The Coastal Post - October 1999

McBurning Man-Sold Out In The Desert

By Stephen Simac

The Bolinas Witch Project TM had stalled in downtown "Bo" (Bolinas, CA), our car was hexed after the Bolinas Earthquake '99. The cameraman had gone AWOL to the desert when the sedatives had run out. The teens had drunk all our Rainier Ale cans and still offered no clues as to where the witches had flown to. We switched to 40 oz's. Even with the cheap courage of strong drink none of the locals we plied, replied. All they offered were conspiracy theories as to why the witches had fled.

Secret Episcopal rites were blamed by Indica Jane. Boastme Now thought they had been driven out when the town was bought for investment purposes by the superwealthy. Queen Esprit, the Rockefeller ranches, old McDonald's pineapple Farm, Le Sacman, the GollyGee cult, the Fool on the Hill and the sports utility vehicle crowd had bought up the town, and it had become RangeRoverLand, a hip place to live he said, that's why he was there. It was rumored the witches had moved to San Geronimo valley, where they had ogres for neighbors.

No witches, no story, as simple as that, I told the Boss. Stuck in The Fog. Until the Great White Shark Scare 99, when Ranger Rick sighted a fin. We joined the media deluge on Stinson Beach national parkinglot. No one was allowed in the ocean above their pinky toe. A mile away in Bolinas as the great white shark swims, and Skegma Tubed offered me surf lessons. It's a friendly town.

When locals learned I was a tabloid journalist, writing an exploitive expose of their secretive hamlet, several fishermen offered to go trolling with me for the shark. It sounded generous, but wasn't, they were too cheap to buy bait.

I thought it was a good time to get outta Dodge, before the Cherokees ran me over. Bad Dog told me there was a Miwok legend that if you stay too long in Bolinas, you go crazy, and the evidence was overwhelming, but no one explained that you have to roll three doubles to escape. Hotel California.

Stranded By The Side Of The Road

Maybe that explains why I jumped into the VW Van of Knot Allther, when he offered a ride to Black Rock Desert in Nevada. I tried to ignore Knot's serial stories about previous trips which all included a breakdown in the worst possible place. I ignored them until it was obvious, I would be in his next story if we survived.

Climbing up the Sierras on I-80 the transmission went out. We rolled backwards to lodge not quite out of the road in the blind spot of a curve. Nothing like a VW van to guarantee spending time by the side of the highway. I never knew there were so many large trucks on the highways.

A CHPpy came along, bumping the van to a wider spot in the road, luckily he didn't care what kind of illegal substances might have found their way into the van. Well officer, someone I don't know helped pack these bags.

Rocky the tow truck driver dropped us off at the Colfax rest area, a pleasant enough stop if you enjoy the growl of idling trucks, the roar of freeways, and wondering how to get out of there. Knot was going Knowhere. I called a friend and begged Truth Hertz, to rescue me

The only problem traveling with Truth is, she's always right. I had to swallow my tongue, let her have the last word, and generally do as she said. Luckily, Truth doesn't talk much. I had to read her mind by listening to the songs she played. Truth is a subjective interpretation of reality, ever-changing and mysterious.

Nevada is a state of concentrated ugliness of urban areas, surrounded by vast areas of scarred wilderness. It's mostly fragile desert scrub chewed up by a million cattle or truly obliterated wherever a one armed bandit can be plunked.

It's a state without morals and proud of it, but if they catch you with illegal drugs, even under the influence of, you will join their rapidly expanding prison population. Talk about mixed messages.

And here we were heading to the world's largest drug den in the desert. McBurning Man TM. I stashed mine in Truth's trunk and bought a plastic Jesus for the dash board in Reno. A honk 4 Jesus fish bumper sticker had caught my eye, but the statue had a hollow stash space.

Frog Legs And Warm Sex

We asked for directions in Empire for Frog Springs, a place Knot had told us we might be able to sneak in from. It was a long ways on a gravel road running beside a large dusty playa, a dried up lake bed, part of the Black Rock desert. In the distant dust we could see what looked like either a small city or a large junkyard. It must be McBurning Man, Truth said.

At Frog an appointed guardian of the Springs told us McBurning Man was trying to protect the waters and the endangered Kinkyfish by making people feel guilty about going in the warm waters. Truth and I lay down in the shade of this cottonwood oasis and debated origins of Guilt. After a while a local drove up in a dusty truck. Him and his houndog dove in, the protection policy sounded howllow. His dog liked to poop beside the pool.

Sunny Wizened told the tale of Frog Springs, abandoned ranch, endangered ecosystem. "Two old whores were going broke out here, and decided to start a frog ranch, raise frog legs outta this here springs, which is a well pond, this here pipe runs down 100 feet. You could do the same things any place around the playa, plenty of warm water down there. Frogs are still here"

Truth and I went for a dip after everyone left. Even the guardian of the pool. Then the art vehicle caravan arrived. These were highly decorated with cast off toys, or perhaps they stole them from small children and glued them on their vans with VW bugs welded on top. They piled in the waters and passed around some hard liquor. They were with McBurning man.

They were colorful characters. Danger HaHa, a fire twirler, used to breathe flames, until she coughed when she was breathing fire two years before at the Borning Man.

