La Playa Perdida

31 Aug

“Check out her tits!”

Such was the beginning of the end of my family’s multi-year sojourns to Burning Man.  We’d enjoyed a good four- or five-year run, towing our elementary school-aged son out to the Playa for a week’s worth of wholesome, dusty family fun and creative inspiration in the desert.    All of those years had been, up til the point I overheard the above prophetic utterance, blissfully douchebag-free.

Ye Olde Adage that Nothing Lasts Forever had, in that moment, suddenly proven itself true. The “thing” that did not last, in this case, sadly, was what had been my favorite aspect of Burning Man: no Regular People.  The straight world held no quarter here; it was the land of Freaks Only, and participating in it was liberating.  Any of my fellow Weirdos out there can attest to what a burden it is to have to live among the rest of you, half-assedly feigning interest in your football games and Kardashian dramas and Black Fridays and latest apps and exclamations of “check out her tits!” It had been so thoroughly refreshing to be free of all that on the Playa, to meet nothing but smiles from other outcasts, maybe have someone hand you a giant pickle, make up your fortune on the spot, or sing you a song.

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My little man with The Man, circa 2002

But now the people and consumer culture we’d come out to the desert to escape were here. Booo.

Each year we had dutifully packed everything in and meticulously out, brought our own food, shelter, water, artmaking materials, and homemade gifts to hand out to strangers, all in the spirit of Burning Man’s professed celebration of Radical Self-Reliance.  It was a lot of work, but worth it for the pure joy of a dusty week of freedom. Thus, that blaring clarion call of “Check out her tits!” wasn’t just the sexist banality of some blockhead.  It was the encapsulation of all that is wrong with the straight world, and it was utterly crushing to discover said world had found its way out to the Playa. Not at all surprising, really – much of the best art and ideas ultimately get co-opted and absorbed into the mainstream – but a bummer nonetheless.

Fast forward another 15 years, and Burning Man is now so famously highfalutin, it attracts visits from celebs like the actual Kardashians.  Google and Facebook execs stake out entire air-conditioned compounds, and – actually, I don’t really care what other emetic nonsense is going on there nowadays.  I just know that paying an extra couple grand on top of your admission ticket to join a theme camp where caviar is delivered to you by drone and all your other needs are provided for on demand doesn’t sound much like Radical Self-Reliance to me.  Nor does that sound like anywhere I want to be.

But don’t listen to this curmudgeon! If you’ve always wanted to go and haven’t yet – do it.  The art will absolutely blow your mind, and you’ll have the immense satisfaction that comes with crossing something off your bucket list. Most likely you are not a Freak (since we are in the minority), thus better adjusted than I when it comes to comingling with non-Freaks, so will have a perfectly lovely time.

And don’t forget to check out some tits!

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