After returning to Burning Man in 2018, Tori and I planned once again to volunteer this year for Burner Express Air at the Black Rock City Airport. When her mother's health condition deteriorated, my wife decided a couple months before the burn that she did not want to risk being too far away in case of an emergency so she gave me her blessing to take my best friend in her place. I had been trying to get Chad to go to Burning Man with us for awhile now so he flew down to San Diego from Oregon to travel with me as I towed my trailer up to Nevada. While staying the night at the Carson Valley Inn Casino, we walked to the Domino's Pizza next door where I was invited behind the counter by the friendly crew to hand-toss my own pizza. I guess I still have the skills I learned working at Papa Toni's Pizza during high school.
We had Early Arrival Tickets so we headed into Black Rock City a day early on Saturday, stopping at the Reno Airport for Chad to pick up his Burning Man ticket. We reached the Playa surface by 11:15am, spending only two hours in line. At Will Call to pick up my Service Credential, a fellow burner pointed out that my bathroom vent cover had broken open in the strong winds and was flapping around atop my trailer. Both he and Chad held my feet off the ground so I could duct tape it shut to keep out the dust. It felt wonderful to be "Welcomed Home" when we reached the Greeter's Station. Since Chad was a Virgin, he rolled around in the dust, making dust angels. Kenny and Tommy arrived at our Airport camp earlier in the day, so they saved a spot for my trailer right next to the Trash Fence. If my windows weren’t covered to keep out the heat, I would have had great views of the airplanes landing and taking off from inside. After helping to secure the shade cloth over our camp's Aerial Rig and hooking my trailer up to the camp's generator, Chad and I checked into Burner Express Air and spent the rest of the afternoon training to be Ramp Marshals with Chuck (Party Carpet) Revell until the Airport closed at 6pm. (I twisted my ankle while stepping on a large pipe for the shower stall, but I managed to save myself by grabbing the edge of the water tank. I was limping but I was fine by the next day.) While I finished setting up the trailer, Chad took care of lighting our bikes. Since we had so little sleep the two previous nights and Chad had an early shift the next morning, we ate our leftover pizza and passed out early.
While Chad was working his first morning shift at the Airport on Sunday, I went out exploring after breakfast with Elena, Mimi, Maria, Amanda and Van. Most of the city was still setting up their camps as we rode down the streets and crossed out into the Playa. Our first stop was the Cloud Swing Storm created by Lindsay Glatz and Curious Form. Maria got a great photo of me jumping off the swing set. At night the illuminated white clouds would change colors when people sat in the swings. Further out, we stopped at, Tatanka, a nine foot tall mosaic buffalo created by the artist, Peter Hazel. Nearby, we all climbed the giant pair of luscious red Lips that were 10’ tall and 20’ wide. A giant object in the distance kept drawing our attention and we realized it was a 75 foot fluorescent green elephant called Slonik with its trunk reaching up for the sky as we approached. (Slonik is a Russian word for Elephant.) This giant inflatable was created by Mikhail Tsaturyan to bring attention to the plight of these endangered animals.
Further out we found a "Grand Staircase to Nowhere" created by Pedro Loughran called Pauper’s Ballroom. The artist's intention was for us to ascend his stairs and then by descending, we arrived back on the ground, the Pauper’s Ballroom. Out by the Folly, we found three metal sculptures of giant cats, the Purr Pods by Paige Tashner. They purred if you pet them and at night their eyes shoot lasers. The most fun I had was playing with 1up, an 8-bit video game recreation by Christina Anthony. With Mimi providing the sound effects, I ran through the life-sized obstacle course, collecting coins and stomping on mushrooms inspired by Super Mario World.
In the Outer Playa, we approached The Folly still under construction by Dave Keane and The Folly Builders. The windmill and clock tower were built from salvaged lumber from San Franciscan Victorians. (I loved the wood patterns!) The Friday night burn of this shantytown was intense. Nearby was The Canister Project by artist, Monica Majcher, a 10 foot long walk-through wind chime made with 15,000 re-purposed whipped-cream charge canisters. It is meant to represent the ridiculousness of single use products that are tossed away. Heading back to our camp at 1pm, I stopped to play The Music Box by Dan Barnes and The Tinkers Knot, a hand-cranked mechanical xylophone. With the wind blowing in our faces, it was tough pedaling back across the open Walk-In Camping Area between the city and the airport.
After eating a late lunch and taking a nap, I hung around camp with my friends as Chad told me about his first shift as Ramp Marshall. Near sunset, we prepared to go out exploring again during my favorite part of the day. On our way out to the Man, we stopped at Unintentional Broken Promises by Adam Kurth. It was a giant money sign covered in Baseball Cards, a symbol of investment that has eroded to worthlessness. We also passed the Chapel of the Chimes, a 6 feet tall honeybee called Beauty is in the Eye of the Beeholder and four large DNA strands with movable parts called Cryspurgery that represented the metamorphosis theme of this year’s Burn. When we reached the Man, there was a Cyr Wheel performance going on where an acrobat stands inside a large metal ring that he spins on the ground. Of the four burns I have attended, this is my second favorite Man after the giant 105 foot tall one in 2014. This year, The Man was emerging from a cocoon suspended over the ground by a base that resembled the legs of the Eiffel Tower. In the outer playa, we saw what looked like a shark flying in the sky. As we approached we saw that it was the Skywhale: The Not Shy Whale by Blake Marcus, Chris Welch and Seven.
