August 24th, 2008 5:33 pm | by Brad McCray News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

THE BURNING BLOG: Dust and Drugs in the Desert

Day Two of Burning Man (read all Burning Blog posts here)

BLACK ROCK CITY, Nevada – I am not dusty.

There is a war being waged upon the surface of my skin. The dust that landed first has taken a defensive stance against late-arriving dust that seeks to jump the claim. I am fine with that. I have made peace with the first wave of dusty invaders and understand that they will occupy my skin and hair for the duration of the Burn.

I am not dusty.

Dust is a fact of life here. It is—more than heat, overflowing porta-potties or gay cowboys dressed in white fur boots and Speedos—the most daunting aspect of Burning Man to most of the world.

I am not dusty.

My mantra is failing. I am covered. Dust permeates everything. Between blinding dust storms that can bring the city to a standstill, it covers every surface. By the end of the week, I will not even mind drinking from a dust-filled cup. Though, now, I am still in that foolhardy stage in which I reflexively try and wipe my cup clean only to deposit more dust from my fingers.

The city is not yet built, and the general public will not be admitted until 12:01 Monday. BRC will be five times bigger by Saturday night when The Man burns in effigy. No one has adequately explained what burning The Man means. Suffice to say, it means different things to different people at different times. I prefer the week-long buildup. Only the theme camp builders and the Black Rock Rangers are here today. Tammy and I entered early to help set up our theme camp. The general admission gates open at midnight and “Slutgarden” needs to be ready to go. Our theme is dressing people “slutty.” We also provide drinks and pole dancing. Tuesday, a woman from HBO is coming by to interview the girls about empowerment or something they don't care about.

“I don't need to be empowered,” Tammy says. Right now, we are both adjusting to the heat. And did I mention the dust?

I would have taken pictures of the white-out dust storm, but I value my camera. It certainly doesn't bother everyone.
Braving the dust

In a few days I will have some cool looking dust-caked dreadlocks. Now I am just dirty. Some people shower here—if they have a big RV. Most don't. shower. for. the. entire. week.

Getting clean can be a sublime experience—for two minutes. Then dust leeches on to that clean skin and you are back where you started. Some people try to use small sun showers outside. While the right person showering in the right place can draw a crowd, their newly wet skin is even more inviting. Then you aren't so much dusty as silty.

I am not dusty.

That omnipresent blanket of grit is also a mighty drug deterrent. At least for some kinds of drugs. The last thing I want when I am covered in dust is a drug that heightens my physical awareness and sensation of being dusty. However, if you want something to help you dance at a 24-hour desert disco…

In general, the Default World imagines overblown drug use at Burning Man. That is a correct assumption. Just look at the tickets, man. No one was sober designing that piece, brutha. Drugs are a thematic suggestion here. But, in reality, 99.99 percent of Black Rock City's drug use revolves around the alcohol. That's because it's free and everywhere. Every theme camp has a bar of some sort and few are rich and or crazy enough to serve The Marijuana across the counter.

I can't say illegal drugs are easier or harder to get here than in Portland. The difference is, burners aren't working and indulging their whims.

The only people who are working—other than the port-a-crapper cleaners—are the cops. They fuzz is everywhere—perhaps more per person than anywhere else in Nevada. For the most part, they are of good spirits. An officer told me that it's a choice job and that many of his buddies have to wait years before they earn the assignment.

My camp has been invaded by two Federales.

“What's the problem, officer?” I said.

“Looked like this was a fun place,” one answered.

Fair enough. I tried to tempt them with a drink, but to no avail. Still, that brief exchange gave us the coveted appearance of outlaws among the underground.

I've only been hassled once—for suspiciously looking at a map. Johnny Law flashed his light on me, ate some sass and laughed sheepishy at his mistake. Meanwhile, a guy on the other side of a tent was huffing the generator exhaust.

Did I mention the dust?

The gates open tonight. I will be a different person by tomorrow.
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