This story is a reprint from the Senior News, highlighting seniors participating in Burning Man 2011.
No doubt about it, Burning Man is a younger person’s game. But scattered amongst the predominantly twenty-somethings are plenty of Burners in their 30’s and older.
Burning Man is not a cushy vacation. It can be difficult living out of a tent, with no running water and distant toilet facilities. The heat reaches the 90’s and 100’s depending upon the day and year and the constant and pervasive dust can wear out eyes and patience and infiltrate you and everything you own. You can’t really appreciate our omnipresent restaurants until there are none. No sales are allowed so if you forgot something, anything, you must find someone who will give it to you.
The nearest town is 17 miles away and is very tiny with only convenience-store amenities and once you are parked at Burning Man, you really don’t want to leave.
Trance and techno music plays everywhere, and loudly, only stopping for some unknown reason somewhere between 5 and 7 a.m. We tend to emotionally bond with the music we have done our mating dances to and if you are not so flexible (read “older”) the non-stop trance music can wear you out and make you irritable.
Trance/techno has a rapid, pulsing quality to it. Mostly non-lyrical, the instrumentals throb with a fast, low heartbeat and speeds you up. Watching the younger people, stripped down and over-heated, dance to it can be exhilarating. No line-dancing here, you are on your own. The music of raves. Every night in my tent, ear plugs in and waiting for sleep, the ten closest trance clubs’ music selections blended into one song of my own imagination. My head next to the ground in my tent, it was like going to sleep to ten distant locomotive engines that my mind made into one. It was organic and fun. But not necessarily good to hear all day for eight days.
No wonder that upon walking out of a free veggie and fruit bar with my friends Gary and Jill, the sound of rock music, Pink Floyd playing somewhere, really grabbed my attention. They could hardly keep up with me as I accelerated in the direction of Dark Side of the Moon.
We approached some sort of free-standing trailer, with padded round stools on two sides. Some incredibly attractive young people were sitting there drinking some incredibly attractive Bloody Marys. We sat down and were offered drinks. Let’s see, it’s 11 a.m. and we just ate squash and watermelon for breakfast. Sure, Bloody Marys are appropriate.
Three or four are more appropriate, five is jive, and we are really enjoying ourselves. As noon becomes a distant memory, drinkers are coming and going and the show goes on. We are part of it. From somewhere behind me, the smell of burning hemp drifts. For all the reputation of Burning Man as being a drug fest, this is the first evidence of it I’ve seen.
An attractive couple walks over from the camp on the other side of the road. They tell us they have been “married” at a camp that “marries” people for the duration of Burning Man. I contemplate the sensibility of an expiration date for what is, in essence, a contract in the real world.
Here in Burning Man, this “marriage” is a fun concept, but for these two it’s something more. This is the second year they have done this here and they “will be with each other” they tell us.
Shortly, two men in their 30’s have a seat and I watch amused as one begins a mating dance with some girls seated next to him.
Part of the show is that, from when we first sat down, the bar is still being erected around us. Sun shades are being expanded above us, lines are run, a stripper pole is attached at the top of the bar to the newly installed ceiling. Occasionally, over the next few days, the pole will beckon to one of the female (and, occasionally male) patrons, or a song inspires someone, and an impromptu dance will begin.
The creator of all this walks around with what looks like a gallon spray container called “Supergoop.” It contains Parsol 1789 Plus, so I know it’s good stuff. He offers to rub it on the female patrons to block out the sun. Spray and rub, spray and rub. Some of the scantily clad ladies are surprised at the friendliness of the 87-year-old proprietor. “Oops, I slipped a little,” he would say with a smile. The expressions on faces varied between shock and laughter.
I introduced myself and heard his story as his son Patrick tended the bar.
Stuart MacIntyre, 87, is from Oakland, California. A few years ago his daughter Maureen and son Patrick bought him a ticket to Burning Man and told him he was going.
He’d been in every state in the union and every Province in Canada and soon he would be going to Burning Man. “I can’t explain Burning Man to people. You almost have to be here. People are half-naked. People give stuff away. If we run out of vodka, we just have to mention it and people make it appear,” he said.
“When I tell my friends I’m going to Burning Man, they giggle. They all mention scantily clad girls. I tell them God created skin before we invented clothes,” said MacIntyre.
His first year, he set up a stainless steel table with bottles of booze on it. They had forgotten to bring tomato juice for the Bloody Marys, so they gave people tomatoes and plates and forks to mash with. Cheers!
Then MacIntyre, a former general contractor, sat down and began to sketch. The trailer had seats installed on either side of a slim bar area containing bottle racks. An audio system was installed.
His daughter’s artist friend decorated the bar’s face and black light paint was added.
The trailer contains 120 gallons of potable water and 75 of grey water. The grey water is mostly for the shower system at the far end of the bar, with its spray hose and drain.
One day my friend Gary was sitting next to the shower and turning around found a beautiful woman stripping off the last of her clothing. Being a gentleman, he picked up the hose and helped with her shower.
Shortly a woman’s gentle voice came from behind him, whispering. “Do you mind if I help?” she asked.
Burning Man. It’s hard to explain.