After the sun descended below the western hills, we biked over to Swing City where I took my first turn this year on the Traveling Rings. Meeting up with Tommy at Celestial Bodies, we had a nice time just relaxing, drinking and chatting at the bar until 11pm. After Chad left to meet up with a girl he knew from Los Angeles, I went out to explore. In my previous burns, the temperature dropped rapidly after dark but the night stayed warm as I first checked out the Morphoscopes sitting at the center of the 7:30 and G Plaza. I found the short repeating films in the 12 hand-cranked viewers to be hypnotic. In the B Plaza along 7:30, I stopped to watch a woman play on the Keys to the Universe piano. Each key on the modified piano was mapped to generate a specific light pattern in the LED lights. The more chords and progressions that are played, the more complex the light patterns. In the same plaza was Dante’s InFURno, a furries camp that is replica of the similarly-named strip club in the movie, "Beetlejuice".
Out on the darkened playa, my first encounter was with Paraluna created by Christopher Schardt. I kept trying to find the light show created by the giant spinning disc of LED lights at last year’s burn but I kept missing it. Accompanied by classical music, a mechanical boom allows the spinning lights to be lowered and raised over people lying below. I was happy to find it right off the bat on my first night out. After watching for awhile, I continued on until I reached Traversing through Dust by Ramiro Martinez Jr. and the MATH Collective. The lighted bridge was suspended by cables from five towers. There was no railing along the six sections of the octagonal bridge so it would be scary crossing the 20 foot high peak if you were afraid of heights. One of the most distinctive art installations was The Flybrary by Christina Sporrong. Inside the giant head was a 2.5 story library filled with books. I assumed that the stainless-steel flock of abstract birds flying out the top of the head represented his thoughts.
The flaming fireflies of Serenity drew my attention across the playa. There were several buttons that controlled different flames effects and I had fun playing with the interactive sculptures built by the Flaming Lotus Girls. Heading back toward the 3:00 road leading out from the Man, I came across the Pink Spot’s Bunny Party at the Vortex. The music was pumping and everyone was taking turns on the spinning light sculpture created by Martin Taylor. I gave it a try myself, but I wish the hand wheel was just a bit higher off the ground since I am pretty tall. The Vortex’s iridescent panels were more colorful than they appear in the video below. As I started making my way back to camp, I passed the giant letters of Rainbow LOVE by Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg and also found the popular Niloticus sculpture with no one on it. I had fun climbing up onto the snout of the 40 foot long mosaic crocodile by Peter Hazel. It was 1am by the time I climbed into bed in my trailer.
I slept in on Monday morning and the first thing I saw as I stepped out of my trailer all sleepy-eyed was Chad and the rest of my fellow Burner Express Air Volunteers dancing on the ramp at the Black Rock City Airport between arriving planes. After eating a light breakfast of overnight oats, Tommy and John joined me on a trip into the city to visit Kentucky Fried Camp for Baloney and Bourbon. After drinking a couple shots of good Kentucky Bourbon, the camp ran out of their Fried Baloney Sandwiches right as we got to the front of the line. The sweet girl who received the last sandwich right before us split hers in half so the three of us could have one bite of the savory goodness. Heading out onto the Playa, I led them to the rotating Vortex sculpture that I had fun playing with the night before. Tommy made it look easy! Nearby, we posed on the Toxic Unicorn, a life-sized farting unicorn by Madeleine Hamman and the Unicorn Liberation Front. At night, the internal LEDs transformed the white surface into a rainbow of colors.
After the Golden Gate Bridge Art Car cruised past us on the Playa, a fellow Burner offered us Dairy-Free Ice Cream out of his mobile cooler. Later, we encountered a man who had tears in his eyes. He had just come from an art piece that really moved him called The TVs by Steve LaBerge and Damon Koronakos. Each of the 20 fiberglass TVs were embellished by different artists to show what television has meant to them. My favorite art piece was a wooden sculpture of a woman emerging from a cocoon called Mariposita (or Little Butterfly). It was made by Chris Carnabuci from hundreds of stacked plywood sheets.
We had two missions as we entered the city on the other side of the Playa. Our first stop was Celestial Bodies where Chad had accidentally left his backpack the night before. It was not in their "Lost and Found" so we continued on to Camp Short Bus (D & 7:15) to see if I could find Gui, my co-worker's friend from Brazil. I found him setting up camp but he was happy to see me after his rough trip into Black Rock City during the early hours of the morning. (We never found each other again in this chaotic playground.) At a nearby camp, Tommy and I had fun crossing a wobbly Monkey Bridge. I think the last time I crossed a three-rope bridge like this was at a scout camp in my early teens.
On our way home to the Airport, we stopped for Bloody Mary’s at There Ain’t No Virgin Mary Camp. Across the plaza from the outdoor saloon was a mannequin punching bag dressed up as President Trump. I saw a group beating it with huge dildos. Ha! As we passed the Barbie Day Spa, Tommy and I decided to stop for a cool moisturizing facial treatment while John continued on back to camp. Afterwards, we waited in line for a human-powered Ferris Wheel down the street but the operators exhausted themselves right before it was our turn. In the picture below, you can see the two men in the back using their body-weight to hold down the bar during the loading/unloading procedure. The riders needed to kick their feet as they go over the top to keep the Ferris Wheel spinning. We arrived back at the airport around 2 pm where I had lunch with Chad who had finished his morning shift an hour earlier.
At 4:30 pm, ten of us headed out again to explore. Riding along Labyrinth road at the back of the city, we encountered a trampoline where Ryan, Kat, Wolf and Morgan showed off their flipping skills in the video above. Continuing on to the edge of the city, we reached the Big Imagination 747 parked along 2:00 & K. Last year, I circled around the outside of this giant mutant vehicle outfitted from a Boeing 747 but this time we went inside to the upper deck. Before boarding, we went through the T.S.A Zone. (Total Self Acceptance) to be security checked with hugs. Kenny was placed in the VIP boarding zone which meant he went through last. Ha!
