We recently had a friend from Istanbul visit for a couple of weeks as she made her way to and from Burning Man in the Nevada desert. She was always very gracious whenever we were in Turkey and we were happy to return the favor. If you ever have the chance to hang with a Kurdish Turk don’t hesitate. They’re amazing people.
Part of the whole Burning Man adventure for her included multiple costume changes and dress rehearsals in our apartment ahead of the actual Burn. Sexy police woman outfits quickly switched to full length fake fur coats. It was an all inclusive theatrical extravaganza.
Many years ago I was Jerry James’ housekeeper. Jerry was the carpenter who built the actual “man” and helped organize the early years of the event as it migrated from the beach in San Francisco to the Playa in the salt flats of Black Rock City. The Mission District was a very different place back then. Respectable families didn’t want to live here. It was full of the “wrong element.” Property was cheap, the neighbors were live-and-let-live, and all manner of artists, tradesmen, and assorted eccentrics thrived. Jerry sold his duplex years ago – ironically to a guy I went to school with back in southern New Jersey in the 1970s. Small world.
As is often the case with housekeepers I got passed around to friends-of-friends and cleaned for various members of the Space Cowboys and Ripe – tribes of Burning Man. The building I eventually bought collectively with friends (and still live in) was a big Burner house full of all manner of adventures. A UNIMOG (German military transport vehicle) was regularly parked out front and fitted with exotic accoutrements. An Asian guy named DJ Smoove worked the sound system more often than not.
These days Burning Man is a 70,000 person event. My Turkish friend flew in from Istanbul to join a group from Berlin and Amsterdam. In addition to their flights they paid $990 each for tickets to the event, rented an RV for the week for $5,000, and spent who knows how much more on food, supplies, costumes, and sundries. If a town wanted to intentionally generate this kind of economic activity each year with tax credits, subsidies, public/private partnerships, and economic development agency blah, blah, blah I’m not sure they could come close. If Burning Man didn’t yet exist and the same original folks tried to get it going from scratch today I’m not convinced it could be done. The city has changed too much. But then, so has Burning Man. Most of the cost of the tickets now goes to the non-profit agency that manages the event along with the authorities in Nevada that police the site. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end.
Last month we attended the wedding of some former Space Cowboys. Everyone is a bit older now and few return to Burning Man anymore, but the spirit of those early years lived on in the backyard ceremony as guests camped out in an instant tent city just like on the Playa. It’s worth mentioning that many of the folks in attendance applied the same creative energy, risk taking, as well as technical and social skills to build business ventures that generated an enormous amount of tangible value well beyond the parties of youth.