Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Nod

So I recently re-watched "Groove", a movie from 2000 about an underground party in San Francisco.  It's been 18 years since that movie, and it's been 5 since I last went to Burning Man, and I was thinking about how commercial and mainstream raves have become.  But here was a good scene, and it sums up my years in the festival and the last years when I really contributed.  I've been both of these people:

Guy: Why do you do this to yourself? Don't even get paid, risk getting arrested, for what?
Ernie: You don't know?
Guy: No.
Ernie: The Nod.
Guy: The Nod?
Ernie: Happens to me at least once every party. Some guy comes up to me and says "Thank you for making this happen... I needed this. This really meant something to me." And they nod... and I nod back.
Guy: [scoffs] ... That's it?
Ernie: That's it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Entitlement: I knew after 2012 that Burning Man had Jumped The Shark

(Originally written 9/24/12)

My perspective: worst burn ever

Be forewarned, what I’m about to say is pretty damning, negative, and long winded.  Read at your own risk.

Okay, so I have publicly told everyone that I had my “worst burn ever” and I felt a little sad after sharing my disappointment with everyone and not keeping it bottled up.  I didn’t mean to be that whiny complaining guy.  But since it’s now out in the open I might as well further explain what I experienced this year and why I feel about BM2012 the way I do.

I'll start by asserting that the problem is participant-demonstrated a sense of entitlement.  Ayn Rand defined this: “A code of values accepted by choice is a morality”.  We enter the gates of Black Rock City and are expected to abide by 10 principles, or values.  This is the code of Morality at Burning Man, and most everything else can be left behind.

However, an insidious development is changing the vibe at Burning Man, and it goes against it's stated morality.  It's called commercialism, and it fosters a sense of entitlement.  In the past, I'd meet all sorts of interesting participants doing their own thing.  This year, bringing and operating a large art car, I would say (other than friends), I interacted mostly with paid workers at the event.  And there were a ton of them.

These are the people working the event for money.  Commercialism, if you will.  Let me describe some interactions with the Commercial side of the event.  I interacted with the Sheriff and BLM rangers when I needed to move the truck and not run over countless bikes and drunk people.  In past years, these were the buzzkill bastards watching over the Opulent Temple and we'd create a 20 foot buffer circle avoiding them at all costs.  This year, I noticed that they were helpful, calm, professional, sober, and doing their job. In other words, I related a hell of a lot more to them than to all the "participants".

I started to notice all the other workers who were paid to be there.  The porta-john caretakers/ cleaners.  I talked with the guy who pumped out our RV -- he had driven in from Sacramento at 2 am and had been working till 6 pm.  Ours was the last pump-out he could manage.  Why did I bring an RV?  I was told it's a lot easier to build and handle an art car when you don't have to hassle with camp set up.  But you know what was sacrificed?  Burning Man principles of Participation and Communal Effort.  When we took care of ourselves, we made lifelong friends.  Former campmates agreed that the best memory was when we all banded together to salvage a dome building effort (2009) and then the next year perfect it (2010).  We paid some guy to pump our waste and a little piece of the spirit of Burning Man went down the drain too.

You don't need to be radically self reliant when you can rent a luxurious RV and pay someone to pump your waste and refill your fresh water tank.  It is only in the last two years that fresh water has been available for purchase.  We ought to stop allowing these services to require people to be radically self reliant again.

There used to be a complaint that “Burning Man is becoming too commercial” and pumping gray water and selling fresh water aside, I think there’s more to it than that.  To me, this year it really hit home that the event has shifted to a consumer mindset.  This never bothered me before, but when I brought something big which took a lot of my personal time, energy, and money, it struck a real nerve.

Now I'll be the first to admit this year I did the first 6 days I was at Burning Man 2012 all wrong.  I worked like a slave and it made me miserable.  This is the meaning of sacrifice – to give up as worthless things of highest value.  I had a little fun, but past years were a lot of fun.  Life at Burning Man must not demand sacrifice.   The reason I say I did the event wrong is because there is no requirement for anyone to give beyond their generosity.  Burning Man is not communism.  If you feel compelled to sacrifice, to give away more than you can afford mentally, materially, or emotionally, you are doing Burning Man wrong.  By days 7 and 8, I changed my reaction to it all (by saying "Fuck it") and was having fun.