The tail of this Boeing had been chopped off so we boarded through the rear of this aircraft turned into a movable night club. I have never been to the upper deck on a 747 flight before so it was interesting to climb to the top floor and visit the cockpit at the front. The roof had been removed from the former First Class seating area to form an outdoor party deck. We had great views of Black Rock City on one side and the open Playa on the other. The giant wings of the airliner had been chopped short with railings added to create two additional outdoor decks.
What started out as a handstand by Tommy turned into a impromptu AcroJam on the top deck. With music blasting, everyone was taking turns performing handstands and other AcroYoga poses while another girl joined in to perform her hooping skills. The grand finale ended with Wolf balancing Ryan in a Standing Hand to Hand. We were part of the last boarding party of the day before the crew emptied the plane to prepare for the dance party later in the evening.
Heading into the Outer Playa, Chad offered to take a group shot of us all next to a little art piece. (Left to Right - Wolf, Mimi, Kenny, Elena, Kat, Maria, Morgan, myself and Ryan) With the range of hills as a background, we had a fun Acro photoshoot. I based Mimi in a Two High while Wolf and Ryan based Morgan and Kat in Standing Hand to Hands. Elena and Mimi also based Kenny in a cool trio pose I have never seen before! I tried several times to capture a photo of our group attempting seven handstands all lined up in a row, but there never was a time where everyone was up at the same time. Several times, they had six good handstands going but their was always at least one falling out of it. Ha!
We continued on to The Folly, an old shanty village built from salvaged lumber that had finished construction the day before. I climbed up into the windmill and clock towers and circled the walkways above the central courtyard surrounded by bridges. I wish I could have spent more time exploring this English Carnival Village but I never made it back to this massive art piece before it burned on Friday night. On our way back to camp for dinner, we stopped for drinks at a bar.
It was 10pm before we headed out again to visit Voted Best Camp where we had see a small wooden Roller Coaster from the upper deck of the Big Imagination 747. It was a short ride that consisted of the drop, a flat section in the middle and then a vertical tower at the far end. It took about 10 minutes to winch the racing seat back up to the top and strap in the next Burner who wanted to be pushed over the edge so we only stayed long enough for Tommy to get his fun but rough ride. Safety Third!!! Exploring, we found a trampoline park at Entheos Camp where we had fun jumping around for awhile. Since I had to wake up at 5:30am the next morning for my first morning shift at the Airport, I headed back to camp to go to sleep at midnight.
On Tuesday morning, my first shift started at 7am after I picked up my Radio and Safety Vest. Since Chad had worked two days as a Ramp Marshal already, I was the rookie in the crew with Franklin as the Lead Marshal. The main responsibilities of the position was to control the movement of the aircraft on the ground as they arrived and departed, directing them with our hand signals into and out of the assigned parking spots. We also had to keep an eye on all passengers and make sure they had a Burner Express Air (BxA) Escort leading them to and from the planes.
The first task I learned was marshaling out the departing aircraft. After receiving a message from the tower that a plane was preparing for departure, I would have to stand in front of the plane and double-check to make sure the ramp was clear of any potential hazards. I would hold up my hand with the Thumbs Up/All Clear signal while the plane's engines started up which could take over 5 minutes. (If I needed to halt the departure for any safety reason, I would change to the Thumbs Down/Not Clear signal.) Once the engines were up and running and the pilot had finished their pre-flight check, they would flash their running lights and I would signal the plane forward and turn them down the taxiway after they safely cleared the parking spot.
For parking the planes, the ramp had two long rows with at least 8 spots in each. When the tower announced that an arriving plane was approaching the airport, we would tell the tower the planned parking spot and prepare to guide the plane after it landed. One of the marshals would stand at the back of the ramp as the Point Person to catch the plane after it departed the runway and turn it down the appropriate numbered lane we had picked out. Once the plane had been passed off, the second marshal standing in front of the designated parking spot would attract the planes attention with raised arms. Once the plane had turned to face the second marshal, he would repeat the Taxi Straight Ahead signal. (Rarely, we would need to give additional turn signals if the plane drifted off the line.) As the plane approached within 50 feet, the marshal would slowly raise their arms in the Normal Stop signal until their arms crossed over their heads. Timing this slow stop was the hardest part of the marshal's job and the part that I was most nervous about. Facing down a loud propeller plane as it taxied straight towards me was pretty stressful until I got the hang of it. We would hold the stop signal until the engines were off and the propellers had stopped spinning.
After signaling for the Escorts to come out for the passengers and luggage, we would check for leaks around the plane and radio the tail number into the Flight Tracker. (I had to memorize the Aviation Alphabet before the Burn.) When the arriving flights are spaced out, the job is pretty easy. Since it was Tuesday, the ramp wasn't too busy, but we had several times when multiple planes were landing in a row with passengers walking out to departing flights at the same time. The most stressful time on Tuesday came when we were practicing passing off a plane to three different ramp marshals in order to park in a front spot when a distracted pilot walked across our taxiway. We stopped the plane in time, but it was a scary moment.
After parking planes all day, I finally went out exploring with Chad, Tommy and Lisa. Crossing the Playa, the first art piece we encountered was SACRA by Kirsten Bern of Berkeley. This totemic gateway represented the pivot point between the infinite and the finite. The sun was setting behind the hills as we watched the Lamplighters march down the 6:00 road to light up the city. On the other side of the road we found burners watching the sunset on the porch swings of Circus Fabulae, a two story structure created by Benjamin Jones and the Populus Ludere from Brooklyn.
We were drawn to Corpus, the towering metal sculpture by Michael Christian that reminded me of the invading alien tripods from "War of the Worlds". We climbed the twisting ladder into the belly of the eight legged creature and looked out across the playa through the six portholes. The filigree pattern of the metal skin was beautiful, but sharp. A fellow burner cut his finger on an edge but luckily a nurse with first aid supplies happened to be visiting the sculpture at the same time.
