A Badge of Honor

The 79th annual Nevada Day Parade was held in Carson City on October 28th, 2017.

grand marshall star

I have been in the parade many times in the past, but this year, I got to ride in front as the Grand Marshal.

NV day_2930

There was a big Burning Man presence in this year’s parade. More than a dozen art cars and a huge sculpture: The Mind of DaVinci by artist Mischell Riley, which was later permanently installed in front of the Carson City Community Center. This was the first piece of Burning Man art purchased by Carson City.

Amheric Miguel Hall

The Mind of DaVinci

Additional Burning Man dignitaries in the parade included founder Will Roger Peterson and Maria Partridge, Artist Advocate and a member of Reno’s Art and Culture Commission.

Carson City, the capital of Nevada, has embraced the art and culture of Burning Man. I feel that my role as Grand Marshal is the culmination of outreach efforts for Burning Man that began in 2001 with the Silver Seed Tour of America, when I drove an old RV across the U.S. in an effort to reconnect Burning Man participants with each other in various regions of the country.

silver seed

The Silver Seed

My next outreach was April, 2002, when I put together the first Burning Man information booth at Reno Earth Day. To explain what Burning Man was, I created this 1-page handout, which explained the art, culture and leave no trace principles of Burning Man.

what is BM

The Burning Man information booth was a presence at Reno Earth Day for several years. In 2005 and 2006, I took the Burning Man information booth to the Frontier Days Festival in Lovelock.

Frontier Days

The shade structure covering was a piece of used billboard vinyl. Two chairs and a table were always arranged so that anyone could just walk in, have a conversation, and look closely at the 8’x4′ display board, covered with Burning Man photos. In back was a large banner which read: “BURNING MAN – Nevada’s Newest Frontier”


In 2004, I entered the first Burning Man art car in the Nevada Day Parade.  This 40′ long rocket car, built by David Best, had banners on each side which read: “BURNING MAN – the wildest ride in NEVADA”


I drove “The Catmobile”, built by Tom Kennedy, in the 2005 Nevada Day Parade. The banner hanging on the tail read: “BURNING MAN – perrrr-fectly Nevada”


The Neverwas Haul

In 2006, I brought “The Neverwas Haul” to the Nevada Day Parade. The size and height made it one of the most challenging entries in the parade’s history. It was taller than the traffic lights.


The theme for the 2007 parade was “Mysteries of Nevada”.  Following a banner that read: “BURNING MAN Nevada’s Outer Limits” I led several Burning Man art cars thru the parade route.

M2 lead

roofing tin

We fit the theme well.

space capsule


Each year that I entered a Burning Man art car, we won an award. After 2007, the owners of Burning Man art cars began to enter the parade as independent entries.


The “USS Nevada” is a regular favorite, as is “Controlled Burn”.


Controlled Burn

Every year, there is an active group of burners participating in the parade.


As Grand Marshall in 2017, I proudly rode in the back of my old Dodge pickup:

NV day Dodge

Will roger

Welcome Home Nevada




The King is Dead

 Bruno m2
Bruno Selmi 1923-2017

Bruno’s County Club was the most notable building in Gerlach when Burning Man first arrived there in 1990. Constructed in a style typical of frontier architecture, the front wall extends above the roof to create a more impressive façade. Over the years, we would come to know Bruno himself as an impressive character, even larger in life.

Giovanni “Bruno” Selmi arrived in the United States from Lucca, Italy, on 18 November 1946 at the age of 23. His brother, Giuseppa “Joe” Selmi, had ranch in Dayton, Nevada and put him to work as a cook.

Bruno Jody Fritzpatick
Joe Lucchesi & Bruno Selmi- about 1950 (Photo from the collection of Jody Fritzpatrick)

It was Joe Lucchesi’s mother, Lena, who encouraged Bruno to move to America. Bruno later found a job in Empire at the gypsum plant where a few fellow Italians were being hired because they didn’t need to know a lot of English. At night, he would tend bar and deal 21 at a local bar-casino in Empire. In 1952, he purchased the Longhorn Bar in Gerlach for $6,500 and renamed it Bruno’s Country Club.

Bruno barBruno bar tending in the original Country Club -about 1958

Bruno family 3The Selmi family: Frances, Skeekie, and Bruno – about 1955

The original Country Club burned down in 1983 and a larger Country Club was rebuilt.

Bruno wally glen(Photo by Wally Glenn)

I met Bruno after our second Burn at Black Rock. We, the organizers, had just finished cleanup and rolled into Gerlach for dinner at the “Country Club”. There were about ten of us. After dinner, the waitress placed the tab on the table, then Bruno came over, picked up the tab, slipped it into his pocket, and said: “I buy you dinner.”

He had an Italian accent and a direct, efficient way of speaking English that focused on getting his message across. Even then, he knew that Burning Man was going to be good for business, and he had spent most of his life making Gerlach his business. By 1990, Bruno owned the Country Club bar-restaurant, the motel, the gas station, several houses, a trailer park on the west side, and a nearby ranch.

When Bruno arrived in 1946, highway 447 was still a gravel road all the way from Gerlach to Pyramid Lake. During the 1950s and ’60s, cattle ranching was a big business in northern Nevada. Rodeos were popular events, and you can still find remnants of the corrals south of town out past the railroad tracks. Bruno’s Country Club was just one of several bars that catered to the local cowboys, but he was a no-nonsense bartender who, on more than one occasion, showed a drunk cowboy the way out of his bar.

Bruno horseBruno on horseback, about 1955.

Over the years, Bruno developed an understanding of the local business ecology and slowly built an empire at the end of the road. After he opened the restaurant, his ranch produced much of the food, which augmented supplies the train brought in. The restaurant served his famous ravioli, which was based on his mother’s recipe.

He was a tough, independent character, but he always had a capacity for kindness. If someone came into town destitute and hungry, he would feed them. But if they asked to see the menu, he would throw them out.

Bruno hosted an annual BBQ, where he invited local ranch owners, Reno businessmen, politicians, law officials and judges. Eventually the founders of Burning Man qualified for his guest list.

Gerlach was our last stop before heading out to the playa for the long Labor Day weekend, and we developed an arrival ritual. Our first stop was Bruno’s gas station (it was a Texaco back then), where Bill Stapleton would top off our gas tank and fill us in on all the latest news and gossip around town, and tell us what the conditions were out on the playa. After that, we’d stop in at Bruno’s bar for a cold beer before heading out to Black Rock to camp out on the playa and burn a giant wooden man.

Bruno john story
(Photo by John Story)

Bruno was a powerful figure, and among ourselves, we took to calling him King Bruno, a term that had already been carved on a rock by Doobie Williams, who created the nearby Guru Lane folk art site in the 1980s. In the restaurant, there was always a vacant chair at the end of the counter. We quickly learned that it was Bruno’s chair, and nobody else sat there.

Bruno was never politically correct and always expressed his opinions without reservation. One of the opinions he had in common with the local ranchers was a dislike of wild horses, because they competed with cattle for forage on the open range. One time the Bureau of Land Management was rounding up wild horses in the Black Rock, and a bunch of protesters came up from Reno. That evening they were having dinner at Bruno’s Country Club. One of the young ladies having the ravioli exclaimed; “This is great, what’s in it?” Bruno quickly replied; “Horse meat”

In time, the event grew and the crowds came. During Burning Man, the restaurant was packed. At night the bar was crowded, the motel was full, and the gas station sometimes ran out of gas.

Bruno- SF Slim
Bruno and Cowboy Carl (Photo by SF Slim)

I always gave Bruno a couple of tickets to Burning Man, but he never went. He would pass the tickets on to his friends in high places. He said, “I got no interest in going to Burning Man. It’s not my thing, but if each person going wants to come and spend $1, that’s all right.”

Bruno brian kelly
(Photo by Brian Kelly)

Bruno slowed down in his later years, spending less and less time behind the bar. During his last few years, he would take a morning walk thru his town. The route was always the same, starting at his house behind the motel, then west down Main Street, then back on Sunset. Near the end of his 94 years, he would shuffle into the restaurant for breakfast, which consisted of a glass of orange juice and a bowl of cereal or hot oatmeal.

I fondly remember his last words to me, as I was having breakfast one morning. He stopped at my table, put his hand lightly on my shoulder and said: “I need a coupla tickets.”

His chair at the end of the counter is still vacant. It will take awhile for us to get used to sitting there.

The Future is now, at the Salton Sea

On Easter weekend, 2017, several hundred participants converged on a post-apocalyptic landscape, 244 feet below sea level, for a top-secret weekend of art, music, lectures and performance. The event included more than 100 artists and performers, who were on hand to interpret the theme: “The Way the Future Used to Be”- No tickets, no permits, and everything was free.

