It’s always about this time of year that I start to have dreams about Burning Man. They rarely make any sense, but generally all have the same theme: I’m trying to get there, but it’s always either too late or I can’t get in.
I guess that’s not surprising. For most of the month of August, as I see so many of my friends preparing for the annual desert pilgrimage, I feel the same way in my waking hours as well. All year long, I’m like, “Psshhh, Burning Man is too much of a hassle.” As it gets nearer, I begin thinking about all the weird magic I’m missing. It’s a strange, dust-covered FOMO that blinks, shines and glimmers in my mind’s eye.
I went to Burning Man in 2004, and it blew my fucking mind. Like, top-of-my-skull-still-flapping-in-the-wind-a-month-later kind of mind blown. It was only about 30,000 people back then — half of what it is now — and I went with an itty-bitty camp that consisted of just me and a couple. I spent most of that week alone in the desert, biking between massive pieces of art, dancing to loud beats, meeting beautiful weirdoes and seeing things that, up until then, I didn’t know existed. Without realizing it then, it was my last hurrah before the internet went from a tool that slept in a desktop in my room to a monster that lived in my pocket and ran my life. It was probably that way for most of us.
I remember the night after I came back from Black Rock City. I went to a USF party with Tia, my girlfriend at the time, who hadn’t gone to Burning Man with me. I came in with the angel-headed swagger of being emotionally covered in Playa dust and regaled Tia and her friends about this incredible experience in the desert. I went on about how nobody used money, people gave gifts to strangers, everyone was mostly naked and beautiful, and all anybody wanted to do was share.
I’d felt nearly the entire range of human emotions while out in the desert and all I could do was extoll the virtues of this insane alternate universe that only existed for one week a year.
I haven’t been back since.
It’s not like I haven’t wanted to go back — my desire to go back is particularly thirsty right now — it just seems like there is always something else to do each year instead. For example: Last year, I was running for mayor and afterwards went to Mexico City. This year, I’m going to Shanghai. I can’t afford to go to Black Rock City on top of all the other places I want to go each year. So I always end up choosing another stamp in my passport over another trip to what nearly amounts to outer space.
And the reports each year make me wonder if I’d even find the same transcendence now that I did in 2004. With millionaire private yurt complexes and P. Diddy sightings, it seems like the openness and possibility of absolute wonder might have diminished. Then again, so many of my weirdo friends still go back each year, which means the magic must still be out there somewhere.
Part of me hopes a free ticket and camping situation drops in my lap, making it so that I almost can’t say no to Burning Man. But the other part of me doesn’t want to tarnish the memories I made all those years ago.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.Broke Ass CityBroke-Ass StuartSan FranciscoStuart Schuffman