Ooga Chaka

After waking up among the tipis of Root Society, Rob and I grabbed two bikes and rode out toward the deep playa. On the horizon, we could see what looked like a wall of dust coming toward us as we were headed right for it. Ski goggles in position, we wrapped our heads in our scarves and decided to take a seat right where we were and wait for the cloud to pass. It was a total white-out and we could barely see ahead of us. As the wind picked up, the sound of an orchestra comprised of nothing but tubulum and thongophones was resonating in the air like the breathing of a strange but melodic god. It was then that, off in the distance, we could make out a figure walking toward us. Dressed in a flowing cloth robe, his head covered with strips of cloth to hold a breath mask and eye protection on, he may as well have been a nomad from the planet Tatooine. This Tusken Raider walked right up to Rob and I and said, “Would you guys like some iced hazelnut coffee?” That’s Burning Man. 

The following year, I woke up in a 35’ luxury RV with D-Lo and Lyric, two of the graphic designers from my team, and Spider. Spider is Steven’s playa name, and he chose it without a moment’s hesitation because he claims to be from Mars. And here all this time I thought he was the Flying Dutchman. D-Lo took off on his bike early that first morning, looking to explore Black Rock City on his own. He was back two hours later, but without his bike. After explaining to us that it was stolen outside one of the dance camps, he turned back around, and started walking back into the city. When he came back at the end of the day, he returned with a new bike that was gifted to him. That’s Burning Man.

A couple years later, Spider and I found ourselves staying in one of the tipis at Root Society. It was Spider’s first time staying in a big camp, and he was made to feel right at home by Jefr and Sky Walker. Every night at 6:00, the entire camp would meet in the chill dome to make sure everybody is accounted for, to hear the schedule of the DJ sets and who has what voluntary responsibility that night, and Sky Walker would make any other announcements that needed to be told to everyone at once. Before dispersing, Jefr would lead the camp in a team-like family chant that started out real soft… “Ooga Chaka…. Ooga Chaka… Ooga Chaka…” Getting louder and louder… in unison… “Ooga Chaka. Ooga Chaka!” That’s Burning Man.                         

Root Society, because of its massive footprint, always occupies a corner location on the Esplanade, the busiest thoroughfare on the city map. To wall off the camp’s compound, the perimeter is lined with the Root Society trailer containers, equipment and RVs. Twice now, I’ve had the opportunity to put a Root Society piece up on the side of the white trailer facing the Esplanade. Putting my best Radical Self-reliance forward, I managed to rig myself a make-shift scaffold to be able to reach up on the side and paint. It was close to 11:00 at night, the DJ set coming from Root Society’s playa stage set was as loud as it could be, as I gathered up my spray paint cans, put on my goggles and headlamp, and stepped out of my tipi. The lighting crew had placed a few spotlights aiming up on the trailer, and for the next couple hours I painted live out on the playa to the sounds of FreQ Nasty and a crowd of 10,000. That’s Burning Man.                         

The nearest body of water to Black Rock City is 42 miles away, but if you’re at the right place at the right time, you can catch a full-size replica tall ship mutant vehicle sailing across the playa with a hundred revelers on board. Cruising by at any given time might be a fire breathing sound bus dragon, rhinoceros, praying mantis, or shark. You might come across an Art Car resembling an Oreo cookie hovercraft, a butterfly, a unicorn, a vacuum cleaner, or the world’s largest VW Bug. I once found myself alone out in deep playa to catch the glorious sunrise, which is welcomed in many ceremonious ways. As I sat there taking it all in, Zac Carroll's moving work of art known as the ‘Front Porch’ crept up behind me. Crafted entirely by hand from reclaimed weathered wood, the installation consists of a front porch and, on the back side, an early 20th-century kitchen complete with period wallpaper, a checkerboard floor, and an old stove. The entire porch is towed by a vintage John Deere tractor. On the porch was a guy in period dress sitting on a stool playing the violin while wearing a snorkel mask. The woman in the kitchen leaned out the window and offered me a slice of warm apple pie. That’s Burning Man.

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