Buy the ticket, take the ride

Burning Man 2011 begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow. That’s when tickets go on sale, an annual ritual of queuing up in an electronic line, sometimes for hours, hoping some technical glitch doesn’t boot you off, and eventually paying $210 (or $240 if the first 9,000 tickets are gone, or $320 if you dither for too long) for your ticket.
But that ticket doesn’t really buy you anything, except the privilege of entering Black Rock City and the responsibility of helping to create it. And that central tenet of Burning Man is what baffles outsiders the most, some of whom express amazement that tickets go on sale so early for an event that doesn’t even start until late August.
The reason, as Larry Harvey and others who run the corporation (soon to be turned into a nonprofit) that stages Burning Man have told me, is one of acculturation, which takes time. It’s about getting people to commit early to building this city so that they have the time and inclination to ponder what this is about, how they will go, and what they’ll contribute.
“Buy the ticket, take the ride,” outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it’s a good way of looking at Burning Man, mostly because Hunter meant it metaphorically. Buy the ticket (make the commitment), take the ride (see where that commitment takes you).
When burners buy their tickets tomorrow, it isn’t just a ticket that they’re buying. It’s a commitment they’re making to help build and burn one of the greatest cities on the planet, at least for the week that it exists. Similarly, Burning Man doesn’t really begin on Aug. 29 when the gates open – it begins tomorrow.
Last year, I had already been on the playa for more than a week building the Temple of Flux when the gates opened, and some were there much longer. Your decision about what role you want to play in creating this city determines the conditions of your visit, and the ticket is barely worth the holographic paper it’s printed on.
Even for those who building a simple theme camp with their friends, the ride you take starts now, when you buy the ticket. My camp, Garage Mahal, has its first camp meeting scheduled for Feb. 2 – and we already have a swanky art car in our possession. If you’re starting with less, you have even more to do.
And that isn’t the work you do before the ride – the work is the ride. This is about the process creation, party people. It’s about what you want to see and who you want to be. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
Oh yeah, and if you’re inclined to buy the book, do that too. It’ll give your ride much more depth and meaning.

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