I was part of an annual 33,000 attendees week long party in the desert
called Burning Man. A gathering I've come to understand and love. A
community that to most is questionable, but to some perfectly defined.
Survival is extreme and the ideals and standards are stentorian in every
direction. It's a place where judgment is left at home and inhibition has
run wild, ultimately ending in the spectacular burn of an 80-foot, imposing
wooden structure of the "Man". Primarily, an adult playground. Each
individual interprets the reason and meaning of the "Burn". Some see it as
re-birth of themselves, some see it as a spiritual revolution, and others
see it simply as a pyromaniacs dream come true. Part of my draw is the
creativity, selflessness, beauty and the gargantuan events in partying.
Outsiders and possibly, with preference, some insiders see it as Sodom and
Gomorrah, but I see as a giant love and art festival that comes out to the
middle of nowhere for a week and leaves without a trace. can only scratch
the surface of what this is all about. Experiencing it first hand is the
only way to comprehend why so many people are magnetically attracted to the
Unfortunately, with this many people, coupled with the heightened party
environment, there are chances of misfortunes. I was a part of one of those
misfortunes this past weekend.
Some may have heard of a fatal accident at this year's "Burn" but didn't get
any definite details. The news traveled worldwide and is continuing to grow
as the days pass. Information remains vague because of the nature of the
"accident" and individuals are not being exposed for protection of those
involved and also for the fact that no criminal charges have been placed
from both the State of Nevada and the members of the victim's family. But,
for those that are close to me, I want the story to be told.
First, a little background on the "I'm OK, You're OK Corral"; I'm second
year burner and have joined a beautiful circle of old and new friends. Most
have attended the "Burn" for many years and have always encouraged me to go;
now I'm hooked. This last event, the group has grown to fifty plus, ranging
from young and old, rich to poor, artsy fartsy types to corporate types -
you get the idea. Our camp is composed of rented motor homes, custom
busses, small tents, moving trucks and the hand built, two stories high
"House of Folly". Our pride and joy-center piece is called "Bar Car".
Certain individuals in our camp have converted a simple van into a serious,
moving party machine that can only be described as a two story high,
extremely loud and bright, rolling night club. This year Bar Car was also
pulling a trailer with additional bass speakers, full size couch and
beverage containers. Following "Bar Car" was a self-powered "chill out"
lounge comprising of an Air Stream trailer. It was call "The Love Sub".
The spectacle was a magnificent sight and truly a magnet to anyone nearby.
A typical night out starts around 9 or 10 and continues anywhere from 2 to 5
in the morning. We cruise around to many of the hundreds of theme camps,
parties and dance areas, occasionally visiting many of the freestanding
individual art pieces sprinkled about the two-mile diameter of the open
"playa". The art pieces range from big to bigger, with a wide range of
expression and costing anywhere from a few bucks to hundreds of thousands of
dollars. Part of the beauty and immensity is that no one is out to make a
buck. All the money goes back into the event's art and organization.
Friday night was an evening of enormous proportions. We started off with
and event called "99 Brides" where everyone from our camp, along with folks
from a few other camps, wore wedding dresses. We all went out and got
married to the "Man" and to each other. Not to be taken literally by most,
but a fun event nonetheless. We traveled around the "Burn" and just had a
ball. A few hours later, we all decided to go back to the camp to re-group
and change into warmer clothing. (Desert weather is brutal in both
directions of temperature). Around 2AM we were on our way again, this time
with me in the driver seat. We cruised around the camps for a while before I
started to head for the "Temple of Honor". The "Temple" is the second
largest icon of the "Burn" and goes down in flames on Sunday night. It's a
multi-story structure made of black and white patterned paper on a cardboard
and wood frame, a dignified architecture where people leave written messages
and gifts to those who have passed on. Doubtless, the most emotional area,
filled with an infinite amount of grief, pain and reminiscence. I passed by
the "Temple" and moved on so as to not disturb those inside by the high
volume of the sound system. A few moments later, the most horrific tragedy
Cathy, our newest and youngest member was a tall and beautiful young lady, a
quiet person with eyes that enjoyed every second of her newfound experience.
