Burning Man 1999


I want to thank the wonderful people who went up last week to help with the final cleanup of Black Rock City. Thank You. I wish I coulda been there with you, but I had to work that weekend. If you see me on the Playa next year come up and say Howdy! I'll gladly thank you in person with a handshake, hug or fondulation of the exposed body part of your choice. Thanks to you a Next Year is possible.

WOW! The 1999 Decompression at Sweets Ballroom and the old Newberry's Building was one of the best Burning Man experiences I've had in the three years I've been attending Burning Man. OK. A fire inspector shut down the party at around 11:30pm. That totally sucked. But there was a whole huge massively major crowd of people in and around the buildings and something like 200 more people standing in line to buy tickets. The line stretched halfway around the block. I think that scared the beejeezus out of the inspector. She shut us down. The lights came on, the cops came in. That was the bad part. The good part was how our culture shined out that dark night.

The Oakland Police showed up to get us to leave. The Rangers did the bulk of the work of explaining the situation to people inside and outside the buildings, but it was the citizens of Black Rock City who made an orderly and peaceful exit. I think the way we operated as a community took the OPD by surprise. The night before, that same club had apparently been the scene of a violent altercation that had to be broken up by those same police. They came expecting the worst and instead they got something very different. They got us. And I think, in the end, they GOT us. A line of police cars waited across the street beside the parking lot. Police cruisers with lights flashing circled the block. Grim uniformed officers stood in the doorways of the club defying anyone who wasn't on official business to enter. The Rangers were asked to clear the streets of the hundreds of people who were milling about outside. The distance between a peaceful ending and a riot was the length of one wrong word. People slowly began leaving. Some headed to Ocean Beach in San Francisco for a Beach Burn. Those who didn't leave crossed the street and started partying in the parking lot. Far from being the angry, unruly mob the police were expecting, we smiled and hugged and exchanged trinkets. I was given a whizzz ring, a toy soldier, gum, candy, plastic coins, a Burning Man sticker, and a full set of Gigsville trading cards. It was more like a family reunion than a mob scene.

For the police, the paradigm shift came around 1:00am. The last group of Oakland Police exited the building. They left one officer with me at the front door of Newberry's on Telegraph Ave. There were still a couple dozen people in the building cleaning up and probably a hundred or so people hanging out in front of the building and another two hundred or so people partying in the parking lot across the street. The cop I was guarding the door with asked a passing officer for some chewing gum. I handed him some from my collection of obtainium. A fellow ranger (I suppose a female Ranger can be a fellow) asked if I had more gum. I gave her a candy bracelet which seemed to suit her just fine. The three of us just stood there together for a few seconds -- just three dumb ol' human beings standing in the street together. The cop smiled and I could see the tension leaving his shoulders. He made a call on his radio and shook my hand as he left. Suddenly, all of the police started leaving. The patrol cars parked next to the parking lot drove off one by one. By 1:30am, they were all gone and almost three hundred of us were still there on the street. There'd been no violence, no injuries, and no arrests.

We did Burning Man in the parking lot on Telegraph Avenue and 19th Street in downtown Oakland, California. I was watching the fire dancers for a while and then borrowed a drum and joined the drum circle. The police cruised into the parking lot. They slowly drove by, gave us a nod and drove on. After I while I noticed some people playing catch with balls of fire. That looked like fun so I joined them. Someone was taking wicking material and tying it into palm-sized balls. The balls were soaked in a flammable liquid, ignited and tossed. Don't try this at home. It takes special materials that won't drip burning liquid or stick to skin or clothing while it burns. Someone had left a flaming ball on the ground. It's usually a bad idea to grab something that's on fire, but I snatched it up. It felt warm, but it didn't burn my bare hand. I wasn't taking chances though and quickly threw it up into the air, caught it with the other hand and threw it again. I was actually playing catch with a ball of fire. It was very cooul. Someone was playing a horn to accompany the drummers. I danced some and hugged some old friends. It was like being back on the playa, yet it was the center of downtown Oakland on a beautiful, clear, warm night.

