Posted by Tyra Fennell in Blog, Kommunity Kiki, Tyra's World, Uncategorized on September 12, 2015
Scene 4- White Out
As the playa dust whipped towards me, I yelled “Aunt Em,” and pedaled with vigor to seek refuge back at my friend’s camp.
On day 2, I decided to join some friends for a day out. I had spent most of my day before on my own so, I wanted to view the Playa by traveling to spaces selected by others. I was all set with my well-coordinated outfit, did a morning “horse bath” and headed out.
It was intensely dusty outside but I didn’t think much of it. When I arrived at my friend’s camp, they were happily munching on bacon and eggs under a canopy. I sat with them for a time but was anxious to take in the sights so decided to make my way to the Black Lives Matter tent and connect with some Oakland folks including Favianna Rodriguez and Ashara Ekundayo. The dust was whipping but with my face mask and goggles, I was confident I could make it. I was wrong. As the playa dust whipped towards me, I yelled “Aunt Em,” and pedaled with vigor to seek refuge back at my friend’s camp. It seemed like a powder keg had exploded, sending people scurrying in every direction. Shizza, what can be said about Playa dust?
Getting caught in an intense dust up is every virgin Burners right of passage. I have to say, I did not embrace it but was angry. I was angry with myself for being there and angrier with Mother Nature for being so vengeful. White outs are an emotional experience because you are completely out of control and fighting it only makes it worse. As human beings, we are arrogant when it comes to nature but after experiencing my first dust up, I am humbled forever.
The first two days at Burning Man, I fought the dust, armed with baby wipes, apple cider vinegar, Vaseline, and lotion, trying to stay clean. All of these methods proved to be futile. I made it back to my friend’s camp but not before becoming blanketed in dust. I thought, “why the heck do people do this?” I am not sure exactly how one can explain the relationship with playa dust but I will attempt to relay my unique perspective.
Burning Man is a complex animal with so much beauty. You can experience euphoria, deep spirituality and a hint of hedonism, all the while Mother Nature is trying to kill you. It is extremely hot in the day (between 90-110 degrees) and freezing at night (around 30-40 degrees). Where the change in temperature does not get you the dust will and it comes at you with vengeance, randomly and with no mercy.
When I was warned about the dust, I thought it lasted a few minutes. WRONG! If you get stuck in the deep playa during a dust up, you can become paralyzed for hours, waiting for it to blow over. Even with the dust mask and goggles (on the BM survival list) your eyes and nose will become irritated. Oh, and be prepared to see a lot of nose picking. I was prideful but definitely had to do some nostril cleaning from time to time. The dust is a real booger maker.
As we waited for the white out to clear, my friends and I took refuge in our van where we listened to Dead Mouse and tried on make up. Finally when the storm cleared, we headed for a party at the Distrikt. I felt like a fish out of water at the Distrikt all of the time. The people I interacted with were nice but it felt forced. It seemed they had a repoire with each other but I felt invisible. I decided to leave and be in my solitude. This was a turning point for me at Burning Man.
I was angry and did not want to be at Burning Man anymore. According to many friends who prepared me, this is a perfectly normal response for a first timer. I thought about who I was, how Black I was and how I clearly do not do well in environments without Black people; after all I am the product of Chocolate City aka Washington, DC. I was depressed.
Scene 5: Unicorn Man
What happens when you come face to face with something as rare as a real live unicorn? Well, you stare.
As day 2 dragged on, after hours of enduring the white out, I was emotional and overwhelmed. I felt drained, dirty and exhausted and took refuge in our camp’s shelter with the others to write. The wind was whipping all around; it felt like end of days. I began talking to Toby, a German transplant that had just moved to San Francisco. Toby was lovely and the first person I met at Burning Man and helped me as I struggled to set up my tent. We were both at our wit’s end with the dust. I had on my Playa coat and held a giant teddy bear. It was at that moment, venting to Toby, I decided to give in to the playa. Toby and I decided to run out into the dust, which was whipping at full speed to take photos. I grabbed my oversized teddy bear and darted out. I could not see my hands in front of my face but did not care. I danced in it and let the powdery substance coat my face. It was a cathartic and beautiful moment. Once the dust cleared, I went back into the tent, happy and ready to write more. Enters the Unicorn Man.
Every once in a while, you meet a human being that makes you reevaluate your thoughts and prejudices. The moment with that person can be quick but the impact heavy. Once I anchored myself on the large platform structure in our camp’s shelter, I began to write again. I do not know what caused me to pause and look up but I did and in the doorway of our shelter was a silhouette wrapped in a backdrop of playa dust.
So, what happens when you come face to face with something as rare as a real live unicorn? Well, you stare. In addition to many of my incredible, thought provoking experiences as Burning Man, meeting the person I call the Unicorn Man was definitely a highlight. Let me set the scene.
He was completely naked with a rainbow colored Mohawk and chest hair, which was shaped like a heart and matching….well let’s just say the drapes matched the carpet. He staggered into the tent, surely trying to seek refuge during the white out and fell out right next to me. I was completely gob smacked and like a deer in the headlights could not stop glaring at him. The Unicorn Man was completely passed out and whatever he was on caused him to sleep for hours despite increasing foot traffic, pounding hard house music and chatter. So I accepted him as my male muse and continued writing.
The next morning while I was cleaning our camp’s kitchen area, the Unicorn Man emerged, shirtless with army fatigues, brushing his teeth. He had no idea who I was but I was star struck the moment I saw him. He did in fact give me “the nod,” (ironic) unable to speak with the toothbrush in his mouth. I just yelled out UNICORN MAN!!!
Later that night, the conscious Unicorn Man and I were re-united in the tent and began to talk about a myriad of things. I won’t bore you with the details of our conversation however what I will say is Unicorn Man was insightful on a level that rendered me silent. He was about 6’2”, lean and in ethology would be described as an uber-alpha male. What fascinated me most about Unicorn Man was his acute ability to constantly drop science in a matter of fact way. We delved into issues of privilege; art, race and he even schooled me on the difference between something called Molly and Ecstasy. Unicorn Man identified himself as Jewish by birth, atheist by choice and explained how most of his life he felt weird with views that were drastically different than those he was around. He was raised in Philly, in a predominantly African American community which I could tell before he said it. He was just too fluent in his ability to communicate about race with an African American and moved with a conformability on the topic that I admired. But the one thing I admired most about Unicorn Man was how he was his truest self and gave zero f*$ks, nails painted and all.
I was not inhibited about telling Unicorn Man how much he fascinated me. I want to be his friend and grow more friends like him in my life, people who are open and honest, even if they make mistakes. Maybe Unicorn Man personifies what Burning Man is about at its core. He was a game changer for me at the Burn. It was all downhill from that point and the fun began.
Stay Tuned for Part III: This will be my final installment about my Burning Man experience where I will write about money, art and Dr. Dre? #bgb2015