If you're like me, you've known lots of people who have gone to Burning Man over the years. You've seen pictures, heard stories, and maybe vaguely considered going once but were too put off by the fact that it's in a hot, dusty desert prone to wind storms. It may have seemed a little cultish since they say things like "Welcome Home" and everyone comes back unable to shut the hell up about it and using words like moop. The threat of "Playa Foot" and orifices so dry they crack and bleed certainly doesn't add to the appeal. Nor do the ideas of porta-potties or unshowered people I don't know hugging me. Anyway...
It all worked out so I could go. One of my fabulous friends endured the hell of ticket purchase while other fabulous friends endured the driving. Thank goodness, because the traffic in and out of Black Rock City was sheer torture and made all the worse their horribly inept (dis)organization at the entrance. So I kinda hated the whole thing for the first little while. I could go on, but let's skip ahead to when I got over my feelings of contempt.
Here's why I fell in love with Burning Man: It is the most unique, thoroughly empirical experience you can ever have. There is not a single place that you can go, anywhere in the world, and come across anything like it. Not remotely. I realized that people can't stop talking about it because words completely fail to describe it, but you want everyone you care about to understand what it was like, so you just keep trying. From a bizarre post-apocalyptic landscape during the day to an old Las Vegas meets Tron look at night, the whole thing kept me in awe.
If you don't know much about it, you probably think it's all drugs, orgies, and naked people. Well, that's there, but it's so much more. Burning Man offers something for everyone and you can completely design your own experience. There are family sections and activities for you and your youngsters (I wouldn't take kids older than 6 or so, personally). Want a little yoga/self-improvement/exercise retreat? That's all there for you. Wanna dance the night away? No problem. You can meditate all day at the temple, catch a movie at the theater at night, hang out at the bars, or just enjoy the art.
I knew that it was an "art thing," but I didn't realize the scope of it all. Imagine being at the world's biggest, coolest art installation where the large, beautiful pieces are not only awesome during the day, but take on another life while lit up at night. It boggles my mind that so many artists would give so much of themselves, their time, and money so that others could share this experience.
Obviously, it's a huge place with tons of people, so I'm sure there are some real a-holes around. That said, I met none of them. I felt like I was living in a place of total acceptance with the best neighbors in the world where anyone would give you anything you could ever need. It was lovely. Of course the whole experience wasn't perfect and there are things I could complain about (see paragraph 2), but I won't. Not now, anyway. All the great things about it outweighed the crappy stuff. Even the porta-potties.
The main fear I had of Burning Man for all these years is the physical environment. I'm a delicate flower and wilt in the heat. Therefore, deserts in the summer aren't really my thing. The idea of needing goggles and a mask with me at all times in case a big dust storm hits...not so appealing. But, you put up a shade structure, or go to the giant one at "Center Camp" where anyone can go relax.
As for the dust, well, it happens. At first I wasn't so thrilled with it, but it ends up becoming a really interesting part of the experience. As cheesy as this may sound, I've never felt more at one with the earth or my fellow human beings than when I was covered the in the playa dust after a wind storm. Something about knowing that we were all covered with the same stuff that was covering the earth....made me wanna hug someone.