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Back from Burning Man, elated and exhausted. Was it awesome? YES!!! Gosh, I have so many impressions caroming through my color-addled brain right now, but I want to just pull a couple down before I forget them as one would a near-distant dream.

First, for all you PLAYA HATERS out there (jk!) let me talk about the price. OK, a lot of people think the $200 ticket price just to enter a vast stretch of non-privatized Black Rock Desert is a bit, um, exclusionary. Well, let me just say this: one visit to the Playa would convince you instantly that the Burn is anything but that. You just have to talk to people, get their stories. I mean, in one short weekend I met a software engineer from Santa Rosa, a designer from San Francisco, two content strategists from Portland, Oregon, and a real live Wiccan from Boulder. (Actually, she used to work for a new media creative recruiter before she got laid off. Now she's full-time Wiccan, and has been volunteering herself for a lot of awareness-raising work to help keep Starbucks from buying out the small, locally frequented chain of New World coffee shops in her neighborhood. One word: brave.) Plus, you couldn't enter a single drum circle or art-car wagon train without overhearing conversations about how they "wish there were more black or Hispanic people on the Playa." So, ethnic diversity was definitely a hot topic, on the minds and lips of all in attendance.

And, if you think about the $200 ticket price, it's actually pretty affordable - not as prohibitive as you'd think. Break down the mathematics. $200. That's not even ONE-THIRD the cost of an Aeron chair. (the good ones - not the single-dot chairs) $200 is like 3 Bjork concert tickets. It's less than half the cost of a new iPaq Pocket PC. And it's just about the cost of your Society for Creative Anachronism yearly membership dues. So I think it's more affordable than you might think. As Canibus says, "do the math, nigga."

P.S. And don't forget: tickets for dogs were only $100! That's half off human price.

This was my fourth Burn and I wanted to make it my best one yet, which is why I came up with a great Theme Camp for 2001. I called it "Fags Ahoy." Some buddies of mine from our company's sysadmin group helped to build a giant replica of a Spanish Galleon and then we all painted it hot pink. Even the cannons and cannon balls. None of us are gay (although I'm not sure about Liam - he has a really hard time making eye contact with women.), but we thought playing gay pirates would be in the true spirit of art and community on the Playa. SoŞlet's continue! After we made the ship, which fit nicely over our rented Winstar, we bought silver body paint (duh!), made matching pink costumes with bandanas, modeled after Matthew Modine's outfit in Cutthroat Island, and we each constructed "eye patches" using shoelaces and a condom, just like Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. (I took mine off after day three because I was developing psoriasis underneath the damp, salty patch.)

Finally, for the coup de grace we went to Good Vibrations (don't get me started on all the giggle fits we had in that place) and purchased the biggest dildos we could find. When the woman behind the register, Barbara, tried to gauge our level of experience with dildos so she could recommend a more suitable size, I had to break the news and calm the giggles: "Barbara, we're going to Burning Man, OK? And we're going to use these dildos as PIRATE SWORDS!! Isn't that insane? They're like weapons, only they're shaped like gigantic penises!!!!" Barbara seemed cool with it, but the woman in line behind us, who was purchasing the same dildo and some chamomile-flavored dental dams, definitely appeared ruffled. Sorry, ma'am, but when the Burn is coming you should expect to take a little heat. Know what I mean? It's like Too $hort says - "Too hot to handle, too cold to hold / when I put a bitch ho in a Puerto Rican chokehold."

At the last minute we added a pirate flag to our galleon, which we knew would make us the most outrageous Theme Camp on the playa. It was hot pink (of course!) and said "SHOW US YOUR BOOTY!" Sure enough, we saw a lot of booty over the week. Some men, some women, some people who could have been men or women I guess. It definitely provided a lot of social lubricant, as did our giant penis swords, which had people scrambling to make the funniest double-entendres. (my favorite was "I'm ready to walk your plank!" WTF?!?!!) It was great; like a giant chat room, but in person.

I met a lot of people, including some really interesting folks from the Church of the Sub-Genius, and the loons who built Camp Alien Sex Friend. They gave out necklaces made of little rubber greys strung together, in the style of Mardi Gras, and they were using them everywhere as trade. I'm not sure what the theme of their camp was, actually. It was a lot of trippy colors and mirrors and black light, with John Digweed blasting from a giant set of amplifiers. When I approached, I was given some beads, asked to show my penis, and told that Camp Alien Sex Friend was about "the happening, you know. It's all happening now, and we're here. We're the ones, you know." It was pretty intense. I gave Commander Vishnu a bite of my lentil burger. (His real name is Andrew Van Buren - I have his business card, because I was complaining about how I don't have any long-term investment plans set up for retirement, since I'm a freelancer, and he said he could help when he returns to "Planet Berkeley." I NEVER meet cool people like that back in Brooklyn.)

I met so many other people and made so many friends, and even though my digital camera got dust in it and became inoperable (it's still under warranty, and I hope that covers "Playa-related hazards") I still have my solid memories and many email addresses and cell phone numbers. And I also have, I hope, a place to stay next time I'm in West Hollywood. (That's right, members of Camp Hollywood And Vinyl - I'm talking to you.)

With a new leader in charge of Burning Man activities this year, expectations were high. Did he deliver? Well, in the words of Silkk The Shocker, "Yeah, we bring it like two tons of dick meat." First of all, kudos for keeping the Dasani purified water ready and available. But the biggest news was the actual burn. Forget what you think you know - this wasn't your daddy's Burning Man. (No offense to all of the actual fathers on the playa. They truly represented, even though it was weird seeing some naked middle-aged dads trying to smoke weed with teenage girls. I just had to keep telling myself to let my socially repressed attitudes take a hike - and keep on truckin!) Eschewing the increasingly elaborate pyrotechnics of previous years, this year the organizers went all out. The Burning Man was actually an enormous projected hologram and its destruction was rendered completely on CGI workstations, using some of the same effects that were created for (but later excised from) the motion picture Spawn. The effects budget was close to $3.5 million dollars and was partially subsidized by Dreamworks Entertainment. And I swear, you could see every penny being well-spent on the playa that night. The part where fire-dragons took flight from The Burning Man's fingertips is an image that I will probably be telling my grandchildren about.

I'm pleased I went. More than pleased, in fact. But don't take my word for it - I'm sure plenty of other online regulars have their own experiences to share, each one different than the last. I'm sure some people found it "spiritualî while others found it "very spiritual".

And I do regret that most of my photos didn't develop but someone did send me a photo they took of me after four days of third-eye-overload. So, here's just a small taste of what you missed. BURN ON!!!


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