If a camera that could take a thousand pictures a second existed, she
would've owned it. She wanted to take home and share this event with
everyone at home. I only knew her for a short time, spending maybe a total
of 2 of hours of interaction with her, but in those brief moments I found a
new friend. We had a couple of conversations, we danced, I watched her
dance, she danced some more, and I guess you can say she liked to dance.
Her long straight, black hair flowed with every move and all I could think
was that her expressions were genuine, full of life, full of passion. Even
though we all just met her, we all knew her. She was each and every one of
us the first time we stepped foot on that ancient desert lakebed.
Cathy decided she wanted to see the "Temple of Honor". She climbed down
from the second story, stepped to the back right of "Bar Car" and jumped off
while we were in motion. Somehow, she ended up falling back towards "Bar
Car". I will never forget the feeling that surged into my hands through the
steering wheel. My worst fears were followed by a myriad of terrified
voices, screaming for me to stop the car. I ran back and discovered that
the trailer ran her over. Her life was slowly coming to an end as she
breathed less and less. Revival was attempted, but failure was inevitable.
Someone grabbed a spectator�s bicycle and speed off to a nearby ranger.
Soon after the Sheriffs showed up with an ambulance, taking her to the
medical center. A helicopter was on its way. As I was writing out my
statement, a deputy told me that the helicopter left without her and that
she didn't make it. My heart sank deeper than the oceans; my life paused
for what seemed to be an eternity. The terrible news eventually reached
everyone on "Bar Car", a new level of desolation proceeded and the mourning
began. The standard criminal investigation started and lasted just passed
5AM. I took two Breathalyzer tests, both coming up zero. I also
volunteered to take a legal blood test. Most of you who know me are aware
of my preferences to keep any illegal substances out of my body. Needless
to say, for my sake and for the outcome of the accident, I was relieved the
situation went only this far.
Saturday's events took place. A funeral, a few moments at a memorial, a
visit to the "Temple" and a slow walk back to the camp. I went back with my
cousin and found the location of the accident. We constructed a simple
shrine made up of extra pieces from the "Temple". I slowly walked back
alone with my collective thoughts. Back at camp, everyone floated around in
gloom and sadness. The sounds of crying and quiet conversations whispered
as our tragic story replayed itself in our heads. Sometime in the
afternoon, everyone silently started the breakdown of the camp, a few of us
went to clean up "Bar Car" and our evening meal was prepared. Just before
9PM, we all changed and gathered behind "The Love Sub". On foot, we
followed the "Sub" to the "Man" and waited for the burn to begin. As
expected, we witnessed the impossible to explain burning of the "Man", an
event so large and amazing we've all come to appreciate it's immense power.
But, this time there was an added meaning. Amidst the largest party in the
world, there stood in a group hug, fifty people weeping for our boundless
loss. We closed our evening at our camp surrounding a small bonfire. A few
speeches were spoken, a song was sung and folks slowly retired to a
Sunday, the majority of the camp went home. My cousin and I stayed behind
to watch the "Temple" burn. An experience most of the camp have yet to
encounter. I found it more to my liking, much smaller, more intimate and
most appealing, very quiet. I felt it even more necessary for my own
healing to witness the burn as to honor Cathy's last wish before leaving us.
It was beautiful. I've never seen such detail and contrast in a fire. It
looked like magic as the different colors flew around forming shapes and
spirals found only in such a unique structure. Compounded with the dramatic
display of sorrow amongst the observers, I encountered another facet of my
soul. Cathy will be missed. Cathy will be remembered.
I've always been resilient, able to get through difficulties with a "get
down to business" attitude. However, this time around it's become apparent
that my threshold is being challenged. I know I'll be OK, I'm still
breathing, I'm still healthy, I'm still loved and I still love. Thank you
for listening and helping me to process my adventures. Till next time.
Please forward this on. I know that Burning Man can be a place where rumors run rampant. I want this person's story to be understood so there can be no miscommunication about it.
It's a sad story. I'm hoping to find some information on where I can donate money to her family. It could have been any of us, not being careful, not watching what was going on. My friend runs the airport, and saw two large crashes out there this year as well, where one person died and more were injured.
It just reminds us that even though we were in a place of freedom and self expression, we still need to be careful.