Randy was our cover profile a few years ago and this last year he attended Burning Man for the first time (after cancellations in 2020 and 2021). We have heard many good things from people who attended — and some pretty wild stories. We wanted to learn first-hand from Randy, who is normally a pretty buttoned up lawyer, what his experience was. What would it be like for a 64–year-old lawyer to go to Burning Man, this immense festival in one of the most inhospitable places on earth? What impact would it have on a first timer? And if one wanted to go, how exactly would one go about it?
Randy, how old are you?
I am 64 this year.
Why did you want to go to Burning Man?
I think my original motivation was that these are the types of experiences I am drawn to. There is a huge creative community there — art, music, design, fashion, survival, expression. I thought of it as a way to thrust those interests into hyperdrive. (Which it did!) I’ve actually been trying to go for years, but it was cancelled in 2020 and 2021. I had the tickets and preparation and everything at the end of 2019. So, it’s been a few years in the making.
When you went to Burning Man, what did you stay in? What was your situation there?
There’s several different ways you can set yourself up out there but, being a fairly purposeful person, I did my research on the best way to have a great experience. Through my event space in the Arts District, I got connected with some “burners,” as they call themselves. This camp, called Savage Kingdom, had been around for 20 years – very dedicated and super-organized. So, I thought of it as a ready-made solution, and great folks to attach to. They were amazing people, and from all over the planet; it was just probably the most interesting interpersonal experience I’ve ever had.
“It was just probably the most interesting interpersonal experience I’ve ever had”
You can do it that way, be part of a camp or tribe, or go on your own and pitch a tent at the edge of the Playa. It just depends what you want your experience to be.
What was the brand of your camper?
After some research, and speaking to the veteran Burners, I decided it was best to be fully equipped — so I rented a tricked out AirStream Camper, with all the accessories. Not everybody does it that way, but that worked best for me.
What surprised you about Burning Man?
My first education was the trip there. Once you get out of California and into Nevada, the last 100 miles are all very desolate single-lane roads so the starkness and rigor set in pretty quickly. Once there, the immensity of the gathering was stunning, especially as you realize this structure springs from literally nothing over just a few days — then vanishes a few days later. You also quickly realize that this is an extreme environment: the heat, wind, and the silica dust as far as the eye can see. You are on the edge. And, last, the scale of the humanity that’s there. 80,000 people in a dried-up ancient lakebed. It’s surreal that any of this happens.
That initial blast of sensory overload is as intense and overwhelming as it gets. Then you sort out and settle in. There’s experiences that come rushing at you — mostly really cool —and you just embrace them as part of the experience.
Preparing for Burning Man
And if somebody wanted to go to Burning Man and had never been, how would you advise they go about it?
Honestly, I think the first advice is to soul-search: What do you want to get out of it? Your own journey? Reflection? Atonement? Redemption? It’s all there, and you can create it. And once you figure that out, you can adjust your planning. As for the practical stuff, it pays to do your research and the first question again is to go on your own or attach to a camp. Camps are not hard to find, and there’s a huge variety of choices. There’s also a lot of accessorizing and provisioning. Camps help you because they supply the infrastructure: restrooms, showers, food, electricity, and the things you need to be comfortable. There’s tons of lists in the cyber-world; mine was five pages long. You need to pack your own water, ice, things to cover up, goggles, hats and, of course, the cool outfits (or no outfit – that’s cool, too). The point is you need to think it through. You’ll be happier if you prepare. The environment there can be stark and savage.
“You are reminded that your existence affects yourself, others around you, the environment”
Were you different when you left from when you arrived?
Yes, in so many ways. For me, there was a renewed appreciation for our environment — you have to live and subside out there, with much less than you have in the normal world. You need to make it work, and be resourceful. Burning Man has principles which you must abide by; one is leaving no trace. You have to pack out absolutely everything you generate during your time there. You are reminded that your existence affects yourself, others around you, the environment. I also came away with a greater respect for the power of this earth. There are dust storms and other conditions that arise within seconds. You might be two miles out, walking or riding your bike on the Playa and you won’t be able to see a finger in front of your nose. And you’re essentially incarcerated.
Another takeaway was appreciation for the boundless expression at Burning Man. There are no limits, judgments, critique, definition, or exposition. All is accepted, all is respected, all is not judged. You just be.
“Community is everything”
A last epiphany was that community is everything. You rely on others and that reliance generates a closeness, a transparency, in a way that imbues collegiality and collaboration. You realize, as I did, this is the way it should be.
Any final thoughts to leave our readers with about Burning Man?
As much as I read, prepared, consulted lists, looked at BM images, and accessorized for the Burn, nothing really prepared me for the scale and immensity of this scene — and its potency. And, even looking back, no way to authentically relate it to others, other than to say, “You had to be there.” So, I just start by saying, “It was transformative,” and go from there.
I’d close with the observation that if we were tasked to construct from scratch a utopian civilization, the lessons of the Playa would be a pretty good start. They are generative, and have durability and purpose. I know they will transcend my time there in person. And I will pass them to others.