55 Things I Learned At Burning Man

A front porch can also be a bus. Charlie Brown is a burner. Bronies and steampunks galore. Absolutely everything shoots fire.

1. When you arrive at Burning Man, a greeter will hug you and say “welcome home!” If you’re a first-timer, they will make you hit a gong and yell “I AM NO LONGER A VIRGIN!” and roll in the dust.

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2. You can worship a giant Facebook Like out there.

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3. And bowl while waiting for the toilet.

Hayley Powers Thornton-Kennedy
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Hayley Powers Thornton-Kennedy
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4. A front porch can also be a bus.

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5. Charlie Brown is a burner.

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6. Tons of folks hitchhike to get to the festival.

Getting a ride can be competitive. To groom yourself to look like good road trip company, you start posting things like “I’m an excellent conversationalist!” or “I’ve lived in France!” or “I have never murdered anyone, promise!” (Sorry, Mackenzie, I was such a shitty hitchhiker.)

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7. Every year. Black Rock City (the festival’s temporary town) becomes Nevada’s third biggest city.

68,000 people attended this year. Also, there’s a rudimentary map system, so you can find your friends in other camps.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters
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8. A Sparkle Pony is a newcomer who packs nothing but costumes, and expects to be taken care of.

Some veterans really hate them.

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9. This art car used to be a Ford 1973.

El Pulp Mechanico is my hero.

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10. “Super Street Fire” is the most insanely wonderful game.

Two players stand on opposite stages. Motion sensors detect your hand gestures. Fire shoots towards the other player when you act out a hadouken.

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11. Everything out there is built by their participants.

Including this gorgeous cathedral.

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12. Basically, everything shoots fire.

This is like, Act 2 of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction or something.

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13. In the middle of the desert, strangers will drive by and feed you liquor or snow cones.

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14. The Hug Deli serves many flavors of hugs.

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15. This was a thing.

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16. People will flag you down at midnight and give you bacon.

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17. Every year, dozens of weddings happen at Burning Man.

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Ben Gifford
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18. This chapel on stilts was a popular wedding spot. Until they burned it.

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At some point, this dude played “Get Lucky” on the organ.

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19. You won’t find better sunsets anywhere else.

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20. People parachute, fly kites, and float light balloons over the desert. The balloons are your compass at night.

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21. You absolutely need to tie neon lights on yourself if you plan to walk or bike in the desert at night.

No one can see you without these lights, so bikes will plow right into you.

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22. This is the best sign to see when you’re 5 beers in, and biking in the middle of the desert.

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23. This spinning monkey sculpture is awesome/creepy.

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24. Bathrooms are surprisingly ungross since it’s so dry and dusty.

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25. Someone reached into a urinal and graffiti’d there. Dude, no.

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26. Dust will cling to everything.

The Playa’s dust is as fine as chalk. Your hair will gray. Not showering all week feel surprisingly okay — whenever you sweat, the dust rubs it off with a baby-powder smoothness.

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27. If you don’t mind being spongebathed by naked strangers, the Human Carcass Wash will get you clean.

Located at a polyamorist camp. You have to spongebathe a dozen strangers before they let you get bathed too. Short story writer Wells Towers went through that with his dad.

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28. “Steampunk” goggles are completely necessary.

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Because of this.

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29. P. Diddy went to Burning Man this year?

Also, Major Lazer played a set. And a ton of Silicon Valley moguls go often, including Google’s Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. You’re not supposed to care about famous people there, though.

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30. Spam comes on wheels.

Dark confession: I kind of wish that was a mobile jacuzzi of spam.

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31. There’s a surprising age range there.

Not uncommon to see aging hippie parents bring their children, or going hard with their friends. In Reno, we met an old man who couldn’t get his wife’s permission to go. He packed his tent in secret and wrote “there are things in life you just gotta try” in a note on the breakfast table. Then he snuck off to the festival at night. He was very happy to tell us this.

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Age distribution of attendees, according to Burning Man’s census.

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32. The Temple is a solemn place of remembrance. You are welcome to leave a message to people you’ve lost this year.

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Jim Urquhart / Reuters
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33. The VW Bus is still the most romantic vehicle.

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34. Awesome Town has a high elevation. ‘You’ Is an Integer.

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35. Charlie the Unicorn came out here to retire. He finally found Candy Mountain.

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36. There’s a giant message board at Center Camp.

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37. As well as a post office.

You can send postcards to freak out granny.

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38. There’s a brony camp?

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40. Off-duty Tie Fighters are jonesing for a rave.

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41. If you can’t survive hearing this on full-blast while you sleep, you will die there.

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42. “Ice is worth more than Google stocks out there.”

(Thank you, Rembert Browne, for the quote). Actually, it’s $3 a bag — that’s one of very few things you can actually buy there — but the lines for ice are usually hecka long.

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43. ‘Playa names’ (Burner nicknames) have to be given to you by other people. I like drawing on people, so this happened.

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44. Littering or leaving garbage (‘MOOP’) behind is Burner sacrilege.

Hundreds of volunteers spend the month after Burning Man meticulously combing the sand for MOOP (Matter Out Of Place). You must drive out your own trash. Also, MOOP is a funny word. One night, some grumpy old dude called us all MOOP. Then we began to call each other MOOP.

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45. You can move this skeleton’s fins like a giant puppet.

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46. You’re never too old for a giant ball pit.

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Hayley Powers Thornton-Kennedy
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47. Expect to put in a dozen hours of manual labor there (at least). Even if you’re not making an artwork or running a themed camp.

Besides setting up your own tent, someone in your camp’s bound to need help. First day there was a hell of hammering metal stakes into the dry earth.

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48. There’s a newspaper there.

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49. You can dance around the giant BORING sign.

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50. Fish-themed art mobiles are all the rage.

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51. I’ve never seen better bike decorations.

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52. This bike’s too big, though. C’mon, guys.

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53. Burning Man is the opposite of Coachella or Pitchfork fest. It’s wonderfully agnostic about Coolness as a currency.

Imagine a steampunk rave, hippie commune, yoga studio, tech-bro frat house, polyamorist workshop rolled into one. If you police your dignity on a regular basis, Burning Man will give you an aneurysm. But out there, you realize just how much time and energy you normally waste on talking shit and trying to appear knowing. It’s far better to actually make things.

(Also: Hi, Bart, I love you and you are always cool in my heart, rainbow muumuu or no.)

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54. This is the ‘man’ they burn every year on Saturday.

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55. Watching huge sculptures burn in the Nevada Desert gets really emotional. You’ll want to hug your friends and tell them they’re the best people on earth.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters
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Kevin Tang
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Hayley Powers Thornton Kennedy
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Previously: how to spend 24 hours at Burning Man.

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