While the problem of entitlement and commercialism has been brewing for a long time, it was magnified tenfold this year with high ticket prices and a shortage of tickets.  The newbie people and long-time Burners who bought tickets at $1000 because they so badly wanted to go to the best party in the universe felt less desire to contribute.  They looked around at all the art, pretty lights, mutant vehicles, large scale sound camps, and porta potties and thought it was still a good value at $1000.  They probably had the time of their lives seeing sights and sounds and possibly helping out in small ways, but why contribute or participate more when they already spent $1000?  Further, every single veteran who went felt they should be entitled to go.  I am no exception.  I was used to getting $210 tickets thanks to hacker friends, but that always felt like luck, not entitlement.  It used to be open to everyone, after all, with no apparent ticket cap.  Burning Man tickets are now seen like driver’s licenses… everyone feels entitled, but really it’s a privilege.  Or the “right” to vote.  It’s a privilege.

The high ticket prices were like a “tax” to many people.  It discouraged less well-off people from contributing in their own way, and forced them to contribute to a pool of money which was then redistributed by the Burning Man Organization according to crony-ism and an arbitrary definition of worthiness, or the excess went to a scalper and the community didn't even benefit from the high ticket prices. 

Notably excluded from the grant process is art cars and sound camps.  This has been an issue for years, but it never bothered me before until the prices got so high and I saw first hand what it’s doing to less well-off Burners.   I really think about half the participants paid so much for their tickets, that they didn’t have extra cash to contribute in a way that really tapped into their passion, skill, or desires, if they even knew they were supposed to contribute.  There is a census / survey at Burning Man and no results are ever analyzed and published to show where the trends are going for spending and cost to attend.  Or is that why ticket prices go up?  Burning Man Organization analyzes the data and decides what the market can bear for tickets?  If so, what happened to the core value of “Decommodification”?  I certainly benefited from this redistribution of wealth.  The established camp I stayed with had good connections and history with the bureaucracy and they got on the 3:00 plaza power grid which kept the art car lit all night.  We got hooked up with scarce tickets and early entry.  Our camp dues were ridiculously low, $40, as a result of this in addition to the generosity and affluence of the camp members.  I’ve never been at such an elaborate camp before that cost less than $100 per person.  So why am I complaining?  Because the event has changed dramatically as a result.

I’ve been 7 times now and for several years I helped others by fixing bikes at “my” camp, Bike-n-Booze, or helping assemble an art car for a stranger, and didn’t spend a lot of money on stuff.  It was expensive getting to Burning Man from the Midwest.  I was taught to contribute in my own way and volunteered a lot, knowing it was impractical to build or bring an art car or make some huge art project.  When I finally moved to the West Coast, I kept the same budget but could bring a $250 keg of beer and spent the better part of three days hauling ice to keep it cold and happily giving it out to strangers.  If the $390 ticket I paid for this year busted my budget so badly that I wouldn’t even be able to do that, or priced me out of the market so I wouldn’t be able to go, then my contribution might be limited a bit.  I’m more fortunate than most in that I could afford to build a fairly large art car on my own.

The next problem is acculturation.  There ratio of newbies to veterans is too high. I did my part to tell the newbie I brought (bless his heart) about what was expected by the community.  He rose to the occasion and made me proud for all the work and contributions he did.  Truly he had the Burning Man experience and “gets it”.  The work was hard, and he earned his fun.  Hopefully my art car didn’t burn him out like it did me, and was a positive experience.  He told me later in the week that the best part and most fun thing for him was manning the “FuBar”, a kind of confessional bar at our camp where you have to tell your most fucked-up beyond belief story and receive a shot if it’s a worthy story.  But others just came and consumed.  Helped out nada.  I saw that.  I remember that more than anything.

