Off The Map Week 11: Burning The Night Away

By: Bryan Snyder

Off the Map Week 11: Burning the night away

The gorilla and his bride-to-be stood at the end of the pier, hand-in-hand, as the presiding official put the megaphone to his lips and began the ceremony. “Do you, Tuffy, take this gorilla to be your lawfully-wedded husband… ‘til death do you part?” “I do,” said the blushing bride, with white feathers in her dreadlocks matching her immaculate dress. The priest continued. “Do you, gorilla, take this woman to be your lawfully-wedded wife… ‘til death do you part?” “UUNNNGH!” grunted Rymo through the slits in the gorilla mask, as the wedding party broke apart in fits of laughter. I’d say we were in for an entertaining night on the playa.

The setting for the night’s activities was the Burning Man Festival, which was held annually in the arid Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada. 50,000 people unleashing mayhem in a temporary city designed by artists and anarchists. Imagine if thousands of men and women, instead of running off to join the circus, had persuaded all the circuses of the world to run off and join them. That’s Burning Man. A few large structures had been commissioned, but the rest were labors of love, built to satisfy the creative aspirations of feverish minds.

My camp had built a three-story structure to the specifications of our own feverish architect, and the tower featured a trampoline on the top floor. Like many creations at Burning Man, our structure doubled as both a bar and a DJ booth. But tonight we were not hosting any parties. We were out in search of other sources of electronic music, and thankfully we had brought with us a vehicle worthy of a trip across Black Rock City: the Pyrobar.

The Pyrobar certainly lived up to its name. Benches folded out on both sides, so festival attendees could chase us across the dusty playa, jump onto a seat and present their cup, which we would fill with a free alcoholic beverage for their efforts. And of course, the vehicle could shoot jets of fire. A lounge filled with pillows was available atop the Pyrobar when one began to feel sleepy, and a crane was equipped with a long, dangling silk for aerial performances.

For all its accoutrements and features, our vehicle was not the most eccentric to roam the desert. We shared the chaotic terrain with all the mutant vehicles that the craziest minds on the planet could invent: giant insects, fish and flowers, pirate ships and pink kittens with grasping claws. Eye candy was everywhere, lit up by neon lights, lasers and shifting banks of LED bulbs. Even the people without vehicles would festoon their bikes or persons with glowsticks and LED beacons.

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The site of the wedding was another inventive project: a long fisherman’s pier built out of old, splintery boards to replicate the feel of the real structure, minus the presence of any sort of water. A bait shop lent out fishing poles and lures to attract the varied assortment of Black Rock City citizenry: glow sticks to attract ravers, aluminum cans to attract avid environmentalists, etc. The fisherfolk sat patiently on the pier, hoping to hook passersby, who were usually game to take part in the joke.

And of course, ridiculous stunts like the aforementioned gorilla wedding were occurring throughout the city. For now, we remained focused on the antics of our friends. Rymo was demonstrating the typical Burning Man attitude towards safety by spinning fire in his highly-flammable gorilla costume. And Tuffy actually did set her wedding dress on fire a few times during the reception.

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