We loaded the car and we were off…

John Mosbaugh
10 min readOct 9, 2022


Moze Sun, June 25, 2006–4:22 PM

There are so many, “We loaded the car and we were off,” stories about Burning Man.

Seems there’s a cycle each year, decompression and anticipation, where, right after the burn, a lot of people get home and take a deep breath then unpack and clean the impossible clinging playa dust off their essentials and pack the rest away somewhere to deal with later.


This is the end of September, early October, and at this time the online Burning Man lists, tribe and e-playa explode with “What was your burn like” and “Did this really happen” and “Did you hear?” and “Wow, that really blew my mind” and it is all a flood of AFTERVIBES, images still burnt into the mind’s eye, like waking up in your bedroom that first week home after the Burn and thinking you’re still in a tent with the playa dust suspended in the air. It is the shared catharsis of a shared dream that is over now, but a dream that for the moment, was the vision of a perfect world, a perfect community. Posting to the lists is a kind of support group, a place to say, “I was at work today and my mind was on the playa, “ and to get a response, “Oh, don’t I know it sister.”

There are after parties and Decompression and these are ways of dealing with the return from Black Rock City to the real world. San Francisco has an alternative personality again after that week or so when all the Burners were gone out to the godforsaken playa.

The rest of the year, for most of the mass of burners, is just another cube farm production zone, or a grill with FOOD UP, or double time at night fixing the PG&E station, or a contract where you have to concentrate to survive. It is a place where people wear clothes and don’t talk to each other and if YOU DO, for some reason out of the blue, start up a conversation with a perfect stranger, you have half a chance of being interpreted as a scoundrel with an ulterior motive. That world can be a place of gray ghosts moving past each other, stealing places in line to get a better position in the queue, to get closer to the mechanical rabbit, to grab the brass ring. It is all about making money and moving forward and producing and consuming. It sells us salve to soothe and please the ghost of our desire. It is ennui and anomie and it is somewhat lonesome out there. That is what commodification can do to a species.

But the Burning Man community doesn’t hibernate long. There are the post event Jack Rabbit Speaks with the well earned, self-congratulatory messages that once again the community pulled it off. An army of volunteers takes care of shit and sits back to recollect, to rewire the synapses, to experience reverie of just what went down last Labor Day. JRS, holy shit, the essential beautiful red headed Action Girl or Meow Maid Marian posts that encapsulate it all for you, the Burner who “stays in touch”. There are the Larry Harvey speeches that grow in stature and structure each year, reinforcing the original punk and addressing the inevitable evolution of the event. And there is the ever present call to come volunteer, make it to a meeting, find a groove and make this beast continue moving forward

And there are the shots across the bow, the zig zag machinations of a multitude of agenda espousing wanna bees who see the death of Burning Man as a proverbial feather in their cap, but they miss the point, they can’t see that Burning Man is an indicator of the health of the very America that allows them to pursue their goals. For Burners, the event is one of the purest manifestations of all that is possible and affirmative and conceptually good about the American ideal of democracy. The interlopers can’t see that Burning Man is an attempt to move to the next level, or at least experiment with it, and only that push can keep the whole animal of freedom moving forward. So the rumor and the fear spreads; of hassles from the cops or the counties or the Feds, and things get desperate but the org somehow figures out a way to deflect the heat and hold the event again and when that happens, everyone has an opinion and everyone posts to the lists; the glorious lists that keep the ride bouncing along all year. When the org figures it out and the event is on, everyone groks on that.


Then, it seems, the period of anticipation begins. Sometime around January, February, the conversation begins with questions, when are tickets going on sale, rumors of the theme. People reminisce. People bitch. The society of online ninnies complain, but they are just an aspect of a healthy community and they validate the reality of community that can survive and evolve to around them. When the Org sends out that first spring Jack Rabbit Speaks that contains clues to impending movement, clues to a decision to be announced by the organism, well, that starts the frenzy and all around Burners start talking, on lists, at parties…’’’

Interest re-ignites in earnest when the theme is announced and there is always the inevitable mob of critical online discussions about what this year’s theme means, It is an advance on the anticipation for a new burn season, after last year and there is consideration of how much work it was last year or how you stumbled onto it for your first time or what a blast it was and you’ll definitely go again and there are the naysayers who curse Burning Man for the ticket prices or for whatever personal sleight real or imagined that they felt for whatever reason. There is sometimes a Peterman prank website or the next up and coming Culture jammer pulling the collective leg of the community. The online community starts going nuts. With that theme, there is a central purpose, and even when the theme is too amorphous for most, it at least it provides a focus and a sticking point.

There are the unofficial Beach Burns and the parties and the regionals, always bringing in fresh blood. And there is the loose affiliations of urban tribes that show up at the Burn sometimes like Death Guild or Bianca’s, like the Seemen and SRL. The CellSpace periphery. The Ravers and Electronica and the 3rd street warehouse artist co-opts. The Chicken John contingent and Cacophany, that St. Stupid patrol, the Naughty Santas and Evil Clowz. The burgeoning, unrespected San Francisco Art scene that hangs at Somarts or the Studio Z or the Odeon. Tribes that pop forth from the ether on Squidlist from time to time. All the Ridiculousness. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Crucible Steel. The Flaming Lotus Girls. The fire conclave training new spinners up in the Santa Cruz mountains. The Gwally Brigade in Seattle. The DJs playa proofing their equipment to groove and thump large scale sound installations. The Radio Stations start having meetings and setting agendas. The Burning Man digerati dream new schema to bend the natural elements into something entirely new and never seen before. This is a time of breeding and nascency, like some creative estuary, where new ideas hatch and morph. Where established tribes metamorphose into Chrysalises, ready to de-pupate out upon the playa and blow some minds

Meetings and ideas begin swirling and teeming, all around this thing, this Temporary Autonomous Zone, this new year art bacchanal. Every scene a tribe and every tribe throwing parties and testing out their prank for this year, their fashion show or art or performance. And each group with minor celebrity status, minor deities that “make the scene” and make art in San Francisco or New York or Austin or Portland or where ever.