Another problem is the bureaucracy.  I understand why bureaucracy happens.  It’s inevitable with a large group of people.  But I hit it hard and with my art car creation.  I was fortunate to sail right through approvals for my art car, but it was entirely due to my inside scoop on what meets the needs of the bureaucracy.  I talked with anyone and everyone with art car experience, and learned a ton about what they wanted.  To give you an idea of some compromises, lets start with the windscreen on my truck.  I wanted to cover it all up with plywood and look out small round portholes.  This was judged by anyone and everyone in the know as dangerous and not going to be allowed by the BM DMV.  I’m grateful they pointed this out, but in the olden days I’d have been driving around like that.  There was a time in the past when drivers of large buses (in the shape of a whale or Spanish galleon) would drive blind with only commands from lookouts above to tell them where to go.  Those cars were amazing to look at, and the artistic vision wasn’t compromised by bureaucracy.  Granted, I’d be a fool to drive with only portholes to peer out of, but I’d have gotten the look I wanted and would have learned from my own mistakes.

The other thing that pissed me off was how stuck I was with my rudimentary art car plan and how their application process really expects you to deliver exactly that sketch in life-size form when the car appears for licensing.  If I wanted to radically change my concept… tough luck.  It’s too late once the application is in.  When I ran into snags and wanted to scale things back, I’m just damn glad I wrote exactly the plan “B”s that I intended into my original application.  But if I’d changed the ship from say, a freighter into a Battleship, that would probably have been rejected if I showed up with essentially the wrong art car.   Also it was a good thing that I had such a simple concept in the initial renderings.  I could have dreamed up something far more elaborate (and I did, and have all the sketches), but I only told them what I considered the bare minimum.  Still, it felt like a gun to my head come August when I couldn’t scale anything back more, yet in no way did I want to wait another year and bring it to Burning Man in 2013 for the first time.

I guess I’m an anarchist at heart, or a libertarian.  Limited government.  I used to say Burning Man is 50% hippy and 50% anarchist.  Now it seems it’s 50% hippy, 47% contributing nothing / Communist, and 3% anarchist.

/ offrant

Burning Man principle #6 is "Communal Effort".  But it seems to be morphing into "Communism", taking from everyone and redistributing the wealth.  The future of the event might as well shift.  Let them charge everyone $1000 per ticket and give out grants to anyone with a good idea that meets their idea of what Burning Man should look like and feel like.  Unbridled creativity will be replaced by bridled creativity.  If my art car was accepted as a worthy project, by all means I’ll take $14,000 and happily build my creation and drive everyone around all week.  The “commodification” will have completed it’s course.

Gone are the early days when you’d show up and contribute in the most outrageous way you could, principle #5 "Radical Self-Expression".  The location is the same, but the Burning Man corporate sponsorship and infamy / popularity of the event has changed it irrevocably.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Burning Man Burnout

In 2006 I camped with Chillonia and it was their last year after 8 years in a row.  Their complaint with Burning Man was that “It’s not the same. It’s changed too much”, and their Burner career was over.  Now I’ve been the last 8 years in a row and feel the same way.  Maybe it’s the 8 year itch or something, but there seems to be a big difference in how I experience the event as veteran versus a wide-eyed wondering newbie.  Or it’s possible I’m just burned out by Burning Man.  Let me explain how it happened and how the event has changed, and why I’m not going back. 

Vehicular amazement at Burning Man changed me forever.  My first step on playa in 2006 was greeted by a pagoda in the dusty distance, which slowly moved away.  Later I saw a three-story Victorian house on wheels sitting under a massive wooden cave with the best party of my life going on around it; I knew I wanted to build and bring my own vision of creativity to this event.

My whole life I’ve been into cars and was a gearhead.  I went to engineering school and designed cars in Detroit, and was doing Fast-n-Furious style tuner cars before the movie even came out.  There’s a certain creativity to those cars, which aren't mass produced, but unless you’re making your own body kits and tuner parts, it’s really about mass customization rather than individual creativity.   And someone else’s automotive sculpture formed the basis for my personalized version.

How creative is selecting options from a menu of choices?  Sure, I had a one-of-a-kind unique car when I was done, and nobody else had what I’d built.  But it’s only one step above the creative level of choosing if you want a #4 for here or to go, or choosing what color fur to have someone else apply to your plug-n-play camp’s bike option.