Heading out into the Deep Playa, we rode past the Temple of Direction by Geordie Van Der Bosch. Strangely, I kept seeing this large structure in the distance and thinking the temple must be hidden behind it. It took me a day or two to realize that it "actually" was the temple that I was looking at. After ringing a church bell at the top of a wooden tower, we headed toward a distant crowd surrounding the hand-holding figures of Broken but Together by Michael Benisty. The mirrored surfaces of the sculpture were reflecting the final rays of the twilight sky. The black crows of Murder Inc. had alighted on the ground behind them. This flock of 100 birds created by Charles Gadeken flew around the playa visiting other installations throughout the eight days.
My wife, Tori, was not able to make it to Burning Man this year. We were all missing her so Chad, Tommy and Lisa helped me spell out her name on the Playa so we could could send her the picture. Closer to the trash fence, we stopped at Individuation, another chrome sculpture of two figures entwined in a close embrace. We had a nice chat with the artist from Scotland, Euan McLeod, who was out there giving it a quick polish with his cloth. We took turns climbing up on to the rounded, slightly wobbly surface. (Lisa slipped off but climbed right back up!) We continued on to the Happy Birthday (MEGA CAKE) by Thom White. We climbed the circular staircases inside the four story tower and took the twisting slide back down. The bottom layer was filled with birthday gifts for every day of the year! I watched it burn on Thursday night from my high perch on the Elevation Tower.
From the third story of the Happy Birthday (MEGA CAKE), I kept trying to capture the rapid propane flares of an art car with my iPhone 6s but it's older camera couldn’t hack it. Chad tried with his newer phone and was able to take this wonderful shot below. Riding back to camp in the darkness, we stopped at Taking Flight by Nicki Adani. This 20 foot tall sculpture resembled an elegant version of a Harpy, that mythical creature that is half bird and half human. We also saw a burner swinging back and forth in the Space Polyp, a pendulum platform created by photon_wizard. Chad took a picture of me in my pink tutu while I was capturing a photo of Bee Dance by Andrea Greenlees. I loved the little copper ballet shoes the two dancing bees were wearing. Back at camp, we hung out with our friends for the rest of the evening, eating dinner and playing on the Aerial Rig.
Wednesday was Chad's first day off from working at the Airport. After he slept in, we rode across the Walk-In Camping Area to explore the city and find some food for breakfast. It was a cloudy morning as we passed The Tunnel of Glove at Spanky’s Wine Bar (4:00 & D). I liked the warning sign outside that said "DO NOT walk into this groping booth unless you wish to be fondled by strangers!" We also passed the colorful Temple uv Enlightenment sitting at the center of the 3:00 Plaza at G.
Our first stop was Kentucky Fried Camp (3:00 & B) for another chance at a Fried Baloney Sandwich. Since they ran out of baloney right as I reached the front of the line on Monday, they remembered me on this trip back and they gave both of us an extra piece of baloney atop our slice of white bread. So yum! They are so tasty, we came back for a third time later in the week. After stopping for a drink at a nearby bar, Chad and I started heading toward Celestial Bodies to see if Chad's missing backpack ever showed up. Along the way, we stopped for french crepes at the Krepe Burners Camp where we bumped into Dave and Lindsay. Across the street we could hear The Playa Choir (6:15 & G) rehearsing for their Sunday Performance.
After having no luck at Celestial Bodies, we spent time exploring the Inner Playa. First to attract our attention was I.L.Y., the 27 foot tall forearm created by Dan Mountain. The movable fingers of this metal sculpture made of scrap metal were changed everyday and could shoot flames. On Wednesday, the hand sign was “The Shocker”. Nearby was the beautiful and ethereal Pieuvre by Kelly Schott. This delicate octopus, named Ursula, was created of stainless steel, copper and brass and looked like it was floating across the ocean floor. I also climbed the spiraling tower of books with a comfortable reading chair at the top, called The Bard’s Branch.
Since Chad hadn't seen Mariposita yet, I revisited the wooden sculpture made from stacked plywood in the shape of woman emerging from an egg. It looked beautiful with the fluffy white clouds overhead. Chad decided to check the city's official Lost and Found so we headed to Center Camp where we passed the colorful quilts of Transition in Comfort by Michelle Tarantino along the way. Chad's backpack was not there either but we got to check out the Wings of Glory by Adrian Landon. This giant metal Pegasus sculpture would gallop and flap its flaming wings when enough people pushed the multiple buttons surrounding its base.
While heading toward the foam shower camp, we stopped at a giant labyrinth drawn on the playa surface. It took about 10 minutes for me to walk to the center of the maze. (The clouds were so beautiful on Wednesday as we rode the streets of Black Rock City!) The line at Foam Home (2:30 & G) looked long, but it moved pretty fast. This year, they had an evolution theme called FoamOGenesis! and I thought it was very well done. We even heard a talk from a Geneticist. Chad and I ended up coming back again on Thursday for another foam shower.
After our refreshing showers, we stopped for margaritas at the New York Sock Exchange and then headed over to DeMentha to escape the midday heat, drinking Mojitos and dancing under the cool misting fans. As we left, we stopped for chicken tacos at the Adult Novelty Shoppe camp. (In the picture below, you can see that Chad got more than he was expecting!) We were still hungry so we stopped for Ramen soup at Ofosho camp. We had a nice time chatting with a couple other burners as we ate under the shade tent.
Back in the default world, I never nap but I attempted to take one every day during this Burn. Even if I didn't always fall asleep, it was great to lie in my air-conditioned trailer and rest for an hour. We were hooked up to the Burner Express Air electrical grid last year as well but it was often overloaded so we rarely used the A/C. Later in the day, Chad repaired Morgan's broken bike as strong winds and thunder clouds filled the sky. We tightened down the hatches in preparation for the predicted storm but the rain ended up bypassing us close to the North and we only received a few scattered sprinkles.
