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Monday, September 19, 2011

Black Rock City 1 - How to build a Bar Mist Ya

File under lost delusions: Until dipping into the archive for this first installment of Burning Man pictures, I was under the impression that, despite a congenital aversion to sexual modesty, I had never posed nude in a magazine. But here I am baring my bits on page 55 of the November 1998 issue of mixmag, whose cover promises "nude hippies on acid" and "the freaks come out - join the monster raving loony party." I'm not sure if one or both of these refers to the Burning Man story, "TWISTED FIRESTARTERS," whose pull quotes claim that "the 15,000 weirdest people on the planet gather at the annual Burning Man festival," and "everyone slithers in the mud like worms," and "it's an atmosphere where human sacrifice could seem like a good idea."

All that conforms pretty well to what I remember of Burning Man back in the day, but those memories are twelve years old--this year's trip to Black Rock City was my coming out of retirement, nicely timed to coincide with the "Rites of Passage" theme. Also on theme was my art project, the Bar Mist Ya, a shade and misting cabana whose construction is illustrated below. But first I should explain the origins of the Bar Mist Ya, which are in the "get-up" mixmag caption writers, the saucy bitches, didn't think I should wear with white socks. The first three times I went to Burning Man - 1997, 1998 and 1999 - I got very sick, and sicker faster each year. That first year, I was huddled in a fetal position in my tent for two of my four days. In 1998 I was sick one of the two days I lasted on the playa. In 1999 I left 8 hours after arrival and vomited out the passenger side window of my boyfriend's car (hi Mike!) most of the way to Reno. I loved Burning Man, but came to the conclusion that it didn't love me. I never saw the man burn.

Two overlapping schools of thought tried to explain my illness. I was getting too much sun, or I wasn't getting enough water. Either way, I was advised not to come back to Burning Man until I had constructed a bubble, presumably with plumbing and AC. So I began constructing more and more elaborate shade structures, starting with that mixmag get-up with its ankle-shading sock accessories and progressing to a shade structure mounted on a frame with casters that would allow me to bring shade and a light spray of mist everywhere on the playa. 

Back in the day, Black Rock City was more laid back, and you could bring your pet.

The shade and misting structure pictured above - then called the Wandering Mistrel - didn't last much longer than I did that last year at Black Rock City. The first strong wind that came up after my departure reduced it to a splintery nest of mobile MOOP. This year I opted for heavier construction and built the whole thing from scratch. Four 4x4s set me back $13.85 at Urban Ore, and an anonymous donor contributed the rest of the wood, which included the gorgeous bamboo composite that shored up the corners and braced the poles. Here's the whole construction in time-lapse:

I tried not to be a stereotypical construction worker, ogling passers-by, but I AM ONLY HUMAN.

By day, the Bar Mist Ya, armed with a trio of scented-water misters, and a 3-gallon industrial pesticide applicator that applied orange-blossom-infused mist to many hundreds over the course of a week, was the coolest spot in the desert outside of Arctica. By night it was lit with spinning psychedelic glow fans and blue Christmas lights and was the greenest (meaning human-drawn) art car on the playa. Its maiden voyage was at night, stopping first to hear the string-accompanied middle-east-inflected tunes being sung from Heart Deco parked outside of the dazzling five-story scaffolding and stretched-fabric luxury highrise at Troy. The Bar Mist Ya had a way of blending in with its surroundings and one woman who came in to listen and take a load off her dancing feet and was quite surprised, a half hour later, when I announced that it was time for me to wheel the thing away.

My surprise came a few minutes later when I was out on the open playa, wheeling the bar toward Troy's horse. 

I was about halfway there when the Bar Mist Ya filled with firelight. Structures, camps and mutant vehicles belch flame routinely on the playa, and I wasn't concerned until a piece of flaming debris landed right next to my foot. I stopped pulling the Bar Mist Ya and stepped outside to tell the person behind me that they were coming apart, and in a way that was distinctly non-firesafe, when I saw that the right-rear corner of the Bar Mist Ya was going up in flames. The drapes were on fire, the wood had caught, and the culprit was immediately apparent - one of the $7.95 tiki torches I had bought at Cliff's had bounced free of its mooring and spilled flaming citronella lamp oil down the side of my hours-old bar. I put the fire out with my gloved hands and from then on the Bar Mist Ya enjoyed only battery-powered light. All of this served me right for not reading the fire restrictions carefully enough, and in the end I can't think of a better way to have christened my vehicle. Glass on the playa is even more taboo than fire, and shattering a bottle of bubbly would present a MOOP issue of epic proportions. 

The view was equally good looking in on the Bar and looking out at the various camps and neighborhoods of Black Rock City and the open playa. I would leave the structure for hours at a time and come back to find people having made themselves at home. Visitors included, at Distrikt, one guy who had broken a rib, and another who had sprained his ankle, and countless dancing fools badly in need of water and a light vanilla-scented spray. It's worth noting that at the Bar Mist Ya, I met more women in three days than I do in six months of my overwhelmingly homosocial life.

Access tomorrow's archive for more Black Rock City coverage!

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