So for the next few years I dreamed of how and when I would be able to build my own art car.  I even rearranged my life to make it possible, by moving from Detroit to California.  Eventually everything came together and I began the design process and by April of 2012 started the build process.  Her name was the M/V Nain Rouge, and she was to be a 1000 foot ore freighter in 1/25ths scale, sinking by night and sunk by day.  When I was well along into the build, I found out there was going to be another sinking ship at Burning Man in 2012.  “But mine will move!” I told myself.  This year a campmate was inspired by my art car.  He was super-enthusiastic and wanted to build toilet seat car.  I had to tell him, “It’s been done. Not creative enough.  Back to the drawing board”.  You don’t want to be the person showing up at the party wearing the same outfit. To this day I tell Burners I built a sinking ship, and they immediately think it’s the much cooler one at the pier.

The inaugural year for the Nain Rouge was horrible for me: my camp didn’t get tickets and didn’t go.  My friend and I were two people assembling and building the whole thing, as well as operating it the whole time.  Driving that art car was boring as hell... art cars go 2 mph, and the party is on the back, not with the driver.  I felt much more akin with all the paid service workers at the event: the porta-potty cleaners, law enforcement, County Health Department workers, potable water deliverers, etc, except that I had volunteered for this duty!  I’d express my woe at being stuck driving it, and people would all offer to take a shift.  But when it came time to take them up on the offer, they couldn’t do it.  The fact is that at Burning Man, everyone is either already fucked up or planning to be in the very near future.  I had been in denial about this party-as-sole-purpose aspect of the event for a while, but it became crystal clear to me when nobody would drive it.  And I realized that the only reason I didn’t want to drive was because I desperately wanted a beer from the mobile viewing platform I’d built 15 feet off the ground.

I felt like a complete sucker.  Here I had spent over $15K on a large art car only to rope myself to taxi driver service.  I started to understand the meaning of generosity versus sacrifice, and had definitely crossed the line to sacrifice. I questioned my motivations for building it in the first place: did I just want to express my creativity, or was this all about my ego?  At least my dream of having an awesome party around an art car came to fruition.

Year two for the art car went a bit better since my camp came back one last time and everyone contributed financially to bring the art car back, but I really resented how it made me feel.  You see, the gift economy isn’t real. It’s a generosity trap, and Burning Man is set up to suck you dry if you let it.  If you are feeling generous, you give from your level of generosity and it’s a blessing to the giver and receiver. If you are coerced to give, the gift becomes less meaningful.  I actually think it becomes a kind of spiritual poison if a “gift” is received like that.

For years and years, Burning Man ticket prices were reasonable and available in different tiers.  If you had extra to give, and felt inspired to do so, you could buy the more expensive tickets and help subsidize the event and purchasers of lower tier tickets.  Then after the 2012 ticket fiasco, everyone had to pay the highest prices for tickets.  I paid $390 and brought an expensive art car to Burning Man in 2013, even after being laid off in early April of this year.  This completely tapped me out, and I really have to credit my camp, Bike-n-Booze, for financially supporting the return of the ship this year.  Without their help, I would not have gone.  Between liability insurance, the expenses of maintaining and registering a Commercial Vehicle in California, and the diesel fuel at 10 mpg, you need a good income to afford this.

Everyone who stepped foot on the art car was essentially getting a $100 ride, if they were to pay the true cost of riding it, and my generosity was tapped out.  It was all sunk cost by the time the art car showed up at Burning Man, so I didn’t actually resent any person riding it or care at that point.  But I was pissed at myself for spending so much money, and giving to an event that didn’t give back in equal measure.  My generous gift became a poison to me.

I got absolutely no support from Burning Man Org for my efforts, and paid a shit load.  This happens all the time with art cars and sound camps.  This is perhaps the main reason why I’m not going back to Burning Man again.  Where is my ticket money going?  Not to the things I want to support at Burning Man.  I learned that I’m not my own wealthy patron, and I learned that people with the real deep pockets do more for Burning Man than we’ll ever know.  Our neighbors down the street brought the amazing Wide Awake art car, which apparently is owned by the guy who runs Insomniac Events.  It had to cost $250K to make, at least.  Why am I even trying to compete with that?  Next time, I need to be the guy who gets hired to make art cars reality.

