain camp- friends of mine- who were singled out and named by name by the official CEO of the org itself, who is also my friend. No one was killed or injured or arrested, as happens now every year at Burning Man. And then hundreds if not thousands of people starting chiming in online in gleeful accord against the new ‘bad’ guys camp because of the news articles flying around. We’re half way around the sun from the burn, and people are openly dissing a camp they’ve never visited or experienced, spewing random heresay, speculation, falsehoods and slander, based on their own biases, prejudices and tilted belief systems. This is as far from immediacy as possible you people, get a freaking clue.

This one camp has been blamed for just about every crime possible against core Burner values, despite their insisting on adherence to the 10 Principles and putting their blood, sweat and tears into their inspired and meticulously planned camps like everyone else. Reading comments from people online who claim to hate this camp after allegedly camping near them, I can’t help but think, why couldn’t you befriend this camp and enjoy the burn with them? I certainly did when they were my burgin neighbors back in 2016! Or if things were going bad for them, why didn’t you help your neighbors in the moment instead of heaping scorn on them on the internet half a year later? WTF. Even worse, I can’t help but take this whole episode of hating on one camp personally, as BM has a long history of blaming people for “ruining” Burning Man. [link]

I am- with my early 90s campmates- very high up on this list of ruining the early years and subsequent trajectory of the ‘festival’ which is no longer officially called a ‘festival’ anymore. To be clear, the org doesn’t owe anyone anything and they can determine whichever camps they choose to work with or not work with, that’s up to them, right or wrong, good or bad, arbitrary or not. If it was up to me, the org would never publicly shame a group by name for failure or errors, myriad or minor, deliberate or accidental. But that’s not my decision to make. We’ve just witnessed the ferocious power of the mainstream news media permanently destroying the reputation of a specific Burning Man camp. We’ve come so far… but for this?

I somehow feel like Emmanuel Goldstein from Orwell’s 1984 as I type, a historical early adopter turned outcast dooming themselves to eternal damnation for speaking up against the controlling regime. I’m not sure I’m ever welcome again in Black Rock City, home to 70,000 people. I would be scared to show my face in First Camp now that Larry has passed, as they are well known to aggressively boot interlopers, random wanderers and unescorted guests out of their space, where guest chefs prepare amazing gourmet meals with the finest ingredients for the anointed hand-picked intelligentsia. The real missing 11th Principle is “Conform or be Cast Out.” Toe the line or else! You will be ostracized! All you Instagram models better dress exactly like all the other Instagram models in perfect Burner costume, or you’ll get singled out and attacked for doing it wrong!
Conform or die! Hmpf.


About the storyteller:

Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.

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Pull Out Your TAP

A guest post from Onelove.

What do when you’ve spent 5 hours in the desert sun building a home dome only to discover that your camp mate forgot to bring the skin? Or you lost your hot date on Burn Night and you can’t find your friends anywhere? Or you just get a case of those dusty blues that creep in the morning after you’ve one (or ten) cocktails too many?

Easy, you just pull out your TAP and voila! No mas saddo. Wait, what’s a Tap? Tapping (aka EFT) is a technique you can use to relax your heart and mind in any situation, and master EFT teacher and veteran burner Sonya Sophia created this Tap just for us. Watch it now so you have a Tap ready to whip out at a moment’s notice when the rubber hits the dust. Or when the shit hits the Man. Or…you get it.

Over the last 10 years, Sonya Sophia has shared the gift of tapping with more than 20,000 Burners in workshops on the playa. This year, you can find her Tues-Sat 2-4pm at Red Lightning (8:15 & Esplanade). She is the founder of the Sophia School of Living Arts and the host of the weekly interactive online healing event the World Tapping Circle.

Take this technique with you and you may indeed find yourself floating high in the dusty twilight—clear head, light heart, and ready for ANYTHING the playa could possibly bring.
xoxoooOnelove

5 Tips For Surviving Your First Burning Man Experience

A guest post by Adrian Stefirta

Screenshot 2017-05-31 12.13.42

Note: All images used in this article are copyright-free

5 Tips For Surviving Your First Burning Man Experience

Your first Burning Man should be a liberating experience. And by “liberating” I suppose it should be as far away from the outer world as it can safely be. There should be no Facebook feeds, retweets and all that meaningless stuff.