  • Beginnings- The Salton Sea

“For thousands of years, Desert Cahuilla Indians lived here, watching the water come and go, and farming on these banks. But the Salton Sea’s current incarnation began as a mistake. In 1905, the Colorado River, which had been diverted to irrigate local agriculture, overcame its banks and poured full-bore into the desert for two years, until engineers from the Southern Pacific Railroad finally blocked it with tons of riprap. The Alamo and New Rivers continue to drain into the Salton Sea, as does agricultural runoff from the Imperial Valley. Since 1909, the Torres Martinez band of Desert Cahuilla has held the title to ten thousand acres of land that lies on the bottom of the Sea.” -Joni Tevis

  • Beach Resort

After World War II, speculators promoted the Salton Sea as a resort destination. At just sixty miles south of Palm Springs it seemed like a sure bet. Agents brought investors by the busload from Los Angeles to put their money down on tidy lots. Boomtowns like Salton City Beach, Desert Shores, and Bombay Beach grew up along the water’s edge.


  • The Decline

But over the next couple of decades, the boom faded, and then the storms hit. Tropical Storm Kathleen in 1976, and then Doreen in 1977, which was the second “hundred-year storm” in two years’ time. This was followed by seven years of heavy rains, which raised the level of the Salton Sea and flooded beach-front property with salty water. Over time, beach-front houses and trailers were reduced to rusted support beams and twists of insulation. Since then, much of the water has evaporated and at the same time, runoff from farms in the Imperial Valley has created a polluted time bomb, which explodes from time to time, as toxic blooms turn the water into the color of beef broth, resulting in massive fish die-offs.


Even birds are not immune, the worst one occurring in 1996, when park rangers worked day and night for a full week, collecting dead pelicans and stuffing them into incinerators. It’s been years since the last die off, but the beach is still littered with mummified fish remains and much of the time, the smell is still in the air.

dead fish 2327

Today, the town of Bombay Beach is mostly dilapidated doublewides, nine blocks deep and five blocks wide. There are just over a hundred full-time residents, and two bars.


  • The Return

“The festival’s aim is to both take down the art world a notch and take Bombay Beach up a notch.” -Tao Ruspoli

For weeks, the internet was abuzz with rumors of an underground event in SoCal on Easter weekend, which was the same weekend as the nearby Coachella Music Festival. Information about the event was held behind a secret password-protected website. On April 14, 2017, we converged on a place/event called Bombay Beach Biennale. Upon arrival, we procured a hand-drawn map, which detailed events and art which could be experienced over the course of the weekend.

map 2318

What is not shown on this map is the 15′ high earthen berm that separates the town of Bombay from it’s Beach. This dike was built a while back, to keep the unpredictable Salton Sea on the side of town that’s already been completely destroyed.

Parking as close as I could to the beach, I got out and approached the berm. Protruding behind it was the tip of a large and colorful sail.

sail 2389

When I clambered over the berm, I discovered this 30′ high mast sticking out from the rusted hulk of a flat-bottomed boat. Soft, dreamy music emanated from speakers hidden inside. This was the “Swedish Pavilion”, one of 38 “International Art Pavilions” set up throughout the town.

The second “art installation” I encountered was this massive, 6-wheel drive military truck, recently mired in the beach. FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH RV RESORT was stenciled on the side of the doors.  This vehicle seemed more fitting for a scene from Mad Max, than a resort spa.

truck stuck

It was eventually pulled out by connecting a long chain to a heavy-duty forklift sitting far behind it on more solid ground.

Continuing on to the waters edge, I came upon a small tide-pool filled with sharks.

beach sharks_2321

On a dryer part of the beach was the “Bombay Beach Intergalactic Space Station” made from a salvaged airport control tower.

M2 Spacestation

Resting on 4 legs made of 3/4″ thick steel plate, this interactive work of art was made by artist Randy Polumbo at his studio in Joshua Tree, transported to the Biennale, and then erected with heavy equipment.

(photo by Jane Maru)

Having had some advance notice that this was an art event, and in true Cacophony tradition, I put up my own temporary art installation- a curated group of tee-shirts, which tell the story of a Hero’s Journey.

heros journey (photo by Jane Maru)

beat (photo by Steven Biller)


Once again, it’s a story about a journey and a desert.

Another installation called “La Piscina” by Marco Walker, featured large image cut-outs.

lepoard_5239 (photo by Jane Maru)

And there were couches and a fire barrel on the beach near the DJ station.

couches 2329

A wall of hay bales had been erected between the sound system and the town.

As the day progressed, more and more people showed up. The day was punctuated by the occasional sound of large explosions coming from the military base a few miles away.

beach crowd

Hearing a familiar hum above me, I looked up to see a camera drone flying overhead with a formation of Pelicans high above it. The surreal juxtaposition of these things captured my attention until the drone veered off towards one of the art works further down on the beach.

This years festival was completely free and self-funded. This meant free cocktails, meals and oysters for hundreds. The only money exchanged went to a local BBQ trailer and the Ski Inn, the bar that somehow accommodated everyone, with a local or two helping behind the counter.

Leaving the beach for a stroll thru town.

BD & M2

I grabbed my umbrella and strolled thru town with Brian Doherty, a long time Cacophonist and writer for Reason magazine. Passing golf carts and guys with radios on their belts were indications that we were in the midst of a full-scale event production. We were also passed by decorated bicycles and a guy on motorcycle that looked like a giant stuffed tiger.

(photo by Jane Maru)

The signs of decay were everywhere.

trailer 2401

And yet, works of art are flowering in this wasteland.

flower 2397

As I came around a corner, I discovered an installation on a chain link fence, decorated with 1,000 pocket watches- and they are ticking!


This piece was called “Tempus Mortem”, made by Alexander Rose… who is both an artist and the Executive Director of the Long Now Foundation.

In one of the abandoned buildings, stood a red piano, decorated with candles. Jane Maru sat down and played a beautiful piece.

panio 2351

opera house inside_2400

One of the nicest reconstructions, was the Bombay Beach Opera House, designed by artist James Ostrer. Completely refurbished and painted, the walls and ceiling were covered with hundreds of flip-flops, which appear to have been collected from the beach. Trash becomes art.

We were treated to a performance by two members of the San Francisco Ballet Company.  The music track was provided by a live violin player.


(photo by J Wiley & F Martinez)

white museum

The Hermitage Museum, designed by artist Greg Haberny, was another major abandoned house restoration. Once inside, I felt like it could be in downtown Los Angeles or New York City.  (photo by Valentina Ganeva)

medical 2342

X marks the spot of the RGX medical station. I noted that one of my Rangers from the playa was now an EMT for this event.

LA model

Groups of well-dressed young people were an indication of this event’s connection with, and proximity to, Los Angeles. And yet, the principle of radical inclusion was clearly illustrated here, as thin fashion models wearing evening gowns and high heels mingled with local retirees and a frumpy old woman with 5 little dogs at her feet.

“While its next-door neighbor Coachella has come to be defined by branding, hashtags and which indigenous headdress one might appropriate, the Bombay Beach Biennale is an experiment in civic engagement.” -LA Weekly

I also also encountered people from Italy, South Africa and a group of Asian tourists with cameras around their necks.

metro car 2347

On one of the vacant lots in town, dozens of interesting old cars were hauled in to create the Bombay Beach Drive-In theater.

M2 beach 2357

Preparing for evening, I made a costume change and headed back to the “Bombay Beach Beach Club”- (The Department of Redundancy Department is just down the street.)

(photo by Jane Maru)

BBBeachCLub_Crowd_JoshFranklinThe Beach Beach Club

KK underware_2355

A scantily clad bartender at the Beach Club. Kalvin Kline seemed to be the underwear of choice for all the buff guys from LA.

Later on, several movies were shown at the Drive-In on Saturday night, along with all the free popcorn you could eat.


And then, at 3am, they played the Russian movie “Stalker”, which I’m sure was a nod to the historical significance of the Cacophony Zone Trip that brought Burning Man to the desert in 1990.

Exploring Bombay Beach Biennale at night was a delight.

d&d boat3_5606

Out behind the Opera House, a golden boat sits in the middle of a yard covered with decorative rock.

It was like being in another world. Or perhaps a similar world that we know well. At one point during the night, Miss Dusty and I set up an impromptu bar in the street and handed out cocktails till we ran out of cups.

Intergalactic Space Station at night.Red Hez space (photo by Red Hez)

On Sunday morning, a lone Benz rests in the shade of an abandoned house.

Benz 2402

I found that gifting, decommodification, radical inclusion, civic responsibility and participation were all a part of this years Bombay Beach Biennale.

Leave No Trace is a relative term in this decayed wasteland of rusting cars, trash-filled yards and burned-out buildings. What BBB2017 has left behind is several repainted abandoned houses, many works of art and new hope for a community.

A History of Christmas – Gerry Bowler


An essay by Gerry Bowler, author of “Christmas in the Crosshairs”

For most of the last two millennia, people have been arguing about Christmas—struggling to adopt it, abolish it, reform it, marginalize it, appropriate it or suppress it. The earliest Christians were at first indifferent to any sort of celebration. They were more interested in the imminent return of Jesus than in his obscure earthly origins. Only pagans, they told themselves, marked the birthday of their rulers or heroes.