As the rain fell on the nearby hills instead, Wayne and Lisa continued with their plans to renew their wedding vows on the Playa. Lisa wore her original wedding dress that she had planned to wear before getting pregnant with their second child, six months before their 2015 wedding. As we all headed out to celebrate together, I found a magical little spot for the ceremony in front of an Arabian Minaret by Nicole Ashton, called As You Wish. After Dave performed the ceremony, Wayne lifted Lisa into the air in a High Bird.
After the vow renewal, we all continued on to The Man. Chad and I took pictures while wearing the Neon Bow Ties gifted by our friend, Sean Toohey, that glow in the flash of a camera. In the pavilion around the Man, we accidentally discovered the secret within the circular seating area of E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many One. If you stand in just the exact right spot, you can hear your voice amplified in your ear by hidden speakers.
We had fun taking turns finding the right spot and singing whatever we felt like. It felt so weird to hear your own voice that way. In the pictures below, you can see Tommy and myself taking our turns within the circular seating area as well as Morgan and Lisa singing “Part of Your World” from the Little Mermaid. We had several other Burners join in and we heard a Czech lullaby. I loved the warm nights this year. We only needed jackets for our sunrise shifts at the airport.
Grilled cheese sandwiches were calling so we headed to Moon Cheese Grill along the Esplanade. (Their live band, Crossroads, was rockin!) On our way to Swing City, we stopped for cinnamon sugar goodness at Get Toasted Camp (9 & B Plaza) with shots of Cinnamon Whiskey to top it off. Wolf, Tommy and Morgan all had fun on the Kiiking Swing while I took another turn on the Traveling Rings before heading back to camp to sleep before my early morning shift the next day.
Since I had more experience, my second shift as Ramp Marshal at the Black Rock City Airport on Thursday was much smoother. During the busiest times it was like a giant game of Tetris as we juggled the arriving and departing flights in and out of the two rows of parking spots. It was a fun challenge! This time I spent a lot of the time out beyond the ramp as the Point Person, tossing the planes from the runway in towards Chad, Kenny and Chuck. It was a mostly clear day, but I had a prolonged dust cloud obscure a plane that I could hear taxiing toward me but couldn't see. When the hidden plane finally emerged from the dust, he was off-course but I was able to catch the pilot's attention and bring him back on line. In the video below, I am marshaling out a departing Beechcraft 1900D. This twin engine turboprop aircraft can carry 19 passengers and was the largest charter plane in the Burner Express Air fleet.
After a long hot shift at the airport, Chad and I decided to make another trip to Foam Home for a refreshing shower. The line was a lot longer on this day, but it felt great to soap off the multiple layers of dust and sunscreen. While Chad went off to meet up with Dr. Love for a Playa Date that Lisa set up for them during her work shift, I went in search of food and found it at Hot Dog Heaven. Normally, I would skip a hot dog, but this one really hit the spot. After hanging out for a couple hours with my friends back at camp, I rode into the city again for quesadillas when the Burner Buddies Drive Thru opened up at 7pm. It was a fun to order at the speaker box before riding forward to the Pickup Window to receive my cheesy treat. (No Shirts, No Shorts, No Problem!) They had menu board with five different types, Quesadilla, Tortilla and Cheese, Panqueque con Queso, Quesadilla de la Plancha, and the new Fiesta Quesadilla but they were all the same. Ha!
While eating my quesadilla, I watched two Butterflies battling it out across the road at Never Never Camp. (4:30 & K) This is what I love about Burning Man, you never know what you will encounter from street to street. At 9pm, I headed over to Celestial Sideshow (2:30 & G) for their Acrobatics and Fire Performance. The theme camp is from San Diego as well and I knew several of the performers from the AcroYoga classes and AcroJams that my wife and I attend back home.
The performance started with an Interpretive Dance piece and continued with Standing Partner Acrobatics, Fire Dancing, AcroYoga, Silks and Lyra performances. It was great to see several of my AcroYoga teachers performing on the stage with the accompanying band. There was also a funny clown routine performed to Celine Dion's song, "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic. Since I mostly practice L-Base AcroYoga, my favorite performance is in the video below where the flyer was spinning flaming spheres while based in several AcroYoga poses. During the Grand Finale, ten performers took the stage at the same time.
It was a little after 11 pm when I left Celestial Sideshow. I was pretty tired so I planned only a quick trip out onto the Playa but since it was a warm night, I ended up exploring until 1 am. The first art piece I encountered was the O Nome da Rosa (The Name of the Rose) created by Nuno Paulino and Artelier. During the day, this sculpture of a six-armed goddess uses solar rays to create a controlled fire with a Fresnel lens. A dust storm was blowing as I rode past Niloticus, the 40 foot long mosaic crocodile, and arrived at The Intersection X. This year, an ethereal tree had overgrown a corner of the piece of city life sitting in the empty desert with its crosswalks, traffic lights and bus stop.
Drawn to the huge structure, I made my first visit to The Temple of Direction built this year by Geordie Van Der Bosch. For his design, the artist was inspired by the Torii Gates from Shinto Temples in Japan. At 180-feet-long, 37-feet-wide, and 36-feet-high, there was twenty gates in a row, rising twice as high at the middle. This was the most imposing of the four temples that I have seen during my four Burns, tall and straight but starkly beautiful.
I made another visit to The Flybrary, 2.5 story library inside the giant head, before continuing onto the Cocoonap by Artmisto of Ukraine. Each of the cocoon’s wooden petals was made with stenciled designs that were illuminated at night with LED lights. I talked to one of the piece’s artists and she told me that the wind was blowing too strongly that night for the cocoon to open so I didn’t get a chance to see what was inside. Continuing on, I crossed over the peak of Fragments 2019, created by Marc Ippon de Ronda of France. The central triangular staircase was surrounded by illuminated mirrored fragments.