People claim that the Burning Man that is well prepared for is a spiritual experience like no other. That’s no mystery, I guess. Leaving your annoying nine-to-five job to interact with random people, far away from civilization, sometimes doing drugs you’ve never heard of can easily be one of the most thrilling experiences you’ve engaged in so far. Speaking of drugs…

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1. Make Sure You Get Tickets Early

Ever hear the saying “The early bird gets the worm”? Well, the early bird gets to go to Burning Man as well!

Before we even get to the tips for when you arrive at the event, let’s first cover the fact that you should get tickets early. This is not something you’ll want to wait last minute for.

Burners.me wrote back in 2015 about 14 Tips For Getting Burning Man Tickets. The advice is still good to this day.

 

2. Get in the zone

The festival is famous for the community. You’ll definitely encounter the most bizarre people that have lots amazing stories and experiences to share, and it would be a shame not to get out in the world and sink in the energy surrounding you.

Leave your camera, don’t worry about your friends’ gastronomic preferences in your social media feed, and forget about your outfit. Nobody cares, neither should you. As an EDM fan, you might imagine that a festival is a place you easily get the vibe.

 

3. Self-reliance is crucial

Moreover, you could even say that self-reliance is in the spirit of the event. You must be ready for nearly everything that could go wrong and the more precaution you apply to your preparations, the smoother the experience.

You’ll need a huge amount of things starting with a flashlight and a pack of zip lockers to lip balm and a bicycle. There are so many things you’ll need, you’re guaranteed to forget something.

As mentioned above, leave your designer clothes at home and only bring clothing that is useful, warm (it can get chilly at night), and durable. You’re going to be exposed to numerous hours of sun, sand, and wind, which will be very demanding of your body and your clothing. Bear in mind that you’ll probably eat quite an amount of sand in the process, so why not bring a mask that you can wear when the wind is strong.

You see, people who haven’t taken proper care of their provisions have a special name they’re called on the Playa – Sparkling Ponies. You don’t want to be one.

 

4. Bring gifts

The sky’s the limit, but why not grab some practical things in a light excess? If you still have some spare space in your car, don’t hesitate to grab some snacks, water bottles, and other things that people around you could find useful. However, do not misunderstand the essential idea around gifts. You shouldn’t rely on people swapping their resources on yours because they’ve probably messed up and forgot to bring a bunch of important stuff, just like you did.

Gifts are about offering and not about trading, so don’t be offended if you give someone your grandfather’s watch and all you get is a free hug. Do not forget about the emotional and spiritual imperative of the event.

Screenshot 2017-05-31 12.14.00

5. Sleep

This is your first Burning Man experience. It’s one of a kind, and none will be same. You’re stoked and you’re freaking out. Regardless of that, you need to sleep. This may sound like a bizarre thing to say, yet there are so many amazing things happening on the Playa every single hour, that you’ll probably feel like a fool if you missed any of those. But this is another thing you’ll have to let go of.

Let your body rest a reasonable amount of time. You’re permanently exposed to sun, wind, sand, loud music, random people, alcohol, and crazy experiences. Let your brain rest. This is not a marathon you need to win, this is supposed to be an inspiring and spiritual experience. Remember?

Some people simply sleep throughout daylight and rave all night, which isn’t necessarily the best pattern to experience what the Burning Man has got to offer.

 

Final Notes

As an EDM fan, it is crucial that you perceive the Burning Man as a concept in its entirety. You could say that the festival isn’t about electronic music or karaoke but still many people go just because they have the best karaoke machines from the Music Critic’s guide to karaoke machines, as much as it is about the counterculture and its fringes. Well, you may claim that, given its background.

In the mid-nineties, Burning Man featured the Techno scene that was continuously emerging from the ghetto as its central musical figure. Nowadays, Techno is still in the underground of contemporary culture, yet, you can easily spot artists like Calvin Harris and others in the festival’s line-ups.

Is Calvin Harris about counterculture? I can hardly imagine. So what you need to know is the following – the festival does not focus on music as much as it focuses on the spiritual experience. Depending on your musical preferences, you may or may not want to choose other places to visit.

In my humble perspective, as a very opinionated appreciator of underground electronic music, there is nothing that mainstream artists like the above-mentioned can bring to my table, in terms of spirituality. But it’s your call to be made, so choose wisely before you decide to visit the Playa, expecting it would even remotely resemble a club in Ibiza.

 Screenshot 2017-05-31 12.14.10 The Author:

Adrian Stefirta is an EDM producer & writer for MIDI Lifestyle. He’s also an aficionado of Techno and a resident at Waxtefacts Records.

