Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Hands-Down Best Part of Burning Man

YOU COULDN'T SEE US FOR DUST: Ria and I take our leave of the week-long event.
My 25-year-old daughter Ria and I just returned home to Toronto from the week-long Burning Man Arts Festival held annually in the Nevada Desert. It was her second and my first "Burn." Many people have asked me my favourite part.

* Some if not all the smart money's on the huge hug and kiss I got from a lovely young naked woman the first day of the event. (That's gotta be a contender.)
WHITE BADGES OF KLUTZINESS: The desert is no place for wusses.

* Then again, it'll take me quite a while to forget the fleeting brush with fame I experienced. I was  pushing a crippled grocery cart bogged down with 12 cases of beer from one camp to another with the help of an extremely good-looking and fit man who told me he recently performed at a casino north of Toronto but forgot the name.  "Could it be Rama?" I asked. Bingo! "And what show, huff, are you with, puff?" (Have you ever tried to push an empty grocery cart with a wonky wheel through sand, much less a full one?) Answers my fellow pusher: "I'm a back up dancer for Donny Osmond."   

* I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed explaining and then belting out Sudbury Saturday Night to a bright and surprisingly receptive public defender (in real life) whose Burning Man name was "Wonderstruck". Many returning visitors to Burning Man assume nicknames for the event. They call them playa names. Playa means desert.  My Burning Man name was "Moop". For an explanation, read on.
LOST-AND-PHONED: Just a few of the found items turned in after a night of playa partying

* One of the trademarks of Burning Man is its anti-litter-buggyness. We're all to ensure that we  leave no physical sign that we've been on the desert, so we all must watch for litter of all shapes and sizes. Even down to, say, belly-button lint and I'm not exaggerating. Burning Man calls litter "moop", which stands for "material out of place," Moop, you pick up and haul out. Mid-week, I told Ria I felt so out of place at Burning Man my playa name should be Moop, for "Man Out of Place," which prompted a fellow camp mate to add, "guess you'll get picked up a lot." (I wasn't.)

* Another highlight? The woman who told Ria and me that she thought I was "one of them rich CEOs with a beautiful young trophy wife." 

*  I'll never forget putting on the weeniest condom I've ever seen. Tuesday morning, Ria and I and a few others were helping prepare breakfast for our camp, which was so convivial and lively; it teemed with  fast-thinking articulate and funny campers and reminded me of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit but with a lot more cross-dressers.  I was on spud duty and sliced into my left thumb. Off to the medical tent I go, and the attendant patched my wound, adding, with a laugh "try to keep it clean." Nothing about Burning Man is clean. Everything is layered with desert dust and the nurse knew how difficult it would be to keep my digit sterile. To the rescue came our
MENTAL FLOSS: Some installations had more bite than others.
camp kitchen manager, "Textbook", who in the real world is a prominent Toronto sommelier and who, in his Burning Man survival kit, brought finger condoms because he knew there'd be injuries in the kitchen. I wore one all week to keep the dust off my cut. (Ria had to visit the clinic later because of a small injury and while she was being tended to, I asked--to much amusement, a lot of it mine--if the person tending to Ria was a medical professional or just a volunteer hippie with a Medical-Tent T-shirt on. Hahaha.)

* Hitching a ride to Reno after the event and being picked up by Reno-resident Tina in her beautiful clean Yukon. Meantime, Ria and I were like the Peanuts character Pig Pen on steroids. Tina never complained a minute. She told funny Burning Man stories all the way, including the one about the time their hippie friend was allowed to volunteer and serve patients in the medical tent.
VERY MOBILE HOME: Me, pedaling behind the moving house.

* That said, as much fun as it all was,  I've decided that--in competition with costumes, beautiful bodies, free bourbon and champagne, the crazily friendly atmosphere--anybody was welcome to join any conversation; you've never experienced anything like this--the broad range of  music including a barbershop quartet, intimidatingly smart "Burners" (I always felt like the dumbest guy in the  room), the ingenuity of the art cars and the overwhelming desert beauty that kept me thinking of every western I've ever watched especially Bonanza-- the hands down number-one, gold-medal-winning-by-a-long-shot best part of being at Burning Man 2016 was that I got to be with my daughter. 

I am the luckiest father I know.


  1. Thanks for the story

  2. Anybody who walks around with a condom on their thumb is my hero.
    I'm also familiar with that 'luckiest man' feeling; when my son Josh toured me and his mom around Europe several years ago. Best memory of my life.

  3. Now I'm adding this to my bucket list. Hopefully one of my sons will take me.

  4. Pete! :)

    It was great meeting you on our flight from YVR -> YYZ. I thought it was so nice that Ria took you to Burning Man. You two are adventurous and open-minded- thanks for sharing your stories.

    Looking forward to your future posts!