Chris Smith: Typical day at Burning Man anything but typical

Scenes at Burning Man 2015. Detail and overall of Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea, by the Burning Man Department of Public Art and New Xishi City, Taiwan. (Chris Smith / PD)


What does one do at Burning Man?

It’s no different, really, than asking what one does while staying for a time in Vienna or New York City or Petaluma?

Every sojourner in Black Rock City has different interests. Some will barely leave the RVs or tents of their camps. Others will pass nearly all of their time out and about in this temporary metropolis of about 70,000 on a dusty former lake bed northeast of Reno.

I can tell you what I and a fair number of people do.

We get up when the spirit moves in the morning, greet any stirring camp members or close-in neighbors and brace for a visit to the nearest bank of portable restrooms.

Then we get the coffee started on the camp or RV stove. After a hardy breakfast — Wednesday we had lox and bagels; Thursday bacon and eggs are on the menu — we prepare to set out on our wide-tired bikes.

We apply sunscreen, snuggle down a wide-brimmed hat and check to make sure that in a backpack, pockets, a basket or somewhere are water, goggles, some sort of masking device in the event the dust rises up, a snack and, if we have it together, something to give away. It could be a handmade pin, a piece of candy, maybe a cooling squirt from a spray bottle.

And out we go. Unless the dust is miserable, which it happened to be Wednesday, it’s easy to spend hours pedaling, exploring and perhaps activating the scattered sculptures, and meeting fellow burners.

Must-see attractions include The Man, the central, 70-foot effigy that will burn amid a great pyrotechnic spectacle on Saturday night, and the graceful Temple of Promise that will be covered with visitors’ memorial tributes to lost loved ones and penned expressions of regret, sorrow, forgiveness and hope. It’s torching concludes Burning Man 2015 on Sunday night.

If you remembered your cup, you can stop at one of the many voluntary watering holes. After I’ve been out on the bike awhile I look for one of the camps that give away small snow cones.

There are all sorts of things to do. Various camps set up roller rinks, great teeter totters, swings, trampolines, silly games. One night a few years ago, we stood before a screen and defended ourselves with plastic light sabers while attackers flung illuminated Frisbees at us.

Every day, there are classes, talks, workshops. A fair many are sexually themed but the others are wide- ranging: TED talks, yoga sessions, a rap music tournament, geek gatherings, guided meditations, chamber music, work poetry, it never ends.

Dinner is a big deal. We usually grill and round out a leisurely camp meal with local delights such as Sonoma County heirloom tomatoes and wine.

Some of those here will party all night, as in until sunrise. There are dances — some huge ones — and bars and goings-on all over the place.

The city looks entirely different after sundown. Sculptures that didn’t make much sense in the daylight suck the wind from you when they light up or move or breathe flames in the dark.

Every person, every bike, every camp flickers or flashes or beams in battery- or generator-powered color.

I turn in fairly early. At the most, there are each year only eight Burning Man mornings.