 

 

 

 

Radical Inclusion Party Foul

A guest post by Mayor of the Techno Ghetto Terbo Ted TerboLizard, the founder of doof at Burning Man. Ever wonder why there are thousands of massively popular raves in the world, and yet the Cacophony Society didn’t really grow beyond a few groups of a couple of hundred weirdos? In 2017 They are still promoting the idea that we should glorify the Cock’o’phonies while demonizing the ravers, which shows how out of touch the Burning Man Organization has become from the community that creates the $40 million cash cow/ party arts festival for them for free every year. It’s tax-free for them, but Burners still pay a 9% tax on their tickets. And bring the food, the bars, the music, the DJs, the art cars, and so on.

How many people at Burning Man like the music coming from the art cars and big camps? Half? More than half? Personally I would say 95%+, YMMV. If you didn’t like that sort of music, Burning Man would be an oddly uncomfortable place to spend a week’s vacation time.

Count the crowds, and look where they are. A lot of crowds, all over the Playa, almost always around music, they always make sure to use the best speakers, you can get more Info about them on soundmoz.com. It is clear that electronic music is what made Burning Man so popular, and if the Ten Principles mean anything at all, it means we should welcome people who come to enjoy that aspect of Burner culture at least as much as we welcome anyone else. Not try to shun and shame those who made Burning Man what it is, out of some weird ideal of “what a Burner should be” – presumably some sort of submissive, compliant, social justice virtue signalling volunteer freak. Burning Man was HUGE before the Ten Principles were thought up.

BURNERBITCH

Image: Leila Moussaoui, The Bold Italic


Burning Man: Radical Inclusion Party Foul

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Anyone who follows Burningman culture year-round probably stumbled across a recent article titled “Burning Man’s Culture Is In Danger – Tales from the Global Leadership Conference.” The wildly popular article at burn.life prominently featured a picture of ne’er do well young party bros in unfortunate festival attire, with the caption “Ultimately, the worst case scenario is that we end up with an event dominated by idiots like this (not sure where this was taken or who took it, but it’s not at BM….yet.) they all used Houston limo service  or other Luxury bus transportation to get to the party”

photo from www.burn.life
Before I get into any more details, I am going to both embarrass myself and brag a little bit… here is a picture of me, as a young man in my early twenties, out on the playa in 1992, right after I played THE first DJ set EVER at Burning Man.

