The American Dream


“Nice Dream” by Radiohead floats out of the speakers and forms a dusty bubble. Suddenly, I’m thrust into home vibes I haven’t felt in a week at least. A glimpse of my broader self. Rage Against The Machine comes on next, and we’re back at our outpost on the edge of the Earth, holding out against the elements for our own humble patch of freedom. Val’s rice, beans, and fried plantains are finished, and the Phat Cat crew dines with gusto in the swirling dust.

Lani and I deduce that the collective brain interference building across the playa for the last week has resulted in this static storm wreaking havoc out there. The wind is shaking the tent poles. Our mission here is just about through, and we’re about to return from whence we came. Last party before the evacuation. Marilyn Manson. Pretty gritty. Steely looks on all faces.

A foreigner misquotes Rumi in drunken, sticky English. His companion is a human persimmon. Dennis has never seen the wind continue into the night, and I hope the pattern holds.

A head-wrapped father and a naked, becaped young lad ride up to our camp to take shelter, but the dad realizes what he’s getting them into, and they ride off.

It’s a total white-out. Boom. Dust in my cells. Dust in my pen. Dust trapped against the page, stuck in the ink. Ashes to ashes. I want the hippies to put down the fucking djembes. The guy currently drumming has his orange snowboarding goggles around his neck and pink bunny ears on his head, and as he wails on the loudest drum, snaking unevenly in and out of time, he grinds his teeth and looks around with a nervous expression. Afterward, he explains his philosophy of drumming. Evidently, it’s all about finding the beat.

Diesel is hula-hooping in the middle of the storm, and her left breast, adorned with an electrical tape daisy, is bared to the elements. The bunny-eared guy stopped drumming to teach her hoop tricks. I love that girl. Hula-hooping in the sandstorm like a desert twister. But one quick break to rest, and he’s back on the djembe, and now an unpleasantly drunk buffoon I’ve never seen around here is practically bashing the drum set to pieces. What a dusty mess. The whole thing has me fantasizing about our stop at In ‘N’ Out Burger on the way home. I am perfectly content with these conditions, you see, it’s just the frying miscreants around me who are losing it, protesting the storm with their wrathful music.

Sometime later…

Wandering deep playa in the heart of the storm. Stranger: “Do you guys know where the Man is? The MAN, right? The Burning Man?”

We point, and he wanders off. Now we’re all alone out here.


We come to a blue oasis, a ringed wall with one side open, a pentagonal shade pyramid in the center. A dreadlocked dancing man entwines his arms and legs around the structure, turning and twisting fluidly, while a young woman in an orange sunhat scratches electrifying, jagged shapes out of her dusty violin. Everyone goes into different trances, Harry walking back out into the dust, Val prostrate on her back, and Diesel swaying against the pyramid. The womp of Opulent Temple’s bass provides the violinist’s mourning voice with a powerful heartbeat.


This is very much the point. You can’t come all the way out to this desert just to hide in a camp and blast death metal until you can bring the party back outside.

The violinist stops, and she and the dancer quietly applaud each other. Fluidly, she puts her bowing hand on his bare shoulder, and they slide into a swaying embrace.

We have all taken shelter in the pyramid now. Harry and Val are on the floor, and Diesel is bowing on top of the polygon in the center. The wind shows no sign of calming down.

They seem to have been looking for this place. They all seemed quite relieved at having found “The Blue,” as Diesel called it. It is the perfect place to reflect on the last day. The pulse of Burning Man can be felt from a distance, changing with the wind. But here, this city, this desert, the whole experience is pared down to its constituent elements: light, dust, wind, sound, metal, glass, art. And fire. And humans. Out of these simple parts arises the brilliant complexity of this festival.

Amidst all its excesses and strange intentions, one thing can be said with certainty about Burning Man:

It is the most successful artistic idea in the history of the American counter-culture. It leaves it up to us, the Burners, as to how exactly our counter-culture should look, feel, and work, as it should be, but it provides us with a seed idea that has never been passed down directly to us before: Let us do as the Buddha, Moses, Jesus did. Let us wander into the desert and burn. Prophecy democratized. The American Dream fulfilled by its own destruction.

I find a sheet of paper on a clipboard explaining this structure. It is called the 1:11 Sapphire Portal. It resonates in the frequency of the Earth and the brain, and it is designed to amplify human vibrations and global ones to trigger, somehow, an “evolutionary shift.” Val got a kick out of that one.

Suddenly, I find I’ve been left alone out here with one silent stranger listening to the vibrations. The others have wandered off; Diesel left her things here a long time ago. I feel the best thing to do is wait here with the bag until she returns. She left her water, so I’d better stay put with it until she comes to find it. Maybe I’ll listen to the vibrations. Maybe I’ll try to amplify mine.


(Burning Man shared this story on Facebook and Twitter)