Friday, September 18, 2009

Conspiracy Theory

Random Scenes From Burning Man 2009

When our merry band of 'Burner's attended Burning Man this year, it meant a 20 hour road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to a nameless spot on a map in northern Nevada. On any such road trip, things are bound to happen. Bizarre iPod play lists will be created, countless bags of junk food will consumed and strange conversations are bound to come out of the most random comments.

Somewhere north of Las Vegas but south of Tonapah, while savoring a bag of Nacho Cheese Dorritos, I asked my fellow burners if they had any idea where the Nacho Cheese on the chips actually came from. They all shrugged as we listened to the eighth song by "The Doors" in a row. "Tank Car #47." was my response. My fellow passengers glanced at me with a collective, "Huh?".

"Tank Car #47", I repeated. "Allow me to explain.", and I related the following tale.

While attending high school back in 1974 I had to take chemistry class. I don't know if they still require these types of classes in high school, but considering the liability of using Bunsen burners and playing with chemicals in modern society, I sort of doubt it. I can't say I was a great chemistry student. Most of my mental ability as a 16 year old was taken up by thinking about girls and cars. Molecular structure and chemical reactions were not high on my list. However, I was lucky to have an old school chemistry teacher that was no slouch. He knew how to impress.

So on one cold, fall, South Dakota day, I sat in the front row of chemistry class as the teacher handed out a list of chemicals along with instructions for what to do with them. I could have cared less. What was the point? But since I was stuck there for 45 minutes, might as well make the best of it. I mixed the chemicals together, then emulsified them (dissolved them in water) and then I put the mixture on top of a burner to vaporize (boil) it, and then trapped the emitted steam in a jar and placed it upside down on my desk. This took about 30 minutes in all. Once the seemingly empty jars had cooled the teacher told us to pick them up, remove the blotter from beneath them and smell the contents. Smell the contents? WTF?

As I did, a rush of Juicy Fruit gum invaded my nose. It smelled like there were 30 packs of gum inside the jar. "This smells like chewing gum.", I exclaimed!

"Where do you think the flavor comes from? Juicy Fruit Trees?", was the teacher's response.

That was the eye opener. It was then that I realized that all the stuff I put in my mouth, didn't necessarily grow out of the ground. It grew out of a factory. So when ever I am stopped at a railroad crossing and watching the freight trains roll by with dozens of tank cars in tow, I guess what is inside each one; cooking oil, red dye #3, nacho cheese emulsion, juice fruit syrup, motor oil, windshield washer fluid...etc.

At the thought of this, my fellow burners made a collective 'ewwww' and stopped eating their processed, packaged snacks....for about 2 minutes.

After that, our fellow burner from back east pointed up at the sky and said, "See those chem-trails? I read that the Federal Government puts additives in jet fuel that secretly seeds the atmosphere in order to change the weather.

We all looked at each other in silence. For the rest of the trip we never looked at a freight train or a jet contrail the same.

The trip just got more and more strange after that.

For more images of Burning Man, visit my Flickr Page

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Boy Scout and Miss Bliss

Back From Burning Man

First things first. I am back, a little worse for wear and pretty darn dusty. For all my fans out there looking for stories of the bizarre and images of the surreal, they are coming, but they will take some time. It was a long road back to what we 'Burners' call the DEFAULT world and I am going to need some time to get back into the swing of things.

The vacation was well worth it and much needed. The trek to Black Rock City, the five day stay and the trek back home took us 7 days and was arduous. Like any good climb up a mountain or swim across an ocean, it was grueling, but in the end, immensely satisfying.

There were 4 of us in our merry little band that we named "Nitro Tribe". Their names are changed here because much like Vegas, what happens at Burning Man, stays at Burning Man. Everyone at Burning Man gets a ‘name’. It is considered to be a sort of alternate world compared to the everyday life that most of us lead. Alternate worlds require alternate names.

There was 'Playa Mama', our veteran, having attended two previous burns and a damn good cook. Then there was 'Boy Scout', one of our newbies from a town way out on the east coast. This man could do many a strange and interesting thing with his Leatherman tool. Then came 'Baby Huey', another newbie from here in the Phoenix Metro area who had a unique way of enjoying his libation. Finally, there was 'f-Stop', which is the name I gave to myself for lugging around a 5lb Speed Graphic camera to photograph everything. This was my second burn.