A few locals who were probably Oakland residents came and joined us. A pair of couples got their picture taken by one of our citizens. A member of their party said, "Hey, I want to be part of history!". I think some history was made that night. We transformed Oakland -- part of it anyway -- for just a few hours. It felt like home. Drum beats echoed from the empty skyscrapers and drew people towards us who might have been on their way home from their night out. The people who came off the street to play with us fit right in. We blended into Oakland and it blended into us. Cudos to the adventurous brother who joined us playing flaming catch -- he's earned his Fimo.

I stayed and played until around 3:40am. I picked up and bagged what loose trash I could find and put it in my car. I reminded people to "Leave No Trace" even there, and as I was leaving, a single police car drove in and stopped. I suppose the party was brought to an end at that point, but it was time to go anyway. The official end of the Decompression was to be 3:30am. The Oakland Police were gracious enough to give us a few extra minutes together. Thank you. I had a wonderful time.


>> >From: "Harley K. Bierman" <hramazon@burningman.com>
>> >Subject: [BManStaff] CLEAN UP & BLM for BM
>> >Sender: staff-owner@burningman.com
>> >Precedence: bulk
>> >Status: U
>> >
>> >Update on Clean up:
>> >
>> >BLM
>> >
>> >The BLM looked at our site yesterday, Wednesday October 6th, and were not
>> >happy. They looked at well over 200 burn scars that still need to be
>> >cleaned up. The North side of camp was the worst. They have given us two
>> >more weeks to finish the job, with the threat of not giving us a permit for
>> >2000. The current crew is burnt out and many are leaving. The winter
>> >rains have just begun. It is cold. Sorry that this sounds so much like my
>> >last post.
>> >
>> >Our community has not really gotten the importance of the impact burns
>> >scars have on the playa. The BLM used to be able to look the other way
>> >when the scars were few. The Earth Guardians began cleaning up scars from
>> >the 1996, '97 and '98 last year. For 1999 the BLM have decided that they
>> >that can not be ignored. We have always had every intention of cleaning
>> >them all and within the amount of time the BLM gave us, but we knew it
>> >would be difficult. The amount of scars produced is overwhelming. We will
>> >need more help to get it done in the next two weeks.
>> >
>> >LNT
>> >
>> >Our Leave No Trace environmental training (LNT) is really hightened the
>> >awareness of how much of an impact burn scares make. We started pushing
>> >the concept of being responsible and cleaning scars to the general
>> >community last year, but the message did not go deep enough. There were
>> >many cases where people thought they were doing the right thing, saying
>> >things like " I thought this was what you were supposed to do, get rid of
>> >your stuff before you go by burning it. Isn't that Leave No Trace?".
>> >People were also adding things to other people's fires, not realizing that
>> >it was their responsibility to come back and clean up. Those that started
>> >the fires did not feel the responsibility to clean up someone else's mess
>> >and consequently much got left. The Burning Man organization will continue
>> >to educate the participants as we move toward 2000, helping to resolve
>> >these kinds of grey areas, but for NOW, we still need help.
>> >
>> >
>> >Past Volunteers -
>> >
>> >I write this second plea for help with difficulty because so many have
>> >already contributed so much. Please do not let this request diminish the
>> >feeling of accomplishment and generosity for those that have already worked
>> >hard. A warm thank you to all of you that went up last weekend. It was a
>> >great effort. We very much appreciate your efforts! THANK YOU!!!
>> >
>> >New Volunteers -
>> >
>> >If you were considering going, GO! There are only two weeks left to help
>> >and we may lose the BLM's support for another permit if we do not get this
>> >work done. It is not too late and help during the week is needed as well.
>> >Any time between now and the end of October feel free to drive or fly to
>> >Gerlach.
>> >
>> >
>> >In order to clean a burn scar you must first bag and haul all superficial
>> >debris. Then you brake up the surface of the playa a quarter to half an
>> >inch deep. This is most easily done by dragging a screen behind a pick up
>> >truck. Rakes also work well. Next you pick up all glass and metal debris.
>> >Lastly the playa is smoothed over and returned to an even normal level.
>> >Sometimes this must be done two or three times in the coarse of a few years
>> >to have the scar completely disappear.
>> >
>> >Do not dig the playa up or shovel down deep. It is critical to brake the
>> >surface, clean out foreign material and lay the playa back were it was
>> >picked up.
>> >
>> >
>> >Magnets cost about $40.00 at Northern Tool and Equipment. They can be
>> >purchased at www.Northern Tool.com. This is useful while planning for next
>> >year. For now, please bring:
>> >
>> >shovels
>> >magnets
>> >leaf rakes
>> >dirt rakes
>> >winter sleeping bags
>> >binoculars
>> >garbage bags
>> >rain gear
>> >food to share
>> >gloves
>> >goggles
>> >winter jacket
>> >
>> >
>> >Please call Will at the office before leaving for the playa at (775)
>> >
>> >During the day go to the site off of the three mile entrance like you did
>> >for the event. Please check in at the Burning Man office in town or at the
>> >Texaco station about conditions on the playa before you heading out. Don't
>> >get stuck!
>> >
>> >At night go to the "80 Acres". Take highway 34 all the way out past the 3
>> >and 12 mile entrances, past the 1997 site and past Fly hotsprings. The
>> >paved road turns to gravel. Check your odometer here! Go .7 miles( a bit
>> >more than half a mile) and take the right onto the dirt road. (There is an
>> >irrigation ditch on your left as you head down the road.) The next right,
>> >about half a mile down, takes you down to the gate to our winter storage
>> >site. Follow the road in.
>> >
>> >Thank you again to all who have already helped us. I will keep you all
>> >posted!
>> >
>> >Harley
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >Harley K. Bierman
>> >HR Amazon (Human Resources)
>> >Burning Man Project,LLC, 1999

