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The event, which requires those who attend to bring their own food, water and shelter and dispose of their own trash, was overrun with rich tech people who defied the festival’s precious tenet of radical self-reliance with their over-reliance on paid staff. I rented a caravan with six other people, a group organised by a friend in San Francisco.
But everyone said Burning Man was over, that it was spoiled.Some of the themes are creative: one camp, Animal Control, is dedicated to trapping and tagging festival attendees wearing animal costumes. We decided next to go to the orgy dome, something one could only do as part of a ‘couple or moresome’. To get my bike I had to tell Ben something about where I was going. We were handed a bag with condoms, lube, wet wipes, mint lifesavers and instructions for how to dispose of our materials afterwards. I was disappointed that there wasn’t much of an orgy. It was clear that we either do something or leave.‘Should we have sex? We wanted to look at a sculptural re-creation of the Mir space station. One of the Russians who’d built it was dismantling the lights.Others serve coffee to the public every morning, or play only music by the Grateful Dead. He showed me various stowaway beds, then pressed a button to expand the width of the caravan. I watched him scoop up piles of broken glass with his bare hands. The atmosphere was collegial, with people singing songs and spraying one another with a hose. In fact it was all heterosexual couples having sex with each other. The space station was going to be set on fire later that night. First time at Burning Man,’ he said with a thick accent.I listened to someone describe her research on ‘Transpersonal Phenomena Induced by Electronic Dance Music’. Next to his bed, a small landfill of plastic water bottles had accumulated. I went out alone and walked past a plywood booth painted yellow. A rainbow flag blew taut in the wind, the words ‘Yes Please’ printed on it in white. He opened a rainbow umbrella and I opened a black one and we looked at each other from beneath our umbrellas. This was just my life: I lived it and sometimes had sex with people. He mentioned that the last time he had gone into the steam bath he had been coming down from acid. We were supposed to write something on it, but we didn’t write anything. ‘This is normally when I go back to take a nap, but this day,’ Jean said. We shared his dinner, a grilled cheese sandwich with some tomato soup. (Later, a friend suggested it was a chemical in the family of drugs known as NBOMes, which the administrators of the website Erowid call ‘the defining psychedelics of 2013’.I wasn’t sure if he wanted to hang out with me, or share his lifehacked body with the naked free spirits of Burning Man. The second night, to give everyone space, I biked over to the outer playa, where it was silent, empty and very cold. Beneath that was a black flag with a skull and crossbones. Sometimes I wanted to commit to people, or them to me, but in the past two years no such interests had fallen into alignment. At this point he admitted it was not his first time here, but his fifth. We watched as it was placed with the others and then we left. ‘I don’t know what to do about this day.’ I knew what he meant. They were invented in 2003 by a Ph D student in Berlin and first hit the market in 2010.