And once the theme is out, there is talk about theme camp ideas or publications or art projects. There are calls for people needed for this project or that camp. The congealing of people turned onto this thing, this New American Holiday, this twisted barbeque of a large wicker man out on a prehistoric desert lakebed. Not your father’s Labor Day. The festival where the Emperor wears no clothes and no one notices.

You get your shit together and send in for your tickets. Fucking expensive at any price and you bitch, but you pay because you know you got in before the schmucks who will pay for the 200$, 230$ tickets. But damn, that’s nothing for a week on the playa.

There are online collaborations, plans to meet up with friends and making new ones, people you’ve never met person to person, but online, then at preparation parties! The tribes meet and bounce ideas around. The trickle of Burning Man art on postcards announcing Ticket Sales or Flambe Lounges and finally YOUR TICKETS arrive in the mail with the survival guide. How to avoid Death or Dismemberment at Burning Man. And the Burning Man website begins growing, with theme camps and art installations everyday. With scheduled events hitting the calendars.

Then there is a rush of 35 thousand people bingeing on the buying of sunscreen and costumery, sleeping bags and tents, shade structures and food. There are the obligatory online discussions about generators and rebar, EL wire and inverters. There are the last minute posts for Costco or some other place selling 700Watt inverters for cheaper than the 400watts, and the Sam’s Club Deep cells this year, so cheap if someone has a card. There are the newbie questions about “Is it really that hard to survive?” and the RV debates and the trolls asking about girls and tagging art. And there is usually that year’s new night time luminescence and the places to get it cheap, hella cheap man. Once it was chemo luminescence, glow sticks, crazy stuff, then glow collars and bracelets by the box, then there was that year with the Kangaroo and her little Roo and the horse, so the next year it was EL wire every where, then it was the blinkies, good GOD you GOTTA have blinkies, and the future night time glow trip blinkie must have accessory, who knows, EL fabric at 5000$ a yard, but once the community demands it, the price will fall and the Freak Nation will make another technology mainstream, like when you see that EL wire in Walmart for the auto aficionados to adorn their dash boards, etc, etc, ad nauseam.

Getting there, What’s a Gerlach You Doing in a Place Like This?

Then comes the day you leave, packed down, got your tickets, got all your costumes and baby oil and sunscreen and freaky shit and birth control and books and gifts and liquor and party supplies and all the stuff you need to make your camp really, really cool and inviting, got your Christmas lights and inverters and deep cell batteries and the generator and your couches and art cars and RVs and trailers packed with mannequins and twisted metal and propane tanks and all the back up parts you need for your fire sculpture and your tools and your fucking publications and map and body paint and un MOOPable glitter gels and paper mache and the things that make you sexy and hours of preparation for this year and fuck, let’s go! We’ll pick up food and water on the road!

Then you’re driving there over I-80 at Donner Pass or down OR-58 to US-97 or driving days across 80 through the Midwest down into the continental divide, passing through Salt Lake spread out there at the Rockies and up into the West all the time jabbering about this year and what you want to see or do or hook up with. That journey to the man, getting there is a great American adventure.

So many tales of tickets and breakdowns and driving balls to the wall out of where ever you’re driving from, to stop in Reno or Sparks to get food and to get enough water goddamnit.

Then you take the turn off at Wadsworth and the gas station there that’s always packed with burners gassing up or buying last minute supplies like beer and smokes. The freak wagons at the post, checking each other out all focused on making it out there, another couple hours out there to that playa. And you’re driving into the desert on small roads passing the Free Range Cattle signs off of 447, Nixon, the freak parade up past Pyramid Lake all driving to the Temporary Freak Nation, then over those small hills where you can cruise and some asshole is always driving way too fast and will inevitably pass a line of ten cars and everyone is thinking, oh man, don’t let this guy blow it for everyone.

And the highway patrol or the reservation cops pass going the other way, slicing through the scene like sharks and everyone’s slowing down, hiding their illegals because we’ve come too far to blow it now, just one last drive, one last stretch to the MAN.

You pass the huge open places, the irregular rocks, the first set of power lines that look like the Man or a line of Men, holding up the electric lines, and you’re jazzed and then you see the second crop of power lines set closer to Empire that look even more like the Man. You pass the rusted car out there on the right, the one that drove off the road in the 50s and is still there, a lonesome sculpture of another time. You’re spotting Rangers at Snoopy Rock and driving slowly in the Paiute Indian Reservation land, not knowing where it starts or where it ends because you miss the signs. And you cross over the cattle grates thinking, god those cattle are stupid. And you reach Empire Store, then the curve into Gerlach where you all look over and say, can you see it? Can you see it? Can you see BLACK ROCK CITY? And depending on when you get there, sometimes you can.

Past Bruno’s Gas Station and Bruno’s restaurant and Bruno’s casino then you leave town into that last big curve, down at the base of the mountains, on the final fucking stretch…’’’

Then once you find the entrance, go through the Gate and read the Burma Shave signs and approach the Greeter’s stations, well, everyone’s stories diverge into the maw of Black Rock City from that point on.

Once you’re in that Temporary City, anything can happen, can’t it? But the getting there, well, that’s a story that’s been repeated and reported so many times and hopefully, it’ll continue to be reported forever.

We build stuff and bring it out. If you’d asked us why, we’d just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, it’s Burning Man.”