But pressure from those who denied that the Christ had taken a physical body—or who denied that he had ever existed—prompted the Church to take the events of the Nativity more seriously. No sooner had the faithful decided to invent a Christmas festival than they were disagreeing about when it should be: Rome & Western Europe had decided on Dec. 25; the great eastern cities of Alexandria, Jerusalem & Antioch fought a losing battle for Jan. 6.

The choice of a midwinter date created a new problem: how to keep the holiday free from the customs of the pagan celebrations that were going on at the same time. For centuries, the Church would rail against the greenery, gift-giving, drunkenness, dancing, cross-dressing & nighttime disorder of Saturnalia & the Kalends of January (the Roman New Year).

Some of these battles would be won (few of us mark Christmas anymore by dressing in animal skins), & some harmless practices, such as the use of candles & greenery, were sanctified & found a lasting place in the holiday.

For centuries, the lower clergy nurtured a number of bizarre customs in the spirit of turning the familiar social order upside down—an idea at the heart of the Christmas story. In the Feast of Fools, rowdy young clerics in medieval France would mock sacred ceremonies, play dice at the altar, caper about dressed as women or minstrels & stink up the church with the smoke of burning shoes. Popes & kings eventually outlawed such practices.

By 1500, Christmas was well-established as a beloved festival, a time of deep piety but also of sanctioned merrymaking. It was the season of charity &, in the figure of St. Nicholas, European children had a magical gift-bringer, an avatar of generosity. The Protestant Reformation soon engulfed the continent in religious controversy, however, & celebration of the Nativity became a victim.

In many countries, the abolition of the Catholic cult of saints drove St. Nicholas away, & Christmas itself disappeared in some places. The authorities in 16th-century Scotlland arrested people for baking seasonal treats, offering hospitality to neighbors &, in the words of officials in Aberdeen, “playing, dancing & singing of filthy carols on Yule Day,” while ministers equated carol-singing with fornication.

In Englland, a Calvinist rebellion in the 1640s swept away the monarchy &, with it, Christmas, a holiday that was now deemed too riotous in its celebration & too close to Catholicism in its rituals. Down came the greenery, away went the feasting. The baking of mince pies was outlawed, as were church services on Christmas Day. Businesses were forced to remain open on Dec. 25, & neighborhood snoops reported on those caught feasting, playing cards or bowling. In the Puritan colonies of North America, those who celebrated Christmas were fined five shillings.

Christmas was restored in England in 1660, with the return of the Stuart kings, but it had fallen in public esteem. The elites tended to ignore it while the lower orders seem to have forgotten its religious import, treating it as a time of vulgar disorder, street crime & alcohol-fueled revelry. On the Continent, intellectuals of the Enlightenment sneered at its superstitions; enlightened despots banned nativity scenes; & Masonic lodges treated Dec. 25 as the feast of Saturn. By the turn of the 19th century, Christmas looked close to perishing.

But instead of dying, Christmas underwent a series of near-miraculous revivals. In New York, in the first few decades of the 19th century, a group of poets, artists & essayists constructed a new, magical gift-bringer, Santa Claus, out of folk memories of Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of St. Nicholas. The Industrial Revolution, which made possible the mass production of cheaper presents, coincided with the embrace of milder, more affectionate methods of child rearing. American parents conspired to attribute the arrival of gifts on Dec. 25 to this sleigh-borne elf, an idea that soon crossed the Atlantic.

In England, Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843, reconnected the holiday with older meanings of charity, forgiveness & social solidarity. Musicologists rescued almost-forgotten carols from oblivion, & railways made possible wintertime travel & family reunion. German customs such as the Christmas tree, the wreath & the Advent calendar spread with immigration. By 1900, the rude lower-class behavior of previous eras had been purged from the season, & Christmas had a firm hold on Europe & the Americas as the pre-eminent family holiday, rich in religious & secular meanings.

The growing popular enthusiasm for Christmas made it a phenomenon that political leaders of the 20th century had to deal with, especially those of a totalitarian bent for whom any allegiance to a power other than the state was seen as a threat. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union targeted Christmas for destruction in its attempt to create the world’s first atheist society. Komsomol, the Communist Party youth cadres, mocked believers emerging from church services, composed scurrilous anti-Christmas carols & held show trials of the Bible & Christianity.

By the late 1930s, when Stalin felt in need of popular support during the repression of the Great Purge, the party chose New Year’s Day as a time of midwinter festivity. Grandfather Frost (Russia’s traditional Christmas gift-bringer) was rehabilitated, & evergreens were permitted for sale again. After World War II, the Soviet-occupied countries of Eastern Europe were forced to adopt Grandfather Frost & to cast St. Nicholas, the Christ child & angelic Christmas figures into oblivion.

Rather than abolish Christmas, other totalitarians chose to co-opt the season. In Germany, with its deep love of Christmas, Hitler’s Nazi Party could easily pose as the defender of the holiday given the hostility shown to the season by his Communist & Social Democratic opponents. After achieving power in 1933, the Nazis were quick to associate themselves with Christmas, sponsoring vast charity drives, setting up community evergreens & replacing overtly Christian elements with subtly pagan themes.

When the Nazis took Germany to war in 1939, a careful handling of Christmas was even more urgent. The notion of peace on Earth had to be played down, but Nazi war aims could be cast as a means to protect traditional German customs. Churches were denied opportunities to promote the religious meaning of Christmas (the state controlled both broadcasting & the supply of printing paper), & Nazi agents monitored church attendance & sermonizing. Government publications touted the swastika & the solstice sun as suitable tree ornaments.

By the end of World War II, Christmas had gone global, particularly in its North American version. Allied soldiers had taken its customs around the world, spreading Santa Claus, turkey dinners & the idea of a snowy setting for the holiday.

Local cultures didn’t always react well to this seasonal imperialism. In France in 1951, Catholic archbishops, resentful that Santa had replaced the crèche as the focus of Christmas devotions, burned an effigy of him in front of Dijon Cathedral. A year later in Spain, Catholic bishops warned against Santa & the Christmas tree as Protestant attempts to undermine the deepest meanings of the holiday. & religious leaders from Mexican bishops to Serbian Orthodox priests have characterized Santa as a pagan myth & a fat drunk.

In recent decades, nationalism & antiglobalism have generated additional hostility to the American gift-bringer. German & Austrian devotees of the Christ child called for “Santa-free zones,” while in the Czech Republic, video artists likened Grandfather Frost & Santa Claus to illegal immigrants. Chinese authorities—heedless of the fact that their country is now the leading purveyor of Christmas lights, ornaments & cheap gifts—are attempting to keep the nation’s youth from adopting the celebration of the holiday. “Strive to be outstanding sons & daughters of China, oppose kitsch Western holidays” read banners at a university in the central city of Xi’an in 2014.

There have been fleeting & feeble attempts in Latin America to indigenize the Christmas gift-bringer. In 1930, the Mexican government constructed a replica of an Aztec temple in the national stadium, where Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent himself, delivered presents to a crowd of children, watched by approving politicians. Before Fidel Castro banned the public celebration of Christmas in 1969, there was a brief attempt to create a Cuban-style holiday free of Yankee influence. Christmas trees & foreign treats were banned. In street art, the Three Wise Men were portrayed as Fidel Castro, Che Guevara & Juan Almeida, bringing the gifts of agrarian reform, urban reform & education.

In the U.S., attempts by secularists, atheists & civil libertarians to banish religion from the public square have made Christmas the focus of decades of protest, debate & litigation. Public officials & school boards have been challenged in a series of court cases about the presence of Christmas decorations, songs & symbols in classrooms & on city property.

Judicial rulings on these matters have been bafflingly inconsistent, often depending on such questions as whether a Nativity scene is accompanied by secular symbols such as Santa’s reindeer. A 1989 Supreme Court case about seasonal decorations in a Pittsburgh courthouse banned a crèche but permitted a Hanukkah menorah; a 2006 federal appeals court decision in a New York case ruled against a Nativity scene in a school display but permitted a menorah, an Islamic crescent & a Christmas tree.

The uncertainty created by these legal precedents & the threat of further litigation have caused many school principals & town councils to ab&on their traditional Christmas displays. This, naturally, has created a backlash, with the emergence of groups ready to go to court to defend the public face of religion. The intensity of this struggle can be seen in the trivial nature of the objects that have been at the center of some of these disputes: a string of colored lights, a school play called “A Penguin Christmas,” carols in a veterans’ hospital, the use of red or green bows, the phrase “Merry Christmas” on public transport or the presence of Santa Claus in a parade.

Adding to the seasonal tension are the efforts of aggressively proselytizing atheists, who can be found at Christmastime renting billboards to proclaim the nonexistence of God, setting up displays in public buildings mocking religion or singing anti-Christmas parodies. The late Christopher Hitchens denied that he & other atheists wanted to ban Christmas, but he was more than a little hostile toward its public presence. If Christians wanted to celebrate the Nativity, they could do it in their churches. “If this is not sufficient,” he wrote, “then god damn them. God damn them everyone.”

