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Saying You’re Sorry at Burning Man 2018

Sometimes at Burning Man you just really screw up. You say something to someone, or do something that is really inexcusable and you’re mortified. But Wait! There’s a classy solution! Go to Camp Playapology! 

What? In the thousands of camps at the Burning Man event in Nevada north of Reno there is a single camp dedicated to helping you say “I’m Sorry…” You bet there is. 

The Playapology staff offers all sorts of alternative solutions in their “Sorry Salon.” Here’s how it works…you can take a pre-printed card and fill in a note and have it delivered to the person you offended (assuming you remember where their camp is). You can also add a Half-Baked Haiku, a Lousy Limerick, or a Sorry-Gram. If a longer sincere apology is needed a Conciliation Concierge will sit with you and compose a message. If, on the other hand, someone has done something awesome, you can send a Thank You card to tell that person they are appreciated. 

Mobility Camp, my home, gets mobility challenged people of any age into the Burner community and out on to the Black Rock Playa to see the art instillations. We got our first Playapology last year. A woman rode her bike into camp and looked like a singing telegram messenger. She proceeded to unroll a scroll and announce an apology. Seems an able bodied man in need of a portapotty chose to occupy the handicapped accessible one for a LONG time. Exiting he found a person on crutches and one in a wheelchair patiently waiting in line in the mid-day sun for that portapotty. He was mortified and later went to Camp Playapology to make amends and the apology was delivered. 

I went to meet D’Stracted and HazMat, the playa names for two of the camp founders, and find out what other things people apologize for. Turns out it’s arguments, illicit sex, snitching food when you shouldn’t and many every day indiscretions that become amplified on the playa. Camp had delivered about 60 apologies mid-week and expected more. 

Some apologies these men related were heartbreaking. A man nearing the end of his life knew it was his last Burn and composed an apology to his partner knowing he wouldn’t be alive the next year to write a message. Most apologies delivered on the playa are accepted with thanks. 

Camp Playapology wants people to have fun when they’re not writing apologies so they offer fun events all week. One is infused vodka tasting with 34 flavors including Unicorn Poop, No Big Dill, Sour Puss, 5 Hour Energy (in your vodka?), Liquid Smoke, Coffee, Spicy Hombre, Pound Cake, Love it or Hate it, Peaches in Crime, and Jolly Rancher hard candy watermelon, grape and green apple infused vodka. 

How about a playa food-pairing workshop? What do you serve with beef jerky?…the perfect accompanying liquid for cheese in a can on crackers?….what goes with cheap caviar? Some variant of vodka fills the bill as it mixes well with everything and is more versatile than tequila, gin or brown boozes. 

Who makes up this Playapology camp? About 30 folks who have been coming for decades or are Burgins (Burner virgins at their first Burn) form the camp. And they like being a “service camp” providing light hearted apologies along with booze events. As is found all over Black Rock City they are a highly educated crew, with D’Stracted and HazMat being a television writer/producer and a university molecular biology professor in the outside world. They guessed a third of their camp had post baccalaureate degrees. Many of the folks who showed up each day to volunteer to deliver apologies had been recipients of playapologies in the past and wanted to return the favor as the sincere “I am sorry…” resonated with them. As was seen all over the playa this year they were a camp of older Burners, kind and compassionate, willing to sit with a troubled person and help word an apology and a stellar example of how a camp can combine service and fun. 

The day-to-day life in a city of 70,000 offered unlimited opportunity to eat, drink, be entertained and learn something new. The What-When-Where book of activities offers 192 pages with 10 happenings per page so that’s 1,920 things to see and do. And that was only the printed version…there was a more up-to-date electronic version. There were gatherings of folks with similar interests, be it AA, journalists or health professionals. I could go sing with a choir, join a solar energy tour, Ask a Buddhist for life coaching. I could create sumi-e, silkscreen a t-shirt, make stained glass, face paint or consult with a photographer. 

There was always time to go find food. “Lovin’ Oven” our neighbor camp, made fresh bread every day. I could go find Frito Pie, tri-tip, vegan grilled cheese sandwiches, fried bologna sandwiches with burbon, alcoholic snow cones, pizza, pancakes, and someone was cooking 40 pounds of bison in a BBQ. T.I.T.S. (don’t get the wrong idea) was Thai Iced Tea Service and yummy. There were workshops on making kombucha and mead and everyone was crazy about picklebacks, gherkin pickles hollowed out with Irish whiskey in them. 

Had I any energy after gluttony in Black Rock City I could have ridden a zip line, done Tai Chi, yoga, run a marathon, or learned Bollywood dance. I would have skipped Naked Volleyball, Roller Derby, blindfolded coconut oil wrestling, and the dildo jousting tournament but playing a Black Light Twister game might have been fun. 

The thing I love most about this party is everyone just flat out having fun and being silly. You can try things out on the playa you might never do in your circle of friends at home and no one will ever know…like eating picklebacks. Most men in the real world would not be walking around mid-day in their Spongebob Squarepants footed flannel jammies or be caught dead wearing a tutu on Tutu Tuesday, but here at Burning Man no one notices. And hugs, I have never been hugged so often by strangers in my life but I come home from the Burn and all I want to do is hug folks. Find me and I’ll give you a hug anytime. 

Music went from modern techno dub to a competitive whistling contest, “mellow cello moaning,” classical music with Playa Pops orchestra, a Greatful Dead Happy hour, a marching band play off and a 1967 Summer of Love Groove-a-thon. Individual artists were honored with a Tom Petty sing along (and you could go to a Disney movie sing along…) and a Michael Jackson vrs. Prince concert. Another camp was throwing a Michael Jackson 60th birthday party in his memory. 

Expanding my mind I could have found my power animal with shamanistic drumming, made Bismuth crystals, found out How to be a Wizard, told Spooky Campfire stories, or listened to the Neuroscience of Psychedelics lecture. I forgot to attend a “Write a Future Letter to Yourself” event where the sponsors promised to mail you the letter five years from now. As a woman of a certain elderly age I was not interested in How to Give a Great Spanking, or Welding in the Nude, though Pin the Dildo on the Robot might have been silly fun. The “Best Butt Olympiad” did not include mine. The one show I really wanted to see but missed because I was working was the Gerbil Opera. One hundred animatronic gerbil models mocked everything you said by repeating it in high-pitched squeaky voices. That, I suggest, would have been funny…especially if you sang to them.

One Comment

  1. Mary October 2, 2018

    As a Burgin woman of a certain elderly age also I loved your article. I could never imagine myself going, but we went to see our daughter get married. Now I can’t wait to return, and the freedom I experienced that week reminds me of the possibilities in my life in the “default” world. Your article inspires me to pay more attention to events in the city. I spent most of my time bicycling in deep playa.. art! Temple!
    Thanks for the great writing!

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