Riding on, I found the empty Fire Kethedral stage, created by Reared in Steel. This Gothic-inspired structure is a 40 foot tall pipe organ that shoots flames into the air. Each of the organ’s 88 keys are mapped to different fire effects. Nearby was the Positive Reactor by Assaf Allouche. This wooden geometric structure was made of endless triangles that form the Merkaba symbol from the center. Out in the Deep Playa, I found an old gas station from the early 21st Century before electric cars took over the roads. Awful’s Gas and Snack by Matthew Gerring and the Crank Factory is a museum piece from the future, recreated to show the public in 2120 what could be found on almost every corner in the early 21st Century.
After filling up with fuel, I rode over to the Illumicone. The LED lights were controlled by widgets inside the 19 foot tall cone built by Ross Butler. Like a beacon, the 65 foot tall Elevation Tower drew me to it and I started to climb the five-story set of monkey bars. I was pretty nervous with hidden people climbing above me in the dark so I stopped halfway up to watch the Happy Birthday (Mega Cake) go up in flame in the distance. Beyond the tower, I found Desert WAVE by Squidsoup, made of 650 hanging lights forming a breaking wave in the desert.
While wandering on the Deep Playa, I came across a display of tripod lights, called Playatic Forrest by the Logical Phallusy Art Collective. (Their short description of their piece is very accurate - "A lighted field of strange lights for exploring out in the deep.") As I started to head back toward the city, I was drawn to the pulsating lights emanating from the Chakra Cannon, a 3000 watt light cannon activated by the human voice. When participants are able to harmonize their voices into the three surrounding speakers, it would respond by blasting a powerful spotlight into the sky. (I took a turn, but my group wasn't able to trigger the spotlight.) It was cool when three other Burners were finally able to achieve the feat. I stopped to visit the Head Maze, a four story structure built by Matthew Schultz. I thought about standing in line to explore the 18 room labyrinth within the giant head but I was starting to get too sleepy.
Slonik, the 75 foot fluorescent elephant visible from anywhere on the Playa, helped guide me into the Inner Playa. During the day it is a bright green but the giant inflatable would change colors throughout the night. The Monumental Mammoth sculpture inspired by the girl scout, Tahoe Mack, is a life-sized steel skeleton of the Columbian Mammoth covered with a skin of found metal objects. It is an extinct relative of the elephant that was found throughout the US and Mexico and was larger then the Woolly Mammoth that roamed further north in Canada. My last stop before riding back to camp to sleep was No Place Like Home near the Esplanade. It was a swirling Tornado of Fire created by a circle of powerful fans. Even though the nights were warmer at Burning Man this year, it still felt great to feel the heat from these roaring flames at 1 am.
On Friday morning, our last free day at Burning Man without a work shift, Chad and I went back for the third time to Kentucky Fried Camp for Bourbon and Fried Baloney Sandwiches. Their baloney is high quality meat from a deli instead of just regular Oscar Meyer. Fried in its own fat, it is served on white bread with mustard, ketchup and hot sauce for those who want a spicy kick. This time I had two shots of bourbon, one while waiting in line and a second as I ate my delicious sandwich.
After lounging around the rest of the morning at camp, Chad and I went to Center Camp with Lindsay and Kirstin on our way to pick up some bags of ice for Tommy while he was busy working. (The freezer in my trailer worked so well that I had not needed to make an ice run for myself all week.) After checking out the art in Center Camp, watching some AcroYoga and listening to an Acapella Group singing on a side stage, we picked up our ice at Artica and rode home before it could melt. We felt pretty lazy in the heat, so we just hung out under the aerial rig's shade cloth with our camp mates. I had never heard of it before, but I tried my first White Claw hard seltzer given to me by Wolf. I also received a back adjustment from Michael. Instead of cracking my back, he made tiny adjustments to my spine with his fingers as I sat in front of him on a upturned bucket. His technique worked great and got rid of the pinching pain I had in my upper back from sleeping on the unfamiliar bed in my trailer.
At 5pm, Chad and I headed out to explore before our camp's potluck at 7pm. Mid-week, a new art piece appeared of balloons flying an upside down boy. The piece by Vasily Klyukin and Zurab Ermilov of Russia was called Why People Can’t Fly? Further out, we stopped at Koro Loco, the three dimensional heart created by Emily Nicolosi. The reflective tiles were coated in dust by the end of the week but they still radiated out a rainbow of light. Beyond the Man, we stopped so I could climb up onto Bee Dance. In the picture below, you can see the view of the playa from out on the wing.
Even though I had visited the Temple of Direction the night before, I wanted to see it again during daylight hours. It was Chad's first time visiting the solemn temple covered in tributes to the friends and family members who had passed away. We split up as Chad found a spot to write a message for his younger cousin, Jake, who died in 2018. I had hung out with Jake several times when he came down to San Diego to stay with Chad for a few months. He was a great guy who moved to Thailand to learn mixed martial arts. In 2015, Jake and Chad were able to travel together in India for awhile.
Beyond the Temple, a new road extended out into the Deep Playa this year. It was called the Larry Harvey Memorial Highway and ran out to the Larry Harvey Memorial that was named after the co-founder who built the first Man to be burned in 1986. We continued on to the Phoenix and the Butterfly created by Swig Miller. Consisting of two 25 foot tall pyramids, filled with metal spheres, they were topped with a Phoenix on one and a Butterfly on the other. I climbed to the platform at the top of the Butterfly pyramid.