And to the entitled newbies that demanded to the door operator that we stop and give them a ride: Fuck Off and be happy if you ever get gifted an Art Car ride.  If you want an Art Car to stop, you talk to the driver.  For some reason people think the door operator controls everything.  That’s like expecting the gangway platform operator on a cruise ship to be in charge.  Ask the Captain if you want to ride.  Sometimes the door people have a communication line to the front, but not always.  So it doesn’t hurt to ask both people, but don’t expect to get a ride on an Art Car by just walking up to it, especially when it’s moving.  One guy was so upset he couldn’t get on that he demanded to know the name of my art car, like he was going to turn me into the Art Car police.   Ok I’ll step off the soapbox on that subject.

So the art car was taken apart and destroyed at the end of the event.  I burned all the wood at Burning Man and scrapped over 450 lb of steel when I got home and got $13 for it.  I am hoping to recover about half my $15K in build expenses when the truck sells.  I learned a lot about myself and a lot about generosity, and became completely burned out on Burning Man. I found I love the regional events, because they’re small enough and un-bureaucratic enough to have the vibe of the Burning Man that I loved my first year.

At SD Decom this year I met the guy who bankrolled an awesome sound camp there... it was pretty tight. Nice lights too. He just was sitting back looking smug, and I was like "you had something to do with this, didn't you? I recognize that look."  Yep. He basically said, "we spent the whole afternoon tweaking the sound. I paid for all of this".  The one thing I can say, having been in his shoes, is that it makes you feel like a fucking magician. It’s the whole "I built this" feeling; it's the accomplishment of real creativity, not creativity like choosing what color ipod cover to buy.  We should allow some room for ego at Burning Man.  My first year out with the art car I kept questioning if I did this out of ego or just to see it out there, to prove to myself I could build it.  The first year was purely for the vision, to see creativity come to life.  The second year: ego, to prove that Burning Man did not defeat me.  At this point, my ego is satisfied.

So who really benefits from getting 600 people to spend anywhere from $2K - $250K on their art cars? You could say the participants, or you could say the Burning Man Organization. They jacked up everyone’s ticket to $390 and don’t fund art cars. BM Org’s Profit: Priceless.  There are some things money can’t buy.  For everything else, there’s generous suckers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lessons and Realizations

Well, it's two weeks back and I am feeling the euphoria of Burning Man wear off.  The excitement of sharing pictures and videos has subsided and the reality of clean-up is about half dealt with, for me anyway.  I still can't fit my car in the garage due to piles of boxes and stuff.  Would I do it all over again?  Probably yes.  I'm really glad I didn't get laid off from my job because the bill for my extravagance was steep.  I'm also glad to have had the opportunity to learn new skills and have new experiences, but have the stability of a job that pays for my food and allowed me to fulfill a dream that had been kindled with my first visit to Burning Man seven long years ago.

About a week ago, before the excitement wore off, I was asked if I'd want to expand and add on to the art car, and I couldn't stop thinking about the idea for a whole following day.  I am a bit cooler headed now and am ready to put all additional effort onto the back burner.  Just for fun, and to see if this resonates at all with someone, I'll explain the idea.  Basically, add a sea serpent to the back of the sinking ship and recreate an epic sea battle on the open playa.  Turn the freighter into a sinking destroyer or battleship by simply repainting it and adding some boxes in front and in back shaped like gun turrets, and of course they'd be flame shooting.  Maybe after seeing what I built, people will want to get on board and really help out with the operation next year.  Because I've decided:  next year, other people will drive it.  Besides, if I relocate the controls up high then the driver won't be isolated down below and all the visibility problems would be solved.  If a crowd doesn't appear, then fuck no it won't get built and the exact same truck will be back.

Some other lessons have sunk in a bit more.  Safety Third has new meaning to me.  I put a lot of blood and sweat into this.  Tears, not so much, but if I'd had time to go to the Temple this year I might have shed those too.  My body was sacrificed in the creation of this truck: my arms were scratched up and down, large bruises, a burn from hot metal fragments while drilling.  When it came down to a dirty job that had to be done and required maximum sacrifice, I had to do it.  I couldn't ask someone else, and no one was volunteering. Climbing up 14 feet in the air on not-solid-flooring to repair a malfunctioning LED strip was required.  If I wanted to see that light strip light up, it was required.  Safety 3rd was the way it got done, and ingenuity and resourcefulness.  When scaffolding disappeared Thursday night, we used the RV as a work platform to take the thing apart.  That seemed a lot better than scampering around on a 21 degree sloping slippery playafied piece of plywood.  The single injury was when Yvonne got scratched badly by a screw in the door area which should have been a different length.  We duct taped the crap out of everything remotely sharp after that.