I've been thinking about bringing my son to next year's Burning Man. He'll be ten years old. I'm taking my sweet time thinking this through. He's a very creative and expressive person and would likely feel more at home in Black Rock City than anywhere else in his daily experience. But, as I only have him for weekend visits twice-monthly, he also lives within a very conservative Afro-American culture that would prefer that he limit his experiences to those that are more typically Black.

I'm also concerned that as more people bring children to the event, the majority society will get increasingly involved in regulating Burning Man in an attempt to protect "society's" children from exposure to nudity, drug use, bad language or whatever they deem as harmful at the time. My fear is that it could end "Radical Self-Expression" as it has been practiced at Burning Man.

My primary concern is how my son might react to living in a society that is much freer and open than he is used to. I have to add that it is also much safer in most respects than any other place in America. I'd like to hear from other parents who have brought children to Burning Man. How did your child handle the experience? Are children effected as profoundly as most adults are? How do children decompress afterwards? Are you sorry you brought your child to Burning Man? Would you bring your child again? Should I bring mine? Why? Why not?

Email me.

This year I received a promotion to Senior Ranger. My chief responsibility was to mentor other Rangers who had just finished their training sessions. I had to be mentored also and it was a great experience spending those hours with Death Valley. He's an excellent Ranger and I hope I was even half as good as he is. "Death Valley" is probably not his given name, but it does tell you something real about him. He spends a lot of time in the desert, Death Valley in particular. I wonder if his "real" name says anything real about him at all (last names point to lineage, of course, but I'm talking about first names).

The guy who lead the crew in charge of cleaning the porta-potties this year was called, "Turd Burglar". If his name had been George, would you get the same sense of how much he enjoyed his work? He'd be "poor George, the guy with the nasty job." But "Turd Burglar" is a guy you can count on to be enthusiastic about a job that most of us wouldn't want.