From the top of the pyramid, I finally spotted The Altar of Intentions, a man-made Whirlpool created in the desert by the Brazilian Burners. I spent all of Thursday night trying to track down this piece but I couldn’t find it. When I finally found it on Friday, I realized I had visited all the art pieces in a tight circle around it without ever finding it in the dark. It was hypnotizing to watch the water swirl around in the clear tube. With the sun starting to set, we stopped at Windchest by Ange Sarno. The lights and music of this art installation are activated by stepping on the square pads surrounding it. We also passed the smaller Temple of Inclusion on our way back to camp.
We brought a salad and spicy Portuguese sausages to the potluck and had a great time with John manning the grill. (The pre-made salad mixes from Trader Joe's are perfect for camping. We pretty much shared one every other day.) While we were all eating we could see a large cloud of smoke rising from the city on the other side of the walk-in camping area. The smoke rising in the twilight sky was blacker than usual so we were concerned that some camp in the city had caught fire but we found out later it was just a normal burn. At 10 pm, a group of us went dancing at Camp Questionmark on the edge of the open playa. I could see the spouting flames of El Pulpo Mecanico next door so I went over to visit. The mechanical art car was back this year after a 2 year absence. We missed him!
After dancing, Kenny led us over to Welcome Home, an open-air house on stilts raised 12 feet off the ground. With no railings and large gaps in the floor between the rooms, you really had to watch your step so you wouldn't tumble off the edge. I had to overcome a lot of hesitation before I sat down in one of the lounge chairs with its two outer legs hanging freely off the Living Room's raised platform. Kenny and I crawled out to the outer seats of the Dining Room table and played with the Ouija Board. It was nice to chill there and watch the lights of the Playa.
We all visited Rainbow LOVE by Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg and posed with all the giant letters. On my way back to camp, I stopped to watch the elaborate cirque performance along the Esplanade. While high flying aerial acts were being performed on the main stage, the two smaller side stages were demonstrating Shibari, the Japanese art of rope bondage.
Saturday was my first day with an afternoon work shift. Normally I prefer the morning shift so I can get it out of the way and have the rest of the day to do what ever I want. I slept in and texted with my wife back home since the airport's WiFi was only good in the morning and late evenings. Since Saturday is the first day of Exodus, it was a crowded ramp when my shift started at 12:30 pm. It was mostly departing planes full of Burners leaving before the Man Burn, but we still had to park all the empty planes returning to pick up more passengers. The Ramp Marshal skill that was hardest for me to master was parking the planes perfectly along the rows, making sure not to stop them too short or too long. Since we had many airplanes of different sizes, it was hard to judge the right spot along the line of orange traffic cones. Halfway through my shift, I ended up seeing the people I had been chatting with in line at Kentucky Fried Camp the day before. I could hear him chanting "Bourbon and Baloney" as he walked out to his departing plane with his girlfriend. While I love taking photos, my fellow Ramp Marshals, Ryan and Chuck, are professional photographers so it was interesting during our downtime to hear their technical talk about the cameras and lenses they use.
After a busy day working at the airport, our Burner Express Air crew let off some steam, starting an impromptu AcroJam and playing on the trapeze. Chad was hilarious as he walked around with the megaphone performing his excellent Harry Carry impression while everyone got dressed for the Man Burn. (Many of our younger camp mates had no clue who the former Cubs baseball announcer was.) The Fire Conclave started performing in an inner circle around the Man after we arrived at 8:30. I took the picture below as the crowd was illuminated with a bright blast from an Art Car’s propane flare behind us. After the fire dancers completed their performance, the Man Burn began with intense fireworks as the flames quickly spread and engulfed the wooden figure. My favorite parts are the giant explosions that send huge fireballs shooting into the sky, causing the crowd to raise their arms and cheer in response. With the smaller Man this year, it burnt and collapsed pretty quickly. Since I had a 5:30 am shift in the morning, I headed back home right afterward to catch some much needed sleep.
For my Sunday morning shift, I had originally been on the schedule to be a Passenger Escort, but they ended up switching me back to Ramp Marshal for the day. We had to rush out to the ramp as the sun rose from behind the nearby hills since we had several flights departing right as the airport officially opened. We had patches of calm, but it was my busiest Exodus day out on the ramp. We had so many planes arriving in a row at one point that I had to toss an arriving plane down the correct row and then run down to the end to catch and park it myself since all the other ramp marshals were tied up with other planes.
During my final shift as a Ramp Marshal, Chuck captured these cool shots of me marshaling out a departing King Air at the Black Rock City Airport. For this photo sequence, I had to stand closer than I normally did to the departing plane. I had planned to have my head turned to the camera along my pointing arm for the final photo, but I was nervous about the wingtip hitting me in the head so I looked back at the last second. I knew I had plenty of room between me and the wing, but I could not help myself.
I was pretty exhausted at the end of my shift, but I wanted to go out and explore the Playa one last time. While some of the installations are being taken down by the artists on the day after the Man Burn, a lot pieces are still out there to see with much less people crowding around them. It's also a good time to meet the artists who may be preparing to break them down. Sunday was the first day that I was able to visit the Monumental Mammoth without a large group around its base. Further out, I visited Phoenix Rising for the first time. The 10 foot tall metal sculpture created by Lisa Nigro and Scott Gasparian combined the shape of a rooster and peacock. The flamethrower in its mouth produced flames in sync with the heartbeat of a participant wearing a fingertip pulse monitor. I made another visit to The Head Maze. I wish I could have explored the 18 room labyrinth inside the four story structure.
Sunday was also my chance to visit Stone 27 without a long line to climb the structure created by Benjamin Langholz. The twenty-seven stones of the bridge appear to hover above the ground, suspended by guy wires from only 4 support pillars. Each of the stones weighed up to 609 pounds and the highest suspended one was 20 feet off the ground. The first time I traversed it, I held tightly to the supporting guy wires. On the second time, I managed to climb while only touching the stones themselves. Crossing over the peak on wobbling rocks was the scariest moment.