Other realizations: I realize I have a lot more spatial/ visualization/ ability to understand how things work and automotive expertise than most out there, and I like to use it. I.e., I like when shit happens. This is actually pretty sick, because who in their right mind relishes adversity?  When the check engine and red flashing check transmission light flashed on the drive up, I bought an OBD tester and made a judgement on if it was okay to drive up.  When the turbo hose popped off not once but twice at the highest elevation over the pass, I was able to calmly determine I didn't have a blowout and simply repair the popped-off hose.  The ability to fix these problems was directly a result of my experience on turbo cars and the last 5 years designing on-board diagnostic systems.  The fact that the only part of the art portion of the truck that broke the whole week was an LED strip tells a lot.  I don't know, I guess I'm proud of my ability and want some respect.  But forget the pride and recognize that all my efforts were to one goal.  I'm glad I put my skills to use.  I am very sure that other people had a far worse time with their vehicles at Burning Man.  The problems I had you can't just throw money at, either.  That doesn't make me lucky... it just proves something. I'm no horse whisperer; more like a vehicle whisperer or something.

A lot of people helped out.  A lot.  From herding people to operating the door without knocking someone unconscious, everyone lent a hand to the best of their ability.  Even the complete drunks were trying to be helpful by babbling incoherently to me about some pointless shit.  When the lights on the sinking ship started flashing on and off after the Wall Street burn, and then turned completely off, the community helped out.  The owner of a fine space shuttle let me have some gasoline to get back to camp with lighting on (vital to avoid accidents).  This was after the gas ran out on Friday and we borrowed 3 gallons from another camp.  Miscommunication is the cause of the gas shortage; I had no gas can.  I did have 15 gallons of diesel, but that didn't help.  I'm thinking to pick up a small used diesel generator for next year to avoid reliance on multiple types of fuel.  I was generously able to borrow a Honda 3000 and it performed flawlessly, but I can't count on anything for next year and I would like to relocate the generator to outside the passenger area.  And get that diesel exhaust routed to the back as well instead of trapped underneath because of the side paneling and fabric skirt.  I better make a list of redesign priorities.

So what next?  Time to move on. I'm slowly going to finish cleaning and putting everything away.  I don't want the alkaline playa dust to wreck all my camping stuff.  I probably won't do the RV again... the army tent was as good and way less expensive.  I need to repair the 12v outlet on the truck, figure out why the blower fan was groaning loudly after I cleaned out the cab, and buy a new air filter or two. Next year I will reach out to the community in a different way.  All the heavy lifting is done and now it's all fun details and enhancements.  Collaboration could be arranged in a not-last-minute way, and ideally all changes engineered and executed before summer even starts.  The fun part for me was designing and building it, not having it there or taking responsibility like a stern parent the whole time.  By Spring, I may just have the energy to start building and designing parts again.  The ship has a 2 Burning-Man-year life cycle, and then I set the truck free.  Catch and release, I call it.  I'm just a steward for it for a couple of years and then it moves on to someone else.  Everything is temporary... Black Rock City taught me that.  Yes, it's time to move on now.

Oh, and check out this link.  This was after the man burned.  I had at least an hour of permanent grin.   It didn't make up for all the work, but was pretty damn satisfying anyway.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Well it's been a few days now since Burning Man 2012 finished so I can laugh a little and relax a lot.  The last month leading to the event were crazy and I was basically working a 90 hour week for all of August.  It was 50-55 hours at work during weekdays, then a few hours after work, and 8-9 hour days at the shop on weekends.  It is laughable now, but I had checklists leading up to departure with to-do items like: finish art car/ steps, buy diesel containers, buy dryer duct (measure?), print early arrival pass, take ticket, change clothes.  It was insane.  I have never worked so sustainably hard in my life.  But it's all in the past now, as is the week of Burning Man.