Will Rogers is the man who heads up Black Rock City's DPW. His crew is responsible for building the city and then removing all traces of it. He goes by the handle, "Mr. Klean". Which name tells you more about his function?

Gadget is know for her hands-on knowledge of radio gear and communications, as is COMM1.

HailMaRy is a Ranger Captain and is in charge of Ranger resources and her Burn Activities Team (BAT) that does crowd control at the major burn events. She could probably just go by "Mary", but it just wouldn't have the same kick to it.

And, of course, Danger Ranger is legendary.

I go by "Rigged". It was a name given to me totally by accident by a lab technician at XSoft who was remarking at my techy toys. He said, "Man you are really rigged." I kept the name. I like to think that I'm well-equipped, and even over-prepared -- expecially out in the desert. When any of my campmates needed something -- a razor, safety pin, duct tape, extra tent peg, moleskin, an extra canteen, a spare light stick, etc. I had it. I was truly "Rigged". Would the name, "Bill" have meant as much? It is my real name, but says nothing about the real me or the me of my dreams.

When I'm out on the playa and I give my name as Rigged, sometimes someone will ask me for my "real" name. I have to wonder what they want it for because I've already told them everything about me they need to know. So, if someone you're talking with gives you their handle instead of their given name, ask what it means. You'll learn more about the person you're talking to than if they give you a name like Sam or Sally.

It's 4:25am. I've been looking at Burning Man sites all night. It's so good to reflect back on that incredible week. I still haven't adjusted to being back though and I've been thinking about why. What's the difference between that world and this one? I think the major difference is the love of culture over commerce. In that world, someone can sit and play guitar and other will join in with other instruments that are either store-bought, hand-wrought, or totally makeshift. Something happens. It's community, spontaneity, connection, culture.

In our daily life, the expectation is that someone who plays guitar should be striving for something more than "mearly" entertaining friends if he/she is "serious". Doing anything just for the love of it is not supported. If it can't be bought or sold, it's not important. But most of us have something that we love to do that we either can't or don't wish to sell. It usually winds up being abandonded as we pursue things that are more "realistic". So, for most of us, the parts of ourselves that mean the most to us are the parts that have no expression or support in our daily lives. And so we feel let down by life and we settle into a routine, do what's expected of us, and use prozac, valium, tobacco, caffein, sex, shopping, TV, or whatever, to ease that aching emptiness.

And that's the sense I feel being back -- that I'm only valued in this society for things that don't really mean much to me personally. That also goes to the use of nicknames instead of our real names, but I'll walk you down that path some other time.

I met a girl at Burning Man this year. Her name is Lydia. She's a medical student. She has the most incredible gray eyes. Anyway, I was (am) stricken. I was stumbling all over myself like a lovesick teenager. It's good to know that an old man like me can still have those kinds of feelings. I hope she returns my email.


You can't see her eyes in this picture,
but if you could it would be the end of you.
She did return my email, btw.


I'm starting to go into my annual Post Burning Man Depression. Attending the Decompression party will help, but it will still be two or three months before I've adjusted to life in the so-called "real world".

I was thinking back to Thermal Shock and that it ended up being South Camp's Ranger HQ instead of Berlin, which I think was entirely abandoned. Tokyo was hopping up in North Camp, from what I heard, but my meanderings never lead me there.

We Rangers eat Danger for breakfast!
Have a nice, flaming bowl full!


I've been cleaning up my car and my apartment and putting away my gear. My analog camera jammed and the film was stuck inside. It's a plastic cheapy they give away when you buy magazine subscriptions, but I've used it at BM the previous two years. This year is its last.

I closed myself in the darkened bathroom of my apartment, using a towel to block light coming under the door. Then, I literally ripped the camera apart with my bare hands to get at the film. I just hope I didn't damage the film too badly.

Only two losses this year-- my camera and my gray
Venice Beach sweatshirt which went missing.