On Thursday night, I only made it up to the 3rd level of the 65 foot Elevation tower but when I returned on Sunday, I overcame my fear to climb all the way up. The first time I was worried about someone falling from above and hitting me so I was always looking up into the darkness above me. With less people, I was able to appreciate how sturdy the structure was as I climbed it. So many good spots to place my hands and feet. At the top, I felt like a king as I sat in the throne 54 feet over the Playa. The tower was originally built for the 2008 Burn by Michael Christian but I am glad it returned this year.
I make sure to visit the trash fence at least once every burn so I rode out to the far edge of the playa after climbing down from the tower. Riding along the outer fence, I could see the two intertwined chrome figures of Individuation being loaded into a trailer by its artist. I revisited the hand-holding figures of Broken but Together and had a picture taken with the sculpture. Nearby, I took a rest from all my biking to sit on Playascape, an undulating set of wooden bleachers built by Alex Haw. Heading back into the Inner Playa, I stopped to admire From There to Here & Here to There, a roadside billboard created by Teri Bevelacqua with 10 painted panels representing different journeys along the way.
Dust Storms were blowing frequently all day and the two story structure of Circus Fabulae kept appearing and disappearing as I rode toward it. Parking my bike, I climbed up to the second floor and relaxed on the shaded porch swings for awhile. Nearby, the crews were cleaning up the ashes of the Man Burn the night before. As I walked across the still smoking ground, the only parts of the structure that remained were the twisted metal supports of the base.
Before heading back to camp, I visited the three-sided Ruins of Chapel Perilous created by Rob Leifheit and the Enchanted Booty Forest. I found Bee or Not to Bee covered in playa dust which I thought made a nice substitution for the normal pollen coating of honeybees. While I had rode past it many times, on my last day exploring I stopped for a closer examination of Internal Exposure by Jessica Levine. I really liked the delicate-looking but climbable metal work of the head sculpture with deep-set mosaic glass eyes.
After taking a much needed nap, I hung out with Chad and my fellow camp mates, telling stories as we ate an early potluck dinner before the Temple Burn. The sky was filling with the most beautiful sunset of the week as we prepared to head back out to the Playa for the final event of Burning Man. The oranges and pinks were finally fading from the clouds as the flames began to lick at the wooden Temple of Direction. Smoke rose high to the sky above the silent crowd as the fire roared and consumed all the memorials covering the structure.
The heat was so intense this year from the giant-sized Temple that I had to stand up from where I was sitting with Chad and Dr. Love and move further back to a more comfortable distance. We watched until the structure collapsed but we didn't stay long after since we had another early shift the next morning. After picking up our bikes where we parked them by The Intersection X, we rode back to camp passing The Flybrary and the Toxic Unicorn, transformed by the internal LEDS at night into a rainbow of colors. Riding through the city, we also passed the flaming Fan Coral by Bryson Allen of San Diego.
During my last shift on Monday morning, I was an Escort, wrangling passengers safely out to their departing planes while Chad worked at the Check-In Counter in the Burner Express Air Terminal. It was nice working together with Dave and Lindsay for the first time all week as we watched the sunrise together. Tommy kept everyone happy frying up lots of Candied Bacon to share with the whole crew on a busy Exodus. I spent a lot of time standing around in the Departure Terminal, waiting to collect the next group of passengers to escort out to their plane. Frequently, they would want to get in a last-second fashion shoot on the active airfield so I had to make sure they didn’t wander more than a few steps from their planes.
As the day heated up, I grew pretty sleepy in the stuffy terminal so I drank a Red Bull for the first time in long while. There was a nice break in the day when a Playagram arrived for Chuck, our Ramp Marshal Lead, and I led the courier out to deliver his surprise gift. (It turned out to be a Spanking Whip and the courier asked for me to take a photo of Chuck using it on her. Ha!) It was also nice to have Chuck tell me that he missed me and wished that I could have been helping him as a Ramp Marshal that day. When our shift ended, Chad and I finished up the last of our packing. We considered staying until the end of the afternoon shift to join the group photo after the last flight, but we decided to head out of the city instead of sitting around in the heat for another five hours.
After saying goodbye to all our friends, we hooked up the trailer and headed out. The last picture I took in Black Rock City was of a Golf Cart Race we came across as we drove along Labyrinth Road. (There had to be at least 20 carts participating. Fun!) Part of me wanted to extend the Burning Man experience by sitting in the long Exodus line, but we took advantage of our Service Credentials to take the Service Exit at Point 1 for the first time. Even though we had permission, the gate keepers were pretty grumpy about letting us through to the Service Road. It felt nice to hit the paved highway so quickly. In Nixon, Chad and I pulled over for Indian Tacos. Every year, I have wanted to stop for one but it never seemed to happen until now. They were very tasty! By 7:30 pm, we were camped in the RV Park at the Carson Valley Inn, enjoying a long warm showers.
On Tuesday morning, we headed South at 10 am. After driving though the Eastern Sierras, we checked out Crooked Creek which flows through a picturesque river gorge into Crowley Lake. For lunch we stopped at Erik Schat’s Bakkery where we both ordered the Mule Kick sandwich with roast beef and spicy mustard. Our only incident was the stability bar falling off the trailer hitch as we stopped for gas at the ARCO in Victorville. I am so glad it didn't happen while we were driving. Who knows what kind of damage it could have done? We made good time and arrived home at 11 pm. It was great to kiss my wife! That was the longest time we have ever been apart since we got married in 2014.
Link to my previous 2018 Burning Man post
Link to my previous 2015 Burning Man post
Link to my previous 2014 Burning Man post