Terbo Ted at Burning Man, 1992, Black Rock Desert, Nevada
That’s what I wore for my set. Note the visual similarities in how myself and the four young men are dressed; literally, I could stand next to these fellas being portrayed as ‘bad guys’ 25 years into the future and fit right in.
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But let’s look at the history of Burningman. When the collectives I associated with brought rave culture out there- electronic dance music- whatever you want to call it, many of the early burners treated us like pariahs. ‘Ravers’ were blamed for just about anything that went wrong in early 90s burns, and some of it was deserved, and some of it wasn’t. But there were three key BM organizers in the early years on the playa who were the glue that made Burningman stick. Larry Harvey, Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger) and John Law were all very supportive of our efforts to bring a new facet of culture into the Burningman experience. Those three understood the concept of radical inclusion well before that was even a stated principle of the event. The written ten principles came to the playa much later than the DJ sound systems. Today there are all kinds of arguments going back and forth regarding the virtues or failures of the music culture at Burningman, that’s another discussion for another time.
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Let’s look at the attire everyone is so scared of. When I was in my early 20s I was living on something like $500 a month or less in San Francisco. That is impossible now but it wasn’t really possible then either. I had no money for fancy clothes. The neon hat I had was a free giveaway from the liquor store, it had a cigarette brand sponsor. I used to smoke cigarettes back then. I used to go over to Larry’s house for coffee and talk about plans for the upcoming MAN year-round. At times I would take two packs of cigarettes (buy-one-get-one free quality you understand) and give one of the packs to Larry, who also was living on next to nothing as far as money goes. The shirt I had on in this picture was something you’d get out of a free pile somewhere outside of a thrift store, or for a dollar at a garage sale (they used to have those in the Mission, believe it or not). That was how we lived. If you had told me back then that people would be expected to wear elaborately hand made outfits that cost thousands of dollars to the burn I would not have believed you, now people wear all kind of stuff and buy their outfits in stores as sheepskintown.com. If I had any costume at all for Burningman back then, it was because I got it for free somehow.
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Let’s apply that to the ‘party goons’ in this picture. I was able to easily find those garments they’re wearing online. The neon green RAGE hats are $10, you can buy them online here. The shirts with garish slogans are also in the $10-$20 range. The point I’m getting to is that young people don’t have lots of excess money, and you’re going to see these sorts of fun and low-cost things being worn. The young kids don’t have $800 for a handmade steampunk top hat with hand distressed goggles sewn in, and the entire outfit that goes with it, do you understand?
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And let’s decode the messaging in their attire:
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RAGE. Hey, it’s kinda close to BURN. Party on.
ALL I DO IS FUCK & PARTY. I think many people at least fantasize that’s what their burn is going to be about, if not in fact acting it out for real. I know that I do those things out there (when not busy MOOPing of course). I’m hoping you get to do those things out there as well, if you choose to.
SHOW ME YOUR TITS. This is absolutely perfect male attire on Thursday afternoon for Critical Tits Bike Ride. I am going to order one for myself this year. Easy to find online in multiple colors and fonts and at low cost!
PARTY WITH SLUTS & ME GUSTA WHORES Burningman does take place in Nevada. Not Berkeley. Prostitution is legal in Nevada.
LET’S GET FUCKING WEIRD. Heck, this could be an official theme for one of the coming Burns for all I care. I approve.
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After twenty-five years of watching Burningman grow from less than 1000 people to selling out tens of thousands of tickets in half an hour, I’ve seen it go through many growing pains and phases, some of which were gut wrenchingly awful, some of which were transformative in a beautiful way.
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When we were first going out there, I remember Larry explaining to me that when you put yourself into that void out there on the playa, whatever it is that is you- your inner self- is going to emerge because there’s nothing else there as a reference point. Everything you do out there is your inner self projecting itself into the world. The experience there is real. Something like that. The concept of Radical Self Expression undoubtably rose out of these beliefs.
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Today, I can’t help but cringe at all of the Burner fashion conformity that happens. You can find websites in China selling ‘Burner’ style goggles now. And you know the look I’m talking about, the ‘Mad Max Muppet Pirate Clown on Acid’ get-up or whatever it is you see tens of thousands of times out there. We didn’t have a dress code at early Burningmans (although that’s not true, there were cocktail parties and theme parties with dress codes out there as early as I can remember). It’s great that the culture has developed some sort of visual ontology- maybe- but that we’ve seen that culture start to move toward exclusion of chosen costumes is a step in the wrong direction, a step away from inclusion, away from expression, it’s a push toward conformity and rule following. Early Burningmans were populated and created by pranksters, they pushed the boundaries of what was socially acceptable, comfortable, or- in many instances- lawful. They weren’t conforming to anything. Unlike today’s Burner culture. Shame on you people.
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After the burn.life article was getting heavily forwarded around social media I had started making light hearted and favorable comments about the photo with the party bros on the Facebook group called ‘Official Unofficial Burning Man Page’ or whatever it is. I posted links where you could buy RAGE hats or some of the shirts in the comment threads, jokingly (and not for profit or anything like that, not as a commodity) as a commentary. And one of the admins banned me from the Facebook group. Shame on you people.
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And let’s pretend those four party bros are out there this year in their chosen attire everyone wants to make fun of. Neon RAGE party hats and all. Having them time of their lives. Maybe they’ll even have some Whip-Its™ to share at sunrise, and you could do some with them and teach them about MOOP in the process. Remember, virgins are very welcome at Burningman. And once virgins get exposed to the culture, they can’t be unexposed to it. Who knows what great new and heretofore unthunk inspirations from the playa might transform those young bros’ lives. Hopefully they wouldn’t instead get forced down a path of derisive hierarchical conformity from the experience of going out there. The default world does that well enough, thank you.
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About the storyteller:
Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.

How I Got Kicked Out of Burning Man Last Year

rangers k9

A guest post from Kevin O’Neill.


How I Got Kicked Out of Burning Man

By Kevin O’Neill

I got kicked out of Burning Man last year. To this day, I can’t quite tell you what offense I committed heinous enough to warrant it. Neither could the law enforcement officers or rangers that escorted me out, for that matter. We were all shrugs, head nods and baffled faces, as we drove through the desert night, kicking up a cloud of dust behind us on the road to Reno.

 

It all went down the Thursday before the burn. I’d been looking forward all week to my girlfriend arriving to meet me that afternoon. Her birthday was burn day this year and she could only make it in from Chicago for the weekend. I had gotten early entry as a plus one to a veteran ranger friend of mine, who I had driven to my first burn in 2012 with. This year we were all camping together at Ranger Outpost Berlin.