It was an interesting year from the Rangering point of view. I was mostly in South Camp which was pretty quiet. For blue-dot stuff I splinted a broken wrist, squelched a severe nosebleed after a woman rode her bicycle face-first into one of the lamp posts, patched up a couple of people's blistered feet, and bandaged a couple of cut fingers -- one of them being my own. Meanwhile the guys in North Camp were handling life and death situations with overdoses, punctured lungs, and people piercing themselves with rebar. Still, for a city of 24,000 people it was a pretty quiet week. Nobody died... Ok. Somebody did die. A day the event officially opened, someone was driving towards Black Rock City and swerved their SUV to avoid hitting a rabbit. The SUV rolled over on the person and killed him. Lucky rabbit... Well, not that lucky. The rabbit died too.

Every year there's some Ranger radio chatter that ends up being classic stuff put on t-shirts and quoted on websites. Last year it was an incident involving a pile of dog mess ("What's the 20 on that dog shit?"). This year we had an incident where a penis-shaped car was zipping around on the playa. It was called in because the car had not been registered with the Black Rock City Department of Mutant Vehicles. There's gotta be a classic line in there somewhere.

The car was heading up 2:00 towards Uranus:

Ranger1: The penis is heading towards Uranus at 2:00
Dispatch: I copy. The penis is now heading towards Uranus.
Ranger1: The penis is in Uranus heading towards 3:30.
Dispatch: I copy. The penis is now located in Uranus near 3:30.
Ranger2: Dispatch, can you confirm that the penis is in Uranus?
Dispatch: Ok guys, that's enough.


I'm back. I've updated my itinerary to show what I actually did. I have a few pics which I will post as soon as I have designed some clever layout for them. Maybe I'll just stuff them into the itinerary below in the appropriate places.


This will be the first year that I actually have a plan for what I'll be doing at BM. The previous years I spent my time just wandering about, soaking it all in. Even when I was Rangering last year I didn't have a real schedule. I just went where I was needed at the time. This year I have a plan:

I'm planning on arriving either the 28th or 29th - depending
on whether I need to do any last-minute shlepping - uh... shopping.
[I actually did arrive on the 28th -- around 9:00pm. We stopped along the way for ice and water. I got separated from the caravan near Wadsworth, but I'd come prepared.]
I finally got all the mud off from last year. This year it's full of dust.
Now I'll know exactly how lost I am.

I plan on returning back to my private corner of Hell late Sunday
the 5th or early Monday morning on the 6th (probably Monday morning).
[We got back early Tuesday morning -- around 4:00am]

In between, my intinerary goes something like this:

Day 1(Sunday) - Kiss the ground. Make camp (maybe at Thermal Shock
if I can work it out). Rest up. Take it easy. Sleep a lot.
[I actually did kiss the ground. We built Thermal Shock that night at 4:20/Jupiter. I slept like a child.]


Day 2 (Monday) - Get DIS-oriented. Find Ranger Central, HQ or
whatever it will be. Read maps. Hug Rangers, especially the cute one
named Mary. Get gear and costume, work assignments, more hugs, the
morning paper. Acclimate. Do the Ranger thing (day, swing or ...) .
[I did all of the above, including hugging HailMaRy. I worked a swing shift.]

Top of The Man
The Man resting up before his big night.

Day 3 (Tuesday) - (...grave) Get into the mix. Drop off tape of
original assidjazztechnoiz at Ray-D-O BM. Ride around doin'
stuff. Stop by Drano to heckle the auditions. Sleep or do more
Ranger stuff (swing).
[I dropped off the tape at a radio station in North Camp. I never did find Drano. Worked another swing shift.]

Day 4 (Wednesday) - Juggle flaming tennis balls. Snorkelling. Dirt
Nap Camp for ritual burial of certain person(s). Aimless meandering.
Sleep. Rangering (swing).
[I took the day off. Couldn't find the flaming tennis ball people. I couldn't find the snorkelling people either. I did find Dirt Nap and buried a couple of perpetual annoyances. I meandered and slept as planned. There was a big Ranger party in camp that night. I drank like a fish... I drank like a school of fish.]

