The Oldest Guy At Burning Man 2017

by Katy Tahja, September 13, 2017

Mobility Camp at Burning Man exists to get folks out on the Black Rock playa to see art and bright sparkly things when they can’t walk or bicycle long distances in extreme heat. We also get asked lots of questions…which is how we met the oldest guy at Burning Man.

There are about 70,000 people at the week long gathering and most Burners are young. I, and everyone over 60 years of age, constitute about 5% of the population of Black Rock City and folks over 70 are 1% of the crowd. How do we know? A census of the city is taken every year. Really.

So mid-week an old guy and a friend stop by asking about a night–time tour of the playa and the old guy says it’s his first time at the Burn and he’s 94 and having the time of his life. After signing him up for the tour we sent him to Playa Info to report himself as the oldest dude at Burning Man. Info then sent him to the Census Bureau to state his claim and sure enough, everyone agreed to the best of their knowledge he was the oldest person at Burning Man. He was so proud.

The week’s weather stayed hot but it didn’t hamper the silliness and creativity. The What-Where-When guide was invaluable just getting you to free food any hour of the day or night. I could have scored pancakes, nachos, fresh baked bread, cotton candy, grilled cheese sandwiches, pineapple upside down cake, a pig roast, funnel cakes, coconut milk ice cream and s’mores if I was in the right place. Every kind of liquid intoxicant was being shared someplace…”Would you like a guava mimosa?”

At Burning Man, if you choose not to be drugged, intoxicated, dazed or confused, there are educational lectures and events all day long. I could have listened to “Creation & Ecology of the Black Rock Desert” or observed “Making Ice Cream with Liquid Nitrogen” and eaten the resulting treat. AA and NA meet on the playa if you need help staying on the straight & narrow path or you could go listen to crystal singing bowl sound healing.

While events happened around sexual and downright quirky topics I couldn’t place into print I was amused by the workshop teaching how to make your own “Crotch Muppet” by creating a loin cloth and decorating it with felt and googly eyes. There was a cat video cinema if you wanted to sit in the shade and unwind. The Playa Introvert Quiet Reading Hour was held, but I’m not sure if that happened near the Lesbian Lending Library or one of the many BookCrossing Zones that shared free books.

Want to learn cartooning, or stilt walking, or heckling, or yo-yo technique…someone was sharing their skills. Go to “Pet a Bearded Weirdo” tent and you could pet long luxurious beards on men. Want to make “Erotic Fruit & Vegetable Sculptures” or participate in the “Best Butt Olympiad” go right ahead. Oh, and don’t miss making “X-Rated Balloon Animals.”

The fence around Black Rock City is over nine miles long and crazy folks run an ultra marathon around it at 5 a.m. The inaugural naked mile run went right by Mobility Camp with men and women with bouncing and flopping body parts scampering by to the cheers of bystanders sensibly sitting in the shade with a cold drink in their hands. Every sport, every form of dance, and any conceivable form of music was happening someplace.

In my little corner of Black Rock City Mobility Camp was making things accessible to mobility-impaired people. No one plans to trip over that tent peg in the dark and so badly twist their ankle they can’t step on it. After your camp mates got you to the Ramparts Hospital tent (set up to handle medical services for 70,000 with a medi-vac helicopter available) and an x-ray showed it wasn’t broken someone brings you to Mobility Camp where we give away crutches and check out wheelchairs and see what we can do to help.

The art of Burning Man never ceases to amaze me, from marionettes over 20’ tall walking across the playa, to a tree with 15,000 LED lights forming the leaves, to a mama bear and cubs statue covered in pennies. But it’s the friendships in my Burner family that bring me back again and again. For one week it’s escape from politics and weather catastrophes and work. I like it when I can nap in the shade at 2 p.m. and not feel guilty that I should be doing something. You’ll find this elder on the playa again next year.

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