 

Having rangered 5 times at the Great Lakes Regional Burn, Lakes of Fire, I thought camping with the BRC Rangers would be a good opportunity to learn from the pros, get immersed in the culture, and ready myself for my third trip to the playa, when I would finally be eligible to start training for dirt shifts on the playa. If nothing else, they had a kitchen with the best appliances from Zozanga, I didn’t really use because they kept mentioning how good the vitamix 300 vs 5200 review was and I just didn’t wan to touch anything. they had a shower, which I was able to use once to rinse off the layers of dust skin I had grown during 2 windstorm greeter shifts. I had to be presentable for my girl. After all, she was flying in from across the country to be with me on her burn day birthday at our favorite place on earth.

 

My girlfriend flew in from Chicago to Reno Thursday afternoon during my last greeter shift. I called her when I got off. She was at the airport, about to board the Burner Express Bus. We arranged to meet at the shuttle drop off location by 3 and G, a couple blocks down 3 from Berlin, which was next to the keyhole at C. Just about the only thing I was on time for during the burn was arriving at the moment the shuttle dropped her off. It was serendipity, really. While walking back to camp with her stuff, I broke the news to her that our Ranger friend, who brought us to Berlin, was still out and about with her bike. A week before, in Chicago, all three of us were loading up my bike and hers on the Cobra bus to transport them 2,000 miles to the middle of the northern Nevada desert. It was there that my friend agreed to lend her bike to our Ranger buddy for the week until she arrived. There was one explicit condition she had: that the bike be returned to her upon her arrival at camp.

 

Suffice it to say, when we reached camp the bike was not there. Having had a negative experience where her bike was stolen from her during her first burn the year before, she was disappointed by her new bike’s absence. The bike was still where it had been locked up since the day before, when we rode it to the naked greeter shift, somewhere between Rod’s Road and 5. By the time it did make it back to camp, it was dark, cold, and we were about to evicted from Black Rock City.

 

I knew my friend had a shift that night, but I didn’t know when. After asking the rangers around the outpost Berlin if they knew the whereabouts of our ranger friend or when he might be expected back, we had no answers.

My girl and I decided to go for a walk in the meantime. She had had her heart set on having a dusk bike ride out to deep playa as soon as she got there, but a stroll around the neighborhood would have to suffice. We met our neighbors at a campsite toward the keyhole at C. They asked how we were, and we told them about my girlfriend’s birthday, how she had just arrived from Chicago earlier that day, and how we were walking around until our friend got back to Berlin with her bike. They encouraged us to seek help with the rangers at Tokyo Outpost, on the other side of the playa, because they might be able to look up his schedule to see if he was working that night and when. They said the Tokyo rangers would be more helpful.

 

We, instead, returned with this idea to our campsite at Berlin. After mentioning the notion to go Tokyo to ask about our friend’s schedule, the Berliners acted like “anything that Tokyo can do, we can do better.” While my girlfriend inquired about our friend’s schedule and when to expect him back, I passed out in my tent from the exhaustion of 48 hours of no sleep, during which time I was working 12 hours of sandstorm greeter shifts. Sometimes you just gotta go to Robot Heart for the deep playa sunrise set. Sometimes you have to lay down before you collapse. It’s all about balance.

 

I woke up to the sound of yelling. My girlfriend rushed into my tent, telling me that there was a ranger accusing her of going into tents that weren’t hers. Groggy and disoriented, I staggered out of my tent to be met by a guy in a ranger outfit, accusatory and hostile in nature. With an inflammatory tone, he demanded to know who we were, and what we were doing at the ranger’s camp.

 

“I’ve been camping here at Berlin for 5 days as a guest of my friend, a Black Rock ranger of 6 years,” I told him. The ranger before me said he didn’t know my friend, and interjected his doubt of what I told him and his suspicion that I was not supposed to be here. I insisted that he leave. He did leave by the by, only to return with more rangers shortly thereafter.

By this time the sun was settling behind the mountains, the temperature had dropped. I grabbed the first shirt with long sleeves I could reach, which happened to be my friend’s Black Rock City Ranger shirt. I had mistaken it for my similar Lakes of Fire Great Lakes Regional Ranger shirt that I had gotten a couple of years before, my 3rd time Rangering there. Now I was wearing a ranger outfit too. Similar in color, texture, and size to the Lakes of Fire Ranger issue, it was an honest mistake grabbing the BRC shirt instead. But it did turn out to be a huge mistake.

When the ranger who confronted us and disturbed me from my dust coma returned with more rangers, he saw my friend’s ranger shirt and said I was impersonating a ranger. He claimed I was there to steal from the tents of rangers.