To document all of our travels will take some doing. For those of you following my Flickr Account, I am posting about 3 to 4 digital images and videos a day. It will take about a month to post all of the 400+ digital images that I took. The bigger challenge will be developing the over 100 film images that I took (assuming they turn out at all….expired film, questionable lighting and lots of dust will make developing them problematic).

Eventually, most of these images will end up on Flickr and I will be setting up a webpage dedicated to all the images for the die-hard fans that want a glimpse into the mass insanity that is Burning Man. I also plan to produce a DVD for those that were brave enough to make the journey. Most of it will probably make its way onto YouTube before the end of the year.

I can’t relate too many of the individual stories of what happened at Burning Man, and there were many. When taken out of context, they wouldn’t make a lot of sense and when strung all together they would be very lengthy. So I will be using the experiences on the Playa to develop some fiction and metaphoric stories about what it was all about. The title to this blog represents one of those themes.

This blogging thing is an evolutionary process. It never stays the same for long. Another paradigm shift might be in the offing. So stay tuned.

One last thing. I hope be able to start attacking my readers blogs in the next 10 days or so. It is on my to-do list, but unfortunately life didn’t stop when I was out of town for 10 days, so right now, I am a tad bit swamped.

Friday, September 4, 2009

First Friday Flashbacks

Often times our darkest hour defines how brightly we can shine.

First Published: March 20, 2006

Everyone Needs A Family

Beach, Low Tide

The American Family is an ideal. Fostered by childhood images of 'Leave It To Beaver' and 'The Brady Bunch'. But in modern times it is more of a myth than anything else. With both spouses working, divorce, drug addictions, medical problems, peer group pressure and wanton consumerism there isn't a lot of time for family bonding these days. We all long for that place where we can go and be accepted, loved and happy but often times we lose it, sometimes when we are far to young.

As adults, we tend to find families whether we want to or not. It tends to be a subconscious thing, probably going back to the caveman days when we gathered around a fire at night for warmth and to scare away the prowling saber toothed tiger. Today, the families that we join are the ones that we are thrust into. Work clicks, the neighbors that we move next to, the military we join, or the church we might attend. Some we join of our own freewill, some we join because we have no choice. Regardless, they provide us with a shared experience.

Cabana by Moonlight

The bond forged between two men in a foxhole while bullets fly over their heads has to be a pretty strong one. Two co-workers commiserating over an after hours beer lets them both know that they share the same experiences in the office. You look out for your neighbors toddlers while they play in their front yard and you hope that he does the same for yours.

But sometimes, you find family where you don't expect it. Through the shared experience that others can't know. Through shared secrets that everyone doesn't understand. Through guilt and fear.

Casa By The Sea

I am a member of one of these families. I group of friends that never intended to get to know each other. We all came together with a common theme, because not everyone could understand our past and the various journeys that had brought us together. I didn't know any of these people initially. I know them all pretty well now.

They are good people. They are honest people. They know pain, guilt and fear, and they have come through it. They haven't let it burden them. They are essentially optimists. They decided not to curse the darkness even though at times in their lives it enveloped them. They sought out others instead of a bottle or a pill.

Courtyard Fountain

When you find these sort of people, you realize it is a gift. I have known a multitude of folks that would lie to your face and steal your possessions. Folks that only cared for themselves and never really loved anybody. All of the people in this family have known them to. They have been touched by the callous and indifferent and have resolved not to let the same thing happen to others. If only the whole world could be like this.

Once a year, 40 of us gather. We all pool our money and head toward Mexico like migrating birds. There, in a lavish sprawling house on a beach, we spend 3 days, sunning, reading, eating and drinking with wild abandon. Some folks think it is just some sort of party club filled with drunken debauchery and lured behavior. These folks couldn't be more wrong. It is a time of acceptance without fear, of fellowship without hate. It is a big family where we all care about each other. A better family than many I have known.

Dining Room, The Morning After

The people in this family have all been in the foxhole. We have all had things stolen from us. When we are together, we won't let that happen again. Sometimes life takes us to unexpected places that we never planned to go to. At first we think the destination is a disaster. Until we find the others that have arrived at the same destination via a different route. Eventually, through that shared experience, we find out that it is the best place to be. A small harbor in a never ending storm.

Beach Sunset

I hope you all find a family like this someday.

All Photographs Taken in
Pureto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico, 3/16/06-3/19/06