Chris Smith: The Burning Man robot made from Coffey Lane debris burned, but did anyone see it?

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You certainly don’t remember me writing in recent years from Burning Man, which ended Monday, that the huge, so-unlike-normal gathering on an ancient Nevada lakebed undeniably falls well short of utopia. Even so, for eight days, it’s one of the happiest if dustiest places on Earth.

I stayed home this year but savor it vicariously through returnees like Aileen Cormack.

She’s the Santa Rosa artist who went to Burning Man with AndroNaut, the robot she and a friend made from fire debris found in the ruins of Cheri Sharp’s Coffey Park home.

Cormack, who’s now been to Burning Man nine times, said this was another good year, though the intermittently blinding dust just about did her in. For one thing, she said, “This year I would have to say I slept better than I ever did before.”

But something uncool happened at the biggest moment of the entire week.

AndroNaut was one of 12 robots placed about 20 feet off the desert floor on the circular base beneath the focal point of Black Rock City: the towering figure of a man that is burned amid a fireworks show on the Saturday night before Labor Day.

Cormack said she and fellow AndroNaut artist Deborah Colotti could tell people enjoyed looking up at their robot.

Before they’d left Sonoma County with it, many people said they couldn’t believe they would let it burn. But to commit it to flame was essential to their tribute to their Coffey Park friend’s survival and recovery.

So the night of the big burn in Black Rock City arrived. Amid tens of thousands of others, Cormack and Colotti looked up for a final, long look at AndroNaut.

“Do you know what I saw?” Aileen asked. “What I saw what that our piece was not up there.”

She thinks that someone, perhaps a member of the pyrotechnics crew, for some reason lifted their robot from its pedestal and set it down flat — and out of view.

“I wish they had left it where it would have been visible when it burned,” Aileen said.

Otherwise she thought everything about Burning Man ’18 was about perfect.

Well, not the dust.


BRACE YOURSELF for at least one transcendent moment, and likely more, if you’ll take in this weekend’s Broadway Under the Stars gala at Jack London State Historic Park.

The particular moment I have in mind will come when 11-year-old Grace Anne Doyle takes the open-air stage with her mother, Charlotte.

They will trace the arc of Grace Anne’s life in their performance of the song, “When I Grow Up,” from “Matilda the Musical.”

Grace Anne was born to sing and she was 2 when difficulty with walking led to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

The radiant Grace Anne was recovering from extensive corrective surgery to her legs late last year when her family’s home off Santa Rosa’s Wallace Road fell to the Tubbs fire.

So she has much about which to sing. Grace Anne has been embraced by the Transcendence Theatre Company ever since she brightened its Sonoma Valley summer camp when she was 8.

She and her mom will appear as guest artists at the Transcendence gala at Jack London Park this Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Hmm, looks like Friday and Saturday are already sold out.

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