 

At this point, we had drawn enough attention asking about my friend’s whereabouts, and getting into a yelling match with an unrangerly ranger, the situation was escalating fast. Rangers were gathering by the minute, surrounding our tents. Ever been surrounded by rangers before? It’s a little threatening. I may have offered to jump kick the unrangerly ranger who started this whole defuckle. I wonder if I can even do that.

They said I was trespassing. Without my friend there to corroborate, all I could do was remind them that I had been here all week, that I had seen such and such at the Berlin Outpost party on Tuesday, circumstantial stuff. Of the few rangers at Berlin friendly enough to talk with me all week I’d been there, none of them were there right then. I got mad. They threatened to call law enforcement. I encouraged them. That turned out to be a mistake too.

 

When law enforcement got there, my ranger friend had yet to return. The rangers at Berlin proceeded to file paperwork with them to have me evicted. They told me and my girlfriend that I was going to be kicked out, but she was going to be allowed to stay. She said wanted to stay with me, sweet woman. She was filming everything at this point on her camera.

I started yelling that this was unfair, and that I hadn’t done anything to deserve this. I was assaulted briefly by a police officer who slammed into me from behind and restrained me.

They stopped short of handcuffing me.

 

I was allowed to pack up my tent and belongings under the flashlights of a dozen rangers. Right before the time when the packing began, my friend finally shows up with my girlfriend’s bike in tow.

 

He was immediately confronted by law enforcement and questioned.

“Who’s bike is that?”, the sheriff asked.

“It’s (Kevin’s girlfriend’s)”, replied my friend.

“Are these your things”, inquired the sheriff, holding up the dust-rubbed Khaki garb I had worn earlier.

“Yes”, says my friend after investigating his shirt.

“It seems Kevin here was going through your tent while you were out”, the law enforcement officer informed my friend. “Would you like to press charges?”

“Kevin is my friend, he has permission to go into my tent whenever he likes.”

The law enforcement officer then asked my girlfriend if she still wanted to press charges for bike theft.

“No,” she said. “The bike has been returned”. Albeit too late.

The situation seemed to deescalate. All conflicts were resolved.

The rangers told us that we could stay in festival but we had to leave Berlin. Gladly.

Not 20 minutes later, my Ranger friend came out with the law enforcement officer and told us that they were just kidding about us getting to stay.

“The paperwork had already been started”, he said. You know how it is with paperwork, am I right?

 

As it turns out, while the situation outside was being diffused, inside of a trailer at Berlin, the Khaki on duty made the tough decision to evict me and my girlfriend from Burning Man. They feared that if we were allowed to stay at the festival, we may retaliate or seek vengeance. That definitely wasn’t a possibility after the paperwork to remove us had been filed with the state sheriff.

The paperwork that we were given was 2 yellow carbon copies of trespassing notices, from the Nevada State’s Sheriff’s office, signed by the khaki on duty at the time. We were escorted out to the law enforcement camp, at the festival entrance, right next to where I had spent 16 hours greeting 1000s of people with hugs all week long. Now it was time for me to say goodbye. 2 hours later, my girlfriend and I, along with all of our stuff (her bike included), were toted in a white van with no windows through the dark desert toward Reno. I fell asleep. When I woke up, that dream that we all share – of making it out to the playa and having our intentions, hard work, sacrifices, resources, and time [combine] into the culminating experience of everything we each bring and believe to be Burning Man – was gone. I’ve been woke ever since.

 

I returned to the Lakes of Fire this past June, my 7th regional. I attended ranger training. I’m not sure why exactly I felt compelled, but it had to do with forgiveness and closure. A respected veteran to Lakes and Black Rock was leading the session.

 

There’s no way he could’ve known what had happened with us last year. The rangers that were there didn’t talk about it, and if you’re reading this, you’re one of a few that I’ve told the story to. Still, this veteran ranger looked me in the eye, standing in a crowd full of attendees, and gave a pretty good speech.

 

“We’re rangers. We’re not cops. We don’t have any authority over anyone else. We’re here to help”, he told us. “Part of Burning Man is radical participation. Rangering is my art. It’s my contribution to this community.”

We all give back in our own ways. While I wasn’t ready to put on a “Khaki Lives Matter” patch, I did end up taking a shift at the perimeter of our 2016 Lakes of Fire effigy burn. Rangers and FAST had to tackle a disoriented participant, who was running toward the burning wooden monster to prevent him from jumping into the fire. Other than that, it was pretty uneventful.