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Plain geometry (yes, that’s a pun)

Black Rock City with dust storm moving in

August 29/Day 43. The stream of vehicles entering the playa continues unabated all night and throughout the next day, virtually bumper-to-bumper. In fact, people keep arriving all week.

To understand the sheer scope of this operation, it helps to get an overview of how it’s laid out. The basic plan of Black Rock City is a series of 12 geometrically perfect 270 degree concentric arcs. The inner arc is named Esplanade. The rest of the arcs are given names in alphabetical order, A-L. I’m camped on the outer arc, named Liminal.

Access to the arcs is via radial streets, starting at 6 o’clock, the bottom center. Then there are radials, like spokes of a wheel, every 15 minutes starting at 6 o’clock at the bottom, then to the left 6:15, 6:30, 6:45, etc. To the right the radials are at 6:45, 7:00, 7:45, on so on. From the one tip of the outer arc, Liminal, to the opposite tip of Liminal, I’m told, is five miles.

Upon entering the playa the road makes a “Y” fork at the 6 o’clock position. I assume, just by the laws of chance, that half the vehicles take the left fork and the other half choose the right fork. There is an unbroken line of vehicles that lasts all night long entering the left fork and progressing onto Liminal, passing my campsite, from where they move via the radials into the inner arcs. The same would be true for vehicles turning right onto Liminal.

Me in my desert survival gear

Well, having dispensed with the technicalities of city layout, today is my first full day on the playa. I can see that the dust is already prodigious, so I don the military-style goggles Drake lent me, a desert hat and a respirator I picked up along the way. I spend the morning riding my bicycle randomly around the streets of  Black Rock City.

Let me say at the outset that the only word I can think of to describe Black Rock City is—indescribable. I’m quite certain nothing remotely comparable exists on the planet. There’s no frame of reference, no similarity I can allude to that would hint at the variety, scope, energy and just plain weirdness of this place. It would be like trying to describe the color green to a blind person. There are all kinds of people, from young hipsters, to old hippies who never left the fold, from college kids to New Age flotsam. Some arrive in very old, beat up, psychedelically painted RVs, others in their million dollar Prevost motorhomes. Some live in large tent structures put together by groups of friends, some sleep under tarps.

An "art vehicle." Note to the right in the far distance the triangle shaped object--Burning Man

In some ways it seems like a family reunion straight from the movie Mad Max. Dress, or the lack thereof, is dictated solely by one’s imagination and daring. There are colorful, long flowing garments and garments that appear to be made from fabric art, or yarn threads artfully draped. The first naked person I saw was an elderly gray-haired gentleman riding a bike. There are bare-breasted young women, but I see no sign of ogling or (excuse me) tittering among the crowd. Here’s an obese woman in a tutu and bikini top, a kind of self-mockery; there’s a young man wearing nothing but a vest and a feather tied to his penis. It’s all simply a given; a natural part of the human panorama. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, in addition to my hat, goggles and respirator, I’m wearing…a pair of cargo shorts that wouldn’t be out of place at the mall.

So-called “art vehicles” roam the playa, driven by specters wearing tattered costumes and dreadlocks. Small one-person vehicles with three wheels and electric motors can be seen alongside an actual 40-foot Bertram luxury yacht whose hull has been cut away to fit onto a truck chassis. Another looks like a 20-foot tall cross between a Victorian nightmare and a Rube Goldberg octopus. At the operator’s direction, it shoots jets of fire with a loud WHOOSH from each of its gigantic tentacles as they pulse up and down surrealistically.

I could go on and on, yet even I haven’t begun to see it all.

Sometime around mid-day, while I’m off riding my bike, Gary and Samuel show up and start setting up their camp across the road from me. I assist as much as I can but I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish, so I’m not much help.

Finally, when it gets dark—and I wasn’t expecting this—everything I saw during daylight is lit up with colored lights in the most fantastic display imaginable. I’m awestruck at the sheer degree of unbridled creativity that’s apparent in these projects. Surely some of the most uninhibitedly creative people in the country are here. And not just artists; many of these pieces are so elaborate they require the collaboration of electricians, welders, carpenters, engineers, financiers—and dreamers.

The Man at night

The Man

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