Given these attacks on their favorite holiday, it is little wonder that tradition-minded Americans discerned in the reluctance of some retail chains to utter the dread words “Merry Christmas” during December a state of cultural warfare. Great was the brouhaha from both sides of the ideological divide until Bill O’Reilly of Fox News declared victory in 2014. “This is the only year we have not had a store that commanded its employees not to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ ” he said. “It’s over. We won.”

In fact, the war continues on many fronts, not least on the part of Christians unhappy with the reigning version of the holiday. For them, Christmas is not about the words on the lips of retail clerks but about worship, service & charity. From this impulse have emerged campaigns such as the Hundred Dollar Holiday, the Advent Conspiracy & the Buy Nothing Christmas Movement—all of them attempts to emphasize the spiritual core of Christmas in the midst of consumption gone mad.

Perhaps some common ground in the continuing controversies over Christmas can be found in the old virtue of tolerance, which was once the mark of a cultured citizen. Pro-Christmas advocates could tolerate the slights of corporate advertisers & the provocations of the anti-religion crowd, knowing that Christmas is secure in the hearts of their compatriots & will never disappear. They could work instead to heighten their religious appreciation of the season & to show their neighbors a joyful face.

As for those who dislike or fear religion, they could set aside their trepidation for a few weeks & see that, for most people, Christmas is a secular celebration of enormous value. During a cold & barren part of the year, it injects a much-needed measure of goodwill & magic.

Rust Belt Revival

RR deadend_1534End of the line in Solon, Ohio

“Rust Belt” has become the term used to describe the post-industrial heartland of the northeastern US, where declining population and rising poverty have created a new wasteland. I have an affection for all things old and weathered. I am also an avid technologist and a futurist.
rust Stude 2

This 1952 Studebaker is permanently parked behind the old Leatherock Hotel in Cherryvale, Kansas. Five decades ago, South Bend, Indiana began its decline when the last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line. The fall of Detroit had already started and later went further and deeper.

San Francisco in the 1970s-1990s was a playground for the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society. You could work a part-time job to cover food and rent, and still have plenty of time left over to explore abandoned buildings and develop all kinds of silly ideas, like for instance; BurningMan. It may be that we were the first hipsters, but we were not pretentious. We shopped in thrift stores because we had to. We created our own style.

BurningMan began on a beach in San Francisco in 1986. The tech boom was just beginning when we moved the burn to the Nevada desert in 1990.
rust mammals
After the first San Francisco tech bubble burst, BurningMan was finally able to afford an office in the south of Market area. We were like tiny, nimble mammals feasting on the bones of dinosaurs during the die-off. Over the years, we’ve evolved into a 500-pound primate, able to hold our own with the big boys.



In 1997, container Zero was the first first shipping container I acquired for use at BurningMan. It was the beginning of containerized transport for the organization. During the next decade, most of the major playa art projects were produced out of shipping container artist workshops that took root in the industrial wastelands of the the Bay Area: The Shipyard, The Boxshop, American Steel and NIMBY. In recent years, The Generator warehouse space in Reno has also began to contribute major artworks.

The industrial cities of the American heartland came into existence as economic entities because of three components; raw materials (such as Precambrian iron ore deposits), fuel (coal from the Appalachian Mountains) and transportation (railroads & Great Lakes shipping). The decline came when these manufacturing resources shifted to a more global model. Evolution is now beginning to favor a new kind of animal that can exist and thrive in the rust belt wastelands. Rust Belt Revival describes re-use of old urban landscapes, an architectural style and an artistic aesthetic.

rust studios


Former printing plant becomes artist studios.

rust building_1530






Rust belt buildings find new uses. Here is the Cleveland Art studio.

rust yard_1517The Cleveland Art storage yard is filled with raw materials.

rust mangled_1518Old steel is a raw material for many artists. American Steel Studios has acquired portions of the old SF Bay Bridge for use in art projects.

rust binders_1523Industrial debris.


rust wood pile_1526Old wood from factory floors.

rust wood table_1522Rustic tables made from old factory wood.

rust Zac singerOld Redwood Singer table by Zac Carroll.

rust table 245Recycled table by Jason Wein.

IMG_3519Table by Rust Belt Reclamation

rust showroom A collection of recycled industrial materials. Artists will continue to find new business niches in the Rust Belt making use of old materials and novel use of new materials. Low cost housing and walkable city centers will attract even more new inhabitants.





The Tesla Tour



Tesla wall logo_1480

Tesla badge
The initial stage of the Tesla Gigafactory 1 in Storey County, Nevada has been completed and is now producing lithium-ion battery packs for the Tesla auto and the Tesla home power wall.

Tesla BM

The first Tesla auto prototype made an appearance at BurningMan 2007 as part of the alternative tech GreenMan exhibit. During my tour of the Gigafactory, I was able to get a preview of the soon-to-be released model 3 (sorry, no photos allowed). More than 400,000 model 3s have been pre-sold before the start of production.


tesla coil

Here is a different Tesla on the playa.


Tesla bldg_1481The first stage of the Gigafactory currently covers 800,000 square feet.

tesla m2_1462I brought my own BRC sparkle pony construction hard-hat.


Tesla roof_1485The roof of the Tesla Gigafactory already looks like a playa. It will eventually be covered with solar cells.

tesla gigafactoryBy the year 2020, the Tesla Gigafactory 1 will be the largest building in the world with over 12 million square feet of indoor manufacturing space. It will employ approximately 6,500 people and supply 500,000 Tesla cars per year, and the entire factory will run on solar power.

Tesla mayor_1479
Also on the Tesla Tour: Reno city councilman David Bobzien and Reno mayor Hillary Schieve.






Tesla is already the biggest consumer of lithium ion on the planet, surpassing even device manufacturers like Apple and Samsung. It will soon become the worlds biggest producer of lithium ion batteries.


Musk cartoonElon Musk is the Henry Ford of our era… he is also a burner.


barge“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” – attributed to an unnamed elder of the Hopi Tribe

2020 Brides of March


The 22th Annual Brides of March in San Francisco: CANCELLED


San Francisco – CANCELLED

Las Vegas
New York City
Toronto, Ontario

History of a Cacophony Classic

Michele Michele got the idea for this annual gathering at a San Francisco thrift store in 1999. “I saw a rack of used wedding dresses and realized how often the dream of an ideal marriage had failed and how so much of this dream has been fabricated in order to fuel the ever-increasing consumption of new products. I thought it would be funny to take the primary symbol of this sacred institution and twist it around, much like what the Cacophony Society did with the Santa Rampage. This is classic Situationist ‘Detournament’, the hijacking of a message.”

Brides of March 2020

Grab a wedding dress and join the Brides as we parade through the heart of San Francisco, strolling through Union Square, shopping at fancy stores and drinking in local bars. All you need for this event is a white wedding dress, the more elaborate, the better. Check your local thrift store for suitable attire.


2:30 pm meeting place: Bar Fluxus, 18 Harlan Place, San Francisco.

WEAR A DRESS! Please. Its the Brides of March, not the Grooms of March. If you are a photographer, WEAR A DRESS. Please. We’re tired of you stealing our Juju without participating. The best PARKING is the nearby Sutter-Stockton Garage, with entrances on the 400 block of Stockton northbound and on the 500 block of Bush eastbound.


We’ll have a few rounds of drinks at the bars and wait for late arrivals. By 3:30 PM we’ll be suitably liquored up for a stroll around town, with stops at our favorite Formal Wear store, and diamond importer. From there, we’ll continue on Grant and turn onto Maiden Lane, Stopping for a photo op at the gates of Maiden Lane. Then we’ll race across the street to Union Square and gather around our edifice of desire, the monolith of John Dong Long. From there, we’ll proceed across the street to an exclusive department store for a fresh application of lipstick and makeup from the counter samples.


How to hack your wedding dress:



Brides of March- 10th Anniversary video:

M2 bride

2001 – a Black Rock Odyssey


2001 playa

On January 1st, 2001, I stood on the Black Rock Playa and watched the sun rise.

BurningMan is an event which often induces visions, creates expanded consciousness and provides life-changing experiences. At BurningMan ’94, I had a vision of a futuristic tribe of primitives that lived on the Black Rock Desert. They existed almost invisibly in the twilight of time after the TechnoRapture, when accelerating computer intelligence reached self-consciousness. In an attempt to recapture the feeling of that vision, I decided to spend the last night of the year 2000 out on the Black Rock playa in the dead of winter, under the stars, naked but wrapped in a blanket of dead animal skins.

Surviving a winter night in Northern Nevada is challenging enough with modern gear, but I wanted to do it in the Buffalo-robed style of Native American heritage. Real fur would be the only material which has the insulating and ascetic quality for this vision quest. How does one get fur in this age of PETA? My solution was thrift store mink coats, cut up and sewn together for a blanket.

I arrived in Gerlach a few days before New Years Eve to prepare for the experience, which included time for contemplation, reading and visiting with BurningMan staffers and some of the locals. The winter rains had not yet arrived to erase the footprints of our Y2K burn, so the playa was still drivable.

Helen Thrasher Library.

Helen Thrasher Memorial Library.