Day 5 (Thursday) - Party like a fool.
[Woke up with a terrible hangover. I spent the day checking out camps all over town. The night was bitter cold and instead of all that partying I was going to do, I slept like a rock -- a frozen rock.]
Bad hair, hangover, chapped lips, nose tators -- Life just doesn't get any better than this.

Day 6 (Fryday) - Recover. Remember. Repent.
Ranger (swing or as needed, wanted and desired).
[Walked around checking things out. Worked a swing shift with aching, blistered feet. ]
Ok, it got a bit windy sometimes.
Hmmm... Am I at Pan Toll Campgrounds?
This year's burn drew a different crowd.
But we all had a swinging time.
There was a phone booth on the corner somewhere around 7:30/Earth.
I would have jumped out of my skin if it had rang.

Day 7 (Satyrday) - Wander in a daze. Ranger "The Burn". Wander in a
[Did exactly that. Was too cold to sleep so spent the early morning hours at Bianca's where I was received warmly (the rumors about live sex at Biancas are true). I got very warm and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise.]
Day 8 (Sundae) - Sleep. Say G'byes. More hugs, especially that Mary person. Pack.
[Did exactly that. I worked my last swing shift of the event with a blown-out ankle. Even riding a desk at Ranger HQ was an adventure. Besides the medical emergency that strolled in, I had a lost teenaged girl to deal with. Her people had left without her. I think her name was Evelyn. She was 17 or 18 depending on who she was talking to. I took her back to camp with me. She stayed with Pollyanna. Pollyanna and I got her hooked up with her people in Reno when we arrived there Monday. I was a total gentleman the entire time... Dammit!]

Day 9 (Mournday) Descend back into Hell. Acclimate.
[As planned.]

Day 10 (Tuesday) Resume the tortures of the damned.
[As planned.]
Nothing like this will actually happen.
[As planned]



I went to the Black-Rock Black-Lite Desert Blast-Off last weekend. It was the best Burning Man party yet. Lots of people, music, dancing, exhibits. You shoulda been there! The theme was ancient Middle-East meets '70s West somewhere in the future. Belly dancers swaying and rotating to hip-hop music was an unscheduled and very erotic treat.

If Frank Sinatra had dropped acid, he might might mix himself a martini, strike up the rock band and belt out "Knights In White Satin" to an appreciative audience. Only at a Burning Man party might such a thing happen. It was Mr. Lucky and his band, doing their thing, including a hilarious rendition of "Raindrops are Falling On my Head" and a cover of "Goldfinger" which kicked ass. They also performed a couple of original Burning Man tunes. Funny stuff. They rocked. We rolled.

Upstairs was the video room and lounge with bar. The video was short on plot, but lots of Burning Man action.

Downstairs was the pool party -- clothing optional, of course. Good music, video projection, people having a great time. Downstairs from the pool was the Bedouin Camp. Tents and tall pyramids around a fake fire. It was all lit up in baby-blue and black-light. The dj kept the trance music kickin' all night.

It was great seeing and hugging all of my Ranger buds, and I met some other old and new friends.

But I'd come to dance and dance I did. I danced until my clothes were drenched and clinging to my body. I danced three partners to exhaustion and continued dancing by myself.

I could hardly walk the next day.


The Burn

Bill Clearlake
June 17, 1999

It's happening again...

The feeling of impending joy
Over a near horizon.

The tingly, anxious feeling
Of being close to home
I can almost smell the dust.

A long journey of time
Days lost to time
Dreams stretched forward in time
Longing for a place to be


Ticket ready
Gear is packed
Sunscreen, toothpaste, rebar

Nothing but miles
Between hell and bliss
My soul burns

Even when The Man
Does not.