Off the Map Week 10: Dust to dust

Wearing horns, fur and a tail in the middle of the Nevada desert may sound embarrassing. But wearing horns and fur and getting your tail stuck in your bike chain… now that’s truly embarrassing. And I was thoroughly stuck, unable to even turn around because my tail was wrapped too tightly around the gears. Over my shoulder loomed the words “THE END,” written in plywood letters stacked twenty feet high, and I could scarcely dispute their literal implication; my wanderings had effectively ended unless I found a way to extricate myself from the machinery.

The Burning Man Festival tends to throw its participants into one surreal situation after another, I’ve noticed. Inviting 50,000 artists, nudists and hippies onto a lifeless plain in the Black Rock Desert and perpetually dehydrating them produces strange and uneven results. Yet somehow each year they manage to build a city from scratch, constructing million-dollar sculptures, circuses, dance clubs on wheels and everything from thirty-foot bottles of ketchup to mechanical spiders that belch flame.

A fellow citizen of Black Rock City came to my rescue before I was forced to remove my trousers and work on my bicycle naked from the waist down. Unable to tug my furry tail free, the stranger pulled a sharp knife from his backpack. “Is it going to hurt?” I whined, cringing as the blade sliced through the fake fur. I was free, but wounded in dignity. I had become rather attached to that appendage, but I guess furry tails and bicycles were not meant to be together.

I was left holding pieces of my severed tail, but it is hard to remain glum when there are so many places to explore and so many structures to climb, such as ten-story skyscrapers, dance club jungle gyms, fireman’s ladders, and even tetrahedrons made of baseballs and bats. Most people assume a festival of this sort would be amoral and anarchic. I find a strong sense of civil morals exists in Black Rock City, but to fully engage in the culture, you have to quiet the voice in your head that tells you not to wear mismatched socks or run with scissors. This is not the place for conformity. Radical self-expression is the furnace that supplies energy to the world of Burning Man, with the caveat that your actions should be respectful to your neighbors.

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