I spent some time at the Helen Thrasher Memorial Library, a warm, cozy place, filled with books, historical objects and Internet access. At that time there was a sign on the door which read “No Dogs, No Smoking & No Sex Beyond This Point.” I’ve spent many evenings here, quietly reading or sometimes engaged in lively discussion about the meaning of all things. The place was named after Helen Thrasher, who was one of the pioneer women who helped create the community of Gerlach and one of the few people to live in three centuries. At that time, she was 106 and living in Portola, California. I intended to visit her sometime, but she died the next year.

The town of Gerlach has always had an interesting mix of characters. I wondered if it’s an effect of the tiny trace of radioactivity in the drinking water that comes down from the Granite range. It was a couple years later that the US government made the town install an expensive filtering system to remove the tiny trace of radioactive element. The cost of water for the town quadrupled.

The last days of 2000 were spent with trips around the local area. I drove by the gravel pit on Hwy 34, just past the 12-mile access and noticed some cattle trucks and a temporary corral filled with horses. The BLM was engaged in a wild horse roundup to reduce the local population. A private contractor with a helicopter and bunch of cowboys had been hired to do the job. Two weeks prior, they had rounded up over 800 wild horses in the Black Rock area. They were getting paid $230 per horse. And those horses were only worth about $50 each on the open market. The federal government now runs a giant horse prison out near Pyramid Lake.

Had lunch with DPW’s Mr. Metric out at the Fly Hot Springs and then took a quick dip into the sacred waters where my goddess amulet slithered to the muddy bottom in ’97. It was in one of the Fly pools that the Water Woman sculpture stood for a couple of years. I found and retrieved the last remnant, a 3-foot long wooden lock of hair, which hung down her back.

Bill Stapleton

Bill Stapleton, RIP

On New Years Eve, I stopped at the Gerlach gas station, which was then a Texaco and run by Bill Stapleton. Both Texaco and Bill Stapleton are now long gone. Bill told me that conditions on the Playa were favorable. The surface was spongy, but dry and passable. That evening, I loaded the fur blanket, some water, two burn-barrels and some firewood into my old yellow pickup truck and drove north on the Playa. “Bring everything you need to survive” echoed through my brain. Navigating by the outline of the mountains at night, I headed towards Double Hot Springs for a midnight rendezvous with DPW’s Bill Carson and Ranger FearlessOne.

Bill Carson

Bill Carson

Ranger FearlessOne.

Ranger FearlessOne.

Arriving at Double Hot just minutes before midnight, I was handed a glass of champagne. After a suitable toast, I elected not to get wet in an environment where the air temperature was rapidly declining towards zero. After bidding goodnight, I drove back onto the flat of the Playa. The sky was full of stars as I steered towards the constellation Orion. Feeling the changes in the Playa under my tires, I pulled up to a spot that seemed right.

Dueling Burn Barrels.

Dueling Burn Barrels.

Primitives Camp was located at N 40° 54.194, W 119° 05.062, altitude 3,887 feet, one mile east of the BurningMan ’96 site. I set up the two barrels about 10 feet apart. My nest was between these two fires. The air temperature was 3 degrees Fahrenheit.


What is it like to be in 3 degrees?
— At 3 degrees, your breath looks like a steam locomotive.
— At 3 degrees, your 2 gallons of drinking water is a block of ice.
— At 3 degrees, your CD player will not play CDs.
— At 3 degrees, the 6-pack of beer you brought is slush.
— At 3 degrees, the LCD screen on your laptop displays alien hieroglyphics.
— At 3 degrees, you pour water into a coffee pot, and watch in amazement as a layer of ice crystallizes on the surface before you can get it over the fire.

Wrapped in Mink.

Wrapped in Mink- 1 Jan 2001


It’s damn cold at 3 degrees. My mind recalled the story of a local rancher who got stuck in the mud out on the Playa one cold January night in 1922. He died of exposure inside the cab of his Model T. Personal survival is an option in the Black Rock Desert. Danger can survive this, I thought to myself, and besides, the goddess is here. After firing up the barrels, I curled under the fur blanket for a while to warm up and then strip down. It seemed warm enough. I drifted off to a night of broken sleep, rolling over from time to time and moving my head as the frost formed on the blanket just below my nose. The hours passed.

Finally, I awoke with my head and face a numbing cold. The fires were down to a few live embers in the bottom of the barrels. The rest of my body was still fairly warm under the blanket of mink. I said a prayer of thank you to the furry little critters. The moisture in my breath created a semi-circle of frost on the top of the blanket. I discovered that shivering, a muscle spasm reaction of the body to cold, uses a lot of energy.

The sky was just starting to lighten above the mountains to the east. Still under the blanket, I pulled on some clothes and then threw off the blanket, jumped up and madly tossed more wood into the barrels.

The sun began to lift above the mountains and the entire panorama changed from a black line of playa and into the mountain outline that which we are so familiar with. I had survived. Sleep deprivation and the magic of this place finally set in. With the sun completely up, I closed my eyes once more and the vision came… an orange-red playa surface seemed to flow towards me. I set the brain on record as I flew through Playa Space. Soon enough, I opened my eyes. The memory lingers to this day.



Is our experience on this desert plain teaching us to be the surviving primitives in a cybernetic future?


The Santa Claus Infection


curly m2 trash1

Santa M2 hits bottom. (photo by John Curly)

There were 33 Santa clones at the original event in 1994. We started the evening by crashing a high-society party in a fancy San Francisco hotel. Streaming in thru a service entrance, we grabbed bottles of champagne off the tables, clambered onto the stage and did a chorus-line dance while the band (assuming we were a paid act), played ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’. It was a short time before security arrived to herd us out. After that, Santa went to a strip club. We continued the evening by mobbing several other downtown businesses.

“In the beginning, it was not a bar crawl, It was culture jamming in its purest form.” -M2



1995 —–

When the event was repeated in 1995, we began to push the envelope as the number of Santas climbed up to 100. The evening started with a Santa vs kids snowball fight at an outdoor skating rink. Then Santa went up to the top floor of the Emporium department store, where the store had setup a children’s playland, complete with a small ferris wheel to draw shoppers in. We filled the tiny ferris wheel with rowdy Santas until security showed up. Then, streaming into nearby Macys department store, a hundred Santas packed the escalators chanting “Charge it!” The Santas moved quickly thru downtown until the police finally arrived when a mob of Santas stopped to hang Santa from a Market Street lamppost.


(photo by Scott Beal)

The evening ended when Santa crashed the San Francisco Chronicle Christmas party held at the Legion of Honor. The toll that night was 3 Santas arrested.


Santa down!

1996 —–

In 1996, we took SantaCon to Portland. The local authorities had already been alerted and Santa had a police escort everywhere he went. When Santa arrived at the shopping mall, it was very surreal to see a line of riot squad police in full gear blocking the entrance.

The 1996 SantaCon event is chronicled in this 40-minute documentary video by Scott Beale: “You’d Better Watch Out”

It was also in 1996 that I created the first Twisted Toy Workshop, an idea that spread with the early SantaCon events. We would cut up scores of thrift-store toys and re-assemble them in weird forms with hot melt glue. Then we put them in boxes and gift-wraped them with pages from old Playboy magazines. These gifts were handed out to adults that Santa encountered along the SantaCon route. I always kept a few unwrapped unmodified toys in my bag, in case I encountered any actual kids during our rampage. One time, I was surrounded by three policemen as they carefully watched while I pulled the ‘safe’ toys out of my bag and handed them to several excited children.

1997 —

In 1997, SantaCon grew significantly when more than 300 Cacophony Society members from San Francisco, Portland and Seattle converged on Los Angeles. This monumental event was documented by Bikini Magazine: Social Distortion

santa Blazenhoff

Santa M2 & Santa Blazenhoff shopping for stocking stuffers.

1998 —

By 1998, SantaCons were held in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago and New York City. The next year, Seattle was added to the list. After that, SantaCon spread rapidly across the US and to other countries. It was beyond our control, but the event continued to erode the moral character that America knew as good ol’ Saint Nick.

dark santa


santa sexy bad girls

Santa’s little helpers.

But as SantaCon spread, it began to take on new significance as a celebratory social gathering.

SantaCon in LA 2002 was truly magical. It combined anarchy, making people smile, patriotism. Starting in the morning, with elves vs Santa snowball fights, smiling and waving at people all day, visiting the Scientology headquarters and filling it with Santas, where Santas changed the white board signs. Those were festive all-day events.

Three buses full of Santas made numerous stops in the city of angels, including Scientology’s Winter Wonderland, were Santa Nonymous climbed on top of a bus with a bullhorn and held this sermon:  “We have a dream! Our dream is to take Santa back. You shouldn’t just accept the Santa you were given. He is a figure invented to control and scare you. There is no one Santa flying around the North Pole… we are ALL Santa!” -Santa Nonymous

In 2004, SantaCon was observed at McMurdo Station in Antarctica: Santa Sandwich in Antarctica. Santa Sandwich in Antarctica.

McMurdo Station

Santa Sandwich in Antarctica.

In 2008, I pushed SantaCon into the virtual world of Second Life. There were a dozen Santas hitting the populated hangouts. Santa was running a drunken avatar script with snow effects.


Santa M2 in the virtual world SantaCon, 2008.

By the year 2014, the Red Tide had claimed more than 350 cities and 49 countries. It has grown and morphed and devolved and evolved way beyond it’s original roots and intentions.


Grand Central Station

Santa has gone from pretending to be drunk to being drunk. We have succeeded in destroying the old image of Santa even while SantaCon itself has been commercialized.

Santa Crawl 2012 Poster

Reno, Santa Crawl

A scene from the 2012 Reno Santa Crawl in downtown Reno, NV on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. (Photo by Kevin Clifford)

But there is a greater cultural phenomena evolving here. SantaCon has become a mainstream event with its own unique meaning. It’s one of the best examples of the Optimal Distinctive​ness Theory: the struggle for social distinction. Within the cohesive oneness of the Red Tide, there are great displays of individuality.lots santacon

Miss Rudolph

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. (photo by Pixietart)

curly girl

(photo by John Curly)

boobs santa

I’ll just put these here.

mis sant hats

And yet, we are all Santa!


Candy cane?

“I love meeting new people and drinking in the middle of the day, it gets crazy in the best way. I’m just hoping to survive the day with all of my Santa compatriots. That’s the spirit of SantaCon.”

wedding crash

Santa wedding crash. (photo by Lane Hartwell)

In my closet, I have a costume box labeled ‘Bad Santa’ but I haven’t done SantaCon for many years.

This year I decided to do SantaCon again, but with a new outfit. This year I returned as Krampus.


Krampus will get to you.

On December 25th, 2015, Pope Francis denounced consumerism and extravagance. What demon have we unleashed here? I believe that SantaCon is an indicator of the shift from a consumption economy to an experience economy. I believe in Santa.

319707545_fbd72b207e_o(1)“Don’t fuck with Santa, he has crazy old man Strength.”Simon Gold

Rider on a Black Horse


, ,


 blog black horse rider

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a horse in the town of Gerlach. Not more than half a dozen in the past 10 years and those were on the outskirts of town, along 34.

The Deep Hole Ranch was owned by Louis Gerlach

The Deep Hole Ranch was owned by Louis Gerlach

There used to be a lot more cattle ranching in the Black Rock basin surrounding the town of Gerlach, that was before the giant water-hungry farming operations came in and, over the last four decades, managed to drop the water table 50 feet.


A few years ago, I got to view one of the locals old 8mm home-movies of the Gerlach rodeos that used to take place during the early 1950s.

Gerlach in the 1950s

Gerlach in the 1950s

You can still find the remains of the rodeo corral on the south side of the railroad tracks, across from where the water tower is. Back then, there were two water towers and Main street was just a gravel road, which continued to be gravel all the way to Wadsworth. Main Street was finally paved in 1963.

During the era of big cattle ranches, there were lots of horses and lots of cowboys and even more bars in the town of Gerlach. In 1950, you could still find hitching posts in front of the bars and it was not unusual for a drunken cowboy to ride his horse into the bar and demand another drink, with exception of maybe the Longhorn Saloon, where Bruno worked as a bartender and didn’t put up with such foolishness. That was a few years before he bought the bar and changed the name to Brunos.

Nowadays, you might occasionally find a few cowboys who drop into Gerlach for a drink, but they arrive in pickup trucks, so you can imagine my amazement one late afternoon a couple weeks after the 2014 burn, when I’m walking down Main Street and I see this black horse tied to a utility pole down by the railroad tracks near the old train station. What’s more, a few paces from the horse, I could see a western saddle with a bedroll slung over the handrail by the station.

On rare occasions, someone might ride a horse thru Gerlach, but nobody ‘parks’ a horse in Gerlach anymore. My curiosity peaked, I walked down the embankment and strolled over towards this black horse. I know a little bit about horses, having grown up in Texas and now have fond memories as a teenager out at my grandfathers farm during the summer, where I would go out to the pasture, grab the mane of one of the horses, launch myself onto its back and then have it lurch forward at full gallop… no saddle, no reins, no shoes, no shirt. I remember the oneness that we were in that moment and the soft jolt of each hoof and the wind and the smell of horse.

As I closed the gap between me and this dark creature, it was apparent that this magnificent beast was one of the finest examples of horseflesh that I had ever seen. It was a young stud, about 8 years old with a long, silky mane, a small white dot on the forehead and eyes as black as coal. As I walked slowly towards him, his ears perked forward, and with a look of fearless curiosity, he took a step towards me, as much as his tether would allow.

It was then I noticed the small, open bag of oats that had been carefully placed out of his reach by his now absentee rider. I scooped up a small handful and thrust out my hand, palm up, under his nose and he nibbled away delightfully. I did a 360 looking around for the owner, realizing I had probably done the equivalent of leaning on a strangers pickup truck without first asking.

I really wanted to know the story behind this apparent anachronism, so I set out to find the cowboy who rode this black horse into town. In all the years of coming to Gerlach, the one thing I’ve learned is what everyone does when they first hit town: stop at Brunos. So I made a beeline over there.

I opened the door of Brunos, stepped inside the bar and scanned around for anything that seemed out of place. I looked over a line of patrons at the bar to my right and at the mostly empty tables to my left. Finally I noticed an odd and solitary figure sitting in a chair, alone at the very back wall. My brain immediately registered: Amish!

As I walked directly towards him, I noted the key Amish indicators; straw hat with a flat brim, wide suspenders and boots with laces. He seemed to be about 30 years in age. When the distance closed, I noted some irregularities; his jet-black hair spilling past his collar was a little too long for Amish, his red suspenders were attached to his pants, not with buttons, but the suspender loops were tied to the belt loops of his jeans with strips of rawhide. I stopped at a polite distance as he tilted his head back and our eyes met. His eyes were Asian!

I realized that I had stumbled across some kind of hybrid western buckaroo. Now there is quite a bit of difference between a southwestern cowboy and a buckaroo. A buckaroo is derived from the Spanish vaquero horsemen and are indigenous to the Great Basin and Central California region. Buckaroos are what you call real cowboys in Nevada.Last Buckaroo

I introduced myself and told him that I assumed that the black horse was his and that I wanted to know what his story was. He said that his name was Steve Ikeda. His father was Japanese and his mother was French. His great grandparents were interred at Manzanar during WWII and almost lost their family farm, but an American neighbor worked their farm growing fruit and vegetables to pay the mortgage until they got out after the war. Steve grew up near Sacramento and worked cows and horses for a living. The black horse was part of a small herd that ran wild on a neglected 75-acre ranch. The horse was given to him by the ranch owner, but he had to rope it and break it, which he did just a few months ago. Recently, he had been offered a job on a ranch near Winnemucca, so he was now riding his horse from Sacramento to Winnemucca, a distance of about 300 miles. He was making a brief stop in Gerlach and then riding on to Frog Pond, where he was going to spend the night. I’m thinking just wow, this guy is the real thing.

I wished him well on his journey and walked out of the bar. The next morning, I noticed hoof prints in the yard next to the Gerlach Burning Man office. Apparently he rode into the yard, got water from the faucet and left for Frog Pond. I did some research a couple weeks later and discovered that the Ikeda family grew and prospered after the war. In 1970 they opened a fruit stand near Sacramento. In the 1980s they begin making pies from the fruit that grew in their orchards. Now I like to stop at Ikeda’s Country Market just off I-80 in Auburn, CA. Probably the best pies I’ve ever tasted.

And this was on the playa that year:

"Rustang Sally" by Mutoid Waste Company, BurningMan 2014

“Rustang Sally” by Mutoid Waste Company, BurningMan 2014

Esalen Is Burning


B&W photo posted inside the Esalen kitchen.

B&W photo posted inside the Esalen kitchen.

The 2015 BurningMan Summit was held at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. I’ve never been to Esalen before, but the list of leaders, teachers and writers that passed thru Esalen is like a who’s who of influencers for my generation: Aldous Huxley, Buckminster Fuller, Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, Abraham Maslow, Ray Bradbury, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, etc. Even Hunter S Thompson had a brief stay there.

I am surrounded by lunatics here, people screeching every time I pull a trigger… a landlady who’s writing a novel on butcher paper, wild boar in the hills and queers on the road, vats of homemade beer in the closet… the jabbering of Buddhists in the trees, whores in the canyon, christ only knows if I can last it out… -Hunter S Thompson, The Proud Highway

The name Esalen is derived from the Esselen Indians, the Native American people whose homeland once encompassed about 750 square miles of the Ventana Wilderness, including the land that the Esalen Institute now sits upon. They were known as the “people of the rock”. The Esselen word for the hot springs was believed to mean “the god in the waters“. In 1602, the Spanish sea captain Sebastian Vizcaino sailed into Monterey Bay and he wrote of the Esselen Indians: “They seem to be gentle and peaceful people…” According to Fray Antonio de la Ascencion, who accompanied Vizcaino: “The port is all surrounded with…affable Indians, good natives and well-disposed, who like to give what they have…They go naked at this port.”

handThe Esselen lived in perfect harmony with their environment

…until the missionaries came.

The Esalen Institute is perched on a narrow piece of land with cliffs at the oceans edge on one side and the steep Santa Lucia mountains on the other side. Gushing mineral hot springs supply the nude baths and massage center.

Michael Murphy & Richard Price

Michael Murphy & Richard Price

Esalen was founded by Michael Murphy and Richard Price in 1962, and became the center of practices and beliefs that make up the New Age movement; from Eastern spirituality to Gestalt Psychotherapy. Thousands of seekers came to Esalen for workshops in avant-garde psychology, massage, mysticism and other techniques that promised to raise consciousness, and to fulfill untapped human potential.

“Esalen played a pioneering role in popularizing quests for self-transformation and personalized spirituality. Esalen paved the way for them to explore spirituality without affiliating with established denominations” -The American Soul Rush, 2012

Esalen is the religion of no religion.

Gestalt therapy was one of the major psychotherapy techniques that were developed at Esalen. Gestalt is an existential therapy that emphasizes personal responsibility and focuses upon the individual’s experience in the present, the environmental and social contexts of a person’s life, and the adjustments that people make as a result of their overall situation. The Gestalt techniques that were pioneered and developed there led to dramatic breakthroughs in psychotherapy. During the 1960s, Gestalt was combined with group therapy, pyschosynthesis, bioenergetics, and psychodrama into what became known as the encounter group, which later spread and flourished outside of Esalen as the new age Encounter Movement. However, the dark side of the encounter group was it’s confrontational approach, which could result in mental and/or physical damage to individuals going thru the process. Encounter leader John Heider wrote in his 1970s journal: “Too much suicide.” Encounter offerings at Esalen were ended by Murphy and Price in the early 1970s as being too dangerous.

The other orange fence.

The other orange fence.

Esalen was where all the wonderful lifestyle innovations of the 1960s bubbled up. -The Economist 2007

In 1980, Esalen began a Soviet-American Exchange Program to foster citizen-to-citizen relationships between Russians and Americans. In 1989 Boris Yeltsin came to Esalen for his first visit to the United States. It was a few weeks later that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet-American Exchange Program was the last big thing that I can recall coming out of Esalen. That was 20 years ago.

By the 1990s, it was all getting a bit stale. -Don Lattin, SF Chronicle, 2002

“Esalen was resting on its laurels, and backsliding” “There were always a lot of people down here just trying to hang out and get laid and get stoned.” -David Price, operations manager at Esalen and son of the late Richard Price.

This is nothing but sand, man. They ain’t gonna make it, man. They ain’t gonna grow anything here. -Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider

In 1998, the winter storms of El Nino destroyed the old bath house. Coastal landslides cut off Highway 1 to the north and south for three months, putting Esalen into a financial crisis. Coming out of that crisis, Esalen began to re-invent itself as a much more organized and responsible educational institution. New rules were put in place. Staff members were required to carry ID badges. The paying customers had to show their meal tickets before eating in the Lodge.

In 2002, a new stone-and-concrete bathhouse was built on 34 concrete piers, which required horizontal anchors sunk into 25 feet of rock. The new structure, which could accommodate 60 bathers, was built at a cost of $6 million dollars.

Over the last 20 years, Esalen has traded it’s risky edge for safety and security. The old home-built buildings have been replaced with a new Japanese aesthetic designed by a professional architecture firm. A week at Esalen now costs more than a week at BurningMan (but you do get running water and flush toilets).

Porsche_0971It seems that Esalen has become a day spa. The parking lot is usually spotted with BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.

Esalen is a place where people hug each other relentlessly and justify their material indulgences, like Porches, as balm for their past emotional wounds. -The American Soul Rush, 2012

Tesla_0927There are Tesla charging stations here. The Hippies have gone electric.

Esalen is on the bucket list for well-healed matrons who want to ‘cleanse the body of poisons’. Young men with ambition to be the next pop guru of spiritual materialism come here to sift thru the cauldron of new age stew.

“To fall for the baths at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, you don’t need to know that Joseph Campbell, Hunter S Thompson, Linus Pauling, Timothy Leary, Joan Baez, Ansel Adams and Henry Miller all loved the place.” -LA Times, November 2015

rock stack_0947


Stacking rocks seems to be the new meditation practice. I saw them everywhere.



And the weekend tourists from LA wear bathing suits in the baths.


Then, for 5 days in October, BurningMan invaded Esalen. welcome sign_0926
The usual workshops on spiritual studies, vision seeking, healing, empowerment and yoga, gave way to BurningMan workshops on the 2016 art theme, decommodification, culture, ethnic diversity, social change (and yoga). TTITD_0943The expensive cars of the plug-and-play customers were replaced by burner vehicles more suited to maker culture. There was the smell of bacon during breakfast at the Lodge. BurningMans presence might seem to be a setback for Esalen, but it was more like the completion of a Yin and Yang circle. Esalen has a year-round staff of more than 70, who maintain the facilities, tend the garden and grounds, do the housekeeping and cook the meals for workshop attendees and staff, but for those 5 days, the usual workshop attendees were replaced by BurningMan staff members. We were different, not like their usual clients. We were playful, we wore silly costumes. We sat down and talked and ate with them. There was a tribal kinship.

During my stay, I thought about the opposites and the similarities of Esalen and BurningMan. The physical environments could not be more different. Esalen is water and earth, BurningMan is fire and air. Both have transformational qualities and both are spiritual, but not religious. Both experiences produce an attachment to place. Having experienced heaven, how can you return to the hell of the default world?

BurningMan and Esalen are adept at stripping away the veil of maya. They both share a common transformation mechanism which breaks apart the mental reality construct; but whereas Esalen breaks thru the reality of self-identity, BurningMan breaks thru the reality of world view. Esalen blissfully disarms its graduates, but the BurningMan school sends out self-actualized warriors. That may be why BurningMan is able to replicate itself in other locations, but all attempts to replicate Esalen in the past have failed. Esalen remains firmly rooted in its birthplace. But I do I think that the convergence of Esalen and BurningMan at this time in history marks a significant point which will affect the future of both. And the baths are nice; It’s been 20 years since I lost my goddess amulet in a hot springs in Nevada, a mystic experience that bonded me to the hot water of a fertile earth.

Discarded bra hanging in the laundry window.

Discarded bra hanging in the laundry window.

In spite of Esalens drift into complacent spirituality, the tantric energy at Esalen is still very palatable. I felt it everywhere. I wonder if the daily bathing allowed the subtly of pheromones to reach the surface of consciousness. In the garden, I found hidden pathways leading to small clearings wide enough for two. Then one day at lunch, I was talking to a handsome, young, guitar-carrying Esalen staff member, whom I had seen go through several stylish clothing changes during the week, when another staff member, attractive in her own right, leaned over and whispered into my ear; “He gets more pussy than a toilet seat.”

Compared to the default world, BurningMan and Esalen are very safe environments for women to express their sensuality. Someone told me that the hookup scene at Esalen is like a meat market. But if Esalen is a meat market, then BurningMan is pure porn. Both are zones where sex is decommodified.

They were all young, beautiful and wild. -Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege

I had some amusing moments during my week in paradise. One afternoon, I was strolling across the grassy park, when I came upon a chain-smoking psychic from San Diego who called herself ‘Miss Fortune’. The wrinkles on her face and the grey roots of her red hair gave the appearance of a gypsy flower child, long past the age of Aquarius. Her conversation spilled forth like a gushing reservoir of new-age buzzwords and esoteric mystic knowledge. It felt like one of those BurningMan encounters at 3am out in deep-playa. She certainly fit the character of the fairy godmother in Finnegans Wake.

Our third night at Esalen seemed like a Bohemian Grove parody, when, much to the delight of everyone in attendance, a humorous pageant was organized and performed by a few BurningMan staff members. It was an irreverent event, which probably decreased the spirituality index of Esalen by several notches. At the end of the performance, it was announced that one of the props, a drawing of the Man, would later be burned in the campfire outside the Lodge. We began to call it the Big Sur Regional burn.

As the time drew near for this symbolic burning, I enacted the ‘Oracle of Star-Glo’ in a dark passageway near the Lodge. On a small table I set up an altar using a piece of rotted tree stump and shiny bits of abalone shell, which I’m sure had been carried up from the beach by native peoples hundreds of years ago.

Esselen indian grinding rock.

Esselen Indian grinding rock.

The rich soil of the Esalen garden sits upon a 4000-year-old Esselen shell mound. A shamans tools can always found in the local environment for those who have the vision.



“Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.” -Carl Jung


Using a sheet for a cape and draping a towel on my head, I did my best impersonation of Arthur Frayn, or perhaps I was channeling Lady Freyja… I certainly have a kinship with her beast. Using a small flashlight to illuminate the deck of Beyond Belief cards (playa relics from a future past) which I had fanned out on the table, I invited passers by to choose and keep the one that speaks to them personally. With each card drawn, I was pouring fuel into the synchronicity engine.

