The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Burn baby burn

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I should be in school right now. Instead, I’m at the gates of Burning Man, a week–long annual festival of art and music in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. I’ve never been to an event of this caliber before and starting with the biggest event in the nation is alternately thrilling and terrifying.

At the gate they call me a “virgin burner,” but the greeters treat me as a long-lost friend. With hugs and endless smiles, three seasoned veterans roll me in the alkaline soil, also known as “sweet soil,” then ring an enormous bell signaling the arrival of a new citizen to Black Rock City. I expect them to start explaining a long set of rules and safety guidelines, however, they send me on my way with a single phrase I would hear many times throughout the week:

“Welcome home.”

At first I thought this was their way of making a stranger welcome in their

bizarre shantytown, but I soon realized it meant much more. Even in the early hours of my first day I could feel the overwhelming sense of community in BRC—a sense that, despite having never met any of these people, they were all neighbors in my hometown.

There is a place for everyone in BRC. The idea solidified when, on my first stroll through the city’s streets, I came home with an armful of fresh produce from a vendor, free of charge.

The citizens’ pleasant demeanor, aside this environment, is caustic, dangerous to all living things. What looks like dust is something far more dangerous — it eats through your clothing, your skin, your very being. After the third day I feel as dry as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But what is this place? Why such a hostile environment? Who are these

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From an outsider’s perspective, Burning Man is largely seen as a festival for freaks and degenerates—a secluded place for the underbelly of society to escape the boundaries of culture and live by the vague ideals of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Although those ideals are definitely represented out here in the desert, they are far from the central ideology of this amazing city. There is no money on the playa, any commercials or corporate entities—all commerce is done by gifting or trade. Everyone seems to live by a code of radical self-expression and self-reliance; this city gives them the chance to do so without judgment. This is a half utopian society, half “Mad Max.”

Every year, thousands of people make the pilgrimage to this scorched

landscape to party, learn, meet with friends, and do hundreds of other things out here on the playa. You can watch as the population rises from a few hundred at the beginning of the week to about 50,000 on the night they light the man, a wooden, multi-storied effigy that was 104 feet high this year, on the Saturday before Labor Day.

Until this point, the man has been a beacon by which I oriented myself during my nightly wanderings. It’s almost a shame to see him go. We gather in a ring around the man, his arms now lifted toward the sky as if to say, “It’s a pleasure to burn.”

So why come to Burning Man? The simple answer: There is no one reason. You can go for the community, or to be with friends. Go for the art, the music or just for the experience of it. The point is, just go because there is something out here for everyone.

Regardless of your reason, when you arrive at the gate, the greeting you’ll hear will inevitably be the same. Welcome home, burner.

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