So I built my first art car and took it to Burning Man.  I have to say it turned out pretty well and looked cool.  My only intention was to see it out there, and I succeeded at that.  While it's only been a few days since I got back, my initial conclusion is that this was the worst burn ever for me.  It comes down to the fact that I worked like a dog for the entire summer and ended up a taxi driver until I finally said fuck it on Friday last week.  That was when I took the event back and started to have fun.
The 2012 event was markedly different in feel compared with prior years (I've been going since 2006).  I have never seen such a sense of entitlement from participants.  It's like the art car was god's gift to them for showing up or something.  I don't understand how a complete stranger can expect a ride on a crowded rolling dance party when I can barely see out the front window and know damn well that the amount of people on the back is probably the limit.  Then to demand "what's the name of this art car" like he's going to turn me into the art car police or something for violating his preconceived newbie notion that "that's not the Burning Man spirit".  Later on, when I had to yell, "for the love of god, get down from there before you get yourself killed.  I built this and know it will fall through", at least people had the sense to listen.  There were exceptions, thank god, because without assistance I could not have put the art car together.  The main structure requires about 6 people to lift into place, and strangers helped there. I got a lot of encouragement and help assembling and disassembling it from Shane, Gumby, James, and Phil.  DJs Fingers, Poptart, and Lighthouse made a major contribution too.  Special props to Joe and Maggie for driving it Thursday and allowing me to ride on the back deck for the first time for once, and for Shane driving it too and for Bjorn for generously offering.    Of course, everyone that helped build it back in Orange County deserves huge applause too.

For about one hour on Saturday night, I was on a natural high and had a kind of permagrin.  This was the night.  That was some cool shit.  If I could thank anyone for that, it would be the octopus owner, Heart Deco owner, and all the cool people dancing in front of our art cars.

But all in all, I have to say the actual event was a sucky experience for me.  It was a lot of work, and not a lot of reward, other than my internal gratification for seeing the art car out there.  And that is/ has to be enough.  But seriously, I didn't realize this until this trip, and it was my 7th burn: Everyone at Burning Man is either drinking alcohol or doing drugs.  Why this is a surprise amazes me, but I think it's because I used to generally be completely sane and sober about every other day at Burning Man and somehow assumed everyone else was on a similar schedule.  Nope.  They're either wasted, in the process of getting messed up, or planning to get intoxicated soon.  That was a little bit sad to me.  And I guess I was in the same category, because I only noticed this when I was desperately trying to get someone else to drive the damn thing so I could crack open a beer on the upper deck.  And generally failed to get anyone to drive it.  So I was sober a lot last week. I only partied on Wednesday and Friday nights after parking around 1-2 am and abandoning ship for the night.  Otherwise by day or night, I was completely sober.  And the drunk people all around could become pretty annoying.  I'm really at a loss right now if I want to do this again, but I did always plan to bring the art car to at least two Burning Man events.  And since it's finished, I guess it will be no problem to take it back next year.  But I'll be with a camp that helps out and has some kind of shift sign-up schedule so it's not all my burden. And even a bad day at Burning Man is better than 99% of other days not at Burning Man.  Maybe I'll have a different perspective in a month... I'll post some more pictures and thoughts later.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Not Legal to Drive

Ok, at this point, I'm completely weary.  2 weeks until Burning Man and it's not done.  The worst part is that I don't have an operating permit from the CA DMV to legally drive it.  The truck has full registration and plates since June, but for a personal use vehicle over 10,000 lb gross vehicle weight, you need a "CA" number and Operating Permit.   The fine is $2500 and they can impound your vehicle, if caught.  It's stupid and only $35, but to find out about this now is very stressful.  Well maybe the DMV will come through in time.  I plan to hit the road anyway and say "the check and application is in the mail".  Plus I put a fancy "NOT FOR HIRE" sticker on the side which basically indicates to the weigh stations that it is a personal vehicle.

Today I was lucky to have the help of Alex and James and we lowered the front frame and drilled a massive amount of holes.  Basically the front upper and side panels are fully drilled and done.  No additional work there, except I need to buy some shorter hardware.  On Friday night I managed to get the tail a bit more detailed.  Missing are the huge rudder and some propellers.  The propellers are optional at this point, since I never had them in any of the early designs I submitted to Burning Man.  I didn't take pictures, but today I also managed to frame in the door and weld in the lower support.  All the wire in the nice welder is used up, so I had to use the not so good one.  It makes a huge difference in the weld quality, but I don't have time to wait until a welding supply store opens on Monday.  And here are some pics from the last few days: