One of my favorite parts of Burning Man has always been a little camp-within-our-camp, created by a manic bunch of guys from southern California. VW Bus Camp doesn’t have much shared infrastructure, but many of us will get early-access permits just so we can help build the Leopard Lounge. This has been going on for about ten years.
So, this trailer shows up on Saturday before the event opens, and in about four hours, a dozen volunteers carpet a big chunk of playa, put up a dozen pop-up shade structures, pound rebar into the ground and strap it all down. Then rolls of bamboo partitions are zip-tied to make walls, plastic palm trees are rolled out, the bar is assembled, lounge chairs and couches spread out, and sound equipment set up. The result is a fabulous pop-up place with live music, tequila shots, foot rubs and rooms for massage and energy work. We all donate tequila, foot massages, bartending, and musical skills to make it happen.
Here is a little snippet from 2019, a chill afternoon on a hot dusty day. Eric drives the live music, usually from keyboards, while Bingo and Sean tend bar and a bunch of folks are getting foot care.
Click to watch the show, and please forgive my crappy video skills!
This year was special, as we had some fabulous musicians drop in on Friday. A fellow from Ecuador named Louder picked up the guitar, and a classical pianist named Pink Tea started singing and playing keyboards and drums. One of our camp mates sang, drummed, and pulled out his box of harmonicas. Another added scatty backup vocals. The place was in full swing when the rain started, and the show ripped on into the evening as the playa got muddy and folks sheltered in place. The guitar had to stop around 6pm when the ground got so wet that players were getting shocked.
Here are links to movies I shot. It was one of my best afternoons ever on the playa. (Right-click to download).
Alas, an era of our camp is ending, as Eric decided that this was the last appearance of the Leopard Lounge. Perhaps it was the double rainbow that appeared at sunset, I heard Eric say that there was one the first year that they brought the Lounge to the playa. Perhaps it was the reality of dealing with so much mud. Regardless, as the lounge was disassembled the next day, the crew gave away carpets and fake plants. Bamboo partitions were torn apart, and soon hundreds of people in our part of Black Rock City were making their way through muddy streets with bamboo walking sticks. We’re starting to talk about what we might do next year, perhaps creating a bar.
So, I’ll miss you Leopard Lounge, and the magic you made. Eric, Art, Mike, Mark, Solo and the others, thank you for bringing this to our camp for so many years. Bingo, Sean, Tater, Sherrie, Dave, Martyna, Busboy Bob, Donna Lee, Dawn & Teco, Shannon, JC and everyone else who helped make this happen…I so appreciate how you all showed up.
That’s what the greeters say when you finally get to the gate, and it feels true. For the sixth time, I was back to That Thing In The Desert. Again our trusty Westy, Mojave, has carried us without problems from home to Lassen (where we store our Burning Man gear), and then across the Nevada desert on dirt highways to arrive early on Friday. Jen came along for the first time since 2018, her seventh burn, and we cheerfully and easily set up our camp, complete with so much aluminet that someone referred to our camp as “The Tiara”. We were tucked in right at 4 & E, across the street from the Alternate Energy Zone tower. Here we are the first night, celebrating with vino.
Arriving early let us enjoy a quiet Black Rock City, even as traffic picked up on Saturday, with camp construction noises all around. The Leopard Lounge showed up midday, nearly everyone pitched in for set up, and was rolling with live music and tequila by evening. Our camp filled over the next two days, as dozens of VW buses came in. A core group brought shade structure pieces, and assembled Rosie’s Retreat, a large common space where we had events all week And we had a somewhat international crew this year, with a neighbors from Poland, Oz, Sierra Leon, and a couple from Beijing. (Zhen generously shared some of his photos with me, which are mixed in below).
Clearly, Jen is having a good time, and so am I! The activities at Rosie’s Retreat include some great presentations on olive oil and wine, Bus Camp history, plant enthogenics, Mother’s High Tea, and the annual tie-dye event, which was very well attended.
And then of course, there is the artwork on the playa, my favorite part.
This was my second year as a Ranger, and I ended up doing four shifts. The high point was helping two folks in the Ranger Sanctuary (a protected quiet place) re-locate to new camps. And helping a nearby camp handle a medical emergency when someone got very dehydrated.
Of course, everything changed on Friday afternoon, as rain started to fall and the playa mud got too deep for walking. The Leopard Lounge had an exceptional afternoon with a variety of guest performers, until the damp made it impossible to play. We sacked out early, and awoke Saturday to a muddy wonderland. Our plans for a Saturday departure were trashed, the gates were closed and it was impossible to move except by walking barefoot, or with plastic bags or socks on your feet. Anything else accumulated so much mud (boots, bikes, etc.) that you became stuck in place.
Life in Bus Camp continued in a pretty normal way through the muddy weekend, with two exceptions. First, we ran out of tequila (although someone came by and gifted us a bottle on Monday 🙂 The second was more serious — the mud made it impossible to service the porta potties, and we all had to adapt. Fortunately, someone in the neighborhood put signs on the porta potties telling people to pee in bottles, so the porta potties wouldn’t get filled up…and that worked perfectly. Our part of the city never had a problem. And we had ample empty water bottles (and a 5-gallon bucket for emergencies, which we never needed).
One of the other Rangers in camp had a radio, so I called in and went on duty. The AEZ tower next door became an info hub, as they had free wifi, so I hung out around there. Dozens of folks came by asking about the weather, exodus, the Man burn, and I shared what I knew from other Rangers.
As the mud started to dry, walking became easier. Sunday morning we got out to see more artwork, and and found some of it was already being disassembled. But the skies were spectacular.
Then of course it rained again, but lightly. We could see how quickly everything was drying out, and Monday afternoon we packed up our camp in preparation for departure. The exodus was in full swing, we saw plenty of folks leaving. At about 12:40, planes started landing at the airport, so clearly the runway had become usable again. And there was a steady flow of aircraft all afternoon as some of the wealthier attendees got out of dodge.
We stayed for the Man burn Monday night. Rather than join the madness, we found a nice spot on the playa a half-mile away, next to a parked vehicle. We hung out for an hour, watching the fireworks and activities until finally the Man became a huge fireball. Spectacular, as always.
We arose Tuesday at 5am to load up the van, and headed out at sunrise. Our exodus was easy, as it took 2 hours to reach the gate. The drive back to Lassen was uneventful. Even cleanup was relatively easy, as we had far less dust than other years. We did have a very muddy carpet, and won’t be bringing that to the playa again. And our new shade canopy was a resounding success, making set up and tear down a lot easier.
So, it was the wettest year ever. I feel happy I got to participate. It was the last year of the Leopard Lounge, and our camp will feel different next year without it. As always, I wonder what I missed — there is too much going on to catch more than a tiny fraction. But I loved the art work, being a Ranger, and making our camp delightful regardless of the weather. Every time we come here we get better at it.