The source of all light is in the eye. -Alan W. Watts


The fact that BurningMan has been allowed to displace Esalens’ high-paying customers for a week told me that they want to get back to the business of changing entire social systems rather than simply changing one human at a time. On my last night at Esalen, I spent some time in the bath with a group of young millennials. They were a combination of fire and water, all excitedly yearning to move Esalen and BurningMan into the future. I felt that Esalen and BurningMan are poised at the edge of the next generation of leadership.

BurningMan has come to Esalen:

We have arrived like spiritual barbarians at heavens’ gate.

Got Virtual Fire?

the Man 2

BURN2.org is the BurningMan international regional that exists in cyberspace. It’s currently hosted in the virtual world of Second Life, which is a participant-created 3-dimensional virtual world, populated with interactive avatars. BURN2 is accessible 24/7 to anyone with a computer and internet connection. The software is free to download, and access to the virtual Playa is free as well.

burn2carnivalmirrorsman1The annual big Burn event is an echo of BurningMan itself, with thousands attending throughout the 10-day event, where you can find amazing digital art, live performance, theme camps, DJs, poetry, drumming, classes and presentations. This thriving BurningMan virtual community awaits your participation on a dust-free electronic playa.

This is a world where day and night comes several times a day, and the laws of physics can be suspended.

GerlachTo get started, just get a free account and an avatar and teleport into virtual Gerlach, Nevada, where many of you will feel instantly at home. The open playa is just outside of town; there you will find Gate Road and the Greeters Station. Beyond that, things start to get like BurningMan… only more weird.

scene1In this world, participants create their own avatars. Sometimes, it’s like walking into the Star Wars Cantina with humans, robots, cyborgs, furries, insects and other unworldly creatures.

ferret B2 performer

buff couple
You can be whatever you want to be. In the virtual world, you can look young and buff.





old manOr you can look like yourself after a bad dust storm.



or whateverbunny girl




On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.




During the main event, this virtual playa is filled with incredible works of art.

dark art art 3

art2 and theme camps


and just camping camps… where you can have a hot BBQ grill out in front.

BBQ girl

BURN2 follows the 10 Principles and has many options for volunteers and participants:

The virtual world of Second Life was created by Philip Rosedale, who was greatly inspired by his experience at BurningMan 1999. His 2008 Ted Talk; “Why Build A Virtual World?” is a reflection of that inspiration.

night burnTranslating the BurningMan experience to someone sitting at home in front of a computer is the mission of BURN2. Certain techniques and strategies have been applied, which have accomplished this with varying degrees of success. In spite of the limitations of the current technology (somewhat cartoon-like imagery and crude interface tools), the brain still treats the experience as ‘real’. Many people come away from a BURN2 event with the feeling of “I’ve never ‘experienced’ anything like this before!”


BurningMan’s presence in cyberspace continues to grow. We’ve been in Second Life since 2003. At BurningMan 2015, there were two ‘virtual reality’ theme camps. One was digitizing the art and structures of the event in order to re-create it in a virtual environment. The other camp was demonstrating the BURN2 virtual environment.

B2 at BM Real Life BURN2 burners posed for the BMIR webcam at BurningMan 2015, which was streamed live into the internet and projected onto a screen in the virtual world of BURN2.


Facebook group: BURN2 burners.

BURN2 is experimenting with new virtual platforms, including OpenSimulator Metaverse, currently the largest implementation of an open-source virtual world.

The BURN2 Carnival of Mirrors event is taking place October 17th through October ­25th with over 130 builders and artists.  The Burning of the Man is on the 24th and the Temple Burn is on the 25th. DR

See ya on the other side of your viewing screen!

-Danger Ranger


How I Spent Burning Man 2015… (and what came before that)


Homeless in BRC -photo by Rob Sandberg

-photo by Ranger Forward

In 1990, when I arrived on the Black Rock Desert with the first participants and a large wooden man inside a box truck, we were equipped with the forest camping gear that we were familiar with in the mountain regions of California.

Lacking any real shade, our enclosed tents became sweltering ovens in the mid-day sun, so to escape the burning afternoon heat, we crawled under our vehicles like lizards. We discovered that shade and water were the most important survival necessities on the Black Rock playa.

During those early years, we were on a real frontier. You could die here. There was no cell service, the tiny town of Gerlach was 45 minutes away and Reno more than 2 hours away. We made our own rules and social codes.

The first big dust storm was in 1992. The wind hit just as the Man fell. It was an eerie scene as the crowd of pale-dusted ghosts struggled thru the darkness to find their way back to their tents. 1992 was also the first year of the Black Rock Rangers, whose main job was finding lost participants out in the far reaches of the desert and bringing them back to camp.

John Law & Larry Harvey in the mud after the 1993 wind & rain storm

John Law & Larry Harvey in the mud after the 1993 storm.

In 1993, Andy Pector brought out the first RV, an old Apollo. Two dozen participants crowded into it when a massive dust and rain storm hit, which destroyed most of the camp.

Chris Radcliffe, Larry Harvey & Chris DeMonterey under the PVC Shade Structure- 1994

Chris Radcliffe, Larry Harvey & Chris DeMonterey under a prototype PVC Shade Structure- 1994

During the next few years, we learned to devise various types of shade structures out of tarps and PVC pipe strapped together with bicycle tire tubes. As our need for larger areas of shade increased, we acquired some used parachutes and draped them over PVC hoops.

Center Cafe 1995

Center Camp Cafe- 1995

In 1995, we covered the Center Camp Cafe with a 60′ parachute. The next day we discovered that parachutes are really good for catching the wind.

Center Camp Cafe 1997

Center Camp Cafe- 1997 -photo by Philippe Glade

After that, we stopped using parachutes for shade.

BRC Water Works

BRC Water Works

In 1997, Chicken John pulled a monumental prank by pounding several dozen pipes into the playa, which were topped with water faucets. He poured some water on the ground to make the prank more realistic. Scores of participants turned on the faucets hoping for a miracle in the desert. It’s ironic now that there are actual functioning fresh water faucets coming out of the playa; if you know where to look.

Gradually, more and more city amenities have become the norm for staff and participants. Plug-n-Play camps are becoming more prevalent with $300,000 luxury homes on wheels- delivered fully stocked with food, costumes and bicycles. Serviced daily.


“It usta be, out at the BurningMan, everyone would return after a few weeks all tan and svelte from dehydration and starvation rations, lookin’ good…Now-days, what with all the meal plans and chefs, shade structures and melanoma awareness, they come back just as pudgy and pasty as before.”Zac Carroll 2014 ·

Black Rock City now has many of the amenities of a municipality found anywhere in the country. Entire blocks are electrified with generators the size of semi-trucks. There is police, a fire department and a functioning hospital on site. The expectations of it’s citizens have increased. Outside authorities have also imposed costly requirements for services that mirror those in urban areas. At what point will open-heart surgery and flush toilets be a required city service?

Black Rock City Today

Black Rock City Today -photo by Philippe Glade

For the past 14 years, I have camped in the same place on the outer edge of Black Rock City. It’s a nice Walk-In-Camping location with a clear view of the Selenite mountain range.

Outback Camp

Outback Camp 2001-2014

At The Outback, I setup my own camp and put up my own shade structure. It’s a kind of zen act of radical self-reliance. There have been years when I had a little help from my friends, but, for the most part, I am my own sherpa. This year I decided to do something different. For 2015, I decided to not build my camp and just throw myself to the mercy of the playa and sleep wherever I end up each night.

When I announced my intention to be homeless at Burning Man 2015, I received many generous invitations from members of our community to stay at their camp. There was no shortage of possible accommodations this year. My simple preparations were to tape some insulation panels onto the back of my old desert truck (12 years at Burning Man), throw in my sleeping bag, a camp stove, some canned food and 5 gallons of liquid (some water, some whiskey).

Hillbilly RV

Hillbilly RV

D Lot

D Lot

Realizing that no Burning Man experience is complete without a night spent in D-Lot, I headed out there for the Gate’s opening night festivities. It was a night of Fireworks and Clowns. The fireworks were bright and fun but the clowns were dark and threatening. I must say that I was impressed with the Gate & Box Office operations this year. The few traffic issues & entry delays that did occur, were caused by factors outside their control.

martini-village1000Another night was spent in Martini Village, where the dinner was most excellent.

Then there was that night at the Trash fence. daft-punk-trash-fenceI rediscovered the wonderful simplicity of heating a can of chili directly on the camp stove and luxuriously consuming the contents directly from the can.



Morning in BRC - photo by Editrix Abby

Morning in BRC
– photo by Editrix Abby

Another night I parked near the Keyhole in Center Camp, which made for a short stroll to the Cafe where I waited in line for morning coffee.




Burning Man has grown up. I’ve stayed with it because it’s still the most amazing thing that is happening on the planet. It changes peoples lives.

But I fondly remember those wonderful early years when we danced around the fire like naked savages and our animal passion was unbridled.

Welcome Home.