When I left the desert that first time Labor Day weekend 2002, I knew that I’d return. Again and again. An annual journey back home. When you arrive at the playa, the greeters cough out, “Welcome home.” It’s heartwarming after an insanely long trek in the sweltering heat. Dust is everywhere.
In 2002, my boyfriend introduced me to Burning Man. I was skeptical. I didn’t know what to make of it. All I knew was I didn’t want him going off to some hippie-lovefest without me. When I left, I was hooked. After we broke up, I stressed over BM. How would I get there? Who would I go with? My ex and I were not on speaking terms. I sold a couple extra tickets and befriended two women my age…good friends who I returned with the following year. Last year I connected with a camp through someone I had dated. The camp was as luxurious as they get, with large domes, air-conditioned sleeping quarters, hot showers, and a convection oven to bake fresh bread every day. I barely left camp. But I did leave early, just in time to make my dear friend’s wedding rehearsal. As I left the BM gate, the greeter asked if I was going to town for supplies. When I told him I was leaving early for a wedding but that I had to come even if it had only been for a few days, he smiled, “That is the Burning Man spirit.” The camp disbanded this year, leaving me to seek an alternative avenue. I decided to volunteer.
This was my 5th year anniversary, 1st year volunteering. This time, I really felt connected. I felt like I contributed to the planning and organization of the event. Sure, I played a small part. But I felt good about it and I liked what I did. The ARTery registers the artists. All art installations on the playa go through us. We place the art, make sure the art is in an appropriate location. We help artists get their work out there and assist them if they need more support. We also conduct art tours.
I was pleased to have found the best group at BM. The women like to add, “The ARTery has the hottest women. That’s a fact.” Everyone was warm and sincere. I found the members to be distinct: dedicated veterans with years of BM experience who were looking to support art and this amazing event.
Some of the perks? Prior to the event, during our meetings, dinner is served. During BM, you get early entrance (I arrived two days before the event officially started.), hot meals, hot showers, drinks from the Center Camp Cafe, and special porta-potties. Those are the most tangible things. Intangibles: friends can easily locate you because of your central location, if you’re not there, someone can look up your work schedule, you tend to get special treatment because you volunteer (“You’re at the ARTery? Don’t wait in line, come this way.”), and you get a feel for the inner-workings of BM. Contrary to what people think and stubbornly believe, BM is a corporation. Trust me.
I’m going to end here. I’ll write juicy tidbits later, but I wanted to give some background on my experience this year. It honestly gets better and better each year…but this…this one was special. I’ll always look very fondly on this year. The artwork was phenomenal. The theme camps were outstanding. Despite the growth (almost 40,000 this year compared to 36,000 last year), it still seems intimate. I guess that’s where the people come in. Because when it boils down to it, it’s not the artwork or the artcars or the contraptions or the music, it’s the people. And I met some really amazing people this year. More soon.