There were no visible scars on her lovely body, and everything was visible, so I asked how she'd been treated. She'd been twirling naked, which had saved her from deeper burns she said. After she was helicoptered out to Reno, the hospital had covered her burns with silver nitrate, then sent her out into the city in only a hospital gown and some borrowed shorts. Feeling Lucky?

The Ranger With The Burning Eyes

I drove behind the art vehicles as the caravan headed back to the rear entrance of McBurning man. Truth's plain brown Honda, looked like a turd in the punchbowl, compared to these art vans, but we had our plastic Jesus, leadin us.

We headed west across the dusty playa behind but upwind of the art vehicles. Doing 60, throwing up thick plumes of dried lake bed, as the sun was dropping below the Calico mountain ranges, when the leader dropped the rear gate of orange safety fence, we slipped in and headed for the city which was miles across and spread out around a clockwork arrangement of avenues.

Naturally we didn't get far, before a guy in truck caught up with us and asked us where we had come from. Truth kept quiet, while I spun out a story about visiting the springs with the artfolk, showed him my plastic Jesus, no we didn't have tickets, we were with the media, I am the media, an e-journalist, the best kind these days, what do you mean, even the media has to buy tickets. Do you know how much it was costing to cover this event. Don't you want people to know about you? No, you just want the money, I see.

In the non-confrontational way the McBurning man people have trained in he said we could either follow him back to the back gate station and get tickets there, or go around to the front gate and buy them. In a non confrontational way, I thought the second choice would be splendid and we drove away.

This guy seemed a little naive about media ethics, must believe everything he reads in the news. I had to rationalize with Truth, after we got out of sight of the rear entrance guard, when I drove in to a neighborhood around 8 o'clock and Jupiter and parked the Honda next to a Tea Cart. No one was there. It's getting dark, we'll set up first, then go to the main gate later. On our way out.

I set up a dome tent, quickly and wrapped the whole car including the license plate and over the tent in a blue tarp, for shade, as the sky turned pink and purple.

I needed to lie down, the rest area had not been very restful. I lay down beside Truth. I had barely closed my eyes, when Hertz was whispering "Someone's there, the Tea Cart owner, he's looking at us." The flap of the tent was open, and someone dressed in white, with a turban was standing near us in the darkening evening. He was shaking and twirling some fetish object, and seemed to be doing some sort of territorial ritual or Tea Ceremony.

I finally went out to greet our neighbor. We were in his fire twirling area, a circle he was trying to keep clear. After assuring him that we would move in the morning, he told me his name was Silent Wolf, and he was one of the Black Rock Rangers, when he wasn't traveling around with his Tea Cart and doing shows and mountain bike tours.

He wasn't on duty that night, but he rode the after midnight shift, on his bike. He'd been clotheslined once, by a tent rope. The Rangers communicated with headset radios and knew everything that went down. I was pretty sure the license plates were covered, but gave Silent Wolf some of the appropriate trade items the media was instructed to offer, to keep him Silent.

Dusty Raves And Dehydration

We walked into town for an evening stroll, as the wind began to howl. It was downright chilly in the desert. We ducked into a few techno rave disco tents, but the music really sucked. The generators and RV engines were dominating the audio spectrum outside the tents with the wind really picking up. There didn't seem to be much in the way of solar power, or even RV's burning french fry oil instead of gas.

We continued our tour in the morning after THREE DOLLAR COFFEEs at the only official thing for sale. It had been a restless night with the wind flapping the tarp, until I got up and tucked it under the car. Looked like we'd gift wrapped it, our neighbor said in the morning. I offered him more mind goodies.

We lounged in the coffee tent and I read the press kit, I'd gotten at Media Mecca. The name of the event is trademarked and it's use is forbidden without permission. And they wanted ten per cent of my proceeds, what is this a church? I don't sign anything that binds me to a cult, after Waco. Government infernos beat the hell out of art bonfires.

Crawling Home To You

We'd heard that there had been an all day and night sand storm only days before, where everyone huddled in their vehicles, while most of their structures blew flat. They'd done a rapid rebuild job but there were false rumors of another storm, this one with hailstones large enough to squish your head creating free form anxiety.

God probably doesn't like all this Art in the Desert stuff, but compared to the shows in Reno or Las Vegas, McBurning Man was drugged potatoes. The weather stayed slightly below gale force. We took shelter from the wind and the sun that day and the noise later that night in a straw bale structure, which had been rapidly thrown up for a few thousand dollars. It would probably be burned at the end along with almost everything else.

In truth McBurning Man is a paen to consumer waste and toxic smoke, future lung problems and immediate injuries but again it pales in the light of Vegas. Rumor has it that Vegas is planning to build a McBurning man gambling casino for all the hipsters and the RV crowd. There is an awful lot of ART and strange spectacles, but most of its seen in a daze, in a dusty haze. The FOG was starting to seem like a refuge.

I'd stayed through all the burns and into the grim remains two years ago, even was a performer in a show, whose highlight was setting the stage on fire by one of our naked women fire twirlers. Now that was an epic Borning man. Truth to tell, we'd had enough fun, been there done that by the time the drugs wore off that evening. A hotel in Reno sounded good, even if we could hear the highway, the question is could they hear Truth.

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